One of my friends recently stated: "black is not a colour. It is the entire absence of it, both physically and neurochemically." But can this be right? I understand what my friend is saying in that things appear black when they don't emit or reflect any photons of light, and that, as a result, there is nothing for the light sensitive cells in our eyes to detect. However, in everyday life we still view black as a colour, just as we do red or green. I should probably mention that my friend is a scientist and tends to take a strictly empirical and sometimes rather reductionist view of things. Consequently, I'm keen to get a broader perspective on this question from a philosopher. So, my question then is: is black a colour? Or, perhaps more accurately, does it even make sense for us not to consider black a colour?

This is a great, deep question that others will be far more qualified than I to answer appropriately. But one might perhaps start by simply recognizing a fundamental ambiguity in the notion (or meaning of the word) "color." Sometimes by that notion we imply something we take to be physical in nature, a physical property, or a property of physical bodies (or perhaps of light itself), something objective; on that view arguably black would not be a color (if indeed blackness is the absence of all light, so there would be nothing there to have that color). (I actually think that in the complete absence of light human beings see a kind of gray rather than black, but never mind.) But sometimes by "color" we mean something 'mental,' something subjective, something perceived, and here we would likely take black to be as genuine a color as any other, since we can perceive it. Of course it turns out that color conversations quickly get a lot more complicated, because it is not at all straightforward to identity...

Hi, I'm a high school student and I am interested in philosophy. I intend to study philosophy on my own (it's not taught at my school), but this subject is so vast and rich that I feel a bit lost and don't know where to begin. Could you give me some advice on how to study philosophy on my own?

Those are great classics, and worthwhile reads. And there are lots of introductory philosophy books out there (just google that phrase and see what comes up). But perhaps I might recommend a couple that aren't classics (but are hopefully worthwhile), and also by me (if you'll excuse the self-plug): "The 60-Second Philosopher: Expand your mind on a minute or so a day!" and "The God Question: What famous thinkers from Plato to Dawkins have said about the divine." The first one consists of a collection of very short essays, each one of which is presenting one interesting, challenging, provocative philosophical idea or argument; the second does something similar, but focuses (obviously) on God. More info on my website: www.andrewpessin.com. And as Gabriel said -- if questions arise as you read, then come back to this site! good luck, ap

Why is propaganda considered bad? If a government wants to express a viewpoint why shouldn't that be allowed? Why do people have to be informed that their government is expressing a view rather than some other entity? For example the government made a series of news segments which it then gave to various news agencies who aired them without attributing their source to the government. I mean if those videos didn't contain any lies what is the problem?

Good question, and perhaps your last sentence hits the nail on the head. Perhaps in its earliest days the concept of "propaganda" didn't necessarily have a negative connotation -- it was just a matter of getting information 'out there', and surely there is nothing wrong with the idea of a gov't participating in and faciliting the distribution of information. But the concept these days DOES carry a negative connotation, precisely in the assumption that the information so conveyed is not reliable. When you refer to 'propaganda' these days you are implying that the information is biased, selective, misleading, etc. -- which it can be in all sorts of disturbing ways even if it falls short of being an outright "lie." For example the government might release a report citing a bunch of economists praising a particular economic strategy the gov't is backing -- and conveniently leaving out reference to the numerous other economists who argue it won't work. That's not a lie, exactly, but if you are expecting the...

I have talked to some friends after reading a book on materialism and I have a question. Don't companies have a right to push their products to us? Would it not be the weakness of our minds at fault for being consumed by commercialism? Many people I have talked to constantly reiterate that the companies are the cause of this but I would say otherwise. What would you say?

This is a great question touching on many deep issues. Much empirical research shows the incredible extent to which we are manipulable, and manipulated, by marketing. The degree to which this happens to us without our knowledge, w/o our explicit consent, etc., is the degree to which this may be morally objectionable. Now you may be right in suggesting that our decisions are not (entirely) without our consent -- often we are quite conscious of our decision-making process, no one forces you to go into a store or online, etc., and in the end we must take responsbiility for our behaviors etc. But when you read about how thoroughly manipulated we are by advertising, marketing, not to mention social pressure, you may start to feel differently. I'd recommend the work of Dan Ariely, to start -- in particular his bestseller Predictably Irrational ... http://danariely.com/the-books/ good luck! ap

I am about to finish my third semester of college. (Switching majors now, wouldn't be a big deal.) I am currently majoring in Mass Communications/Journalism. (I want to eventually become a sports columnist.) However, I also plan on writing numerous books (sports related as well as fiction). Would you recommend majoring in Philosophy instead? My journalism courses are too restricting (forcing me to write in a straight-jacket) and I have currently gotten very much into philosophy and it really amplifies my writing.

Seems like you've answered your own question! ... My own view (for what it is worth) is that while it's useful to use your college education to prepare you for a career (esp if you're pretty clear what career you're after), it's also valuable to use it to pursue your interests, intellectual and otherwise -- and the sheer fact that you find philosophy interesting or appealing is reason enough at least to take more philosophy courses. (That it ALSO contributes to your ultimate career goal, writing, is a further bonus.) As far as majoring -- well if your career trajectory requires (say) going to graduate school in journalism and that that would be helped by majoring in communications etc., then you've got a pretty pragmatic reason to stick with your major (while perhaps trying to squeeze in extra philosophy courses). But you yourself seem to be suggesting that your broader interests would be better served by the philosophy major -- so both your intellectual interests and your pragmatic concerns are served...

Nowadays, I feel as if right now, in this current world, humans are only wanting to study really hard in school, get a job, and receive money for food and personal items. I feel like there's more to life than that but everybody I ask seems to only want a good job and a lot of money. I am 16 years old and I know that I still have a lot of years to live through but sometimes I feel as if just getting a job and getting money with that job is such a pointless goal. I keep thinking if that is the meaning of life, then that is such an uninteresting goal. But, I still try my best in school and academics because I have this weird, abstract feeling that I absolutely HAVE to or I will fail in life. I do not know the explanation of that feeling but I listen to it. Is just getting a job, doing that job and getting money for it the meaning of the vast majority of this world's people's lives?

Thanks for your question, which is of course important and deep. Of course it has a psychological dimension (how you think and feel about things) and a sociological dimension (what's the case for many other people), but just to get you started on the philosophical dimension, you might consider having a look at Thomas Nagel's essay "The Meaning of Life" ... a copy of which you can find here: http://goo.gl/JGFAs .

I know that many philosophers might scoff upon being asked some variation of "What is the meaning of life or living" but isn't it about the most relevant question one can ask in relation to philosophy and its relationship with humankind? It seems this is studied very little or at all by philosophers in academia. As a follow-up, do philosophers either in the continental or analytic tradition place any value in the metaphysical writings of yogis or mystics from India; isn't it at least worth investigating?

To the contrary there is a reasonable amount of attention paid to the question. (My colleague at Connecticut College teaches a whole course on the meaning of life, and has a long reading list.... but immediately coming to mind is Thomas Nagel's well-known essay "The Meaning of Life.") Why it should be the "most" relevant question, though, I'm less sure -- no doubt for many it's closely related to questions of morality -- what sort of life should we live, what is a good life,e tc -- and courses on ethics are taught everywhere, and the corresponding literature is enormous. And no doubt, too, for many it is closely related to matters of religion -- and courses on religious studies, and the philosophy of religion, are taught everywhere, with an equally enormous corresponding literature. If you google "meaning of life in philosophy" or something like that you'll find plenty ... And there are some western philosophers, analytically inclined, who are very learned in eastern traditions (to indirectly address...

Why is the socratic paradox called a paradox?

I presume this phrase refers to the "The one thing I know is that I know nothing" remark attributed to Socrates? Well, one form of paradox occurs when you are simultaneously motivated to endorse a contradiction -- i.e. both accept and reject a given proposition, or assign the truth values of both true and false to it. And that seems applicable in this case. On the one hand what Socrates is asserting is that he knows nothing (after all, if he KNOWS that he knows nothing, then since knowledge usually implies truth, it follows that he knows nothing). But then again on the other hand the very assertion seems to disprove it, since he KNOWS it, and therefore knows not nothing, but something. So he simultaneously seems to be asserting that he knows something and that he does not know something. Now you may not find this particularly paradoxical -- you might be tempted to resolve it directly (by rejecting one of the two propositions). But I suppose it's called a paradox because reasonably good cases can be made...

I'm curious what moral distinctions (if any) exist between, for example, the Venus de Milo or the Birth of Venus and "soft" pornography like Playboy?

Well I'm definitely no expert here, but often in our moral evaluations we take into account intention/motive (as perhaps one factor among others). And if one might arguably hold that "art" aims for some kind of "higher" purposes beyond merely sexual stimulation/titillation, then at least those works of art have some kind of additional value beyond their attractiveness (while, perhaps, the "soft porn" aims only for the stimulation....)

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