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Throughout life, we all have fantasies, from childhood fantasies of being rock

Throughout life, we all have fantasies, from childhood fantasies of being rock star/doctors/astronauts, to "adult" fantasies of wealth, fame and power. These "adult fantasies", including, but not limited to, images of wealth, power, lust, power, status, and/or self-actualization, are seemingly very common. Do you think these fantasies are more beneficial, allowing us to aspire for greater goals in life and being driven to attain them, or dangerous, filling us with envious glowers of lust with little determination to fulfill them?

A great question, and not easily answered! The English Romantic poet and philosopher Samuel Coleridge drew a sharp distinction between fantasy and imagination in which the first is relatively feckless and futile (and your examples would fit under what Coleridge would classify as fantasy), whereas imagination is more constructive and is employed to think about the meaning of life, God, the good, and our relationships and responsibilities to one another, and the life. I believe the Cambridge University philosopher Douglas Hedley defends position like that. I tend to take a somewhat more relaxed view. While clearly fantasies can be horribly self-absorbed, even cruel, surely (I suggest) our lives would be poorer without some fantasies --a child fantasizing about becoming an astronaut or an adult fantasizing about being a great diplomat who both gets Hamas to recognize that the state of Israel to exist and insures that the Korean peninsular is nuclear free. Sometimes the entertaining of outright fantasies (what if Tom Cruise asked me to marry me?) can even tell you things about yourself that you weren't fully aware of (I would say no, because, come to think of it, Scientology is too weird).

I am not sure that this question should be posted to you, philosophers. But I

I am not sure that this question should be posted to you, philosophers. But I think philosophy has been talking about everything in life. Anyway, my question is : Do we have to has a fix principles and values that never be changed? I mean, we almost consider changing is a positive thing, and everything we believe in must be criticized and examined and consequently, changed ... if so, is it reasonable for people to Struggle for their principles If they believe that this principle may be changed anytime? Does the fact of “change” eliminates the value of”principle”? Thank you

Thank you for this inquiry! You raise a complex matter. Some philosophers have gone through changes, sometimes quite radical: we sometimes refer to the pre-critical Kant and then to Kant after the Critique of Pure Reason, Wittgenstein changed his mind in such a significant way that we refer to the early and the later Wittgenstein, same with Heidegger. I am not sure that we can say (in the abstract) that change is itself a good or value: there is a famous philosopher of mind, Frank Jackson, who first introduced a brilliant argument against materialism, but then changed him mind and concluded the argument failed. Personally, I think the first argument works, and the "latter Frank Jackson" is mistaken. As I noted, it is very hard to claim that either constancy or change (in the abstract) is good or bad, but perhaps it may be concluded that the tradition of philosophy and the current philosophical community is enriched by both philosophers who change their mind with great frequency (Bertrand Russell comes to mind; he held so many positions that one could not refer to an early and late Russell, but a multi-faceted Russell) and those whose work from youth through maturity and until death has been very stable (Roderick Chisholm certainly changed his mind on a number of issues, but overall there were constant themes throughout his brilliant career, e.g. non-materialistic views of the person and intentionality, foundationalism in epistemology, Platonist in metaphysics, a moral realist, and so on). I think we need both our Russells and Chisholms to have a healthy philosophical community.

Hello, I'm 17 years old. I'm in a situation where I have dropped out of high

Hello, I'm 17 years old. I'm in a situation where I have dropped out of high school because I strongly feel I am better off without it. I am about to travel around the united states with a 27 year old man that i only met and talked with on the internet/phone for four years. In all of that time I learned to have complete trust in him because I see him as like a older brother now. It is still very possible to be lead a successful and happy life without schooling. Now further, I plan on pursue my writings in poetry and writings on my thoughts in general that i believe to have a spiritual/philosophical value. I believe in situations where the mind is constantly adapting to new environments (travel) it sets a great catalyst for creative thoughts. This is my dream and needs be fulfilled to have an existential based life realized. A lot of great philosophers have been home schooled and led rather independent life styles, which I am doing as well. I still haven't completely denied the possibility of going to a...

I am impressed that you were willing to ask the question in this forum - I don't know how many 17 year old readers we have here, but I suspect you are in a minority. This demonstrates your willingness to look for answers in unexpected places, so good for you! I am afraid, however, I agree with Prof. Stairs and want to urge caution before embarking on such a journey, which might sound to your ears so conventional and unenlightened it may be hard to hear.

While you are right that it is still possible to find a path less traveled and do well in life, it seems to be increasingly rare. There are many social/economic reasons for this and over which you have little control. While the human spirit of adventure and the lure of a life lived well and fully will never die, the historical moment in which you find yourself is remarkably different than it was for your predecessors. For example, my father did very well with only one year of post high-school education, and he earned far more than I will with my PhD. Please understand that I am not speaking of "earning-power" as a goal because we all need to find the life that suits us, and one need not have much material wealth to satisfy a worthy life.

So what leads us forward toward a worthwhile existence? That is hard to know of course, but as my colleague suggests, we can generalize a bit about development of good judgment as being, in part, a function of age. I am sure you have observed poor and good judgement in individuals of all ages - but as a rule we improve with age and learn from experiences of poor judgment. Now I recognize this creates something of a vicious circle, a bit like looking for your first job when the ads all say "experience needed." How in heaven's name do I get that experience if no one will hire me? This is a lot like the problem you face: everyone says you need more experience of life before you embark on an experience of life! But while similar, it is a flawed analogy. The flaw is that it depends a lot on the job or life experience you seek and how high the stakes are. Any wise employer will prefer to hire someone with "experience," but it depends on the job. If not a lot of training is required, it is possible that the employer meets a young person like yourself and says "what the heck, I'll give him a shot at it...worse case scenario, it won't work out, but I can take that risk." But if the job is really beyond your skill level, the employer would be not just a fool to hire an inexperienced worker, she would be irresponsible, setting the new employee up for failure and possible harm.

Perhaps this is part of why, as Prof. Stairs says, there is no need to hurry on this particular life-changing experience. The stakes are simply too high and there are so many unknowns to feel it would be wise to support such a venture at this time. It is a little like buying a $5 lottery ticket - even though the odds are hugely against you - because you might win! But then you get folks who (literally) bet their whole fortunes on the hopes of winning and lose it all. That is what is at stake here and why you are hearing another voice of caution from me. You are not playing with a five dollar bill - you are playing a high stakes game with far more to lose than you might win.

I hope you will take to heart that there is a lot more time ahead to support your dreams and surprises in store for you in life!

I wish you all the best.


I've been thinking about why good people disagree with each other about

I've been thinking about why good people disagree with each other about important things, like whether to support or oppose a particular law.  One, there may be some sort of mental deficiency or some crucial lack of knowledge. (Not truly common causes, in my opinion.) Two, there may be terminology issues. These may be legitimate differences in defining terms being used but sometimes I wonder if this is really more the side-effect of a basic disagreement rather than the cause. Three, and most important I think, there may be underlying differences in values (beliefs, morals, motivations, and even personality) that guide 'good' people to take opposite sides on important social debates. My questions for the philosophers here: A: is this a reasonable scheme to categorize disagreements among people? B: What have philosophers had to say about this topic?

Philosophers, especially lately, have had a lot to say about this topic. You might start with this SEP entry, and I recommend looking at this recent anthology. Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you wanted a short answer!), there's a large and growing literature on the topic. Enjoy.

what exactly is existential nihilism?

what exactly is existential nihilism? I have found different sources and from my understanding it is the belief that you can't create any meaning. The meaning an individual creates, even though they may change their mind and create a new meaning, and the meaning from a transcended source. An Example is from god. Is this correct summary of existential nihilism? I understand how someone reaches the conclusion that meaning is created by the self and not from some higher authority but I can't seem to understand why an individual could not give themselves meaning. Could you explain this to me very very simply? Also how would someone refute existential nihilism using atheism and not a religious answer? Does existentialism allow for you to believe in a determined universe? What I mean is a universe where science can predict everything. Thanks for your help I am not advanced in philosophy so I need an easy to understand answer

It may disappoint you but I do not have an answer for you - existential nihilism sounds dangerous to the heart and mind, so I guess I've avoided it. Let me pose a question: if you or I cannot point to the locus of meaning or value does it imply non-existence?

To a certain extent, all value claims are faith claims of a sort: even the market "value" of crude oil is based on faith in unseen and unforeseeable forces. We feel its effects and some of us place a great deal of stock in the reality of this force, but in what sense is it real?

Perhaps meaning-making is both discovered and created. To be concrete, the value of "love" is not verifiable or objective in a material sense. And yet, I do not accept that this is my creation alone, nor is it pure discovery of an objective meaningful reality. Perhaps there is a meeting place of subjective and objective "reals" that we bump into that are irreducible to categories of existence or non-existence. I find Charles S. Pierce to be helpful here, but because you asked for a non-technical response, I do not recommend Pierce to you!

What I do recommend is to view this or any other theory in light of its explanatory power for your experience. Many theories sound very convincing because of their simplicity - psychological egoism, for an example - but given that it is so unhelpful in explaining my world, I accept it as an interesting suggestion that cannot help me decide what I ought to do with my life. I simply don't ask the question of whether altruism is possible. I act on faith that it might be, but in the end, does it matter? Personal experience does not have the last word, of course, but leaving the question of meaning making open suggests a much livelier engagement with discovering what matters most deeply to you and the meaning-world you choose to inhabit.


Hey Philosophers,

Hey Philosophers, I was having a discussion with my girlfriend about what the "meaning of life" was. A tired, perhaps ultimately pointless, question... but suprisingly, we actually ended up both agreeing that the purpose of life is to "flourish." However, we sort of ran into a brick wall when we realized we couldn't even explain what that is. Like, what is "human flourishing?" We thought that was maybe to complex a question, so questioned what "plant flourishing" was; if a seed is planted with the capacity to flower, and it begins to grow, yet, some problem hinders it's growth and because of that it doesn't flower, it can be said that the plant didn't 'flourish' - the plant did not fulfill it's potential to flower. Would it be fair to say, then, that "human flourishing" comes down to humans fulfilling the potential they have in life? This is problematic, though, since humans are so complex, we simply can't put a finger on one thing and say "that's flourishing" like we can with the flower. The limits on...

Maybe you should read a little more Aristotle. Book I of the Nicomachean Ethics deals directly with this issue. So does the end of Book IV of Plato's Republic, from a somewhat different perspective. Plato also has Socrates talk about what it means to value "the most important things" in the Apology (see 22d-e, and then his famous statement about what makes life worth living at 38a). This same viewpoint may be echoed somewhat in the famous "intellectualism" of the last book of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

To make a very clumsy summary of Aristotle: human beings are, for him, rational animals. That means that what is good for us will include what is good for all animals (such as nutrition and so on) but must also include something of the life of the mind. He thinks that human flurishing will be realized in acting in accordance with a rational principle, which is to say acting virtuosly--by which he does not simply mean doing what the virtuous person does, but doing it as the virtuous person does (i.e. from the right motives and information, etc.). So in brief, Aristotle's answer to your question would be that human flourishing consists in being virtuous and having the things necessary (sometimes called "external goods") to acting in accordance with that virtue.

Many contemporary philosophers continue to think that the account Aristotle gives is the correct account, and so in this case, Aristotle's views remain as current as when he first expressed them.

If something (a tool, a work of art, a dish, etc.) was created with a specific

If something (a tool, a work of art, a dish, etc.) was created with a specific goal in mind, fails miserably at achieving that goal, but manages to be pretty good at doing something else, is it still a failure? Suppose a movie sets out to be dramatic and heart-wrenching, but ends up being inadvertently hilarious (in a good way). Should it be considered a failure? I ask because there are lots of people who tend to argue that X fails as an X and thus, regardless of how it might otherwise succeed for some people, it should be considered bad. I'm not so sure that's the case.

This strong position seems awfully black and white to me. It's easy enough to distinguish "failing to accomplish goal x" from "failing to accomplish goal y," generally speaking, so why not use that? So of course it's plausible that something would fail to accomplish its creator's intended goals while inadvertently accomplishing some other "goal." Of course, that latter sounded awkward -- what is it to have a goal (for a project such as a film) if not a deliberate or intentional one, and what is success if not 'fulfilling one's intended goal"? In other words, if (in your example) the film was not intended to be hilarious then it didn't have the goal of being hilarious, in which case it could not be counted as "successful" if "success" = fulfilling one's goals ... But then again, "success" means different things -- not merely 'accomplishing one's goal' but (in this case, say) "making money" or "making people laugh" etc.... But then again, again, as I think more about it, I'm leaning towards the view that we SHOULD define the success of a venture as "accomplishing its goals" -- so in your example that film would count as a failure, and a miserable one at that, after all, despite being "good" at making people laugh.

Thanks for an interesting question!


Where can I read about objections to the validity of a question such as "the

Where can I read about objections to the validity of a question such as "the purpose of life" where the question baselessly presupposes that life HAS a purpose. And more broadly, even if it claimed that EVERYTHING has a purpose, how can such a claim be justified? It seems that many metaphysical questions suffer from this lack of validity due to unfounded presuppositions or assertions. Where can I read about this as applied to philosophical questions in general? Thank you.

I recommend the essays in Part Three ("Questioning the Question") of E.D. Klemke's collection The Meaning of Life (Second Edition). If I may also mention my own short article on one aspect of this topic, you can find it at this link.

The literature on whether philosophical questions in general rest on false presuppositions is enormous. You might start with this SEP article (especially section 4.1). There's also a growing literature on whether metaphysics in particular (and ontology more particularly) concerns mostly pseudo-questions; see, for example, this collection.

Does strict materialism imply there is no such thing as intrinsic value?

Does strict materialism imply there is no such thing as intrinsic value? If we say something has intrinsic value, I take it we mean that it is 'good' in itself, for its own sake. I'm not using 'good' to mean 'morally good' - but just "good from at least someone's point of view" in the sense that the experience of of eating an ice cream seems good to me. I think conscious experiences, in general, have intrinsic value - at least in this personal-point-of-view way. I also think this aspect of my experience is crucial to rational decision-making; without it, I'd have no clear basis for deciding between, say, eating an ice cream and setting myself on fire. I also think that if we go a bit further and say that that experiences have intrinsic value, period (i.e., objectively, from everyone's point of view), then we might have the basis of a theory of morality. Now, I gather that some philosophers might object to such a theory, on the grounds that ideas like "ought", "should" or "morally bad" cannot be...

I don't see how materialism as such bears on the existence of intrinsic value. The issue of whether anything has intrinsic value, and if so which things have it, seems independent of whether the world contains any immaterial substances (such as immaterial minds or souls). I think of values as abstract objects (non-physical non-substances), so if there are no abstract objects then there are no values, but there can be abstract objects without immaterial substances.

You're right that we haven't yet found a satisfying explanation of conscious experience in wholly materialistic terms, but even if we never find such an explanation, our failure to explain something wouldn't imply the logical or ontological claim that materialism is incompatible with intrinsic value.

You suggest that "conscious experiences, in general, have intrinsic value," at least from the first-person perspective. I'm not sure what the qualifier "in general" is doing in that clause, since the intrinsic value of something doesn't depend on all else being equal: whatever has intrinsic value has it regardless of how things are in the rest of the world, although its intrinsic value might be swamped by extrinsic disvalue. Maybe knowledge, as such, has intrinsic value, but someone can put his knowledge to horrific use, in which case it would be better overall if he lacked that knowledge.

I'd also question the idea that experience as such is a good candidate for something having intrinsic value: it seems to me that the value of an experience depends entirely on the quality of the experience and what it produces. There's net disvalue in experiencing only pain for the last hour of one's life, followed by permanent oblivion, even though it's experience. Are you perhaps saying, instead, that pleasurable experience has intrinsic value and painful experience has intrinsic disvalue, as classical utilitarians say? If so, then the intrinsic value doesn't attach to experience as such but to its character. Some utilitarians say that we can found morality on this basis. More on that at this link.

Why do so many people insist so strongly, even aggressively, that without death,

Why do so many people insist so strongly, even aggressively, that without death, nothing would have any value? What's the big deal?

That's a great question! I suppose the idea is that without death, there would be urgency or boundary to our lives. Perhaps people think that part of what makes relationships important is that they will end. Maybe, too, there is a general, biological point, it would be hard for anything to live without death even a vegetarian needs to live on plants that are no longer alive. But the question might be adjusted somewhat: granted there is (perhaps inevitably there has to be death, but is it inevitable or necessary that that there can be no afterlife (at least for persons)? Is an afterlife possible (as is believed by billions of people historically and today, certainly in some of the great world religions) and what impact would an afterlife have on our values in this life? There is a fascinating literature on this. Bernard Williams has a famous essay to the effect that an afterlife would be (ultimately boring and so it would be irrelevant to the values of this life. I have a less famous essay "Why we need immortality" to the effect that if we love this life and people we should hope for more life. You can track both down by just doing a google (mine is in two anthologies and originally appeared in Modern Theology. You can find Williams' through the entry on his in the online Stanford Encydlopedia of Philosophy. Perhaps the truth lies inbetween, though I still commend the more up-beat view on an afterlife.

Your question is most often discussed under the topic The Meaning of Life. Stewart Goetz has a terrific book under that title with Continuum you might find helpful and illuminating!