Just finished reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and I can't help but be completely and utterly confused. His format of hyperbolic and metaphoric employs were incredibly interesting, but didn't quite comprehend the overall message. Maybe this novel is a bit an over-reach of a pure understanding for me. Granted, I've only read rich language in holy books. What was the philosopher trying to gift a reader with his novel?

Join the club ... I'm sure you'll hear from Nietzsche specialists, but as a non-specialist -- but great admirer -- let me merely say that TSZ is perhaps not the best place to start to begin to understand this amazing thinker and writer ... a fairly clear, and more straightforward, account of some of his main ideas (anyway) might be found in On the Genealogy of Morals, another famous work as stylistically rich as TSZ but a bit more 'conventional' (if that word is ever applicable to Nietzsche) ... So rather than try to answer your question, I'll merely suggest you read something else! .... best ap

Do we have a duty to strive towards a life without contradiction? Can a person, for example, both eat meat and hold the belief that animals should not be willfully killed for private gain?

Well, one CAN do that, since I myself in fact do (and many, many others) .... But of course what you're asking is more like "is it morally permissible to violate one's own principles?", or something like that ... Assuming that one's principles are correct (i.e. that you are right to believe that animals shouldn't be willfully killed etc.), then it seems clear that the answer must be no, because it's not morally permissible to do that which is morally impermissible! But that seems so clear that I wonder if that really is, ultimately, your question. Weakness of will is a well-known (and much discussed phenomenon), and a paradigm case of weakness of will is precisely that where you cannot bring yourself to do that which is right (and so when I succumb, and eat meat, I condemn myself for not being able to live up to my own standards). But you seem to be getting at a much deeper question, which the weakness of will case is merely a simple case of: is there a moral obligation to avoid contradictions, to...

When someone says "That seems(or does not seem) logical" it is not always easy to know how they define "logical". Is it meaningful at all? I guess the question relates to the use of something that seems to be a looser term than e.g. "deductively valid" or the like, which refers to a particular system of inference and specific rules for determining truth or falsehood of propositions. Do you have any idea as to what the term commonly refers to?

I don't really, but it is one of my biggest pet peeves, from the perspective of one grading students' philosophy papers! ... My guess would be that on many such occasions, the person means something like "valid" -- where "valid" does NOT mean the technical deductive notion but something closer to "true"! (They will often say, "P is not logical," clearly meaning that P is false ...) Occasionally people use it with a defeater: "P seems logical, and yet here's why it's false ..." On such uses they seem to mean "apparently true, even if not really true." Rarely do they use it with anything very close to its basic sense, if not quite "deductively valid" then at least bearing some relationship to arguments and conclusions (where to say "P is logical" would be to say "P is based on some form of argument") .... ap

Concerning the ethics of self-defense: If a convict, about to be executed, finds and seizes the opportunity to kill one of his executioners, is this ethically permissible self-defense? (Of course, even if it was, that wouldn't benefit him in any way. I still find the question interesting.)

Great question. My first thought is that moral rules are invariably qualified ("all else being equal") -- certain actions may be permissible in certain conditions, but presumably not when doing them overrides some other moral obligation. Since (one assumes here) the convict was indeed guilty, and justly convicted, and if (one assumes here) capital punishment is itself permissible, then I'd be inclined to hold that this would NOT be a case of permissible self-defense -- self-defense, yes, but here the only way for him to defend himself is to do some harm which clearly overrides whatever value is in the self-defense -- given the assumptions above, the executioner is by no means guilty of any wrong-doing in performing the execution, so this would amount to killing an innocent person in order to defend a guilty one ... Self-defense is permissible all else being equal, but this sort of case does not strike me as one where all else IS equal ... hope that's useful ap

Many of those who favor online piracy (or who oppose restrictive laws meant to combat piracy, at least), argue that piracy does not actually hurt movie and music producers. They claim that most pirates would be unlikely to buy the products in question even if they were unable to download them for free. In restricting piracy, we aren't actually restoring revenue to the producers or anything of the sort. Those producers would be just as successful or unsuccessful whether piracy were allowed or not. Is this sensible? Let's say that I download a movie. If it is really true that I would not buy the movie in any case, does that make downloading it okay?

Great issue. If you think about it on an individual level, of course "piracy" is wrong: you are stealing that work from its producer. (The word "piracy" pretty much reflects that!). And as long as there are specific copyright laws that forbid it, then doing so is obviously wrong (at least in the sense of violating the law), whether or not you would have purchased the work anyway. But maybe we should think of it on a collective level, and ask questions such as "Are the laws in question themselves good/just laws?" (which I take Allen to be raising) and "Would a better system overall allow free downloading?" (where "better" obviously has many facets, including ethical ones). To be sure, part of answering those questions involve empirical considerations: do "producers of work" collectively do better, make more money, etc., when one allows liberal copying of their work? Think Grateful Dead, just for one select example: the 'bootleg' industry they themselves supported seems to have worked out pretty...

I am a student thinking about career choice. My parents say that I should focus on getting a job that will make a lot of money but without too many hours. But other people have told me that doing something I really believe in is good and having pleasant co-workers are equally as important. My priest says I should do work that I believe glorifies God, but I don't really understand how that translates into a concrete job choice. What answers does philosophy offer for thinking about what kind of job is worthwhile to pursue?

Thanks for your question, and a good one it is. One quick answer is that doing philosophy helps you clarify, to yourself, your own thoughts, feelings, opinions, and values. Obviously one needs to earn a living; but just how much, and what kind of living, may be pretty flexible. Presumably, you'd want to pursue a career that enriches you, develops you, and yet does so in a way harmonious with (and perhaps furthering) who you fundamentally are (your beliefs, opinions, values, etc.). That you're consulting with a priest suggests that religious concerns are important to you .... and one (presumably) consults with a priest hoping that the advice given will help one develop one's religious side and pursue the choices that best fit one's religious self. Well, so too consulting with philosophy -- doing philosophy, reading it, thinking about it, etc. -- can help you not only develop yourself but ALSO pursue the choices that best fit who you are ... (You may even want to subject your religious elements to...

Is it wrong for little children to play "cops and robbers," wherein they simulate crime and violence?

It's hard, in general, to 'blame' children for anything, being not yet responsible and beneath the 'age of reason' ... but perhaps we might blame their parents for allowing them to learn about such things and engage in them? Perhaps -- but as the father of three small boys who turn every toy into a weapon, whose favorite form of play is 'fighting bad guys' (which often include each other), it's hard to imagine STOPPING this behavior. We do our best to shield them from it, but it's everywhere -- in kid's programming, in kid's toys, in kids' lunchbags's patterns, and in their peers at school -- you cannot shut it out, short of homeschooling and utter social isolation. So I'm not sure one can blame the parents much, either .... (and perhaps one ought to focus on restraining/steering the behavior: i.e. make sure they understand it is just play, and you cannot REALLY hurt someone, and perhaps promote the creative/fantasy elements of it .....?) best, ap

I'm attending a lecture on the philosophy of science, and our professor told us yesterday that "we constantly rely on inductive reasoning all the time in our lives, such as when we assume that the floor won't suddenly collapse beneath our feet if we walk forwards." This struck me as odd. Is it accurate to say we "assume" such a thing? It seems to me that we don't even think about these things at all, much less try to justify any such assumptions - saying we're relying on some kind of argumentation seems like a stretch, but perhaps it isn't. Is everything we do, then, the result of certain processes of reasoning? Or are there things we just do without any reasoning to support them?

Hm, I wonder if you were in MY early modern class (where I use this example with Hume ....!) In any case I might only add to Stephen's reply that one small test that we are making an implicit assumption P is to imagine, for a moment, that we didn't believe the proposition P in question -- if we tell ourselves (if we assume) "the floor WILL give out if I walk forwards" then we pretty clearly wouldn't walk forwards, which suggests that the fact that we ordinarily DO walk forwards was relying on the assumption that the floor would NOT give out .... (And of course once we admit to ourselves our implicit assumptions, we might then examine the origin/source of the assumptions, such as some implicit process of inductive reasoning ....) ap

One of the formulation of Kant's Categorical Imperative is that we should never treat humanity as a mere means to an end. I wonder, then, whether this means that horror film directors are behaving unethically. After all, in a horror film, terrible things are made to happen to human beings, solely for the purpose of frightening/pleasing the audience. The human beings may be fictional, but it is nevertheless the fact that they are fictional *humans* that makes horror films effective (as opposed to a horror film where the victims are all robots). It seems to me that the humanity of the fictional characters is being used as a tool to manipulate the audience's emotions. Does this fall under the umbrella of the humanity formulation of the Categorical Imperative? If not, why not? It certainly seems that it is the humanity of the victims (including their emotions, their aspirations, their mortality, their ability to suffer) that is key to the function of horror films.

A very interesting question -- and while I know next to nothing about Kantian ethics, I might chip in here the observation that in a (clearly 'fictional' film) there is no particular, actual, individual human being who is being used as a 'means to an end' (unless of course the actors etc. are being exploited in some way by the director/producers etc...!). Perhaps humanity in some general way is being used, but no individual humans -- so I would imagine that the Kantian proscription wouldn't apply .... (Now if, in a film, the actors were representing actual particular individuals, even if in a fictional way -- like a highly fictionalized biopic, for example -- that might be a different story ....) hope that's useful- ap

What would a robot have to be able to do, or what would it have to be, for us to consider it a sentient being as opposed to a non-sentient automaton? Please note I am using the term "robot" here in a broad sense, including such obviously sentient (fictional) constructs such as C-3PO of Star Wars fame. I don't consider "robot" and "sentient being" to be mutually exclusive terms. I'm interested in what fundamentally distinguishes sentient beings from automatons that merely mimic sentience.

This is a great question, and one with a very long history. There's a key ambiguity in it though, that should be clarified at the start: 'what would it have to be for us to consider it sentient?' might be read metaphysically or epistemologically. To read it metaphysically is to ask what, in fact, is sufficient for the robot to be sentient; to read it epistemologically is to ask what evidence would be sufficient for us, or any third party, to judge that the robot is sentient. The difference is important because it might be that there is some essential feature to sentience, but it is not one which would ever allow us to judge with any confidence/reliability that some creature other than ourselves possesses it. .... That said, a good starting point for you would be Descartes's Discourse on Method, where he argues (in brief) that the possession of genuine linguistic competence and general rationality are marks of the 'mental', or of 'sentience' broadly construed; he holds that no purely...