Advanced Search

It is often stated that science is not 'value-free'. However, there are certain

It is often stated that science is not 'value-free'. However, there are certain established facts about the physical world, for example, that a water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, which irrespecitve of the values of observer or the social context in which this is observed, is just that, ie. an observable, indisptuable fact. How then can political or social environments alter or intrude upon such scientific facts whether they be about this planet, biology or whatever scientific enterprise one is studying. Surely, science in this regard is 'value-free'?

Great question; thank you for raising your point. I believe that the when the claim is made that science is not value-free various things may be involved. There might be at least four points to consider.

First, there is the thesis that the very practice of philosophy itself involves values --minimally, given a realist view of truth (which I hold and I think you do too, e.g. water is H20 if true if and only if water is H20)-- a commitment to discovering the truth about various phenomena, being reliable or trust-worthy in recording observations and constructing hypotheses, theories, reporting anomalies given such and such a theory, and so on. Perhaps this is not radical news, for it seems that virtually any social interaction in which we trust each others' reports / testimony, all sorts of values and commitments are relevant. But what might be added are three other points.

Second, the practice of science itself is guided in light of what scientists (or those who support the practice of science) believe to be valuable (or worthy of scientific inquiry).

In addition to that (number three) Thomas Kuhn, a prominent 20th century historian and philosopher of science, famously argued that scientific progress is often suffused with matters of value and subjectivity when individual scientists choose to retain normal science (as practiced in conventional, institutionally entrenched labs, classrooms, institutions, etc) or seek to bring about a scientific revolution (e.g. as we find with Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein...). All this is compatible with realism and your initial point that the atomic structure of water (for example) does not depend upon political or social contexts or the personal subjectivity of observers.

Fourth, perhaps physics and chemistry (which involve the water example) seem straight forward facts as distinct from values, but when we move in the direction of biology, values of various sorts come into play. This might be especially apparent when scientists employ terms like 'health' and 'disease' --whether in terms of organisms or ecosystems. The health of an organism seems the equivalent to the notion that the organism has some good or can be in a (for it) good state. It is also not uncommon for philosophers of science to contend that in the social sciences various concepts are social constructions (e.g. the diagnosis ADHD) and reflect more our values than "the facts."

I hope that is a helpful beginning. The philosophy of science entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is very helpful.

Friend A believes Friend B should try something before deciding not to like it.

Friend A believes Friend B should try something before deciding not to like it. Friend B believes he shouldn't have to try something if he doesn't want to. Who is correct? Are they both correct? Who is more correct? Should Friend C help convince Friend B to try the thing or let him make his own choices?

I hope I don't come across as pedantic, but I think that your questions may contain what philosophers call "false alternatives."

First, there's a sense in which both A and B can be correct. It might be that B is well-advised to try a particular something before rejecting it because the risks associated with trying it are small compared to the possible benefits. Nevertheless, it could be true that B "shouldn't have to" try something before rejecting it: that is, B might well have the right to refuse to do X even if he would be well-advised to do X.

Second, C can help convince B to try the thing even while C lets B make his own choice. As I see it, giving B convincing reasons to make a particular choice needn't mean depriving B of a choice -- including a free choice -- in the matter.

Is glory a worthy goal for a person? In an Astérix book, Abraracourcix, the

Is glory a worthy goal for a person? In an Astérix book, Abraracourcix, the chieftain, tells his wealthy brother in law that all of the latter's money is not a match for glory. The brother in law replies that Abraracourcix's glory could not pay the "oxen hooves pie" they were having at the time. This seems to be false in the times of "reality television": glory can be readily turned into money. Actually I suspect glory has always given people some access to material goods. But my question is rather whether glory is valuable for other reasons, specifically whether glory is valuable from an ethical point of view.

A nice place to start in thinking about this question is book I of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html
There Aristotle addresses the nature of happiness and consider the pros and cons of three sorts of lives: the life devoted to pleasure, the life devoted to money, and the 'political' life (or the life devoted to honor). You don't say in your question what you have in mind by 'glory,' but it seems similar to what Aristotle had in mind by honor, namely, others bestowing on us recognition or other goods as a mark of our merit or virtue.

Aristotle argues that the best life is not devoted to honor. Here is the main passage where Aristotle argue for this:

A consideration of the prominent types of life shows that people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honour; for this is, roughly speaking, the end of the political life. But it seems too superficial to be what we are looking for, since it is thought to depend on those who bestow honour rather than on him who receives it, but the good we divine to be something proper to a man and not easily taken from him. Further, men seem to pursue honour in order that they may be assured of their goodness; at least it is by men of practical wisdom that they seek to be honoured, and among those who know them, and on the ground of their virtue; clearly, then, according to them, at any rate, virtue is better.

I see Aristotle as making several points against pursuing honor or glory. The first is that whether we are honored or glorified depends upon others' opinions of us, which can be fickle. (Think of all those reality TV stars that have been so quickly forgotten!) Honor and glory are therefore not very reliable or stable goods. Moreover, honor and glory are not, Aristotle says, "proper" to us. That we are honored or glorified by others tells us what others are like — what they believe is good or virtuous — but only indirectly what we are like. And it seems likely that others can accord us honor and glory for the wrong reasons. In the end, Aristotle argues, what we want is not to be honored and glorified for our virtue but really to be virtuous.

I'm inclined to think Aristotle is right: Honor and glory are not inherently or unconditionally good. They are good only to the extent that we are honored and glorified for attributes or accomplishments that are genuinely good or worthwhile. That said, it's important not to exaggerate Aristotle's conclusions though. We shouldn't conclude that glory and honor are bad or worthless altogether. As social creatures, we need the recognition or esteem of others. Presumably the best life is one where we are honored or glorified by others because of our genuinely valuable attributes or accomplishments. Glory, we might say, is the icing on the cake only if the cake is actually a good cake.

What I am about to write is something I am very passionate about--it’s my career

What I am about to write is something I am very passionate about--it’s my career goal, my meaning of life. Basically, I really need to know what logical holes there are in my recurring thought process. I will set it up in an argument form, but I have no idea about the subtleties of premises, soundness, validity, or conclusions, so please overlook that! I am hoping I can get some criticism on this view that I hold. Please, pick this apart for me! I really need to know if I am mistaken before deciding to undertake studying and preparing for such a career. I'd like to get as many opinions from different backgrounds/life experiences as I can! Everyone, please chime in! 1.) The Earth is religiously ambiguous (rationally capable of being interpreted in theist, agnostic, and atheist views). 2.) There are horrible afflictions (such as sex and labor trafficking, solitary confinement, torture, locked-in syndrome, etc) that people go through while on Earth. 3.) If certain afflictions affect someone for a...

I hope others will chime in, but for starters I'd question step (4) of the argument.

First, from our failure know whether earthly life is the only life we get, it doesn't follow that earthly life is the only life we get. That inference would commit the fallacy of appealing to ignorance.

Second, even if earthly life is the only life we get, it doesn't follow that nothing is worse than death. Indeed, some of the kinds of suffering you listed (such as torture or locked-in syndrome) might be worse than death in some cases.

Third, even if death were the worst evil of all, your argument would support death-prevention of any sort, not just suicide-prevention.

What's there to gain from romantic relationships, aside from sexual

What's there to gain from romantic relationships, aside from sexual gratification? For it seems as though there is more pain and loss from attempting to find our ideal significant other, than there is actual gain from finding someone adequate enough to fulfill such an unobtainable goal. It seems more worthwhile to culminate our own happiness within ourselves, than to put our happiness at risk, especially given that females (and people in general) who are interested in philosophy seem to be on the decline; and interest in philosophy is a must for any viable partner!

Wonderful to learn that a viable partner for you would have to have an interest in philosophy. If you are super attractive (etc) you might give a lot of people an important motive to develop philosophical interests!

Picking up on another point, though, I am not sure you are right about declining interests in philosophy among females or people in general. At least where I teach (St Olaf College in the USA) philosophical interests among young women and men (straight, gay, as well as among transgender folk) seems on the rise. But more to your point, I wonder if your worry about romantic relationships would work against any serious, non-romantic friendship. You write about having reservations about putting your happiness at risk, but that risk seems to arise in every case when you or I truly love another person with or without eros. I have great (Platonic) love for a couple of friends, Patrick and Jodi, and I realize there is no way for me to do so without risking my enduring great pain and unhappiness. If they are harmed or, worse, killed in an auto accident (our city streets are a mess, so this is not impossible) I would be devastated. They are irreplaceable and it would be impossible for me to love them with emotional invulnerability on my part. I suppose that is your point: why take the risk? But isn't the reply that the alternative is far worse? Imagine living without truly loving other persons as irreplaceable individuals? I suppose, by extension, your position might also come in conflict with you loving yourself. So, I urge you to not give up on romantic or non-romantic deep friendships. Still, I would not be doing my job unless I observed that the position you are taking does have resonance in the history of philosophy, especially in Stoicism. You might find the work of Epictetus (first and second century) of great interest.

Ending on a sort of positive note: there have been (and are) some good romantic relationships between philosophers that might be inspiring --for example the marriage between Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Geach, and Bob and Marilyn Adams, among others. Yes, there have been tragic romances between philosophers, but I bet for every case of Abelard and Heloise there are at least a hundred cases of Paul and Patricia Churchland

Since the theory of evolution presents a kind of meaning to existence or at

Since the theory of evolution presents a kind of meaning to existence or at least, a logical structural pattern to it, is Camus' Absurdism necessarily in conflict with it?

I don't think that the theory of evolution (which I accept) provides anything like the kind of meaning that existentialists such as Camus have in mind. What is the meaning of existence according to evolutionary theory? The only remotely plausible answer I can think of is this: "To pass on one's genes to posterity, since that's what counts as success from the perspective of natural selection." But, of course, natural selection has no perspective, point of view, intentions, or goals. It's a mindless process. So that answer depends on a false presupposition.

Even if that weren't true, it's highly implausible anyway that passing on one's genes could really be the meaning (or purpose) of existence. If it were, then anyone would be missing the point of existence who didn't make it his/her top priority to reproduce as often as possible, to clone his/her genome again and again, etc. But, on the contrary, someone who tried to live such a life would be pathetic.

Evolutionary theory explains how species arise and how they vanish. I'm not sure that counts as providing "a logical structural pattern" to existence. But even if it does, I think the existentialists are concerned about the particular problems that arise for reflective, self-conscious beings such as us, problems that would remain even if existence, as such, had a logical pattern.

It's often said that we cannot predict which scientific discoveries will turn

It's often said that we cannot predict which scientific discoveries will turn out to have practical value, and so we should encourage scientific curiosity and investigation even in cases where the subject matter seems frivolous or esoteric. To take one famous example, G.H. Hardy thought that number theory was perfectly useless, but it is now indispensable to cryptography. Could the same be said of philosophy? Are there philosophical theories that have had unforeseen benefits? Or is it safe to conclude that at least some philosophical pursuits really are just "useless"?

As useless as art, literature, music, or just about anything you do as an end in itself rather than a means toward some other end in itself. Most important science wasn't done for the purpose of achieving "practical" results, but to satisfy some inner compulsion, of the kind that Plato describes very well in his cave story.

That said, just about all scientific disciplines have emerged, one way or another, from philosophy (though philosophy itself, if you consider Plato as an important milestone, seems to have been inspired by mathematics), so it's certainly been of very considerable practical use in that sense.

It seems that in order to claim anything is intrinsically wrong, one must assert

It seems that in order to claim anything is intrinsically wrong, one must assert that some specific thing, be it happiness, duty, eudaimonia or something else, has intrinsic value. I cannot see, however, what logical process can lead one to this conclusion from a materialist perspective. If all that exists is matter, then what kind of property would 'value' be? If happiness, for example, is simply a mental state, no different from sadness or pain, then how can it have the property of 'value', and what kind of property might this be?

If all that exists is matter, then what kind of property would 'value' be?

If all that exists is matter, then what kind of property would any property be? I have trouble seeing how any property could itself be a material thing. A red apple is a material thing, but is its property of being red itself a material thing? Fortunately for me, not even the physicists say that literally everything is matter: there are also fields of force, states of matter, quantum vacuum states, etc. In any case, the claim that everything is matter seems to threaten not just the property of being valuable but every other property as well.

If happiness, for example, is simply a mental state, no different from sadness or pain, then how can it have the property of 'value'...

If happiness, sadness, and pain are all mental states, then they don't differ from each other in respect of being mental states. But that still allows them to differ in terms of whether they have the property of (positive) value. Not all mental states must have all the same properties, just as not all material objects must have all the same properties. In sum, "no different from in one respect" doesn't imply "no different from in any respect."

I'd also caution against the use of reductive language such as "simply" (or "only," "merely," "just," "nothing more than," etc.). It can sometimes obscure important differences. See my second reply to Question 5626.

Lately, I have been feeling as if nothing in life is really worth desiring. As I

Lately, I have been feeling as if nothing in life is really worth desiring. As I was a little alarmed by these nihilistic thoughts, I tried to avoid them. But, in some mystic traditions, this state of "desirelessness" seems to be actively pursued by practitioners. My question is: can my nihilism perhaps have some value, i.e. what is good about the state of not feeling desire?

There are traditions philosophical and religious- that see value in states of living in which we are not ruled by desires but by reason or wisdom or the Dao, and so on. These traditions are rarely 'nihilistic' however when it comes to values, good and bad or evil, seeking enlightenment, and so on. In Christian mystical tradition, for example - e.g. John of the Cross....- there is a fascinating treatment of "the dark night of the soul" in which a person may feel a complete evacuation of desire and meaning, but this is a period or passage from ordinary life to a state of fulfillment "on the other side." The situation you describe prompts me to think you might find some consolation --or recognize something of yourself in ancient Greek cynicism. You might check out the classic Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius. While I am far from any alignment with Greek or modern cynicism, Diogenes is a fascinating figure whose indifference to the desires of his contemporaries was in my view radical and of enduring importance.

If you want to consider how cynicism, ancient and modern, can be effectively challenged you might look at Overcoming Cynicism; William James and the Metaphysics of Engagement by Megan Mustain.

I would like to know if duty implies value. If I have the duty to take care of

I would like to know if duty implies value. If I have the duty to take care of my daughter, does that imply that it is better that I take care of her than that I don't? If two people promise each other to meet that evening, is it then better (at least, according to their promises) that they meet? If I have the duty to join my country's army, is it better that I do than that I don't? Thank you.

Great questions. Many philosophers recognize that we have multiple duties which sometimes conflict. And they also recognize different degrees of complexity that come with duties. So, in a parent-daughter relationship, it is widely acknowledged that a parent does have a duty to take care of her and thus, it is recognized that, other things being equal, it is better to care for her than not but some of the following circumstances can come into play: imagine that there are great social and political forces that would make it fatal if the parent comes forward to acknowledge that he or she is the parent. Or imagine that the parent was abusive and for example a daughter is utterly estranged from a father she never wishes to see again. And sometimes duties such as those you mention can present us with cases when one duty might be served by following another duty. So, your duty to care for your daughter might be satisfied by your joining an army: imagine that your city is under aggressive military attack and the best way to take care of your daughter or the best way you can contribute to her survival and safety is to join in the military defense of your city.

I hope you will not think this reply is too frustrating but, in many cases of assessing duties philosophers add an "all things considered" condition. So, you are right in thinking that if we have a duty to keep promises, then keeping them is better than not keeping them. This would be true or it is true in most, ordinary conditions. But that is not what most philosophers think when it comes to promises that are made to carry out unjust acts. `Making vows or oaths or promises can be binding, but when these are undertaken to carry out wicked acts, most philosophers have held they are not binding. In fact, making a vow or oath or promise to do something unjust may well make the action even worse. I suggest that if you wrong me by stealing my money, your act is wrong, but it would be less of a grave wrong if the act was thoughtless and impulsive, versus the same amount of money was taken but you did so to fulfill a vow or oath or a promise you made, let us imagine, to members of your gang that you would commit the robbery. I believe the latter would be more of a grave wrong as it would stem from a considered, deliberate, intentional act whereas the thoughtless wrong might indicate weakness of will but not reflect a deep matter of character and commitment. The inability of our duty to keep promises to trump our ordinary duties comes out in considering the first case you mention in your question. Imagine a parent in a state of emotional confusion and despair promises not to take care of her child. When the parent recovers her sane state of mind, imagine she reasons: I now see that I do have a duty to care for my child, but because I promised not to, I have a duty to ignore my duties as a parent.

One of the great philosophers who sought to rank our duties in the 20th century was W.D. Ross. You can track some of his work through the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Pages