Recent Responses

There are two kinds of responses people make to this question, because Socrates affected later philosophy in at least two ways. First of all, he must have been an extraordinary person, both charismatic and counter-cultural. He seemed to embody the values he inquired into. As a result he could ask probing questions about what a friend is without failing to be a friend. He could ask whether anyone understood courage, but ask as a courageous person rather than as a coward looking to undermine the virtue.

He struck his friends as possessing what we call a sixth sense, what he called a "sign" that a spirit brought him in certain circumstances.

That is Socrates the person. Meanwhile Socrates philosophized in a systematic way, trying to develop a new way for human beings to analyze and assess difficult concepts, and especially the concepts of moral and political philosophy. He was not the first ancient intellectual to prioritize thinking about values ahead of thinking about the non-human universe (the Sophists, to name only one group, preceded him there). But he seems to have been the first to work out methods and goals for identifying disputed terms and clarifying them through general definitions.

After his death the many friends and associates of Socrates expressed his influence on them in different ways. Some started philosophical circles, even what we today call a school -- Plato in the Academy, for instance. Others, like the early Cynics, emulated Socrates the person with (as far as we can tell) little interest in any particular doctrines or the arguments to defend them. For them Socrates was overwhelmingly the subject of anecdotes, a man in plain clothes and unadorned social presentation.

From what we know, Socrates stood out in both respects. His analytical method of definition inspired the philosophical tradition of examining and clarifying what we say and when, and it led to the development of logic. But as a human being he seems to have lived with integrity and steady virtue. (Famously, he did not escape execution despite having the opportunity to do so.) I think his unmatched status in philosophy has to do with this combination of personal magnetism and intellectual inventiveness and rigor.

I'm not sure what arguments you have in mind for these two views, but I understand, I think, the main feature that raises your question: each implies that the other is false. And yet, as you say, you find that each is equally likely. If each implies that the other is false, then they can't both be true, to answer your last question. One of them, at least, must be false. Perhaps they are both false, if they both rest on a false presupposition, for example. This seems to be the situation with the two views, (a) that the present king of France is bald and (b) that the present kind of France is not bald. They contradict each other, so one, at least, must be false. In fact, it seems they are both false, since there is no present kind of France at all--though I should note that, at one time, more philosophers thought the two views lacked a truth value at all (that is, they were neither true nor false, so on such a view we could say that the two theories you are considering might lack a truth value at all).
So much for that last question, whether they can both be true. They can't. However, there's another interesting question in what you wrote. If you find both theories equally likely, and assuming that there isn't some third theory that is also a competitor, then why not just be equally confident in one as you are in the other? For example, if you think that Idealism and Materialism are the only options, and they are equally likely, then you should think there is a 50% chance, or probability, that each of them is true. This is what you would do when it comes to a coin flip. So why not split your confidence in this way with these theories? Not every contradiction that is unsettled by our evidence is a paradox. Sometimes it makes sense to simply be as confident as our evidence calls on us to be, and no more, in each option. This doesn't mean stop thinking about it. You may, for example, soon discover that the case for Idealism is not as good as you are thinking it is now, and that the case for Materialism is actually better. So you'll get more confident in Materialism.

'Impartiality' is in no way a simple moral concept. Yet one thing most moral philosophers would agree upon is that impartiality cannot be plausibly equated with treating everyone the same. Rather, impartiality seems to have both an exclusionary and and an inclusionary aspect. Here's what I have in mind. Being impartial means not allowing a certain fact or consideration about people to influence a choice or a policy. A judge who routinely convicts defendants with mustaches while routinely acquitting the clean shaven makes her decisions on the basis of a fact or consideration — the state of a person's facial hair — that ought not influence her decisions. Here she fails to be impartial because she does not exclude from her decision making a factor she ought to exclude. Conversely, suppose a judge issues her rulings without regard to whether the evidence provided indicates a defendant's guilt. Here she fails to be impartial because she does not include a factor she ought to include in order to be impartial.

Taken together, these two factors indicate that impartiality is linked to equality, not in the sense that impartiality requires everyone be treated exactly alike, but instead requires that everyone be treated equally on the basis of all and only the considerations that are morally relevant to a decision or policy.

The issues thus raised for your examples of special accommodations, etc., for senior citizens, the disabled, and pregnant women is whether the characteristics that distinguish these individuals from others are morally relevant to how we should distribute goods such as places in lines, etc. In other words, such accommodations would violate impartiality if the characteristics on the basis of which the accommodations are being made are not morally relevant to how the accommodations ought to be distributed.

Unfortunately, a full treatment of these issues would take more space than we have here. But I hope you can imagine how those defending such accommodations would try to defend them against the charge that they fail to be impartial. With regard to the disabled, senior citizens, and pregnant women, they might argue that impartiality requires that certain goods be distributed in ways that do not disproportionately burden anyone — and perhaps having to stand in long lines is simply harder for those groups than for others. They would, then, accept your claim that our actions or policies "should not favor one person over the other simply because they are two different individuals." Yet they would also claim that such accommodations don't rest merely on the fact that the individuals who benefit from there are different from others in some way. They instead rest on the fact that these individuals have some morally relevant characteristic that justifies treating them differently.

I don't offer this proposal with the expectation that this settles the issue for good. Rather, the point here is that impartiality does not mean treating everyone the same -- it means treating everyone the same with regard to certain facts about them but differently with regard to other facts about them -- and it is possible to offer arguments to the effect that treating people with different characteristics differently need not violate the demand that our choices and policies be impartial.

Interesting question. Here is just a start of an answer. There are at least two ways in which remembering the dead, and the way they died (as with war memorials, which you mention) might be beneficial for non-selfish reasons, though part of this depends on what counts as "selfish." First, many philosophers think that it is possible to be harmed, and benefited, even once you no longer exist. Imagine that a loving father, who upheld his fatherly duties throughout his life even at great cost, is slandered after he dies. Suppose it is said about him, falsely, that he committed horrendous crimes against his children. Some would argue that this harms him, that it makes his life--which is no temporally over--worse off than it would had the truth come out about his parenting. If that's so, then you might well think that it makes one's life better if one is remembered fondly, or with honor. Imagine you are somehow given a choice of never being remembered or being revered, after your death, as a great human being. I think most people would choose the latter, and one possible reason is that most people recognize that this life, even once it is over, is better off if it is remembered in the right way. I heard a philosopher, David Boonan, give a talk on this topic once, and you might look him up to see if he has it written. Secondly, remembering, and especially officially memorializing, the dead, not only honors them but potentially teaches the living about their lives. Remember victims of WW1 can serve as a deterrent to future wars, and provides opportunities to reflect on our own, relatively privileged or comfortable lives. This may be "selfish" in the sense that it does not directly affect those who died. But it is not selfish in the ordinary sense of the term. That is, you do not merely or only benefit yourself when you remember the dead in such circumstances: you benefit those around you, and future generations, by increasing awareness of, and hopefully decreasing chances are, similar deaths in the future.
Those are just two reasons to remember the dead. I can imagine others. But I'll leave it to the experts (which I am not) in the field to chime in.
Thanks for an interesting question!

I'm not entirely sure I accept the assumption of your question: Is it really any more difficult to imagine life after death than life before death? Many philosophers have argued that it is difficult to imagine being dead because the act of imagination requires that one be alive. In other words, any attempt to imagine being dead is thereby a failure, some have argued. In imagining oneself dead, one must presuppose that there is a consciousness (a living one, presumably), so one cannot coherently imagine being dead — at least if that means imagining oneself being dead. Now if that's correct, then one similarly could not imagine the past before one existed. After all, in attempting to imagine the past, that would require you to be conscious and to be alive, etc. Of course, one might take this reasoning to show that it's not any harder to imagine life after death: Since we can imagine what existed before our birth, we can equally well imagine life after death.

So I'm not entirely convinced of the assumption. But supposing the assumption is correct, why might it be harder to imagine life after death than whatever existed before our births? I can think of two reasons.

The first is that the past is determinate, whereas the future is either indeterminate (what the future will be like has not been settled) or we don't what the future will be like. It's generally much easier to imagine what is determinate than what is indeterminate. It's easier for a parent to 'imagine' the child she already has than it is to easy to imagine the child he will have. Similarly, it's easier to conceptualize the past since we have a much better idea of what it's like: Imagining 1916, say, seems easier than imagining 2116.

Second, imagining life after death may be harder because it's harder to imagine the world after I'm able to exert causal power over it than it is to imagine the world prior to my being able to exert causal power. I have no ability to change the world prior to my existence. While alive, I have the ability to change the world. Once dead, I no longer have that ability. Perhaps there's something difficult about imagining a future state of the world that I cannot affect. After all, throughout my life, I have been able to affect the future. Once dead, despite that being the future, I can't effect it. And perhaps it's tough to imagine a future state of the world without also imagining that one can causally engage it.

(Incidentally, you may the Lucretian asymmetry problem of interest: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/death/#3)

This is a very similar question to another I answered a few months ago, so apologies if you've read that and are looking for a different reply!

I think that there are some paintings that are good paintings at least in part because they are beautiful. Being beautiful is one way in which a painting can be good; beauty is one kind of aesthetic good. But there are others, such as being thought-provoking or communicating deep emotion. So being beautiful is not necessary for being good as a painting. And there may be cases in which a beautiful painting is not good. Some beautiful works of art can be relatively superficial, e.g. they may express a superficial emotion (‘isn’t it lovely?’) or view of life, leaving us wondering dissatisfied with it as art, even if we admire the way it looks on the surface. So beauty is not be sufficient for being a good painting.

But we cannot infer from these points that when a painting is beautiful and good, its being beautiful is not what makes it good. In other words, there may be cases in which the beauty of the painting is what makes it good (or at least, is one reason why it is good). To appreciate this, we have to resist the thought that there must be universal rules that we apply in judging whether something is aesthetically good or not. Beauty might be sufficient on one occasion but not on another.

Perhaps an analogy with causes is helpful. Striking a match is neither necessary nor sufficient for lighting a match. I can light a match without striking it by placing its end in an existing flame. And I can strike a match without lighting it by doing so in an environment without oxygen (e.g. on the moon). But I still want to say that, under normal conditions, my striking the match causes the match to light. So if a good painting is beautiful, it may be that it is good because it is beautiful, though it may be that it is good because it is, in addition, deeply expressive or thought-provoking or.... Cases could differ.

I don't think we can say that a painting (beautiful or not) is good because it is good - the 'because' is misleading here. You might want to say that 'good' has no further definition (as Moore did about moral goodness), i.e. you can't define 'good painting' as 'beautiful painting'. This is a claim about the concept 'good'. Even if we accept this, we can allow that there are properties that make a good painting good - this is about the relation between the property of being good and other properties. Just as Moore thought that what makes a good action good is that it maximises happiness, so we can argue that makes a good painting good is its beauty, or perhaps a multiplicity of different aesthetic qualities. Or, put differently, we could think that a painting's being beautiful is a reason to think that it is good, without saying that being beautiful is the same thing as being good (as a painting).

I'd be surprised if there were sound arguments for the immortality of homosexuality, but I agree with your suggestion that whether or not LGBT persons are 'born that way' or not cannot provide a sound basis for the immortality of homosexuality -- nor can it provide a sound basis for its moral permissibility of homosexuality either!

Your remarks about pedophilia suggest why such arguments are unsound: That a person is born in some way does not imply that actions they perform because they were born that way are not wrong. If (as seems likely) pedophilia is harmful to children, that it is wrong even if pedophiles can't refrain from having sexual desires directed at children. 'He/she was born with property P; he/she does X because he/she has property P; therefore, X is not morally wrong' is not a valid inference.

But perhaps this misunderstands the force of the 'born that way' claim. Perhaps the force resides not in the idea that being 'born that way' makes a person's actions morally permissible but that being born some way excuses a person's actions. So the thought would be that if homosexuality is inborn, then engaging in homosexual acts is morally excusable. But notice that (1) the reasoning above indicates why this doesn't seem obviously right -- being 'born that way' doesn't always make the actions one performs morally permissible, and (2) this strategy seems to assume that homosexuality is wrong but should be excused because it is inborn. Notice that for this strategy to work then, we would need an independent argument for the immorality of homosexuality. After all, you can only morally excuse what needs excusing, namely, actions that are morally objectionable.

In general, popular moral discourse greatly overinflates the importance of whether a trait is chosen or inborn to whether or not actions motivated by that trait are immoral or not. In the case of homosexuality, its moral standing must turn on familiar moral considerations (harm, rights, etc.) -- not on whether LGBT persons choose that way of life or are bequeathed it by nature or nurture.

(John Corvino, the best known philosophical defender of gay rights, discusses the 'born that way' problem here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-corvino/born-this-way_b_3111186.html)