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Are statements about probability universal truths? Is it possible to conceive of a universe in which a fair coin lands heads 75% and tails 25% of the time?

There are at least two possibilities you might be getting at: First, it's surely possiblle for an evenly weighted coin (even in this universe) to come up heads 75% of the time over the course of its life. Suppose I mint a coin; it comes up tails just one of the four times I flip it; and then I melt it. Second, it's conceptually possible for a universe to contain laws or supernatural agents that ensure that evenly weighted coins come up heads 75% of the time. I think it would be misleading to call evenly weighted coins "fair" in this alternative universe, however. Both these situations seem possible to me, although if they obtain only in different possible universes then it might remain a "universal truth" that evenly weighted coins land heads 50% of the time. In any case, we should recognize that coin "flipping" and "landing" only make sense where there is a reasonable amount of gravity. And for all I know there may be places in this universe where, for example, the uneven shape of evenly...

Vaughan Williams' music has been termed 'nationalistic', or 'spiritual'. Would you construe these terms as metaphorical? They have been used to decribe and categorize his music, have been seen as attributive, and his music has been known for these qualities for generations. I would really appreciate a comment on your view of 'nationalism' as metaphor for a body of music.

I won't comment on Vaughan Williams's music in particular, but I certainly think music that evokes and celebrates a certain nationality can accurately be described as 'nationalistic'. And I don't see that such a description is any more metaphorical than many of the other descriptions we employ with music: 'sad', 'anguished', 'triumphant', 'relaxing' and also 'spiritual'--though I won't say anything more about what might make music spiritual. One way--though perhaps not the only way--for music to be nationalistic would be for it centrally to include certain melodic, rhythmic, harmonic or intrumental elements that are unique to a given nation. If a composer includes such elements because they will be recognized as deriving from that region, and she moreover uses them in an approving or celebratory fashion, then I think her music is nationalistic. And I don't see that describing it this way is any more metaphorical than rooting for that nation's soccer team, or pridefully ordering its beer.

Why is it that no matter what language is spoken or what culture you come from, the Moonlight Sonata is perceived as a sad song (an assumption of mine of course)? What does that suggest about the nature of music, and its correlation to humans that seems to transcend national barriers? Do animals or non sentient creatures recognize these emotions, or would an alien sentience? Jon

I'm not sure the Moonlight Sonata is perceived as sad by every person in every culture. This is an empirical question: our perception of music's expressive features has some dependence on the musical culture(s) with which we're familiar, though I gather there's greater cross-cultural uniformity than one might think. The question of how animals or aliens might hear music is also empirical, though I gather there's little evidence that animals respond to music in the ways we do. The philosphical question is why we perceive music as having expressive featues like sadness in the first place. This is puzzling because there's no comfortable place to situate the sadness: listeners don't always or even typically feel sad when perceiving sad music, and music isn't a phenomenon that seems capable of emotions. I wish I had a good account to offer you. One possibility is that we hear music as having an expressive feature when it resembles in some way the vocal quality, body-language or other behavior in which...

How can speciesism, be immoral for people, but moral for the animals that clearly prefer their own species? If animals are morally culpable for speciesism, can animals be held morally responsible for other things like murder?

Ethicists often distinguish moral objects from moral agents . Moral objets are those things whose preferences, interests, rights and so on should be taken into consideration in our moral deliberations, while moral agents are those things which can properly be held morally responsible (praised, blamed and so on) for their decisions and actions. Ethicists disagree about exactly which things fall into which category, but most agree that not all moral objects are moral agents. My infant niece, Evelyn, is a good example. Evelyn's interests in health, food and safety should surely be taken into account when I am deciding how to act, but it's also clear that she is not (yet) to be held morally responsible for her actions. Peter Singer, Tom Regan and other moral philosophers who argue against speciesism hold, in effect, that sentient non-human animals are moral objects, even though very few (if any) are moral agents. But holding that a pig's interests should be taken into consideration even though it is...

I've been reading Schopenhauer for the first time, and he claims to have developed metaphysics and ethics into one. Does anyone agree with this claim? I'm just a little perplexed, and I wonder if he really accomplished this.

It's a neat view: the world-in-itself is an undifferentiated "will" that we individuate through categories such as space, time, and causation which (following Kant) Schopenhauer thought that we bring to our experience of the world. These differentiated parts of the world-as-experienced include different people with conflicting desires and interests (i.e., conflicting bits of will). The metaphysical realization that in the realm beyond appearances there is only an undifferentiated will motivates the fundamental Schopenhauerian ethical attitude of compassion: to take on another's perspective as one's own is appropriate since the world beyond appearances is inter-subjectively undifferentiated. I don't believe in a transcendental world beyond experience that has the properties Schopenhauer claimed for it. I believe in a real world that is (at least partly) mind-independent, but I don't think there are good reasons to hold that it is undifferentiated and will-full in Schopenhauer's sense. So, although...

Music is often described as having something to do with emotion. But a song or a sonata can't literally feel happy or sad, so what is the connection to emotion?

You're right that a work of music can't literally feel sad. It's also true that we, the listeners, often (perhaps even typically) don't feel sad when we hear a sad piece of music. In fact, we might feel exhiliration or awe in the presence of a wonderful performance of a sad piece--a slow one in a minor key, for example. (If sad music typically made us sad we probably wouldn't choose to listen to as much of it as we do.) There's no reason to think that the composer or performer(s) of a sad piece of music need to feel sad. So who or what is the subject of the emotions we seem to perceive in music? And come to think of it, unlike garden variety emotions, the emotions that we perceive in music don't have clear objects either. What is the sadness of the music about? Even though the emotions we seem to hear in music have no clear subjects or objects, it often (though not always) seems right to describe music in emotional terms. Saying how this can be is one of the central problems--if not the ...

Dear philosophers, this is a question from a fresh mother who has a teenage kid. Every time she asks some questions about the truth of life and world, I feel cornered. I hope she could grow up into a person who has her own judgements and ability to reflect independently. I don't want her to be influenced by her mother's words as I was. What should I do?

You could share with your daughter not just your views and opinions on these matters, but the reasons you hold them. You won't indoctrinate her if you're also candid about uncertainties you might have, and about the route(s) you took in developing your own views--the questions that burned in you, your changes of heart, and so on. In fact, you will help teach her how to form reasonable views of her own.

Is a poem about nature beautiful because of its form, or is it beautiful because it reminds us of the beauty inherent in nature? Philosophers tend to equate aesthetic beauty with the form of a work of art and our 'interests' get in the way of appreciating the form. However if this is the case why is there not more beautiful poems about rubbish dumps and oil spills.

If you judge a poem to be beautiful, I doubt that's because of any beauty you might find in the subject matter independently of the way it is represented in the poem. Presumably the poem is made beautiful by its "poetic qualities"--for example, its form and rythms, as well as the tropes and other stylistic features it uses to bring out subtle aspects of its subject matter, or certain broader connotative connections it might have, particularly with the reactive attitudes of its readers. (Well, that's what you get for asking a philosopher about poetry.) I don't see why there can't be a beautiful (if nevertheless disturbing) poem about an oil spill, or a not at all beautiful poem about something very beautiful. Here's one: "Oh, Taj Mahal, How you inspire me."

Does free will fare any better under a Dualistic or Deistic system than it does under materialism?

I don't think so. The central puzzle is to understand how, in the presence of impersonal and seemingly comprehensive causal processes, we humans can really make the free choices we think we do about largely (if not entirely) physical matters--whether to pick up the phone that's ringing, or where to go to lunch, for example. The problem is to say how my eating at Fatzo's was freely chosen if this action was caused by physical events in my body, including physical events in my brain, which in turn were brought about through a chain of events that traces back to hereditary or environmental features that are outside my control--factors that ultimately pre-date me, in fact. That some of these events might have arise from indeterministic micro-physical processes doesn't really help, since these processes are also out of my control. One answer to this puzzle is to say (very roughly) that an action is free if the causal chain that brings it about goes through my character in the right way. There are many...