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Through some years of philosophical study I've become confused about what exactly it means for me to have knowledge. What was once a familiar and seemingly clear concept has now become unfamiliar and obscure. Can it be made clear again for me? Can I ever know whether or not I know? It seems as though the more I read about knowledge the more obscured it becomes.

I don't know the answer to your question, but since this topic interests you, I would recommend you take a look at the skeptical traditions generally categorized as Pyrrhonian and Academic skepticism. One famous device you might use to think about these questions is called Agrippa's trilemma. An ancient chronicler of skepticism called Sextus Empiricus reports that one Agrippa posed the following problem: Justifications for knowledge claims seem problematic because knowledge claims must be justified by other claims, just as premises are needed to justify a conclusion. How are the justifying claims to be themselves justified? Either (1) they are self-evident and self-justifying--but this seems wrong and little better than making assumptions, which justify nothing. Or (2) the supposed justification starts an infinite regress where the supporting claims get justified by other claims and those claims get justified by still other claims, ad infinitum--but an infinite regress doesn't seem like justification. Or...

Not sure whether this question would fall under philosophy or psychology (both perhaps) but I was always curious why it is that children love video games but hate homework. Cognitively they are pretty much the same. They challenge the child to think critically to solve a problem, and provide a sense of reward when completed, so why is one cherished while the other despised?

Plato recounts a conversation in his magisterial dialogue "Republic" (at lines 475e-476b) where a young man names "Glaucon" and Socrates discuss education and philosophy (the love of wisdom). A distinction is generated between "lovers of sights and sounds" and "lovers of truth." I suspect something of that explains the difference you've discerned. Some people find satisfaction in sensuous experiences (the "lovers of sights and sounds"). They like images and fictions, make-believe, movies, shows, representations. They enjoy vivid and delightful shapes, colors, movement, music, powerful sub-woofer explosions, etc. Others enjoy ideas, theories, concepts, arguments, principles, and the discovery of fundamental truths about what's real, actual, and factual. They're less interested in exciting moments than in enduring wisdom. There's also a discussion perhaps relevant in work by the quasi-Platonic philosopher, Augustine, about how people get caught up in the desires of their eyes and senses generally, rather...

Is it morally wrong for a person (X) involved in a romantic relationship with a person (Y) to leave Y to pursue her romantic interests towards Z who happen to be a teacher of both X and Y? In general, is it okay for teachers and students to date each other?

There are two, independent questions here: (1) is it morally permissible for X to leave Y to pursue another relationship and (2) is it permissible to pursue a romantic relationship with a teacher. At least, I don't see how answering (2) is relevant to (1). If X's relationship with Y (1) is unsatisfying or otherwise deficient, it's permissible to leave. Perhaps my colleagues will see something here I'm missing. About (2) much has been said and thought. I suppose I think it depends upon the kind of teacher. I think it's permissible to have a relationship with a ski instructor, maybe a yoga instructor, a Sunday school teacher, or other kinds of teacher where the stakes of engaging in the relationship aren't likely to have an adverse effect upon the class or others in it. University classes, however, where grades are distributed are otherwise, since the process of grading is likely to be corrupted by romantic relationships. By corrupted I mean that grades and letters of recommendation are likely to be...

What does a philosopher use in order to reach conclusion?

There are many methods proper to philosophers' reaching a conclusion. Together with Julian Baggini, I set out many of them in our Philosopher's Toolkits. Briefly, however, I might say that to reach conclusions philosophers variously use the following (and there may be some overlap in these): (1) the methods of deductive and inductive logic; (2) appeals to intellectual insight evoked through the articulation or synthesis or exhaustive scrutiny of one or more philosophical visions, descriptions, explanations, axioms, or theories; (3) indirect forms of discourse that attempt to show obliquely what can't be said directly, sometimes by placing theories and other discursive practices side-by-side or in opposition or in contrast or in tension with one another or by altering the context in which they're given voice or utterance (whew!); (4) dialectical reasoning, where thinkers engage a back-and-forth process of argument-criticism-questioning until a conclusion emerges; (5) appeals to reflective equilibrium where...

Does a book reviewer (whose review will be published) have an ethical responsibility to give a fair and just book review? Does that responsibility just extend to the author, or to readers of the review as well?

Yes, a reviewer has an ethical responsibility to authors to give a fair and just review, and a similar obligation to the readers as well. The author may have money, a job, happiness, and reputation at stake in the review, and so an unfair and inaccurate review can wrongly harm the author. Readers, however, have an interest in allocating the finite time and other resources of their lives well, and there are opportunity costs to reading one book when others would serve their interests better. So, an unfair and inaccurate review can harm readers, too.

When a writer is giving advice on writing and they are saying what not to do and what you should do, then do you take the advice or kind of find your own groove?

The short answer is: find your own groove. It's a bit of a false alternative, however. That's because finding your own groove often takes some experiment, and experimentation is often well guided by the advice of others. So, my advice (!), since you asked, is to weigh thoughtfully the advice of others whose writing you admire, and try out what they suggest. Ultimately, you have to find your own authentic voice, but others can help you make that discovery.

Is it ethical to have biological children when there are children who could benefit from fostering or adoption? Isn't creating further needs wrong, when existing needs could be fulfilled? I'm unsure about the moral status of having children reproductively when fostering is possible. There are some reasons for this concern, which are as follows: In the developed world, each person tends to cause globally disproportionate amounts of pollution and environmental harm. The world bank's statistics on per-capita GHG output by country support this. Creating a new person means that there is a new set of needs which must be fulfilled, often at the expense of the globally worst-off, who will be hurt by the effects of procuring the necessary resources to meet those needs. Secondly, it seems as if we have moral reason to meet existing needs before it is permissible to create more needs through reproduction. There are plenty of children without homes, and adopting or fostering them both reduces environmental...

I think you're onto a profoundly important question, and I share your concern that the issue is not commonly one encounters in public discourses. I think the issue of having children is, as you say, bound up with concerns about prioritizing existing needs and also about the environmental consequences of additional pollution, consumption, habitat loss, etc. I think the issue, however, concerns both the more developed and the less developed world. The impacts from reproduction in each are different, but those impacts in both are substantial. Currently the levels of consumption in the less developed world are low, but we can't demand that populations remain impoverished. Moreover, populations in the less developed world are despite low individual levels of consumption nevertheless collectively exerting enormous pressures on non-human populations through their effects on water, habitat, and pollution. It is clearly, then, not morally unproblematic to reproduce under current circumstances for any of us. There,...

People who want to adopt children typically must demonstrate that they would be good parents (they must be financially stable, reasonably healthy, law-abiding, and so on). This is often a very difficult process, as prospective parents are placed under intense scrutiny; and many couples who would likely make fine parents are denied. What reason is there to regulate adoption in this way that would not apply to parenthood in general? I think most of us agree that it is a good thing that not just anyone can adopt. But why should having one's own biological children by any different? I am normally repulsed by the claim that only certain people should be allowed to breed. However, I don't see what would justify applying such demanding standards to adoptive parents but not biological ones.

There are a number of reasons for the asymmetry for the difference in the way biological and adoptive parents are treated. The first is privacy. The second is liberty. The decision to reproduce and the process of reproduction are among the most personal, intimate, and emotionally profound in human life, and they involve one's own body. For the state or institutions to intrude into that process would entail compromising the most private dimensions of our lives and bodies and interferring with people's liberty in substantial ways, and people find that intolerable, especially given the epistemic problems in determining who is and is not fit to parent. The question of whether people are fit to parent can be handled once children are born. Scrutinizing prospective parents through adoption requires no iintrusion into the private matter of biological reproduction or positive comprimising of the liberty of people. Of course, the state and the community do have an interest in new members of the community being...

why do we associate different colors with different things? for example, blue is consistently associated with either feeling 'down' or 'relaxed'. black, while considered fashionable is generally considered a morose color. so, why do we feel a need to attribute certain colors to certain states of mind? if color is just a question of wavelengths, (etc) then why does society do this? - Farris, age 26

This is largely an empirical and psychological rather than a philosophical or conceptual question. I suspect that there are both natural and social reasons for the association. I can think of how some cultures use white for mourning while others black, how some associate red with luck and good fortune while others associate it with vice and anger. On the other hand, there seems a biological link between seasonal affect/exposure to bright/intense/full spectrum/natural light and therefore between dark/gray/blue environments and depression. I suppose one philosophically interesting bit would be whether it's possible to have an experience of color that's not conditioned by emotional and conceptual matters. The conditions for the possibility of color experience and the possibility of color experience independent of other experiences would be interesting to investigate not only empirically but also conceptually. We might argue that the very concepts of color (red, blue, yellow, etc.) are more and must be more...

How should we distinguish between personal memories of our past (what psychologists call episodic memory) and the imagination? Aren't the mental states at the heart of both phenomena fundamentally the same?

One might say, in fact, that memory is part of our imaginative capacity, or at least dependent upon our imaginative capacity to the extent it is composed of imaginative mental phenomena. One way to distinguish memories from other imaginative events, then, as Oliver Leeman suggests, is by their epistemic status. Genuine memories are true, while imaginative events generally may or may not be. But I'd add that it's possible to have imaginative events that are true but are not memories. They would be true accidentally, or by luck. For example, I might imagine that right now a Turkish fighter jet has engaged a target along the Syrian frontier--and by chance it might be so. I'd say, then, that another feature of memories that distinguishes them from imaginations is their causal history. Memories are cause by past experiences, by our past interactions with the world, ourselves, and others. Imaginations may be dreamt up at any time. But these are rather objective ways of distinguishing memories from...

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