Art

A painter painted a masterpiece to express his observation of the world. However, everyone's understanding of the same works is quite different, and the painter is not sure whether his or her works are reflected in others. The original meaning of some ancient paintings has long been unknown, or gradually distorted in the history of interpretation. What is the meaning of painting? Just speak to oneself? Can the meaning, or beauty, be transmitted among different people?

One needn't know who first coined a word or even how it was originally used for that word to be meaningful, and similarly the fact that the origins of ancient artworks are murky doesn't entail that they are without meaning. The original meaning may be lost, but new meanings are generated, often retaining traces (often more) of earlier meanings. Now, of course, some words are more commonly understood than others, and there are lots of artworks that hold generally shared meanings for people. Sublime landscapes, beautiful portraits, and rousing political artworks support common interpretations galore. So, it seems pretty clear to me that meaning is transmitted and shared through artwork. Sure, when pushed different people generate different shades of meaning and different connotations when asked about how they understand words, but the agreement, facility, and approval with which people share word usage points to shared meanings. And some words are understood only within recondite discourses by small...

Suppose some celebrity has made him or herself more loved and well-received partly by establishing an him or herself as faithful, compassionate husband or wife. If it’s later found out that this celebrity actually leads a messy private life far from the established image, does he or she owe an apology to the public? What if the celebrity never revealed anything about his or her private life or used it to establish some image? Does the public or the media have any right to expose, examine or criticize his or her private life? Some say it’s an inevitable price to pay for the publicity, since they also reaped benefit from it. Is it true?

In cases where the celebrity has intentionally established a false perception that was consciously used to leverage considerable benefits, especially financial benefits, the celebrity owes an apology, at least, to the public (perhaps also resigning from a position, perhaps returning goods). There's a kind of fraud in that. But the responsibility is limited for two reasons: (1) most people commonly try to present themselves in an optimal way and (2) everyone understands that. The point at which legitimate grooming shades into fraudulent deception can be difficult, but those with experienced judgment in the relevant contexts are best suited to draw the line. Neither the public nor the media have the right to examine anyone's private life, and that includes the private lives of celebrities. Except when special circumstances prohibit it (say teacher-student relationships), people do have a right to criticize others and even to expose others when the information about those matters exposed was obtained in...

Hi philosophers , recently a friend of mine said “it’s always best to tell the truth “ until I pointed out examples where this is obviously not true, this lead me to wondering what if we as humans had not the ability to lie ? Would the world be a better or a worse place to live? I think complete honesty amongst humans would create chaos as although admirable in many ways offence would still be taken and consequences could be dire. I imagine the anguish most men would have attempting to truthfully answer that awkward question from the wife as in “ do you think I look fat in this dress dear “?

Like your friend, the German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant in “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy” argued that it's categorically wrong to lie, even to a murderer at the door looking for someone inside. Like you, however, I think he's obviously mistaken. It would to my mind obviously be permissible to lie to Nazis at the door looking for Anne Frank, and similarly lying to slave catchers hunting people who had escaped enslavement. There also seem to be harmless, trivial, but nonetheless beneficial lies--call them lies of kindness and social lubrication, just the the sort you mention, for example. Similarly: "So nice to meet you"; and "I'm fine," certainly. Friedrich Nietzsche in a grander but not unrelated way describes in "The Birth of Tragedy" how one of the functions of art is to mask, even lie, to us about the horrifying truths about reality. Elsewhere he maintains that concepts are always bound up with at least poetic lies as well as lies maintaining power relations (an idea later...

Hi, wanted to know if Order & Reason are a part of Nature. or if this is simply how humans view things and try to make sense of things. Cheers

For myself, I think the traditions of philosophical skepticism have raised serious doubts about whether or not this question can be finally answered. It seems, given the apparent lessons of those traditions, that it wisest to suspend judgment on the question but nevertheless to keep inquiring and to remain open to the chance that we might figure it out. My own suspicion is that there is some independent and objective basis to our projections of order and reason, but I’m not convinced that any single formulation or projection in human thought or action can apprehend that basis in a complete or final way. That we can make projections and formulations about order and reason seems remarkable and suggestive in itself, but the problems skepticism has brought before us with those projections and formulations seem sufficient to give one serious pause before pretending to any final conclusion.

Would it be best for Earth if we all died right now? We are destroying her; or do you think our selfish race should stick around to fix our mistakes (as if)? At this rate, it's only getting worse and barely beneficial. So perhaps we should all drop dead?

Restricting consideration only to the qualification “best for the Earth,” where that means something like best for the well being of current eco-systems and current non-human populations, I think the answer is yes, it would be better if we all dropped dead, especially if “this rate” of destruction remains unchanged. But, of course, what is best for the current eco-systems and current populations must be weighed against other considerations such as what is “best for” certain projects and cultural formations we also rightly value—human communities, nations, literary, scientific, spiritual, and artistic projects. It is true, indeed, that those will disappear along with the rest of life on the planet if ecological destruction continues beyond the point at which human life or those projects can be sustained. It’s not clear, however, that the current rate of destruction will persist or that we will reach that point. It is not clear that it won’t or that we won’t, either. There seems to be a reasonable...

I generally believe to give birth to a child or not is completely a woman's own decision. Personally I never want to have a child. However someone recently said to me that to insist on that belief would be a little selfish when a woman is in a country threatened by rapid aging and declining population, which could in turn lead to far worse consequences like economic collapse. What do philosophers think?

A fascinating question. Let’s first examine the question of whether one might have an obligation to reproduce. Under normal circumstances, we honor the autonomy of individuals in such matters, largely as an extension of the principle that one should have ultimate control over one’s body to the extent it does not harm others. Of course, that raises the questions of whether refusing to reproduce might harm or injure others, and what harm or injury is relevant. This is part of a larger question of whether not doing something can be understood to be a kind of harm. Are we obligated to save others in peril, for existence? It’s a big question, but I’m inclined to think that we do bear a limited obligation. If that’s true, I can imagine a scenario where someone with a terminal illness is the only person in the world with a certain genetic trait and that trait is required to produce a cure for a disease that will otherwise kill everyone else. The trait cannot for some reason be preserved in tissue samples. In...

Recently I was trying to talk someone out of suicidal thought and he replied along the lines of "no one asked for my permission when they brought me to this world so it's my right to leave without their permission". Thank god he didn't actually do it but does that argument carry any weight? Would a philosopher be persuaded? If so surely anyone could freely commit suicide?

There's a fine book by Jennifer Hecht called "Stay," that outlines the many different positions philosophers have taken on the topic. It's a fascinating read. For myself, I don't wholly agree with your friend's claim. I do partially agree in that I think individual autonomy, including autonomy in the decision to end one's own life, should be valued a great deal and overridden only for very good reasons. There are, however, some very good reasons to override the choice of suicide in many circumstances (not all). Here are two I find compelling: (1) obligations to our future selves and (2) the effects of our lives upon others. The basic idea with (1) is that your current self is not the only iteration of you that will exist. In the future, things might be very different, many people miserable today are happy and virtuous later in life. Moreover, our later selves are dependent upon the survival of our current selves. That dependency matters--which brings me to (2). With (2) the important bit is to realize...

In many questions about government, the terms "the state" and "the government" seem to be used almost interchangeably: a common theme in the answer is that "the state" is a vehicle by which people agree to abide by standards of order as to how they interact with each other, and "the government" is the vehicle by which "the state" then enforces these agreements. However, in real life, "the government" is actually two different entities, is it not? a) "the government" as the agency that enforces agreements, as described above, but also (b) "the people who collectively work for the government," who often make sure that they themselves are taken care of before anyone else, and not infrequently, at the expense of everyone else. We see Congress, for example, exempt itself from laws it imposes on everyone else. We see state employees receiving large pensions (far larger than anyone in the private sector receives) even as states run large budget deficits and/or raise taxes on non-state employees to fund...

My perception is that distinctions of the sort you describe can be found but that they are both largley modern and contextual. So, one might determine the distinction in Hegel, Rawls, Foucault, etc. rather than find a uniform distinction across texts. A quick search of JSTOR raises this article that seems to offer some historical contextualization: “Theories of the Origin of the State in Classical Political Philosophy” by Harry Elmer Barnes, in a journal called “The Monist.” Vol. 34, No. 1 (January, 1924), pp. 15-62. Dwight Waldo’s book, The Administrative State (1948 but reissued in 2017 by Routledge), is a classic and makes an interesting distinction between the administrative and welfare state that may be helpful to you. As for the importance of the distinction, I leave that to others with more expertise in political philosophy, but my perception is that it is not terribly central. You will find some discussion of elite theory among political scientists. Trotsky’s critique of the Stalinist USSR...

Hi. I'm having some trouble with a presentation that I'm gonna have in a couple of weeks in my philosophy class. The teacher mentioned that Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire had thoughts that sparked the French Revolution. Are there any other philosophers which thoughts and ideas also had an impact even if they were not as big as a revolution? (Other philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Luther and Aquinas). I'm hoping someone could give me any tips and such. Anything helps! Thanks!

In a way, the answer to your question is that much of our civilization manifests the impact of philosophers. From our forms of government (Locke, Hegel, Hobbes, Rawls) and economics (Marx and Smith on socialism, free markets), to scientific inquiry (Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and Newton), to ideas of self (Plato, to religious theologies (Aquinas, ibn Rushd), to important movements in the arts (Locke, Kant, Schopenhauer, and Schiller with Impressionism and Romanticism), to our practices of medicine (Kant and informed consent), to ideas about liberty (Spinoza, Mill, Locke, Sartre, Foucault), women’s rights (Beauvoir, Wollstonecraft, Butler), etc. etc. The list goes on and on. It’s hard, in fact, to think of a region of culture and society upon which philosophers have not have an impact. There’s much for you to explore, and it’s all very exciting. Have a great time learning about it!

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...

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