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It's been said that the lottery is a "stupidity tax," and that people only buy tickets who fundamentally misunderstand the odds against them. However, I've seen people reply that, although they understand full well the infinitesimally small chance of winning, they view the lottery as a form of entertainment, and buy tickets with this in mind. Is this a sound rationalization for playing the lottery? Or is it just a way of laundering the same old irrationality?

Well, either it's not a way of laundering the same old irrationality or I'm irrational in this respect. I don't buy lottery tickets often, and even when I do, I don't spend much, but I do occasionally buy them, and it's for exactly the reason you suggest: it has a certain entertainment value. Now I admit: there is quite likely an irrational corner of my psyche that holds out a stronger hope of winning than the probabilities warrant. But I know how the probabilities actually work, am reasonably self-aware about my lurking id, and haven't shown any tendencies toward compulsive lottery-ticket purchasing. That little irrational bit of me is no doubt what makes the "entertainment" possible. A certain sort of caution would would counsel that it's unwise indulge this benighted part of my nature, though I'd need more evidence to be convinced. That said, my overall view is that government-sponsored lotteries are iniquitous because for many people they are indeed a tax on irrationality. It's a sleazy way for...

Hello! I have a question about a particular line of reasoning in a debate that, to me, only leads to a "do I care" conclusion. I have now encountered this reasoning in several debates and can't think of a better conclusion. There must be a name for this that I am not aware of. Most recently this happened in a debate about cults. We were chugging along on the topic of cults and what gets something labeled as a cult vs say a religion or a tribe or, more universally, just humanity. The conclusion, again to me, was that when you expand the definition of "cult" so far out, yes, the entire human race can be labeled a cult. That is to say that under that definition of the word "cult" everything can be labeled a cult and the only conclusion is "do I care". This did not help my friend who wishes to avoid all cults but seemingly proved they were in a cult called the human race. Is there a name for this type of semantic bloating? Is this perhaps a long established logical fallacy I'm not aware of?? Regards.

I don't know the name, though I like "semantic bloating." In any case, a couple of observations. First, words mean what people use them to mean. Words in English mean what competent speakers use them to mean—or, at least, that's close enough for our purposes. Competent speakers of English don't use the word "cult" to refer to the whole human race. But the issue isn't really about the word. If your friend has a point, s/he ought to be able to make it by setting the word "cult" aside. What bothers us about the things we typically label cults is that they display a cluster of undesirable traits and tendencies. They make a rigid distinction between insiders and outsiders; they enforce membership conditions that alienate members from family and friends who mean them no harm; they insist on accepting dubious beliefs; they make it psychologically distressing for people to challenge or doubt those beliefs; they expect unquestioning obedience to the group's authority figures. All of these things show up in...

Is there any point in listening to sad music?

The best answer, surely, is yes. Whether we can say why the answer is yes may be another matter. Here's an external reason: untold millions of sane, healthy people regularly have listened and do listen to sad music and find it rewarding to do so. It's possible, I suppose, that this is a kind of pathology, but that seems hard to believe. Furthermore, there's nothing special about music here. In literature, poetry, film, painting and dance, works that are considered among the greatest human achievement would be counted as sad. For example: I found the ending of Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day (the book deeply sad. (Not the movie, by the way, which in my view had an ending that missed the whole point of the story.) But I also think that reading the novel was a valuable experience. Many others feel the same way. There's a similar and extensively-explored issue about frightening stories. Many people enjoy reading horror stories and watching horror movies. But why? Very few people want to be...

What is the purpose of a college degree? If I teach myself a subject from reading books about it, how is it any different from paying expensive tuition to learn the exact same information?

There's not just one answer and others may add their own. But your question equates getting an education with acquiring information, and that's not a good way to think of it. I'll use philosophy as an example, but some version of what I'm about to say would apply to any discipline I can think of. A philosophy student may acquire a lot of information—for example, about who the Utilitarians were, and what compatibilism about free will is. But that's a small part of what she gets through her philosophical education. What she gets, if things works out, is the ability to think well philosophically. That comes from practice, from interacting with philosophers and, crucially, from getting feedback. It's hard to learn to do philosophy if all you have is a library of books that you read. In particular, it's hard to know whether you're learning to do it well. And—trust me on this—your own judgments about that may be way off the mark. There are exceptions, of course, but they're just that: exceptions. You may...

Hello. A roll of dice is supposed to be the perfect example of randomness, but it's easy to see how you might go about explaining why someone got a 1 instead of 6. The die was this way up when it hit the table at this angle, it had this amount of force, there were certain weight imbalances that caused it to spin this way rather than that, etc. So is there really such a thing as chance, or is that just the word we use for when something is too complex for us to disentangle all the cause and effect that goes into it?

Good question. In fact, most people who work on these matters wouldn't agree that a roll of a die is a perfect example of randomness. And you are quite right: we believe that if we knew enough about the prevailing conditions when the die was rolled (and if we could do the calculations!) we could figure out how the die would land. That convinces many people that dice rolls aren't really chance events at all, though not everyone agrees. The issues about "deterministic chance" tend to get technical, but they have partly to do with the amount of complexity involved in disentangling the causes and effects. But your question still stands whatever our view on whether determinism and chance can somehow fit together. That question is: are all apparent examples of chance cases where a complete account of the details would determine the outcome of the supposedly "chance" process? The answer is a solid "Maybe not." The reason is quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics, as you may know, is a theory in which...

Does the following successfully establish a presumption of strong global atheism? "Define strong global atheism as the view that there is no god. There is a presumption of strong global atheism because theists propose the addition of a supernatural entity (a god) to what is already known to exist (the natural world). That is, theists make an extraordinary claim, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In the absence of such evidence, strong global atheism is warranted."

I'd say no. (By the way, I'm not sure what "strong global" adds to "atheism," but let that pass.) The trouble is that the argument begs the question against various forms of theism. To state the most obvious problem, there are plenty of theists who think that God is already known to exist and has been for millennia. Now perhaps these theists are wrong, but in this context one can't simply assume that without argument. Nor could you expect the theist simply to agree that knowledge of God is "extraordinary" compared to knowledge of the natural world. This is a topic that Alvin Plantinga has discussed extensively, but one of his persistent themes is that the theist is entitled to her beliefs without having to produce arguments for them; she is entitled to them as "basic beliefs," not unlike your belief that you are looking at a computer screen right now. Again, you might disagree, and Plantinga might be wrong. But once again, in this context you can't simply presume that he's wrong. (By the way:...

How can I be morally 'good' and make sure I'm not seeking moral dessert? I'm trying to be a good person but it's impossible to do that without deep down inside wanting something out of it. I don't mean that I'm doing good things to get something I want. I don't feel like I deserve something because I did something good. However I don't think anyone can say that they don't do something good without having any selfish thought of wanting something because of it. Even if that thing is wanting to be seen by others as a good person. That's all I want. I am just afraid that what I'm doing doesn't count as good because I want the littlest thing out of it. I'm afraid that I can't become a good person because of this.

You write "I am just afraid that what I'm doing doesn't count as good because I want the littlest thing out of it." That would only be true if actions had to be completely free of mixed motives to count as good. But that's not very plausible. Consider two scenarios. In each of them, you're in a coffee shop. In each of them, the person at the next table gets up to leave, having forgotten to pick up the wallet that you see sitting on the table. In the first scenario, the person is someone you'd like to have an excuse to meet. In the second it's not. Are you the kind of person who wouldn't do the right thing in the second case? If you are, you're right to worry about your moral state. If you are, then you're the sort of person who may do the right thing, but only if there's something in it for you. But I'm betting that in both cases, you'd get the person's attention and point out that s/he left the wallet behind. The fact that in one case, you have an extra reason doesn't show that you wouldn't be...

Most questions I see asked about the death penalty seem to center on whether it is wrong because of the harm it does to the person who is executed. What about the harm done to others by keeping a dangerous sociopath alive? Let's posit that we have a person who is so depraved that a prison sentence is no deterrence; and this person will gleefully cause pain, suffering, even death to prison guards and other inmates whenever he has a chance. Is it reasonable for all these other people to have to be exposed to such danger? Granted this scenario is an extreme case, that prison guards (let alone other prisoners) never anticipated such a danger to themselves when they first signed up for the job.

When people argue for capital punishment, one of the considerations they sometimes raise is deterrence. We can ask about general deterrence: does the death penalty tend to lower the murder rate? That's not your question. But we can also ask about specific deterrence: do we need the death penalty to keep particular, especially dangerous murderers from killing again? Someone could argue that death penalty statutes need provisions to deal with cases of the sort you've described: murderers who are likely to be a serious danger even if they're incarcerated. I'll confess that I find it hard to imagine a case where we had no other way of protecting guards and other inmates; far as I know, so-called super-max prisons already do that, though of course I could be wrong about how well they succeed.* If your question is whether there's a potentially legitimate question here, I'd say the answer is yes. But whether it will amount to an important part of a case for capital punishment, all things considered, is harder...

Is one immoral just by virtue of having immoral thoughts? So for example if Joe really wants to steal from his neighbor, or in his heart he approves of the act of steaing for no reason, but didn't put that into action because he forgot or didn't have the chance. Is joe still "sinning"? He won't be punished for just having such thoughts but I don't see why in this case he is morally any better than an actual thief.

There's a strong case for saying that Joe really isn't any morally better than an actual thief. It's just fluke luck that separates Joe from Moe, who actually stole the neighbor's wallet a little later that day. Among others, you certainly have Kant on your side; Joe lacks what Kant calls a good will, and Kant though that a good will is the only thing that's truly good. As for whether Joe is "sinning" by wanting to steal from his neighbor, having an impulse probably doesn't count as a "sin," though sin is not a notion that has much currency in contemporary ethical theory. Just how one ought to deal with such impulses is an interesting question. The obvious first answer is by resisting the temptation, and that's fine as far as it goes. Giving in to the temptation is wrong, even if lucky circumstance has it that the giving in doesn't end up going anywhere. If we want to use the word "sin," we might want to say that forming the intention to do wrong is already wrong, even if nothing comes of it. But your...

Now it’s true the Eagles won the super bowl. Is the following statement true.?The team had always a winning chance of 100 percent regardless of their preparation , and there was absolutely no power in the world that could have changed the outcome .

Let's focus on one bit of your question. You ask if this is true:            The team had always a winning chance of 100 percent regardless of their preparation . Now compare that to something more mundane. As I write this, it's 3: 45 here in College Park. The light in my office is on. Would you say this?            The light always had a 100% chance of being on at 3:45 on February 15, regardless of whether anyone flipped the switch . I'm guessing you'd say no. The flipping of the switch was an essential part of the process that turned the light on. Likewise, the Eagles' preparation was an essential part of the process that brought about their win. No switch flipped, no light on; no diligent preparation, no win. It's not that this answers all the questions someone might have about freedom and determinism (or, in this case, freedom and determinateness ). It's just to say that there's no reason to think things would have turned out as they did regardless of the events that led up to them. The...

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