Recently I asked if theology were a branch of philosophy, and was encouraged by Dr. Stairs to ask my question. If we are told in Christian (Catholic at least) faith that God is the only One True God and we should not pray to any other God except Her/Him/It, then how come (in some branches) we can pray to saints or to Mary, and not be committing idolatry? One answer I've heard is that we do not "pray" to them so much as we ask them to intercede for us on our behalf....I don't know though, that sounds forced.

Great response. I would add that since the 17th century, theology as a discipline has largely been seen as distinct from philosophy. Theology, though, historically and today, has drawn from philosophy and philosophers (throughout its history) have addressed religiously significant themes. Philosophy of religion is a respected sub-field of philosophy (see the entry Philosophy of Religion in the free online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) just like philosophy of science, philosophy of art, and so on. There is also the practice of what is called philosophical theology --this is usually a matter of practicing philosophy within a tradition. In this sense a Christian philosopher might offer a philosophical analysis of the Trinity or Incarnation or Prayer.

Hi! I have two questions that are related. So, instead of making two different entries, i will try to sum up everything now. My first question is regarding love: Can someone love something/someone that is perfect? If so, Is it meaningful? When i ask myself this i think in love as a desition, as a judgment, as a promise. Something that "requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn't a feeling, it is a practice.” (Fromm, 1957). With this in mind, i see perfection as something imposible to love because it is easy to accept it. If love is practice, then you cant love anything and anyone that doesnt require patience and discipline. I think in the start of a relationship, when everything is perfect and the world is in colour pink, that feeling wouldnt be called love. But at the same time, i find myself thinking in people that care about others, people that listen and are willing to help. Selfless people. Do they love? So, besides the question of loving someone...

Great questions. An initial observation: Fromm's view of love seems compelling, though I am uneasy about his claim that love is not a feeling. It seems that one might have discipline, patience, faith... and care for another person, but without FEELINGS (the emotions) of delight in the one you love and sorrowing when the beloved is injured, I am not sure you would have a case of love. So I think Fromm's claim that love is not a feeling, but a practice, is open to challenge. Maybe he might have made the point that love is not MERELY a feeling. Over to your first question: Because there seem to be very few evident perfect persons (even Gandhi had his faults), I think your (excellent) question would probably best be posed in the philosophy of religion. Classical Judaism, Christianity, Islam and theistic Hinduism believe in the divine (God, Allah, Brahman) as a perfect, maximally excellent reality. I suggest love of the divine in such practices would include the cultivation of awe (or praise or worship or...

I was in conversation with a friend about the problem of evil when gave examples of human evil on innocents that God could have prevented, he said the act is evil on our morality but not on God's morality. He knows omniscience so he the act might not be evil for him for the reasons we don't know. Does this even make sense? When our morality is so different than God, when we say good, the word good could mean very different when applied to God? What would we even mean when God is perfectly good? Any responses to the argument?

Great questions and concerns. For most philosophical theists (those who affirm the existence of God) "good" and "evil" need to be used with the same sense / meaning in terms of humans and God. For you to be compassionate and God to be compassionate and to be called 'good' presumably we mean praise-worthy / desirable / it is better that there is such compassion rather than not. But value judgements are often contextual depending on those involved. For those in the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), God is understood to be the creator and sustainer of the cosmos, who is revealed in human history through prophets and (for Christians) in the incarnation. As such, God is not to be assessed as we would assess a human bi-stander. So, for you and I to not prevent a murder when we could do so is blameworthy. Does it follow that if God has created and sustained a cosmos in which there is murder, then God is blameworthy? Maybe, but so many factors enter into this. One has to do with what is called...

I am seeing a married man that had already started his divorce proceedings before we had our affair. His wife is a friend of mine and approves of our relationship because she still wants her husband around for advice and help but she is seeing other men and in fact has a stable relationship with one. I care for this man deeply and he has said he "loves me". From the beginning my guilt about being with a "married man" has haunted me from a religious point of view. I can't get around it. Now we are both in stressful situations where he is going to court (more than once because we are in Mexico and it takes a long time) and I am selling my house with a major issue with the closing. Since we have started to argue, I just want to break it up until his divorce goes through and my closing to get some breathing room. At this point, I don't even want to be with him. We were going to live together after I sold my house and feel this is a bad idea under the circumstances. In fact I feel my soul has been...

According to many (but perhaps not all) Christians and many secular philosophers (and persons of other faiths) marriage is fundamentally based on the vows that persons make to each other. So, for many Christians in the west, the church does not actually marry two persons; the church recognizes and proclaims (and blesses) the marriage. Insofar as "the married man" and his spouse have ended their vow (whether they think of this as breaking the vow or releasing each other from their vow), the marriage has ended, even if it is still a legal matter of divorce. One reason why the state has an interest in the legality of making and ending marriages is to protect persons from harm and insure fair benefits (e.g. see to it that there is proper child support and a fair distribution of property) that might not happen on a voluntary basis. Apart from such a legal matter, however, it sounds to me that the soul of his earlier marriage (so to speak) has been dissolved in virtue of the two of them releasing each other...

Is philosophy something that everyone uses? Should people use philosophy more, than they already do?

If by "philosophy" we mean something like having a view of reality and values then it is hard to imagine not having a philosophy. If we mean something more like "disciplined reflection on reality and values," then it also seems hard to imagine that doing more philosophy would be harmful. And if we go to the etymology of "philosophy" (from the Greek "philo," meaning "love" and "sophia" meaning "love") then it is (again) hard to imagine that doing philosophy would ever be bad. After all, if engaging in what we call philosophy was unwise, one should not do it. Coming at your question from a different angle: let's say we define philosophy in terms of this site: should more people engage in AskPhilosophers? I think so, but we need to balance our tasks and responsibilities in life. Should a single parent of 6 children who is also a physician and caring for parents in hospice care, spend lots of time on this site? Well, I would like to believe it might provide a bit of relief / distracting stimulation, but...

I'm leaning toward the position that there is little or no difference between advocacy and lying. Has any other philosopher discussed this in detail?

Check out Tom Carson's book Lying and Deception (Notre Dame University Press). It's brilliant. I am not sure why you are leaning to equate lying and advocacy. Maybe you have in mind the idea that when persons advocate for a cause or person they might be tempted to do *anything* on behalf of the cause or person. I will admit (and hope that my college administration is not reading this) that my advocacy on behalf of some students has led me to "stretch the truth" a bit (or lie), but this is rare! Check out Carson's book. It is brilliant.

A man has a full grain silo and he refuses to feed the starving village people who the starve to death. I know he’ll be absolved in a court of law but, isn’t it wrong to let people die when you have the means to save them?

Great question. You are right that, very often and in many places through history, there has been some reluctance to compel persons (through law) to save others when they are in a position to do so. This has included not just a reluctance to compel persons (as in your case) to provide food or other resources to aid others who would otherwise die from starvation, but compelling persons to physically aid others who are in peril (rescuing someone who is drowning, for example). Gradually, in the United Sates and elsewhere, there have emerged Good Samaritan Laws that require (and protect from liability) persons to make *some* effort to assist innocent persons in need (e.g. a passing health professional is expected to assist someone who has had a heart attack when no one else is available, and the professional knows basic means of reviving the victim), but these concern emergency situations. Be that as it may, there have been philosophers who prioritize the right to life over the right to property, opening the...

What is it to know what a thing is? Suppose I can identify a laurel tree by its smell, but not by the shape and colour of its leaves. Or the other way around. Do I know what a laurel tree is in each of these cases? Or suppose I am a scientist and can identify it by analysing its genome, but not by its smell nor by the shape and colour of the leaves... Suppose I know only or, on the contrary, do not know the uses people give to laurel leaves. How many properties of laurel must I know so that I can know what laurel is? I think I must know something, otherwise I wouldn't even know what the word"laurel" means. But what? It can't be just one small thing: I wouldn't say that I know what laurel is if I can identify it only by its smell.

Great question(s). I suggest that "the bottom line" philosophically in such matters involves whether your concept of a "laurel" enables you to identify the plant as distinct from other plants and things in general (including minerals, animals, computers,...). Another criterion that philosophers use involves identifying what features are necessary or sufficient for a thing to be what it is. Such an analysis will probably take shape in terms of differentiating a thing's essential characteristics from its accidental features. So, I assume that an essential feature of being laurel would be being a plant, but it would only be an accidental feature that the plant was used in ceremonies to make a kind of crown that was conferred on someone quite distinguished (a successful poet, say). Because things like laurels will have almost indefinitely many features (the way it tastes, the sound it makes or does not make, when harvested.....), we tend to prioritize what features are vital depending on the context. So, for...

My wife wants to retire to a gated community. I find the phrase to be an oxymoron, and believe that the whole gated project is morally flawed; for example, it can lead to us vs. them thinking, social stratification, etc. Is there an argument here, or just a personal preference?

Fascinating situation. And really important to resolve in a marriage or intimate relationship! There might be some interesting empirical evidence or social science that can shed light on the situation: my guess is that gated communities probably contain more persons who prize privacy than public works, the greater community or a nearby municipality, but this might or might not be backed up by social research. If I was in your situation, the most important factor for me would be to reach agreement on core values with my spouse. Perhaps she shares the same values you do, but either fears or has been the victim of violence / crime or (as a woman) she believe she is more likely to be assaulted than males, and so a gated community is preferred for her safety or she may feel the need to be more protective of both you and her and your family. If so, those may be good reasons (for her sake or for the sake of those values) to (perhaps reluctantly) joining the gated community as I would think one could offset...

Say the universe is natural (say it had 'natural' beginnings and there was no creator)... what should this mean for my life? If we took this a step further and said we are the products of some accidental RNA interaction and there is no soul or afterlife, what should this mean about an overall worldview? Am I to live happily? How am I to struggle through moments of toil - work hard in society - if there is no meaning?

The topic of the meaning of life is now very big among philosophers. Most non-theistic / atheistic philosophers would respond that even if there is no meaning or purpose OF or FOR life, there can be meaning IN life. So, even if all life is the result of purposeless, accidents, etc, there is no reason to not love other people, work as a doctor in society, be an artist, fight for justice. I agree, but it is worth considering that IF theism is true and the cosmos exists for goods (such as persons loving and caring for each other, etc) then perhaps life has even more meaning than if theism is false. This is a quick reply; for more nuanced reflection see T.J. Mawson's God and the Meaning of Life or The Purpose of Life by Stewart Goetz.

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