If the unconscious exists as part of our working brains, how can we tell what is in it? Can we find out what is in specifically our own unconscious by ourselves?

There are different theories about that but one prominent theory, namely, Freud's - that repression and resistance are the reasons why much of our mental life is unconscious and save for himself -- he thought ordinary human beings could not break through that resistance on their own. As usual, Freud overstated things a mite, but there is something to be said for the view that we need some help in understanding the meaning of what is beneath the waves of our conscious lives - but that joint effort requires the ability to tolerate vulnerability and anxiety.

I've often heard people make the following argument about the n-word. It is self-defeating to insist that it is offensive for people, especially white people, to use the n-word. This taboo is precisely what empowers the word and makes it harmful; if we let people say it freely, it will lose its effect, which is what those concerned about racial invective should really want. I was wondering if the panelists are convinced by this theory of the meaning of the n-word and slurs more generally.

I am in my sixties, and I used to hear the N-word uttered quite freely and frequently by whites. The term still retained its poisonous power, which comes from a bloody history of oppression. It is true that some words like "sucks" lose their potency and connection with their original meaning as they come into common usage, but I see no reason to believe that this would hold for racial slurs. Moreover, I suspect that some taboos, some limits on expression are healthy. It would not be salutary for the psyche for people to feel relaxed in the use of terms that landed like stones on some people's ears. Thanks for your question.

What is the I who watches what the mind does?

Good question! For what it is worth, it feels to me like the I. Freud would call "it" the observing ego. Kierkegaard famously stated "the self is a relation that relates itself to itself". So Kierkegaard would say it is the self and the self is a process. Surely, the labcoats would contend that this executive function is a bit of brain circuitry. But whatever you want to call that internal voice/ perspective on the self, it is something that next to everyone struggles with. The desire for peace of mind is pandemic and by that we usually mean freedom from whatever it is that watches the mind and passes judgements on our thoughts and feelings.

Should gamespersonship be accepted as part of sport?

It already is part of sports. I can't imagine how it could be excluded from the world of contests in that gamespersonship implies that you will do whatever you can WITHIN the rules to triumph. However, someone who practiced gamespersonship would seem to me to lack sportspersonship -- and that would be worse than unfortunate. Though play, sport participation is a serious business. Rituals are vehicles of meaning in our society and sports is one of the last of our rituals. I am sad to say that I have, of late, been to a few funerals of people in their twenties and thirties who died long before their time. From the videos and photos at the services, it was very clear that their identities as athletes was such an important of who they took themselves to be. Sports were at the core. And there is a level of pushing the limits of the rules that violates the spirit of sports. I train boxers and once in a while in a bout a boxer slips on water in the ring that has been left there from cornerwork between...

Do philosophers ever create philosophical fictions akin to legal fictions in order to refute an argument? If so, how pervasive is this practice?

Yes-- all the time. Take for example Robert Nozick's idea of the pleasure machine. Nozick asks - if there were a machine that you could just to be hooked up to that would guarantee that you have an entire life of the highest pleasure - but which would take you out of the hurly burly of everyday existence -- would you want to be hooked up? The vast majority of people say NO - which Nozick takes to prove that most of us believe there is more to happiness than pleasure. But yes, philosophers frequently use fictions/ thought experiments to either make or refute an argument.

If there is no god, why do people behave in a moral and ethical manner? One answer might be long-term self-interest: if you never tell a lie, for example, you will develop a favorable reputation among other people which will allow you to participate in all sorts of activities of which you would never be a part otherwise. Another answer might be "big picture" self-interest: people usually achieve more and have higher standards of living when they collaborate compared to when they compete: "competition" only works as a motivator when embedded in a broader collaborative structure first (i.e., if everyone plays by the rules, we aren't deliberately trying to injure a competitor because we don't want them trying to injure us and so we all place voluntary limits on our behaviors to promote a better outcome for all). While these answers are all well and good, there seems to be something missing: to be motivated SOLELY by self-interest, no matter how you dress it up, seems like a somewhat barren life. ...

There are philosophers who question even the possibility of altruism --- and a lot of my students as well - but it is an empirical fact that there are countless examples of atheists who have sacrficed their lives for a cause -- for others. I suppose they did it either because of their sense of inter-connectedness. But as non-believing enviornmentalists attest, being willing to sacrifice for a world and people with whom you will have no contact - does not seem to require belief in God. Unless, perhaps we wanted to argue that such people are irrationally going against their own self-interests - and if they really thought matters through they wouldn't spend their time trying to make sure that the beaches were clean for people when they themselves were dead. A strange kind of argument it would be - stop doing these noble things because all rational activity needs to be based in self-interest. Can there be a rational motivation for self-sacrifcing behavior that is not anchored (have to love the metaphors)...

In sports (especially boxing) fans love to rank the best boxers, players or teams. So when ranking the Greatest Boxers of All-Time -- is it ethical to include boxers you or anyone else (alive) have never seen before (for no footage exists of them - e.g., Harry Greb)? (Provided that you put in as much research as possible - e.g., books, news archives, boxing historians writings.)

I am a professional boxing writer who has to vote on who gets into the Boxing Hall of Fame so this question certainly resonates with me. With your mention of Harry Greb it is clear that you know your boxing because based on his record and opposition there are many of us who believe he is one of the greatest of all time. But is it legitimate to rank fighters from different eras-- or teams. Not if you imagine "legitimate" implies that there is some science behind it. But I think it is legitimate if you take your ratings with two grains of salt -- maybe 3. You look at a boxers overall ledger and whom he or she competed against. Fighters from the modern era such as Floyd Mayweather, will end their careers with 1/4 -1/3 the contests of a Sugar Ray Robinson - is it legitimate to compare them? Yes and no, but if no, it can be great fun. And perhaps from a Pragmatist vantage point that makes it legit. Thanks.

Is there really such a thing to do naturally? For example is there really a specific way to play a sport or do an activity? Or is the term "naturally" or "specific" something that we had just created to keep order and make everyone follow rules? Or is there a "specific" way to do something?

Usually when say that someone does something "naturally" we mean they don't have to think about it or practice very much. The other day I accompanied my friend to his son's high school basketball game. He looked a little stiff, afraid to take his shots. And he is a good shooter. We surmised that he was a frozen by the fear of failure -- fear was impeding his ability to be in flow with his natural talent, to play naturally. "Natural" in many cases connotes instinctive. In the movie THE NATURAL the protagonist Roy is born with this ability to swing the baseball bat. He did not have to work at it.

Okay, so I'm currently taking a philosophy of religions course at a community college. Anyway my teacher had asked where morals come from and I responded with a social-evolutionary type of theory and his response was: Teacher: "Your faith in reason is matched only by the most devote religious believers." Me: Let's examine that word 'faith'. Faith by definition can mean two different things, one definition of faith is confidence. For example, I have faith in my abilities to win at a sport competition or something like that. The second is belief in something without any proof at all, like for example God. It is important that we note where this difference in usage, because depending on context - they mean two different things and using them interchangeably in the same way is equivocation. If one were to say - well you have faith in science, just like I have faith in god - this is an example of equivocation. Teacher: For the record, dictionary definitions are great for learning general senses of a...

A fascinating reflection. You should write it up in the form of a Socratic dialogue. Perhaps your prof meant that your belief in science amounts to a faith in reason which is basically unsupported by reason or I suppose empirical data. Therefore, it is in the same league as faith in God. I have heard people hold that it takes faith to believe that the sun is going to come up tomorrow -- therefore religious faith is nothing that peculiar. I myself tend to agree with Kierkegaard that faith as in faith that, say, Jesus is God - that He is coming back - that He has forgiven our sins and gives us life eternal - that all this involves a radical collision with the understanding, that it is more than improbable but instead an offesne to reason, and that it is categorically different from an opinion. As for the etymolgy issue, I am a dunce, but it is true that the dictionary only provides a glimpse into the way a word tends to be used at a given time. The word in Danish that Kierkegaard uses is "tro"...

Is it possible for anything to matter? My teacher always tells me if I do bad in a drama scene, I shouldn't worry about it because no one will remember or care in a few weeks. Doesn't that apply to everything? If I cure cancer, surely that will affect almost everyone on the planet, but will anyone even appreciate it a million years after the fact? A billion? Humans can't last forever, and eventually our species will die - meaning no one will be alive to remember cancer even existed. Even Earth will die eventually. Even the Galaxy!! So how can anything I do be important in the grand scheme of things?

Good question? I have wrestled with this one a lot. Of course, it depends what we mean by "matters" -- if it is an issue of being remembered then there is a good chance that when the earth slips into the sun or whatever, all will be forgotten and in the end nothing will have mattered. When we say that something matters to us I think we mean to say it has value. But just because an event has impact at one time but not at another -- like the play -- does it follow that it never mattered? I don't think so. I can remember playing football in college. Sad to say, it was the most important thing in the world to me. Now, I can barely remember the outcome of some games. But it doesn't mean that those games were meaningless. There is no reason to think that in order for an event to matter it has to have eternal consequences. Obviously, your drama teacher was just trying to help you fit things into perspective. Events that can feel world consuming to us at one time will look differently in the rear...

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