Advanced Search

What about people that are not working hard enough but gets a good job, more successfull than us who works harder? For example : Some people make more money without work hard, and some people work really hard but earn small money. How philosophy see it?

This sounds like a question about justice. Should people receive a reward, e.g. money, on the basis of their effort, e.g. hard work, or on some other basis? Justice is the principle that everyone receives their ‘due’. But philosophers disagree what people are owed. Among the most important suggestions include equality, need, and desert/merit (including effort). If we start from equality, we can argue that as everyone is morally equal, then they should each receive the same in life. However, this ignores ways in which people are not equal, e.g. as you suggest, people do not put the same effort into their work. Or again, the work that people do may not have the same value (to society). Or third, strict equality ignores what people need, e.g. people with disabilities may need more resources to achieve the same standard of living as people without disabilities. If we start from needs, there is a difficulty in fixing on what people need. And, as with equality, we can object that this principle ignores...

In a recent response to a question, Michael Lacewing writes: "Blackburn’s quasi-realism argues that ethical language is rather more complex than either emotivist theory claims [Ayer's and Stevenson's]. First, ethical language does express propositions, such as ‘what she did was courageous’ or ‘his remark was unkind’ as well as ‘murder is wrong’. The predicates ‘was courageous’, ‘was unkind’, ‘is wrong’, attribute a property to something (what she did, his remark, murder). However, second, these predicates aren’t genuine descriptions of what she did, etc. but ‘projections’ of our evaluations. In using ethical language, we don’t speak of and think in terms our personal evaluations, but in terms of the properties of things in the world. We treat our evaluative commitments (to courage, to kindness etc.) as though they were judgments about how the world is. This is enormously useful, because it is much easier to coordinate our attitudes with other people if we think in terms of an intersubjective world of...

Your questions show that you really understand the debate here well, because they probe very deep into the motivation for quasi-realism. So to attempt a rather tentative answer, one that may help with all three questions. Blackburn starts from the claim that ‘Ethics is about how we live in the world… The practical role of ethics is what defines it. This is what ethics is for. If there is such a thing as ethical knowledge, it is matter of knowing how to act… more than knowing that anything is the case.’ (Ruling Passions, p. 1) This is intended as conceptual analysis. If this is right, then ethics is shown in our responses to the world. These responses arise as a result of how we represent the world. We recognise something distinctive about the situation we are in, and we respond with some attitude or emotion or behaviour. Our ‘ethical sensibility’ connects the input and the output. Very often, we describe the situation in value-laden terms. So it may seem that the input includes values. But Blackburn...

Is true, honest-to-god deontology possible, or is what we call deontology just far-sighted consequentialism? Kant's ends principle is the classic ethical principle from deontology, right? But even Kant's principle is inextricable (I think) from Enlightenment meliorism. That is, treating people as ends-in-themselves is moral because it leads to a better world, no? Deontology is supposed to divorce ethics from consequences, but don't attempts to establish rational moral principles still take for granted certain principles, such as human dignity, species survival, or (if nothing else) logical integrity?

This question expresses a puzzle that many philosophers have shared. However, I think that whether Kant was right or not (I think not, myself), his theory turns out not to be a form of consequentialism. This only becomes apparent when we look at the logical structure of the theory, and in particular, the difference between Kant’s views about what it is to act rationally and what consequentialism says on this matter. There are ways of making deontology and consequentialism sound very close, but I think this ends up in confusion, not reduction. Consequentialism first. The essential structure of consequentialism is 1) a theory of what is good, e.g. happiness (or species survival, or dignity, or logical integrity) and 2) a theory of that what is right is to bring about (usually, to maximise) what is good. It is important to the theory that how we bring about what is good is irrelevant, that we have a conception of what is good that is independent of what is right, and that we are concerned with some...

It’s not difficult now to find able moral philosophers such as TiborMachan, Tara Smith, Ayn Rand and others defending egoism as a viable normative ethical theory. My question is: supposing that I can get away with it, why shouldn’t I freeride if I take egoism to be correct? I am aware that only a minority of philosophers subscribe to egoism. Thus if I may ask a different but still connected question, does the injustice of freeriding prove that egoism is not practically livable?

An interesting question. There are a large number of rather tangled issues involved in thinking about egoism as an ethical theory. Let's take this as the claim that (for each of us) I should look out for my interests only (or primarily). The implicit contrast is that I should not sacrifice my interests to those of others. (I won't try to deal with the issue of whether the theorists you mention actually defend a pure form of egoism.) A number of philosophers have argued that egoism of this kind cannot be an ethical theory. While I think the theory is fundamentally flawed, I'm not convinced that egoism is somehow impossible to live by. However, to be coherent, it does require some very challenging commitments. Objection 1: Egoism is logical contradictory. If we accept that each person privileges their own interests, then we accept that, if my interests conflict with those of someone else ('Adam'), then Adam should seek to assert his interests over mine. But since I should assert my interests over his, how...

Is a beautiful painting a good painting because it's beautiful? If you answer "Yes" I would say that a beautiful painting is a good painting because it's good, and not because it's beautiful. What would you say?

This is a very similar question to another I answered a few months ago, so apologies if you've read that and are looking for a different reply! I think that there are some paintings that are good paintings at least in part because they are beautiful. Being beautiful is one way in which a painting can be good; beauty is one kind of aesthetic good. But there are others, such as being thought-provoking or communicating deep emotion. So being beautiful is not necessary for being good as a painting. And there may be cases in which a beautiful painting is not good. Some beautiful works of art can be relatively superficial, e.g. they may express a superficial emotion (‘isn’t it lovely?’) or view of life, leaving us wondering dissatisfied with it as art, even if we admire the way it looks on the surface. So beauty is not be sufficient for being a good painting. But we cannot infer from these points that when a painting is beautiful and good, its being beautiful is not what makes it good. In other words, there...

If I believe that an action, e.g. killing-someone-from-a-distance-for-personal-pleasure-in-the-act-of-killing, with no extenuating circumstances, is always wrong, must I also believe that not-having-that-action-done-to-me is my "right"? Or can "rights" only exist in the presence of an enforcing authority, while wrongs can exist with or without an authority? Under what circumstances could an act committed by a person be judged morally as a "bad" rather than a "wrong"? I apologise if this reads like an academic question, but it comes from a conversation I had tonight with my wife. Thank you.

Perhaps the easiest way to answer your question is to start from a slightly different place. We need to distinguish the idea of rights from the idea of what is morally right (and wrong). Once we’ve made that distinction, we can then look at the further distinction between what is morally wrong and what is morally bad. The idea of rights extends widely. I have a right to go to the cinema, a right not to be killed, a right to be paid (given my contract with my employer), a right to have children, a right to the exclusive use of my house. Some rights are moral rights, some are legal, some are the results of contracts. In general, a right can be understood as an entitlement to perform, or refrain from, certain actions and/or an entitlement that other people perform, or refrain from, certain actions. Many rights involve a complex set of such entitlements. The two central features of rights are: Privilege/liberty: I have a privilege/liberty to do x if I have no duty not to do x. I have the right to go to the...

We feel we choose our moral choices but when somebody feels shame do they choose to feel that shame even though that feeling seems inescapable?

Most philosophers, me included, would say that we do not choose to feel what we do. Ever since the ancient Greeks, emotions have been thought of as 'passions', because we are passive, not active, in experiencing emotions. We 'suffer' or 'undergo' them, rather than bring them about. It may be that we can make choices, e.g. about what kind of person to be, that will change our character and that will result in our having different emotions in the future. For example, we may choose to face our fears, to become more courageous, and then feel less or fewer fears in the future. But we cannot choose what to feel in the present. Or again, we may have some indirect control over what we feel, by focusing our attention on certain aspects of a situation rather than others. But we can't directly control, by choice, what we feel. We do make moral choices as well. Given that we don't choose our emotions, it follows that when someone feels shame, this is not a moral choice they make. Instead, we might say that our moral...

Has philosophy learned anything from psychoanalysis? Kal

The quick answer is that 'analytic' philosophy has not, but 'continental' philosophy has. Almost all the major figures in continental philosophy after Husserl engaged with psychoanalytic thinking - Heidegger, Scheler, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Derrida, Foucault, and the French feminist school of Irigaray, Cixous and Kristeva. So continental philosophy as a discipline tends to work with and from an awareness of psychoanalytic thinking, and this has an effect on a very wide range of issues (language, ethics, gender, mind, politics...) Analytic philosophy has been more sceptical about the truth of the psychoanalytic model of the mind, and engaged far more with cognitive, and more recently social, psychology. It has only begun to deal with the unconscious mind through these empirical theories. There are exceptions; Richard Wollheim and Jonathan Lear have written widely on psychoanalysis, and a number of writers in ethics, e.g. Charles Taylor, Harry Frankfurt, Richard Moran, John Cottingham, David Velleman, and...

It seems that we adopt a formal ethical theory based on our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions. Our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions seem to be the product of our upbringing, our education and the society we live in and not to be entirely consistent, since our upbringing and our education often inculcate conflicting values. So how do we decide which of our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions, if any, are right? It seems that we can only judge them in the light of other pre-theoretical ethical intuitions and how can we know that they are right? If we judge them against a formal ethical system, it seems that the only way we have to decide whether a formal ethical theory, say, consequentialism, is right is whether it is consistent with our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions, so we are going nowhere, it seems.

This is a nice question. Essentially, I agree with your description of what we need to do, but not your conclusion that this gets us nowhere. The process that you describe is known as ‘reflective equilibrium’ (named and defended by John Rawls). In coming to discover what is morally right or good, we reflect on both our individual judgements based on pre-theoretical intuitions and on broader moral principles or theoretical arguments. As you point out, it is very unlikely that these are coherent to start with. So we go back and forth between the individual judgements and the principles adjusting each in the light of the other until we reach coherence or 'equilibrium'. If you think that what is morally right is completely independent of what we think, then you may be concerned that such coherence is no guide to the truth. Indeed, philosophers have objected that this method may just make someone's moral prejudices more systematic, leading them away from the truth. But for that reason, and because there is...

We all know beyond the universe, there's nothing. How come is that possible? Theory says the big bang happened, and that theory has been accepted since it was "released". But where was the energy that caused it? And how did it existed, if there was nothing? Is there anything in the "nothing"? And, if we talk about religion, how did god exist? Who made it? How was he created if there was nothing? Some people say it created himself, but how the heck that happened if there was nothing?

I realise this may not be satisfactory, but many philosophers and scientists think that we cannot know the answers to your questions. You start by saying that we know that beyond the universe there is nothing. But this may be one of the things that we cannot know. If there was something, something physical, before the universe then this would be the origin of the energy that gave rise to the Big Bang. One possible explanation, then, is that there are or have been many other universes (the multiverse theory). Of course, there is considerable difficulty (impossibility?) in collecting any empirical evidence for this theory, since such evidence would need to come from beyond the limits of spacetime itself. But perhaps something - some universe or other - has always existed; there was never nothing. Many people find this claim more puzzling than the thought that once there was nothing, and then there was something. But why? The philosopher David Hume asked us to consider the limits of our knowledge about...

Pages