I was talking to a friend the other day about the reasons for, and importance of, remembering the dead. His position was that, whilst the act of remembrance was undoubtedly of some importance, the real reasons for doing it were inherently selfish, centred around making the people who are still alive feel better. "How could they be anything else?", he argued, "after all, the dead are not around to benefit, therefore it is only beneficial as a comfort to those still here". Furthermore -- and with particular reference to World War I -- he reasoned that once the direct connection with the generation that fought and died is broken, we are only really using the act of remembrance to glorify what was a terrible episode and to attempt to reflect some of that glory back onto ourselves -- in addition to trying to make ourselves feel better about it all. So, my question is, are there any other reasons for us to remember to dead beyond self-comfort? I'm particularly interested in non-self centred (i.e. self...

Interesting question. Here is just a start of an answer. There are at least two ways in which remembering the dead, and the way they died (as with war memorials, which you mention) might be beneficial for non-selfish reasons, though part of this depends on what counts as "selfish." First, many philosophers think that it is possible to be harmed, and benefited, even once you no longer exist. Imagine that a loving father, who upheld his fatherly duties throughout his life even at great cost, is slandered after he dies. Suppose it is said about him, falsely, that he committed horrendous crimes against his children. Some would argue that this harms him, that it makes his life--which is no temporally over--worse off than it would had the truth come out about his parenting. If that's so, then you might well think that it makes one's life better if one is remembered fondly, or with honor. Imagine you are somehow given a choice of never being remembered or being revered, after your death, as a great human being....

I know that this might be common but I just got interested in philosophy... So here it goes, How do we really know if we are Dreaming or Awake right now?

It is indeed a common question, at least in the sense that almost everyone has considered it at some point in life. And yet, as common as it is, it leads directly to some of the most difficult, profound ideas. As Strawson once wrote, there is no shallow end in the philosophical pool. So, it needn't bother us that the question is a common one. However, the question is also a HUGE one, as philosophers have had many, many different ideas about it. I can't possibly summarize all of it here (not that I know all of it!). But I can offer a few different ideas about what direction one might take in thinking about this question. One idea is that we can somehow tell, given the content and character of our current experiences, that we are awake. Dreams, according to this idea, are seldom if ever this coherent, this consistent, and this integrated with our accessible memories. And experiences in dreams are never this "stable" or lucid. So, we have empirical evidence, or evidence based on our present experience, that...

When faced with a lack of any conclusive argument one way or the other, how does one avoid total scepticism?

By 'conclusive' argument, I assume you mean some argument that proves, or guarantees, its conclusion. By 'total skepticism' I assume you mean to have no opinion one way or the other at all, or to completely lack any confidence in both the conclusion and its negation. Now, if I understood that right, I think the answer to your question is: by considering arguments that are not conclusive, or don't absolutely guarantee their conclusions. Often, we have arguments that, while not proving or guaranteeing their conclusions, they do provide some good reason to think that the conclusion is true. For example: My dog almost never barks unless there's someone coming; my dog is now barking; therefore, there is someone coming. This is not conclusive, in the sense that it leaves open some possibility that someone is not coming. But it seems unreasonable for me to be totally skeptical, or to have no opinion, on whether someone is coming. Rather, I should be somewhat confident, but not certain, that someone is coming. We...

What would happen to ones mind if they were to experience the sight of an entirely new color never before seen through human eyes?

I don't think anything too spectacular would necessarily happen. One reason is that one might not even notice it when it happens. For example, at some point in history, we can imagine that no one had experienced the sight of the color of coca cola in a green glass being hit by a sunset in the Mediterranean at some specific angle, on a specific day of the year, at a specific time. We can imagine that this specific color cannot be achieved by any natural process, so that until this point in history, no one had experienced this color. However, the color is just barely noticeably different from lava seen through polarized 3-D sunglasses in Hawaii, in certain specific viewing conditions. And, we can imagine, the lava had been seen before in such a way. So, now: what happens to viewer, on a yacht in the Mediterranean, when she sees the coke? Nothing much, I think. She may make a note of the odd color, but why think that anything else would happen? I think at some point in history, someone was the first to see...

I've heard many philosophers promote skepticism. But it seems that skepticism is self-defeating, since the skeptics would have to be skeptic about their own doubts. Therefore, by virtue of that, they should not be skeptic. Is this argument valid?

Whether this argument is valid really depends on what you mean by some of the key terms (this happens a lot in philosophy). But first: I don't think that a lot of philosophers promote skepticism. Most philosophers aren't skeptics, in the sense that they don't think that we have no knowledge about the world, or that we should doubt everything. But this gets us to the first term that needs to be clarified: what is skepticism? I gather from what you say later in your question that you take it to be something like the view that one should doubt everything. But then what does it mean to be a skeptic "about your own doubts?" One guess is that it means to doubt whether you should doubt, or to doubt that doubting is the right thing to do. If skeptics are people who doubt everything, that seems compatible with their also doubting whether they should doubt. There doesn't seem to be any contradiction there. We have doubts about what we think, and do, all the time. This would just be another instance of that: I doubt...

Is it always non-racist to criticize a religion? Even if we disregard ethnic religions such as Shinto or Judaism, the reality remains that any religion and its branches will always have one predominant majority ethnic group practicing it, usually of the religion's or the branch's founding race. To say that one can simply change to another religion or no religion anytime at will is to assume that one's culture of which race is a central component whether one realizes it or not, and one's religion are mutually exclusive, as if the matter is a logic game. One might argue that it's the culture, not the race that's being criticized, but then culture arises from race (among other factors), doesn't it?

Your opening question, I think, is relatively easy to answer: it's not *always* non-racist to criticize a religion. Sometimes it is racist because the criticism is motivated by racist attitudes. You may, for example, loathe race X, and you know that all of them are, say Christian. With that clearly in mind, you criticize Christianity, and this is an expression of your racism towards X. Another example: you are trying to compare religions, to see which ones you think are particularly "bad." You notice that Religion "R" is practiced predominately by white people, and you hate white people. This biases you to criticize R more harshly than other religions, and you conclude that R is the worst religion. This is again a criticism of a religion that is, at least in some sense, racist. So it is possible to launch a racist criticism of religion. I'm not so sure about your suggestions relating to this question, though. Consider the two most popular religions on earth (I may actually be wrong about this... but at...

I admit that my knowledge of philosophy is very limited; not advanced, yet it is my overall second favorite subject after science. If one accepts the proposition, "I do not know anything with absolute certainty," then is it actually self-refuting or logically contradictory? The reason, is that, if one accepts it, then one must know something with absolute certainty, which is the proposition itself. Therefore, one knows with absolute certainty that one does not know anything with absolute certainty. However, it seems to become infinitely (pun intended) problematic if one thinks about it deeply enough. For instance, if one knows with absolute certainty that one does not know anything with absolute certainty, then one must also know with absolute certainty that one knows with absolute certainty that one does not know anything with absolute certainty. I think that one knows where I am going with this. It could be extended ad infinitum. If one, however, accepts that one does not know with absolute certainty...

Nice question! It's one with a long history, as something like what you're saying was one of the main objections to the ancient skeptics and their intellectual decedents. Let me just say a couple of things. First, to answer your question, I don't think your observation would show that skepticism is contradictory or self-refuting, at least not technically. The observation is that some skeptics take themselves to know for certain that nothing can be known with certainty. The view that they take themselves to know with certainty, namely that nothing can be known with certainty, is not thereby shown to be contradictory. It is compatible with that view that some people take themselves to know something for certain. To see this, just notice that it is compatible with the view that no one knows anything that some people, who unlike skeptics don't accept that view, take themselves to know some things. So the mere fact that people take themselves to know (or "accept" that they know) does not show that the view...

Does one need to consent to a social contract? It seems that they are something people are often born into and while it is sometimes possible to move somewhere else that is not always the case, for example someone who is born somewhere where travel is restricted because of the social contract itself or other circumstances (such as North Korea). How does this affect the nature of the social contract?

Thanks for this question. I'm not an expert in this field but I noticed no one has answered this yet. I will attempt a preliminary answer for you. There are a couple (at least) different kinds of "contract" theories out there. Without going into too much about the varieties, just to give you an idea of how complex this issue is, I'll mention two somewhat specific examples. First, consider Hobbes. His work Leviathan contains a classic formulation of contract theory. In it, he offers three hints at an answer to your question. First, he argues that contracts that you enter into by force are legitimate. So, for example, if someone holds a gun to your head and will shoot you unless you agree to a contract, that's still a valid contract (if you agree to it). You might think that this is a case in which no consent was given. The person agrees, but only because the person was forced or coerced. If that's right, then the answer to your question, on this view, is "no, consent is not required." Another idea in...

I often heard atheists argued that even if a God exists, it does not mean it has to be a good or infinite or one God. They are implying that it is possible that there be an evil or finite or many gods. Are these reasonable assumptions or is it the case that God has to be necessarily good, infinite and one?

Eugene Marshall's very helpful response explains that many different kinds of Gods, or even many Gods, might be compatible with the various different arguments for God's existence. I'd like to add just a minor, other point. If you take the Hebrew bible (or "old testament") very seriously, you might think there is also a biblical basis for rejecting the idea that God is wholly good, and even (depending on what parts you take seriously) that there is more than one god. So, some people might even think that there is a biblical basis for some of these accounts of God(s). Howard Wettstein has a nice essay on the former (I mean on God's not being wholly good), entitled "God's Struggles." Jeanine Diller also has some stuff on this. As for the idea that multiple Gods can be found in the Hebrew Bible, I think that's more of a stretch but I've heard some atheists appeal to that interpretative possibility.

Is it an ad-hominem when I get called "a pessimist who won't be happy with positive changes in situation X, so further debate is pointless", even though I've presented my arguments for why I'm skeptical of any positive changes in situation X? I feel like it's a dismissive tactic, but would like some clarification.

This is a good, and difficult question. There's no doubt that, in some cases, this sort of objection really is an unfair, unhelpful dismissal. Calling you names ("silly pessimist!") could just be a way to fail to engage with what you're saying. Though that may be what's going on in your case, sometimes such objections actually do have a point. Let's set aside the "ad-hominem" fallacy, whether this is an instance of it, and what that implies, and just consider whether one might have a good point when one objects with something like "you just think that because you're a pessimist." It is useful to compare this with a more straightforward case first. Suppose you think that your daughter is the best singer in the choir, and someone says to you "you just think that because she's your daughter!" You might reply, "but I hear her singing, and I hear the others, and I genuinely think she's got the best voice." "Yeah," the objector replies, "of course you think that, whatever, have fun thinking she's the best!"...

Pages