Is homosexuality ethical? If so, what differentiates it from incest? More specifically an infertile incestual relationship that has two consenting adults.

An interesting question. To answer in order: Homosexual relationships, like heterosexual relationships, can be conducted in both moral and immoral, virtuous and vicious, ways. I find no reason to regard homosexuality to be itself immoral. Of course, many others, especially those with religious commitments, think otherwise. For myself, I find that the many pleasures and virtues achieved through homosexual relationships (pleasures and virtues that would be lost to us were homosexuality prohibited) militate against judging homosexuality to be per se immoral. Besides religious objections, there are also, of course, various civic and health-related arguments against homosexuality (e.g. that it undermines the family, that it exhibits and produces illness, that it makes for incompetent parenting). So far as I can tell, these are, similarly, either unsound or outweighed by the goods produced by homosexuality. How is homosexuality different from incest? Well of course the two are different simply by...

I'm puzzled by the Kierkegaardian 'leap of faith' concept. If someone announces he is the son of God and violates the laws of science (i.e. by performing miracles) to prove it, then 'faith' doesn't come into it at all as far as I can see - one has no choice but to believe, like if the current Pope levitated to prove he is Christ's Vicar on Earth. Or does this 'faith' really boil down to the belief that these ancient miracles actually occurred, and that the 'son of God' claims are attendant on and pursuant to them? I don't see how anyone can dismiss Christ's miracles and base their belief solely on faith especially when the Resurrection (a miracle) is so fundamental to Christianity. Surely 'faith' presupposes lack of evidence and is blind. (I would add completely untenable, too.)

Yes, I think this is an important question. The issue of miracles as evidence for religious claims is a fascinating one. But I wonder if there really can be an event that we could have good reason to believe violates the laws of nature. David Hume explored just this question in his little essay "Of Miracles" in the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748), and I tend to agree with his conclusions, though sometimes I still wonder. Here's the thing suppose the Pope started levitating. Why should that prove that his religious beliefs and claims are true? Why not conclude that he or someone else has discovered a way to produce levitation using the laws of nature? You see, in the case of any observed event, X, we can either choose to think there's a supernatural cause or a natural cause. Just because an event is extraordinary, like levitating, it doesn't follow that there's a divine cause. There may well be a natural cause that we just don't know about about, a causal sequence we don't...

When philosophers say that something is morally relevant or that a reason is a moral reason, what does "moral" mean? What makes moral reasons different from other reasons? Can something be both selfish and moral?

Well, to a large extent the answer to your first question depends upon the author and the context, because the phrase "moral reason" isn't exactly a technical term. One general way to distinguish moral reasoning from other forms of reasoning (for example, strictly theoretical reasoning) is to say that moral reasoning leads either to action or to a prescription for action. So, while a chain of theoretical reasoning is likely to end in the claim that something is the case (e.g. X is true), moral reasoning is likely to end in an action or a prescription for action (e.g. one ought to do X). Something else one might include in moral reasoning is the ability to apply general moral principles to particular situations (e.g. this is a particular case of Y type and where the right thing to do is X). About "selfishness," the term itself commonly connotes something immoral; and so it seems that selfishness is wrong as a matter of definition. But it does depend upon how one defines the term. If you simply...

Are aesthetic judgements entirely subjective?

Now, of course to some extent it depends upon how one defines "subjective" and "objective." But tersely, I'd say this: No, there are relatively objective bases to aesthetic judgment in at least two senses. For one thing, the criteria by which we come to make aesthetic judgments are in a significant way shared by members of our cultures, socieites, histories, and traditions. For another, the cognitive faculties and sentimental structures that underwrite aesthetic judgment are shared among large numbers of human beings.

If you kill someone in self-defence, is that still an immoral act or does it depend on what form of moral philosophy you subscribe to? If an act is justified does that mean it's moral?

This is an extremely complex set of questions, and really doing it justice is, I'm afraid beyond the scope of this web site. There are many thorny philosophical issues involved in it. But to give a brief answser in the light of these qualifications, I'd say this. Regarding your first question: yes, depending upon what you mean by "moral philosophy and "subscribe." Acts aren't in themselves moral or immoral. Calling them either one involves a judgment on our part, and that judgment is in large measure determined by a set of concepts, ideas, concerns, and feelings that broadly speaking might be called a moral theory. Regarding the second question: yes, depending upon what you mean by "justified." If a set of reasons and statements can be offered that in some sense warrants or licenses or supports us calling an act "moral," then that act is properly called moral. But what gives warrant or license is a very difficult thing to determine. Much of what counts as moral controversy involves figuring out what...

Many people tell about strange experiences in connection with death. Why do SO many FEAR that there will be nothing after death and in consequence even invent some "soothing" stories?! How can one handle the fear of there being actually something (whatever) after death? What if your strongest feeling is fear of your life never really ending??! Is there an intellectual answer for that? (Sorry for my English: I'm Swiss.)

Epicureans thought that the fear of death was something irrational that we'd be better of without and that once we understood how the natural universe operates we'd largely become free from. Along the lines of Epicurean thought, David Hume is said to have remarked along these lines when someone asked whether or not he feared his apprpoaching death (paraphrasing): "No more so than I regret not having been born earlier." Why fear not existing or nothingness? One might be sad or angry about being taken from one's projects, but why be afraid? Rather than soothing us, Epicureans thought that religious stories about the afterlife disturb people. For myself, I have found some peace in Epicurean reflections. But I suspect it that Jyl Gentzler is onto something in her evollutionary-biological explanation. Then, of course, much of what people fear isn't so much being dead as the process of dying. Existentialists have also suggested that what many call the fear of death is actually anxiety in the face of...

How can speciesism, be immoral for people, but moral for the animals that clearly prefer their own species? If animals are morally culpable for speciesism, can animals be held morally responsible for other things like murder?

I agree with John Moore's response. I'd add these two additional considerations. First, it might be a bit strained to say that non-human animals are guilty of "speciesism" insofar as it may not really make sense to say that those animals possess the concept of "species," much less act upon it. To be a speciesist, I'd say, requires something like this: that "one use the concept of species to justify excluding certain beings from moral consideration" (one might add, I suppose, "in an indefensible way"). Other animals might in practice discriminate among prey and non-prey in ways that we can articulate through the ideology of species; but I don't think they themselves use that ideology to make their discriminations. Secondly, I think it an interesting question as to the extent to which non-human animals might be initiated in meaningful ways into the moral world we humans inhabit. Vicki Hearne, I think, has some interesting thoughts along these lines. In my own work, I've used Hume's theoretical...

I never understood the bumper sticker "Against Abortion? Don't Have One." I mean, people who are against abortion believe that it is equivalent to, or close to, the murder of babies. But surely those who put this bumper sticker on their cars wouldn't favor a bumper sticker that suggested that if you're against infanticide, then the proper response is simply to refrain from killing babies. If it's murder, then shouldn't it be outlawed?

Yes, I understand what you mean. I've also been known to smile wryly when reading "Abortion Stops a Beating Heart" (as does taking someone off a respirator, killing a mouse or even a spider). Perhaps more controversially, "Women are Not Incubators" (many are, though none are "mere" incubators) and "Keep your Laws Off My Body" (the same body that even traffic laws, rape laws, smoking laws and indecent exposure laws constrain). Then there's "Abortion was a Nazi Program" (as was the Autobahn highway and the Volkswagen). But I must admit that after indulging myself in a sense of logico-philosophical supercilousness for a moment, I suppress my feelings of superiority and think perhaps that you and the other critics here should reconsider. Remember that what you're reading is a bumpersticker and not a philosophical or legal treatise. I agree that political discourse seems a rather paltry thing today. But that doesn't change the fact that we're dealing with a rhetorical form here to which the kinds of...

Was I morally correct in asking my (now) ex-wife to delay the divorce which she had initiated, in order to retain her much needed health insurance under my employer, until she had obtained such on her own? Or was she correct in her assertion that it would have been morally incorrect for her remain married to me, regardless of her health needs, due to the example shown to our children when she was meeting and dating others?

I agree with Jyl Gentzler that marriage might for some people take the form of an open relationship, where extra-marital relationships were permissible; and if you find this form of relationship satisfactory, then keeping your then-wife covered by your insurance even while she engaged in extra-marital relationships would be permissible. But I hold a slightly different view of the issue of decption in this case, a view that leads to a different judgment about keeping your then-wife insured even if the relationship was for all intents and purposes over. I think the analogy with "Green Card" marriages in this case a weak one. Green Card marriages are different from cases like the one you describe because Green Card marriages are frauds from the very beginning. They never achieved the status of real marriage in the sense they don't involve relationships of love, commitment, sexual congress, or reproduction. Your relationship, I take it, was at the start a real relationship. Given that your...

Why has Ayn Rand become so inconsequential to modern philosophy? The point is underscored by the lack of any references to Rand on your site, save one instance where someone asked if there were any refutations of Rand's Objectivism available – to which a link was dutifully supplied. The point is further underscored by some questions in regards to women in philosophy (or the lack thereof) which, to my amazement, Rand was not referred to (even begrudgingly) as a positive example. My pet theories about this situation have something to do with her aligning herself strongly with Capitalism, while philosophers historically have been left leaners or overtly aristocratic (of sorts) but never very money orientated, which is probably seen as a very Earthly consideration to dwell on. Some say that Rands format of conveying philosophical ideas in the form of novels has not helped her cause much. If this consideration is to be given weight then why should Socratic dialog, for example, be so revered? The methodology...

I agree with Richard Heck on this one. Rand's view of the human person, of freedom, of perception, of markets, etc., seem to me and to most philosophers I've spoken too about it, unpersuasive, overly simplistic, and sometimes objectionable. But I would add two bits: First, I have encountered a few philosophers of quality who respect Rand. Second, I suspect that there are reasons besides the quality of her thought that contribute to her being relatively unpopular among professional philosophers. Among those reasons I'd include: (a) that like Voltaire Rand is more of a popularizer than an original philosopher; (b) that she worked outside the academy and the professional institutions of philosophy; that much of her work appears in rhetorical forms atypical of profesional philosophy (e.g. fiction); and (d) that her philosophy seems excessively driven by her politics. It's also interesting to consider whether her sex may have been a factor in her not being taken terribly seriously. One might...

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