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Is happiness really all that important? A lot of people think so, but that being happy just for happiness' sake is a waste. If there was a "happiness pill" that could make me happy for the rest of my life, I wouldn't take it. Because if I did, I'd get lazy and wouldn't accomplish anything. It seems like the pill would be cheating. But on the other hand, I'm not so sure I'd want to be the most successful person in the world if it meant I could never be happy. So I have to wonder: is it happiness or the things that make us happy that we should value?

As usual with such a philosophical question, much depends on how you define the key concept, happiness . One conception of happiness identifies it with a type (or types) of feeling(s), such as contentment, joy, excitement, and pleasure. These are the feelings a happiness pill would presumably supply. And some utilitarians pick out this sort of happiness as what should be maximized. Some then object along the lines you suggest: utilitarianism seems to entail that we should want to take a happiness pill (and if things would keep running smoothly, for everyone to take happiness pills)--or for us all to enter a Matrix that would keep us all happy--but there seems to be something wrong with living on such a pill (or entering such a Matrix), so there must be something wrong with utilitarianism. This objection works against egoism as well (the view that all we want is pleasure). Perhaps the intuition here is that only 'authentic' happiness is truly valuable, the sort of happiness that one derives...

This question is about suicide/death. Is it even possible to hold a preference between the alternatives of life and death, assuming materialism is true? When a person dies, his or her brain shuts down, hence their consciousness ceases (from everything we know). It seems impossible therefore to properly conceive of what it is like to be dead. Isn't it therefore illogical to state "I would rather be dead"?

Your question makes me wonder how many people who commit suicide do so with the belief (1) that their consciousness will cease (their identity will end) and how many do so with the belief (2) that their consciousness (and identity) will continue but in a better existence (e.g., heaven). Though this seems like an impossible survey to do (no way to ask the dead!), we could ask people who survive attempted suicides what their goal was (or if they had a goal at all). Perhaps the research has been done. For some reason, I've always assumed that most people who commit suicide (other than terrorists) do so with belief 1 rather than belief 2. And some people may avoid suicide even in the face of despair because they have the belief (3) that their consciousness will continue in a worse existence (e.g., hell), as Hamlet reminds us: "the dread of something after death, The undiscovered country." Of course, it would not be illogical to say "I would rather be dead" if one...

Most atheists presumably believe that there is insufficient evidence to justify belief in God. What I want to ask is: is there ANY evidence? Or none at all? Is there anything that the panelists might point to and say, "this counts as evidence that God exists"?

I am an atheist, but I think that before Darwin I probably would have been convinced by the Design (teleological) argument to believe in at least a Deistic God. Without the theory of evolution by natural selection to explain the wonders of nature, a creator God may have been the best explanation for the (apparent) design of living organisms. Today, however, the best argument available for the existence of God seems to be a modern version of the Design argument (NOT intelligent design) called the 'fine tuning' argument. It claims that there are astronomically many ways that the fundamental physical constants of the universe could have been and that the vast majority of these ways would lead to a universe without the requisite materials for the evolution of life (e.g., matter, stars, planets, etc.). So, the fact that the universe has the 'right' physical constants for these materials and hence for evolution and hence for the evolution of intelligence is supposed to be evidence that a creator made...

I have a friend who is a top philosophy student. She is also one of the top English students, but bristled at the suggestion that an excellent grasp of language did, in some way, confer upon her her superior ability in conducting philosophical argument. Is this link between proficiency in the language of philosophical argument and one's ability to make philosophical argument too tenuous? Or is philosophy like mathematics, bound by certain axiomatic rules which must be mastered and manipulated with discipline in order to authoritatively address philosophical problems(with the language of the axioms being insignificantly marginal)?

It is hard to think straight about philosophical questions and it's even harder to write clearly about them. If you're like me, you've had the experience of feeling like you are thinking straight about a philosophical question, but when you try to explain it to someone or write about it, it just doesn't come out right. (My students sometimes say things like, "Well, I know what I mean but it's hard to explain.") Perhaps there are philosophical geniuses who just can't get their ideas out well (indeed, perhaps this applies to some who are recognized as philosophical geniuses!). But I think being able to express philosophical thoughts and arguments in a way others can interpret intelligibly (rather than just interpret however they please) is a necessary ability for being a good philosopher. And hence, being a good writer and/or teacher (e.g., Socrates) is a necessary ability for being a good philosopher. Two things I tell my students when writing papers are relevant here: 1. Think of...

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