Can the contradiction between omnipotence and free will be resolved? Does omniscience and omnipotence mean foreknowledge? Does foreknowledge always mean a fixed future? And if these conclusions are yes, does this negate any religion that believes in such a deity?

The answer to the first question seems to be that there is no contradiction. If there can be free will without omnipotence, then I don't see why there can't be free will with it. There could be an omnipotent creature who decides to leave us alone. The second question is harder, and it will depend on just how omniscience and foreknowledge are understood. But there are conceptions of God according to which God is outside time and surveys all of history. If this is coherenent (a big 'if', maybe), then it looks like there could be foreknowledge without a fixed future. Or would it not count as fore knowledge if God is outside time?

Assuming that there is no afterlife -- that you lose the ability to think or feel anything once your body dies -- is it irrational to fear death? Asked another way: Was Larkin wrong when he described the philosopher's contention that "no rational being can fear a thing it will not feel" as "specious stuff"?

It's not irrational for me to fear that some harm will come to my children, even if I convince myself that if my children are in fact harmed, I won't find out about it. So Larkin was right. It's irrational to fear what death will feel like if you know it won't feel like anything; but it doesn't follow that it is irrational to fear death. It's not irrational to look forward to the pleasures of living, and if we know that death will take these away, the fear of losing those pleasures doesn't seem irrational either.

What do philosophers mean by the term 'mental content'? My initial reaction to the phrase was to take it to mean something like 'the meaning of a thought, belief, etc.' But this interpretation seems...unexplanatory. It seems to me that things don't just MEAN; rather they mean TO some individual/group. (X doesn't just mean Y; X means Y to Z.) For any given thought/belief/whatever (X), we could imagine infinite different Zs, and through these Zs, infinite different Ys. Which Zs are the relevant ones? Why is whatever distinction is drawn between relevant and irrelevant Zs drawn as it is? Or is my vague conception of mental content as the meaning of a thought, belief, etc. not in line with how philosophers use the term? If so...what do they mean by it?

Carrying on from Joseph's answer, part of your question is whether content is relative to the person entertaining that content. One sense in which this is right concerns representations involving ingredients like 'I', 'here', or 'now'. These so-called indexical terms have the interesting feature that what they refer to depends on who is thinking them. So we could both entertain the content 'I am an avid squash player': when I entertain this thought it is about me and when you entertain the thought it is about you (and maybe it is true when I think it and false when you think it). So that is one way in which what a thought or a thought's content is about can depend on who is thinking it.

I've been told that your eyes only see what your mind imagines is there. So how do we know what is there and what it looks like? Do people see other people differently? But if all this is true and people saw what they thought then if they were a negative person then everything would go bad for them; in this sense, in a football game the negative person would see a dropped pass when a positive person would see a touch down. Hope you can answer. DJ

I agree with you: people don't seem to see only what they are thinking, because negative people sometimes see positive things, and because we are all sometimes surprised by what we see. But to this one might reply that we can be surprised in dreams, even if in dreams we see only what was in some sense already in our minds. Your general question may be how we know that everything we see isn't just a dream. This is a classic philosophical worry, made particularly famous by Descartes in his First Meditation. (If you want to read this wonderful piece, click on 'Early Modern Texts' on the lower right hand corner of this page.) Many philosophers would say, with regret, that we can't prove that what we see isn't all our dream, but nobody believes it in their ordinary lives. And as I've said, the fact that we are sometimes surprised by what we see does suggest that we aren't making the whole thing up. Interestingly, the fact that we are also often not surprised suggests the same thing. What I mean...

5 divided by 0? Personally, I believe that it is infinite based on the idea that division is just repeated subtraction just like multiplication is repeated addition. For example, in 4/2, it's pretty much like saying how many times can you subtract 2 from 4 before you get to 0.

I'm going to answer this question indirectly, by means of a simple algebaic argument that you may already know. Suppose we begin by assuming that A = B Now consider the following argument from that assumption: A 2 = AB (Both sides multiplied by A.) A 2 - B 2 = AB - B 2 (B 2 substracted from both sides.) (A + B)(A - B) = B(A - B) (Each side rewritten.) (A + B) = B (Both sides divided by (A - B).) (B +B) = B (A replaced by B, since assumed equal.) 2B = B (Left side rewritten.) 2 = 1 (Both sides divided by B) Pretty neat, eh? But there had better be something wrong with this argument, since the assumption is fine and the conclusion is crazy. If you want to figure it out for yourself, stop reading now; otherwise continue below. * * * * * * * The fallacy occurs in the line where I divided both sides by (A-B), and...

Why are all people sometimes mean? Robert (12 years old)

Robert, this is a good question, but it is hard to answer because people are mean for lots of different reasons. Sometimes people are mean because they aren't thinking about how other people feel. Sometimes they know how other people feel, but just don't care. And sometimes they actually want to hurt other people, and this might be for lots of different reasons, like they are jealous or something. Maybe it is because there are so many different reasons why people may be mean that you are right that all people are sometimes mean. If you are right then that is sad, but we should also remember that at least almost everybody is also sometimes nice, and maybe a lot of people are nice much more often than they are mean.

Why are philosophers these days so concerned with fleshing out possible rules for concepts (e.g., Crispin Wright's analysis of intentions)? Do they believe that people actually follow these rules? But how can that be if most (if not all) people can't even say what these rules are precisely? And wouldn't a more plausible answer be found in our being conditioned to behave in certain (imprecise) manners with certain words or phrases, much like, e.g., learning to use our legs to walk? If so, shouldn't this be more a matter of empirical investigation (on the level of science) than this sort of conceptual analysis?

I'm with Mitch: we could be using rules but they are unconscious so we have trouble identifying them. But it may also be that we don't do it with rules. Thus Thomas Kuhn in his important book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions argued that although scientific research often seems to run as if it was governed by rules, in fact the mechanism is different: scientists have exemplars. (This is the central notion covered by his notorious umbrella term 'paradigm'.) Exemplars are concrete problem solutions in the scientists' speciality, so in form they are different from rules. But they act like rules, because they create what Kuhn called 'perceived similarity relations'. Scientists choose new problems that seem similar to the exemplar problems, they try solutions that seem similar to those that worked in the exemplar, and they judge the success of new solutions by reference to the standards that the exemplar exemplifies. The exemplar mechanism is an interesting alternative to the rule mechanism as...

Is mathematics independent of science? And, vice versa.

I agree with Alex about the way mathematics is independent of science. Einstein proposed that space is curved and hence non-Euclidian, but this didn't undermine Euclidian geometry, because that geometry is about an abstract space defined by the axioms of the system, not about physical space. So Euclidian geometry turns out not to apply to physical space, but it has not been refuted by physics. There is however another way in which science and mathematics are not independent. Mathematicians may choose which problems to work on with an eye to what kind of mathematics might be particularly useful in science, and even more frequently scientists choose which problems to tackle by reference to the mathematical tools that are available to them.

To what extent does belief preclude speculative thought? If to believe is to accept a proposition as being true (as my dictionary claims), do we undermine our belief by testing the proposition? To what extent does testing a proposition imply doubt. I attend a private Christian university, so I find this question extremely important. I have given up using the word "believe" completely because it seems to undermine my need to question things. When people ask if I believe in God, Jesus-as-Christ, the Trinity, I feel I have to say, "no." Would proclaiming belief in those things while questioning their validity undermine what we mean by "belief"? Did this question even make sense?

Belief does not imply dead certainty. Indeed many philosophers would say that no belief should reach that level, and some philosophers think that beliefs come in degrees, like probabilities. Doubt also seems to come in different levels, and allowing for the possibility of error may correspond to a low level of doubt that is compatible with belief. Of course if the doubt at issue amounts to actually believing that the proposition is false, then that is incompatible with believing it to be true. (Or if beliefs correspond to probabilities, giving the truth of the proposition a probability less than .5 is incompatible with giving a probability greater than .5 .) Since belief is compatible with allowing for the possibility of error, belief is also compatible with an interest in testing. That process might undermine the belief; it also might strengthen it. In religious contexts, however, the term 'belief' may sometimes be used to mean something like 'unshakable faith', in which case there may...