Should philosophy be considered among the group of disciplines we consider sciences or among the humanities? I understand that the answer to this is typically taken to be that philosophy is among the humanities but I also know that philosophers sometimes resist this categorisation. Obviously we'd need to refine our definitions of these categories first to see if we can produce a useful answer. And perhaps the answer is that there's a third category that philosophy should belong to all on its own?

It's funny you asked, as I have just been discussing with the Physics faculty at my university the possibility of having my course in Metaphysics count as an elective in their program. One might ask, I think, why there are categories at all. Why not just have disciplinary programs. The reason is often more administrative than pedagogical or theoretical. Universities need means of distributing budgets, committee assignments, and review procedures. Sure there is a background in the medieval division of the ancient liberal arts into two categories: the verbal studies of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quantitative studies of the quadrivium (music, astronomy, arithmetic, and geometry). And there's a stream of division that extends out of nineteenth-century ideas about the human sciences. But I find very little theoretical consideration given to the division today. My hope, in fact, is that it will diminish somewhat in importance as interdisciplinary studies gain in prominence. And that...

As an argument against bestiality, it is often said that animals are not able to consent to sex. If this is the case, though, wouldn't that mean that every instance of two animals mating is an instance of rape, since presumably neither of them are able to consent?

Well, if someone is struck by lightning is it murder? A necessary condition for the commission of a crime is that the candidate criminal be an agent. Arguably, non-human animals are not. So, just as they can't consent to sex, they are incapable of rape or murder. Concepts of moral or criminal propriety just don't apply to non-human sex. One reason one is tempted to think otherwise is that non-human animals have moral standing. That is, they are the proper objects of moral consideration, and one can act morally or immorally towards them. But not everything with moral standing is a moral agent. Now, having said that, I do think there are other reasons for your justly wondering about this question. The sexual congress of plants and microbes doesn't raise this question. You aren't likely to wonder whether bees rape flowers. But the sexual activity of animals more closely related to humans seems strikingly similar to our own conduct, as do many non-human ways of eating. Moreover, non-humans close to us can...

Why is the notion of a child having sex with an adult considered so profoundly offensive? It is widely believed that sex with a child is psychologically harmful to the child. However, why should that be? Is it the act itself that is psychologically harmful to the child or the belief that they (the child) have participated in something psychologically harmful which psychologically harmful to the child? Some people have claimed that when a child participates in a sexual act that they lose their "innocence." Yet I do not perceive any direct connection between innocence and sexuality. It is possible to express ones sexuality in ways that are disrespectful and even sadistic, for instance a person might feel deeply insulted if they allowed a person to have access to intimate parts of their body only to discover that that person had no respect for them as a person. The complexities and dangers of sexuality are one reason that it seems to be no less prudent to restrict the sexual activity of children than it...

Not only is it possible that pedophilia is in general not judged philosophically; as it is with virtually everything it is a near certainty. That, however, doesn't make the judgment incorrect. I can't speak to the reasons that pedophilia is thought to be harmful psychologically, but philosophically the issue is one of consent . That children should be initiated into and involved in a set of practices (i.e. sex) with such profound emotional, social, political, and moral implications without their consent is what offends philosophically. What determines when someone is able to give consent to sexual interaction, what criteria ought to be employed to determine when consent is properly given, etc., are interesting and difficult philosophical issues. I don't however think the aesthetic line of thought you pursue will prove terribly useful in this regard or in underwriting moral judgments about pedophilia, as what is thought to be disgusting pedophilia today was not so in the past--for example, in ancient...

The website "Wikileaks" has been getting a lot of media attention recently after it's leaking of thousands of secret and classified US diplomatic cables. It was also in the headlines in April after it's release of classified footage showing US forces killing Iraqi civilians and journalists. Some governments have been critical of Wikileaks, Hilary Clinton referring to the recent leaks as an "attack on the international community and Sarah Palin describing head-man Julian Assange as having "blood on his hands", and calling for the US government to hunt him down with the same urgency as that with which they hunt down suspected terrorists. Is any of this backlash justified? I have a feeling that such harsh criticism is typical of a person who has been caught in the act of wrong-doing and points the finger at the person who reveals their crimes, in an attempt to draw attention away from their own misdeeds. Is Wikileaks responsible for the death of US soldiers in Iraq? Is there a point at which freedom of...

I'm inclined to think your psychological account of the response is correct, though perhaps incomplete. I also think the intensity of the fury against the leaks indicates the extent to which the government and many citizens have internalized institutional authority as normal and overriding, that both the government and many citizens have lost touch with other, competing, and sometimes more important sources of authority and obligation. The authorities have reacted hysterically because they find intolerable the idea that people might act upon other grounds and find themselves compelled by duties that the authorities don't define. They are not only upset with these leaks, but they fear that these leaks may inspire others. The policies of the state, however, are not always congruent (and are often not congruent) with the interests of the nation, or with what is morally right. So far, Wikileaks has no demonstrable blood on its hands. If it had, the specifics would be broadcast on FOX 24/7. Defense...

Is a moral ought an unconditional ought? In a book on nursing ethics I came across the idea that a moral ought was unconditional. Contained no ifs or buts. Nurses ought to help their patients. Not ifs about it. It was stated as being unconditional. First page, first paragraph They said unlike moral oughts, other oughts are conditional... if you want to be well rested you ought to go to bed early, that sort of thing. But it is not true that nursing oughts are also conditional? Nurses ought to help their patients if they want to keep their jobs/follow nursing guidelines...etc. How can there truly be an unconditional ought?

For myself, I doubt there are unconditional oughts. Your book seems to have been informed by a specific kind of ethics associated with the work of Immanuel Kant, among others. For Kant there are two kinds of imperatives. One kind, called "hypothetical" imperatives are the sort where what one ought to do depends on a condition being met. They usually take the form of "If you want X, then do Y." Or "If you don't want X, then don't do Y," and so on. For Kant, these are really moral "oughts" since they depend out our desires. In cases like this one acts in order to satisfy one's self, to answer one's desires, not because the action is the moral thing to do. In such cases we are slaves to our desires and acting more or less selfishly. Often, in fact, what's the morally proper thing to do, according to this line of thinking, is to oppose our desires or even do what we don't desire. If I find money, I might desire to keep it, but the morally right thing is to return the cash. So, what your book is saying is...

One aspect of Muslim culture that runs against the grain of Americans is the lack of the acceptance of separation of church and state. Some (many?) Muslim sects, like the Taliban wish to institute a muslimocracy in which the religious leaders, i.e. imams and such, are also the state. Under Sharia law, it seems that religious texts determine justice in any kind of human disputes, with little regard to circumstances, and with broad interpretation by those who claim to be learned with respect to Koranic law; oh, and with rather crude sentences like stoning. This kind of society is quite different from one in which there is a civil code that can be invoked without bringing God into the equation explicitly. Certainly, some of the components of Western civil law have roots in parts of the bible, such as the ten commandments. But civil, i.e. governmental and commercial, interests pushed religion from the leading role in Western society and culture to a mostly minor footnote over the last several centuries. ...

Theocracy is indeed one of the most dangerous political phenomena the world faces today--especially Muslim, Christian, and Jewish theocracy. That having been said, what the Koran says or doesn't say isn't terribly important. Believers of all three of the Abrahamic religions commonly ignore or explain away elements of their Scriptures that contradict the norms of civil society. Ambrose Bierce famously defined a Christian as someone who adheres to the teachings of Christ to the extent they are not inconsistent with a life of sin. I think that's true of most believers. Having said that, there are plenty in all three religions who wish to import religious dogma into the business of government, and you are right to resist that. On the other hand, there may be special cases where civil law grants certain exemptions or latitude to deep matters of conscience. For example, US law grants conscientious objectors exemption from military service for reasons of religious conviction. Accommodations are often made in...

Given that that most people would agree with 1 and 2 that: 1. Causing great suffering is wickedness if done in the absence of qualifying conditions. For example bombing a city is generally wrong since it causes suffering but if bombing that city ends a war then that is a qualifying condition which may absolve the wrongness of that act. and 2. Eating animals causes great suffering. How can meat eaters see themselves as anything other than wicked people? Certainly eating meat causes great suffering so the only thing that would keep it from being wicked would be the presence of a qualifying condition. What is the qualifying condition in the case of meat eating? That is tastes SO YUMMY?

I agree that all other things being equal, carnivorous diets are morally inferior to vegetarian diets. Those who defend carnivorous diets, however, would cite qualifying conditions of the sort you're asking about such as the following: (a) the limited cognitive capacities of those eaten and/or their limited capacities to engage in the sort of "projects" that indicate moral standing; (b) the absence of suitable alternatives to meat; © conditions that render your second premise (that eating animals causes great suffering) false or at least weak. To elaborate: while animals like cattle and birds may have highly developed capacities to experience pain, the case is less clear with, say, oysters and squid, perhaps other fish; even plants exhibit "distress" when harvested. In short, the line is difficult to draw with regard to the experience of pain, let alone pain itself. Here empirical science is likely to improve our understanding of pain and the experience of pain. Nevertheless, the ability to suffer is...

Should boxing be banned?

Yes, I think so. I may be prejudiced as a former wrestler, but it strikes me that damaging one's opponent is far too much an intrinsic property of boxing. There is indeed a purity to unarmed, hand-to-hand, struggle between two unarmed human beings with no ball, no team, few pads, and no objective other than subduing one's opponent. There is a kind of grace and beauty to boxing's movements. There is sublimity in its power. But there is also--intrinsically--violence. Too much of it, I think. I say other sports (like wrestling) possess boxing's virtues without its vices, or anyway far less of its vices.

Are there any moral arguments against non-coercive incest between adults?

There is, of course, the genetic issue. So, sexual relations between close relatives that lead to procreation are unwise. Incestuous relations with one's underaged children are, of course, by definition non-consensual. One also finds the same argument that is deployed against homosexual marriage used to justify incest prohibitions, namely that incest would undermine the institution of marriage, and that the institutions of heterosexual, non-incestuous family and marriage possess value that trumps the value of legitimating incestuous as well as homosexual unions. Many have come to think that it is false that homosexual marriages would undermine the institutions of marriage and family. That's an empirical question rather than a philosophical question, and I tend to think the reformers are correct an that family and marriage will in fact flourish when homosexuals are included. Some think undermining the institution of marriage may be a good thing. For myself, I think marriage has value, but I also think...

Are there good philosophical reasons for taking drugs? Michel Foucault, Aldous Huxley and Sam Harris are examples of people who have experimented with drugs for creative purposes and in order to gain insight. Given that one is destined to live their entire life in sobriety (which is just one state of consciousness), do they have an inherent right to experience other consciousnesses which completely alter their understanding of reality? In this sense, can people who have not taken drugs but criticize them, be considered ignorant in that they have no experience of drugs?

Yes, I agree with you. There are good philosophical reasons for experimenting with mind altering drugs, the same reasons that make it desirable to experience travel, different kinds of people, different cuisines, different art, etc. Now, of course, the benefits of mind-altering drugs must be balanced against the harms they can produce, and those harms are real enough, although, arguably suffering of various kinds is also something that can provide one opportunities philosophical insight. But just as one is not obligated to suffer or experiment with different cuisines, one is not obligated to experiment with mind-altering drugs. Those who do not experiment will be in some sense ignorant, but it's not clear that philosophically speaking theirs will always or often be a pernicious or limiting ignorance, no more so than the ignorance of one who has not traveled to Peru or experienced the pain of cancer. Moreover, the ignorance will not be complete, for many philosophical purposes one can gain relevant...

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