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...

What do the terms 'Pyrhonism' and 'Academic scepticism' mean? I know they're both types of scepticism but how do they differ? Or is one a form of the other? Thanks.

You won't be surprised to learn that what these terms mean is a matter of some controversy among scholars. Some bits, however, have achieved general agreement. Pyrrhonian and Academic skepticism mark two branches of ancient skepticism. David Hume and other moderns also used the terms. One way to discriminate them is institutionally. Not long after Plato's death his school just outside of Athens, the Academy, became dominated by skeptical thinkers. The philosophical work engaged by those thinkers came, of course, to be called Academic skepticism. The major texts by which Academic skepticism, however, came to be known to the modern world were not those of philosophers leading the Academy but, rather, of the Roman philosopher, Cicero. His books, Academica and De natura deorum , became highly influential. Pyrrhonian skepticism, by contrast, follows a line rooted in the thought of a man named Pyrrho, who lived in small town of Elis, on the other side of Greece. Pyrrho was not associated with a...

Suppose P is true and Q is true, then it follows logically that P --> Q, that Q --> P and therefore that P Q. Now, suppose that P is 'George W. Bush is the 43rd President of the US' and Q is 'Bertrand Russell invented the ramified theory of types', both propositions are true, and therefore the truth of both guarantees the truth the aforementioned propositions. But it seems bizarre to say that Russell's invention of the theory of types entails that Bush is the 43rd president, as well as the other logical consequences. After all we can conceive of a scenario where Russell invents the ramified theory of types, but Bush becomes a plumber (say), if that is a possible scenario, it would seem that the proposition "If Russell invents the ramified theory of types then Bush is the 43rd President of the US" is false given the definition of 'if then'. But after all, does it make sense to say that a proposition entails another only in the actual world? (That doesn't seem to have as much generality as we...

Briefly, yeah. I think I see what you're getting at. When P and Q are true (which I think is what you mean by 'P&Q'), then P->Q, Q->P, and P is materially equivalent to Q. But note that this was the case for your earlier puzzle, too. Keep in mind that in standard first-order propositional logic, P->Q is a matter of only "material" implication, and P equivalent to Q is a matter only of "material" equivalence. That is, all 'P->Q' says is that when P is true Q is also true. All the equivalence says is that they have the same truth values. It doesn't say that there's some reason for the truth values being as they are, that there's any other connection between the statements, or that P and Q will be true in every possible or imaginary world. In our world P and Q happen both to be true, and that's enough. The issue you're pointing to is addressed by what's come to be called "Relevance Logic" and it is sometimes used to mark a difference in the use of the terms "implication" and "entailment." In relevance...

What is meant by the question "why is there something, rather than nothing?" Or rather, how can it be put into simpler terms so it can be more easily answered?

Or, more generally, "Why do philosophers ask such absurd questions?" The basic issue here is what philosophers have come to call the "Principle of Sufficient" reason. You might say, in the simplest terms, if it doesn't distort things too much, that the principle maintains that there must always be a reason--for each event, for the existence of each thing, and for everything as a whole. That might seem obvious, but some philosophers (David Hume, for example) have disagreed, holding that that there's nothing non-sensical in holding that things might just happen or pop into existence for no reason at all. Anyway, the question of why there is "something rather than nothing" might be understood as exploring the principle at its limit. It's pretty clear, for many, why baby's come to exist and why there are iPhones. But why does anything exist? Why does the universe exist at all? Is there an answer to that question? If not, perhaps the Principle of Sufficient reason does not really hold, or, anyway, holds only...

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