I have a question about the identity of a certain kind of fallacy, namely: A = C B = C therefore A = C Confusingly, I have read that the above syllogism is valid; and yet consider this argument I've heard recently: Obama = Good speaker Hitler = Good speaker therefore Obama = Hitler Clearly the latter is a fallacy. So, I have two questions, really: 1) What is the name of this fallacy? 2) How can it be a fallacy if the first syllogism (A = C, B = C, therefore A = C), whose form it follows, is considered to be valid . . . or am I wrong about it being valid?

Well, yes and no. What you've got here is a tangle, just the sort of tangle that actually does lead to serious philosophical problems. You see, what you've got in the first place isn't exactly a syllogism. So, it's neither a valid nor an invalid syllogism. It looks a lot like the following syllogistic form (which is invalid): "All P are M. All S are M. Therefore, All S are P." You can see that this invalid by plugging in the following terms. "All Pigs are Mammals. All Siberian Huskies are Mammals. Therefore, all Siberian Huskies are Pigs." While the two premises are true, the conclusion is clearly false--and that doesn't happen in valid arguments. This invalid form doesn't have a specific name, really, but it does commit the fallacy of "undistributed middle." I think one reason you may have lost your way here is because you use equal signs in your presentation. If you intend to use the equal sign as short hand for the verb "to be" ("are") in the same what as I have used "to be" ("are") in my example,...

I am a tremendous fan of your site, and I recommend it all the time to friends & colleagues. Sorry if my question seems silly, but I'd really like to hear some comments on how you think philosophers could be best utilized by society. I know that if I could afford it, I'd love to have a small staff of highly-paid philosophers to hammer out water-tight arguments on the efficacy of a proposed policy, that, when properly marketed, would be hailed as a breath-taking human achievement. Or even some philosophers to proofread my blog entries for glaringly obvious fallacies. OK, maybe that's stuff for philosopher-interns, sorry. Short of being crowned a benevolent, philosopher-monarch, what's the best way for you and us to benefit from your brilliance?

I guess I think that the most important thing would be for philosophy to be taught more widely. I think it a scandal, for example, that logic isn't required in every school--primary, middle, high school, and university--across the country. How is it that we've come to require geometry but not basic logic? Training in ethics, political philosophy, and the history of philosophy ought to be widespread. Philosophers ought also to be sought out to serve as advisers for political leaders, and philosophical training ought to be more highly regarded as a credential for hiring people into positions of leadership. You may know that already insurance companies and hospitals commonly employ medical ethicists in making policy decisions. We need more of that. Philosophers ought to be more deeply engaged in public discourses. More newspaper columns, tv commentators, and popular writers ought to be philosophers.

What exactly is metaphysics? I’ve heard it argued that metaphysics is simply asking about the existence of things that are or the nature of that existence. I cannot say, “it is,” without talking about metaphysics. Would that mean that everybody is a metaphysician?

Gosh, wouldn't it be great if everyone were a metaphysician? Unfortunately, using ideas that metaphysicians explore no more makes one a metaphysician than using using religious concepts makes one a theologian. There's no simple definition of "metaphysics," but as a serviceable start one might say that metaphysics is that branch of philosophy that investigates the most fundamental and the most general features of reality or what we think about reality. So, for example, while a historian might ask, "What were the causes of the Crimean War?" A metaphysician might ask, "What is history, what is time and history, what are historical causes, and what are human agents such that they can engage in war?" While a biochemist might ask, "What are the compounds that cause a specific reaction in the intestines?" A metaphysician might ask, "What is 'Being' generally, and what is causation generally?" While someone might ask whether or not she should return a wallet she's found on the ground, a metaphysician might ask...

My question relates to Plato’s dialogue of Euthyphro; specifically, I am interested in the two alternatives Socrates presents in what is deemed as “good” or virtuous. Socrates points out that if what is good is good because god decrees it, then god’s choice is arbitrary: there is perhaps no distinction between good and evil for god; god simply wills what he does. On the other hand, if god wills what is good because it is good, then morality is in some sense independent of or separate from god; we humans need only find out what is good, which we can do without god or religion. If, however, considering the first of these two options, god were to decree something good (like not committing murder), is this not sufficient to objectify goodness for us? If god decreeing that murder is “bad” is indeed an arbitrary choice for god, does it follow that it is arbitrary for humans?

I think I see what you mean. But if I do, then the phrase "arbitrary for humans" is not exactly the way to pose your question. Humans aren't really making the choice in your scenario. So, the choice is neither arbitrary nor non-arbitrary for them. I think you might rather mean something like: Would God's arbitrarily commanding any conduct provide sufficient grounds for humans to regard that conduct as good? My sense is that the qualities of a lot of religious faith lead people to answer in the affirmative. In particular, for the faithful it's likely to be almost inconceivable to defy God's command on grounds that what's commanded seems immoral from a merely human point of view. The story of Abraham and Isaac exemplifies just this sort tendency in faith. The problem is that it seems to many at least as intolerable to accept that stealing, rape, mass murder, etc. could ever be acceptable. For example, many will find it intolerable to honor a command to torture, molest, mutilate, and kill innocent children-...

According to Karl Popper, a hypothesis is scientific if it can be observationally falsified, not, if it can be verified. One instance not in accordance with a supposed law refutes the law, but many instances in conformity with the law still do not prove it. Accepting this falsification test, we may remark that the idea of the divine existence either could, or could not, be falsified by a conceivable way of observation. If it could not, then science in no position to test theism. Please comment. Thanks

Yeah, I think that's right. The theistic hypothesis is not testable through the procedures of natural science. That in itself has led many, myself included, to a kind of agnosticism about theism. That's also one of the reasons why neither creationism nor much of what is described as intelligent design are scientific. Do note, however, that testability may not be the only basis for rejecting (or accepting) theism. Some reject theism because they find theistic language itself intolerably confused and senseless. Others point to the political and moral problems associated with theisms (the violence, the intolerance, the blunting of norms of reason and critical thinking). (I frequently find that line of reasoning attractive.) Some object to the way theism fails to produce agreement and generates divisions and sects. (Often compelling to me, too.) Along similar lines, others have concluded that it's simply undesirable to commit to beliefs that are excessively complex or, alternatively not as simple as...

Do you think every person has a moral obligation to work at the best paying job they can attain, live off as little as they can manage, and donate the rest to the most efficient charity they can find?

Given the way many in the wealthy parts of the world live, this is a compelling question. I think, however, that as posed the answer must be "no." For one thing, the best paying jobs may sometimes contribute more bads than goods to the world. For example, in some circumstances criminal activity or highly polluting industry may offer the best paying job. Also, it is not morally obligatory to live off as little as one can manage, giving away the rest to charity. People have obligations to themselves as well as to others, and one must balance what one owes to others against what one owes oneself. Finally, it's important to understand that some acts are morally admirable without being morally obligatory; and from where I sit extraordinary self-sacrifice for the sake of charity to others counts as just such an act. Having said that, it remains true, I think, as a matter of judgment, that many people in wealthier parts of the world live in ways that have tipped the balance excessively in the direction of...

Many people believe that it is inappropriate to impose one's religious beliefs on others. A principal reason for this belief is simply the observation that not everyone shares the same religion (and many are not religious at all). But mightn't a zealot simply say that, while he recognizes that many people disagree with him, he happens to be extremely confident that they are wrong? So I guess my question is this: In the endorsement of religious toleration, the separation of church and state, etc. is it implicit that religious people don't hold their religious beliefs very strongly?

No and yes. Historically, the idea of toleration developed along side streams of philosophical scrutiny of religious belief that suggested, rightly I think, that there's just not very good reason for zealous commitment to religious beliefs. So, while a zealot may, as you describe it, be exceedingly confident or dogmatic in his or her belief, there's no sound justification for doing so. In this sense, strains of modern skepticism have tempered religious belief in the form of what early modern thinkers called "enthusiasm." But, on the other hand, there are many ways of holding a belief "strongly." There are, one might say, ways of holding religious beliefs strongly that are consistent with tolerance and ways of holding beliefs strongly that are inconsistent. Tolerance itself commonly suggests that contrary views are considered wrong and even, perhaps, obnoxious. So, analogously, we speak of a body's capacity to tolerate a toxin or to tolerate the cold, etc. So, just as we might speak of a person who...

I have come across a dilemma, I could not find the question on the site presently so I hope it has not been answered yet. If an atom is the smallest piece of matter that we are aware of, doesn't some form of matter have to make up an atom? And whatever the form of matter that makes up an atom, would have to be made up of some other form of matter and that matter would have to be made up of a kind of matter as well, and on and on forever. Where does that stop? How can a human being ever comprehend something like this? Thank you.

This is a wonderfully knotty question that has occupied philosophers at least since Zeno of Elea in the 5th century BCE. One way of interpreting Zeno on this is to say that the problem shows that space is illusory. David Hume later, like the atomists ('atom' meaning uncuttable) seems to have thought that there must be a point at which the cutting stops, at least so far as the world of experience goes. I might say that Zeno is right that certain ways of conceiving space are flawed, including the way the problem as you pose it conceives of space--that is, as continuous all the way down, becoming just a finer and finer Cartesian grid if you will, always subject to the same sorts of properties or ways of conceiving things (like length, height, depth, etc.). It seems, however, that once we reach the sub-atomic realm these ways of conceiving things just don't hold, so that it becomes impossible to apply mathematical divisions of space. Space seems dependent on, you might say, the ability of energy to...

Is it wrong to lie when we're questioned on matters of our intimacy? I mean cases where the other reasonable option would be to refuse to answer but for some reason we prefer not to. More specifically, I mean cases where it was wrong to ask in the first place.

While in general truth-telling is morally preferable to lying, I suppose it might depend upon what precise reason one has for preferring not to answer or precisely how wrong or in what way wrong the question was. But as a general matter, no, I don't think it reasonable to hold that it would always be wrong to lie in circumstances of the sort you describe.

Was I right or wrong in marrying out of a sense of duty as opposed to marrying for love? Some years ago I fell in love with an unavailable woman. We did not have a relationship but while still in love with her I met, had a long term relationship with and married a woman I was fond of and needed. My wife believes that I love her and she loves me. I am aware that if I had not had a long relationship with my wife she might have met and married someone who truly loved her. However, I stayed with her in the hope that she would help me get over the unavailable woman and that I would eventually grow to love her. This did not happen. Had I told her after being with her for a few years that I did not love her and that I wanted to end our relationship it may have then been too late (we are both in our late thirties) for her to meet another man and have children with him. Also deep down I must have felt that I had used her and did not want to admit this to myself. I felt I was obligated to marry her. Was...

The texts of intimate relationships are generally too complicated to make judgments about using simple moral principles. But as a weakly stated general rule, I'd say that it's not wrong to marry or simply remain in a marriage out of a sense of duty. In fact, I would say that a sense of duty is a desirable element of a good foundation for marriage. It is, however, wrong to marry or remain married for the sake of duty but do so deceptively--that is, it is wrong to marry or stay married only or principally for sake of duty when your partner in marriage believes otherwise.

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