Hi, I had a question about the nature of free will. Is it a fair interpretation to say that we actually do not have free will because we are limited in the choices that we can make? For example, say that I really want a blue book, and given complete freedom, I would buy myself one, but for whatever reason today there are only red and black books available in my price range. I can only choose from two options that I did not want, and so my selection of book is limited by my external choices. Is this a silly interpretation? Thanks, Hayley

Good question, Hayley. What the case you describe brings to light is that free will is best understood with respect to a set of alternatives and not with respect to an unlimited range of possibilities. Being free with respect to purchasing a red or black book (or make no purchase at all) is still a bona fide case of freedom, even though "you can't always get what you want" (the Rolling Stones were right on that point). Philosophers have sought to address such cases. Consider a case from Aristotle: imagine a sea captain in the midst of a storm throwing her cargo into the sea. Is she doing so freely? In a sense, she is, but in a sense she is not. She would prefer not to, but unless she does, she, her crew, and ship will sink. This is a case when we would hedge an easy reply to questioning whether the sea captain acted with (to use your term) "complete freedom."

Being that Christianity teaches that Jesus is Lord of all of our lives, and this therefore means that He determines how we should live, do you think that God could therefore ask us to stop studying or practicing philosophy? Could surrendering our lives to Christ entail the end of one's philosophical studies?

Being a Christian and a philosopher, I hope not! "Philosophy" comes for the Greek for the love of wisdom, and given that Christianity, like Judaism, supports a rich tradition of wisdom (see, for example, "The Book of Wisdom" in the Hebrew Bible), to think God / Christ would ask us to cease being philosophical seems as likely to me as being asked to stop breathing or to only listen to Bach. But you are on to a good point in asking about when traditions or institutions or when philosophy itself might limit or caution us about the practice of philosophy. Presumably there are all kinds of practical, common sense conditions when it would be good to stop doing philosophy in the sense of, for example, debating some point on how to interpret Kant when engaged in rescuing people who are drowning (unless you are rescuing a Kantian and discussing Kant will calm the person down). We also might allow that while Socrates is commonly praised for giving up his life for his practice of philosophy, sometimes even a...

Hi! I'm someone who strongly dislikes Trump, but I also feel that I ought be loyal to whomever is President. What I wanted to ask is -- should loyalty be considered a virtue, or is it inherently a silly, irrational thing, and closer to being a vice? Could it, for instance, be responsible for partisanship and disunity? I've read that 90% of people who identified as Republican and voted, voted for Trump: is unthinking loyalty to a political party (if indeed that was one of the factors here) an evil?

Tough question(s). There is a recent book with Cambridge University Press by Simon Keller, The Limits of Loyalty (2007), that is highly critical of loyalty. While I am not as critical of loyalty as Keller, he highlights enough cases (real and imaginary) in which loyalty goes wrong that I suggest loyalty should be seen as having secondary value. That is, if some person or good or cause is good, then being loyal to that person or good or cause is itself good, but if some person or ill or cause is wicked, then loyalty would be bad (or a vice). On this view, unthinking loyalty to a political party is (minimally) at least risky (if, it happens that the party is good, great, but it could be awful, if the party is terrible). As for being loyal to (soon to be) President Trump, you might think that you are not so much loyal to the person, as you are loyal to the United States of America or to the democratic process or to the ideals of the Constitution or to the office of the Presidency.

Are there good reasons to believe in God?

I believe that there are. I find versions of the cosmological and teleological arguments convincing, as well as an argument from religious experience. You might check out on the free online Stanford Encyclopedia the entry The Cosmological Argument and the entry Philosophy of Religion. The latter will also go through arguments against the reasonability of believing in God. At the risk of being horrifically self-promoting, you might look at the 2016 book Contemporary Philosophical Theology I co-authored with Chad Meister. It is not apologetics; that is, it is not written to convince readers of theism. It seeks also to present reasons behind atheism, non-theistic forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, secular naturalism. But we also advance reasons for thinking that theism (belief that there is a God) is a live option that reasonable, intelligent persons may reject, but also reasonable, intelligent persons may accept.

Hello. I'd like to ask about proof of miracles and of God -- and, in particular, what the standard of proof is. Arthur C Clarke said something like, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Well, if a voice booms down from the heavens, tells you that it's God, parts the Red Sea and gives prophecies that come true, are there no other explanations for these events except "miracles", and would the unusualness of these events be strong enough to establish that the voice in fact is God?

Interesting! The way you frame the question, it appears you may be assuming that explaining an event in terms of God is only feasible if all other explanations (that we know about or can imagine) are exhausted / untenable. I suggest that a lower standard of evidence may be fitting --for the record, contemporary philosophers rarely appeal to proofs, and thus "standard of proof"; the concern, rather, is with good or bad arguments. Allow me to change your example slightly: let's imagine that many of the contemporary theistic arguments establish good grounds to believe that there is a maximally excellent, omnipresent, omnipresent Creator and sustainer of the cosmos (imagine, for example, that some version of the ontological, cosmological, teleological arguments, the argument from fine-tuning and arguments from the emergence of consciousness are credible) and that vast numbers of persons (maybe even over half the world's population) report having experiences in which they feel called to be just and...

When we explains darkness to a blind, he will fail to recognize it even If he is experiencing it. May be contrasts and differences in sensations are the basic things in understanding a sensation and applying consciousness to it. If we are hearing the same sound since our birth we will fail to apply consciousness to it. What do you think about it philosophers? I'm too young forgive me if its fallacious.

Always great to hear from a young philosopher! I take it that you are wondering if a person has only experienced some state (darkness, for example) and not experienced a contrary state (light), whether or not they would know the state itself / the state they are in. Great question. It may have a practical application: if persons have never experienced moral maturity or enlightenment of some kind, they may not know what it is (for them or for anyone) to be immature or unenlightened. Identifying states of ourselves and of the world often depend on our capacity to differentiate them (to grasp X, we often need to be able to distinguish X from not-X). The only modest suggestion I am led to make is that someone who has never seen (someone "born blind") may not experience the world as dark. They may, instead, experience the world as a matter of sounds, sensory feelings, smells, but not in visual terms. Although English usage might not entirely back me up on this, but it seems to me that for someone to...

If determinism cannot be proven to be true or false is it rational to believe it is true on the grounds it is likely to be true and I am reasonably justified to do so? Or would the rational position be to withold believe one way or the other until stronger evidence is presented. Is it even possible to have evidence in favor of determinism?

Interesting question! On the first question, many of us think that, yes, even if some philosophical thesis cannot be proven or is not proven at the time to be true of false, it can be reasonable to justifiably believe the thesis is true. I suggest that this is true in most matters of substantial philosophical concerns. For example, belief that some form of naturalism or idealism or theism is true might well be justified even if this is a matter that is very far from (if ever) justified, as are competing philosophical accounts of space and time, values, externalism or internalism in epistemology, and so on. Although the book is now 7 years old, I still highly recommend Gary Cuttings's What Philosophers Know (published in 2009 by Cambridge University Press) which recounts multiple cases of when philosophers in the 20th century claimed to *know* with certainty that theory X is true, but yet it only too often becomes apparent on further reflection that the arguments are far, far less than decisive. So,...

I'd like to ask about the morality of homewrecking: if two people, say B and J, are married, is there anything wrong with a third person, A, actively pursuing B? It seems to me that A could say: it takes two to tango; everyone has a right to maximise their happiness; one should respect B's autonomy; and I'm not responsible for the consequences of B's actions. J could reply: but you cause foreseeable suffering by your actions. To which A could respond: I think autonomy and the morality of what actions are permitted should trump the morality of thinking about consequences, but even when applying the morality of consequences: if B stays, then both he and I will be unhappy; if B goes, then it is only you who are unhappy. What do you think? Is homewrecking clearly morally wrong?

The way you set up the question is quite interesting. While you are right (as J points out), one reason to think that the "home wrecking" is wrong would be foreseeable suffering, but this would seem to be not the strongest reason because (as you point out) the "home wrecking" might actually produce a net gain in happiness even if J suffers quite a bit from the loss. I suggest that the stronger reason for A not to pursue the breakdown of the marriage is that marriage itself consists of mutual promises (vows) between two persons to be steadfast in their loyalty / faith to each other. In most cases, this is probably a vow for life-long fidelity in terms of sexuality -- but also in terms of the primacy of allegiance in a couple constituting a family, even if only two are the family with no children. Assuming that the marriage vow is for life-long fidelity, the third party "A" really is the outsider and is launching an external (intentional?) challenge (J would probably see it as an assault) on the vow...

Does philosophy have anything interesting to say about the problem of terrorism?

Yes, please go to the free, online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and see the entry: TERRORISM. There is a good survey of the terms, concepts and work that philosophers have contributed to. Because that will give you a full overview and guide plus recommended reading, I think it would be redundant of me to offer a great deal of material here. But I offer just a few thoughts as a preface to your looking at the Stanford entry: Philosophers have done a great deal of work on justice, law, and the use of force. You will find a great deal of this in simply pursuing the domains of political philosophy and philosophy of law, but also in the context of Just War Theory. Contemporary acts of terror / terrorism are not unprecedented historically, but as you will see in the Stanford entry, there are vexing issues in addressing terrorism within and without state sponsorship, and great differences between ostensible justifications of terrorism (e.g. nationalism, utilitarian rationale, theological warrants)...

John needs money to buy the farm he has always dreamed of. If his aunt dies this week, John will inherit the needed money from her, although John does not know that. He does not like his aunt very much. Miles away, his aunt is stuck in her home, which is in flames. Mary breaks into the house and saves the aunt, who would have died otherwise. My question is: did Mary (unknowingly) harm John? (I am a lawyer.)

Great question! I suggest that Mary did not (unknowingly) harm John, given the case as described. One reason for thinking this is not a harm is a kind of slippery slope line of reasoning. If John is harmed by the rescue of his aunt, many, many people are being harmed right now when their benefactors are enabled to live. You have singled out John as facing a timely opportunity (without the money this week, the farm of his dreams slips through his fingers), but I suspect that my nephews and nieces would really like their inheritance from me right now for all kinds of reasons and, while I hope they actually love me and would prefer I lived a while longer, I think it would be (at least) odd for them to believe they were harmed when I narrowly escaped death from a drunk driver car accident. Actually, come to think of it, I can imagine my nephew and niece thinking "if only that bloke had driven a little faster, we would have the funds we want from Uncle Charles's estate' so maybe this is not so odd. But ...

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