The thing about physical science is that it seems likes it doesn't tell you anything that couldn't be simulated by a virtual reality device of some sort. Am I wrong? Can science test that hypothesis in a reasonable way? It seems like the only real and accessible metaphysical qualities are things like color. Color is real whether we are looking at a virtual reality simulation or something else. "Has science allowed us to go deeper than that to an actual world behind manifestations such as color?

I think there are limits to how far the skeptical worry you describe can go. Your reference to virtual-reality devices is telling: "The thing about physical science is that it seems like it doesn't tell you anything that couldn't be simulated by a virtual reality device of some sort." Notice that it's physical science itself (computer science, neuroscience) that encourages you to say that. In broaching the idea that virtual-reality devices could fake what we take to be truths revealed by science, you make two non-skeptical assumptions: (1) Science really does claim such-and-such about reality; (2) science has it right about the power of virtual-reality devices. (Now, someone's skepticism might stem from merely imagining that reality is radically different from how it seems to him/her, but that kind of skepticism doesn't -- and shouldn't -- rely on anything scientific.) Can empirical science test a radical skeptical hypothesis? No. Of necessity, empirical scientific testing always occurs...

Is "understanding" a proposition necessary, but not sufficient, for "believing" that same proposition? Further, where could one find arguments (discussion) for and/or against either position?

I confess I'm puzzled by Prof. Heck's reply. He defends the following three assumptions: (1) If you understand a proposition, then you also understand its negation. (2) It is necessary, if you are to believe a proposition, to understand it. (3) It's perfectly possible to believe a proposition and not understand its negation. I interpret those assumptions as follows: (1*) Understanding P entails understanding not-P. (2*) Believing P entails understanding P. (3*) Believing P doesn't entail understanding not-P. (1*)-(3*) imply a contradiction: Believing P does and doesn't entail understanding not-P. If so, then (1)-(3) imply everything (if I've interpreted them correctly). I also don't see how the falsity of (3) implies that we would always have to believe contradictions. If (3) is false, then believing P entails understanding not-P; I don't see how any unwelcome consequences follow from that. PLEASE NOTE : (3) above was taken from Professor Heck's original...

I often read that we must judge arguments or claims based on their own merits, rather than on the quality of the person presenting them. This is fine in realms such as logic or everyday life, where we can all have access to the relevant information, but how does this play out in complex domains, such as science? For instance, suppose I am reading two books on the health effects of different nutrients, such as animal fat. One author claims all animal fat is harmful, the other claims that some animal fats, such as fish fat, is fine in moderation. Both cite studies supporting their views, but one author is a spokesperson for PETA and the other is a senior researcher at a well-known university. As somebody who doesn't have access to biology laboratories to conduct experiments, and who perhaps doesn't have the time to read every source cited, critique every study made and read every attack made on both author's views, what is the best thing for me to do? Should I simply decide not to believe anything at...

Your question touches on two much-discussed philosophical topics: the epistemology of (expert and non-expert) testimony and the epistemology of disagreement . You can find accessible discussions of those topics here and here . I won't opine about those topics in general except to say that the academic credentials and scholarly independence of anyone making a scientific claim are highly relevant and worth checking. Fortunately, the particular example you gave is fairly tractable: the issue "Is all animal fat harmful even if consumed in moderation?" In fact, the debate you referred to is even more tightly focused: "Is fish fat, even in moderation, harmful?" Thanks to that tight focus, you can narrow your search to sources answering that particular question. The web makes such a search easier than ever before. Start with the most recent peer-reviewed articles you find, because they're supposed to take account of and respond to earlier articles; their conclusions will be summarized...

I'm attending a lecture on the philosophy of science, and our professor told us yesterday that "we constantly rely on inductive reasoning all the time in our lives, such as when we assume that the floor won't suddenly collapse beneath our feet if we walk forwards." This struck me as odd. Is it accurate to say we "assume" such a thing? It seems to me that we don't even think about these things at all, much less try to justify any such assumptions - saying we're relying on some kind of argumentation seems like a stretch, but perhaps it isn't. Is everything we do, then, the result of certain processes of reasoning? Or are there things we just do without any reasoning to support them?

You wrote, "Is it accurate to say that we 'assume' such a thing?" I don't think it's part of the concept of an assumption that all assumptions are explicit or top-of-mind when we make them. Some assumptions are merely implicit, unstated, tacit. That's why the phrase "implicit assumption" isn't a contradiction in terms. So the inductive assumptions that we make could be mostly or entirely implicit, and it may be only when such an assumption proves wrong -- for instance, when the floorboard gives out -- that we realize we were making the assumption in the first place. I think your professor is right that we do rely on inductive assumptions all the time, almost always implicitly. Philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) famously argued that we rely on inductive reasoning all the time even though we have no good reason to trust it. See also this link: http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/4574 .

The equality x-x=0 and 0=x-x are suppose to be the same. The first equality is easy to understand while the second equality( 0=x-x )is somewhat mind boggling to me for the following reason: where do the 2x's on the right side come from? Thanks Kal

Assuming I understand your question: They come from the same "place" in each equation, namely, from anywhere at all. It might help to think of it this way: "What's the result of subtracting any magnitude at all from itself? Zero." "What's zero? The result of subtracting any magnitude at all from itself." Each answer is just as good as the other in answering the respective question being asked.

If thoughts depend on memories and memories are unreliable then how can we trust any thought? I assume thoughts require memories because thoughts seem to require at least some time to compute, even with very simple thoughts we think thing one at a time - if it's not quite like that I think it's very close to something like that, maybe my whole doubt depends on a dubious connection between thought and memory, I don't know. I think the unreliability of memory is more obvious, memory seems to be something just given to us and we simply have to "trust" it but the possibility of doubt is still there. I recognize that there is some not inconsiderable paradox in doubting the very idea of being able to form a thought and using thought to achieve that doubt but alas... I wonder if this suggests that thought in its truest form is something more intuitive and directly related to a grasp of the present moment than reason as it is generally understand as a discursive process.

Thanks for your question. I'd distinguish the undeniable claim that memory is fallible from the less plausible claim that memory is unreliable . I'm no psychologist, but it seems that the reliability of memory comes in degrees, depending on who's using it, under what conditions, and what its content is. The kind of remembering described in your question -- remembering what I was thinking just an instant ago -- doesn't seem especially unreliable, under favorable conditions anyway. Furthermore, we logically presuppose the reliability of memory in general even as we check whether some particular memory of ours is false: We ask those who are better-positioned what they remember, we trust that we correctly remember the meanings of words they use in their answers or the meanings of words we read in contemporaneous accounts of the event, and so on. Indeed, if we persist for any length of time in our belief that memory is fallible, that too depends on trusting our memory: it presupposes that we...

Hierarchical compatiblism says that I have free will if I have the will I want to have. The theory claims to show that my desires can be up to me. I understand how the theory improves upon classic compatiblism by showing that the absence of external constraint is not sufficient for freedom. But it is unclear to me how second order desires or volitions are genuinely up to me if they are causally necessitated by the relevant laws of nature and background conditions. Can any form of compatiblism, however sophisticated, survive the scrutiny of hard determinism?

You wrote, "But it is unclear to me how second order desires or volitions are genuinely up to me if they are causally necessitated by the relevant laws of nature and background conditions." Recall that, for compatibilists, how I act can in the relevant sense be up to me even if how I act is necessitated by the laws of nature and the prior conditions. If you grant compatibilists that much, then they're likely to say, "Why can't my second-order desires or volitions also be up to me, in the relevant sense, even if they're necessitated by the laws of nature and the prior conditions? Causal necessitation doesn't prevent those from being up to me any more than it prevents my actions from being up to me." Which invites the question you closed with: "Can any form of compatibilism, however sophisticated, survive the scrutiny of hard determinism?" The jury's of course still out on that one. But the more I think about the relation between freedom and determinism, the more it seems to me that...

Sorry for the length of this question, but could anyone suggest reading material for me that might help me learn about the type of 'freedom' I'm wondering about in the following example: If a friend asks me to pick any color, I am free to choose whichever color I would like. It seems as free as a choice can possibly be. And yet, the process of choosing the color seems to take place without conscious involvement on my part. Well, I'm clearly involved but the name/image of a color simply emerges into my consciousness. I don't actually choose which color will come to mind, since any deliberation between colors on my part is only possible after the colors have simply popped into my head. So, if orange comes to mind, I might tell my friend "I pick orange". But then I might decide that, since orange is my favorite color, I was probably biased towards picking it, so I decide to choose a different color to express my 'freedom to choose'. But again, whichever color comes to mind as a replacement for orange just...

I'd flag the word "ultimately" in your sentence "But this does seem to give weight to the notion that even conscious deliberation is not ultimately free." The search for "ultimate freedom," like the search for " ultimate purpose ," is doomed to fail, but only because the search itself is incoherent and hence ill-conceived. As you point out, ultimate freedom would require completing an infinite regress there's no reason to think we could complete. In that case, there's good reason to doubt that "ultimacy" is essential to the concept of freedom we ordinarily use and view as important especially in moral contexts. You summed it up nicely: "So you're free, but you don't have the impossibly infinite consciousnesses necessary to be ultimately free, right?" Right. Or at least the impossibility of ultimate freedom doesn't cast doubt on the possibility of freedom, just as the impossibility of an ultimate prime number doesn't cast doubt on the possibility of prime numbers. Let me recommend (again) ...

Is all suffering morally relevant, even if brought upon oneself? If a person takes part in an activity where they might expect to suffer and that they could choose to abandon at any time, but persist because they think that the suffering will stop and the activity will become engaging, does their suffering still matter?

One common view is that suffering is always morally relevant, in the sense that there's always a moral presumption against knowingly allowing suffering that you could (easily enough) prevent, especially when you're uniquely positioned to prevent it. But often this presumption is overcome, as when parents rightly allow their children to suffer painful vaccinations for their own good, or a coach rightly allows athletes to suffer during a grueling workout that improves their performance. We sometimes (although not always) respect an autonomous agent's choice to suffer for reasons we don't think are good reasons, as when we allow adults to try particular stunts from "Jackass" just because someone dared them to. All of this is compatible, I think, with the claim that suffering is "loaded" in the morally negative way I sketched above. You may find something useful in this SEP entry .

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