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 .

Where can I read about objections to the validity of a question such as "the purpose of life" where the question baselessly presupposes that life HAS a purpose. And more broadly, even if it claimed that EVERYTHING has a purpose, how can such a claim be justified? It seems that many metaphysical questions suffer from this lack of validity due to unfounded presuppositions or assertions. Where can I read about this as applied to philosophical questions in general? Thank you.

I recommend the essays in Part Three ("Questioning the Question") of E.D. Klemke's collection The Meaning of Life (Second Edition). If I may also mention my own short article on one aspect of this topic, you can find it at this link . The literature on whether philosophical questions in general rest on false presuppositions is enormous. You might start with this SEP article (especially section 4.1). There's also a growing literature on whether metaphysics in particular (and ontology more particularly) concerns mostly pseudo-questions; see, for example, this collection .

Does strict materialism imply there is no such thing as intrinsic value? If we say something has intrinsic value, I take it we mean that it is 'good' in itself, for its own sake. I'm not using 'good' to mean 'morally good' - but just "good from at least someone's point of view" in the sense that the experience of of eating an ice cream seems good to me. I think conscious experiences, in general, have intrinsic value - at least in this personal-point-of-view way. I also think this aspect of my experience is crucial to rational decision-making; without it, I'd have no clear basis for deciding between, say, eating an ice cream and setting myself on fire. I also think that if we go a bit further and say that that experiences have intrinsic value, period (i.e., objectively, from everyone's point of view), then we might have the basis of a theory of morality. Now, I gather that some philosophers might object to such a theory, on the grounds that ideas like "ought", "should" or "morally bad" cannot be...

I don't see how materialism as such bears on the existence of intrinsic value. The issue of whether anything has intrinsic value, and if so which things have it, seems independent of whether the world contains any immaterial substances (such as immaterial minds or souls). I think of values as abstract objects (non-physical non-substances), so if there are no abstract objects then there are no values, but there can be abstract objects without immaterial substances. You're right that we haven't yet found a satisfying explanation of conscious experience in wholly materialistic terms, but even if we never find such an explanation, our failure to explain something wouldn't imply the logical or ontological claim that materialism is incompatible with intrinsic value. You suggest that "conscious experiences, in general, have intrinsic value," at least from the first-person perspective. I'm not sure what the qualifier "in general" is doing in that clause, since the intrinsic value of...

I don't drink alcohol. I have a few reasons - I rarely enjoy the taste, it's expensive, it's not really healthy, and I don't like letting my behavior be influenced by the substances I drink - but mainly I've just never felt any kind of desire to drink. Yet when I am out with people I don't know particularly well, they tend to be insistent that I drink alcohol with them - remarkably insistent. I've even had people get frustrated with me because I won't drink, frowning and telling me "Stop making a big deal about it, just have a drink!". I've had to make up excuses such as "I used to be an alcoholic," "I'm taking medication" or (if I am desperate) "My religion forbids me from drinking alcohol" - only then will people finally, grudgingly, leave me to my tea. Is it wrong of me to insist not to drink alcohol, or should I, for the sake of not offending my colleagues, suck it up and drink? Is it acceptable for others to insist so strongly that I do so? Why does it even matter? I've occasionally had to...

I think these questions are as easily answered as you seem to think they are. You're clearly within your rights -- to put it mildly! -- when you decline alcohol despite being pressured. Is it acceptable for others to pressure you? Morally acceptable, yes, in that it's not morally impermissible. But I'd say it's unfriendly and rude, at a minimum, when you've made it clear you don't drink. If drinking is an important social norm among a particular group of people, I'd suggest you socialize with different people -- and I'd say that even to someone who does drink occasionally. Given the enormous harm caused by alcohol abuse, the moral presumption is, if anything, against anyone who pressures people to drink.

It's absurd to say "If I were him I would have behaved differently" right? I mean, if you were him you would BE him, all his atoms and neurons and flesh, etcetera, and you would have the same thoughts, desires, impulses, everything. (Unless there's some transference of my Cartesian Ego or soul or something that can rise above the fact that I'm simply just him now, but at this point that seems ridiculous unless there's a god, although I know some dualists might disagree). We so often speak as if we can judge other people's actions by just inserting ourselves into "their shoes", but can we really do that and make any sense? Thanks a lot!

You're right to detect absurdity in the literally construed antecedent "If I were him." (It's also ungrammatical: "If I were he .") There's good reason to think that statements of identity and distinctness (i.e., non-identity) are noncontingent: they never just happen to be true. So, given that you're not identical to him, you couldn't have been identical to him, regardless of the existence of God or a Cartesian ego. In that case, "If I were he" is an impossible antecedent, which (on the standard semantics for conditionals) makes the entire conditional "If I were he, then p " trivially true no matter what statement p is: "If I were he, I wouldn't be he" comes out true, for example. But that's all metaphysics and semantics. As you say, the real point of statements beginning "If I were him [or he, or you]" is to offer advice or to pass judgment on someone's actions. It assumes that you can imagine being in his circumstances in all the relevant respects and that the...

My supposition is; can an abstract possess an abstract? That is, a person (tangible) can possess morality or happiness, but "time" can not possess either. Or, a "society" can be said to be moral (or immoral) but is it the "society" that possesses that morality, or just the tangible members of that society?

In my opinion, the best way to think of properties (attributes, characteristics, traits) is to think of them as abstract objects. On this way of thinking of them, anything at all that possesses a property possesses (or, maybe better, instantiates ) an abstract object. You possess the property of being human: you instantiate the abstract object humanity . But abstract objects themselves can also possess properties -- most obviously, the property of abstractness . On this view, society (construed as an abstract object) can be (say) immoral provided it makes sense to describe an entire society that way: any obstacle to a society's counting as immoral wouldn't stem from the abstractness of society or the abstractness of immorality. Much more to be found here .

Stephen Hawking, in his recent book entitled The Grand Design, states that philosophy is dead. Without going into the reasons behind his thinking, I'd like to know the response of current philosophers to Hawking's statement. He has laid down a gauntlet of sorts, a challenge to philosophers to make their work relevant to the recent advances and discoveries made by cosmologists, astrophysicists, and others on the cutting edge of scientific discovery and investigation. Are present-day philosophers up to Hawking's challenge?

Scientists who write obituaries for philosophy forget that science depends on philosophical assumptions. When some lab results or observations of the visible universe confirm or disconfirm a prediction in physics, Hawking and colleagues draw conclusions about the whole universe. But does any set of observations justify conclusions about unobserved cases? Is "elegance" an objective feature of a theory, and does it make a theory having it more likely to be true? And so on. Philosophers grapple with these questions; scientists just presume answers to them. Unless we ignore such questions, philosophizing is inescapable.

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