I hear a lot of talk about how "the people are correct" and the saying "one million people can't be wrong." However, there has to be some absolutist force present some of the time to keep anything and everything from becoming chaotic. For example, when sending soldiers off to a war that will violate human rights, but which is widely supported by the people, some would argue that makes it the right thing to do. On the other hand, imagine the pickle the world would be in if people had taken that standpoint towards Nazi Germany, and no one had stepped in. Can the masses truly be morally wrong, or does widespread belief of something make it right absolutely?

Yes, the majority can be wrong about any number of issues from ethics to philosophy or religion. Perhaps only some form of conceptual or moral relativism (in which X is right is defined in terms of a society approving of X) or providential theology (e.g. God would not allow the majority of a people to fall into error) could make the majority of people a determinant of truth. There might, however, be a more modest principle worthy of consideration. If you are in a society in which the vast majority of people believe X, this may provide some reason for you to consider whether X is true. There has also been a movement in philosophy that had its heyday in the Scottish Enlightenment that celebrates the evidential value of common sense. Thomas Reid (1710-1796) was a leading figure, and a more recent representative of this position well worth reading is Roderick Chisholm. But your example of a Nazi society is an important one and should make us cautious about uncritically accepting any majority conviction...

I'm not too sure if you can help me out. Here goes. It seems to me that there is a general agreement on the necessity of the nation state. The whole war in Afghanistan is premised on the necessity of the state. Is civilization, whatever that is, premised on the state? Can humanity exist without the state? Are we living in a period in which humanity cannot be without the state?

This is a huge question about the philosophy of human nature and values. It is difficult to imagine anything like civilization (cities or some kind of coordinated form of life with surplus agriculture enabling there to be markets, safety, public gatherings, religion, and so on) without a system of goverance, whether it takes the form of a nation state, empire / kingdom or tribe. Some political philosophies seem to hold that a state of some kind is necessary (Hobbes), while others seem to allow that anarchy of some kind might not be impossible (Rousseau). A further question to consider is whether a globe of independent states needs an overall system of governance (United Nations? a world court?) to secure safety, fairness and justice between states. An interesting book that defends a minimal state that you might find engaging is Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Modest point: I am not sure that "the whole war in Afghanistan is premised on the necessity of the state," though it does appear...

For much of my life, I have defined myself through my intellectual pursuits. I loved learning, reading, and poetry. Thinking held a genuine excitement for me, and I craved academic and literary challenges. Within the past few months, for no reason that I can discern, all of that changed. I am not an unhappy person aside from the fact that I have lost this part of my identity (so I don’t think that I am clinically depressed), but I have become lazy. I still read a little, but I no longer enjoy it. When I try to do the things I loved, they now seem boring or, at least, like work. And I like the person I was then much better than the person I am now. She was more thoughtful, had higher standards for herself, and was searching for her purpose in life. And it also feels kind of like, if I am not an intellectual, then what good am I? My sense of morality, my worldview, and my desire to achieve all came from my intellectual concept of the world. How do I bring back this “spark”? Is there a way to fall back in...

Perhaps you can bring back that loving feeling by choosinng a middle path. In your question, it seems that you are representing two persons: An intellectual who loves reading, is excited by inquiry into the purpose of life, someone with a passion for literary and academic challenges, a commitment to moral reflection and entertaining worldviews, and who has high standards And: A person who is lazy or at least not passionate about learning, a person who does not enjoy reading and finds the pursuits of the above person boring / uninteresting. Might there be a middle position, e.g. someone who is excited about inquiry and literary challenges, but someone who also makes time for non-intellectual pursuits? Philosophers from Aristotle to Spinoza and beyond have recommended moderation, a middle ground between excess and deficiency. To use an old analogy from the medievals, if you try always to be on top of your intellectual pursuits you might be in the position of having a bow and arrow that you...

This is more of a sociological question *about* philosophers than it is a strictly philosophical question, but what is the general view, if there is one, among philosophers concerning political pundits, political television and radio shows, and what may more broadly be called media-politics? I am interested in knowing how big the gulf is between such "everyday" politics and the politics of academics. I, for one, notice an enormous gulf such that most of what I hear on television and radio shows has little to do with political theory--and rarely if ever even makes reference to it--and is much more focused on empty rhetoric and party-love and hate. Am I in good company?

I don't think there is a general philosophical point of view on "media politics" though historically and today philosophers have tended to oppose the kind of one-way rants that one hears in which no objections are considered or, if they are entertained, they are shouted down (this is based on my occasional listening to right wing radio in the USA, e.g. Jason Lewis, Rush...). Even Plato who, in the Republic, defended a modest form of censorship and has some very negative views on democracy, celebrates in all his dialogues (including the Republic) a dialogue in which objections are patiently entertained and positions re-thought. Ideally, one may describe democracy as a form of government in which change is brought about non-violently through argument. In this sense, all of Plato's dialogues support a democratic culture. Popular media in the USA does seem to me to involve some political theory (there appear to be full discussions of individual rights, accountability, the environment, entitlements...

In general, it seems that an action is considered morally wrong when it harms a person (or animal). Is there anything morally wrong with profanity? To clarify, I do not mean swearing at someone, but profanity in general. E.g.: I spent my whole &*@&#$ night writing that %*@&# paper! Sure, it may be "tasteless", but is there any basis on which to call it wrong?

Great question. In replying to a question on vulgarity earlier this week, I offered a minor defense of swearing, suggestiing that it might be essential in expressing the passionate nature of one's convictions (e.g. the classic case is the law case over whether wearing a shirt with the words "Fuck the draft" was protected under free speech) and using vulgarity might be more effective to get people's attention in an emergency (e.g. if you yelled out "Get out of the ^%$#@ building; it is on fire!" you might get a faster response than if you left out the swearing). But in trying to come up with a general account about why the use of profanity might be wrong in general, I think one would need to argue that it in some way debases language and offends human dignity. I write "offends" rather than some stronger word (like "violates"!) as if a wrong is involved, surely it is not a deep and profound wrong unless other factors are involved (you are using profanity to intimidate children). Degredation and offense...

Does it put me in any particular philosophical camp to believe that most questions taken as philosophical questions could be made more tractable by first settling (or agreeing not to settle) issues of definition and acceptable evidence?

You would be in very good company, as the pursuit of careful definitions was key to Socrates' philosophical dialectic. Great care for the definition of words is also a key part of Confucius' philosophy. In the 20th century, the practice of focussing on definitions and conceptual clarity was key to what is commonly known as analytic philosophy. Represenatitives include G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell and, more recently, Roderick Chisholm. While the tools of analytic philosophy are (in my view) essential, these can be over done (hence a book came out in response to extreme analytic philosophy called: Clarity is Not Enough).

What does it mean to live authentically? I think Heidegger wrote about this, but can't recall where.

Heidegger describes authentic living in his masterpiece Being and Time. He believes that living authentically involves living without self-deception or living in light of merely what society (the "they self") wants. Ultimately, it means coming to terms with your temporality and eventual death. He sums up the latter point by claiming that authentic living involves anticipatory resoluteness toward one's own death. Heidegger does not acknowledge the influence of Kierkegaard on his work and treatment of authenticity, but I suggest that (in the words of the Kierkegaard scholar Stephen Evans) Being and Time is inconceivable without prior awareness of Kierkegaard, whose influence is evident throughout. You might therefore check out a bit of Kierkegaard (start with Either/Or) and then move to Heidegger for further exploration of authenticity.

What is a poem? I'm thinking about this in reference to developments from Modernism on. The writer presents something novel in form with some familiar signs such as appearance on the page, embedded quotations or references, etc. The reader likes or dislikes, but basically accepts. It seems this is a new attitude, less tied to conventional definitions, but is it? Is there still a point to asking, "What is a poem?"

Another panelist should take up this question, but I will start by commending you on appreciating the difficulty of defining 'poetry' given the breadth of sounds and marks that count as poems today. Long gone are the days when 'poetry' could be defined in terms of rhythm, but as we get to the point of having trouble defining boundaries over what is and what is not a poem, we do well to recall that the Greek term (poesis) from which we get in English 'poetry' meant 'to make.' So we may have come full circle. Originally, 'poesis' covered the making of anything; now we may come (sadly or happily) to the same point when almost anything can count as a poem. Even so, there are too alternatives to entertain: define poetry in terms of family resemblence to what is recognized as poetry today. This would mean that a decision whether X (whatever) is a poem is if it resembles the writing of T.S. Eliot, Pound, Edna St. Vincent M, Dylan Thomas (and here follows a long list of poets in the Norton Book of Poetry...

Is man mortal given he assumes new forms of life even if he is reduced to dust (from dust sprouts new vegetative forms of life which in turn sustains animal life)? But what about the people who are cremated; they cannot make the mother earth richer. The only remains left of them may be their spirit (if there is one). Do they still live through their spirit or other etheric or esoteric bodies? In short the question is whether man is reduced to naught after death?

A question of the ages! Most philosophers in the west and east who believe that persons survive the death of their bodies either believe that there is more to being a person than their body there is a soul, for example and when the body dies, the soul endures, or they believe in some kind of physical resurrection or material re-embodiment. Both positions have defenders today. For a defense of the first, see work by Stewart Goetz or Richard Swinburne. For a defense of the latter, see Peter van Inwagen or Trenton Merricks. As for the notion of a person having some kind of extended life after death if her body nurtures future animal and vegetative life, this seems problematic for after a certain point of disintegration there will be no meaningful way to identify the person or her body as a thing or subject. The question about the coherence and plausability of a person surviving bodily death would ultimately need to take up large philosophical questions about the nature of reality involving both...

If one perceives that one is in a one-sided friendship......is it ethically necessary to inform the indifferent friend that you are no longer pursuing the friendship.....or is it better to just let the matter lie.....I ask the question in order to more fully understand what the bonds of friendship actually might be......Thank you for your attention. lisa m.

Dear Lisa M: Great question! Without knowing the details, I think the answer to your question depends upon the kind of friendship you have. Some friendships are established with something like vows such as 'I will never lie to you' or 'I will always be your friend, no matter what!' If some kind of promise has been made, it seems that one would have some obligation to be disclosive, even if that involved hurting the other party. But if there has been no explicit promise, it does not seem that the person who is no longer interested in the friendship has a duty to tell the other person, especially if no evident harm will occur from the person not knowing. There is an old saying "A friendship that ends is no friendship." I don't know whether that is quite right or whether you agree or disagree. If it is right, then there was no friendship there at all. But let's say it is wrong (as I suspect it is) and you and the other person actually were genuine friends; there was an authentic, freely given...

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