Is it conceivable that something finite can become infinite? Isn't there an inherent conceptual problem in a transition from finiteness to infinity? (My question comes from science, but the scientists don't seem to bother to explain this, such as in the case of gravity within a black hole -- a massive star collapses into a black hole and gravity in it rises to infinity? The more interesting example to me is the notion that the universe may well be infinite, but the main view in cosmology is that it began as finite and even had a definable size early on in its expansion. How could an expanding universe at some point cross over to have infinite dimensions?)

Good question, and a controversial topic! Some philosophers, going back to Aristotle, are happy with the concept of a potential infinite: a series that expands indefinitely. But they are unhappy with the concept of an actual infinite, partly due to the supposition that an actual infinitude could never be attained through any number of succesive events / acts. Start now, and no matter how many events transpire it seems that (just as there is no greatest possible number) you would never reach infinity. There are abundant puzzles, going back to Zeno in the fifth century BCE, about achieving an actual infinite. Here are two brief ones, the first is called Hilbert's hotel. Imagine (for the sake of argument) that you have an infinite number of rooms in a hotel and each person pays you $50 per night. How much money do you bring in per day? An infinite amount. But now imagine guests in rooms divisible by 1,000 all check out (guest in room 1,000 checks out, guest in 2,000 check out...). How much less...

How should one best go about selecting a career that suites their personality, values, current realities? Is it best to go with intuitive "gut" urges or try to do as much research as possible on certain careers? If the latter, how much research would be enough before simply diving into a career. I guess my question is this: a making a career choice matter of faith, methodical research and thinking, both, or something else? -T.R.S

Unfortunately or fortunately, there is no pat answer to your question from a philosophical point of view. There are, however, a few general points that might be of use: Socrates admonished the people of Athens for spending their lives in the ambitious pursuit of wealth and power rather than seeking to cultivate the soul. There is a rich 'care of the soul' tradition from Socrates on up through the medievals in which we are called to use time wisely and reflectively. For an overview of this tradition, check out Richard Sorabji's Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation (Oxford). Socrates is well known for highlighting the importance of reflection ("The unexamined life is not worth living") and so he would probably respond to your question by asking you to engage in careful examination of all options and the reasons behind each. Values: Philosophers like Pascal and William James thought that our beliefs and practices should be shaped by the values that are in play. ...

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...

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