I am about to be a senior at an Ivy League university, and I am starting to panic about my next step. I believe that I am intelligent, a capable worker and will succeed in anything I do. The only problem is... What should I do? How would different philosophers advise me to approach my next step in life?

In the abstract, this is a very difficult question to address, but I shall offer a few general points you might consider. In his defense before the jurors in Athens, Socrates admonished his people to care for their souls instead of only pursuing material wealth and power. There is a rich tradition of caring for the soul in Ancient and Medieval philosophy that offers very practical advise on passion, work, ambition, vanity, humility and so on. A terrific book that would give you an overview of this tradition is Emotion and Peace of Mind; From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation by Richard Sorabji (Oxford University Press). Apart from looking to the care-for-the-soul tradition (something I sought to address in a Last Lecture in 2010 at St. Olaf College you can find it on the College website), you might take seriously the difference between a vocation and a job. The concept of "vocation" (a calling) has its base in religious belief (called by God to do X) but it can be approached from a...

What has happened to the practice of philosophy as opposed to the profession (teaching) of philosophy? Given the political, ethical, moral, and economic dilemmas facing the U.S. and the world, one would think philosophers would be as common in government as bureaucrats.

Thank you for this question! A minor point at the outset: I think a great deal of the best teaching of philosophy involves the practice of philosophy. There are perhaps some philosophy teachers who simply teach what Plato etc thought, and expect students to master certain texts with critical skills. But I think most do not stop there, but seek to engage students in thinking through the great themes of philosophy about values, moral obligations, virtues, political theory, the nature of the world, the limits of knowledge, the nature and value of human and nonhuman animal life, the possible existence of God, and so on. But getting to your broader question, more professional philosophers are applying themselves to issues such as global justice, practical ethical and political positions, medical ethics, economic fairness, and the like. Granted, these are sometimes in textbooks designed for university / college courses, but sometimes it is through education that political change arises. After all, it was...

My wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at the age of 62 almost immediately after we retired. I was her sole caregiver for over 6 years until she entered a nursing home this year. She is deteriorating at a greater rate and, for instance, she no longer recognizes her grandchildren. She does recognize me and apparently gets pleasure when I visit. I intend to continue visiting regularly at least until she no longer recognizes me. I do not even consider divorcing her - we have been married 43 years and she was always my best friend. I am a relatively young 70 years of age. How do I reconcile my own needs including having a female companion with my marriage vows?

This is such a profoundly personal question, my fellow panelists might want me shot for trying to respond, but I shall do my best. First, your role as caregiver for 6 years is an extraordinary act of fidelity and the fact that you have had children and children's children plus friendship for 37 years is a tremendous, profound achievement. And your hesitancy in seeking female companionship while still legally married is further testimony of the love you must have shared (and still share) with your wife. I have known husbands in your position who decided to seek female companionship under precisely those conditions and whose children and grandchildren approved. And in one case I know of, the husband waited until his wife died before marrying the woman whose companionship he enjoyed during his first wife's protracted suffering from Alzheimer's. The man and his new companion are now happily married, so the option you are considering has been carried out, without apparent injury or suffering to the...

I am curious about the formation of the moral conscience and at what age a child should be held responsible for knowing the difference between right and wrong. And would the same criteria apply for acts of commission and acts of omission assuming that there are no "defenses", so to speak, like voluntary intoxication or organic brain damage. Thanks.

Great question. Probably one of the other panelists will do a better job than me on this one, but here goes: I suggest that the key to determining the age of responsibility comes down to measuring the development of cognitive power and control. You ask about "what age a child should be held responsible for knowing the difference between right and wrong," which suggests that there might be a time when a child might NOT know such moral differences but that at some point the child SHOULD have such knowledge. For this reason, the key is knowing when a child has sufficient cognitive power to know the moral consequences of her/his acts and omissions. If, for example, the child simply lacks the power to put himself in the position of others (and thus fails, for example, to be able to grasp that hitting his sister hurts her), then the child is not a moral agent. Moreover, if the child lacks sufficient bodily and mental powers to control her body and thought, moral agency would also not be achieved. ...

Does music exist without a listener? This is kind of a corollary to the tree falling in the woods question- but it definitely deviates. Does the noise exist without someone to hear it? If music is created by a musician, does it really matter if anyone hears it? Does music have more value than random noise- because it was created with a purpose? Does this purpose give it more value than other waves?

Great questions. If by 'music' one means actual auditions (sounds), then it seems that the same reply works with the tree in the woods. There would be no sound and thus no music without auditions and thus without someone or thing to hear it. And the definition of music in terms of sound is an important one in the philosophy of music. Jerrold Levinson, for example, defines music as follows: Sounds temporily organized by a person for the purpose of enriching or intensifying experience through active engagement (e.g. listening, dancing, performing) with the sounds regarded primarily, or in significant measure as sounds. But if we change things a bit and think of musical composition, then your question about the musician seems very tempting. After all, imagine a musician composed a piece like the ninth symphony, perhaps writing out all the score, but the piece is never played. In that case, I think many of us would say the muscial composition exists even if there is no sound made at all based on...

Some twelve step groups advocate taking the right actions to lead to the right thinking, "right" being defined as non-addictive behavior. The phrase is "Fake it until you make it." Is there a philosophical comment on that process, as opposed to the idea of thinking your way into the desired behavior?

Interesting! Philosophers have disagreed about the scope of our freedom and even over whether we (in non-addictive states) have freedom at all. Spinoza, for example, denied that we have libertarian freedom (the freedom to do other than what we are determined to do). The great majority of philosophers have affirmed our morally responsible freedom (or voluntariness), however. Probably the two most famous cases of a "fake it, till you make it" involve Pascal and Descartes. Pascal thought there were good prudential reasons for living a life of religious devotion, a life that included a belief in God. He proposed that nonbelievers could cultivate a belief in God by practicing religious rites and acting as though they believed in God. Descartes undertook a radical skeptical inquiry but decided before doing so that he would act in the world in conformity with the prevailing customs no matter how far his skepticism took him. In a sense, he would "fake" or at least act as though he did not doubt the...

Why do philosophers seem to object to anthropomorphic moral and value claims? In other words, what's wrong embracing our parochial human interests completely? Say for instance a rare slug which we know conclusively to have no non-aesthetic value occupies space that prevents the construction of a hydroelectric dam. Why should we not say, "Screw the slug, humanity is more important" and proceed accordingly? More abstractly, why has morality (excepting maybe Nietzsche) not attempted to reconcile humanity's obvious selfishness, bias, violence and greed with what we might call "pure" ethics. Moreover, what's to stop us from simply re-defining our philosophical terms in order to make this more palatable, e.g. by defining "free will" as "whatever it is that humans do/experience" as an easy out from some sticker philosophical dilemmas? Thanks in advance for any responses.

I agree that there is ample evidence of obvious human bias, greed, violence, selfishness, but I suggest that there is also ample evidence of human impartiality, benevolence, love of others, unselfish compassion. Though I am not a neo-Darwinian or a great fan of Darwin's ethics (especially his views on human races in On the Descent of Man), Darwin does make a good case that human violence, selfishness and so on cannot (if there is to be evolution) be unbridled. Given more time, I would like to develop an argument for you that in fact some form on non-violent goodness is an essential precondition for any human life, but I will cut to the chase. I suggest that one of the reasons why many of today are reluctant to simply say (to use your vivid language!): "Screw the slug, humanity is more important" is because we have seen some rather ugly results from (more or less) adopting the view that it is permissible for us (again, using one of your terms) "Screw the other species and the natural world itself,...

Is there a proper role for faith in philosophy, or do they function in distinct realms?

Interesting question! Please forgive me for replying with what is probably the classic philosophical response: it depends what you mean by "faith." If by "faith" you mean something like trust, then I think philosophy must involve trust. One must (at a minimum) trust one's own faculties / thinking / reflection. Linda Zagzebski has been arguing recently for the essential role of self-trust in all thinking. This is also an area that Keith Lehrer has contributed to. If by "faith" one instead means a body of religious beliefs or convictions, then a lot of philosophy does function independent of faith though not all philosophy. For many medieval thinkers and some contemporaries Anselm (1033-1109) and Nicholas Wolterstorff today philosophical reflection can take place from the standpoint of faith. This does not mean such philosophers thereby cut themselves off from philosophers who are not working from any faith perspective. Rather, it means the scope of what counts as philosophy becomes broader. And...

Science theorises by proposing ideal types and deducing ideal relationships between them. In nature there is no ideal sphere touching an ideal frictionless plane in an ideal single point. Instead of these ideals, nature gives us avalanches. Yet to study real avalanches the theory derived from the unreal ideal is required. Presumably, reality is too chaotic to theorise directly. Does all useful theory depend on ideal types? It does seem usual. Economics creates idealised relational theories from idealised constructs such as homo economicus, market clearing, perfect information and other things which do not and cannot exist in reality. Presumably, this idealisation approach is one reason for the relative success of economics compared with other social sciences. In the natural sciences measurement is also ideal. For example, a temperature noted as 23.59 degrees is not real: the reality will be plus or minus some small amount. The recorded value, like any exact number, is a mathematical...

Your question is excellent. Though I am afraid your proposal is not completely novel insofar as Plato initiated a philosophy of ideal forms in all areas of life (the good, the true, the beautiful, the just, and so on), though of course he was working long before we began carving up inquiry into the different natural and social sciences. At many points in the history of ideas, philosophers have worked with ideal or what has come to be called paradigm cases. So, in the theory of knowledge, a philosopher might describe an ideal or paradigm case of what it is to know some internal state (the feeling of pain) or see a remote object and then use that paradigm to assess different, more controversial knowledge-claims. So, one might entertain an ideal case of what it is to see a person, and then ask whether claims to see or perceive a sacred reality (God) in religious experience is similar or too remote to count as evidence. And in ethics we often use thought experiments to try to capture the different values...

In one hundred years, will an accomplished philosopher also have to be an accomplished neurologist, or does the subject have something to say independent of advances in brain science (posed another way, if we become ultra intelligent humans/machines with thinking capacities far in excess of our current brain, will we still partake in philosophy)?

I suggest that no matter how developed our brain sciences become, we will still have philosophy because the sciences themselves rest on philosophy, a scientific worldview. Without a concept of ourselves, causation and explanation, concepts of observation, and so on, we would not have any science. As for whether philosophers will have to be accomplished neurologists, I think that those philosophers working on human nature will at least need to have a general understanding of the methods and findings of the brain sciences and the general state of play in physics, chemistry, biology and psychology, but not to the point of actually being a scientist in any one of these domains. There are many issues that cannot be settled within the brain sciences themselves, including the nature of thought, emotion, desire, sensation, and so on. I suggest that whether or not machines can think or that human thinking is identical with brain processes is a philosophical matter that cannot be determined scientifically.

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