Is it possible that a person of modest intelligence could learn the whole history of philosophy, in terms of knowing every notable philosopher (from Thales to, say, Rorty), having read a few of their books or at least knowing and being able to expand upon their positions ... or is it simply outside the scope of a person, any less than a genius to have the time to gain such knowledge? It seems to me that there is not more than a couple of hundred such philosophers, and as such could be accomplished, at least superficially. Or is it more efficient to decide outright to miss some philosophers out?

Great question! By the way you pose the question (Thales to Rorty) I assume you mean western philosophy. Yes, I think you can carry out such a project, reading a bit of each of the major philosophers and then relying on a good history as a guide. I would highly recommend Anthony Kenny's multi-volume Oxford University Press books as lively and engaging. Copleston's history of philosophy is perhaps less engaging but it is reliable and a good companion. Speaking of Companions, Blackwell, Oxford, Cambridge, and Routledge each have massive Companion series that would also be helpful in filling out your reading. You might want to set as a goal an overall grasp of the history of philosophy and then dig in to a few areas and thinkers so as to deepen your understanding of philosophy and also to engage more in the practice of philosophy (wrestling with arguments and counter-arguments) in reference to a specific area or philosopher.

Are dreams experiences?

Great question! Some philosophers have denied that they are. Norman Malcolm is probably the most famous for claiming dreams are not experiences. It has been jokingly said that, for Malcolm, dreams are simply lies we tell each other over breakfast. The problem is that if you are a materialist dreams seem to be hard to identify with physical processes: there is no color in the brain, for example, and yet subjects report rich visual experiences with color, shape, and dimension. Those who believe that there is more to persons than physical-chemical processes (like H.H. Price or G.E. Moore) treated dream experiences in a way that is akin to their recognition of sense-data or the visual field in ordinary life. Setting to one side the big questions of materialism versus dualism, I suggest it is difficult to deny the reality of dream experiences. Subjects (and this group includes me) report what we appear to experience when sleeping, and these appear to be richly detailed, colorful scenes in which...

Wittgenstein once said that the world is the totality of facts. It seems to me that at least in the case of color this theory doesn't apply. What facts can be said about the "redness" of a red object. Perhaps no facts can be said about "redness" precisely because what is being experienced in an encounter with red isn't a "fact". Do we apprehend that redness through a fact or through an experience of consciousness? It seems to me that the fact that red exists and the actuality of red are two different things since saying "red exists" doesn't say anything about what red is when it is experienced. So maybe Wittgenstein is wrong?

You are right that, in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein claims that the world is the totality of facts. And it is also plausable to think that the experience of red (seeing red) may be difficult to express informatively in words, especially if you were to try to convey what it is like to see red to someone who is color blind or completely blind from birth. But I don't think Wittgenstein needs to deny this. I believe that, for Wittgenstein, the term 'fact' means something like 'state of affairs' and so one may speak similarly of the fact of you seeing red now and the state of affairs of you seeing red now, without this implying any difference between what you refer to as the fact that red exists and the actuality of red.

My father once told me: "do not expect anything from anyone, then you will live an easy and happy life". Is it true? Would I really live an easier life and would I be happier if I don't expect from a friend to call me from time to time or if I don't expect from my cousin to invite me to his birthday or going to extremes if I don't expect from my children to love me? I have thought about this a lot. Sometimes it makes things easier if I don't expect anything but can we generalize his statement?

Great, classic question that goes back to Ancient Greece. Stoics and some others taught that we should seek out a life that is free from passion about the future. They thought we should seek out what they called (in Greek) apatheia (from which we get the term apathy). Famously, Buddhists believe that a life of expectations is a life that is built on desire and thus can be the source of suffering. So, your father may have some serious philosophical and religious support! Also, there is some common sense to keeping expectations low, as this does (naturally) mean you will more likely be pleasantly surprised when your cousin calls and your children show you love. However, the philosopher William James and others have stressed the constructive, important role of HOPE. If you have no hope at all in running a race or in building a new friendship, odds are you are not going to be as committed to the run or the relationship. Loving another person also seems to involve hoping that the love is returned. ...

I'm under the assumption that given enough time anything that can happen will happen, because the universe is always changing. If the universe begins from a singularity and then a big bang, if this is allowed to occur over and over forever, eventually the same exact events will occur. The events that have taken place since the big bang have allowed My Consciousness to exist, once I die, given enough time it would exist again, also I could have existed before. I don't know if any of this is true, or even makes sense, it's just something I've been thinking about and haven't been able to talk about with anyone, nobody knows what the hell I mean to say. If this is right, in the personal experience, as soon as one dies they are alive again, forever. Is this wrong? I've got a feeling it is but I've never heard or read this being discussed before.

Interesting! Philosophers have long wrestled with the concept of infinity, and some in the ancient world and today find the concept of infinity problematic. They allow it to have a well defined role in mathematics (e.g. there is no greatest possible number, an infinite set is equal in numbers to its sub-set, viz. there are no more whole numbers than there are prime numbers), but when it comes to reality itself (the universe) some follow Aristotle in thinking that you can have a potential infinite, but not an actual infinite. In the former, we can think of something coming into being and then never ceasing to be. But in its ongoing life (a trillion years to the trillionth power) it would never complete an infinite series. No matter how long it lasts, it could last longer. So, back to your specific point, if the cosmos began 14 billion years ago and never ends, some philosophers think it would never last an infinite period. Hence a principle like 'given infinite time, every logically possible state...

I have a series of questions about Time, motion, and space. Or maybe they are the same question expressed different ways in an attempt at clarity. Is the concept of "Time" possible apart from the concept of "Change"? In what ways are the two concepts different? Is it possible for "Time" to exist apart from "Change"? Can anything truthful be said about "Time" that does not also apply in an identical way to "Change"? Is "Change" possible without "Motion" of some kind? If even at an atomic level? Could time exist if nothing moved? How is the concept of time possible without the concept of motion? How is it in anyway different? How can space be conceived apart from the relation we refer to as 'distance' between two or more objects? If there was only one object in the universe how would space be conceived or possible? The same question applies to motion, how is it conceivable unless there is movement in relation to some other body? I am not a philosopher. I'm a high school drop out and...

You may be a high school drop out, but you have a genius for asking great questions! Let me try to break up the questions a bit. There is a difference between motion and change insofar as motion appears to involve physical objects and events. If there is motion, there is change, but some philosophers have either denied the existence of physical objects or events (some idealists) or they are theists who believe that there was a time when God (an immaterial / non-physical reality) existed and there were no physical objects. These philosphers would allow that change could exist, but without motion. In any case, once you have change, you have time, for change presumably involves there being one time when X occurs and then another time when X is not in the same state. If motion ceased, would time cease? Not necessarily, if there could be a nonphysical reality (God or souls or...) that change. But what if all change ceased? Would time then cease? Well, if by 'all change' we include 'temporal change'...

When did philosophers first start arguing about free will and determinism and who were they?

I think that is quite right. I would simply highlight that the debate over freedom and determinism came to an important point in the 17th century with Ralph Cudworth when philosophers came (for the first time, perhaps) to articulate radical notions of freedom that involve a person engaging in a kind of self-transcendence, an ability to step back from her or his current character and engage in a kind of self-creation, making choices that would transform a person involving the formation of a new character.

I read an answer here that said a description says HOW something is while an explanation entails WHY it is that way. If so then how do we determine when something has been explained (if it can be)? For example, I understand that when it rains the ground becomes wet. Why? I don't know the chemistry behind it but water is wet and covers the ground. But some could ask WHY is it wet and not something else to which many would respond "It just is". Is "It just is" the real explanation? Is the real explanation to everything "It is what it is", even though we may not know what IT is?

Very interesting! It is not easy in the abstract to form a sharp distinction between an explanation and a description. Presumably, every explanation involves some description (you are describing the cause of an event, for example), and any description of a thing could probably be used as part of an explanation (e.g. at a minimum, the description "I am reading AskPhilosophers" could be the answer to this request: "What are you doing right now?" and so on). What counts as an explanation may depend on the relevant inquiry. There are fairly restrictive accounts of what counts as a good explanation in the natural sciences (Hempel's nomological explanations) but then there are what Hempel called explanation sketches that are more loose. "It is wet" could be a sufficient explanation as to why you are not wearing a specific coat, though it would not get at why the coat got wet or why you prefer a dry coat. Your reference to "It is what it is" sort of explanation suggests a category of BASIC explanations...

It's been two years now since I got a job and moved to a new city. I've grown more distant from my family and friends from home. Sometimes I wake up and my life bears absolutely no resemblance to what it once used to be. How can I be sure that I am still the same individual? What obligations do I have to the people with whom "I" once was close?

It sounds as though you are already making a break with your past (putting "I" in quotes suggests that you think of yourself as a different person, for when you describe yourself as you are now, you are not using quotes). You mention family and friends. Insofar as you have made vows of life-long partnership as a spouse and insofar as you have not renounced the duties of family life (one's obligations as a parent or child or sibling) it seems you do have some prima facie duty to "keep in touch" with that "I" or self whose life is bound up with theirs. This might involve not just increased visits, but more electronic and alternative means of communication so that they have more of an understanding of your current situation (send photographs of your appartment, favorite places in the new city, etc). Philosophers disagree about the extent to which friendships involve obligations of that sort. Some think of friendship as a gift, others may think of it as a gift as well but believe that once given and...

Are Native Americans the only ones who have the right to be in America?

Excellent question! Uninhabited land (Iceland, prior to the Vikings) seems relatively problem-free about rights to inhabit (though some cases are controversial as they involve competing nations, e.g. who has the right to inhabit the moon? --see the Moon Treaty). Native populations seem to have a natural primacy or entitlement to habitation that would supersede those who would claim a right to the land by way of conquest or land-use (following a quasi-Lockean notion that a people may lose its entitlement to property if the property is ill used or not used at all). In American history, alas, some Native Americans sold land to Europeans and so they conferred their right to be in America to nonNative Americans, though some of these sales may well be less than voluntary or transparent in implications to Native populations, and some Native lands were taken from Natives on the grounds of war settlements (some Native Americans sided with the Crown during the American Revolution, and so they were considered...

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