Is it wrong to discriminate against people that are racist, homophobic or sexist, etc.?

Well, it would, I think, depend upon the context. Discriminating among people isn't itself an objectionable thing. One discriminates among different job applicants and among whom to marry or pursue a friendship. In cases like friendship, where moral discriminations are proper, there is generally nothing wrong with discriminating "against" those who are immoral. But the phrase, "discriminating against," usually has a sort of public policy connotation. In those sorts of cases, discriminating against the racist, homophobic, and sexist may be objectionable. For example, I think it would be wrong to deny the vote to racists (even though I often wish they wouldn't vote) or to tax them differently. The question of employment discrimination, on the other hand, is a thorny one, but I'd say that a reasonable general principle to use is this: people holding immoral beliefs should not be discriminated against in employment so long as their objectionable beliefs are not manifest in conduct that...

How can life be defined? What is the borderline between life and no life? Are virus alive? In human beings life starts in the conception? A person in coma or with cerebral palsy is alive? What would be the conditions for a robot to be considered as something alive? Sorry for my english.

Ah, but how can proper English be defined? Like life, there is, I'm afraid, no absolutely precise definition. The boundary is likely to move when considering different contexts (e.g. medical, legal, taxonomic, robotic, spiritual); and even in many of these contexts the boundary is likely to remain vague, or at least provisional. One is likely to feel that there simply must be a clean and formulable line between what's alive and not alive. But my sense of things is that this just isn't the case. In any event, from where I sit, you're both alive and good writer in English.

Throughout my life I have been, at one time or another, a believer in God, an agnostic and an atheist. I am amazed at the strength of other people's faith, especially at the faith of people who have taken up a new religion and fervently hold on to and defend their new beliefs for the rest of their lives. My question is how are people so convinced that their chosen religion is right over all the others. It seems impossible that a person can believe in a religion simply because he or she wants to - there must be some logic behind their reasoning - but I cannot understand it. Can you explain or is this one for psychologists?

This is a remarkable phenomenon, one that was noticed even in ancient times--the consensus gentium. Strictly speaking,I think, there is no good reason or defensible logic for belief in the standard religions. So, religious belief is, primarily, an issue for psychologists to figure out. Many philosophers have shown the irrationality or, anyway, non-rational grounding of religious belief. So, both the persistence of religious belief and its pervasive character must be thought of as remarkable. I suspect that inclinations to religious belief were selected through evolution because it was somehow adaptive. I also think that Freud was not entirely wrong that religious conviction extends from our being dependent upon parents during our formative years. Then, there's also our desire for order and comprehension that lends itself readily to thoughts about an ordering principle or source of intelligibility. And who is really free of a fear of death. There are, however, perhaps additional philosophical...

I'm a person living in a muslim country. There are lots of problems/discussions between religious and non-religious people about the limits of freedom. For example, some religious people say that they feel offended when someone nearby drinks a alcoholic drink. On the other hand the non-religious people say that it is their freedom to drink alcoholic drinks. There are many other cases of this type, that is, one say that they get offended (generally the religious ones) and the other say that it is their freedom to do such and such. My question is how should we think about such issues? Are there general principles about limits of freedom that we can use to solve such cases? Also, can you suggest introductory reading material on this issue? Thank you. Ahmet

This is a terribly and increasingly important issue, isn't it. Luckily, there has been quite a lot of work done on the topic. Two general principles to consider are these: (1) With regard to personal conduct like food, drink, sex, ornament, dress, etc., one should be at liberty to do whatever he or she pleases so long as no one else is harmed by the conduct; and (2) liberty should be maximized. One of the sticky bits here is the notion of "harm." Isn't being offended a kind of "harm"? Yes, I think it can be, but things get complicated here. In some cases, the concept of "offense" is misused. It may be in the case you describe. Can one be properly said to be offended by conduct that is not directed at one or a group to which one belongs? One can be upset, one can be disgusted, one can be outraged, but I'm not sure that offense is the right concept to use in the case you describe. It's also unclear why even if one can be said to be offended by conduct not directed at oneself or a group to which one...

How far do we have a duty to protect others from themselves? Does it extend from, say, removing alcohol an alcoholic has hidden away to telling a relative's children to eat their food politely, when the relative herself is indifferent to such matters? Are we are brother's keepers? To what degree?

As a parent, an ever-older member of an extended family, and as a citizen of a somewhat democratic nation with a remarkably imprudent population, I struggle with this issue a lot. One way I think about this matter is first to make a distinction between (a) forcibly protecting people from themselves, (b) simply attempting to do so through persuasion, and © not acting at all. One general principle to use is that (1) competent and (2) independent people ought to be allowed maximal liberty, even to harm themselves, especially where significant pleasures are at stake. This helps us with clear cases. So, for example, one has a duty to intervene forcibly to protect one's young children from themselves--say by pulling their fingers away from an electrical socket. One's young children are neither competent nor independent. There are, however, people who are competent but not independent. One arguably has a duty to protect one's grown children, when those children remain bound up with a parent...

Hi, I have an engineering background but I have been studying philosophy for a couple of years. The problem I have is this. When I read a scientific (that is, not philosophical) problem, I almost always easily understand what the problem is (of course, I do not mean that I can easily solve the problem). A good way to test understanding is to try to explain the problem to another person. And most of the time I can easily explain a scientific problem to another person. But, in philosophy this is not the case. Even I spend so much time trying to understand what a philosophical problem is, I almost always have the feeling that I do not understand the problem. And the test I told above confirms me. Most of the time it is very difficult for me to explain the problem to another person. I suspect that the reason for this situation is something related with the nature of philosophy. What do you think? and what should I do to remedy this situation? Thanks, Unakil

Dear Unakil, I started in engineering myself, and you may be interested in learning (if you don't already know) that the great 20th-century Viennese philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was also an engineer. I also think your method of testing is a pretty good one; but its reliability does depend in part on the capacities of the person to whom you're explaining things. There are those, I think, with a sort of "tin ear" for philosophy. Another thing to say about philosophy is that it is very difficult to state matters clearly because philosophical matters are so very complex and subtle. It really does take years to reach a settled way of stating many issues, and even then there remains an open-endedness about philosophical matters that may be intrinsic to those matters or perhaps to language itself that leaves them open to further articulation and revision and clarification. Something else to say about philosophy is that the issues it addresses, while in a sense perfectly ordinary and ubiquitous in life,...

I believe that there are only 3 possible options. 1) That God or some all powerful being created the universe. This is a very bizarre state because it means we are all subordinates to an independent being that has always existed. Strange. 2) The universe was created out of nothing. Truly weird. 3) That the universe has always existed. This is simply incomprehensible. Because these are the only 3 options I see and because each is mind-bogglingly discouraging or incomprehensible - or downright goofy - I think this whole existence thing is either some sort of hallucination or a complete joke. (Another possibility is that I am in some sort of hell.) Therefore, I take nothing seriously and treat this whole thing sort of the way you deal with the pain of stubbing your toe. Kind of grit your teeth and wait for the pain to end. Any thoughts?

I know exactly what you mean. The question seems alternatively irresistible, frustrating, intoxicating, and ridiculous. I suspect that the early modern philosopher Immanuel Kant maybe right that the very attempt to reason out an answer draws us into an irresolvable mess, that at the end of the day we can't figure it out. There a couple of bits I'd observe about the way you pose the question, however. First, there may be more alternatives than you think. You may mean by (2) that the universe sprang out of nothing (as philosophers like to say, ex nihilo ) or just appeared, but it needn't therefore have been created. The Big Bang theory runs somewhat along these lines. But the Big Bang theory is also consistent with the idea that the universe sprang forth from something besides God or nothingness, something unknown to us. Would it also make sense to say that there may be other ways that time could be organized to make the sort of linear past-present-future model your question depends upon not...

I work for an organization for which the buzz word "compromise" has great appeal. However, I am not a fan of compromise - I feel that it should be used as a last - very last - resort. I think that operations generally run more smoothly if the person with the better idea gets his / her way. However, in my organization almost all differences are "resolved" by compromise even where difficult people who disagree as a matter of course are involved - on the simple belief that compromise is always the best option. However, I feel that compromise can be used as a means of control, as a way of ensuring that the other person cannot win, etc. What is your opinion?

You're right that compromise can be used as a form of control. But so can being uncompromising. Compromise can sometimes impede efficiency; but sometimes it can facilitate it. From where I sit, I don't think that one can defend as a general principle either the idea that compromise or being uncompromising is better. When and where to compromise is a matter of art--or, perhaps in more philosophical terms, a matter of prudence, in the sense of practical wisdom. Much depends upon the context: what sort of people are involved, what's at stake, what the purpose and mission of the institution is, what sort of time and resource constraints one faces. There's a great deal of difference in making a decision about what to do about an imminent ICBM attack and what sort of retirement hobbies one might explore. In addition, compromise does work better, in my experience, when those involved have cultivated certain complementary habits and sensibilities. That is compromise works best when people value...

We are a Muslim couple and it's now 5 years and we don't have childrens. Doctors said that my wife is not having eggs to produce although she is only 32 years old. There is only way to take the eggs from another lady. Please tell me that is it ok or it will be a sin. The answer from the doctors is the final that she will never be able to produce her own eggs so this is the only option for ivf..... Please help me. Rashid

Whether and how to have a child is one of the most intimate and personal matters of life, whatever one's religion. So, ultimately you must make the decision as to what is most fitting for you. I cannot write as a Muslim or as one expert in Muslim theology. As a philosopher, however, I can say that I find nothing objectionable per se in the practice of using ova from a third party in order to generate a baby to which your wife can give birth, that can carry your genetic codes, and that the two of you can raise. I would offer this cautionary note, however. Sometimes the costs of such procedures can be terribly high. That being the case, one ought to consider whether in an (a) already over populated world, where (b) many children stand in need of adoption, and (c ) where many other problems demand attention it is proper to expend so many resources to bring a single child into existence. Conceiving, birthing, and raising a child using a third-party donor may be the best option for you. But do consider...

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