Tautology is popularly defined two main ways: 1) An argument that derives its conclusion from one of its premises, or 2) logical statements that are necessarily true, as in (A∨~A). How are these two definitions reconciled? The second definition is only a statement; it has no premises or conclusions.

You've definitely put your finger on a problem. I'd say that for most purposes the two definitions aren't reconcilable because they belong to different discourses or contexts. The first usage is more colloquial and rhetorical. The second is a technical definition. The term "valid" is used in similarly different ways. In common discourse, one can make a "valid point"; but in technical terms only arguments or inferences, not points, can be valid. There is, however, at least one way to make the two definitions consistent: assume in the first that the premise from which the conclusion is derived is the same as the conclusion. From two premises A and B, the conclusion A follows. This, of course, becomes a variant of begging the question. Conversely, I suppose, one could argue that a tautology follows from itself, making the second definition applicable to an argument. (Note that the way you've phrased the first definition is a bit odd, since all good arguments derive their conclusions from their...

Some proponents argue that in the judicial system, matters of policy reasons are best left in the hands of Parliament to decide. For instance, cases involving moralities which appear before the courts such as deviant sexual practices, assisted suicide and the likes where consent is clearly given and that these practices have not yet been made illegal/unlawful. In these cases, is it over the board to say that judges who decide based on the general consensus of morality in a particular society are interfering with one’s conduct (because it has not yet been made illegal/unlawful) even though it is generally understood that these practices are inherently wrong? Can this statement be countered by Dicey’s third postulate on the rule of law that the courts are the guardians of citizens’ rights and that judicial activism is necessary to solidify a common morality? Or is it best for a judge to merely sit back and apply the law as it is, despite knowing that had Parliament decided on these issues, it would be...

This question merits a much longer answer than I am capable of giving. But, with apologies for the compression, I'd say that the distinction between "activist" and "non-activist" judging is a popular-political distinction, not really one with much philosophical basis. Both the legislature and the judiciary produce new law and nullify old law, and they have always done so. They create and nullify law, however, in different ways--the legislature by enacting new legal codes, the courts by issuing rulings. Nor, however, is the line between the law and morality a clean one to draw. And, so, while I think it proper (indeed unavoidable) for the judiciary to enact new law, I also think it proper for judges to appeal to custom and common morality in rulings (for example in matters of indecency). Appeals to custom and common morality, however, must be balanced and in some cases simply limited by stipulated rights of non-interference and claim rights. They must also be balanced by countervailing lines of...

Research in anthropology and related disciplines reveals that there is no strong evidence of any universal morals; there are no set of moral beliefs that are found uniformly across all existing countries or cultures. This has often been interpreted to mean that morality is unrelated to the existence of a deity. Some, however, believe that while the lack of universal morals is true it does seem that there is a universal sense of “oughtness”, or a universal tendency to justify what we do, or to place value judgments like “right” and “wrong” on behavior. From a philosophical perspective is this universal tendency toward morality better explained by a need to “get along” to increase fitness in our world (roughly a sociobiological explanation of morality), or is it perhaps better explained by our possessing an intrinsically moral nature, i.e. one that may exist because of the existence of a deity or deities (or even because life may continue after physical death without the existence of a deity). Sociobiology,...

About universal morality: while it's true that among cultures (as among individuals within any culture) there are variation in moral beliefs (as well as scientific beliefs), there are general (nearly universal, so far as I can tell) moral categories. One finds incest regulations, for example, in every society (though the boundaries of those prohibitions vary). Rules concerning possession, killing, and even, arguably, the sacred are more or less universal. I would be pretty reluctant to walk into any human society and start taking bites out of people's children. Moral beliefs and conduct do exhibit variation, but variation by itself doesn't disprove the existence of universal commonalities. Any pharmacist will tell you that different people respond to different drugs differently, but that doesn't refute the universal laws of chemistry. Human moral life, then, exhibits both remarkable variation and remarkable commonality. As you say, there are various possible explanations for this. ...

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...

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