How does a study of Philosophy assist your understanding of the activity of helping and of the relationship between self and other that is involved in this undertaking?

That depends on what one is studying philosophically. This term I am conducting a seminar with senior undergraduates in which we are reading the work of Cornel West and Iris Murdoch. They both compel us to think critically about matters of race and our individual responsibility to renounce narcissistic preoccupation and devote ourselves instead to the good, the true, and the beautiful (this is Iris Murdoch's central values as a Platonist), not merely as abstract, theoretical ideals, but as persons who are engaged in confronting racism and sexism. I am also offering two sections of a course, Environmental Ethics with about one hundred students; the goal of the class is to sharpen our understanding of our relationship with nonhuman animals, to live more fully in response to enormous human needs, including future generations. This is a scholarly and scientifically informed undertaking, but it is not intended to be of only academic interest, but to encourage each of us to be active in confronting...

Hej. I have a question of how to explain as good as possible to my girlfriend that I'm agnostic. She sais that if i follow the way of god that I will have ot better. Thats not right isnt it? Please help me. She also sais that she's convinced that she will marry a christian man. We're 8 months together now and I dont know what to say or do. This could end our relationship and I dont want that.

Philosophers have differed on whether belief in an all good, just, powerful, loving God has an important role in living morally --Kant, famously, contended that a practical faith in a just, powerful God was essential in making sense of the moral law, but there are many philosophers who approach ethics without an appeal to a supernatural or overall cosmic vision of justice. In any case, let me offer a line of reasoning you and your girlfriend might consider. If she wants to marry a Christian man, it is probable she wants to marry someone who lives out a life of the virtues that are associated with (or are integral to) Christian values such as honesty, compassion, love of neighbor, fidelity... As an agnostic about theism (belief in God) perhaps you are not an agnostic about the central importance of love of neighbor and the world (what a Christian might think of as creation), and it may be that you might actually be more of a Christian (in terms of what you actually value) that someone who self...

How is it clear that religious thought and philosophy were totally intertwined during the Middle Ages?

Interesting question. During the medieval period, philosophical work was done on many subjects that might be assessed independent of religious convictions on the theory of truth, different accounts of human and animal nature, logic, ethics, the constitution of the world (or reality) but much of that work (and other work that is explicitly religious involving natural and revealed theology) was carried out with one eye on the religious implication of the views at hand. For example, philosophers who were observant Jews, Christians, and Muslim might craft different accounts of human nature influence by Plato and Aristotle while also considering which account would allow for the possibility (or promise) of a dynamic individual afterlife for persons.

I've had many discussions with religious people and they seem to be very fond of some kind of ''optimistic'' reinterpretation. For example, they will use the morals, knowledge and science of today to argue the veracity of their scriptures, when it seems likely that the morals, knowledge and science of today were, I presume, alien to the people who lived back then. They will try to make ''modern'' common sense compatible with their scriptures, when these scriptures seem static and fixed in time. A never ending series of reinterpretations. I think it resembles Popper's so-called ''immunizing stratagems''. Is this a real phenomenon? Does it have a (philosophical) name?

You might have already identified the term you are looking for: a theory or position that is immune to falsification might simply be referred to as unfalsifiable. There is an informal term that is sometimes used to refer to a philosophy that does not allow for any (conceivable) challenge: all the wells are poisoned. In other words, there is no access to untainted counter-evidence or arguments. I suggest that a plausible case of this is the thesis that all human action is self-interested (directly or indirectly). This position is sometimes advanced with a definition of "self-interest" that makes it virtually impossible to describe a counter-example (people sacrificing their lives for others that seem profoundly non-self-interested can be readily re-described as even selfish). On sacred scripture, however, I think we are exploring a somewhat different matter. First, in most world religions that have sacred scripture, their meaning is often understood as living (this is the term Christians use) and...

Is it morally justified to steal a thing from someone who also stole it?

Great question about a paradoxical matter. In ordinary cases, if I stole something it does not become my property in the sense that I have rightful ownership of it; I may have it as a possession (something I possess) but I lack possessory rights to exclude others from taking it or being compensated if someone takes it without my consent. So, when someone sets out to take it from me, they are not involved in a classic case of robbery --they are, instead, perpetuating the alienation of the thing stolen from the (presumably) proper, original ownership. So, if I steal your boat, and someone (Jones) then takes the boat from me I do not have a right to claim damages and compel Jones (legally or morally) to return it to me, but you retain the right to blame both myself and Jones for the original and then perpetuation of the theft. There might be an odd case to consider: what if I stole your boat and you (as it were) stole it back? I would say that was not a case of your stealing from me; it was, rather, ...

What is a 'local community'? In the UK, the media will often use the word(s) 'community' or 'local community'. I struggle to see how this term can be defined. Is a community a purely defined by geographical location? If so, is the person who lives 10cm outside this zone not part of the community? Do we have to share the same beliefs, customs or rituals? Is the definition subjective or objective? Am I massively over thinking the matter? I would appreciate any help or comments. Many thanks

I think you rightly put your finger on a problem. In the USA, we use the term 'community' to refer to groups of people who are not at all (necessarily) living in proximity, e.g. the gay community or the LGBT community, the Muslim community, etc. I could take a shot at offering an analysis of the concept of "community" but I suspect this would be quite an uphill battle. Maybe the point to focus on is what-do-we-hope-to-do-with-the-concept of "community." I imagine that the way the terms "the gay community" is used today is that it is designed to promote solidarity among homosexuals and the term "community" is better than, say, terms like "club," "group," "class"... You mention how beliefs, customs or rituals might come into play in defining a "community": I would think all three would enter into unpacking what would be meant by the "Muslim community." While I have lived in the UK, I am in the dark by a particular British usage of "local community," but I wager it is intended to be geographical and...

Is Science born from Philosophy? And so, what about Quine's anti-foundationalism? Is it correct?

Interesting! Originally, what we might call "science" was done by those referred to as "philosophers." So, the preSocratics (like Thales) investigated the structure of nature / reality and, in doing so, he would have found it very odd if asked whether his "science" stemmed from philosophy --as there would not have been a possible separation. If we move toward the late 20th century and we come to Quine, he contended that science did not require a philosophical foundation. In fact, he rather wanted to subordinate philosophy to science (the natural or physical sciences in particular; in terms of psychology he was, like his friend B.F. Skinner, a radical behaviorist). Quine came to concede that philosophy of science might be prior to (conceptually antecedent to) the natural sciences, and this was (in my view) on the right track but needed to go further. I do not think you can have science without making all sorts of assumptions (that are properly considered philosophical) about the nature of the world,...

If what makes something immoral is any act that harms someone, would deliberately harming oneself count as an immoral act? And if some other person who is harmed agreed to be harmed, would that be immoral?

Excellent and highly relevant to some contemporary debates. A very minor first point, something might be immoral (for example, kicking dogs) even if dogs are not persons (though I admit that I think of my dog Pip as a "someone). Those in what is traditionally described as liberal political theory (e.g. John Stuart Mill) give more latitude for self-harm than what is traditionally thought of as conservative (e.g. Edmund Burke). When liberals seek to interfere with persons involved with self-harm (those who seek to commit suicide or engage in high risk acts), they sometimes appeal the ways in which the self-harm might be motivated by mental illness or some other impairment (e.g. Johny does not *really* want to harm himself, he just wants attention). I suggest that many of the reasons why we think we should not harm others, applies to our own case. I should not lie to others, for example, and, similarly, I should also not lie to myself (except under outrageous conditions). Your second question goes...

My question is about real vs. nominal definitions. It is generally, though not universally, held that to come up with a real definition, one needs to investigate the world to discover the properties of the entity denoted by the term. So for example, to provide a real definition of the term "tiger," one would need to look at tigers to determine their characteristics. My question is: does this characterization of real definitions imply that one can make assertions about real definitions that are true or false? Consider the following: I fix the denotation of the term "tiger" (pointing to several large cats), and then provide the following real definition of "tiger": an eight-legged invertebrate. Can I accurately say that the real definition I provided for "tiger" is false? Likewise, is the correct real definition of tiger: a large four-legged cat, true?

Great question! The idea of there being "real definitions" is linked to the idea that there are natural kinds or types of things and that we can discover these. So, we can discover what makes a tiger a tiger and come to know that those animals we recognize as tigers are vertebrates and thus know it would be wrong or misleading to define a tiger as "an eight-legged invertebrate." We can, however, take a well defined term like "tiger" and give it a different, perhaps analogous meaning as when Spider Man is hailed by Jane in their first meeting as "a tiger," evidently meaning something like he is a beautiful, exotic, perhaps wild creature.

Does insult in whatever context count as a moral wrong?

Insulting a person may be morally wrong --when, for example, the insult is based on racist or sexist stereotyping or the insult is designed to shame a perfectly innocent person into doing something awful or the insult is aimed at a fragile person such as a defenseless child. But we also sometimes think of insults as matters of rudeness and manners. Someone may act in an insulting manner at a restaurant by shouting at a waiter; often this seems a matter of simply being rude or insensitive rather than a matter of serious wrong-doing. Still, I am of the mind that how we treat each other in these social matters does reveal or reflect something of our character. It may be that an evil person can be quite polite at restaurants, but when a person is truly rude to others in social settings, I think we are all not surprised when we learn that they engage in wrongdoing when things really matter.

Pages