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.

Is it consistent to be a libertarian while opposing suicide on moral grounds?

Typically, a libertarian (in the domain of politics; "libertarian" is also the label for someone who adopts a view in philosophy of mind or action theory involving free will) is someone who believes that societies should have a government that is the smallest possible in order to protect certain basis rights (perhaps a proper government should, on the grounds that persons have the right to life, prohibit murder and seek to prevent it). A libertarian might (on rare occasions) support some publicly funded health care, but he or she would (ideally) like such matters to be funded by individuals voluntarily by the individuals themselves. So, what about libertarians and suicide? If the libertarian believes that a minimal government should prohibit and prevent murder and she believes that suicide is wrong because it is a case of self-murder, then she may consistently support the government's prohibition and prevention of suicide. However, she may be "opposing suicide on" different moral grounds, e.g. she...

why is it difficult to define philosophy?

I am not trying to be difficult, but I am not sure philosophy is difficult to define, or at least I suggest it is not any more difficult to define than (for example) the sciences, the humanities, love or works of art, war and peace, and so on. I usually define "philosophy" as having two levels or dimensions. On the one had, and most generally, to have a view of reality and values is to have a philosophy. Given this general definition, every thoughtful person has a philosophy of some kind. Going further, it should be noted that philosophy involves critical reflection on one or more such views, inquiring into meaning and coherence and raising questions of justification (why accept one view rather than another? or why accept any view at all?) This definition (or maybe it should be thought of as a "characterization" or depiction or sketch) can then be enhanced by offering examples and then by noting how philosophy has a host of sub-fields from metaphysics, epistemology, ethical theory or, more broadly...

I don't know if this question falls as a scientific question but to my knowledge, this is more of a question on the nature and extent of science, so I think this is more philosophical than scientific. My question is: is it possible for scientists to create a well-functioning human brain, or is the nature of consciousness so intractable that creating a brain would be next to impossible?

If scientists were to create a well-functioning human brain, I suggest it probably would have to involve the brain being part of an anatomically well-functioning body, whether the body is human or humanoid or mechanical (in which case one would have a cyborg of some kind). Philosophers have entertained bizarre thought experiments in which human brains function in vats and are subject to systematic, misleading electro-chemical stimulation, but I suggest this would not be a case of a WELL-FUNCTIONING human brain. It would instead by in a profoundly dysfunctional situation. Are there good philosophical reasons for thinking that it is impossible for scientists to create something that is anatomically an exact replica of a human being such as you and me? Some might argue that "being human" essentially involves the reproductive and nurturing processes that we underwent (and so they would seek to rule out conceptually the idea that a human brain and body can be manufactured in a lab), but this would (in my...

To a philosopher, there likely comes a time when the error in another's crazy ideas -say, at a party or dinner- can be so apparent as to invite some criticism. What's a good moral position on whether to correct someone's logic when it's uninvited and suspectedly unwelcome? Idea eg. UFOs, 'crystals', ESP, conspiracies, etc.

Maybe a golden rule helps: one should intervene to the extent that, if it was you who had the crazy ideas, you would want to be challenged? In general I suggest that philosophers (and here I do not mean professionals, I mean those who are committed to the love of wisdom -the literal definition of philosophy- and who seek to be informed by and practice philosophy in the great philosophical traditions from Socrates and Confucius to the present) can have an important role in social settings of enhancing the free exchange of ideas in which persons can be open to reason, objections, and responses. There is a time and place for this sort of thing --Looking back, I feel a little regret that the night before I got married I got drawn into a lengthy philosophical debate about why I think theism is reasonable and a good friend did not. But in general, many people think of arguments as what might be called "quarrels" in which no one is really interested in open minds and objections. So, I suggest that...

Is terrorism ever justified?

Good question. Someone who is a consequentialist --that is, a person who believes the morality of an act is contingent on its actual or expected consequences such as the act's producing great happiness or unhappiness-- might have to answer "yes." This is because there are probably cases (or there could be hypothetical cases) when an act of terrorism will produce some greater good or avoid some otherwise inevitable horror and there is no other act available to the parties involved. It is this implication of consequentialism that compels some of us to reject it. Some of us think there are what might be called absolute evils, evil that is so awful that one must not perform the evil no matter what ("even if the heavens fall" or something like that, is an expression sometimes used here). I believe Gandhi once observed that if he had to choose between two evils, he would choose neither (in other words, he would challenge the premise that he "had to choose"). Those of us who think there are some wrongs...

It is often stated that science is not 'value-free'. However, there are certain established facts about the physical world, for example, that a water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, which irrespecitve of the values of observer or the social context in which this is observed, is just that, ie. an observable, indisptuable fact. How then can political or social environments alter or intrude upon such scientific facts whether they be about this planet, biology or whatever scientific enterprise one is studying. Surely, science in this regard is 'value-free'?

Great question; thank you for raising your point. I believe that the when the claim is made that science is not value-free various things may be involved. There might be at least four points to consider. First, there is the thesis that the very practice of philosophy itself involves values --minimally, given a realist view of truth (which I hold and I think you do too, e.g. water is H20 if true if and only if water is H20)-- a commitment to discovering the truth about various phenomena, being reliable or trust-worthy in recording observations and constructing hypotheses, theories, reporting anomalies given such and such a theory, and so on. Perhaps this is not radical news, for it seems that virtually any social interaction in which we trust each others' reports / testimony, all sorts of values and commitments are relevant. But what might be added are three other points. Second, the practice of science itself is guided in light of what scientists (or those who support the practice of science)...

Do you need to be religious in order to be Moral?

I will try to resist this reply: that depends on what you mean by "religious" and "moral." But definitions do matter, and I will not be able to avoid appealing to definitions. If you have a very broad definition of "religious" according to which being religious involves reverence, caring about what is sacred, being consistent (as when someone might say of an athlete that "she works-out religiouslyl") and if "morality" includes such elements, then, yes, there is an important (at least) intersection between being religious and being moral. But if by "religious" one means that one adheres to religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam.... then most philosophers have not thought that being religious is essential for being moral. In fact, many religious thinkers (theologians or sages) have insisted that morality (both the awareness of what is moral and the ability to live a moral life) is available for persons in general independent of one's religious beliefs and...

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