In my opinion, one of the reasons that we argue around determinism is that it seems to have some disturbing implications with regards to fatalism: if determinism is true, then everything is predetermined since the origin of the universe. That is to say that given enough information about the state of the original universe, it is possible to 'calculate' what is going to happen thereafter, because determinism means everything is strictly causally determined by its prior events. And because of this, in a strictly deterministic universe, there is only one 'fate' for anyone, and the disturbing implication that seems to follow is that since there is one fate for me, there is not much point for me make any decisions, because I'm not really making decisions, as everything I will do, or want, is already determined. How might a compatibilist, who thinks that humans are still capable of free will and are capable of making decisions, refute the above argument for fatalism? p.s.: this is a follow-up from the question...

Thanks for following up. I'm pleased that you found my earlier answer helpful. Above you wrote, "the disturbing implication that seems to follow is that since there is one fate for me, there is not much point for me make any decisions, because I'm not really making decisions, as everything I will do, or want, is already determined." I'd like to make two points in reply. (1) It's crucial not to confuse determinism with "your fate." Your fate is supposed to be the fixed outcome that you'll encounter regardless of anything you do in the meantime. So, according to the story, Oedipus is fated to kill his father and marry his mother, regardless of any actions Oedipus takes beforehand, including any attempts he makes to avoid that fate. Determinism is, if anything, the opposite doctrine. According to determinism, whom you marry (if anyone) depends crucially on your actions beforehand: every link in the causal chain is essential, no link is superfluous, and those links include your carefully considered...

My question arises in free will and compatibilism. Basically, according to the compatibilists, the actions driven by 'internal factors' can be considered as free. Is this truly the kind of free will that people want to establish in the first place? Isn't this more of a compromise, rather than solution? I would have thought that the free will we are trying to seek is the capability to do otherwise, but I think internally driven actions are still determined, i.e. the agent could not have done otherwise. Moreover, is it right to seek free will as in 'the capability to do otherwise'? Is this truly meaningful? I feel like the whole deterministic and incompatible theory is somewhat dodgy in its logic: what does it mean that we cannot have done otherwise?

I would have thought that the free will we are trying to seek is the capability to do otherwise... The capability to do otherwise, full stop, or the capability to do otherwise had we wanted to do otherwise? Today I saw my neighbor and gave him a friendly greeting because I wanted to. Even if determinism is true, had I wanted not to give him a friendly greeting -- imagine that he had rudely blasted his stereo and woken me at 3:00am -- there's no reason to think I would have given him a friendly greeting anyway. That is, determinism is compatible with the claim that my desire to give my neighbor a friendly greeting played an essential role in my actually giving him a friendly greeting. Indeed, I want my action to be under the effective control of my desire: I don't want indeterminism to pop up in between the two. For suppose that, despite my wanting to give him a friendly greeting, something indeterministic popped up and resulted in my screaming obscenities at him instead. I would hardly...

My question regards the notion of negative rights. Personally, I believe the notion of “rights” is itself a human creation, and that rights do not ultimately exist outside of this creation. Rights come from nowhere else but humans. This being the case would seem to imply that all rights would, by definition, be positive, even if means determining a right not to do something. Humans desicion-making process itself entails deciding to do, or not to do something, or allowing, or not allowing something to be done, all of which have been positively decided. What am I not understanding?

As best I can tell, you may be confusing two different senses of the word "positive." When philosophers refer to your "positive" right, as opposed to your "negative" right, they typically mean your right to have some good or service provided to you, as opposed to your right not to be interfered with in some activity. So (putting it a bit simplistically perhaps) a right to adequate health care would be a positive right, while a right to speak freely in a public park would be a negative right. But philosophers also use the word "positive" to label rights that are conferred by explicit human decrees, such as rights conferred on citizens by the decrees of legislatures or courts. The contrast is often with "natural" rights, which are supposed to be rights that we possess regardless of any human decree. You seem to be saying that all of our rights are positive rights in this second sense, which -- even if true -- wouldn't imply that all of our rights are positive rights in the first sense. A legislature or...

Someone told me that there are nothing like table or chair because what there actually are is arrangement of matter and energy and label attached to it, which only exist in our minds. He thought if we accept nominalism, then we must accept this. I think he confused abstract objects with concrete objects. It seems to me that it's possible to believe things like table and chair exist while believe those concepts exist only in mind. Am I wrong?

Judging from your descriptions of them, your position seems to me more plausible than the other person's position. If tables actually are arrangements of matter and energy to which some label (say, "table") attaches, how does that imply that tables don't exist? On the contrary, it seems to imply that tables do exist, because it implies that tables are things (namely, arrangements of matter and energy) to which that label attaches, i.e., things referred to by that label. Someone who denies the existence of tables ought not to identify tables as anything, including as particular arrangements of matter and energy. It's true that tables wouldn't exist unless human beings (or some other species) made them: tables are artifacts. But of course it's not true that tables wouldn't exist unless human beings (or some other species) attached the label "table" to particular arrangements of matter and energy. Indeed, the very first tables probably weren't called "tables," and in most of the world tables still...

I'm 16 and have been studying philosophy for awhile. My question is when does a statement reach the point of 'absurdity'. For example, of the two statements, 1) My dog ran around the yard. And 2) My dog ran around the block with a big purple hat and green trousers. Number 2 seems the most likely not to have happened or seems 'ridiculous' by those who hear it. At what point does a statement cross the line of making logicalls sense to pure ridiculousness?

All else being equal, "My dog ran around the block wearing a big purple hat and green trousers" is far-fetched and unlikely to be true. But I wouldn't classify it as absurd in the logical sense, i.e., as making no logical sense. On the contrary, I think I can imagine (i.e., mentally picture) that amusing scenario. Now, if you were to claim that your dog ran around the block wearing colorless, entirely green trousers, I would classify your statement as logically absurd in the sense that it's logically self-inconsistent: it's logically impossible for anything, including trousers, to be both colorless and entirely green. So I'd say that something like logical self-inconsistency is the mark of a statement that has crossed the line into genuine absurdity. It's great to hear that, at 16, you've already been studying philosophy. I hope you'll keep doing so!

I have been duscussing lately with my friend about thinking. We both agree on what thinking can lead to. But, we disagree on wether or not you should think. Our theory is that thinking will often/most cases lead to unhappiness or depression because most question/problems are for the most part hard to solve. For example, what is the meaning of life? Not an easy question to answer, and the answer you do get may be sad. Therefore, I think not thinking will be good for a person so hin won't get to a stage where hin gets sad. However, my friend see this as fake happiness because you only hide sadness away instead of dealing with the problems. The problems are philosophical and not physical or physiological. So the question is, should people asks "why" questions more often and seek answers to find true happiness? Or is not thinking at all about philosophically questions just fine?

I belong firmly to the camp that advocates more thinking rather than less, especially when the issue is philosophical. Take your sample question: What is the meaning of life? I would answer it this way: In the sense in which the question is probably intended, there isn't and couldn't possibly be any such thing as the meaning of life. (See this link for details.) Should that answer make someone sad? I don't think so. When we come to see that the notion of the meaning (i.e., ultimate purpose) of life makes no sense, we can recognize that seeking the meaning of life is a logically misguided quest, like seeking the largest integer. I hope no one feels sad that there's no largest integer. Really it's an empirical question whether thinking about philosophical issues makes people, in general, happier or sadder than they would otherwise be. I don't know the answer to that question, but in my own case I believe that philosophical thinking has greatly contributed to my overall contentment. But even if it...

If living creatures, such as ourselves, are evolved biochemical mechanisms, and should free will exist, what natural neurophysiologic phenomenon could possibly give rise to it (that would not be as deterministic as, say, any other chemical process)? And if we are indeed biochemical structures (as biologists in general believe), why might not appropriately designed future machines (advanced AI) likewise have the capacity to exercise free will (should free will exist)?

Don't forget the compatibilist account of free will (see the entry here ), which says that we can make free choices -- i.e., choices for which we're responsible (including morally responsible) and properly subject to praise or blame -- even if our choices result from totally deterministic processes. In other words, free will doesn't require the falsity of determinism. I know of no cogent arguments against the compatibilist account of free will. According to compatibilism, then, we can make free choices without needing any mysterious, non-causal, or indeterministic neurological goings-on. By the same token, an advanced AI machine could also make a free choice, provided it's advanced enough to be able to entertain, appreciate, and evaluate reasons for and against making (in its own right) some particular choice and able to choose in accordance with that evaluation. As far as I know, such machines are a long way off, but I see nothing in the concept of free choice that rules out, in principle, their...

I'm told it's arguable that when people say, "Water is H20", what they mean is, "The stuff from around here that we call water has the molecular structure H2O." Well, what about ethical claims? When people say "Killing is wrong", do they really mean "Killing is wrong in all circumstances, times and places"? Or are they saying something more like, "According to the normal values from around here, killing is wrong"?

One might ask why people would hedge the original claim, "Water is H2O," and intend to assert only the presumably weaker claim "The stuff from around here that we call 'water' has the molecular structure H2O." Is it that they don't want to identify water with the molecule H2O but merely want to assert that water is constituted by molecules of H2O? Or is it that they want to hedge against possibilities like Hilary Putnam's Twin Earth, where what the residents call "water" is macroscopically just like H2O but is in fact identical to (or constituted by) a different molecule that Putnam abbreviates "XYZ"? Either of those reasons for hedging the original claim seems to me to be too abstruse to explain the hedging (if any) done by ordinary speakers of the language. But I can't think of a third explanation. So I'm not sure how to compare this case to the assertion "Killing is wrong" or to the hedged version, "According to the normal values around here, killing is wrong." My hunch about ordinary...

If it's possible for a cat to be alive and dead at the same time, or for a particle to be in two places at the same time, would that show there are at least some things about which one couldn't rely on "Either P or not P" as a sound step in reasoning?

Your question concerns the classical law of excluded middle (LEM): For any proposition P, either P or not P. Because logic is absolutely fundamental, ceasing to rely on LEM will have ramifications that are both widespread and deep. In classical logic, we can derive LEM from the law of noncontradiction (LNC), so to give up LEM is to give up LNC or the equally obvious laws that allow us to derive LEM from LNC. We should be very reluctant to do that. In my view, the alleged possibilities that you cite from physics are not enough to overcome that reluctance. First, they are possibilities only according to some, not all, interpretations of quantum mechanics. Second, even if we accept them as possibilities, rejecting LEM or LNC is more costly than (1) reconceiving "being dead" and "being alive" so that they name logically compatible conditions and (2) reconceiving "being here at time t " and "being elsewhere at time t " so that they name logically compatible conditions. It's less costly to mess with the...

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