Why should consistency be seen as a universal moral principle? Unless everybody is a Jesus that sacrifices for others, isn't everyone to some degree a hypocrite? The only thing that matters is how much one disregards other people. Couldn't some term like "stability" or "peace" replace the necessity of absolute consistency (lack of hypocrisy), although it would be hard to define exactly what that stability ought to look like.

Perhaps we could make a distinction. Perhaps we could all agree that ideally , we'd all steer clear of hypocrisy. The phrase "good hypocrisy" has a strange ring, suggesting that nothing would count. The phrase "tolerable hypocrisy," however, is less strange. Few of us, if any, manage to steer clear of hypocrisy altogether, and it's doubtful whether it's morally healthy to worry too much about one's moral health. (In this connection, Susan Wolf's paper "Moral Saints," from the Journal of Philosophy August 1982 makes interesting reading.) So we can agree that no one should be condemned simply for not being absolutely beyond condemnation, but we can also agree that hypocrisy isn't a good thing. After all, if I'm being a hypocrite, my sin isn't just posing as someone who acts in accord with a certain principle. Quite aside from the dishonesty in the way I represent myself, to count as a hypocrite I have to be doing things that by my own lights, I shouldn't be doing. And depending on what those...

I have a small question about logic. In my text, "3 is less than or equal to pi" is translated as PvQ, where P is "3 is less than pi" and Q is "3 is equal to pi." Seems simple enough. But why isn't the statement better translated as (PvQ)&~(P&Q)? Of course, if you know what "less than" and "equal to" really mean, you'll understand that P&Q is precluded; but it bothers me that this is not explicitly stated in the translation. Someone who understands logic but not English might infer from PvQ that 3 may be simultaneously "less than" and "equal to" pi, and this strikes me as problematic.

Just to be sure I'm addressing your worry: it's often said that there are two senses of "or": an inclusive sense, where "P or Q" means "At least one of the statements 'P' and 'Q' is true, and an exclusive sense, where "P or Q" means "exactly one of the statements 'P' and 'Q' is true." Let's suppose I'm the sort of person who makes it a practice of always using "or" in the inclusive sense. Someone who knows this hears me say: "Mary is in San Francisco or in New York City." The logic of my statement doesn't rule out all by itself the possibility that Mary is in both places. What rules that possibility out are the facts of geography and of how people fit into space and time. (It's been claimed that some saints were capable of bilocation, but we'll assume that Mary is, at least in that respect, no saint.) Could someone who knew that I'm an inclusive "or" sort of guy but didn't know much about geography and the relationship between people and space correctly infer that if my statement is true, then Mary...

I have just found out today that the man I have been dating for 6 months is mildly autistic. I had no idea about this until just a few hours ago, so this realization left me shocked. I understand autism and that it is nothing like mental retardation, or anything to that extent. But still I feel like I am doing something morally wrong by continuing to date him. Should I end the relationship because it isn't fair to him, seeing as he may not fully understand his feelings or mine? Or should I continue the relationship because his autism is only mild? Please let me know what you think, I am completely torn and cannot figure out whether I am doing something horribly wrong or not.

And... as someone with a close relative who is on the high-functioning end of the autistic continuum, I'd like to add Tony Attwood's website and books to the list of recommendations. But I would agree emphatically with Louise: it's a mistake to think that autistic people are unaware of others' feelings, or incapable of empathy. And I really can't see that you'd be doing anything morally wrong at all by continuing the relationship. Having Asperger's or high-functioning autism doesn't make someone morally defective, and it doesn't mean they can't care deeply about other people. What Louise and Eddy and Peter have said is much more like it. This isn't to say that autism spectrum conditions can't complicate relationships. But we could say the same things about many traits of personality and character that have nothing to do with autism. Few of us are perfect; people with autism just have a diagnosis.

One of my favorite rap artists used to be a drug dealer and a pimp. He is not apologetic, but regularly brags about it. If I buy his albums, am I supporting drugs and pimping?

Perhaps, as you'd expect, it depends on what we mean. One scenario: the artist used the profits from his musical career to underwrite drug dealing and prostitution. In that case, you're supporting drugs and pimping at least in the sense that you're helping to provide the cash that keeps it running. Another scenario: the artist isn't dealing drugs and pimping, but his fame and the reach of his CD sales helps him encourage others to do what he used to do. In that case, your money is still supporting criminal activities, though quite a bit less directly. I'm guessing the most likely scenario is this: far as you know, he isn't still carrying on any criminal enterprises. Far as you, he probably does mean to glorify those things, and far as you know, he probably does have at least some marginal success in encouraging others to do the things he used to do. In other words, even if he's no longer an active criminal, there's something unsavory here, and the more successful he is financially, the...

The average American doubtless knows more about subjects like math, history and science than did an average American 200 years ago. Does philosophy also enjoy this kind of broad progress? Is the average person more philosophically able now than in the past? Or are advances in philosophy typically enjoyed only by specialists?

Answering this question isn't altogether easy, for two reasons. The first is that we need to get some sort of a clear fix on what philosophical ability amounts to. And supposing we were able to sort that out, the next problem is that the question is an empirical one -- a matter of what the facts are -- and here philosophers have no special expertise. Compare: suppose we wanted to know whether the average person is more mathematically able than people were say, 50 years ago. There might well be data around that could give us a fix on this; perhaps someone even has some sort of reasonable answer. But while mathematicians will have something to say about what counts as mathematical ability, they aren't likely to have any special insight into the distribution of mathematical ability in the population. Still, in the mathematical case we might expect to get some sort of broad agreement about what counts as mathematical ability. The ability to come up with solutions to certain sorts of problems would be a...

What has happened in the last hundred years which convinces us that our 'scientific knowledge' is any more valid than previously?

The answer I'd want to offer isn't "philosophical" in the sense of being some sort of response to skeptical arguments. It's more straightforward and more from the point of view of science itself, as it were. And the answer, in general, is just that we've gotten a lot better at measuring things, doing experiments and analyzing data. We've also got a great deal more data than we used to have. A comparison of sorts: when the telescope came on the scene, we came relatively quickly to the conclusion that we could say a good deal more, a good deal more reliably, about the heavens than we could before. Similar comments apply to the old-fashined optical microscope, and even more so to devices like the electron microscope. Likewise, as statistics came into its own, we got a good deal better at analyzing data and drawing robust conclusions from it. It's arguable that the kinds of modeling techniques that computers have allowed us to develop are yet another example. So at least part of the answer has to do with...

Most atheists presumably believe that there is insufficient evidence to justify belief in God. What I want to ask is: is there ANY evidence? Or none at all? Is there anything that the panelists might point to and say, "this counts as evidence that God exists"?

I didn't respond earlier mainly because it was that time of year when college teachers are worried about grading exams and such. But I'm with Richard on this one: I find many of the discussion of evidence around this question not altogether helpful. There is, of course, evidence for God's existence, but then there can be evidence in favor of claims that we ultimately reject. so if the only question were whether there is any evidence at all the answer would be easy. But many thoughtful believers don't to believe because they're convinced by some quasi-scientific argument. They believe because as it seems to them, belief in God makes the most sense of things entire. There's a way of misunderstanding that. Non-believers often think of believers as offering something akin to a scientific hypothesis, meant to explain the details of the physical world, and that is one strain of traditional theological thought. But I don't think it has a lot to do with the outlook of the typical believer. As...

What are some real-life examples using reason (deductive or inductive) in a sound and valid manner and coming up with a false statement of reality? In other words, I'm trying to prove that reason is not always a reliable way of knowing.

It might help to start with some definitions. As philosophers and logicians use the term "valid," a piece of reasoning is valid, roughly, if it's impossible for the premises to be true unless the conclusion is also true. That means that any argument with true premises and a false conclusion is automatically invalid. And as philosophers and logicians use the word "sound," a sound piece of reasoning is valid and has true premises. That means that any sound argument automatically has a true conclusion. Of course, valid arguments can lead us to bad conclusions. That happens when they start with false premises. The following argument is valid, but the conclusion is false: Some whales are fish. All fish have gills. Therefore, some whales have gills. The problem, of course, is the first premise. But the reasoning isn't at fault. So far, we've talked about deductive reasoning, and we can say that there are principles of deductive reasoning that are reliable in this sense: when applied to true...

How can one rationally show that life is of supreme value and that killing should be disallowed in all instances, without relying on religious axioms such as that life is "sacred" or "god given?" It appears that, without resorting to such a religious axiom, it is impossible to rationalize complete prohibition of killing, especially considering social situations which we already know necessitate taking of life, e.g. war or self-defense. If that is true, can one conclude that the prohibition of killing as it stands in modern criminal law is induced by religious motivation and not a genuine society engineering concern, and as such contradicts reasoning?

I think you've answered most of your own question. You pointed to self-defense and war as potential cases of acceptable killing. But the law in every country I know of allows for self-defense, and also allows for legislatures or rulers to declare war. We might add: for better or worse (worse , in my view) some countries allow for capital punishment. And so whether or not religion has anything to do with the historical origins of the law, there are very few nations, if any, in which killing is absolutely and always illegal. Still, we do place a very high value on life -- perhaps even a "supreme" value, even if not an absolute one. But it's not at all clear that we have to use religious premises to end up with this view, and it's also not clear that there's anything irrational in thinking that killing is usually a very great wrong. One might think: if this is irrational, we need some sort of argument to see why.

Since normal mental function is determined by mere statistics--that is to say, the concept of sanity is based on the way most people behave--is it morally acceptable to treat people with what are perceived to be mental problems?

Let's leave mental health aside for the moment and ask: would it make sense to imagine a situation in which a solid majority of people were physically ill? The answer seems pretty clearly to be yes. For example: we can imagine a pandemic flu infecting a majority of all humanity. Or for that matter, we can imagine a majority of people having some chronic disease like asthma. Physical health isn't a purely statistical concept. Without pretending to put together a fully satisfactory definition, we can presumably agree that whether someone is physically healthy has to do with their functioning. Statistics may have something to do with this (after all, we use statistical techniques in trying to sort out what it's reasonable to expect from a human body), but there's no simple equation between "physically healthy" and "near the statistical average." We can also add: people with, for example, above average lung capacity aren't thereby considered ill, while people with lung capacity well below average ...

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