My younger brother, who is 13, is arguing that he will not go through any drastic changes in personality and mannerisms from now until the future and therefore a child is no different from an adult. I argued in the contrary stating that he will go through a lot of changes that might radically alter his outlook on life and personality. Is this correct or does it vary from person to person?

If I have it right, your brother thinks he won't change much, because he thinks that people in general don't change much from teen years to adulthood. He then goes on to draw a conclusion: children (or at least, teenagers) aren't really any different from adults. So we have two questions. First, is the premise true? Is your brother really right when he says that people who have reached the ripe old age of 13 are pretty much as they will be as adults? That's not a philosopher's question as such, though I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that many people change a good deal after they get past their teen years. But there's another question: even if we granted your brother his premise, what about his conclusion? It would depend, wouldn't it? It may be that people's basic personality (cheerful or prickly or inclined to fuss-budgetry...) is set by the time they reach their teen years. And it's pretty plausible that mannerisms are laid down early. But I'm guessing your brother thinks his...

Are necessary truths ultimately grounded in induction? For example truths of mathematics are said to be necessary, yet don't they make generalizations about an infinite set of numbers that are not verifiable; wouldn't this be considered induction? And if we ground our necessary truths on axioms, aren't these axioms theorems that a community has agreed to as being true and are not objectively true? Thanks for your answer, John

First, we need to set an issue aside. The word "induction" is sometimes used to refer to a certain sort of mathematical argument in which we prove something for every case by showing it for a "base" case and then showing that if it holds in the first n cases, it holds in the n+1th case. But it's pretty clear that your question is about induction as a matter of reasoning empirically from a limited set of instances to a claim about all cases, and so we'll use the word "inductive" in that way below. Here's an example of a necessary truth: every star that has planets orbiting around it is a star . Notice that it's universal; it says something about every star with planets. And if it were like "every star with planets orbiting around it is at least 3 billion years old," we could only show that it was true (assuming it is) by empirical means and thus, in a loose sense, inductively. (What we'd actually do is produce an argument from various theoretical and observational premises, but...

Does Rawls consider inborn abilities an important determinant of social status? I haven't read his entire text in A Theory of Justice, but when he mentions the veil of ignorance, is he considering social status more or less a matter of fate?

I have a feeling I'm missing your point, but I suspect Rawls would have said that what determines social status is complicated. I doubt he'd describe it as "fate" since it seems pretty clearly to be a combination of things: accidents of birth (the social status of one's family), partly, one assumes, one's abilities, , and all this against the background of the social arrangements of the particular society. In any case, the people behind the veil of ignorance don't know their social status, but not because this is or isn't a matter of "fate." It's because if they did, it would presumably make a difference to the social arrangement they favored, and that misses the point of the veil.

There have been many arguments that are offered in support of the proposition that God exists. So far, it seems that none of them have been compelling. Do you think that any possible argument offered as establishing a conclusion like 'God exists', could be compelling. That is, could there exist an argument such that it's conclusion is 'God exists' and the argument is compelling? If no such argument could possibly be compelling, can we not just infer that no argument offered as establishing the existence of God is compelling? Or, do you think one (an argument) exists that may be compelling when learned by us?

If by "compelling" you mean something like "beyond reasonable doubt," then the answer is almost certainly no. But that hardly makes arguments about God's existence unique. The claim that God exists has at least this in common with philosophical claims in general: there's plenty of room to argue both sides. On the other hand, if the question is whether there might be arguments for believing in God that some people might find convincing without lapsing into irrationality, then the answer is almost certainly yes. But once again, that hardly makes claims about God's existence unique. Pick more or less anything that philosophers disagree about. You'll find that some sane philosophers are convinced by arguments that others don't find persuasive. Can someone reasonably find an argument persuasive even if they realize that there are unanswered objections to it? If the standard of reasonableness is one that humans can meet, the answer is also yes. One reason is that there are two ways to think of...

Is it, say, "reasonable" that philosophers analyse a scientific concept? I was wondering about concepts coming from the social sciences. Would it be a philosophical task to analyse e.g. the concept of "social interaction", as it is used by social scientists?

I suspect I may be missing what's at issue here. Analyzing concepts is part of the philosopher's stock-in-trade, and that applies no less to scientific concepts than to other sorts. Not being a social scientists, I don't have a good, detailed feel for how social scientists use the phrase "social interaction" nor for how it fits into social science theorizing. That also means that I don't have a good feel for whether there are any meaty philosophical issues here. But I can well imagine that there might be, and insofar as there are, it's hard to see why philosophers of the social sciences wouldn't just be doing their jobs by undertaking the appropriate analyses.

Following along from http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/2039: "Does the law of bivalence demand that a proposition IS either true or false today? What if the truth or falsity of this proposition is a correspondence to a future event that has yet to occur?" What's problematical about saying "yes, it's either true or false, but I don't happen to know which"? Is that substantively different from saying the same thing about an open problem in science or mathematics, to which the answer is presumably knowable but happens not yet to be known? The questioner seems to be demanding both that there be an answer, which may be a reasonable thing to want, and to be able to know what the answer is, which isn't necessarily reasonable. Is it reasonable always to expect somebody (other than deity) to know the answer to a question?

The issue about so-called "future contingent" propositions isn't just about whether we're in a position to know whether they're true, but whether there are any facts for them to pick out. And that issue arises from a tempting but controversial metaphysical picture: reality as it were "unfolds" in time. Reality consists at least of what's so now, and perhaps as well of what's already taken place, but on this picture there simply are no definite facts about future events. This may seem odd at first, but a couple of examples might make it seem less so. Suppose you think that people make choices that are free in the sense of being not just uncoerced but undetermined. Mary is a juror in the penalty phase of a trial. Tomorrow she will decide whether to vote that the defendant should be executed. If you think that there is nothing that fixes her decision before it's made, you might wonder what it would mean for there to be a correct answer to the question "What will she decide?" before she actually decides...

The consideration that harm is inherently related to the perception of the harmed (i.e., s/he who perceives that s/he has been harmed has been harmed) is widely accepted, and I even sometimes see philosophers on this site answering questions of ethics from this position. However, it seems to me that this way of viewing "harm" is too generally subjective. Are there widely accepted objective means for defining harm? What are they?

I wonder just how widely accepted this is. I suspect that most people, including panelists here, would agree that just because someone thinks they've been harmed, it doesn't mean that they actually were. In fact, it's perfectly possible that something someone takes to have harmed them actually did them good. (You might think your boss would be upset if he knew that you stood up to some obstreperous client. I know that he'd actually be pleased; he's been looking for an excuse to "fire" this client, you've provided it, and because I tell him what you did, you'll be in for a bonus at year's end.) There are a couple of cases that might seem to support the equation of thinking one has been harmed with actually being harmed, but I'm not sure they're what you had in mind. First, suppose I think I'm in pain. It's been widely held that I can't be mistaken about this. I might be mistaken about whether the pain signals some sort of organic damage, but if I think I have a headache, it's odd to say that I don...

This problem has been nagging me forever. If "objective reality" is simply a consensus between experiencing subjects, then on what grounds can we claim to know or understand anything? How can we be so sure that - for example - our scientific knowledge is accurate? Is it just because there is greater consensus in established academic fields like physics or biology? What about the people our society labels as insane? Is their interpretation of reality wrong simply because there is less consensus about it?

The difficulty here is with the idea that "objective reality" is a matter of consensus. I've heard that said often enough, though virtually never by a philosopher or a scientist. I must confess that I've never really understood what makes the idea seem plausible or attractive. Whatever the details, it seems reasonable to think that the world is the way it is whatever I think of the matter. The universe existed for eons in sublime indifference to the fact that we weren't around to have opinions about it, and after we mess things up and end our species' sojourn in the world, things will once again go on without somehow having gotten vague, fuzzy or unreal due to our absence. Gaseous gab about "consensual reality" is perennially fashionable in some circles, but the fact that some people are inclined to talk this way doesn't mean that it has a lot going for it. Of course, whether what we think about the world gets things right is another question. The plausible common-sense answer is that we're...
Sex

Is cybersex a sexual encounter? If you discover that your partner engages in it, is he/she cheating on you?

I don't disagree with anything that my distinguished co-panelists have said, but I'm inclined to add a few rule-of-thumb suggestions for anyone for whom this isn't a merely theoretical question. You might ask yourself: when you do this, do you feel like you're cheating on your partner? Would you feel cheated on if you found out that your partner had been doing the same thing? If the answer to either question is yes, you might want to pause and think about what you're doing and why you're doing it. Answering "yes" to either question isn't conclusive; sometimes we have feelings that turn out on close scrutiny to come from nothing other than habit and prejudice. But this is an area where self-deception is particularly easy. If you think that the nature of your relationship would make it wrong to have an old-fashioned physical affair, then you might want to ask yourself how much weight you can really put on the fact that there's no skin-to-skin contact here. People sometimes use the phrase ...

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