Please pardon the awkward structure of this question; I am afraid the insuperable inadequacies of autodidacticism will prevent me from asking it clearly. What I want to know is, in a nutshell: Is the Past eternal? That is to say, it makes sense to make statements about the Present (if in fact there is a present; one sometimes reads there isn't) which take the form "X is the case." It also obviously makes sense to say, where t is some point in the Past, things like, "At time t, X was the case." But I'm much less confident that I'm allowed to have sentences like (if X is no longer the case but used to be at t, which is in the past) "At time t, X will always have been the case." And in fact I want very badly to say not only that but "For any X which once obtained, is obtaining, or will obtain, at any time T, will always once have obtained." I also want to believe this not only of propositions which once held, but also of all phenomena & entities which ever occurred & existed. (That they will always once...

You've raised lots of issues, but I wanted to single out one in particular. You seemed particularly worried by the possibility that there might be some sort of influence from present to past. The worry seemed to be that if someone did the wrong sort of monkeying around now or in the future, your past might be wiped out. That's a disturbing thought, but fortunately we needn't read Gödel et al that way. The trick is to distinguish between influencing the past and changing the past. Think of it this way: reality (or physical reality, anyway) just consists of the eternally-existing set of all events. On this picture, there's no question of a sort of "moving present" with events becomingpresent and then slipping into the past. There's just the set of eventswith all their many relations. You might find it useful to read what my fellow panelists Peter Smith and Jasper Reid had to say in response to question 2032 . Among the various relations are space-time relations, but...
Sex

Why is it not acceptable to be naked in public? What makes it so absurd for people to be seen in their natual state? If i went to school naked, I would probably get expelled. So how did we come to decide what state of appearance should be in particular settings? Has it originated and developed because of the feelings people feel when they see a nude person that have caused us to think up this idea of clothing our bodies? Get what I'm trying to say? Deep down everyone wants society to make nudity the norm! (Except people living where it's real cold.)

Part of what you're asking is a social science question: taboos against public nudity are pretty common (though not universal). How come? What's the best psychological or anthropological or perhaps even evolutionary explanation? Not being a social scientist, all I could do is speculate. The blindingly obvious thought it that it has something to do with sex, which is what I take you to be suggesting, though exactly what it has to do with sex is harder to say. If I were going to try to sort this out, I would probably turn to anthropology. Different cultures seem to have different attitudes toward nudity, and perhaps the anthropologists have some light to shed on all this. It's clear that societies with more relaxed attitudes toward nudity aren't morally defective on that account, but it would take some arguing to show that societies with a more modest outlook (ours, for example) are morally better for that reason. Here's another thought. Fantasies about others' bodies are exciting for some...

Philosophy never seems to debate multiple Gods like the Vikings and the ancient Greeks had as well as Hinduism. These could be dismissed as silly, discredited ideas except Hinduism still has numerous believers. It seems no more ridiculous to me than the Father, Son and Holy Ghost scenario. Why is monotheism alone debated by religious Western philosophers? (Atheist ones will only consider a Prime Mover or Argument from Design creator but why is this? Is it because of over 2000 years of Abrahamic Gods, messiahs, and prophets with the attendant respectability these, believers would say, bestow?)

The reasons are no doubt complicated, and insofar as what's called for is a historical explanation, my amateur guesses are no better than the next amateur's. But we can still ask what might give the monotheistic notions a special philosophical interest. And when we ask this, I think we see fairly quickly that monotheism per se isn't the issue. Rather, it's the details of the way that the monotheistic traditions have developed their idea of God. Let's start by contrast with the Greek gods. What's striking about them is that they're so thoroughly physical. They live in a particular place, they have physical bodies, and they have a variety of physical limitations. Suppose we discovered that somewhere atop some misty mountain, there really were such beings. That would be fascinating in all sorts of ways, but it's not so clear that there's much philosophical interest here. They would just seem to be rather remarkable physical beings. We might wonder how they manage to do what they do (I can't...

I do not believe that true freedom can actually exist within any society that is governed by any form of laws or rules. To me, freedom is to be completely without restraint of any kind, be it legal, social, theological, or whatever. As long as there exists any sort of list of things that are not to be done, said, or thought, and these rules are actively upheld by empowered individuals and/or groups, I do not think that anyone within such a society is truly free. I would like to know if anyone agrees or disagrees and why.

Consider this little argument: A society with laws against killing is a society where true freedom doesn't exist. A society where true freedom doesn't exist is undesirable. Therefore, a society with laws against killing is undesirable. The argument is superficially valid, but it rests on an equivocation. The first premise is plausible if "true" is read as "unlimited" or "unbridled." But if "true" means something like "ideal," then the premise seems false. On the other hand, the second premise is plausible if "true" is read as "ideal," but seems false if "true" simply means "unbridled." Indeed: if "true freedom" means "unbridled freedom," then most (all?) societies don't have "true freedom." But that's a mere tautology. Using the word "true" here doesn't give us any reason to think that a society with "true" freedom (in effect, a "society" with no laws at all) would be a good thing. It's hard to see what's desirable about a society where goons and thugs can go around offing people with...

It would seem to me that I don't have to have ever witnessed a particular phenomena to be able to recognize evidence of it. For example, if I were to see a set of footprints in the sand, and on every left footstep there's a small hole, I might explain this finding by hypothesizing a person walking across the beach with a nail stuck in their shoe. Of course I understand that it could be explained in an other way, but if that was actually what had happened and I'd never before seen a person walking with a nail in their shoe then I'd have recognized evidence of something that I'd never seen before. But I have experienced footprints and nails before so perhaps I'm mistaken. My question then is, Is it possible to recognize evidence of something I've absolutely no experience whatsoever of? And what are the implications to the idea of sense data being evidence of the external world (if our only evidence of the external world is our sense data, how can we hypothesize an external world to explain such data when...

Let's start with the more general question: is it possible to recognize evidence of something that we had no experience of before? The answer seems pretty clearly to be yes, since we've frequently found good reasons to believe in various such things. We have evidence for black holes, for example. We have evidence of the existence of various exotic particles. Although the details are complicated, the way this works can be explained in this sort of way: We're interested in whether there are Xs. We ask: what would we expect to see if there were? What evidence E would Xs produce? And how likely is it that we'd find E if there were no Xs? Assuming that the "prior probability" of Xs isn't too low (assuming, for example, that Xs would have a sensible place in our larger scheme of things), assuming that the probability of E given X is appreciably greater than the probability of E given not-X, finding E might well give us good reason to think there are Xs. Or at least, this is a fairly common kind of story...

Can a philosopher please help us understand why it is so painful when someone you acknowledge disregards you in turn? Thanks, from South Africa.

Sorry you've been having this sort of experience. And the amount of time it took for any of us to reply may give you the same sort of feeling you were asking about. But let me at least start with a possibly lame excuse. It sounds like what you want to know may be something more in the realm of psychology: what is it about how our minds work that can make snubs, rejection and the like psychologically painful? Why don't we just shrug it off?And insofar as the question deals with how minds actually work, philosophers aren't necessarily the best experts. That said, we're in a domain where ordinary experience and insight may be able to shed some light, so let's give it a try. Part of the answer is that we sometimes do shrug such things off. If I nod to a stranger on the street and he doesn't nod back, I might experience a momentary sense of annoyance, but I'll probably have forgotten about it literally within seconds. Whether this stranger takes account of me isn't something that matters to me. But for...

How can one determine authenticity and authoritativeness? For example, how would you gauge the authenticity of the panelists' responses? Does studying philosophy give the panelists anymore authority to issues like abortion, love, or education than the "average" non-philosopher? Is there not a little ego in that notion?

I have a little ego, so I'll offer a little answer. I agree completely: it's not necessary to have studied philosophy to be able to say sane, sensible things about abortion, love, education and so on. Indeed, it would be very bad news if being able to think well about those sorts of things called for specialized training in philosophy. And in fact, no one on this panel is an authority on what people ought to think about, say, capital punishment. The questions philosophers think about are, as it's sometimes put, essentially contested. It's in the nature of the strange business we're in that no one is an authority on the answers in the way that a physicist might be an authority about the answer to some scientific question. No one should accept the conclusions folks on this panel come to just because we're philosophers, and none of us would want anyone to do that. What philosophers are often good at, however, by skill, training and inclination, is sorting through the logical and conceptual details...

When there is no clear solution to an issue, it would seem to me that assessing risks would be the most reasonable way of dealing with it. In the case of abortion we risk a mother losing the civil right to address her pregnancy within her own moral reasoning, verses a child losing its fundamental right to live. The latter risk seems more pressing and with greater consequence. Can a struggle for justice be assessed upon risk?

You've raised an interesting question. The general approach you're suggesting sounds like a version of what's called "multi-attribute utility theory." Without going into detail, multi-attribute utility theory lets us make decisions even when different sorts of values are at stake. Acting in a certain way might carry a high risk of losing money, but a high likelihood of keeping a friend. Depending on my "trade-off weights" (roughly, how much I care about money vs. friendship), and depending on the possible results and their probabilities given various choices, the tools of multi-attribute utility theory might give me a way of picking a course of action. It seems at least plausible that we could reconstruct any rational way of making decisions within this framework, and so in principle, we might be able to represent the way we think about the case you've offered. But this is really just where all the hard questions start. The first problem is that different people will weight different values...

If we consider the possibility of superior life forms and the possibility of their interference of our own human species for their own gain, and then looking back at our own treatment of animals (inferior species), are Zoos ethical?

A nice question. The thought is something this: there might be creatures out there who are as intellectually advanced when compared to us as we are when compared to, say, three-toed sloths. If it would be wrong for those creatures to exploit us in various ways, doesn't this at least raise the question of whether it's acceptable for us to put sloths in zoos? Or conversely, if our superiority to the sloths makes it okay to put them in zoos, mightn't a race of super-intelligent aliens be justified in putting us on display or "serving" us for dinner? I'm not going to offer an opinion on whether it's wrong to enzoo the sloths, though I think that the answer depends at least partly on whether they're able to thrive in that sort of setting. But there is a point that seems to me worth raising: mere comparitive superiority may not be the issue. There may be a difference between us and the sloths that puts us in a different moral category. At least some philosophers (Kant being the most notable) think that...

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