Why do we desire authenticity? Why do we want to be the cause of our own happiness rather than, say, medication? Why do we want to know that the jazz musician is truly improvising her solo rather than playing some pre-composed part crafted to sound improvised? Why is it so important to us that we experience the real world, and not a utopian virtual reality fed to us by machines?

Like Lisa, I also enjoyed your question and have been mulling it over for several weeks -- without making a lot of headway. But here is a thought. It's true that we do value various sorts of authenticity (real creativity, "real" as opposed to "surrogate" experiences, etc.), but there are different ways we could go about asking why. One way would be to ask a sort of scientific/psychological/biological question: what is it about the way we're wired or raised that leads us to put a high value on the things you've labeled as authentic? Not being a scientist, I can't say, but it's reasonable to think that as the world actually works, authenticity and genuine effort are more likely overall to produce beneficial results. If we didn't care about real creativity, for example, then the kinds of innovations that make life better from just about any point of view might never come about. On that way of looking at things, we might say that authenticity has an instrumental value, and that this rubs off on...

I was reading Andrew Sullivan's view about homosexuality (in favor) and was wondering what would be the Kantian and Utilitarian response to his arguments.

Not having the details of Sullivan's view ready to hand, all I can offer are some general comments on homosexuality, Kant and utilitarianism. On Kant, you might want to have a look at the replies to question 1681 , and if you can get a copy, at Alan Soble's paper "Kant and Sexual Perversion," cited in his answer to that question. Prof. Soble makes a strong case that Kant's views on homosexuality are little more than sophisticated gay-bashing. The most relevant Kantian thought might seem to be that we should never treat anyone -- ourselves included -- merely as a means and not also as an end. In Kant's view, any sort of sex outside marriage falls short on this score, including masturbation. (Kant seems to have been particularly hung up about solitary sex.) This means that arguments against homosexuality based on Kant's views are likely to prove more than their proponent may have had in mind. In any case, it's hard to credit the view that non-marital sex always amounts to nothing more than...

How can abortion be so easily accepted in a civilized society? Sure, it is important that a woman or any person be able to have control over their body, but the fetus is a separate entity, a new person completely, as is logically shown by the fact that a mother can give birth to a male child. Anyone can tell this without having to use the available scientific evidence which proves my point. So, what gives any person the right to kill someone else so that they can live the way that they want?

There are plenty of hard issues about when and whether abortion should be allowed, but the particular argument you're offering won''t work. You seem to be saying: a typical newborn is a person (I take that to be the point about giving birth to a male child) and you go on to conclude that a fetus is a person. But this simply doesn't follow. It's perfectly consistent to think that, say, a two-week-old embryo isn't a person, i.e., a being with the same sorts of rights that you and I have, even though other things being equal this embryo will eventually become a person.

Am I correct in thinking that vibrations in the air are just one cause of sound, and that really sounds are what are experienced? So for example under this definition of sound, ringing in the ears is included. Equally then, that sights can be caused by light bouncing off objects but also by the imagination? Can I draw the conclusion then that there are an equal number of sounds/sights/tastes/smells/feelings that have ever existed, than have ever been seen/heard/tasted/smelled/felt? The tree that falls in the woods with no one in it makes no sound at all (but plenty of vibrations)?

The issue here seems to be verbal. It's not clear that ordinary language has a settled answer to the question whether "sound" refers to the vibration in the air, or to the experience that the vibrations cause. If we fix on the former, then there have been plenty of sounds that never led to any experiences. If we fix on the latter, then sounds and experiences of a certain sort are one and the same thing. But there's no deep fact about which is the "right" way to think of it. Something else worth keeping in mind: language doesn't map onto the world in any simple, direct way, and in particular we need to be careful about letting the fact that we have the noun "sound" fool us into thinking that there is some thing in the world -- a sound -- whose location (in the head? in the landscape?...) needs to be sorted out.

As I see it, there is not a single person on the planet who can prove or disprove the existence of God. If there is no provable God and/or afterlife then there can be no better hope for anything beyond the grave than what religion espouses. If there is a God however, then the rewards for correct behavior are well defined. Why then would the rational man NOT believe in some sort of supreme divine being if there is no proof either way?

It sounds as though you're giving a version of Pascal's Wager . One version of that argument runs along the following lines (whether or not this is exactly what Pascal had in mind): If God exist and I believe, I'll get infinite bliss. If he exists and I don't believe, I'm damned. But if God doesn't exist and I believe, I lose little, if anything and if he doesn't exist and I don't believe, I don't gain that much. Since belief potentially gains me much and loses me little, but since disbelief potentially gains me little and loses me much, I should believe. One problem, of course, is whether skeptical people can actually get themselves to believe. Pascal thought they could by going to mass, taking holy water and the like. Let's suppose he's right. What's the downside? One famous difficulty is the "many gods" objection. Which version of God do we believe in? What sorts of actions should we perform? Should we be Christians? What if there's a God who sees that as an unacceptable form of thinly...

Would humans effectively eliminate most emotions given sufficient rationality? In other words, if humans became highly rational creatures then would we become less emotional?

Only if you define "rationality" in a way that makes it opposed to emotion. But for a lot of reasons, that would be a dubious definition. For one thing, we have reason to believe that intelligent decision-making isn't disconnected from emotions. There's been a good deal of work on this topic by philosophers and scientists, but one well-know place to start is with Antonio Damasio's book Descartes' Error . It turns out that the emotional centers in the brain have an important role to play in helping keep us on the rails. We can add: other things being equal, it doesn't sound rational to choose a life that makes it less likely that we'll be happy and fulfilled. But for most of us, a good deal of what makes life meaningful is bound up with our emotions. In a perfectly obvious sense of "rational," it's rational to seek love, let ourselves cry in the face of tragedy and open ourselves to joy. A concept of "rationality" that ruled all this out would be poor and perverse.
Law

The laws in our societies tend to be more and more complex, both in content and amount. Nobody can be supposed to know or understand all of them. Yet, as a citizen you are obliged to know and understand all the laws. Isn't this a dilemma? /Lars

There's the old saying that ignorance of the law is no excuse, because it's an excuse that anyone could offer and we wouldnm't know how to refute them. Legally, things are a bit more complicated. I gather that the Due Process clause of the US Constitution carves out some exceptions. If there's nothing "obviously" illegal about a certain kind of conduct, and the State doesn't provide proper notice to citizens that it's against the law, then the law won't pass constitutional muster. A fanciful example: suppose that buried in the bowels of some omnibus bill was a provision making it illegal to drive a red-and-blue car, but the State made no effort to let people know. Fining someone for this new "offence" would probably not stand up to challenge. So in US law, at least, there's some requirement that citizens have a reasonable chance of knowing what's illegal. But even supposing all the laws were properly promulgated, it's not clear that we have an actual duty to know and understand them all. ...

I have a friend who is a top philosophy student. She is also one of the top English students, but bristled at the suggestion that an excellent grasp of language did, in some way, confer upon her her superior ability in conducting philosophical argument. Is this link between proficiency in the language of philosophical argument and one's ability to make philosophical argument too tenuous? Or is philosophy like mathematics, bound by certain axiomatic rules which must be mastered and manipulated with discipline in order to authoritatively address philosophical problems(with the language of the axioms being insignificantly marginal)?

It's hard to see how one could be good at philosophy without a good deal of linguistic subtlety. That said, there are many things that might count as having an excellent grasp of language, and not all of them are especially relevant to being a good philosopher. Someone who is very sensitive to the expressive and poetic qualities of language might have very little analytical ability, and very little feel for philosophical thinking. And some excellent philosophers have very little capacity for literary appreciation, let alone for writing graceful prose. We could multiply examples. Some people are gifted at making spontaneous puns. They may not have any philosophical ability for all that, and many good philosophers no doubt lack this talent. It would be hard to be a good philosopher if one had an impoverished vocabulary. But having a rich stock of words doesn't by itself signal philosophical skill. And on it goes. Some kinds of linguistic ability are necessary for being a good philosopher. But...

My question arose from responses to questions 40 and 2062 on this site. In question 40 it was asked why something exists, rather than nothing. In question 2062 it was asked whether there are any questions which can not be philosophized about. My question is: why is the question "why is there something rather than nothing" considered a false philosophical question? Is it somehow even less answerable than all the other philosophical questions? And why does this seem to disqualify the question as being a "good" philosophical question. Thanks for the opportunity to ask this (and for your time).

Showing that something is a pseudo-question -- what you've called a false philosophical question can be hard. Not always; "What's the difference between a duck?" is not a real question, though where I grew up, there was an answer to it ("One leg is both the same.") When the question is "Why is there something rather than nothing?" we're pretty clearly in territory where people will differ over the propriety of the question. First, let's get a rough and ready grip on the notion of a pseudo-question. One pretty good way to think about it is that if nothing could possibly count as a correct answer to a "question," then it's not a real question, superficial grammatical form notwithstanding. "What's the difference between a duck?" pretty clearly fits this description, as does, for example, "What's the distance in meters between purple and despair?" But what of "Why is there something rather than nothing?" This, I'd suggest, is not so clear a case. Suppose we could somehow show that certain things...

Great site. How does our approach to knowledge about the past differ from our approach to knowledge about the future?

Others may have things to add, but one obvious way is that many of our beliefs about the past are caused by things that happened in the past and produced traces, either directly or indirectly, in our brains. But on the usual view about how the universe is wired up, our beliefs about the future aren't caused by future events. This doesn't make knowledge claims about the past uniformly more secure than knowledge claims about the future. Some facts about the past may be well nigh inaccessible; their traces may be faint or non-existent, and there may be no good general grounds for inferring. (For example: I'd guess that there's almost no hope that anyone will ever know exactly how many people were on the swath of ground now marked out by the University of Maryland campus at noon on April 3, 1808. But -- skeptical worries aside -- we can reasonably claim to know that the earth will rotate on its axis over the next 24 hours. Still, knowledge of the past has a certain priority. Our knowledge that the...

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