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...

If humans didn't exist, would animals still have rights?

We might start by pointing out that there's a controversy about just what rights are and also about whether animals have rights, but let's try to finesse those issues. On one common way of understanding rights, for me to have a right is for people or institutions to be obliged to treat me in a certain way. Whether that's the whole story, it's plausibly at least part of it. But cats, dogs and so on aren't obliged to act in any way; creatures who aren't capable of understanding obligations can't have any obligations. If we put these two bits together, we get a plausible answer to your question: if there were no humans, then there wouldn't be anyone who had any obligations. (Of course, if there are non-humans who have the right kinds of minds, the story is different.) If there aren't any creatures who could have obligations, then the animals don't have rights. We can back off this a bit. Let's use the term moral agent for any creature who is of the sort that can have moral obligations. Then...

Depending on which normative system you adopt the statements like “He is a moral person” or “In that situation that was the moral thing to do” will have different content, since what is moral is different in different normative systems. That being said then when looking at ordinary language usage by non-philosophers in everyday life situations I would claim (at least based on my experience) that people tend to use the term “moral person” or “a moral deed” in some sense with a universal meaning, just as if the term would refer to the same kind of people or deeds. Could you please care to speculate on why this is so? Is it only that people are careless or uninformed or might it be that there really are some “universally moral” things and people want to refer to them or is it just the particular culture they happen to live in? Or something else?

Some systems of rules and codes of conduct are arbitrary. In Canadian football, it's 3 downs; in the USA it's 4. There's no question of which is really right, and if the CFL or the NFL decided to change its rules, no one could object that the proposed new rules were wrong. Likewise, a fraternity might have a secret handshake, and members of the fraternity might make it a rule to greet one another that way. But they could do away with the rule or change the handshake and once again, no one could say that they had somehow gotten things objectively wrong. It's part of the way that we use moral terms, however, that when we make a moral claim, we intend the claim to be universal. It's part of the concept of morality that something could be part ofsomeone's "moral code" or "system of morality" and yet be morallywrong. If someone says "It's wrong to keep slaves" they mean that it's wrong whether or not the slaveholder agrees, and whether or not the particular group or culture that may be at issue has a ...

Has anyone ever asked a question that could not be answered philosophically? I'm not asking whether anyone's asked a question that cannot be answered by a philosopher -- presumably, a philosopher cannot answer whether the universe is intelligent or whether human beings deserve to live. But is there any question that cannot be philosophized about?

On your general question: "is there any question that cannot be philosophized about ?" I think I can provide a proof that the answer is no. Suppose, for reductio , that there is such a question, call it Q . Then the question of why we can't philosophize about Q is a perfectly good and obviously philosophical question. Thus, Q , the question about which we can't philosophize, is a question about which we can philosophize, which is absurd. And so there are no questions that cannot be philosophized about. QED That said, treating garden variety questions like "Can you give me a lift to work?" or "Would you like to go to the movies tonight?" or "is there any dirty laundry in the basket?" as occasions for philosophizing is usually a pretty good way to annoy the people around you. Being clear about this sort of thing should probably be required for getting a philosopher's license, but far as I know, the regs in most jurisdictions don't include it.

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...

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