It is generally accepted that certain intervals in music sound "harmonious", i.e. 3rds, 4ths and 5ths. Why is this so? Why do these certain intervals constitute a pleasant sounding harmony, as opposed to jarring, dissonant intervals like 2nds and 7ths? I do not believe it is a matter of taste - most people, even those with no musical training will uniformly identify a harmony as harmonious (or in tune) or dissonant (or out of tune, I suppose). However, I am open to being disproved on this point.

It's an intriguing phenomenon. And it turns out, so I gather, that it's not confined to humans. Various animals differ in their responses to what we label consonant and dissonant intervals. Why this should be isn't something that a philosopher, as such, is in a good position to say. It clearly has some physiological basis and seems to have something to do with the phenomenon of "beats" (something you can actually experience as pulses when two high-pitched notes that differ slightly in pitch are played together.) One study I discovered (by Jonatan Fishman et al. of Albert Einstein medical college) looks at the neural correlates of dissonance in macaques and in humans. If you're able to follow the neurophysiological details (I'm not) you can have a look at the link. There are also references to earlier work. There are still some things left over that a philosopher might want to puzzle about. One is the sort of thing that physiology might straightfowardly help us understand: why is it that...

Can you be punished for planning a crime? Say your planned to do forgery and you called up friend who has the 'talent.' The friend say she wouldn't do it. Another person knew about you planning to forge and tells the school authorities. Does the school authority have the right to impose punishment on you for contemplating to do forgery? When you think evil things such as stealing does that already make you immoral? What do philosophers say about planning to do evil?

Sometime you can be punished for planning a crime: if it's a case of criminal conspiracy. That's an agreement with at least one other person to commit a crime. Just what the standard of proof might be is a question that I'd have to leave to a lawyer, but conspiracy has long been illegal. If a single person plans to commit a crime, this wouldn't count as criminal conspiracy. One reason for the difference, perhaps, is that people can't be prosecuted for their thoughts, and proving that I really planned to do something wrong, rather than merely fantasized about it, would be hard. When you plan together with someone else, however, you've gone past the stage of merely thinking. The school case is complicated; schools are allowed to discipline students for conduct that isn't criminal. Best to ask someone who knows the relevant law. But I think your underlying question wasn't legal. You asked if thinking evil thoughts makes a person evil, and you asked about planning to do evil things. I'd make a...

The 'State of Nature' is often appealed to in order to make systematic the justification of the state and the extent of our political obligations to it. What option does the present day anarachist have if he refuses to accept the force of these arguments and genuinely wishes to live a stateless, obligation-free, apolitical existence ? Surely he didn't 'choose' to be born into a modern state and yet it seems that there is little he can do to live an alternative life. Is this a significant restriction of his freedom ?

Here are some options: (i) pick a country where there's not much in the way of rule of law and go off and live there. Or (ii) do as the founders of Sealand did, and try to set up shop on an oil rig or some such offshore. (But you might want to pick your territory a little more cleverly than they did.) Or (iii) raise up an army of like-minded people, overthrow some government, and set up a stateless, er, "state." (iv) Moving to another planet doesn't seem to be much of an option, but in principle, I suppose... A more practical compromise might be to (v) fake your death and disappear into the wilderness. If it sounds as though I'm (a) being facetious, and (b) am not entirely sympathetic, I'd have to say that on (a), I don't really see much in the way of other options. [And for the record: I'm against overthrowing legitimate governments; I can't condone (iii). I'm also not big on (v), since it calls for fraud.] On (b), I'm afraid it's true. I think there are lots of interesting questions...

Do you believe in the socratic method in the teaching of children?

It partly depends on what the method is supposed to be. In reading some of the Socratic dialogues, one gets the strong impression that it was a technique for walking the person being questioned into a pre-determined and sometimes peculiar answer. (Do we really think that Meno's slave boy had learned about triangles in his life before birth?) But the goals people claim to have in mind when they use the Socratic method are good ones: to encourage critical thinking, to get students to take ownership of their ideas, and to see that easy answers are often not forthcoming. Starting with a question -- especially a provocative one -- seems like a plausible way to get people thinking. But we all know that things with the grammatical form of questions can sometimes serve the same purpose as simply making a claim; sometimes it's not hard for students to pick up on the answer they're supposed to go for. Perhaps the real question is what methods work best for getting people to be critical thinkers. That's a...

We all know co-incidences happen. At what point should the person, who discovers one after another, such as numbers/names/colours, which all link together, turn and say: There must be more behind these co-incidences and I shall find out, what it is all about?

There's no simple answer to this question, but there is a caution: both common experience and a good deal of psychological work suggest that we have a strong tendency to project patterns onto random events. We also tend to notice things that interest us and ignore things that don't. And remember that it is overwhelming probable that some improbable events or other will occur. A single run of ten heads in a row on flipping a fair coin has a chance of 1 in 1,024. But if lots of people perform the same experiment, it becomes nearly certain that someone will get 10 heads. Still, some apparent coincidences do seem to call out for explanation. Without offering a full-blown story of how this should work, here are some thoughts. First, do you have a hypothesis in mind? Casting around blindly for an "explanation" may not get you very far. Second, would your hypothesis really make what you noticed that much less surprising? Or is what you noticed the sort of thing that might well have happened by chance anyway...

As a teacher I am concerned about the aftermath of the killings at Virginia Tech. Many have said that we teachers should be responsible for monitoring the content of our students' writing assignments, and that we should notify the authorities if we identify any particular student as repeatedly making statements that are disturbing, violent, or indicating mental illness. How would a philosopher approach this topic? What are the ethical issues involved in monitoring students' thoughts via their personal writing, which is handed in for course credit?

This is a hard thing to have to think about, and since all of us on this panel are teachers, we all have to come to terms with the issues. Let me just offer some thoughts on how I think I would handle things if this sort of case arose. There are some obvious conflicting values here. The privacy of the student is one, and public safety is another. If I got a piece of writing or witnessed behavior that I found disturbing, the first thing I would do is seek advice from someone better qualified than me. In the past, on a few occasions, I have called staff in the counseling office and described what I was concerned about without telling the counselor anything that would identify the student. I should add that none of these have been cases where public safety was an issue, but I think the advice still goes. A trained counselor is likely to be better than me at judging the level of threat and advising me on how I might approach the student. Also, if I was worried that the student might harm him/herself or...

People often talk about 'being good' when they refuse a piece of cake or go to the gym, and feel guilty when they don't. But is there any moral virtue in imposing dietary or other restrictions on oneself in order to maintain or improve physical fitness or appearance?

Going to the gym soley because we want to be buff may not count as "being good," but one way to come at this question would be to ask whether we have duties to ourselves -- to take care of ourselves properly, for example. There are many ethical perspectives, philosophical and theological, that would say we do. Some of the reasons might have to do only with ourselves; others might have to do with the fact that if we don't take proper care of ourselves, we'll have more trouble carrying out our other duties. Thinking about virtues and vices gives us another perspective on the question. Gluttonly, sloth and their slovenly cousins are traditionally seen as vices -- character traits that we should avoid developing or learn to overcome. Self-control, discipline and their kin generally count as virtues -- traits that a flourishing human being would cultivate and value. Of course, too much self-control and too much discipline are not virtuous; as Aristotle might say, there's a mean to be sought here. But...
Art

Since the beginnings of the XX century, with the emergence of new kinds of artistic expression such as conceptual art, video, photography, etc., there has appeared a need for defining what is art and what is not. But the search for that particular definition has proved to be difficult because of one fundamental issue: How to unite in one concept all the artistic ways of expression without ending up with a too vague definition? With the emergence of this problem, there seems to appear an even more basic question: Is it reasonable to search for a definition of art?

A good question. If we go off looking for what all artworks have in common, we may find ourselves baffled. Of course, as many people have pointed out, definitions are generally a lot harder to come by than we naively think. Wittgenstein's example of game is still a good example. Try coming up with a definition that captures all and only the things we call games. Still, it might be possible to say a little more about art. For some time now (at least since 1964) many philosophers have taken a different approach: what makes something a work of art isn't any intrinsic property of the work itself. Roughly and over-simply, an artwork is something that the "artworld" takes to be art. The prototype of this view was introduced by Arthur Danto, who would find the way I've put it far too crude. George Dickie formalized the approach along the lines of the rough formula that I've given. This approach may sound a little silly at first, but it actually explains a good deal. Although it would be hard to draw...

How could we distinguish facts and interpretations of facts? Some say that facts are given, others say that they are constructed by theories. Could we still say that facts are independent or previous to theories?

The tricky thing about this issue is to decide what the issue is. Some people seem to want to say that all facts are constructed, but I've never really understood what this is supposed to mean. Let me yank at a few threads and see if any of them are connected to the worry. Some facts depend on our conventions, institutions and so on. A well-worn example: I have a shiny round bit of metal in front of me. As a matter of fact, it's a quarter; it's worth $.25. That really is a fact, but it wouldn't be a fact if we didn't have certain practices, institutions and so on. In at least some sense of "constructed," it's a constructed fact. We also classify things in various ways. Some of those classifications grow out of our interests, beliefs and so on. Classifying music according to genre is relatively benign; classifying people according to the racial categories of apartheid-era South Africa or the antebellum American South is anything but benign. Sometimes we take our classifications to mark deep...

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