I never loved my wife, but I married her. We have a child. I’ve been in Love with another woman for the past year, but now I’m moving soon and will lose her. Would it be wrong to have an affair? Doesn’t Love, by nature irrational, transcend my duty to my wife? What is right: to be true to my promise of fidelity, or to be true to myself, my heart, to love? I want to be an authentic person. Recently I read Soren Kierkegaard’s telling of Abraham sacrificing Isaac in his _Fear and Trembling_. He demonstrates that confrontation with the religious can, and often does, go beyond the ethical, the rational. All I know is that it feels right with this other woman, and time is short. It's not just about sex, I love her soul. I don’t know where it will lead. Is adultery always wrong?

You ask: "Doesn't love, by nature irrational, transcend my duty to my wife?" I answer: "Huh?" You say you want to be an authentic person. I'd suggest that reading Fear and Trembling as a source of rationalizations for infidelity isn't a good recipe for authenticity. I'd also suggest that being a person of integrity is worth more worry than being "authentic," by which you seem to mean "doing what I most want to do." You have a wife; you tell us you never loved her. How do you feel about your child? You say that you don't know where this potential affair might lead. Is one possible answer that it will lead to some harm and pain? If so, is it worth it? Is it the best thing all things considered? That's not a rhetorical question. I don't know anything about your situation beyond what you've said. Perhaps you and your wife should divorce. Perhaps you should stay together for your child's sake. Perhaps you could even come to love your wife. (And I'd add: love isn't just an "irrational"...

At the moment, I'm particularly concerned about the 'personal heresy' in philosophy. Recently, Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, gave a speech in which he quoted several racist statements by key philosophers of Western civilisation. David Hume, for instance believed that "of all the 'breeds' of man, the darkest breed was inferior.."(quote from Mbeki's speech) and it's also believed that Kant believed black people were 'beasts'(again, Mbeki's belief). Whether these quotes are accurate or not, it's indubitable that the milieu in which these philosophers formed their various normative frameworks was a deeply prejudiced one. If philosophy proceeds from deductivism, i.e a set of axioms are laid out, rules of inference determined, and from these various judgements made, is it possible that inherent within western thought is a kind of racial prejudice? And if so, is it possible to account for it, using some kind of 'personal equation' of the kind invoked by Gauss in his work with astronomy?

I'll have to leave the bit about Gauss aside. All I know about the "personal equation" was that astronomers had noticed certain sorts of systematic variations among observers. But there was a different theme in your question that I'd like to address. A preamble: Yes, Hume, Kant and other western philosophers, no doubt all on this panel included, operate in a mileu that's saddled with various prejudices. I'd add that I'm not aware of any large cultural mileu that's exempt from this sad fact, and Africa, like the west, provides its own set of depressing illustrations. But I'm a bit uncomfortable with using a term like "Western Thought" (or, for that matter, "Eastern Thought" or "African thought" or even "South African thought") as an analytical concept. (I'm uncomfortable for similar reasons when my students write papers with sentences that begin "Society holds that...") As noted, the history of the west embodies a good many prejudices and false ideas. Some of these make their way into political and...

Is it emotionally difficult to be a professional philosopher? Sometimes philosophical questions and subject matter seem so disturbing and intense, that it must surely be taxing psychologically. Does non-philosophical subject matter become pale and boring in comparison? Are professional philosophers socially isolated because of boredom with the non-philosophical, concomitant with the disturbing nature of the philosophical (so that it may not be acceptable in non-philosophical company)? Thanks.

I'll have to admit that most of the Sturm und Drang in my life hasn't got a lot to do with what I think about professionally. Questions like "do quantum states support measurement counteractuals?" or "does indeterminism serve any real function in Professor X's account of libertarian free will?" or "is there an acceptable notion of objective probability that explains how probabilities can be action-guiding?" aren't exactly the stuff from which high monthly psychoanalysts' bills are made. All of those questions are very interesting (No. Really!) but they aren't high on the angstometer. And I have a feeling that if you thumbed through the typical philosophy journal, you'd find much the same for much of what you saw. This isn't a criticism of my chosen profession and first intellectual love. Many of the questions that philosophers wrestle with are deeply fascinating if you have the taste for them, but they often abstract, often not very closely connected with the things in the world that really worry...

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...

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