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...

Many people reject the death penalty on the grounds of mistakenly taking the life of an innocent person. Why then do we allow abortion? If no one is certain when life begins, isn't to accept abortion an acceptance of mistakenly taking the life of a person?

I sometimes call this the "Ronald Reagan argument"; President Reagan was fond of a version of it that, as I recall, had to do with a man in a ditch who might or might not be dead. That also raises a preliminary issue. The question presumably isn't whether the fetus is biologically alive; it surely is. The question (or part of it anyway) is what this living being is. One common way of putting it is to ask whether the fetus is a person -- a being with the same moral standing as you or me. And so I'll put what follows in those terms. The first thing that strikes me is that there's a glitch in the analogy. In the execution case, the being we execute is unquestionably a person who is possibly innocent. In the abortion case, the being is possibly a person, though if a person, then an innocent one. This hardly settles the matter, of course. The reply might be that in either case, we run the risk of taking the life of an innocent person; the position of the word "possible" simply locates...

Does the study or the practice of Social Work raise interesting philosophical questions? If it does, would these questions be placed only in branches "more practical" like political philosophy and ethics, or also in branches "less practical" like epistemology and philosophy of science? There could be a "philosophy of social work", or would it have to be a smaller point in other discipline?

Since I don't know much about the training and practice of social work, I can't offer a direct answer to your question, but perhaps a couple of thoughts might help you decide what you think the best answer might be. Disciplines like physics, biology and psychology have a fair bit of theory that goes with them, and this theory is a source of philosophical questions. So one question to ask yourself: is there much in the way of theoretical discussion in social work? If so, the various theoretical perspectives may generate philosophical questions. Also, are there controversies within the discipline about just how it differs from related disciplines (e.g., perhaps, clinical psychology)? Are their interesting issues about what, if anything, unifies the various components of the discipline and its practice? If so, once again, there may be worthwhile philosophical questions to pursue. If there is enough such material, then when combined with the ethical and policy issues that social work confronts, it...

Anyone presently in college probably knows students who have take drugs like Adderall to help them study (I should add that whether all of these actually suffer from ADD is often doubtful). Should this be considered unethical? There's an obvious comparison between drug-use of this sort and steroid-use in professional sports, but I've always been suspicious of this analogy.

Let's set aside the case of people who really have ADD and who use properly-titrated doses of stimulant medication. It's hard to see what the ethical issue could be in those cases. What about people who don't have ADD, but use stimulants to boost attention? There's an amusing old quote from Paul Erdös: a mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems. Erdös, I gather, drank a lot of coffee. He also proved a lot of theorems. Was that unethical? I have the impression that in the short term, a good shot of caffeine has about the same effect as Ritalin on one's ability to focus. Add a bit of chocolate, and who knows? So we could ask: is it unethical to eat chocolate and drink coffee before an exam? I think we'd probably agree that it isn't. What's different about Adderall and Ritalin? Intrinsically, the answer may be "not much." All the Adderall in the world won't help me pass a calculus exam unless I actually know the math. Adderall may help me concentrate, but...

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