What is it that separates something that looks bad from something that looks good? What is it that determines whether it's ugly or beautiful?

There seems to be no single property or feature of things that makes them look good or bad. Different things will look good or bad for different reasons in different contexts. A sculpture might look good for one reason and a painting for another. A sculpture might look good in the contexts of academia or fine art but bad as an sacred object in a religious context or as an ornament in the contexts of home or office. A scuplture of one period or sub-genre or culture might look for reasons different from those that make the sculpture of another period or sub-genre or culture. In general, however, I'd say this. Looking good or bad will involve (a) the qualities of the object itself (its color, shape, texture, proportions, etc.), (b) the relationship of the object to its immediate environment or setting, © the relationship it has to other objects of its kind, both not and historically; and (d) the context of meanings and criteria that those who are judging the object bring to their assessment of it.

A lot of thinkers (Martin Luther King, religious leaders and Jesus Himself were in my mind) have claimed that one day humanity will reach a higher plane, where all people will live in peace and brotherhood. It seems like some individuals would be capable of participating in such a Utopian society, but is it realistic to suppose that the whole of society could one day be transformed to this peaceful, cooperative way of living? Additionally, do you think that we should aim towards this Utopian ideal? Thank you- I’m looking forward to hearing your opinions!

For myself, I hold onto some hopes.Rather enormous changes have occurred before. They could happen again. Consider the change of status of women, the abolition of slavery, industrialization, etc. It's difficult to imagine France and Britain going to war again, even though they were combatants for centuries. If peace can be achieved between them, why not others, why not all? So, I think a warless world possible. How likely is it? Would it be possible to establish a lasting or even perpetual peace? The probabilitiies at the moment look law given the high levels of consumption demanded by modern economies. That is, modern societies are engineered for war. It will be difficult to change that, but I think it's possible. I also think working towards that goal not only morally desirable but even morally imperative. That is, it's really a duty of all civilized people to try to achieve a peaceful and just world. That's because the sort of mass killing, waste, and destruction charcteristic of war are...

What's the METHOD in philosophic research? Don't tell me, please, that it's logic or the principle of inconsistency. The logic can be applied to all kinds of thinking: scientific, religious, philosophic, and even artistic. What I mean by METHOD is something like case-control or cohort methodology in scientific research. Is there any methodology in philosophic research? Do philosophers conduct any research for testing their propositions/hypotheses with some kinds of evidence? How? Which kind of evidence are they concerned about? How much evidence is enough for approving or refuting a hypothesis?

While it's right to say that philosophy has no single distinctive method, over time it has developed what I suppose could be called families or quivers of methods and tools. In some ways this collection has also determined the distinctive character of philosophy as a form of investigation. Among these tools and methods, I'd include things like: logic, yes, but also dialectic, transcendental argument, thought experiments, reductions, and intuition pumps; then there's normative principles of thought like Ockham's razor, Leibniz's law of identity, the principle of sufficient reason, and the principle of saving the phenomena; there are critical techniques like those related to class, sex, power, and race; there are conceptual distinctions used to analyze and order ideas like essence/accident, think/thin, acquaintance/description, a priori/a posteriori, categorical/modal; there are grounding ideas like those of 'basic', 'primitive', 'complete,' 'self-evident,' and indefeasable.

From a moral Christian point of view, I cannot understand the idea that we should punish anyone. In America, which is a highly Christian-dominated society, there is little resistance to capital punishment from the "right wing." My understanding is that Christians are not supposed to judge. God will judge everyone when their time comes. Isn't Christian morality about tolerance and acceptance, and not revenge? "Turning the other cheek?" "Love thy neighbor/enemy as thyself?" Are Christians simply turning a blind eye to this action?

One might say, I suppose, in a kind of sociological way that Christianity is whatever Christians say it is. So, if people who call themselves Christians endorse capital punishment or punishments of other kinds, then those practices are Christian practices. But this isn't terribly satisfying for many, because people wish to believe that there is some sort of "true" Christianity against which the practices of people who call themselves Christians can be tested. And, anwyay, after all it does seem that it should be meaningful to speak of better and worse Christians. For myself, I think it probably impossible to speak of true Christianity in general. It is, however, I think meaningful to consider whether or not people meet the standards of Christianity they themselves or at least the authorities of their sects endorse. So, while it may be impossible to speak of better and worse Christians in general, one might speak of better and worse Catholics or Presbyterians or Baptists. According to the...

I have often wondered how proponents of the doctrine of "historical relativity" manage to avoid an inherent contradiction. For example, if one asserts "all truths are relative" (to an historical epoch or weltenschaung, e.g.), must one not also apply that observation to the "truth" that "all truths are relative?" Which means, of course, that the relativist's position is untenable, because it is itself merely relative and, hence, untrue in a trans-historical sense, at least based upon the relatavist's own assertion. If the only truth that is NOT relative is the relativist's supposed insight, one must ask on what grounds it is exempted. I suppose it might relate to the fact that the relativist stands at the end of Hegelian history, but still, it smacks of inconsistency. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Charles M. Lansing, MI

I think you raise one of the strongest objections possible to relativism, one so strong that it renders relativism impossible to formulate in that way (i.e., "All truths are relative"). But I do warn you that things get stickier as your get into relativistic theories. What makes them compelling? Here are a couple of general strategies that I've run across. 1. Negative Proof : Negatively, non-relativistic theories of truth seem, at least in the view of many, to have irresolveable problems of their own, arguably greater problems. So, if non-relativistic theories can't be right, some kind of relativism must be correct. 2. Positive Proof : Positively but indirectly, relativism seems (1) to answer serveral questions about the way the meaning of language and the designation "true" is determined and correlatively (2) it seems to be the consequence of investigations into matters concerning topics like whether a body of evidence can determine only one conclusion (answer: no), whether a word can...

Is inheritance of wealth ethical?

Yes, that's because inheritance underwrites certain virtues and social goods--for example, (1) it stimulates productivity among those who create wealth, (2) it provides financial security, (3) it binds families together, (4) it produces general social stability. But note that it's also the case that it's ethically sound to limit inheritance and to tax inheritance. That's because doing so mitigates the vices of inheritance and produces vitrues of its own. Among the vices of inheritance are (1) the cementing and even magnifying of social inequalities of power and priviledge, (2) intensifying class-based prejudice and hostility, and (3) dulling incentives to create wealth among inheritors. Among the goods that limiting and taxing inheritance produces are (1) a stronger democracy through greater equality of social goods and social power and (2) improved general welfare through the gathering of revenue to underwrite goods provided by government such as educatiion, healthcare, national defense,...

Is "Patriarchy" as a corrupting force in society that oppresses women an unfalsifiable theory? I can measure sexism. I can measure bigotry. I can describe a society without sexism. I don't know how to measure patriarchy. I don't know how to describe a society without patriarchy that is just not a description of society without sexism. And yet, I am told that patriarchy is not merely sexism.

As is so often the case in philosophy, so much depends upon how one defines the relevant terms. "Sexism," like racism, is a rather vague concept, or at least a concept with a fairly large number of meanings. So, with any interlocutor you're dealing with, it would be important to acknowledge the definitions in play. I take it that those with whom you've been discussing the issue have claimed something like, "Some patriarchy is not objectionable" or "Some patriarchy is benign." Certainly. as a term of social science, "patriarchy" should remain as free of moral judgment as possible. In that scientific sense, a society might be described as "patriarchal" without implying a moral judgment about that society. In such a case, however, "patriarchy" is not sexism at all. (Here I'm using "sexism" as a term that carries moral judgment and is not a scientific term.) Rather, patriarchy in a scientific sense is just a certain kind of social structure, one where, let's say, men rule women. Or perhaps...

What does it mean in mathematics for two things to be equal, or for two things to have the same "identity"? For example, because anything divided by zero is "undefined", can we say that 1/0 = 2/0? What about the relational database concept of "null" which is supposed to stand for "unknown"? In relational algebra, they say NULL is not equal to NULL, but doesn't that violate the law of identity that everything is equal to itself?

I will begin by acknowledging that neither the philosophy of mathematics nor the metaphysics of identity are my specialties. But if you'll take what I say with a grain of salt, perhaps I might make a helpful observation nonetheless. Keep in mind that "being equal" mathematically is not exactly the same thing as "being identical," mathematically or otherwise. "Being mathematically equal" means, one might say, having the same mathematical value, in the sense of amounting to the same thing. Identity on the other hand means being the same thing, in the sense of having all the same properties. This difference can get confusing because commonly in symbolic logic the equal sign, "=", is used to express identity. But, if you follow me, then "2+2" equals "4" but is not identical to "4." Why? Well, while they both have the same mathematical value, they don't both have the same properties. "2+2", for example, is a formula composed of two Arabic numbers and a symbol for the mathematical relation of addition....

I am a baseball coach/manager. In my stepson's baseball league, another team has a child (these are pony league players - 13 & 14) who has some arm problems. I know he has had an MRI (know the MRI tech) and also that his doctor instructed him never to pitch again. The coach and parents are aware of this too - yet the coach still pitches him in games. Other parents discuss this problem, yet no one seems willing to step up and do something about this. Since I know the story, would it be ethical if I anonymously informed the league? There may be a potential liability issue at stake here too. This kid is going to ruin his arm before he gets to high school. I am also trying to balance the confidentiality of the medical relationship vs. the kid's welfare. Should I even be considering this?

I agree with Thomas Pogge's remarks, but I also have a couple of cents to add. First, consider very seriously and act in light of the fact that your information comes to you second hand (from a lab tech and not the child's physician or parent)--unless, of course you are the MRI technician. Second hand reports are notoriously inaccurate, and so I suggest proceeding with caution and when you act qualifying your comments with the acknowledgment that your information may be inaccurate. The tech may be exaggerating the physician's instructions or otherwise distorting them. Secondly, it's worth pointing up front that (again unless you are the technician) that it was probably unethical for the technician to have given you medical information about the boy. Medical information is by law, custom, and moral principle extremely private material. The technician's poor conduct in providing you with medical information about the child further calls his or her credibility into question. Thirdly,...

Is it ethical for surgeons to use economic considerations when setting their fees? For example, is it ethical for a surgeon who is known to have better results for a certain operation to charge more than a surgeon who has worse results? Likewise is it ethical for a surgeon who has a scarce skill in a region to charge exorbitant fees for that skill simply because it would be unaffordable for most patients to travel to another region to attend another surgeon?

This is a fascinating question because medical care is not a commodity like many others--for example televisions or ice cream. It is a service related to the most pround of human needs. For that reason, I answer your first question with a "no"--but with qualification. It really depends upon what you mean by "economic considerations." I think it would be wrong to use simple supply-and-demand considerations where the supplier (the surgeon) charged the highest price the market will bear. Why? Because higher prices will exclude those with less money from the service, and I don't think it morally defensible to distribute essential medical services on the basis of wealth. Moreover, people suffering from illness are not in a position to bargain for fees with medical providers in the absence of coercion. (Think of how little a surgeon would charge if he or she were at risk of dying if a prospective patient decided to seek care elsewhere.) For this reason, I find the American medical system on the whole...

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