Should a brief history of the principles of the world religions and philosophers be part of public school curriculum?

I believe that if one's education in public school did not include some attention the world religions (a study of their history, teachings), then one's education would be profoundly incomplete. I think that it would be impossible to claim to be well educated in the history of Europe, the near and middle East, Asia, the Americas, Africa without some knowledge of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. One might be well educated in math, physics, chemistry, biology without such a background, but once one comes to terms with history, culture, art, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, medicine... I propose that it would be very difficult to avoid "a brief history of the principles [and history] of the world religions." You asked about the principles of philosophers as well as religion and, on that point, I also think it would be hard to claim to be well educated without some exposure to the philosophical principles that underlie a culture's history and governance. In my country,...

If A throws a ball at B with the sole intent of injuring only B but after being thrown, the ball bounces off of B's helmet and hits C square in the face requiring stitches, who is guilty of injuring C, A for throwing the ball or B for existing/standing in that position?

Great question. Here I think legal and ethical reflection are united (they are not always, alas). With no other details added to your question, I believe that A is guilty both for attempting to injure B (A would be guilty of assault) and for injuring C even though A did not have an intent to injure C. Usually, when someone is involved in a wrongdoing the scope of responsibility extends to those injured by the wrongdoing even if not intended --in robbing a bank, for example, someone might be responsible for (unintentionally) causing a bi-stander to have a heart attack. Things get more complicated, however, when the gravity of the wrongdoing is modest -e.g. someone is arrested for speeding-- and the consequences outrageous, e.g. the process of the arrest causes a truck driver to loose control of his truck and it causes a petroleum fire that kills thousands. In the later case, we would probably assign blame to the truck driver or the company for mechanical failures, rather than the drivers (person...

Can every philosophical word or term listed in peer-reviewed philosophy dictionaries be explained with a real-life example? If not, how can we know that it's not just BS?

I suppose your reference to when a term is used in a BS fashion, the term is used either without serious intent or it involves some fabrication or pretense to meaning or clarity that is undeserved. I could be wrong, but probably using "a real life example" might not be a guarantee that a term is being used seriously or without BS, partly because there are interesting disputes about when an example is a matter of "real life" or a strange interpretation of real life. For example, an extreme philosophical behaviorist who denies the existence of occurrent experiential states might claim that she can completely describe and explain our exchange right now, but (from my point of view) this would involve completely ignoring an evident feature of real life. Even so, I would not want to accuse the extreme behaviorist as promoting BS. She is seriously committed to a position and methodology that (it may be argued) is powerfully supported by a certain philosophy of science and meaning. In any case, I share...

Is science held to a lesser standard of proof than religion for analytic philosophers?

Interesting question. To begin, matters of "proof" are rarely involved in analytical philosophy of religion. In fact, the days of when any philosopher claims to "prove" a thesis in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of science etc seem past. Philosophers for a while seem to settle on advancing good or cogent arguments (or plausible counter-arguments and counter-examples) rather than claiming to prove a point. Though there are some philosophers who do think they have proofs. Galen Strawson, for example, claims (wrongly, in my view) to have proven that no person is morally responsible for any of their acts. Proofs to one side, it is interesting to wonder whether the evidential standards differ among analytic philosophers when they consider claims in science and claims in or about religion. Roger Trigg is an interesting philosopher who contend that science requires a philosophical foundation and that foundation invites or provides some evidence for theism. Richard Swinburne takes up and...

Is atheism a valid philosophical stance to take, from an academic point of view? I've recently been collecting university-published books, including on the topics of religion and philosophy and I noticed a pattern that there were far more books and university fellows dedicated to christianity and other forms of theism. Does this mean atheism is merely a curiosity in academics or have I been buying the wrong books?

Atheism is, indeed, a respectable philosophical stance. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism would provide a helpful overview, and for contemporary reflection on atheism you might check out the Oxford University Press book Philosophers Without God, edited by a panelist on this website. Michael Martin's book Atheism is a massive sustained argument for atheism. There are, indeed, many positive philosophical works on theism and Christianity in particular. I happen to be a Christian philosopher (or a philosopher who is a Christian) so I do not think you have been buying the wrong books! But I study and engage with the excellent and growing body of philosophical works that advance atheistic positions and I recommend these to you. Somewhat related to your question, please allow me to add an observation about the concept or category of *atheism.* English usage of the term may be somewhat fluid, but I am inclined to think that if someone (a philosopher or professor in some other field or, really, anyone at...

Do any professional philosophers have admiration or use for Alan Watts? Even though I have a Masters in Philosophy, I never heard of him until recently. If professionals think of him as a mere entertainer, I suppose that is fair enough, but he is a pretty good explainer.

I doubt most professional philosophers think of Alan Watts as "a mere entertainer," but that may partly because he is probably not widely known by professional philosophers. I have not seen his work discussed in philosophical texts (books, journals, conference papers), though I think his work deserves engagement especially when it comes to thinking about Asian philosophical traditions. Those philosophers aware of him, probably think of him as part of the counter-cultural movement (Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman), but I think he was a more disciplined thinker than, say, Alduous Huxley and he had a gift for making Asian thought (Taoist / Buddhist....) accessible.

If something can’t be defined can it exist? and vice versa

Some things can be defined that cannot exist, such as "A square circle in two dimensional space" or "2+2=1" --and some things can be described that do not exist but could have existed or might come to exist (unicorns). And, I suggest, that there may be indefinitely many things that exist for which we do not have any successful definition. "Consciousness" might be a candidate, insofar as some philosophers are right in thinking we may never have a good or at-least problem-free definition. As an aside, your question raises the need for a good definition of definitions. I will not attempt such a philosophy of definitions here, but you might check out the Stanford Encyclopedia entries bearing on philosophy of language for further, useful material. Paradoxically, if nothing can exist than cannot be defined, and we have no definition of being defined, we all might be in trouble. Thinking further: I suspect you may be principally concerned with the problem of affirming that something (X) exists, and...

How does one know when is it acceptable to break a promise? Is there something special about a vow, or is it just a social construct? I can envision various scenarios involving onerous mortgages and starving children, and my conclusion seems to be: "Well, you'll just know it when you see it". But that seems to suggest it's just based on my present whim.

To begin with two very minor point (sorry if this seems "academic" in the negative sense!): Even if vows are social constructs, there might be something very special about vows. Second, you might well know when a vow should or should not be kept intuitively (a sort of knowledge from your gut feelings without knowing a precise principle), but this would not be a matter of whim. Someone might not have a definition of pornography, but it is not just a whim when they recognize porn on the internet. I need to defend some modest use of a "I know it when one sees it" principle due to the last line in this response. There is some reason to think that vows are special, explicit promises which makes them related to the implicit promise-making and breaking we do every day. So, when I say I will meet you for a coffee at 11:00, there is a sense in which I am making a promise to you and you have a right to find fault with me if I break the promise unless there are strong reasons to the contrary. Those reasons ...

Hello, What I am about to say is a desperate call for help. I am reaching out to you so that I may be assisted with this dear worry I have been plagued with for several years… Basically, I am paranoid about what will happen to me after I die. Because of argument amongst equally learned, intelligent, capable philosophers, I can’t figure out what the afterlife (if there is one) will consist of. The reason this is an obsession and highly alarming to me is because several different religions state you must believe such and such in order to escape hell (eternal torture). You can’t simultaneously be a follower of incompatible religions, so it’s like you’re taking an eternal chance in believing anything. Moreover, it seems the superiority of one religion over the other cannot be determined. Philosophers argue about this stuff night and day, and the arguments never end...nothing is ever decided for certain. No one can be sure of anything. Must I believe that when I die, I’ll more than likely go to some sort of...

Allen Stairs offers a spirited reply, and an amusing last line, but I am a bit more sympathetic with your worry. You might check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on beliefs about the afterlife which I co-authored with William Hasker. There is a terrific book on hell by Jerry Walls called Hell: The Logic of Damnation and a good reference work published by Oxford University Press, A Handbook on Eschatology. Jonathan Kvanvig also has a good book on hell that carefully runs through the possible justifications for belief in hell. Minor point: for many religious traditions in which there is a hell, hell is understood to be self-created rather than created by God. This is colorfully and vividly represented in Milton's Paradise Lost. Philosophical arguments for belief in an afterlife (or life beyond life) are often developed in the context of the case for and against theism, though philosophers who are atheists have believed in an afterlife (e.g. Buddhist philosophers). The British...

Do you think that philosophy is too wordy nowadays and what was the case throughout the history of philosophy? I greatly appreciate the length of the responses on this site but digesting even one paragraph can take minutes so you can imagine how frustrating it would be if every panelist decided that philosophy is also a literary exercise! A lot of times it seems philosophers especially in articles and academic books add a lot of unnecessary verbiage that total pages upon pages trying to make a stab at answering a question by leaving self-refuting riddles and asking more questions.

I suspect it will probably totally annoy you that I begin a response with a question or two: is it so bad when philosophy is practiced in a way that is a literary exercise? Some of the great philosophers from Plato to Iris Murdoch, Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir... present their philosophical reflections in the form of fictive narratives. Self-refuting riddles may be intentional and instructive: Plato's Republic and Thomas Moore's Utopia come to mind. And some of the great works of literature are forged on asking questions (look especially at Shakespeare's Hamlet; practically the whole play is in an interrogative mode, starting with the opening line), as one finds in the later work of Wittgenstein. In any case, I complement you with your implying that the best of philosophy is not given over to "unnecessary verbiage." I agree with what I think is your impatience with what might be called jargon. Where we might disagree concerns examples. Two sources of philosophy where I have not found any...

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