To a philosopher, there likely comes a time when the error in another's crazy ideas -say, at a party or dinner- can be so apparent as to invite some criticism. What's a good moral position on whether to correct someone's logic when it's uninvited and suspectedly unwelcome? Idea eg. UFOs, 'crystals', ESP, conspiracies, etc.

Maybe a golden rule helps: one should intervene to the extent that, if it was you who had the crazy ideas, you would want to be challenged? In general I suggest that philosophers (and here I do not mean professionals, I mean those who are committed to the love of wisdom -the literal definition of philosophy- and who seek to be informed by and practice philosophy in the great philosophical traditions from Socrates and Confucius to the present) can have an important role in social settings of enhancing the free exchange of ideas in which persons can be open to reason, objections, and responses. There is a time and place for this sort of thing --Looking back, I feel a little regret that the night before I got married I got drawn into a lengthy philosophical debate about why I think theism is reasonable and a good friend did not. But in general, many people think of arguments as what might be called "quarrels" in which no one is really interested in open minds and objections. So, I suggest that...

Is terrorism ever justified?

Good question. Someone who is a consequentialist --that is, a person who believes the morality of an act is contingent on its actual or expected consequences such as the act's producing great happiness or unhappiness-- might have to answer "yes." This is because there are probably cases (or there could be hypothetical cases) when an act of terrorism will produce some greater good or avoid some otherwise inevitable horror and there is no other act available to the parties involved. It is this implication of consequentialism that compels some of us to reject it. Some of us think there are what might be called absolute evils, evil that is so awful that one must not perform the evil no matter what ("even if the heavens fall" or something like that, is an expression sometimes used here). I believe Gandhi once observed that if he had to choose between two evils, he would choose neither (in other words, he would challenge the premise that he "had to choose"). Those of us who think there are some wrongs...

It is often stated that science is not 'value-free'. However, there are certain established facts about the physical world, for example, that a water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, which irrespecitve of the values of observer or the social context in which this is observed, is just that, ie. an observable, indisptuable fact. How then can political or social environments alter or intrude upon such scientific facts whether they be about this planet, biology or whatever scientific enterprise one is studying. Surely, science in this regard is 'value-free'?

Great question; thank you for raising your point. I believe that the when the claim is made that science is not value-free various things may be involved. There might be at least four points to consider. First, there is the thesis that the very practice of philosophy itself involves values --minimally, given a realist view of truth (which I hold and I think you do too, e.g. water is H20 if true if and only if water is H20)-- a commitment to discovering the truth about various phenomena, being reliable or trust-worthy in recording observations and constructing hypotheses, theories, reporting anomalies given such and such a theory, and so on. Perhaps this is not radical news, for it seems that virtually any social interaction in which we trust each others' reports / testimony, all sorts of values and commitments are relevant. But what might be added are three other points. Second, the practice of science itself is guided in light of what scientists (or those who support the practice of science)...

Do you need to be religious in order to be Moral?

I will try to resist this reply: that depends on what you mean by "religious" and "moral." But definitions do matter, and I will not be able to avoid appealing to definitions. If you have a very broad definition of "religious" according to which being religious involves reverence, caring about what is sacred, being consistent (as when someone might say of an athlete that "she works-out religiouslyl") and if "morality" includes such elements, then, yes, there is an important (at least) intersection between being religious and being moral. But if by "religious" one means that one adheres to religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam.... then most philosophers have not thought that being religious is essential for being moral. In fact, many religious thinkers (theologians or sages) have insisted that morality (both the awareness of what is moral and the ability to live a moral life) is available for persons in general independent of one's religious beliefs and...

Who would you say is the most influential philosopher of all time? I am taking about a philosopher who has not just made a fundamental impact on Western philosophy, but also on Eastern philosophy, and all the other ones of which I am not aware. I am also not taking about the best, greatest, or most known, loved, cited, quoted, or recognized. My question is solely based on influence, whether it was good, bad, both, or neither.

I will take a shot at this question, though with great hesitancy. The three philosophers that pop to mind are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. And because you are requesting a single philosopher, I would place a small wager on Plato for it is through Plato that we learn the most about Socrates (there are other sources, but Plato's is the richest, I suggest) and Plato was Aristotle's teacher (for about 20 years). A great 20th century British philosopher once observed that the history of philosophy is the history of footnotes on Plato. That, of course, over-states things and perhaps sacrifices accuracy to wit. In good conscience, I must confess that I understand myself as a Platonist --so it may be that I am not the most objective in such matters. Although A.E. Taylor's work is a bit dated, I highly recommend his work on Plato --very accessible and puts Plato in context.

What is the definition of happiness and how is it possible for human beings to achieve happiness? What are the limits toward an individuals happiness and how can I know when I have surpassed or come close to such limits?

Not easy questions. Philosophical accounts of happiness have tended either to stress happiness as a subjective matter involving (for example) the satisfaction of preferences and desires or in a more objective or less subjective matters, for example, a person is happy if she is flourishing. Subjective accounts tend to give more authority to the person's own self-evaluation, e.g. you seem to be the best authority when it comes to identifying what you desire or prefer. But subjective accounts may still distinguish between what you actually desire or prefer and what you should desire or prefer if (for example) you knew more of the relevant facts. Thus, you might desire to marry Fred but (unknown to you) Fred is a terrorist and you most emphatically do not wish to marry a terrorist. A subjectivist might also allow for self-deception. In such a case, a person may think they are happy because she believes her main desires in life are fulfilled and yet those desires are the result of some self-created...

Could someone explain in layman's terms the difference between truth conditions and assertability conditions, and what is at stake between them? Thanks for your time.

Truth conditions are often held to be independent of assertability. Thus, the claim that 'snow is white' or '6 is the smallest perfect number' are true, regardless of whether anyone is warranted in asserting these claims. The reason why some philosophers might object to this format is that it appears to open the door to a radical skepticism, e.g. it may be claimed that there are truths that elude our best cognitive posers. Such philosophers thus advance what may be called an epistemic understanding of truth that would make it incoherent to think there are truths that outstrip our warranted assertability. Although I am not a radical skeptic, I am inclined to think that a wide-ranging skepticism is at least coherent --why limit truth to what we have (or ideally might have) justification in asserting? You might find the work of Roger Trigg of interest in such matters, e.g. Reality at Risk.

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...

Pages