If theft is committed as a form of political protest or civil disobedience against capitalism, does that make it less immoral than if it was done solely for amusement?

Fascinating question. Off hand, it does seem that, in some cases, the motives you cite would make a difference. Imagine two people steal a sign advertising a bank that is involved with the unfair foreclosure of homes, leaving (let us imagine) many innocent persons homeless. A person who does the stealing as an act of protest and who, let us imagine, turns herself in to draw attention to this act of disobedience, seems (to use your terms) "less immoral" than one who steals the advertisement as a joke (perhaps using the sign as a tray to serve beer to friends while watching the world cup). In fact, we may find the person who did the theft out of matters of conscience heroic. The difficulty in weighing motives, however, emerges when we dig deeper into why the persons have the motives they do. Is the person who acts to protest capitalism doing *that* solely for the sake of amusement? I came of age in the early 1970s and was present protesting the inauguration of President Nixon. A good number of us...

From reading your site regularly, it sounds like many people confound the question, "does God exist?" with a different question, "does a particular kind of God exist?" From what I understand of quantum physics, everything is connected to some extent. The sum total off all interconnections among all energy and matter in the universe(s) could easily be an identity for a natural and holistic "God" that not only seems to "exist," but also seems NECESSARILY to exist. Yet this "God" would be unsatisfying to many since it/she/he would have very little interest in human beings and their day-to-day lives. Many of the arguments that so-called "atheists" make seem to come across more like "I don't like your particular version of God," and not at all an argument that "no God of any kind exists." It seems to me that the latter proposition: "no God of any kind exists" is just as unprovable and just as unverifiable as the argument that "God does exist, we just don't know how or in what form."

A very insightful point of view! As a panelist who has responded to lots of "God questions" on this site and who has published a bit in philosophy of religion, my overall impression is that when most users of this site (and here please note I may be off base) have theism in mind when they ask 'Does God exist?' or raise questions about the implications of the existence (or non-existence of God). Theistic views of God (for the most part) understand God to be the all powerful, all knowing, omnipresent, essentially (that is, necessarily) good, everlasting or eternal (that is, either God is outside of time or in time and without temporal origin or end), necessarily existing (that is, God has aseity or self-existence and does not exist due to the power of another being) Creator and sustainer of the cosmos. This is (roughly) how God is conceived of in traditional Judaism, Christianity, Islam and in theistic forms of Hinduism. But there are lots of particular further beliefs about God that are not shared in...

Is it sensible for someone to carry out the study of philosophy at the undergraduate level or above with the aim of self-psychological therapy(in place of, or with orthodox psychotherapy)? Can it help us organize our minds to be in order? Can it reduce neuroses and anxieties, and make us happier?

It did in my case. I grew up in the context of two older half-brothers who made me feel worthless. (My mother and father had one son each in a previous marriage and when they got together and had two children, we were resented by their sons.) When I discovered the practice of philosophy, it was like discovering an escape from resentment, disrespect, and bullying. Ideally, when philosophy is true to its name of being the love of wisdom, it can be a practice in which one finds a site to engage in questioning and exploring (with others who treat each other with respect) values, matters of meaning and purpose, that can be therapeutic. I also found philosophy as a practice to be therapeutic when I recovered from a short period of abusing psychotropic drugs (LSD, etc). I basically found life with philosophy (without drugs) as a practice healthier, happier, less neurotic, than a life of blurry, self-abuse (and probably self-pity). OK, so that is more of a testimony than an expected, scholarly or less...

How is critical thinking different to thinking philosophically?

Interesting question, especially insofar as some philosophy departments offer as their rationale in higher education the claim that philosophy is especially well suited as a discipline in promoting critical thinking, a skill that philosophy professors claim (with good reason, in my view) is an asset throughout the curriculum and in "the real world." Also, some philosophers in the so-called Enlightenment (such as Kant) single out "criticism" as one of the central projects of philosophy. Even so, one may well engage in critical thinking in ways that seem far from philosophical thinking (e.g. engaging in critical thinking about about whether J.P. Morgan is guilty of embezzlement or about whether there has been or is life on Mars) and philosophical thinking sometimes treats critical reflection as secondary to imagination and speculation. Still, it seems that critical thinking plus philosophy offers a more comprehensive methodology, e.g. thoughts about JPM might well be assisted in light of a philosophy of...

I recall reading, in the past, about a philosopher who acknowledged that the existence of God was completely irrational and that he probably didn't exist. However, he emphasized that despite this fact, people should and need to believe in religion to feel happy, moral, and fulfilled in life, and so, belief is necessary. I can't recall who this is although I'm leaning towards Kant or Aristotle. Do you know who I can attribute this idea to or where I can read more?

On Kant and Aristotle: Kant did not think belief in the existence of God was completely irrational nor that God probably does not exist, but he did argue that the traditional arguments justifying belief in God (and indeed the traditional domain of metaphysics) went beyond the boundaries of reason. This meant, for him, that atheism as well as theism went beyond reason, where reason is understood to involve rational speculation and argument. But Kant went on to hold that what he referred to as practical reason offers grounds for faith that there is an all just God (also faith in an ultimately just cosmos in which there would be concord between virtue and fulfillment, something that may take a miracle or an afterlife to pull off). On Aristotle: He advanced reasoned arguments for recognizing the reality of God and, in a sense, he suggests in the Ethics that our ultimate fulfillment in a life of philosophical contemplation is one that mirrors the divine, but Aristotle's God is not a providential creator and...

After you have achieved tenure, has the quality of your work increased or decreased?

You have asked your question in a way that makes it extremely hard to reply to, for (at least in my case) I may not be the best qualified to indicate when my work has improved or decreased in quality. Tenure decisions are usually made on the basis of past accomplishments and future expectations in terms of the quality of one's teaching, scholarship, and service to one's college or university (and, in some cases, contributions to the wider community). In other words, if the quality of my work (and the work of all those tenured) has not increased, then (in my view) the decision to grant me tenure was a mistake. So, I certainly hope that in the case of tenured colleagues (as well as myself) there has been an increase in quality, but I want to pause to suggest that for some (and certainly not all or many) professors it is (in principle) possible that their best work was done earlier in their career, prior to tenure. At least by reputation, mathematicians seem to do their most brilliant work early on, and...

When reading a philosophy book, what is your method for understanding and remembering the content? Tips for when one is presented with a massive philosophy book with many subtle points (e.g. Plantinga's "Warranted Christian Belief")?

Excellent question. I have found it extremely helpful either to type out or to write out by hand key claims and arguments. For almost 40 years I have carried around 5 by 7 inch cards in which I have written out parts of different texts that I update and go over continuously. I regularly cull the cards as I approach new texts or arguments, on top of which I keep journals of philosophical ideas. I also suggest sometimes re-reading multiple times parts of philosophical texts almost to the point of memorization. I still remember vividly the first text that I felt I "mastered" or practically memorized, and that was Richard Taylor's book Metaphysics, especially the chapter on God. I found (and still find) his writing lucid and engaging. On the assumption that you might still use old fashioned hard copies of books, I recommend marking them up, filling the margins with comments, counter-points, and the like. I hope some of this might be helpful.

to what extent is the definition of mental "health" conditioned by society and social mores? To what extent is the job of a psychotherapist grounded in and/or free from the beliefs of the society in which s/he operates?

I may be wrong, but I have a sense that your key interest is the extent to which matters of mental health are grounded in nature or in a reality that is independent of changing or contingent matters, right? I am checking in to make sure I get the question, for there is a sense in which if you are asking about whether the term 'health' is defined by society, the reply should probably be that 'health' like all terms (from 'dog' to 'mountain') in all languages is indeed defined by social conventions. But it is a further matter whether 'health' or 'mental health' refers to something that is not only a matter of social convention. If I am right about your concern, then I think we have reason to believe that there are some norms that define 'mental health' and 'mental illness' that appear to range over cultures (or that cultures hold in common) and are pretty basic, e.g. it is not mentally healthy for parents to torture their children or for pilots to deliberately crash an airplane full of passengers into...

Lately, I have been feeling as if nothing in life is really worth desiring. As I was a little alarmed by these nihilistic thoughts, I tried to avoid them. But, in some mystic traditions, this state of "desirelessness" seems to be actively pursued by practitioners. My question is: can my nihilism perhaps have some value, i.e. what is good about the state of not feeling desire?

There are traditions philosophical and religious- that see value in states of living in which we are not ruled by desires but by reason or wisdom or the Dao, and so on. These traditions are rarely 'nihilistic' however when it comes to values, good and bad or evil, seeking enlightenment, and so on. In Christian mystical tradition, for example - e.g. John of the Cross....- there is a fascinating treatment of "the dark night of the soul" in which a person may feel a complete evacuation of desire and meaning, but this is a period or passage from ordinary life to a state of fulfillment "on the other side." The situation you describe prompts me to think you might find some consolation --or recognize something of yourself in ancient Greek cynicism. You might check out the classic Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius. While I am far from any alignment with Greek or modern cynicism, Diogenes is a fascinating figure whose indifference to the desires of his contemporaries was in my view ...

This is possibly a dumb question, but anyway... If I trade shares for a living, is that an immoral job, given that the activity is essentially gambling, and doesn't create anything or achieve anything useful?

I think your question is not only not dumb, it raises issues that would take a genius (someone far, almost infinitely more intelligent than myself!) to adequately address in terms of an overall account (and evaluation) of market economies, their values and the different roles they sustain and require. Moreover your question may require some account of what is involved (in the relevant sense) in creation, achievement, investments, and risk-taking (or what you refer to as gambling). Given the complexity of such background concerns, it seems virtually impossible to avoid replying to your question with something like: 'Maybe. Maybe not. It all depends....' I will attempt something that is a tiny bit more informative but without getting into the essential background concerns that really are essential for thinking more deeply on your excellent concern. Let me try, then, two responses, the first being quite general, the second more personal. THE GENERAL RESPONSE : Assuming we are in the context of a...

Pages