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...

Some people say that "safety" is a very important thing and that the main function of the state is to promote (e.g., liberty and) safety. I think this makes no sense because one can only be safe from something, and one is never completely safe, only some of our goods are safe. So the important thing is not "safety", but whatever else is important. And it is not "safety" that the state should promote, but the keeping of our most important goods.

Great observations. "Safety" itself, in the abstract, does seem an odd goal or ideal for a state or person. You suggest the focus should be on "our most important goods" and suggest that the safety of those good (which might include personal integrity, opportunities to flourish in ways that persons choose freely, the freedom to raise families, the opportunities to pursue education, the arts, to engage in trade, and so on) is what is duly important. I might be wrong, but your observations suggest you are taking issue with libertarian accounts of the state, as libertarians argue for what might be called a minimal state --a state that governs the least possible (using the least amount of coercive power) compatible with the guarantee of basic rights. Those rights will, themselves, be pretty modest in number, but they usually include persons' rights to be free from violence and illegitimate coercion (e.g. illicit force and threats from other persons). Ironically, in order to truly secure even such basic...

Does the idea of "conflict of interest" figure into any contemporary discussion of ethics in philosophy? For example, few would argue that a professor having a sexual relationship with a student in his class is immoral in itself, but why would that necessarily be a conflict of interest? Banning such relationships is what is immoral because it reduces people's humanity by presupposing that humans are totally unable to separate their private lives from their professional ones. Are we to ban family businesses too? Even if empirical studies DO show that a majority of these kinds of relationships result in preferential grading, universities can always discipline such professors--disciplining the student would certainly be excessive. Banning relationships are the worst kinds of bans as without relationships we are dehumanized; it seems to me that if a person personally wishes to jeopardize his career for the sake of a relationship, then we should acknowledge and accept that.

Philosophers have given significant attention to identifying conflicts of interest in the course of developing theories of justice, accounts of fairness, business ethics, philosophy of law, and even museum ethics. Your focus seems to be on sex and the academy, so I will go right to that topic: in most colleges and universities there is indeed a regulation against professors and students having sexual relations, but I believe this is not primarily a matter of what may called a conflict of interest. I suggest it is more of a matter of preventing exploitation as well as a matter of a common sense approach to professor-student relations. Even if it happens that the sexual relationship does not lead to preferential (or unfair) grading, it is occurring in a relationship in which both parties have responsibilities to each other that sexuality almost cannot help but compromise or overshadow. The primary role of the professor in teaching or practicing philosophy (or any subject) with students is one in which ...

Can historical value judgements be objective? Because questions presuppose other questions having been answered, it seems crucial to figure out what prior questions it assumes, and philosophy of history often boils down to the psychological motives of people and individuals which must involve interpretations and not just a listing of facts.

To begin with some of your observations and then move to your question: I believe you are quite right that history involves more than the listing of facts that might be more true of a chronicle than a history and the practice of history involves interpretation. While for some historians and in some philosophies of history psychological motives and individual agency are important, but for Marxist historians and a Marxist philosophy of history there is more of a stress on economic forces and social relations. I suggest that the more plausible philosophies of history recognize historical explanations as a species or type of causal explanation. So, in my view, an historical explanation of the French Revolution identifies elements persons, events the explain what happened in France in 1789 for example implying that if those elements had not occurred, the French Revolution would not have taken place. If the historian thinks the French Revolution WOULD have occurred any way, her primary explanation...

Pages