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In an answer to a question about logic, Prof Maitzen says he is unaware of any evidence that shows classical logic fails in a real-life situation. Perhaps he has never heard of an example from physics that shows how classic logic does not work in certain restricted situations? A polarizing filter causes light waves that pass through it to align only in one direction (e.g., up-down or left-right). If you have an up-down filter, and then a left-right filter behind it, no light gets through. However, if you place a filter with a 45 degree orientation between the up-down and left-right filter, some light does get through. It seems to me that classic logic cannot explain this real-world result. Thanks!

I'm sure that Stephen Maitzen Allen Stairs July 19, 2018 (changed July 19, 2018) Permalink I'm sure that Stephen Maitzen will have useful things to say, but I wanted to chime on in this one. You have just given a perfectly consistent description of what actually happens in a simple polarization experiment that I use most every semester as a teaching too... Read more

The last few years I've struggled with Nihilism - my work, games, activities really just have no fun or spark like they used to have. I have many sleepness nights where I'm wracking with existential thoughts and anymore I feel like just sentient matter waiting to die, and yet I dread that moment where my consciouness will no longer exist. My questions are - How do you break through Nihilism? How does one truly come to terms with impermanence and actually enjoy the short time they have left despite a meaningless, uncaring universe? I have read Camus and Sartre but I still struggle with the existential angst.

It's important sometimes to Allen Stairs July 14, 2018 (changed July 14, 2018) Permalink It's important sometimes to distinguish between intellectual problems and other kinds of problems. Many, maybe most of the people I know well are atheists. They agree with you: the world doesn't contain any meaning of its own, it doesn't care about us, and nothing i... Read more

I can see how private language does not make sense in Wittgensteins eyes, in that a language in its true sense cannot be with one person, but I don’t see how this is relevant to mind/body dualism? I see lots of people saying that a ‘language’ that is ‘private’ suggests mind/body dualism is not real, but all I see is the feeling of senses cannot be described in a (soliloquised, for lack of a better word ‘language’) doesn’t mean anything except a private language is not possible. Note: I’ve never asked a philosophical question online before, and I’ve also had a couple of beers as England have just got to the QFs of the World Cup so if this makes no sense I will try to reword!

You should study Wittgenstein Jonathan Westphal July 12, 2018 (changed July 12, 2018) Permalink You should study Wittgenstein's arguments against a private language more closely, because I don't think that his view is quite that language "cannot be with one person", although that is really a wonderful way of putting it. It seems to suggest merely the view th... Read more

Race and the history of slavery in the US is a highly sensitive topic (here in America). Recently, a news story came out about a town - Charleston, SC - that has officially apologized for its key role in slavery. According to the numbers, roughly 40% of all African slaves taken to the US were brought to Charleston. A lot of people are upset about this, and the main idea seems to be that no living persons are connected to and/or responsible for slavery (either directly or indirectly), and so no apologies should be made. The argument can probably be more formalized as follows: P1 - People should only apologize for those things which they are either directly or indirectly responsible for. (The 'responsible' party, here, being the causal antecedent of slavery) P1.2 - People should only receive apologies for those things in which they were either directly or indirectly affected by. P2 - No person alive today is either directly or indirectly responsible for slavery. C - There should therefore be no apologies made for slavery. How would you judge this type of response? The issue seems to be one of moral responsibility, and I guess that a further, possibly more difficult question can be posed - What is the status of our moral agency regarding actions committed by our ancestors?

Both in the law and in Allen Stairs July 5, 2018 (changed July 5, 2018) Permalink Both in the law and in morality we have a notion of corporate responsibility. In the case of the law, "corporate" will include corporations and that's a good place to start. Suppose it comes to light that fifty years ago, Corporation X ignored environmental requirements and po... Read more

I have come to despise the society I live in. I find the people's "values" abhorrent and the things they do vile and misguided, but it seems clear that nothing will change the status quo, judging how those who speak out against these vile things are often met with hatred and anger. I do not want to live in my society anymore, I am so disillusioned with it, nor do I want to lend any skills I might have (by being in the workforce) for it to benefit from. I have sometimes considered moving to another country that might share my values more closely, but if there are any, I don't know if I'd be able to "survive" in it due to factors such as language barriers. After I really started to think about it, I began to realize that putting an end to my own existence may be the ultimate solution to this dismal problem. I am not happy in this life and this society. If I choose to live out my life but force myself to keep my mouth shut about the issues that bother me, it will mean a lifetime of misery as I slowly rot on the inside with anger and despair. But if I do choose to speak out against the issues that bother me, I will likely be ridiculed and ostracized (or worse). In other words, if I live, it will be a lose-lose for me, no matter what I do. However, if I die prematurely, I will be free of this abhorrent culture I live in and any servitude to it. My society will benefit as well, because it will not have an unwelcome "maverick" living on its resources and capital and it can continue doing whatever it wants in peace. A win-win. In today's day and age, suicide tends to be discouraged and is seen as a bad thing. However, in a situation like this, where both the individual and his society hate each other and neither will change, it seems like the perfect solution. There is no one in my life who is dependent on me for survival. And isn't death inevitable anyway? Still, it would be nice to have some nonjudgmental feedback from someone on this kind of situation and my proposed solution. Do you have any thoughts on the matter? Please do not feel obligated to provide an "alternative" solution if it's only out of a feeling of moral duty or fear of accountability. Thanks.

Before asking if something is Allen Stairs July 2, 2018 (changed July 2, 2018) Permalink Before asking if something is a solution to a problem, it's worth asking whether we've gotten the problem right. There's a sign I found a few years ago; it's on my office door. It reads "Don't believe everything you think." Almost everyone needs that advice from time to... Read more

Dear philosophers, Professor Stairs recently addressed a question about the difference between 'immoral' and 'impolite' where, if I understand him correctly, he basically said that there's a fact of the matter about morality, whereas norms of politeness are society-relative. But I think it's worth pointing out that there are a variety of other views about morality: for instance, relativism, error theory, and even some views where moral claims aren't considered truth-apt (as in logical positivism). May I ask Professor Stairs a potentially more interesting question: assuming relativism, or some similar view where there is no universal moral fact of the matter, is there a bright-line difference between the immoral and the impolite?

Perhaps not a bright line. Allen Stairs June 28, 2018 (changed June 28, 2018) Permalink Perhaps not a bright line. But let's take relativism as our foil, where we understand relativism to mean that standards of evaluation are relative to norms, traditions, etc. of societies or groups. (I'm paraphrasing a definition from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mor... Read more

I have a mother with alzheimer dementia in a very advanced stage and she is unconscious about anything is happening around her. I think she is alive phisically but not a conscious being, she acts by instincts, grabbing a piece of bread or crying when she needs something, like a baby or an animal. Cant talk, dont know who she is or anything... I cant stop asking myself wether she is "alive", alive here meaning as a conscious human being. If I was religious I would ask where did her soul go?? Is it still there? Is it only her body what is left? Is all mad people also "alive"under this terms? What about very young children (who hasnt developed self awareness yet)? What about people who lives in auto pilot all their life and never question ther existence? Actually when do we start being "alive" under this concept? "I think therefore I am" Sorry for the long lines, I hope I explained myself. Thank you in advance. Juan C.

It is very sad to hear your Jonathan Westphal June 28, 2018 (changed June 28, 2018) Permalink It is very sad to hear your story. I can give a guess about the awfulness of what you are going through, but I am more certain that I cannot appreciate the full daily horror for you. Your question is a most reasonable one. Is your mother "alive"? It is interesting t... Read more

Was MLK a philosopher? History doesn't really consider him one, but he did have a lot of views regarding fairness and justice, and his ideas were very influential upon the development of civil rights and equality.

It's an interesting question, Allen Stairs June 25, 2018 (changed June 25, 2018) Permalink It's an interesting question, but especially at the meta-level. I've been thinking about how it should be answered and here's my tentative theory. One way someone can count as a philosopher is if people who count uncontroversially as philosophers by and large coun... Read more

I am interested in the slippery slope. Must I accept that the first instance or "slope event" that gives rise to the argument is in itself without much consequence? Or, can I argue slippery slope AND insist that the first instance (developing a parcel of public land, for example, that will result eventually in all the virgin land's demise) is a mistake?

A slippery slope argument in Michael Cholbi June 16, 2018 (changed June 16, 2018) Permalink A slippery slope argument in ethics typically has the following form: If we were to deviate from the status quo in which X is disallowed and instead allow for X, allowing for X (which need not itself be morally objectionable or worrisome) will lead to Y, which is mora... Read more

Is there a clear-cut distinction between something that is "immoral" and something that is "impolite"? After all, aren't both categories about violating a society's norms?

Quick example: in this Allen Stairs June 14, 2018 (changed June 20, 2018) Permalink Quick example: in this country, it's impolite to slurp your soup; not so in some other countries. That's just a matter of differing social norms Killing innocent people is immoral; it's immoral regardless of where you are, and not just because we happen to have a social norm... Read more

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