Recent Responses

Recent Responses

Response by Allen Stairs on October 23, 2020

According to a recent survey of philosophers, a majority —but not a large majority—would tend to agree that there are objective moral truths. But the minority who don't is not small. So yes: there are "many" philosophers who don't believe in objective moral truths.


Keep in mind I'm a complete novice in philosophy, especially when it comes to the literature. I might misrepresent some positions completely. Please call me out. In short: The determinist states: Our decisions are bound to causation, and thus we are not truly free. This statement implies that the only way for free will to exist would be to detach an agent from causation; as long as some factors affect out motivation to do something, we are not truly free. The determinist thus claims that the only way for a choice to be free is that there would be some force acting above the physical reality, especially when it comes to cognition and decisionmaking. Thus only in a dualistic reality is free will possible. I have a few problems with this: 1. This method of defining free will seems to consequentally destroy the agent. If we were to be able to decide what we want, we'd, at least apparently, fundamentally be nothing. How would it be possible to even assign a different "want" to ourselves without that want coming from another, fundamental source? 2. This method of defining free will seems to also bind itself to the same constraints it tries to release itself from. To clarify: this sort of causation free agent would just bind itself to wants momentarily, thus polluting the "pure free will" that determinists define it as. 3. This method of defining free will is completely detached from practice. This is only a personal constraint, as the point might not be to be practical, but to be accurate and correct. Still, by determinist logic we seem to be unable to assign personal responsibility to any extent. If free will is absolutely non-existent, then it should be a non-factor in moral dilemmas. I'd like commentary and insight to my opening question as is, and further ideas relating to the body of the text if you're interested. Thank you for reading this!

Response by Stephen Maitzen on October 22, 2020

You wrote, "The determinist states: Our decisions are bound to causation, and thus we are not truly free." In the context of free will, what you say describes not determinists in general but only hard determinists, i.e., those determinists who also say that determinism rules out free will. The other kind of determinists -- soft determinists -- accept determinism but say that it doesn't rule out free will and may indeed be essential to acting freely....more

Response by Stephen Maitzen on October 22, 2020

In this context, it sounds as though "qua" is being used to mean "considered as." So, for example, qua sentient being (i.e., considered as a sentient being) you have particular rights, while qua adult citizen (i.e., considered as an adult citizen) you have those rights plus additional rights, such as the right to vote. I see no contradiction here.

Response by Nickolas Pappas on October 15, 2020

To tell the truth, this summary of the postmodernists' position sounds to me more like someone's claim about what people are saying than a synopsis of a philosopher's actual view. For many years, for instance, I heard claims about Derrida's denial of the existence of objects before I finally read him and found how different his actual writings were from what people said about his writings.

So, if I may, I'd like to start by asking which postmodernists you have in mind, and which claims by them.

Response by Allen Stairs on October 1, 2020

First, let's ask what relativism means. The usual understanding is that it says what's right and wrong is not universal, but relative to some non-universal reference point—the predominant opinions in one's culture, typically.

Response by Jonathan Westphal on August 27, 2020

Someone might reasonably think that the question what personal identity consists of is to be answered by psychology. So we can imagine looking at the formation of individuality over time, through childhood and on, and think we were answering the philosophical question what identity consists of. Clearly psychology cannot pre-empt the answer to the question whether, for example, the bodily criterion of identity is correct. There are a lot of other examples to choose from. The one I am most interested in at the moment is perception....more

Response by Allen Stairs on August 20, 2020

Philosophers are usually not the right people to ask for fallacy names. Most of us don't remember many of them, and aside from a handful (begging the question, for instance) seldom mention them by name. You mention the red herring fallacy here. That's probably good enough, but it's not any better than just noting that the response misses the point....more

Response by Allen Stairs on August 13, 2020

If your question was whether there are some unethical landlords, the answer would surely be yes. But you asked if renting living space is a "fundamentally unethical practice." Your implicit argument that it might be is that "at this point" (at which point?) a landlord puts at risk the most inelastic needs of human beings, placing them behind more or less arbitrary paywalls."


Do philosophers generally reject that philosophical reasoning relies on axioms? The way I've always thought that philosophy worked is that philosophers have a certain set of tools (deduction, laws of thought, [basic sources of knowledge]( which they use to come to reasoned answers to questions. Most importantly, these tools are taken as axiomatic. That is, they are seen as starting points from which all reasoning must proceed. To question these axioms wouldn't be possible. However, I've recently seen an attitude that has puzzled me. Many philosophers state that very rarely does reasoning in philosophy rely on axioms. Axioms are things to be avoided and go against the spirit of philosophy. What am I misunderstanding here? If philosophers don't take their tools of reasoning as axiomatic, how do they go about doing philosophy? More importantly, if philosophical reasoning is so pervasive that it questions its own tools, from what framework does the questioning occur? What tools does the philosopher use to question their own tools? When this question was posed to a philosophy student, they responded that: "Philosophers don't tend to think of human thought or reasoning in terms of strict "axioms". Axioms are part of a formal logical system and it's not clear that a lot of our reasoning is like that. We hold *many* beliefs that we might typically think of as taken for granted. Philosophy is really about trying to understand what those are, whether they really fit together properly, and what properties of those beliefs we might want to look at to determine whether we can trust them or we ought to abandon them . . . [philosphers] generally share the idea that we take seriously our basic intuitions about cases of reasoning and we determine general rules and principles from them". Is this the case? Is this how professional philosophers typically go about doing philosophy I've simply held a naive view?

Response by Allen Stairs on July 9, 2020

I'm a bit puzzled about where you got the impression that philosophy works this way, Looking at the work of Spinoza, perhaps, might give this impression, but who else? Certainly not Plato. Certainly not Aristotle. Not Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Russell, not a single philosopher active in the last 50 years that I can think of.

Response by Allen Stairs on June 25, 2020

I recommend that you don't think about it this way.