Have the advances in brain scanning techniques that allow the brain to be monitored in real-time had an effect on the philosophical discussions regarding the mind/body question? If so what are they? I'd be interested to find out what a student of Wittgenstein or Peter Winch had to say about the subject?

Wittgenstein once posed the following question: If one could open up the top of one's head and then hold a mirror in front of oneself so that one could see inside one's own brain, would one see one's thoughts and feelings? It seems to me that the answer is no, and so whatever the relationship of mind is to body, brain activity is not properly called thought and feeling. Realtime monitoring of the brain gives us something like Wittgenstein's mirror. It shows us what goes on in the brain when we think and feel. But it doesn't follow that we should call what it shows us thought and feeling.

If science is based on observable, measurable data, what is the basis of science's belief of the origins of the 'Big Bang'? Even religions talk of the cataclysmic beginnings of the Universe, but they don't claim the Bang was of Nothing. Observable, mathematical data suggests nothing begets nothing.

This gets a bit beyond my expertise, but I suppose like you I find these sorts of issues irresistible. (Kant thought that part of that irresistibility was a feature of our being rational beings, by the way. Perhaps he was right.) Anyway, I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "origins of the 'Big Bang'," but I'm unaware of any scientific theories advance any position at all on any cause or originary reason for the big bang. The bang itself, perhaps from an original singularity, is as far back as natural science goes. Indeed, in a sense, it makes no sense to speak about any time before the big bang, since as I understand it time began with the big bang, too. Now, I have encountered speculation about the big bang being one in a 'series' of big bangs--where a bang would be followed by a period of expansion, which would be followed by a contraction back to a singularity, which would be followed by another big bang. But that still wouldn't offer an explanation about why this cycle exists in the...

How do we get better at reasoning, and what would such an ‘improvement’ be exactly? What sort of benefits would be gained that would distinguish reasoning from some other sort of guide to the truth (whatever that might be)?

There are broadly speaking four ways we get better at reasoning (narrowly speaking there are countless). 1. We learn to apply existing logical principles more skillfuly, using them in new contexts and using them more effectively in old contexts. 2. We invent or discover new logical principles. 3. We learn to apply existing error theories better so that they help us better understand how and why we go wrong in reasoning. 4. We invent or discover new error theories. Reasoning might be understood as a set of discursive procedures or rules that make it possible for us to preserve or secure truth. By this I mean that if we begin with a set of truths (even a single truth) reason allows us to proceed to new truths with a significant degree of assurance, perhaps even certainty. Reasoning well means doing this skillfullly in lots of different contexts, in lots of different ways, with lots of different forms of language and thought. It also means understanding how people go wrong so that even...

How can one acquire knowledge through emotions only?

"Knowledge" might be divided into four types: (1) theoretical knowledge (knowing that X); (2) practical knowledge (know how); (3) familiarity (knowing someone); and (4) moral knowledge (knowing what's right). 1. Emotion alone doesn't seem able to produce theoretical knowledge. In fact, emotion often obstructs it. 2. Emotion alone can't make it possible for us to know how to do something--e.g. drive a car or play the violin. But it can be a necessary condition for us knowing how, for example, to play music well or for knowing how to manage people psychologically (as an effective manager, parent, or politician might know how to do). 3. Emotion might be the result of familiarity, but knowing someone isn't made possible by emotion alone. 4. The very idea of moral "knowledge" is a strange one, but one might say that knowing what the right thing to do in a given situation might be said to be determined through feeling. But I doubt it would make sense to say that emotion alone yields moral...

In the larger epistemological sense, what role does the law of witnesses, e.g. Federal Rules of Evidence (http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/fre/index.html#article_vi), play in our search for knowledge (and truth)? So much of our day-to-day life in modern society is based upon the law or rule of witnesses, e.g. the rule of law, scientific investigations, journalism (print and television news reports), to name just a few. And yet if we take the view of the skeptics -- and to a larger degree, much of philosophy -- nothing is really knowable (with respect to certainty). So how can so much of our daily life rest upon (be founded upon) a principle -- the law or rule of witnesses -- which may be without epistemological foundation? If there are any texts that specifically address this subject, I would appreciate references. Thanks in advance for any and all replies!

The reliability of witnesses is a terribly interesting issue. You may find it surprising to learn that according to the directors of the Innocence Project at Northwestern University (a project that investigates cases of erroneous criminal conviction) the false testimony of eye witnesses is the single biggest reason for false convictions. How is it that so much of our life rests upon something so unreliable, something with no foundation? Well, perhaps we have no other choice. That is to say, we find ourselves subject to belief because it's our human nature or human condition to believe, not because we have what Descartes called a fundamentum inconcussum , an unshakeable foundation. (Hume would agree.) And perhaps there's a positive side to the skeptical insight. Perhaps we're better off acknoweldging that our beliefs may be (or are) without ultimate foundations. Why? Because those who believe that they have apprehended ultimate foundations tend to be dogmatists, and on the basis of absolute...

What is music? I can recognise music from cultures other than my own as being music, even if I don't enjoy it; but what makes a series of sounds 'music'? Similarly (I assume), when does human vocalising become song?

What a fascinating question. I hope that some of my co-panelists can give you the answer this question deserves. For myself, I would briefly and cautiously answer this way: What makes a series of sounds (or even a single sound or even a silence) music is our agreement to consider it as music. Just as John Cage invites people to consider the silence and random sounds that occur during a 4 minute and 33 second period music (his piece is called, 4' 33" ) and Marcel Duchamp invites people to consider a urinal as sculpture (he called the piece Fountain ), we make something music when we interpret it as music.

On the morality of the death penalty: I live in a country (Australia) where the death penalty has long been abolished and is unpopular; particularly mandatory death penalties, say, for example, for people trafficking in illegal drugs over certain quantities. I bring up this example because an Australian citizen was executed in Singapore for exactly that activity. Certainly, I find such laws difficult to justify as consistent, on utilitarian grounds at least. If a person caught in an airport with 0.5 kg of heroin strapped to his body ought to die because that is less-bad than the reasonably presumed consequences to many people would be, were he allowed to live, then surely there is a case for the death penalty for tobacconists or sellers of alcohol. I have no statistics at hand, but I am guessing that the tobacco sold by one tobacconist over several decades would lead to comparable illnesses or numbers of deaths as would the total amount of heroin carried by this particular Australian 'drug mule'. ...

When I find myself considering individual cases like the BTK killer and Reinhard Heydrich, I find myself sympathetic to just the sort of argument you present and animated by the feeling that there's really no compelling reason against executing them. But when I think things through more soberly and consider the death penalty as a policy or institution, I find a number of objections compelling. First, let's look at your principle. You present three necessary conditions that must be met for the death penalty to be morally permissible (which I take you to mean when you say "there is a reasonable argument for"). In other words: (A) THE DEATH PENALTY IS PERMISSIBLE ONLY IF THE THREE CONDITIONS CAN BE MET. [DP-->3 CONDITIONS ] I take it that this implies the following: if any one of the three conditions can't be met in a particular instance, then (by modus tollens) the death...

Rawls defines justice as fairness. But it is not clear to me how justice differs from fairness in the first place. Dictionaries do not help because they all indicate both terms as synonyms of each other. Could anyone point me out how the two are distinct? THANKS!!!

Dictionaries can be philosophically disappointing, indeed. But of course one has to remember that they provide only very, very, very brief definitions. Moreover, they're aim is often to capture the common and historical usage, rather than the philosophical theory standing behind the concept. A furniture manufacturer (dictionary) is likely to answer the question, "What's my desk made of?", differently from the way a physicist or chemist (philosopher) would answer. So, I think one reason dictionaries disappoint us philosophically is that often when we go to them to answer a philosophical question we go looking with the wrong expectations. Anyway, to answer your question directly. Justice can carry meanings that go a bit beyond fairness, though fairness may still be related to them. For one thing, justice is often related explicitly to lawfulness. While all laws ought to be fair, not all fairness is lawfulness. In this regard courts and the institutions of imprisonment, law enforcement, and civil...

Can there be such a thing as 'progress' in human history? Does time and circumsance have a more than superficial bearing on our beings? Or are we essentially the same regardless of historical epoch or geographical conditioning? I refer to the so-called 'birth of reason' in 17th century Europe, and its so-said 'dawn of modernity'.

There can be no simple, unqualified, unequivocal "progress" in human history because what is to count as progress or regress must be determined as such by some measure, some set of criteria for progress. But, so far as I can seen, anyway, there is no unqualified set of criteria to measure by. One can, however, speak meaningfully about specific kinds of progress. For example, one can speak of technological progress in processor speed, or progress in understanding black holes, or in eliminating poverty, or in curing lung cancer, or in reaching the end of a journey, or in gaining financial independence. Mere "progress" itself, however, seems to have little meaning. About whether or not we remain "essentially the same" across space and time, I think the answer depends upon what you mean by "essentially." For myself, I think of people as plastic but not infinitely plastic. Just as one can make many different kinds of things with clay (even an infinite number of different things), one can't make anything....

Can literature "tell the truth" better than other Arts or Areas of Knowledge?

It's an interesting question. I note that you don't ask whether literature can "establish" the truth, or "discover" the truth, or "distinguish" the truth. It's also interesting that you ask about "truth" and not "knowledge" or "wisdom"--though you do seem to suggest that literature is one among a number of other areas of "knowledge." And what of "tell"? What does it mean exactly to "tell" a truth? And what of "better"? What can it mean to "tell better" or "tell worse"? Of course, one question I'd have at the outset would be what you consider literature to be. I take it that you mean fiction and poetry. But of course some also would speak of biography, journalistic writing, history, film, song, and what has become known as "creative non-fiction" as literature, too. Philosophers like Stanley Cavell have explored the question of whether or not philosophy might be read as a kind of literature, whether it might even come to regard itself as literature. So far as it goes, I am inclined to say that...

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