I'm currently studying the indirect approach to philosophical scepticism, and I'm struggling as to how you can say anything useful in this particular area of philosophy without dragging yourself into solipsism? For example, the philosophical sceptic may argue 'How can we know there are other people that have minds?'. It seems impossible to go anywhere with this point - what conclusion could you possibly arrive from it? I find it very difficult to understand because of two conflicting notions - whilst it seems impossible to prove that there are people that have minds, it would seem an absurd and ridiculous life to lead assuming that there are no other minds except my own. So what is one to do?

Let's assume that one can't "know" that there are other minds. Does solipsism follow? It may be possible, but remember that from ignorance only ignorance follows. From not knowing whether there are other minds it follows only that we don't know whether or not there are other minds. There may not be, but on the other hand there may. Perhaps the sceptic points out that we must accept our finitude, that while we may go on to develop sciences, theories, truth claims, instiutions of various kinds, etc., we must remember that it's possible that we might be wrong, that things might not be as they seem, that our claims may not be fully grounded. Perhaps our relationship with others and the world isn't best understood in terms of "knowledge." Perhaps that's just the human condition. Keeping this possiblity in the back of one's mind vaccinates against hubris.

As a response to question 758 Nicholas D. Smith said, "Even the atheist grants that God is that being than which no greater can be conceived. Hence, even for the atheist, God exists at least in the imagination (indeed, the atheist claims that God exists only in the imagination). But things that exist in reality are greater than things that exist only in the imagination. So, if God existed only in the imagination, then God would not be that being than which no greater can be conceived--for we can conceive a greater being: one that existed in reality as well as in the imagination). Hence, as God is that being than which no greater can be conceived, God must exist in reality." However, in question 26, Mitch Green says, "Many contemporary philosophers infer from the so-called Paradox of the Stone that omnipotence is not a matter of being able to do anything, but only a matter of *being able to do anything it is possible to do*. That observation suggests another possible insight. Consider the Problem...

This is an interesting claim. The tension, however, seems to rest on being able to "conceive" or "imagine" things that are impossible, such as breaking the stone paradox. But is it reallly possible to do that? Can one even conceive of forgiveness without things to forgive? If not, the "greatest being that can be conceived" is consistent with a being "limited" to being able to do only what is possible. Perhaps the misleading thing here is calling such a being "limited." Isn't being able to do everything logically possible just the same thing as being able to do everything?

Can cardiac rescusitation of an individual with an inoperable brain tumor be justified? Who benefits? Glen.

Hey Glen, An interesting question, indeed. It reminds me, too, about why medical care is provided to people who've been sentenced to death. Look at it this way, though, all of us are going to die at some point. You might say that those with inoperable brain tumors just have a clearer picture than most about when and how they'll die. Knowing when and how one's going to die doesn't seem to be a good reason to deny that person medical care. And notice that even for those with inoperable tumors the picture isn't perfectly clear: Probability not necessity: Typically, people face some probability of death from the tumor, not certainty. Even one tenth of a percent chance of recovery is a chance and therefore a reason to administer rescusitation. Time: even if it were certain, a tumor takes time to kill. That time to live is likely to provide grounds for rescusitation. One of my uncles died of a brain tumor. While it was killing him he spent his time visiting family and friends, getting his...

I claim to be a pacifist (or: like the idea of it and have not yet had the chance to express it), and honestly do not care for violence or confrontation. I have also been thinking of moments where violence would provide me with a safe route out of a situation: Let's say I am walking the streets with my girlfriend, everything is fine and the sun is just setting. All of a sudden a crook runs up and tries to rob me and my girlfriend. Now, being that I claim pacifism, I would think not to take any physical action towards the crook, but being a good boyfriend I would think to protect my girlfriend with my fists if need be. What would be my options to a situation like this? Would fighting the crook off with violence make me a hypocrite? Would not fighting off the crook make me a bad person/boyfriend for not protecting my girlfriend? I understand that what Mohandas Gandhi did throughout his life would make many consider him a true pacifist, but if he were to be in this type of position and he just sat...

An interesting question on a number of levels. In answering the question much depends upon how one defines "pacifism," "good," "bad," etc. So, if we were to have an extended conversation about the question I'd explore with you some definitions. I also think we should look at a few of the specific words you choose. (Philosophers are picky, I know.) It seems a bit misplaced to say that the "crook" (I really like that word) would "rob" you of your girlfriend. Robbery it properly speaking involves the unlawful or morally wrong taking of property, not persons. We must all guard against the tendency to treat or conceive of women and girls in ways informed by the way we conceive of and treat property. Perhaps "kidnap" would be a better word. And take a look at the question itself. I find it interesting that typically questions like this are posed as men defending women from assault, not men defending men or women defending men. In fact, I'm not sure I can think of any case like this where I...

If every life results in death, then what is the meaning of life?

This is a compelling question. I remember encountering it in a powerful way reading Albert Camus’s essay, “Absurd Reasoning.” Recently, a student of mine broached it during a discussion we were having about the condition the universe seems to be heading towards. It seems, I’m told, that everything in the universe will ultimately degenerate into a vast, endless, more-or-less uniform, horribly cold and dark field of low-level radiation. Some call this condition, the final destination of the universe, “entropic hell.” In light of this apparent fact, the relevant question concerning the meaning of life is this: since everything we accomplish will ultimately be destroyed and degenerate into “entropic hell,” what meaning can anything have? I think there’s something misleading about his question, however, something that lurks in a hidden assumption that the question makes. The question and its force rely largely on the assumption that life has meaning only if it lasts forever. In my view, this is a...

If Cheese is made of bacteria culture, and bacteria is alive, is it wrong to eat cheese and yogurt? Or plants and anything else that is alive? If so, why do we have laws to protect people, animals, and other multi-organism beings, but not bacteria, which plays just as inportant, or even a more important role, than say a cat?

What role? Not the role of my companion. What makes a role "important"? Note that much of the "role" bacteria plays is that of food for other organisms. Like that of Titus Andronicus, some important roles end in suffering and death. So, I don't think the concept of "important role" will explain laws prohibiting the killing and tormenting of various organisms. For my own part, I look to three features of some organisms that distinguish them from others and justify protections and cultivation: (1) the capacity for conscious suffering; (2) the capacity to engage in projects and practices of value (like writing philosophy, making art, building just societies, sustaining families, advanciing learning and wisdom); and (3) the capacity to contribute to the diminishment of conscious suffering and or the support of projects and practices of value. This set of criteria provides a hierarchy of organisms, but not a terribly clean one (I like that about it). Some bacteria are worthy of protction or cultivation...

Why is murder considered a crime when the person who was murdered was going to die whether or not that person killed him or her?

Well, everyone murdered would have died anyway, had he or she not been murdered. After all, we're all going to die, whether we're murdered or not. It strikes me that the difference between death as a result of murder and death that resulsts from some other cause is that the former is in some sense a violation of law and moral principle, rights to liberty and life--not to mention a violation that occurs through some agency and might not have occured then. All deaths are deaths, but murders are illegitimate and wrongful deaths. Other deaths are perhaps unfortunate but in many cases not unlawful.

What's the relationship of freedom to justice? Where is the balance between the two? Is freedom protecting the rights of individuals and justice protecting the rights of communities and societies against the wills of free individuals? Again, how can we find the balance and where is it?

I must honestly say that this question is beyond my capacity and perhaps beyond anyone's. I have my doubts that a clear, enduring point of balance between the two can be formulated--or even that it's meaningful to think about formulating one. Perhaps the best thing to say is that the important thing here is to understand the problem and to acquire some sense empirically about the kinds of abuse and failure that are likely to arise with different ways of addressing it. Having done this, a continuing conversation/argument/struggle/scrutiny of the current state of things should be sustatined. The answer then is not some particular point of balance but rather the establishement of a persistent means of deliberation, review, and revision of the issue. Consult the work of Chantal Mouffe on radical democracy on this score.

What books are most important for a neophyte philosopher to read?

I recommend Plato's Apology , Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy , Camus's Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays , Bryan Magee's The Story of Philosophy , David Cooper's anthologies, and perhaps The Philosopher's Toolkit .

Is the sentence of death really a punishment? Yes, the man/woman who committed the act loses their life, but doesn't it also mean that the person in the end gets away with the act that he/she committed? Wouldn't it make more sense to punish this person with life in prison without the possibility of parole? It just seems to me that the death sentence is just a way to show sympathy or mercy towards criminals. It seems that this would be a harsher punishment; just sitting in your cell day by day, for the rest of the person's life.

An interesting thought. My suspicion, however, is that most sentenced to death would prefer life in prison. That may not conclusively demonstrate much, but if true it at least shows that those convicted of crimes regard life in prison as a less severe punishment. Keep in mind that even inside a cell the mind may enjoy wide expanses, and if Aristotle is correct there are even very simple pleasures bound up with the mere act of living and perceiving the world. Then, of course, prison does offer some opportunities for sociability, for reading, for entertainment, and for contemplation. There is a sense, however, that you are right in saying that the criminal has still gotten away with it--namely, no punishment or repentance can fully restore the state of affairs that preceded the crime. Those murdered, for example, can never be brought back. In a sense, despite their defeat the Nazis did "get away" with killing millions and millions of innocent people. But this defficiency remains true of all options...

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