War

How do the philosophers justify war, if they ever do? I ask this question because even the Prophets have fought wars, for their religion. So, how can mortals remain aloof from it?

Some philosophers don't justify war, holding that all war is immoral, either murder or something akin to murder. I am sympathetic with this view and believe that minimizing or ending war ought to be a goal we pursue. But until we get there, I recognize the importance of developing what philosophers call "just war theory." In just war theory, philosophers distinguish between questions about when it is proper to engage in war (questions "ad bellum") from questions concerned with the conduct of the war ("in bello") once engaged. As you suggest, ideas about both of these are ancient and may be found in the Greek, Abrahamic, and Asian traditions. Typically, however, historians of philosophy turn to Augustine of Hippo for the initial formalizing of the theory. Many have followed him in articulating important principles about just war, many of which have been codified into international and national laws. Here are some of the principles I regard as most important and most basic (note that some overlap a...

Does "intrinsic value" - i.e., the value that nature has as of itself, as opposed to a value for humans - exist? The concept seems like an oxymoron. Nature also has economic values, which include "existence value", being the value that people place on knowing that nature exists even if they never use it. This may be expressed by a hypothetical "willingness to pay" for nature to continue to exist. I am wondering if nature conservation organisations around the world have got the two concepts confused. If so, this would have practical consequences for the way in which funding for conservation is sought.

For the most part, I agree with you that there's a lot of confusion out there about the notion of intrinsic value. As I see it, value can only occur through a valuer or group of valuers. No valuers, no value. The idea that value exists independently of valuers is incoherent. Having said that, I don't think that the concept of "intrinsic value" to be utterly worthless or non-sensical. It's a useful concept for contrasting against "instrumental value" or "commercial value." Hence "intrinsic value" may be used meaningfully to describe what you point to in your question under the rubric of "existence value"--value accorded the natural world as not used, even when it's not used, or because it's not used. But I also think it epxresses a kind of value humans recognize that isn't well expressed through economic categories like "willingness to pay" or "price" or "market value." Translating values, costs, and benefits into monetary figures is notoriously difficult, and I think for good reason. So, it's...

Is medical care or education a basic human right? If so, why? what is a basic human right? Thanks!

This is one of the most important questions of political philosophy today. It's important, however, to distinguish between the way it may be asked as a legal or empirical question and the way it may be asked as a philosophical question. By rights, here, we are talking about what I call "claim rights"--that is, the right to make claims upon others for some good. For example, children have the right to make claims upon their parents for nourishment and support. Citizens have the right to make claims upon their government for protection. Here we're talking about the right of people to make claims upon one another for medical care and education. Claim rights may be opposed to "rights of non-interference"--that is, rights to be free from restrictions or harms imposed by others, either states or other individuals. So, for example, the right to free speech is a right to speak without interference from the state (and in some cases non-state agents). "Basic" rights may be thought of as necessary...

If a man held a gun to your head and told you to go downstairs, would you have a choice?

Yes, you would have a choice. You could choose to call his bluff by refusing to go downstairs and risk being shot, or you could obey (and still risk being shot). It's a choice, however, that's made under duress; and it's a choice that's coerced (i.e., where a threat of force or pain or deprivation is brought to bear on the choice by some responsible human agency). Duress makes it difficult if not impossible to deliberate in a clear, rational, and considered way. Coercion raises the stakes to such a point that normal and otherwise relevant alternatives become unreasonable. Because the choice is both coerced and made under duress, one's moral culpability for the choice is generally mitigated and generally no legal contracts made through the choice are considered binding. True, people often say under such circumstances that one "has no choice." This is often an imprecise way of saying something like: "one could not reasonably have chosen otherwise," or "one could not have made an...

Does knowledge require the impossibility of doubt?

In a word, no. In more than a word, it depends, of course, upon how one defines "knowledge." Knowledge is determined or produced through specific sets of procedures and practices such as logical inference, corroborated observation, inspection, controlled experiment, etc.; and even the best of these procedures, at least in their application, admit the possibility of doubt. Now, it's true that some philosophers (e.g. Descartes) have cast knowledge as requiring absollute certainty or the complete absence or elimination of doubt. (I'm assuming here that by impossibility of doubt you mean the absenceor elimination of doubt.) But, as far as I can see, it makes more sense and people are better off acknowledging human finnitude and abandoning this requirement. Interestingly, you didn't ask whether "truth" or "certainty" require the impossibility of doubt. Consider how those questions might lead to different answers.

Can the proposition, "God is unknowable" be defended? If something is unknowable, how can we know that it is unknowable?

You raise an interesting issue. At the outset, I'm afraid, I must say that much depends upon what in this sentence is meant by "knowable." On the face of it, however, the statement "X is unknowable" is paradoxical, even incoherent. To use the name or term, "X." meaningfully seems possible only if something is known about X. Still, it seems to make sense to say things like, "The velocity and position of an electron are unknowable" (by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle); "The temperature of every meter foot of atmosphere on the planet currently closest to Alpha Centauri is unknowable"; "The Power Ball number for the next lottery is unknowable today." "The last thought of Abraham Lincoln is unknowable." "The name of every human being is unknowable." Of course, none of these statements imply that nothing at all is known about the topics they address. We can know, for example, that the last thought that crossed through Abraham Lincoln's mind was a thought, that the Power Ball number will be...

if every one is just a product of their environment, then how are there original ideas, art, and imagination?

Why can't environment produce original events? Let's say that every human being possesses a unique (original?) DNA sequence. One might say that a DNA sequence is a product of environment. Why not consider "original" ideas in the same manner--that is, as new combinations of precedent ideas? Would new species count as "original"? What do you mean by original? Perhaps you mean an utterly new, different, and original idea, art, or imagination. I have my doubts that such things are possible. I also have my doubts that ideas, art, and imaginations are "products" or environment. What do you mean by "product"? It seems to carry a rather industrial or commercial connotation. Might it be a tendentious term?

Is telepathy possible? I have never had a telepathic experience and nor have I met anyone who claims to have had one. I think I would be pretty sceptical if I did. But is it even possible to have a telepathic experience? How would you know you weren't the victim of some kind of psychosis? How would you be able to sort out the 'ownership' of thoughts and other mental states? When I think about telepathy I imagine it as some kind of telephony without the instruments and wires. Let's say I wanted to communicate with my friend Sandra. With a telephone I pick up the instrument, dial Sandra's number, hear some rings and clicks and then I hear Sandra saying 'Hello' (or whatever). I know it's Sandra because I recognise her voice. I know it wasn't me saying 'Hello' because I didn't open my mouth. But with telepathy all the physical actions and events seem to be eliminated. If I want to communicate with Sandra I presumably 'tune in' to her brain somehow. But then all sorts of problems start. How do I know I...

I doubt telepathy is possible, as I can't figure out any causal mechanism to make it work. But that's an empirical matter. I'm reluctant to rule it out in any a priori sense. Must one "know" that the content of a telepathic event is some specified other's thought or mental state? Suppose I'm reading an e-mail or engaged in Instant Messaging with someone. Clearly, I am in some sense apprehending their thoughts (or at leat their words). I do so, however, even if I don't know who the other person is, even if I'm mistaken about who it is, etc. Perhaps, someone has hacked into my friend's IM account or is impersonating my friend in an e-mail. So what? The words I apprehend remain meaningful. In the case of telepathy, one worry (as you point out), however, is that the supposed telepath might simply be apprehending her own thoughts and attributing them to others. But couldn't it go the other way, too? Couldn't one apprehend another's thought and mistakenly take it for one's own? If so, then one could...

Socrates said, "All I know is that I know nothing". What I'm trying to figure out is this: if I know NOTHING, how do I KNOW that I know nothing? It just goes round in circles thus becoming nothing more than a paradox. Would you agree?

This dimension of Socrates' thought has been, of course, highly influential with skeptics. Indeed, it was in part on the basis of this sort of gesture in Plato's works that the Academic skeptics regarded themselves as inheritors of Platonic philosophy. Later the idea became known as "learned ignorance," for example in Nicholas of Cusa's work by the same name. It's an interesting thing to examine the different ways philosophers have tried to cope with the constellation of ideas involved with coming to understand one's ignorance, as well as other dimensions of human finitude. Hellenistic and Greco-Roman skeptics explored the ways in which doubt my characterize humanity's relationship to knowlegdge and whether skeptical arguments advance any positive wisdom or simply tear things down. Montaigne formulated the now-classic, "What do I know?" Erasmus called himself a "foolospher." Hume explored concepts of "natural," "common," ordinary, and non-dogmatic forms of belief while still acknowledging skeptical...

Which of these is a better life? Live fast; die young - a life filled with excitement passion and adventure which ends abruptly on your 30th birthday. Or: Slow and steady wins the race - a life of contentment and satisfaction but little out of the ordinary which lasts well into your dotage.

There is no single answer to this question, just as there is no best life. There are many good lives, and many fitting each of these descriptions. Different characters will find different lives good. For myself, I say, on balance the latter is to be preferred. I find myself in agreement with the ancient Epicureans that most agitating passions produce more unhappiness than happiness, and that easy natural pleasures are better than artificial dynamic pleasures. Tranquility punctuated by ecstatic moments looks pretty good from where I sit.

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