If we assume that there is no afterlife, what reason do we have to comply with a person's wishes as regards treatment of their corpse? In particular, it is striking to me that we should respect a person's wish not to extract their organs after death; what reason could we possibly have to heed the wishes of someone who no longer exists, especially when the donation of their organs could literally save the lives of several people?

A further consideration is that, given that many people have strong wishes -- whether rationally grounded or not -- that their corpses and probably those of their loved ones be treated in certain ways, it would be highly upsetting to many if they were to become aware that such treatment quite possibly wouldn't be provided. In other words, even if you can't harm someone after they are dead, you can harm the living by treating the dead in ways of which the living disapprove.

Hey, I am studying year 11 philosophy at school and we are required to write a philosophy essay on a topic we are passionate about. I have always been interested in whether the world (people, places e.t.c) around me is "real" or a dream or information that is being fed into our brains e.t.c. Could you please suggest some resources I could use. As I have just started philosophy my "philosophy vocabulary" is very narrow please keep this in mind. Sally

The obvious place to start is with Descartes' *Meditations*. If you're short of time, you could read just the first two. Alongside you might find helpful ch. 4 of *Philosophy: The Basics* by Nigel Warburton. If you're then feeling a bit braver, you might try Tony Brueckner's article 'Brains in a Vat' in the excellent Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy -- there's a link to this from this website, on the right-hand side. Brueckner has more suggestions on reading. Good luck!

What purpose does one have to do anything to assist another human if it does not directly benefit one? Our lives are short (sometimes), why should we even consider doing things which do not directly help ourselves? Why do we feel better about ourselves when we help others? Survival of the fittest says we should abandon everyone else to ensure our own survival and procreation. Why do we and animals alike have the need to ensure the survival of our species instead of ensuring the survival of ourselves or our immediate kin.

You seem to be raising a couple of puzzles here. One is how it has come about that human beings are sometimes motivated to help strangers, given that we might have expected evolution to produce beings concerned to promote the survival only of themselves and their kin. One immediate answer to this question is that, despite what some fanatical sociobiologists say, you can't explain everything about human behaviour as it is now merely by reference to our evolutionary history -- even if you allow in cultural as well as biological evolution. Evolution made it possible for impartial benevolence to develop, but it didn't necessitate it. Its emergence -- where it has emerged -- is to be understood primarily in terms of history rather than biology. The second puzzle is why we *should* help others even when doing so doesn't benefit us. Many people have believed egoism -- the view that the only reason we have to do anything is grounded in the promotion of our own well-being. Philosophy has so far failed to...

Recently, an American general was criticized for airing his personal belief that homosexuality is immoral. If we hold certain sincere beliefs but know that said beliefs may offend other people, are we obliged to simply be quiet about them? Is there a difference between hate speech against gays and simply stating that one happens to believe that homosexuality is objectionable? I can undestand how many may have found the general's attitude reprehensible; at the same time, however, criticizing him for that attitude makes about as much sense to me as getting upset over his liking vanilla ice cream. CCan we rightly blame people for what happen to be their preferences?

There's an important difference between airing one's beliefs or preferences and merely possessing them. Many feel that criticizing people for beliefs is unfair, since beliefs aren't voluntary and one can be held responsible only for what's voluntary. But some philosophers doubt this (see e.g. Robert M. Adams's wonderful paper 'Involuntary Sins'). Imagine someone whose beliefs about homosexuality are unusually vicious -- perhaps they think gays should be tortured. Even if we think this person's beliefs are involuntary, we'll probably be tempted to criticize them. (It may be, of course, that this kind of criticism is of a different kind from that we use in the case of voluntary action.) But this general didn't just hold these beliefs. He uttered them, and that is something that he could be held responsible for in the ordinary sense. Here I suspect people might want to criticize him from two angles. First, it might be thought that he was violating some principle of professional ethics. He was speaking...

I have a question about philosophy itself that I hope is not too general, for you (as I feel it's important). I have my B.A. from an accredited University and am still trying to figure out how a philosopher explains the processes of intuition. I consider myself to be a philosopher in my heart---a manner with which I analyze and view the world from all different angles (surely, a logical process). I also have a side of me that is intuitive (or, that sometimes goes completely against logic, yet ends up being extremely accurate). It would seem that intuition itself sometimes (or usually) expresses a certain accurate knowledge of the universe in a different manner than logic; yet can (for some more than others, depending on giftedness in this vein) be depended on for things that logic alone cannot provide. What is the purpose and reliability of intuition, from a professional philosopher's vantage point? Do you feel this concept is tied into religion and God, or strictly to the former life experiences...

I suspect part of what you may be getting at is a contrast between explicit or articulated argument or deduction on the one hand (which you call 'logic') and a kind of 'seeing' on the other (which you call intuition). Either seem to be a respectable way of arriving at the truth (and, of course, either can go wrong). And either can be rational. Take first a case in which you're wondering about whether to donate to Oxfam or to a charity that involves sponsoring a child in the developing world. Both look worth while to you, but you then (perhaps by intuition!) decide that what really matters is preventing as much suffering as possible. You find out that Oxfam is significantly more effective than the sponsorship charity, so you conclude that you'll send a cheque to them. Sometimes, though, rational argument seems unnecessary. You're on the way to meet a friend at the cinema, when someone crashes their bicycle on the other side of the street. There's no one else around. Sure, rational argument might be...

Why shouldn't we test drugs and cosmetics on mentally challenged or severely disabled human beings, rather than animals?

Other things being equal, perhaps we might. But of course they're not equal. Our social morality -- the morality we live by -- is 'speciesist' in the sense that human beings -- whatever their mental or physical capacities -- are considered to be due special protection. If we were to seek to remove that protection, chances are that it would probably degrade our ethical sensitivities to the point that things went overall worse for non-human animals than they do at present. What we should be asking, rather than your question, is: Why should we continue testing drugs and cosmetics on non-humans to the extent we do, when we wouldn't dream of carrying out such testing on human beings with similar capacities?

I have not written to my MP or participated in a public demonstration about my country's foreign policy, e.g., Britain's involvement in Iraq, although I do condemn it. Am I 'guilty by association'? Can you please explain this phrase. Thank you. Glen.

Perhaps it depends on how strongly you condemn it. Let's assume that, like many people, you think the invasion of Iraq was a crime under international law, as well as extremely harmful and dangerous. Seems to me that we might want to encourage a public morality according to which people who think this and don't speak out should be considered at least somewhat guilty by association compared with those who do.

What are the ethics of anonymity? When do people have a right to remain anonymous, and when are they obligated to reveal their association with their actions?

An interesting question, and one that has received some -- though surprisingly little -- attention in philosophical ethics (e.g. in discussions about civil disobedience or whistle-blowing). I'm not sure, however, that there is really an 'ethics of anonymity', as if that is something autonomous or independent of some normative ethical view or other. You mention 'the right to anonymity', for example. Some philosophers (most famously Jeremy Bentham, who described rights as 'nonsense' and natural rights as 'nonsense upon stilts) don't believe that we have any rights. Others will say that we do, but there's a great deal of disagreement about which ones. For what it's worth, I suspect that in many areas of life where issues of anonymity arise, there are, or should be, codes of practice governing when anonymity is justified, and that these codes of practice should be based on advancing the well-being of all sentient beings, impartially considered.

When philosophers say that something is morally relevant or that a reason is a moral reason, what does "moral" mean? What makes moral reasons different from other reasons? Can something be both selfish and moral?

As you'll have noticed from the responses by Peter and Thomas, philosophers can suggest different ways of defining 'morality'. So here's another one, which owes a good deal to the British empiricist tradition, and J.S. Mill in particular. Morality can be seen as a system of social control analogous to positive law, though its sanctions are different from those of law. Legal institutions will punish you with, for example, some financial penalty, or a period of detention. Moral institutions punish you with blame, shame, guilt, and so on. (This is not to say, of course, that there isn't much more -- and a more positive side -- to both the law and morality.) So what is meant by a moral reason in some society is a reason which you may be morally punished for not acting on. Here's an example. Some action might have the property of being the sadistic killing of an innocent person. Actions like that will meet with the moral sanctions, so that means the property in question gives us a moral reason. Now, could an...

If you are a promising young human being, say anywhere beyond the usual average, is there something like a moral obligation to make something great out of your talent? (Or asked another way: is somebody with great talent more obliged to achieve something great than any other person? See, this question is about one LIFE: taking huge pains, giving up trying to reach normality, all for the one reason of ART which is considered as a state of higher consciousness or whatever; a thing which begins to smell foolish to me and which I question more and more each day - without getting pessimistic, though.) Or is this whole should-would-could-thing just a question of decision?! Isn't life generally speaking just what you CAN and then what you WANT and at last what you DECIDE? I would be downright thrilled about getting an answer.. thx. (Wow, I don't speak english, I had to work on this question for more than an hour.. or actually I began working on it over 18 years ago... who knows, who cares!)

Many philosophers -- including Immanuel Kant -- have believed that each of us a duty to fulfil our talents. Often the view emerges out of a religious world view in which we are here to serve some divine purpose and are, in some sense, under the command of, or even owned by, God. Modern liberal views tend to involve something like John Stuart Mill's liberty principle, according to which no coercion -- legal, moral, or social -- is to be applied to others on the ground that it will benefit the coerced themselves. That raises the question whether the kind of person you are describing -- who *suffers* for their art -- will in fact be made better off if they are motivated to develop their talents through guilt, shame, or fear of the opprobrium of others. In many cases, of course, moral pressure won't work anyway. But what about a case in which the lives of others won't go as well if the talented individual gives up on her project? Isn't a potential Mozart obliged to use their gift to benefit others? Perhaps,...