Is it even conceivable to think about absolutely nothing?

Better than me trying to answer this, let me make a suggestion: if you want to read a very wry (and really thoughtful) essay about nothing, have a look at the old Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on "Nothing" written by P. T. Heath (Macmillan Publishing Co. & The Free Press, 1967), pp. 524-525 in vols. 5-6.

Is it wrong to fantasize about sex with children? If a pedophile never acts on their fantasies are they still guilty of having evil thoughts, assuming that their abstinence comes out of a genuine desire not to do harm?

I'm sympathetic to most of what Professor Heck says, if we consider things from a deontological or even a consequentialist point of view, where the relevant consequences are external to the agent. Fantasy does not violate anyone's rights, and fantasy that never motivates action will not result in actions that harm anyone. But I think there is a plausible way of looking at things that would still find fault with fantasizing about having sex with children, and that would come from the aretaic (or virtue-theoretic) way of thinking, according to which the primary bearer of value is to be found in characteristics of agents. One who indulges in fantasies about sex with children is doing something that both reflects--and also perhaps perpetuates and sustains--a certain trait of character that we might think is not entirely wholesome or admirable. To the extent that we can regard one who indulges in such fantasies as having a trait of character that is improvable, we might also think that some attempt to...

So Oedipus comes along, gets into a fight with a stranger (his father, unknown to him), and kills his father. Depending on the telling, either the killing was intentional, or it was in self-defense; let's assume the former. If Oedipus intended to kill Laius, and Laius is Oedipus' father, but Oedipus didn't know that Laius was his father, did Oedipus intend to kill his father?

Your question raises what is known as the " de dicto/de re " distinction. Rather than give a formal explanation of that (for which, have a look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), I'll try to put an answer without using the distinction explicitly. One way we can think about intentions is to think that an intention is at least partly contituted by the specific content in which the intention would be expressed. Hence, when Oedipus killed the man where three roads met, his intention was not to "kill his father" (or, for that matter, to "kill Laius"), but to "kill the SOB who has the gall to push me--the crown prince of Corinth--aside"). In other words, if you asked Oedipus, "What is your intention?" he would surely not sincerely reply in terms off anything having to do with his father. On the other hand, it is also true that there is another sense in which he intended to kill his father, since he intended to kill that man, and that man = his father. But I think if we were reporting...

how do i get out of the depression i am in???

While I do regard Leaman's advice as good philosophical advice about practical ways to improve one's reactions to things, I would hasten to add that depression is now widely recognized as a treatable problem of brain chemistry. In brief, those who are suffering from depression would be well advised to talk to their physicians about it. It may be that the best reply you could get to your question would be from a physician, rather than from a philosopher!

Is it valid to talk about ethnic groups as having a distinctive psychological make-up? Can we speak of a "European psychology", an "Arab psychology", "Chinese psychology", etc?

There are broad differences between ethnic and cultural groups that have to do with the ways in which people are socialized into those groups. But to understand these artifacts of culture as differences in psychology seems to me to be a mistake. Anyone who has had any kind of rich interaction with different members of such groups will know well just how hugely varied people are. But enculturation does have effects, of course.

What is the difference between being mentally ill and being a bad person?

A bad person is one who is inclined to act in bad ways. A mentally ill person, accordingly, can also be a bad person. We might think of a mentally ill person as someone who simply can't help doing what they do--where those who are not mentally ill can actually make real decisions. But just because I can't help doing something terrible doesn't make it not terrible when I do it. But I doubt that the expression "mentally ill" is one that iss very clear-cut or well conceived. Plainly, there is something wrong with anyone who acts badly--just exactly what is wrong with them (whether some "mental illness" we now have a name for, or just a lousy background, or poor education in values, or ...) may be somewhat unclear to discern, aand the border between "illness" and other factors may get extremely blurry. My guess is that the more we know about the brain, the more we are going to find out that "mental illness" will be replaced in our descriptions of the world with several other options that make what...

Is there a philosophical value placed on the experience of deja vu? Does it work towards one philosophy's standpoint?

I'm not aware of any philosophical uses of this phenomenon. I myself would be inclined to think that unless we can show that these experiences are veridical (in other words, if by some scientific process, we could show that those who experience deja vu actually were "there before"), we should not count them as evidence for anything other than the (obviously true) claim that many human intuitions and experiences can be highly unreliable, and so we should be extremely cautious about which of these we allow to count as evidence for or against anything.

Hi, I'm engaged in a debate with a mate of mine over John Searle's Chinese Room thought experiment. I believe that the room doesn't understand Chinese because it lacks reasoning and the ability to weigh up all possible options and recognize the most appropriate answer. All the answers are already there and the answer given is not selected by the room itself but by the person and is dependent solely on whatever it is that they say. His response to this (having weighed up all the possible options and recognized the most appropriate answer) was that we simply have different worldviews... that I'm an absolutist and he's an empiricist. What exactly does he mean by this? What are your individual views on the subject? Many thanks and great site. Keep up the good work =)

I don't understand your friend's answer any better than you do, so I'm afraid I can't help you on that one! As for the Chinese Room, the case as I understand it is supposed to show that something could pass the Turing test--that is, it could provide correct outputs to given inputs--without understanding/intelligence. A string of Chinese symbols would go into the box, and the one inside (knowing no Chinese, but simply guided by the shapes of the characters in the input) would simply match these mechanically to others in a pre-established list, which he would then send out again. To the one reading the outputs (one who knows Chinese), it would look as if the outputs were the result of understanding...but they would not be. Hence, passing the Turning test for knowledge of Chinese would be no indication of actually understanding Chinese, and so the test is itself inadequate.

In what ways do perceptions (what we see) and images (what we imagine) differ? Is a hallucination an image or a perception? How about a dream? Bob

I'm not quite ready to accept your terminology, but will try to respond in spite of that. I think the most obvious difference between ordinary perception and things like hallucinations and dreams is that the former sorts of experiences are reasonably assumed to be verific (that is, to tell us something true about the world), whereas the others are not verific, or at least are only very unreliably so. The fact that I dream that such and such is the case (assuming I have no reason to think that I am some kind of dream clairvoyant) is of course compatible with it really being the case...but gives me no grounds for believing that it really is the case. The fact that I perceive something to be the case does give me grounds for believing that it is the case. I am not claiming, of course, that perception is infallible, for it plainly is not. What I am claiming is that there is evidenciary value in perception that is lacking in hallucination, fantasy, dreaming, and other such experiences.

Could thoughts and thinking be considered as some kind of an element or energy source? If not then what exactly are thoughts and thinking; how do they come to be?

It really depends upon what you mean by "element" or "energy source." If you mean by these what these terms mean as they are used in contemporary science, then at least in principle we could understand and explicate thoughts and thinking wholly in the terms of contemporary natural science. But there are a number of reasons philosophers have given for doubting that a full explanation of thoughts and thinking can be given in such terms. Let me just mention a few: The problem of qualitative content or qualia : Thoughts have aspects that seem as if they would, in principle, resist wholly physicalistic explanation--for example, the experiential properties of what it is like to have such thoughts. Conscious beings who are thinking understand that the experience of thinking is a certain kind of experience-- different, for example, from the experience of having an itch or the experience of being about to sneeze. Even if we can correlate these experiences with certain states of the brain, it...