I assume that there are philosophical questions or problems that were once hotly debated but which have since been resolved, at least to the satisfaction of most contemporary professional philosophers. I wonder if any of the panelists could provide a few examples of such questions/issues.

Interesting question. Here is a possible example: In Plato's Protagoras, Plato has Socrates and Protagoras argue about whether there is just a single virtue (despite the different names for virtues, such as "justice" and "courage" and "wisdom" and so on), or whether there are several different virtues, corresponding with the different names. So one might think that Plato decided to take up this topic, because he thought it was one that was controversial or under discussion at that time. To the best of my knowledge, however, no one believes in "the unity of the virtues" anymore. But even if there is someone out there who does, I think it might still be true to say that the view is not taken seriously by "most contemporary professional philosophers," as you put it. I'm sure there are other instances of "dead" theories, as well.

What makes a good philosopher?

So let's start with the most obvious part: "philosophy" comes from the Greek " philo " (love) + " sophia " (wisdom). Whether what we do now is all rightly conceived as wisdom might be a matter of debate, but it seems highly likely that no one will be a good philosopher unles he or she really loves philosophy. Moreover, although I don't believe a good philosopher has to love all philosophy, I do think it is important that he or she loves at least a lot of it. This is partly because the best philosophy makes connections to other areas of philosophy, and often brings in sophistication from more than a single narrow area in application to problems within that area. The other reason why such love is critical, I believe, is that philosophy is hard . Solving philosophical problems is a rarity, to be honest, and even understanding some of the solutions others have offered can take a great deal of effort and patience. One who does not love philosophy will find all that effort and...

What makes a philosophy program at a University better or worse than another program? I live in the Dallas area, where there are two philosophy programs in my area. One is at The University of North Texas, the other at Southern Methodist University. One's a public, state-funded school with a broad program in philosophy and religious studies, the other is a private school with about 15 different courses in their undergrad program. What would make one better than the other?

I think the practice of "rating" different departments is tricky at best, and at worst sheer fraud. So my answer will be very indirect. Obviously, students want professors who are engaging and interesting to teach them. But from a distance, I think it can be very difficult to assess whether either of the places you are looking at would be preferable on this score. The only access the general public has to student responses to teaching is something like ratemyprofessors.com, which I would use only with the most extreme caution. For one thing, it provide samples from only the tiniest fraction of students who have taken the professor--and only those who liked or disliked the professor so much that they wanted to put ion the effort of a review. Moreover, their editorial standards are quite lax--in my own case, there appears a crank response from a supposed student who says he/she took a course from me that does not exist in our curriculum, and the likes of which I was not teaching the term...

What I remember from my philosophy courses is the spirited debate, lively dialogue. For me this site is too question-and-answer, like the Stanford Online Encyclopedia that is often pointed to in the responses. Is there a place on the web where I can find a more dialogue-based form of philosophy?

Sounds to me like you want something like a philosophical chat room. I don't know of any of these, but I would probably avoid them even if I did know of them. My experience with this is that too many people out there are too often to "discuss philosophy" when they haven't much of a clue as to what it is. But you don't have to share my prejudices!

Studying philosophy is always done from a certain perspective, with certain assumptions in mind. (Every century teaches philosophy in a different way). So, if I am interested in philosophy, but do not wish to adhere to a specific set of beliefs - what do I do?

What you do is approach the subject with the same mindset as the one advocated long ago by Socrates, who claimed that his greatest wisdom was the recognition that his wisdom was "worth little or nothing." So study the important philosophers of every age, and when some of what they say seems reasonable, it is OK to accept it...but do so with a sense of provisionality . "Seems right, but maybe someone else could find a way to show that it's not." This is also called "epistemic humility," and thosse who manage to have this virtue are much less likely to be seduced into false beliefs or ideologies.

However hard I try, I cannot shrug off the impression that philosophy asks all the truly important questions, but has always been somewhat vague when it comes to giving staightforward answers to those very questions. Do people have to turn to religion to get final answers? Because one thing is for sure: they are looking for those final answers.

Beware a certain inference that you seem very close to making (and which I do think people make all the time): Because I want such-and-such to be true (e.g. I want there to be a "final answer" to some question, Q), it must be true (e.g. there must be a "final answer" to Q) You are right, people want "final answers," and some people want them so badly that they are willing to accept as "final answers" all kinds of nonsense. I rather suspect that it is part of the human condition that the actual "final answers" we discover that are actually comprehensive and fully correct will be few to none. Success, for a human inquirer, is, rather, to continue to make progress--even if the "final answers" continue to recede before our inquiries.

Good morning everybody. My question is about philosophical skills, that may develop during philosopical inquiry. I ask myself if there is a kind of genuine philosophical skill, a genuine philosophical expertise. If there is one, what are the differences between this special philosophical skill and the the expertise of a theologian, a politician or a logician?

I expect that there will be some overlap in these skills, but strictly speaking, I think the special skill of a theologian will be the ability to organize reasons in such a way as to support certain religious views, the special skill of a politician will be to govern others in a way that engenders support from the governed, the special skill of a logician would be for finding ways to make inferences within a rule-governed system, whereas the special skill of a philosopher will be thinking "outside the box" in such a way as to allow progress on topics in which people "inside the box" find progress difficult or impossible. Philosophers are required not to allow certain religious views, or the need for popular support, to restrict their reasoning. Philosophers also often engage in reasoning where the rules of eviddence are not neearly as clear as they are in formal logic. But as I said, there will be some overlap in all of these skills. Many great philosophers have also been theologians, politicians, or...

Ok,this may sound like a stupid question but I'm just worried about my marks. So,next year I'll be in High School and it will be my first year studying philosophy. All my friends say: " Oh,philosophy it's SO hard!" or "If you don't work a lot you will get negative marks.." and etc,.. I'm just starting to be worried about it. I think it's normal that someone that goes to high school worry about new subjects,difficulty levels,.. But I'm just too worried! I consider myself an inteligent person but I'm afraid of failling Philosophy and it ruins my marks! I think I may be a bit "dumb" or immature to understand all that "complicated thoughts" .Although I have no idea what I'm going to learn lots of people say I need to have a great reasoning and know how to express what I'm thinking. And I think that's the big problem because I think I've got a good reasoning and I'm good at writing (I'm good at English,Portuguese,..) but I'm just bad when I wan't to make another person understand what I'm thinking :S Do...

Many people do find philosophy quite difficult, but most people find that doing philosophy at least at some level is profoundly natural and fundamentally human. Aristotle said "philosophy begins in wonder." I think that's right. So my advice to you would be to allow your "wonder" not to be stunted by the artificial limitations of worries about grades. If you do start doing badly, have a chat with the teacher to see what you can do to improve. But here is something you probably already know: You do better at things when you find a way to enjoy them. This can be hard, yes; but it can also be great fun and very interesting...actually wonderful . So try to enjoy it, rather than fretting about grades!

Is there anything right about this characterization of a philosophical problem: a person torn because she doesn't know what to do about her marriage would not be a philosophical problem in the sense that no philosopher or no moral theory could tell the person what to do, in the sense of giving her the one correct moral answer; but asking whether the personal has any reality, whether we can really speak of a person making a responsible moral decision at all, that would be something philosophers would try to prove against skeptical challenges. Is something like that what philosophy is about?

The latter sort of question certainly is philosophical, but there is also such a thing as applied philosophy, and in particular, normative theory, which do attempt to provide grounds for specific kinds of decision-making. I do think that normative theories could at least provide reasonable grounds for making one decision or another about one's marriage, depending upon the circumstances of that marriage. For example, it seems to me that (other things equal) most normative theories would counsel abandoning an abusive marriage, especially where reasonable efforts to end the abuse (via counselling, say) have failed or have been rejected.

What does it take to write a scholarly journal article in philosophy? In other fields you have to do research. How does research look like when it comes to philosophy? Do you just have to form an argument in an original way, or come up with an idea or a thougt experiment? How would you suggest someone with no experience start with trying to accomplish this task?

Professional publications in philosophy are always embedded within a context of contemporary controversy in some subfield of philosophy. Except in experimental philosophy, philosophers don't do research by conducting experiments, but we do still have to do research--keeping up with the controversies in our fields, and when we think we have something to add to those controversies, writing our books or articles in such a way as to make clear just how our own view differs from those others have argued. A philosopher simply won't be in a position to publish an article until he or she has already been adequately trained in the broad basics of that area, and then also mastered the contemporary scholarly literature in the specific area of some controversy. One does not just sit down one day, without all this training and mastery of the literature, and decide to write a journal article just because one thinks one has a lovely new idea. Superb undergraduates have sometimes published professionally, and...