What philosophical texts and other work would you recommend to someone who was trying to get a feel for the major contours of the debate of "justice?" Is that too large a subject to try to encompass? Is it a speciality in philosophy?

Others on the panel know moreabout this topic than I do, but since this question has gone unansweredfor several days, here is one non-expert’s answer. The most important 20 th -century work on Justice within the Anglo-American philosophical tradition is undoubtedly John Rawls’ Theory of Justice (1971). Rawls is primarily concerned with the issue of distributive justice – the question of how limited resources within a community could befairly allocated among its members. Rawls contends that a justdistribution is one in which all citizens have basic rights andliberties, and in which social and economic inequalities are arrangedso as to be of greatest benefit of the leastadvantaged members of society. Rawls’ original book is difficult butreadable even by non-specialists. One of the most influential critiques of Rawls can be found in Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974). Nozick maintains that what makes a distribution justis simply that it was arrived at...

Why is it that when I'm thinking about something that I don't want to think about, and know that I don't want to be thinking about it, that I can't stop thinking about it?! -Ben Horney

Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner has done extremely interesting empirical work on this topic. You can read a summary of his findings here ( http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/%7Ewegner/seed.htm ). Wegner’s research suggests that consciously trying to suppress a thought has the ironic consequence of making that thought more rather than less available to our conscious and non-conscious mental processes. Wegner thinks this happens because mental control rests on two distinct processes – a conscious operating process that works explicitly to suppress the thought in question, and an unconscious ironic process thatchecks periodically to see whether the operating process is workingeffectively. This means that while the operating process is busyhelping us find other things to think about, the ironic process keepsfocusing on the content itself, thereby rendering it accessible. Wegnerthinks that this two-part model can help explain a range of otherwiseperplexing...

When I read a philosopher (particularly someone like Schopenhauer or Kiergegaard) how would I be able to tell if I was engaged philosophically rather than aesthetically?

On one widely-accepted picture, philosophical engagement is marked by a particular sensitivity to the truth or falsity of claims made, and to the structure and strength of arguments presented, whereas aesthetic engagment is marked by a particular sensitivity to the ways in which the claims are presented -- their degree of elegance, harmony, simplicity, emotional purity, etc. This distinction can be difficult to make in the case of philosophical authors for whom the specific ways in which the ideas are presented seems tighly linked to the content of the claims being made. Schopenhauer and Kirkegaard are two such authors: other examples may include Plato, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Iris Murdoch. That said, it still seems possible to distinguish roughly between an author's engaging one's attention by presenting something beautiful, and an author's engaging one's attention by presenting something true or well-reasoned.

Are there any arguments against allowing gay marriage that aren't religious or bigoted or both?

Here (http://examinedlife.typepad.com/johnbelle/2005/10/anti_same_sex_m.html) is another attempt to offer such an argument, with second thoughts by the author here (http://examinedlife.typepad.com/johnbelle/2005/10/uncle_kvetch_is.html ).

To what extent does belief preclude speculative thought? If to believe is to accept a proposition as being true (as my dictionary claims), do we undermine our belief by testing the proposition? To what extent does testing a proposition imply doubt. I attend a private Christian university, so I find this question extremely important. I have given up using the word "believe" completely because it seems to undermine my need to question things. When people ask if I believe in God, Jesus-as-Christ, the Trinity, I feel I have to say, "no." Would proclaiming belief in those things while questioning their validity undermine what we mean by "belief"? Did this question even make sense?

Traditional discussions of this question suggest that thereare two ways of understanding the relation between belief and knowledge. On theone hand, there is a tradition (tracable to Plato) which says that havingbelief about something precludes having knowledge about that thing. (Plato usestwo different words for these notions: belief is “doxa;” knowledge is “episteme.”He suggests that the things we can know belong to a special class of abstractentities called “Forms;” with respect to everything else, all we have isbelief.) At the same time, there is a tradition (which can also be traced toPlato) according to which knowledge is a special kind of belief: roughly,belief that is both true and justified. So there are two traditional answers toyour question: the first says that if you know something then you don’t (just)believe it; the second says that if you know something, then you must alsobelieve it.