What is the difference between philosophical idealism, such as the idealism of Kant, and the meaning generally given to being an "idealist?"

It's the difference between thinking that everything is, ultimately, made out of ideas (what we think of as the physical world is somehow a mental construction) and having ideals (and optimistically thinking that people can and should live up to them).

Philosophy is well known for its inquisitive, critical nature. Naturally, we as philosophers strive to see clearly the basis of common beliefs, while rejecting prejudices and stereotypes that are without justifiable foundation. Now this all sounds fine, if we were diving into some debates or books. But, the common way of life outside is wrought with statements and beliefs that are at best grounded in some transient trends or local culture. Take, for example, when we engage in social interactions (perhaps in a college student's perspective). People are seen swayed by their emotions, possessed by gossips, some wearing extreme makeups and perfume, some drenched in alcohol, making horrid comments on someone the moment without his presence, blurting their prejudices and misconceptions, and so on. Of course, these are very narrow generalizations, yet I am convinced one cannot easily deny that these make up a big part of people's social lives today. As I study through various philosophers and their thoughts, I...

"If philosophy is really about exercising one's reason and becoming inquisitive and critical, can philosophers ever be in harmony with an active social lifestyle without making everyone their enemy?" Well, exercising one's reason and being inquisitive and critical is hardly the unique province of philosophers: just for a start, most fellow academics in other disciplines are critically exercising their reason too. But set that aside. Why on earth should being prone to exercise reason and be critical spoil your social life? Lots of college professors, for example, are convivial souls with perfectly normal lives outside the classroom! There is a time and place for everything, and overdoing the critical reasoning on a heavy night out with your mates or when trying to get off with some attractive girl/boy (according to your inclinations), is no doubt quite inappropriate. But in some other parts of your social life -- the political discussions, trying to makes sense of the films and books that matter to...

Why have philosophers presented themselves as asexual in their writings? Derrida asks this question in 'Derrida', but I have not seen it answered anywhere.

Here are some philosophical questions that I happen to be interested in (or have been interested in, in the past). "Are beliefs functional states?", "What makes our knowledge of our mental states particularly authoritative (if it is)?", "What is the best formulation of a causal theory of reference?", "How much mathematical knowledge can usefully be thought of as logical knowledge?", "Can one give a cogent neoHumean account of the notion of a scientific law?". And there's lots more where they came from -- all highly abstract conceptual questions. And in engaging with these very abstract questions (just as with mathematicians or scientists engaging with their abstract questions), I'm a very long way indeed from dealing with anything that engages with my sexuality. So surprise, surprise, you won't learn anything much about that from reading what I've written on those topics. Sexuality just doesn't come into it. And so it is with an great deal of what is written by a great number of philosophers....

Friedrich Nietzsche introduced the idea of eternal recurrence based on the supposition that if there is only a finite amount of matter in the universe, there are only a finite number of arrangements of that matter, so if time is infinite, each arrangement of matter will be repeated an infinite number of times. Is this argument logically sound? Thanks, kal

Obviously not! Imagine a world with just three particles in it (not in a straight line). One particle stays fixed, the other two move slowly apart for ever (along the line joining them). The arrangement of the three particles in this finite-matter world -- the size and shape of the triangle formed by the particles -- is always changing and never repeats.

Why do most philosopher's talk in language incomprehensible to normal people? Do philosophers study 'the' because they know there are a few million other words that they can study afterwards, and therefore be philosophers forever?

Mitch and I posted our responses simultaneously! I agree very much with his ... I'm not sure it is true that most philosophers talk in a way incomprehensible to non-professionals -- at least when they are trying to address them! After all, there are many, many, dozens of well-written, accessible, thoroughly readable books by philosophers written for beginners. And even if books by philosophers written for other philosophers are difficult to understand, that isn't usually a matter of the language used: the trouble is more that the books tend to contributions to long-running debates, and if you don't know the background you probably won't grasp the point of what's being said. As to 'the': why do philosophers of logic and language want to know how "definite descriptions" like "the present Queen of England", "the tallest man", "the woman in the corner drinking a martini" work? Well, it's part of a larger project -- understanding the way referring expressions of various kinds...

Why do people make fun about the theory that philosophers should be the rulers of the state? Did Plato or Aristotle or Epicurus govern their "Universities" badly?

Anyone who has sat through a life time of philosophy department meetings as we muddle through making another hash of things will smile wryly at the idea that your average philosopher would be any good at running a cake shop let alone something important. Fortunately, in any sizeable group of philosophers, there's usually two or three people who happen to be politically and managerially ept. So most, though certainly not all, departments function reasonably successfully. But that's a happy accident. Perhaps it would be good if more political philosophers had more input to government -- but which political philosophers, since they can profoundly disagree? But you don't want philosophers actually running the show, as arts of government don't correlate at all with philosophical ability.

I've seen some people romanticize about philosophy in melancholic terms, as if it's a "symptom" of the depressed and sensitive minds to do philosophy. Is this generally true? Does the intricacy of philosophy require to some level quiet reserve and conscientiousness rather than an outgoing personality?

In my experience, philosophers -- I mean, at least, those earning a crust as professionals in universities -- are a pretty cheery bunch. And why not? We are actually being paid good money to have intellectual fun . We like talking and arguing. A lot. Preferably, in the excellent tradition of The Symposium , over a drink or three. (I've been at more than one philosophy conference where the beer has run out, unaccustomed as the bar staff were to academics with our level of boozy argumentative conviviality.) And indeed, what we are having fun doing is mostly not that worth taking too solemnly: nothing very serious in life hangs on getting the ontological status of numbers right, or deciding whether there is a mereological sum of any collection of objects, or wondering whether knowledge is special state of mind, or whatever your favourite current philosophical problem is. So, as they say, just enjoy!

Do any professional philosophers disagree in a huge way with Wittgenstein? If so, are there any works on the subject? If so, can someone please tell me the basic ideas behind these disagreements? Thanks!

Oh yes, lots disagree profoundly. For a start, recall that around half of what Wittgenstein wrote after the Tractatus period was about the philosophy of mathematics (indeed, he wrote in 1944 that his “chief contribution has been in the philosophy of mathematics”). You can find a useful though rather charitable survey of his thinking on mathematics here . As you'll see, Wittgenstein's line is radical, to say the least, in its suspicions of standard infinitistic mathematics. Very few philosophers of mathematics agree with him at all. (Stewart Shapiro's excellent introductory book Thinking about Mathematics doesn't even mention Wittgenstein's view, he is so wildly outside the mainstream.) Another point where (rightly or wrongly) very few philosophers agree with Wittgenstein is on the question of the nature of philosophy itself. Even if they find value in Wittgenstein observations about the mind, say, very many philosophers want to recruit the worthwhile insights into something like a...

Over a year ago, I read Quine's Two Dogmas for a philosophy class. One part in it makes the step from talking about meanings to abolishing meanings and talking only about synonymy. I never quite got that. I mean, if there are two things similar (or the same) about something, don't they each have to have those things? If two pieces of string have the same length, they have each have a length, and they happen to be the same. Likewise for any other properties I could think of, such as color, volume, mass, etc. I don't see how sameness could not imply those "intermediary entities" which are the same. Thanks.

Consider an example from Frege: the direction of the line L is identical to the direction of the line M if and only if L is parallel to M. That's true. But how should we read it? Do we read it as explaining the notion of being parallel in terms of the identity of two abstract objects, i.e. two directions? Or do we take it the other way about, as partially explaining talk about two abstract objects, directions, in terms of the already-understood notion of lines being parallel? There's lots to be said for taking it the second way, as introducing reference to certain abstract objects in terms of something more familiar. Likewise: the meaning of "gorse" is identical to the meaning of "furze" if and only if "gorse" and "furze" are synonymous. That looks true too. But how should we read it? Do we read it as explaining the notion to synonymy in terms of the identity of two abstract objects, meanings? Or do we take it the other way about, as (hopefully) partially explaining talk about two...

I'm a 17 year old guy studying philosophy A-levels in my school in Britain. Last year, during the first year of the course, we looked at the Republic, and several of Plato's ideas. One of these was the Theory of Forms. The theory seems to make sense to me, but he starts talking about the Form of the Good. As far as I can tell, although the Forms are argued for rationally, and make perfect sense, the whole idea of the Form of the Good is just mythos; only used because society talks about 'the Good'. But it would make sense to me to say the ultimate Form is the Form of the Form. Am I right here?

I have to say that I do think it is simply bizarre that we inflict Plato on high-school students as an introduction to philosophy. We wouldn't dream of starting off physicists by getting them to read Newton, or mathematicians by getting them to read Euclid. Philosophy is hard enough without having to try to interpret work from two and a bit millennia ago. But having got that off my chest, can I recommend Julia Annas's An Introduction to Plato's Republic , which has been around some time but is excellent. It works very well with first-year university students: so try reading it, and not just for its treatment of the theory of forms.