Some have suggested that Iraq can never exist as a state unless people identify first as Iraqi citizens, thus providing a point of unity for a population otherwise split by ethnic and religious differences. But citizenship, it seems to me, is incompatible with traditions like certain forms of Islam that conceive of politics and governance as functions of religious law. That is, one's allegiance is always with religion/sect and not a secular state or institutions, which are considered inherently illegitimate or subordinate. How would a political philosopher frame an argument for religious fundamentalists to embrace national citizenship?

There certainly are Muslim political theorists who would agree with what you say, and who insist on subsuming everything under religion, including issues of nationalism and government. Even sport is regarded critically as an institution that can lead people to identify with areligious entities and people. There is nothing uniquely Islamic about such a view, many religions not unnaturally regard our relationship with God as our most important relationship and interpret everything else as linking up with this relationship in some way, if it is to be worth pursuing. Religious fundamentalists as you describe them do not have to accept such a view. Other aspects of our lives may also be regarded as important, although not perhaps as important as our religious life and all that goes with it. John Locke wanted Roman Catholics in Britain to be denied equal rights with Anglicans since he assumed the former, unlike the latter, would take their orders from the Pope, a foreign potentate. I am old enough to...

Hello! I'm a nursing student that recently cared for a child in the ICU. This child has never had the ability to speak, smell, see, walk, swallow, or care for herself in any way. She comes to the hospital frequently because the only way to survive is with medical machinery and constant suctioning. Unfortunately, the parents have become burned out. I felt like I was prolonging misery. To "pull the plug" on anyone is never easy, but it seems less ethical to do so on a child than it does with the elderly. Should quality of life have greater influence than age?

The parents and you may indeed be miserable, but who is to say that the patient has so little quality of life that she would be better off dead than alive? As you say, we might be more inclined to pull the plug were she to be older and we could say that the patient has at least had a life and has nothing much to look forward to in the future. But in the case of a child, and even an older person, the vagaries of what can happen to a person are so various and hard to predict that it is difficult to be sure of her outcome in any case. It might be argued that one of the criteria of an ethical society is one where those who are having severe physical and mental problems are treated as humanely and professionally as possible, despite the expense and the trouble it causes. Life can be miserable and yet even within a severely limited form of existence there are possibilities of satisfaction that it would be a shame to deny someone because we no longer kept them alive.

Is it possible to make a clear distinction between kitsch and sentimentality? It seems to me that many philosophers equate the sentimental with shallow and inauthentic, but I assume that most of them wouldn't say it always bad to be tenderly moved by a story or event. But at the same time it seems much popular literature, television, and film really aims to ratchet up the emotions: is this not problematic? Sorry, running different questions together, but I'm just trying to figure out how to understand when the sentimental is good and when it is not. Thank your for your interesting website.

I doubt that there is a distinction to be made between kitsch and the sentimental. What is wrong with these aesthetic categories is that they are so undemanding. I very much enjoy both, especially the little cute things one can hang from bags, like the small animals and symbols, and also the emotions induced by country music. Both readily produce pleasurable emotions in those conditioned to enjoy them, but they have no depth. Except for irony, there is no way of using them to extend our understanding of what we are seeing or hearing. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with them, it is just that they have a limited use and once that is over, they fail to resonate with us. There is no good sentimentality. As Kant suggested, if we are to make aesthetic judgments we need to hold our feelings in abeyance.

It seems to me that much contemporary philosophy is a bit obsessed with clarifying arguments and analyzing statements and lacks real wisdom about the world. For example, I can imagine a typical situation where an ordinary person asks a professional philosopher a question relating to an applied ethics question. The philosopher answers by analysing the component parts of the statements contained within the question and attempting to assess the technicalities of the implicit argument put forward by the ordinary person. The outcome is that everybody is none the wiser as to the real answer to the applied ethics question because the philosopher has no real wisdom about the world but is merely trying to analyse argument structures! What do you think about this? Thanks

I think you are quite right. Philosophers know no more than anyone else about anything except the structure of arguments. There is no real wisdom apart from this. If there was, it would be difficult to understand disagreement, as in applied ethics. Where there is disagreement, how can we tell who has the real wisdom? Is it one party, no-one or everyone, to some extent? When we analyze arguments there is some prospect of resolving issues, at least to the satisfaction of a particular thinker and his or her understanding of the arguments. It is always problematic to think of some people as having a real insight into an issue which is separate from an argument about it. Real wisdom perhaps resides in recognizing this.

In war, is it worse for civilians to be killed than soldiers? For example, suppose that it's possible to attain an objective by killing a certain number of civilians, or by killing a significantly greater number of soldiers. Is the latter course preferable from an ethical standpoint, even though it involves more deaths?

Many would say that it is always wrong to kill civilians even if that would result in far less military deaths, since civilians are basically innocent and it is never right to do evil so that good may result. This is even the case if the civilians are nasty people who have nothing but hate in their hearts for the enemy, they are still civilians and as such are not ethical targets of death. That is certainly the position of international law. For consequentialists the situation could be quite different, since the relevant question is what course of action would cause least suffering overall. A problem with such a strategy is that there is probably a horrible action that would affect the enemy to give in quicker, but just could not be considered ethically (say it was possible to murder a number of babies, for example). Another problem is that it is so difficult to work out what the balance is between civilian and military deaths, and once we start thinking in these terms it is difficult to know...

What grounds does a non-expert have for taking a position on an issue that the experts don't agree on? More specifically, how can I be justified aligning myself with a particular ethical theory, explicitly or implicitly (e.g. when I make a reasoned ethical decision), when there isn't a consensus among philosophers, and when I have spent comparatively so little time thinking about it?

If we only talked about things we are expert on, very little would be discussed. In any case, there is no reason to think that experts know more about many topics, especially those in ethics, than anyone else. The sort of knowledge involved here is not like the factual and technical knowledge one needs to fix something, for example. Obviously my doctor knows more about what ails me than I do, in most cases, but even that does not show that my views are of no significance at all, since I may have a good grasp of how it feels like to have a particular medical issue and that might be relevant to treatment and cure. I may know what worked in the past and what did not, while he or she may have little information about that. I remember a curator of an art exhibition saying that she did not only include work in the exhibition that she liked, but she had to respect it. That is a useful expression here. If someone has thought a bit about their ethical stance that is enough for their views to be respected....

When you start a controversial, difficult debate with someone, for example about world poverty, war, crime, abuse, etc. should you regard the personal limitations of the other person involved in the conversation or just keep going in order to increase more social awareness about the problem you are discussing even if this might cause the other person to be partially in shock because of the overwhelming topic? Should raising social awareness and trying to provoke critical thinking in people be also subject to ethical standards even at the cost of limiting possible positive results (if the means of conversation and other type of critical propaganda are more moderate, not managing to achieve such bigger social awareness and positive response due to the basic human need for conformism)?

One always has to be aware of the nature of the audience when one speaks about anything, especially an important topic. You would not want to antagonize someone or put them off a particular type of thought by addressing them inappropriately. Your phrase "personal limitations" is not helpful here, we all come from different backgrounds and have limitations, and the successful speaker is someone who can use that to make his or her point nonetheless. Talking down to people is never a useful strategy.

Does allowing one's child to become obese constitute child abuse?

On the other hand, there certainly have been cases where social services have removed children from parents where children have become obese, and the parents have been taken to be at fault.It seems to me to be an issue that needs to be considered on a case by case manner. There may be something in the parents' behavior that encourages obesity in the children, in just the same way that a parent may be in trouble with the authorities for letting their child play by a road. We tend to think that although many parents are not ideal, it is generally better for children to be brought up by them than by removing them and trying out alternative carers for them. There are clearly cases though where parents do not take account sufficiently of the dangerous situations in which they place their children and intervention by the state is then justifiable. Obesity could well be such a situation, especially given the wide range of ailments to which it leads.

A question like this was posted in Askphilosophers some months ago but was never answered, so I'll try it again. What kind of knowledge is chess knowledge? Some of it is deductive (e.g., if I move this piece over there it will be checkmate, given the rules of chess), but it is not possible to assess openings and middlegames deductively, since the number of possible positions until checkmate or draw is way too large for them to be computed. Some knowledge of chess players is empirical or has empirical grounds (e.g., if I play this opening my opponent will be worse, since s/he is not used to play it), but this is not exactly "chess knowledge", it is some application of "psychology" or common sense (there is also chess history, and that's empirical). Chess is mostly a non-physical matter, it is the abstract product of some rules and their possible applications. Anyway, chess players and other chess experts seem to know many chess things about openings and middlegames. If what they know is not empirical nor...

Chess is surely a blend of the deductive and the inductive. The rules and legal moves are linked to each other deductively, but how they are applied has to take account of other factors, like the style of the opponent and the ability to hide strategy, for instance. Some players do not respond well to aggressive moves and others do, so that would come into how one approaches particular games, while other opponents can be confused by certain moves that get them into time trouble, and so those moves would have as their goal precisely that. We need to form a view of our opponents and that is certainly not deductive knowledge, but arises from what we know of them or what we can pick up during the game, and for many people it is this mixture of the deductive and the inductive that makes chess such fun.