Do philosophers really think that the problems they discuss are important in themselves, or does thinking about the problems merely serve as practice in analytical thinking? How does philosophy differ from puzzle solving (besides the fact that puzzles actually tend to get solved)?

I think most philosophers think the problems are important. But there are lots of different views about why they are. One possible view is that worrying about such problems helps us to get clear about certain things we need to be clear about if we're to do science. See my response to a different question for elaboration: 30 .

I am married to a man who earns a considerable amount of money doing a job he enjoys. It is possible for me to earn a similar amount of money, but I now feel considerable discomfort in the profession that over the years has allowed me to do so. My preferred work (writing fiction) will bring in no money in the short term and has little chance of a lot of money in the end. Is it ethical to choose to earn less, and yet to share the rewards of my husband's salary - the big house, nice car, holidays and so on?

I would have thought that this sort of decision was one to be made by you and your husband jointly. How your household earns its income is for the two of you to decide, and it is also for the two of you to decide how that income will be used. I can well understand that there might be emotional costs to writing full-time and so not making much (if any) money doing it. The concerns you express already reveal some of those costs. But they can be mitigated in various ways. If your husband were to be truly supportive of your writing and believed in what you were doing, that would presumably go a long way. You could think of yourselves as investing the income you could otherwise earn in your writing. Perhaps that will pay off financially and perhaps it will not. But perhaps there are more important things than money, and you are really investing in them.

Is it philosophically defensible, or morally right, to inculcate your child to an organized religion when you yourself do not firmly believe in it? Along the same line, is there anything wrong about avoiding religious topics with your child with the intent that the child will choose her own set of beliefs when she becomes more mature?

The first sort of reasoning (not that I need to tell Jyl) goes bythe name "Pascal's Wager". It has been the subject of much controversy.The best recent paper I know is by Alan Hájek. See his"Waging War on Pascal's Wager", Philosophical Review 112 (2003), 27-56. Alan also wrote the Stanford Encyclopedia article on Pascal's Wager , which is presumably a better place to start for those who are interested. Letme offer a slightly different perspective on the question originallyasked. I don't think I'd want to say that it is permissible to"inculcate" one's children in a religion one doesn't accept. But thatis strong and fairly loaded language. I actually know two people whoare in the something like the following situation. (I could be wrongabout some of the details, so if anyone guesses who I've got in mind,don't assume I'm right. The situation is officially hypothetical.) Alexand Tony are white academics and have adopted two black children. Theybelieve very strongly that, as the church is and...

I was perusing the site, and I came up with this weird thought: Can a person think about the thought that they are thinking? Because at first I thought no... but then I thought by posing this question I was thinking about what I was thinking... but I started to doubt my thoughts... so I thought it might be a good idea to get a second opinion.

Might the question have concerned self-referring thoughts? Viz: Is it possible for me now to think about the very thought I am now thinking? But, if you think about it, I just did. So it is. I can do it again: I think that the very thought I am now having is a true one. Is it?

At like an atomic level, like really small, is it possible to determine where one thing stops and another begins? Say like where my finger stops and a key on my keyboard begins? (This might be a bad example, because a plastic key and my finger probably have quite different atoms, but still the line between them would be hard to find right.)

I'm going to say something here that is way over-simplified, but perhaps it will do. According to quantum mechanics, of which my knowledge is very limited, such things as atoms don't have distinct boundaries in the sense you have in mind. This is because their parts (protons, neutrons, etc) don't have completely determinate positions in space (except under certain exceptional assumptions). Rather, the location of a given particle is described in terms of the probability that it is in a particular location. In fact, the same is true of macroscopic objects. Even waiving the blurriness of my boundaries, my location is not completely determinate, either. It therefore seems reasonable to say that, no, it isn't completely determinate where your finger ends and the key begins, even if we can say which particles constitute the one and which the other (another hard problem), because it isn't determinate where those particles are.

On what basis can we claim somebody is delusional? Assuming objective, True Reality(tm) exists, but is not directly knowable and is only knowable through mediation of our senses, how do we have any solid footing for deciding one person's senses are defective compared to another's? Two thought experiments to illustrate this idea: Assume I am alone in a room, and I see a purple monkey swinging from the lamp. I perceive this odd sight and may, or may not, decide that I'm hallucinating based on my previous experiences. If somebody else comes into the room, and I ask them what they see, if they agree with me, then odds are better that we are both seeing accurately, but if he disagrees with me, then he may be blind to the monkey, or I may be imagining it. Adding more people will get us a consensus view, but doesn't really prove anything in more than a statistical way. Who is delusional, and who is seeing truly? Or, assume I am the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. Like the monkey-seeing fellow in...

There seems to be a pattern of argument here that needs to be questioned. It is: (i) Method M for reaching judgements isn't completely reliable; therefore, (ii) method M can't be trusted. The conclusion simply doesn't follow. Method M might be very reliable, in which case it can be trusted to a high degree. I doubt "group opinion" is the only method available to us for distinguishing hallucination and illusion from perception. (For example, in the land of the blind, there might be ways of correlating your apparent perceptions with facts on which you can all agree, e.g., that there is a boulder in such-and-such a location that wasn't there yesterday.) But it might be quite a good way of drawing the distinction even if it isn't a perfect way.

If evolution is true, isn't it likely that our capacity for understanding the world is limited to what is necessary for survival? And if Christianity is true, isn't it likely that we can know only what God wants us to? It seems a reasonable bet, at least considering only these two world views, that there is cognitive closure at some point, and that McGinn, for instance is very possibly right that the hard problem of consciousness will never be solved (not that we should stop trying to solve it). Bob West

I'm not sure that either of the claims you suggest are "likely" are likely. (I'm also quite sure that the conflict you implicitly suggest exists between evolution and Christianity is a mirage, but that's another matter.) The theory of evolution in no way implies that human capacities are "limited to what is necessary for survival". Stephen J Gould and Richard Lewontin borrowed the term "spandrel" from architecture to describe what one might also call "side-effects", biological traits that were not themselves selected for but are necessary accompaniments of traits that were selected for. Any particular case will be controversial, of course, but perhaps I can mention one intriguing such question: whether female orgasm has any benefit of the sort that would lead it to be selected for. The philosopher of biology Elisabeth Lloyd has written several interesting papers on this question. There is also an answer in this same area to evolutionary arguments against the innateness of sexual orientation. ...

I am a psychologist, and have to introduce my Introductory Psychology students to consciousness. Is there an acceptable, concise definition of "consciousness"? Most psychology textbooks seem to fall woefully short. For example, David Myers defines consciousness as "our awareness of ourselves and our environment." ACK! Thanks for any feedback you might provide for me and my students.

My favorite remark on this question is due to Ned Block . He quotes (I believe) Duke Ellington as having said that, if you have to ask what jazz is, y'ain't never gonna know. Block says that something similar is true of (phenomenal) consciousness. It's what makes pain hurt and ice cream yummy , and if you don't know what I'm talking about, you never will. Block is also the best source for the distinctions among kinds of consciousness that Amy already noted. See, for example, his "Some Concepts of Consciousness" . It is, of course, the distinctions he draws are controversial, like just about everything in this area.

Problem with the Problem Of Evil I've read here a few references to the Problem Of Evil and it brings to mind a small philosophical statement which I hold dear - Beauty in all things. To use the Katrina example for sake of continuity, is it not a short term and narrow view to say people have suffered? Let's assume anybody who has died in the event is not suffering. Those left behind probably are suffering but ultimately their life and those of onlookers may be bettered because of the experience; they may continue to lead more fulfilled lives than what they otherwise may have appreciated. Happiness comes from within and is not determined by what we have, what we've lost, or what we've been through. I concede that beauty in all things is partly just a psychological state, but I also believe rationally that positives can be found in the seemingly most negative situations. We have all experienced this in life first hand. Btw: wonderful website, thanks to all who contribute.

The response to the Problem of Evil that you mention has a long and distinguished history. You suggest that, out of suffering, some good will come. That echoes a Christian tradition in which suffering is regarded as redemptive and transformative. It also echoes Leibniz's famous doctrine that, despite evidence to the contrary, this world is the best possible. My difficulty with these views is that they seem to fail to come to terms with the scope and magnitude of human suffering. I'm prepared to believe that some human suffering is redemptive and transformative, but is it all? As I write, children are buried under the rubble of their schoolhouses in Pakistan. Their legs are crushed. Some of them are bleeding to death. Some of them will suffocate, as the weight of the stone makes it impossible for them to breathe. Some of them will survive a long time and die of thirst. Much of their suffering will never be known, and there will be no acts of heroism where they are concerned. In some cases, there...

Is self-contradiction still the prima facie sign of a faulty argument? How do we tell an apparent contradiction from a real contradiction if the argument is in words? (Most of us don't know how to translate arguments in words into symbolic logic.)

Most logicians would regard self-contradiction as a flaw, yes. Thereason is that a good argument is supposed to be one whose conclusionmust be true if its premises are true. If at some point in the argumenta contradiction appears, then either (i) the reasoning was bad or (ii)the premises cannot all be true. That said, however, one can usepossibilty (ii) to argue for something by what is called reductio ad absurdum :If you want to show that not-p, show that p (possibly together withother things that are agreed to be true) leads, via good reasoning, to contradiction. Then not all of the premises can be true. So if the ones other than p are, it isn't. Now,how do you tell if you have a contradiction when the argument in words?There's no magic bullet, I'm afraid. Being able to translate intosymbolic logic only helps so much, and in the really hard cases it'llbe controversial how to do the translation, anyway. So, to a firstapproximation, you have reached a contradiction if you have reached...