If I do something, is it fair to say that I am also _choosing_ not to do one of an infinite number of other things that I am not considering at the time of the choice? For example, if I ask somebody "What's your name?", is it accurate to say I am choosing not to ask them "Where are my walnuts?", even if the second question never even occurred to me?

No, it's a mistake to say that you are choosing not to do all those other things. When you decide to ask someone "What's your name?" it is not "accurate" or right to say that you have chosen not to ask that person "Where are my walnuts?" What is true is that you are not choosing to do the infinite number of things, and you are not choosing to ask where your walnuts are, but that is not at all the same thing as choosing not to ask where they are. Not choosing to ask my name is not a choosing, whereas choosing not to ask my name is. You can also see that it couldn't be right to say that you are choosing not to do infinitely many things - there just isn't time!

I am looking for resources on a seemingly simple issue. I believe the seeming simplicity of this issue is quite deceptive: What is a "surface?" What allows anything to "touch?" Where does philosophy stand on this issue? Thank you for your time.

You should consult: Stroll, A., 1979, ‘Two Concepts of Surfaces’, Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4: 277-291. Stroll, A., 1988, Surfaces, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. The two concepts of a surface are the physical one, in which a surface can be pockmarked or scored, and the geometrical one, in which it is an ideal or geometrical object.

An atheist friend and I (I am a theist) had a long series of discussions about the existence of god, and his comments made quite an impression on me. I found what he said so stimulating, in fact, that I beagn to read more philosophy of religion to help me better understand the nature of the issues raised. One question, however, is a bit puzzling, and I have not read much about it, though I have seen it raised in atheist/theist debates about the existence of god. The issue is simply falsifiabilty: how can we know if some occurrence of anything is an act of god and therefore, say, the result of prayer, or the result or effect of natural processes? For example, if I pray for a sick relative and she recovers, I can say god healed her; but I can also rightly argue that medical science healed her; or, even more precisely, physicians using medical knowledge stabilized her body so that it could heal itself. I know many theists regularly thank god for certain acts (many of which they pray for) that could easily be...

Charles Taliaferro's reply is very helpful. For me the two things that have the most importance for your question are the Wittgensteinian approach, in which the one who wants evidence that the good that happens is, indeed, the result of prayer, is slipping in and then out of the way of the religious attitude to the world. When you have that attitude towards the world, you will not ask the question, or you cannot . . . This is similar to the approach given in John Wisdom's "Gods", in the parable of the gardener. The replies that were made to this piece are equally interesting. I also wonder why one wants to know whether an outcome is indeed the result of prayer. I personally do not have your question, though I am not sure why not, unless it is what I have said above, and so it occurs to me to ask whether the question itself might need a kind of justification, and, if so, what form it would take.

One of my friends recently stated: "black is not a colour. It is the entire absence of it, both physically and neurochemically." But can this be right? I understand what my friend is saying in that things appear black when they don't emit or reflect any photons of light, and that, as a result, there is nothing for the light sensitive cells in our eyes to detect. However, in everyday life we still view black as a colour, just as we do red or green. I should probably mention that my friend is a scientist and tends to take a strictly empirical and sometimes rather reductionist view of things. Consequently, I'm keen to get a broader perspective on this question from a philosopher. So, my question then is: is black a colour? Or, perhaps more accurately, does it even make sense for us not to consider black a colour?

Here is an answer I gave on February 10 2010. For your reductionist friend I would answer that the perception of black is positive - it is not a null perception, in some sense, but nor is it the perception of nothing, so that nothing (or Nothing, rather) looks black - presumably It doesn't look any colour. I also want to add that black is not in the spectrum, obviously, for what that is worth (nothing, actually) and that "black" and "dark" have different meanings. If you take a dimmer switch and gradually increase the light in a completely dark room, as the illumination goes up, the reds get redder, the greens greener, and amzaingly the blacks get blacker! What does this tell us? From Feb 10 2012 This is a fairly frequent concern. The correct answer is that there is a sense of "colours" in which black and white are not colours (they are not chromatic colours) and a sense in which they are colours (they are achromatic colours). So if we count the achromatic colours (black, white and grey) as...

What is an instantiated concept in philosophy? My class has a question asking TRUE or FALSE: A sphere made of solid gold is an instantiated concept. However, I am confused as to what they mean by that term. If someone could help me better understand that would be great!

If a concept (say tame tiger ) is instantiated that means that there is in fact an instance of the things falling under it: there is at least one tame tiger. An uninstantiated concept, square triangle , for example, is one that has no instances: there are no instances of square triangles. But the phrase "instantiated concept" is bad grammar or "usage", it seems to me. Just as an abstract concept is a concept which is abstract, so an instantiated concept is a concept which is instantiated. That ought to mean that there is an instance of it. But "it" here is that concept, so to say that there is an instantiated concept is to say that there is one of it, one of that concept. Something is wrong here, obviously. Of course one can twist the language to give "instantiated concept" a conventional meaning, or any other meaning, but why bother?

Is there a way to prove that logic works? It seems that the only two methods for doing this would be to use a logical proof –which would be incorporating an assumed answer into the question– or to use some system other than logic –thus proving that sometimes logic does not work.

Aristotle gives a nice account of why we must have something "definite in our thinking" and not contradictions in Metaphysics IV. In order to say of something that it is or can be both F and not-F, he writes, we must have successfully identified that thing as the thing that is or can be both F and not-F. But we are in no position to do that if the something both is and is not the something we are talking about, or trying to talk about! So we do not have to abandon the piece of logic, the principle of non-contradiction, in one form, at least, which states that opposite things cannot significantly be said of the same thing. Here, at least, it seems that logic does not break down on the basis of the interesting argument that you gave.

I've just listened to a BBC radio discussion of the ontological argument. I'm puzzled as to why the following objection was not even mentioned: - The concept of "something than which nothing greater can be conceived" necessarily includes the attributes of being all good and all powerful. Something all good and all powerful would not allow suffering. Suffering exists, therefore the concept cannot exist in reality. The counter-argument that suffering is part of God's plan for us to work out our own salvation only reinforces the original objection by admitting that God is not great enough to come up with a better plan. This argument is well known in philosophy in general, so why would it not be considered relevant to the validity of the ontological argument? God may still exist, but if He can't be all good and all powerful, the ontological argument for His existence is a non-starter. I had the impression from the radio programme that the ontological argument is still entertained by some philosophers. How...

True confessions: like Charles, I accept the Ontological Argument. But it must be said that a response to the Argument based on "the problem of evil" is something of a mistake. The reason is that the problem of evil is a problem for all arguments for theism, and offers nothing specific for us to learn about the ontological argument, particularly its logic, which is where almost all the interesting issues are.

Would a just world be one where people get what they need, or one where people get what they deserve?

In the context of crime, justice is getting what one deserves (twenty years hard labour, hanging, if anyone deserves hanging), and so criminal justice includes retributive justice. In the social context, since there is the assumption that everyone deserves to be treated as a human being should be treated, justice can assume the form of the meeting of basic needs, for example housing and education. This is sometimes called distributive justice. The two forms of justice are complementary rather than inconsistent, however. What underlies both is the concept of desert. Some conservative thinkers find the whole idea of distributive justice a confused one. To think that a way of cutting a cake is unfair makes complete sense, because there is a central distribution. But the world of labour is not like this, and the concept of fairness has no application; there is no cake waiting to be divided if I do no work, these thinkers say. Liberal thinkers, on the other hand, work from the admittedly abstract...

I recently read a text by Michael Fried, "Art and Objecthood," in which he rather vehemently opposes "theatricality," suggesting that it is the antithesis of modernist art (or the "art of our time"). He never really seems to explain why he is so opposed to it, but he uses extremely aggressive language (to my mind), talking about the perversion of art sensibilities, the corruption of art by theatricality, the "problem" with Minimalism (without saying what kind of problem he's talking about), etc. I was wondering if someone could shed some light on what is so terrible about theatricality, such as to merit such strong language.

I haven't read the Fried piece, but I do see that there is an obvious objection to "theatricality". The objection is that it is phony and therefore cheap. Or one could go further. One form of phoniness is insincerity, another is sentimentality. Consider for example the difference between Rembrandt's sketch of "A Young Woman Sleeping", in the British Museum, a modest but tender sketch of his girlfriend, and Käthe Kollwitz's brilliant but melodramatic sketches of mothers and children. I am not sure whether the objection is completely overwhelming, though. Herman Hesse's Glass Bead Game , for example, is theatrical.

Red seems exciting but blue seems calming. That is not the only thing that could be said about those colors. But is the reason those colors have the effects that they have because of something about the color themselves or because of the culture we are in?

In physics, if colour is associated with wavelength or frequency, then blue is at the shortwave or high frequency end of the spectrum and red at the longwave or low frequency end. Does this tell us anything about the psychology of colour? It was this perceived deficiency that caused Goethe to seek a formula for colour that did make the connection. Thus for him blue is darkness seen through an illuminated semitransparent medium. And yellow is light seen through a "thickened" or semi-transparent medium. This begins to explain why blue is as it is said a receding colour and red an advancing colour. What your question asks for is a connection between the physics and the phenomenology and emotional effects of colour. These were treated perhaps rather dismissively by Wittgenstein in Remarks on Colour , published in 1977.