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Hi. I'm having some trouble with a presentation that I'm gonna have in a couple of weeks in my philosophy class. The teacher mentioned that Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire had thoughts that sparked the French Revolution. Are there any other philosophers which thoughts and ideas also had an impact even if they were not as big as a revolution? (Other philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Luther and Aquinas). I'm hoping someone could give me any tips and such. Anything helps! Thanks!

In a way, the answer to your question is that much of our civilization manifests the impact of philosophers. From our forms of government (Locke, Hegel, Hobbes, Rawls) and economics (Marx and Smith on socialism, free markets), to scientific inquiry (Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and Newton), to ideas of self (Plato, to religious theologies (Aquinas, ibn Rushd), to important movements in the arts (Locke, Kant, Schopenhauer, and Schiller with Impressionism and Romanticism), to our practices of medicine (Kant and informed consent), to ideas about liberty (Spinoza, Mill, Locke, Sartre, Foucault), women’s rights (Beauvoir, Wollstonecraft, Butler), etc. etc. The list goes on and on. It’s hard, in fact, to think of a region of culture and society upon which philosophers have not have an impact. There’s much for you to explore, and it’s all very exciting. Have a great time learning about it!

I've read that Fichte believed we all a part of a universal mind and that our minds more than just being subjects in the world are the co-creators of nature. Does he mean that in the way a new age sort might take it to mean that we are creating reality at our own will?

I suppose it depends upon what you mean by the phrase "in the way" when you say "in the way a new age sort might take it to mean." If by "in the way" you mean as a mind that can be determined through our individual choices or individual wishes, then no. Fichte's "mind" is not reducible or determined by our individual thoughts, feelings, and mental acts. And if by "in the way" you mean because it's simply pleasing or inspirational to think so, then, again, no. Fichte's position was developed in large measure through the rational demands, implications, and alternatives of philosophers trying to work out the necessary conditions for the very possibility of our selves, the world, freedom, causation, and our ability to understand/know. Having said that, it's also important to understand that the mind or consciousness or "I" we experience is not our self in the truest and most universal sense, that the world and we are the expression and activity of an immaterial consciousness, and that Fichte's work is not...

I am a tremendous fan of your site, and I recommend it all the time to friends & colleagues. Sorry if my question seems silly, but I'd really like to hear some comments on how you think philosophers could be best utilized by society. I know that if I could afford it, I'd love to have a small staff of highly-paid philosophers to hammer out water-tight arguments on the efficacy of a proposed policy, that, when properly marketed, would be hailed as a breath-taking human achievement. Or even some philosophers to proofread my blog entries for glaringly obvious fallacies. OK, maybe that's stuff for philosopher-interns, sorry. Short of being crowned a benevolent, philosopher-monarch, what's the best way for you and us to benefit from your brilliance?

I guess I think that the most important thing would be for philosophy to be taught more widely. I think it a scandal, for example, that logic isn't required in every school--primary, middle, high school, and university--across the country. How is it that we've come to require geometry but not basic logic? Training in ethics, political philosophy, and the history of philosophy ought to be widespread. Philosophers ought also to be sought out to serve as advisers for political leaders, and philosophical training ought to be more highly regarded as a credential for hiring people into positions of leadership. You may know that already insurance companies and hospitals commonly employ medical ethicists in making policy decisions. We need more of that. Philosophers ought to be more deeply engaged in public discourses. More newspaper columns, tv commentators, and popular writers ought to be philosophers.

Would Hitler be a just sovereign according to Hobbes?

As a Hobbesian might say about sovereigns, "absolutely" not. The "justice" of sovereigns is, more seriously, a curious issue in Hobbes and more complicated than it may at first appear. One might be tempted to say that because the Hobbesian sovereign is an "absolute" sovereign, that anything he or she does is "just." In other words, one might say that whatever the sovereign commands is for Hobbes by definition "just." But justice in Hobbes might be thought of in two ways: "civil" and "natural." In terms of civil justice (the justice defined by actual laws and dictates made by governments), one question concerning Hitler's conduct would be whether or not it was unjust of him to violate the terms of international law and the various treaties his government negotiated--for example, the Non-Aggression Pact with the Soviets and the peace treaty Hitler's representatives negotiated in bad faith with Neville Chamberlain. Arguably, however, for Hobbes, the sovereign is not bound by civil law in his or her...

I believe that Kant defended the "law of cause and effect" by stating this argument: (P) If we didn't understand or acknowledge the law of cause and effect, we couldn't have any knowledge. (Q) We have knowledge. Therefore: (P) we acknowledge the law of cause and effect. Isn't this line of reasoning a fallacy? P implies Q, Q, : P

You have certainly put your finger on a complex issue. One might say you've got a dragon by the tail. First, I should call your attention to the fact that you've rendered his argument in two logically different ways. The first rendering is actually a valid form of deductive inference, not a fallacy. Philosophers, in their pretentious way, call it a modus tollens. The terms in which you've put it allow for this rendering: 1. If Not-P, then Not-Q. 2. Q. 3. Therefore, P. And, by the way, that first rendering can also be restated in another valid form called a modus ponens: 1. If we have knowledge (Q), then we understand or acknowledge the law of cause and effect (P). 2. We have knowledge (Q). 3. Therefore, we understand or acknowledge the law of cause and effect (P). There's a rather large issue lurking here, too, as to what "understanding" and "acknowledging" mean, how they're similar, how they're different. (See, for example, Stanley Cavell's, "Knowing and...

Regarding Mill's (was it?) thought experiment about rather being Socrates dissatisfied than some caged subspecies with a non-ending supply of food. My thought is that the objection "YOU can't be (or justifiably imagine yourself as) someone else" is a non-trivial one. In fact, it seems to me a crushing one to the whole thought experiment. You can't be Socrates; you can't have his wisdom and your consciousness since all of it was a package and defined him, as distinct from you. I also have an inkling that this whole division of someone into parts: consciousness, wisdom, emotional control, etc., is a non-helpful one and gives us the wrong picture of our identities. From personal experience I can attest that the addition of life experience has changed my consciousness, as has the addition of book knowledge. So if I had Socrates' wisdom I would have his consciousness (if we must divide it this way) and I would BE him. Isn't it entirely more productive to think about how WE could be happy as ourselves,...

Your point is well taken. The separateness of persons, the problem of making interpersonal comparisons of happiness, and just plain difference are serious issues, indeed. It's important to use a lot of caution in making judgments about what will and will not make people happier or better off. (And your point about the wholeness of persons is important, as well.) But I think this cautionary principle can be taken too far. In making moral judgments and public policy it's often not possible to avoid making these sorts of judgments. And even in offering kindnesses to others, selecting gifts, taking their interests into consideration, offering them courtesies, raising our children, don't we try to figure out what will make others happy or better off? Don't we even sometimes argue with our friends, lovers, and children about what will make them happy when we think they're making a mistake (say in marrying the wrong person, or eating too much)--that is, when we think we know better than they do what's...

Why has Ayn Rand become so inconsequential to modern philosophy? The point is underscored by the lack of any references to Rand on your site, save one instance where someone asked if there were any refutations of Rand's Objectivism available – to which a link was dutifully supplied. The point is further underscored by some questions in regards to women in philosophy (or the lack thereof) which, to my amazement, Rand was not referred to (even begrudgingly) as a positive example. My pet theories about this situation have something to do with her aligning herself strongly with Capitalism, while philosophers historically have been left leaners or overtly aristocratic (of sorts) but never very money orientated, which is probably seen as a very Earthly consideration to dwell on. Some say that Rands format of conveying philosophical ideas in the form of novels has not helped her cause much. If this consideration is to be given weight then why should Socratic dialog, for example, be so revered? The methodology...

I agree with Richard Heck on this one. Rand's view of the human person, of freedom, of perception, of markets, etc., seem to me and to most philosophers I've spoken too about it, unpersuasive, overly simplistic, and sometimes objectionable. But I would add two bits: First, I have encountered a few philosophers of quality who respect Rand. Second, I suspect that there are reasons besides the quality of her thought that contribute to her being relatively unpopular among professional philosophers. Among those reasons I'd include: (a) that like Voltaire Rand is more of a popularizer than an original philosopher; (b) that she worked outside the academy and the professional institutions of philosophy; that much of her work appears in rhetorical forms atypical of profesional philosophy (e.g. fiction); and (d) that her philosophy seems excessively driven by her politics. It's also interesting to consider whether her sex may have been a factor in her not being taken terribly seriously. One might...

I have been going through Marx's "Communist Manifesto" and "Capital" and they seem to be contradicting all base communist beliefs within each government seen in today's society. Is there any basis to this, and if so, why do we speak of Marx as being the "Father of Communism"?

This is a provocative question. I wish you had been more specific in what you consider the "base communist beliefs" to be and how they manifest themselves in "each government." Might there be some consistency with regard to things like (1) the social or collective (as opposed to private) control of the means of production and distrubution as well as (2) production and distribution directed by need and social choice rather than profit and the chaos of markets? On the other hand, I think you're right that much of what goes and has gone by the name of communism and socialism deviate quite a bit from Marx and Engels's theories. But, of course, modern market capitalism differs quite a bit from the sort of thing described by Adam Smith.

I know many philosophical positions today are often similar to Greek philosophical positions. Is there any Ancient Greek Philosophy that seems to correspond or relate to postmodernism?

This is an interesting question which could arguably yield a booklength study, or even a series of them. I should caution you at the outset, however, that in a sense there is no such thing as "postmodernism." The term largely stems from usages in architecture and from Jean-François Lyotard's 1979 book, The Postmodern Condition . But there's not really a "postmodern" philosophical movement or a definable "ism" in the way that there's a Marxism or a Platonism. Neither Derrida nor Foucault called themselves postmodernists, and you might be surprised to learn that the term is largely used in Anglo-American circles; the French hardly use it at all. Postmodernism is rather a family of texts, thinkers, and techniques that have been gathered together for various purposes. Post-structuralism you might coonsider as a more precise term. Having said that, one can't really find an ancient school that "corresponds" to post-modernism. Different interepreters, however, will point to different moments in either...

Hume lobs some pretty convincing skepticism at the entire discipline of philosophy in the last chapter of his Enquiry . Besides Kant, have other philosophers tackled these doubts head-on? Since his skepticism is not just about metaphysics, but about all philosophy, do contemporary analytic philosophers regard these doubts seriously?

Hume's skepticism is a fascinating thing, isn't it. For myself, I suspect you and I differ on what it means to say that his skepticism is about "all philosophy." In my view, while I think that in a sense that's true, it doesn't follow for Hume that philosophy is pointless. Rather, his skepticism undermines a certain species of philosophy, what he calls "false philosophy," i.e. a kind of rationalistic dogmatism. Hume endorses in the Enquiry and elsewhere a curious kind of what he calls "true" philosophy, which amount to something like, as he characterizes it, "the reflections of common life methodized and corrected" (EHU Section XII, 130 [162]; cf. Section V). That's what he means by his "mitigated" or "academical" philosophy. Although I don't fully agree with his account, may I recommend Donald W. Livingston's books, "Hume's Philosophy of Common Life" and "Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium." The account of scepticism in the latter is closer to my own, but the former lays out in greater...

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