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Why are non-material objects not causally efficacious? Or, why can’t non-material objects partake in causality? Is there a reason other than simply saying that non-material objects are as such by definition? Thank you!

The first point is that not everyone would accept the presupposition of your question. Most obviously, theists wouldn't. According to many varieties of theism, the First Cause of the material world is not a material thing. Needless to say, not everyone agrees. But you can deny that there is a non-physical First Cause without denying that the very idea is incoherent. There are homelier examples. On at least some views, the fact that something was absent can be a cause. Absences, however, aren't material objects. (In fairness, they aren't non-material objects either.) So the first point is that it isn't simply agreed by the parties to the dispute that only material objects are causally efficacious. We could also add that even among materialists, broadly understood, most would say that events rather than objects are what do the causing, but it's at least arguable that events are in space and time. The second point is that there are different theories of causation, and on one important...

Is it ethical to favour one soccer team over another?

The answer is surely that it's not unethical or wrong or immoral to favor one team over another. But there's an interesting issue in the background. At least some views of what morality calls for say that we should be impartial. If I'm a utilitarian, then everyone's pleasure and pain count equally. If I'm a Kantian, then I should act only on maxims that I could will to be universal laws. But in that case, it seems, I can't favor particular people—or particular sports teams. Whether this is really what utilitarianism or Kantianism call for, this would be crazy. It's also an issue that comes up in an important essay by the British philosopher Bernard Williams ("Persons, Character and Morality," 1976.) Toward the end of the essay, he considers a hypothetical raised by another philosopher, Charles Fried. Fried imagines a man who is in a position to save one of two people, one of whom is his wife. Fried is clear that it should be acceptable for the man to save his wife instead of the stranger. But Williams...

Lots of science today (meteorology, cosmology) is based on computer simulation or modeling for those phenomena that are difficult to observe directly. If a computer simulation gives me a result consistent with what we can see (star distribution for two galaxies that collide) can we infer that the underlying process is the same in the simulation and in physical world? The simulation is just numbers (or symbols) input as data about the system(s) modeled. Are numbers the underlying "stuff" of objects, too, rather than atomic particles, etc.?

Suppose that instead of a computer producing a simulation, we have an army of thousands of worker-bee science grad students performing and assembling vast numbers of calculations matching all the steps that a computer simulation would call for. Suppose the results are consistent with observation. We wouldn't ask whether what's being simulated is really nothing but desperate grad students chained to desks doing tedious math. Computer simulations are ways of finding out what our equations and assumptions entail. In an example where it would be feasible to calculate the behavior of the model by hand, we wouldn't doubt that the real target of the exercise is external-world stuff—particles or economic agents or pathogens or whatever. That doesn't change if we move to cases where there's no serious possibility of doing the calculations by hand. The computer simulation doesn't represent itself . It represents what it simulates. If we've done things right, the representation will be more or less accurate....

I recently watched a tv show that produced a line of questioning in my head on the virtue of reality. How do we define reality? What's the difference between reality and a world that is the perfect replication of reality? What would be the difference between the two worlds? Is it truly possible to know when we are living in reality? I guess I'm mostly asking if there is work form past philosophers that I could read on the subject?

A perfect replica of reality would be like reality in all respects. It would contain trees—real trees. It would contain people—real people. It would contain fake butter—real fake butter. And if it were a perfect replica, everything in reality would be in the replica. So in every sense that matters, it would be real. But I have the feeling you're worried about how you can know that you're not systematically deluded or deceived about more or less everything. This was Descartes' question in Meditations . He thought that there was one thing he couldn't be deceived about: that he was having doubts and therefore that he, the doubter existed. From there to anything substantial, like trees and people and electrons and burritos is a long way. Descartes thought that just by reasoning about it, he could prove that there's a God who is not a deceiver, and therefore that even though he was no doubt wrong about some things, he wasn't systematically wrong. Most philosophers don't think his argument was very good....

Do people owe a debt for investments made in them which they never had an option to refuse? Some examples might be: Debt to society for paying for your childhood education Debt to parents for raising you Should it be considered ungrateful for someone to discontinue their affiliation with the investor if they feel that the relationship isn't beneficial to them?

You pose the question twice: first by asking if people owe a debt and second by asking if behaving in certain ways would be ungrateful . I think the difference matters. I don't know whether a child owes a debt to her parents—at least not in a certain strict sense. The primary use of the language of debt deals with contracts, promises and, in any case, cases of mutual consent. There are other uses, but the further they are from the primary ones, the harder it is to be sure of their force. Fortunately, it doesn't matter. Suppose we agree that the child doesn't literally owe her parents a debt for raising her—even if they did it lovingly, conscientiously and well. But would it be ungrateful for her to turn her back on her parents because, say, her new social circle made it embarrassing for her to have these people as parents? I think the answer is obvious enough. Asking what the daughter owes to her parents invites quibbles and evasion. But moral language is broader and more supple than...

We've been pondering the Problem of Evil. How can a good God allow evil to exist? I think the solution is right there in opening pages of the Book of Genesis. According to the Bible, after six days' labor, God needed to rest to regain his strength. When God is enjoying some necessary down time, then evil takes advantage and spreads. Is this a convincing argument?

This argument is a variation on solutions that assume a non-omnipotent God. If God doesn't have the power to prevent all evil, then the fact that there is evil would be no surprise. This version's variation is just that God gets tired and sometimes has to rest. For the moment, leave aside the point that this is far too anthropomorphic a conception of God for most theologians' tastes. And leave aside that at least some theologians would say that anything less than an omnipotent god doesn't deserve the label "God" to begin with. (I'm sympathetic to the first point, less so to the second.) Ask instead what patterns of evil we might expect if we accept this explanation. Suppose there's a flood and people are drowned. Is the idea that if God hadn't been napping, they would have been saved? Suppose some crazy person walks into a school with a gun and kills a bunch of people. Are we suppose to say that they would have been saved if God hadn't been tired? It's probably safe to say that at every single minute...

Is it an implication of quantum mechanics that it's possible for information about the future to be available to the past?

There are interpretations of quantum mechanics that make related claims. There's the transactional interpretation, proposed by John Cramer and developed more recently by Ruth Kastner. It holds that quantum events such as measurement results occur when there is a "handshake" between an advanced wave, traveling from future to past, and a retarded wave, traveling from past to future. The so-called two-state vector formalism, pursued in recent years by Yakir Aharanov and Lev Vaidman, is in some ways similar. Huw Price has long argued that if we allow for backward causation, we can avoid having to posit faster-than-light action at a distance. Some people have argued that in certain cases, quantum teleportation involves information moving from future to past. But all of this is controversial and it would be hard to argue that a consistent understanding of quantum mechanics requires backward causation. To which we should add: these interpretations do not claim that quantum mechanics can exploit any...

In an answer to a question about logic, Prof Maitzen says he is unaware of any evidence that shows classical logic fails in a real-life situation. Perhaps he has never heard of an example from physics that shows how classic logic does not work in certain restricted situations? A polarizing filter causes light waves that pass through it to align only in one direction (e.g., up-down or left-right). If you have an up-down filter, and then a left-right filter behind it, no light gets through. However, if you place a filter with a 45 degree orientation between the up-down and left-right filter, some light does get through. It seems to me that classic logic cannot explain this real-world result. Thanks!

I'm sure that Stephen Maitzen will have useful things to say, but I wanted to chime on in this one. You have just given a perfectly consistent description of what actually happens in a simple polarization experiment that I use most every semester as a teaching tool. Classical logic handles this case without breaking a sweat. But there's another point. You've described the phenomenon in terms of light waves. That's fine for many purposes, but note that the wave version of the story of this experiment comes from classical physics, where (for the most part at least) there's no hint of logical paradox. The classical explanation for the result is that a polarizing filter doesn't just respond to a property that the light possesses. It also changes the characteristics of the wave. Up-down polarized light won't pass a left-right filter, but if we put a diagonal filter between the two, the classical story is that the intermediate filter lets the diagonal component of the wave pass, and when it does, the light...

The last few years I've struggled with Nihilism - my work, games, activities really just have no fun or spark like they used to have. I have many sleepness nights where I'm wracking with existential thoughts and anymore I feel like just sentient matter waiting to die, and yet I dread that moment where my consciouness will no longer exist. My questions are - How do you break through Nihilism? How does one truly come to terms with impermanence and actually enjoy the short time they have left despite a meaningless, uncaring universe? I have read Camus and Sartre but I still struggle with the existential angst.

It's important sometimes to distinguish between intellectual problems and other kinds of problems. Many, maybe most of the people I know well are atheists. They agree with you: the world doesn't contain any meaning of its own, it doesn't care about us, and nothing is permanent. The difference between most of those people and you isn't that they've had some philosophical insight that you haven't. The difference, I would gently suggest, is that you are depressed and they aren't. I'm not a psychologist, but the way you describe your state of mind sounds like a textbook depression. How we think about things is certainly relevant when we're depressed, but the way it's relevant isn't just about content. Two people can both think that the world is indifferent to us, but for one this isn't an intrusive idea. It doesn't stop her from enjoying her work and her friends and her pastimes. It doesn't keep her awake at night. The other finds himself perseverating about it, brain caught in a loop. Getting out of that...

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