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Some of the states of consciousness or physiological reactions that movies seem calculated to produce are arguably pleasurable in themselves (for instance, consider comedies and porn films), but there are some emotions that aren't as obviously pleasurable (for instance, fear, disgust, pity) but which still have a market, and there are some emotions that don't seem to have a market at all (for instance, anger). Have philosophers said much in the way of explaining the attraction of non-pleasurable emotions?

There's a large literature on this problem, going back at least four decades. The most oft-cited paper is Kendall Walton's "Fearing Fictions," Journal of Philosophy 75 (1):5-27 (1978). Walton's thesis, developed at length in his later book, is that when we are "frightened" by a horror movie, for example, our mental state isn't accurately described as fear/fright. Instead, says Walton, what's going on is a complex form of make-believe. We derive pleasure and, arguably, other psychological benefits from this way of making-believe, or so the theory goes. Walton's view isn't the only one, of course. If you want to explore further, there's a recent collection of essays, Suffering Art Gladly: The Paradox of Negative Emotion in Art , edited by my colleague Jerrold Levinson. Although I've never been convinced by the make-believe account, it does seem right that I'm not literally frightened of the monster when I watch the horror movie. After all: I don't believe there's any monster to be frightened of...

What is right and what is wrong? Who can say what is right and what is wrong? How can we know what it is? Does it really matter, does it make a difference to know what the right thing and what the wrong thing is? I'm talking about stuff like sexism, racism, money, society etc.

Well, things are wrong if we shouldn't do them; they're right if we should. As for which specific things, there are many. Some people think they can boil it down to a simple principle or two (e.g. things are right if they produce the largest balance of good consequences over bad.) Other people think right and wrong are too varied for anything more than rules of thumb. Who can say what's right and what's wrong? If you mean who's qualified to pass judgment, then pretty much all of us are—at least about some things. It's wrong to mock people's infirmities. It's wrong to beat someone up because you're annoyed by something he said. It's wrong to kill someone so that you can collect on her insurance policy. And so on. You're in just as good a position as I am to make those claims. (Of course if you're asking who can make something right or wrong by declaring it right or wrong, there's a pretty good case that no one can. What's right and wrong isn't up to us.) Does it make a difference to know the...

In a primary school in South Korea, a teacher asked the students to think how happy they are when watching a video of children with famine in Africa. The teacher meant that they must be happier compared to poor children. Then one of the students responded "It's wrong that one feels happy to know other's unhappiness." When I read this article, I deeply agreed with the student. I think most of the NGOs for children in need are using that kind of way to move people and to encourge them to donate. That is, the organizations make people compare themselves to the poor and feel happier and sympathy for the poor. Then they would be willing to donate for the poor. I think this method is effective but wrong. I wonder if those organizations take the wrong method or I am wrong. Could you please let me know your opinion on this issue?

Consider the situation in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. When I think about the people on that island, I don't feel happy; I feel distress. Imagining myself in their situation is painful. That distress is an in-the-moment feeling. If I shift my focus to something else, the feeling abates or disappears. If I turn my attention back to Puerto Rico, the distress returns. That said, I'm also glad that I'm not living in the midst of that devastation. I am glad even in those moments when I feel distressed about the plight of people living on the island. This "gladness" isn't so much an in-the-moment feeling as a recognition that I have something to be thankful for. In fact, it seems odd to say that I'm happy not to be struggling in the way that the people of Puerto Rico are, even though we sometimes talk that way. Insofar as I'd put it that way, it would be another way to say that I'm relieved or thankful. To whatever extent there's a feeling that goes with that gratitude, it sits in a...

If two different truths exist that call for opposite actions, can both still be true? An ongoing trade case I am writing about is being pursued by four domestic wire rod producers that claim exported wire rod from 10 countries is unfairly priced so low that it threatens their businesses. They want antidumping penalties to be imposed. Domestic wire manufacturers oppose this action as they say it will mean higher prices for them, and that they will lose business to their counterparts in other countries that have access to the lower-cost wire rod. Both have voluminous details and arguments…yet their “findings” are the exact opposite. The only belief they share is that if they do not win, the results will be horrific. If both side speak the truth, can either side's truth be considered a greater truth, one that subordinates the now lesser truth? Or, is truth a concept unto itself, meaning that it either is or isn’t, and truths cannot compete for being most truthful.

I'd suggest setting the word "truth" aside, at least at first. You've given us a decision with two alternatives. There are reasons for and against each, and it's not clear that the reasons on either side have an edge. If , suppose, the case for imposing penalties was stronger overall, then we could say that that's what ought to happen, and we could even put this by saying it's true that penalties ought to be imposed. But saying that there are two different "truths" tends to confuse us. Think about a less fraught case. You're trying to decide where to go on holiday and as it happens, there are two choices. If we want, we can model the decision-making process using the tools of what's called decision theory. There will be different considerations—say, expense, climate, quality of acomodations, sight-seeing possibilities... You could give each possibility a score on each dimension. You could also decide how much you care about expense, climate, etc. relative to one another. Putting all that information...

Is Privacy a form of lying? To keep something private is to regulate truth, it's deciding who should learn the truth and who shouldn't (whether it be on a personal scale or a larger collective scale such as a political organisation). Usually, things are kept private in order to prevent judgment from outside parties, but is it not right that people should be able to make judgments based on the truth? For instance, why do we usually keep our sexual encounters private? Should we not make judgements based on the real truth either of one's character or organisation as opposed to being kept from the reality by the mitigation of information? what if there were no privacy? what if humans were only ever completely honest about their situations? is privacy an arbitrary social construct? would a world without privacy be chaos? P.S is there any interesting reading on this topic you might recommend?

Here's a first-pass response. Lying is saying something that you know is false in an effort to get someone to believe it. If I don't say anything, and I don't try to mislead you about the facts, then I'm not lying. And so if I keep something private, I'm not lying. In fact, that's a bit too simple. Suppose there's something about me that would come as a big surprise to people who know me. Perhaps it's some unpopular opinion I hold, for example. I've never denied having this opinion, but I've never admitted it either. I just artfully avoid the topic whenever it comes up. I'm keeping my opinion private, but I'm doing it in a way that's meant to preserve the impression people have. It's still not right to say that I'm lying, but it's plausible to say that I'm not being honest. I'm deliberately keeping information from people that would make a difference to them if they knew it. However, it doesn't automatically follow that I'm doing something wrong. Yes: ideally people should make judgments based on the...

In war memoirs, there is sometimes talk about a feeling of invulnerability among soldiers new to combat: it never occurs to many people that they themselves might be killed. But then something punctures the feeling: it might be that a friend dies, or it might be the sheer quantity or awfulness of death, but at that point the recruit "sees the elephant" and gains a sense of their own mortality. Well, if someone "sees the elephant", how would philosophers characterise the change in epistemological status? For instance, would it be fair to say that the person has gained new knowledge, ie now knows that they're mortal, whereas they didn't know this before? Or is just a case of probability weightings of possible outcomes having changed in the light of new data?

It's a fascinating question. When the recruit "sees the elephant," as you put it, they seem to gain something that calls out for an epistemological characterization, but just what they gain is harder to say. The problem is that the obvious suggestions don't seem to work. The recruit already that s/he is mortal. Likewise, his or her probabilities haven't shifted. The recruit presumably already thought that death is certain. So what might the recruit have gained if not knowledge or improved probability judgments? One answer is salience. It's one thing to know something; it's another for it to figure significantly in your outlook. If something is salient for me, it plays a different role in guiding my actions than it does for someone who knows it's true but gives it little thought. On one model, our actions are guided by probabilities and judgments of importance or value/disvalue. But not everything that we know or believe plays a role in our decision-making, and likewise not everything we see as good or...

Is there any reason to believe that one sex is biologically superior to the other in a generalized sense? I've heard it said that men are inferior to women because they don't live as long and, in every age group are more likely to die than women. Add to that the fact that men's immune systems aren't as resilient as women's, they invest much less in reproduction, more boys than girls have ADHD or autism, and (it has been argued) men's sexual and aggressive urges are the cause of most violence and suffering in the world. As a man myself, I find these notions deeply troubling, not least because I am not a violent person, but also because though the above facts are scientific, I've read other arguments that evaluative notions of 'superiority' and 'inferiority' have no place in scientific discourse. So if it's not for scientists to say whether or not one sex is superior to the other, which type of expert should we appeal to, if at all? Philosophers such as yourselves, who presumably understand value better...

The physicist Wolfgang Pauli apparently didn't have much patience for what he saw as nonsense. More than once, it seems, he dismissed an idea by saying that it was "not even wrong." I'll have to admit: the idea that one sex is superior to the other in any all-things-considered way strikes me as a plausible candidate for "not even wrong" status. Men and women are different. On average—though only on average—women may have some advantages compared to men, and vice-versa. I'm skeptical that there's some way to accumulate these sorts of on-average facts into some meaningful sense in which women are overall superior to men, or the other way around. And even if there were, there's way too much variation for this to tell us much of anything person-by-person. In any case, the kind of superiority you're concerned about is, as you suggest, not a scientific notion. The kind of superiority you're worried about has to do with whether one sex is in general "better" or perhaps even "nobler" than the other. We...

Music is comprised of sound waves. Waves can be modeled mathematically using a Fourier series. So, could we then write music in terms of mathematics by using a Fourier series to represent the sound waves? Would it be worthwhile to do so? Would it have any benefit over traditional music notation?

Music is composed of sound waves, but that's only part of the story. A Fourier analysis would run the risk of including too much information, overlooking the fact that there can be very different interpretations of the same piece. It might be possible to fudge that point. (After all, compression schemes rely on Fourier analysis, but don't include every detail.) The real point is that to be useful, musical notation has to be something that musicians can efficiently read. To make the case that Fourier analysis would be useful for that purpose would be a pretty heavy lift, I suspect. Compare: it would be possible to give a Fourier analysis of a speech in a play, at least as performed by some actor. But I'd be willing to bet that any actor would find it a lot easier just to have the words written down. Musical notation, like written words and dance notation, is able to do its job precisely because it vastly, massively underspecifies the full detail of what any performance will actually be like. The point...

Can you have morals without acknowledging God? If so, where do they come from?

You can and many people do. As for where we can get moral beliefs if we don't believe in God, two unoriginal thoughts. The first is that in our actual day-to-day moral reasoning, most of us—even most religious people— don't base their moral responses on their religious beliefs. There are plenty of reasons to be honest or fair or kind or courageous without scurrying off to scripture. Some of the reasons might also show up in scripture: "Treat others as you'd wish to be treated" for example. But do we really think that someone who has internalized the point of that maxim would chuck it aside if they lost their religion? The second thought is a hard one for some people to grasp; I tend to think of it as a test of philosophical aptitude. The fact that some powerful supernatural being commands something isn't by itself a reason to think it's good. The point is very old; it goes back at least to Plato's dialogue Euthyphro . It goes with a pair of questions for the believer: are things right because God...

 Are there any rationally compelling reasons to believe in a god or gods, which created the cosmos and the things in it?

Nope. But what of it? "Rationally compelling" is too high bar. If a position really were rationally compelling , a rational person who understood it would have to be convinced. But there's very little in philosophy that meets this standard. There are rationally acceptable ways to believe in God, rationally acceptable ways to believe that there's no God, and rationally acceptable ways to be agnostic. As for what the reasons are, that's a long story, though I'd caution against thinking they can be reduced to slogans. Of course, the same point goes for more or less all claims that philosophers debate. But somehow, some people seem to think the case of religion is different.

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