Advanced Search

My wife wants to retire to a gated community. I find the phrase to be an oxymoron, and believe that the whole gated project is morally flawed; for example, it can lead to us vs. them thinking, social stratification, etc. Is there an argument here, or just a personal preference?

Fascinating situation. And really important to resolve in a marriage or intimate relationship! There might be some interesting empirical evidence or social science that can shed light on the situation: my guess is that gated communities probably contain more persons who prize privacy than public works, the greater community or a nearby municipality, but this might or might not be backed up by social research. If I was in your situation, the most important factor for me would be to reach agreement on core values with my spouse. Perhaps she shares the same values you do, but either fears or has been the victim of violence / crime or (as a woman) she believe she is more likely to be assaulted than males, and so a gated community is preferred for her safety or she may feel the need to be more protective of both you and her and your family. If so, those may be good reasons (for her sake or for the sake of those values) to (perhaps reluctantly) joining the gated community as I would think one could offset...

Say the universe is natural (say it had 'natural' beginnings and there was no creator)... what should this mean for my life? If we took this a step further and said we are the products of some accidental RNA interaction and there is no soul or afterlife, what should this mean about an overall worldview? Am I to live happily? How am I to struggle through moments of toil - work hard in society - if there is no meaning?

The topic of the meaning of life is now very big among philosophers. Most non-theistic / atheistic philosophers would respond that even if there is no meaning or purpose OF or FOR life, there can be meaning IN life. So, even if all life is the result of purposeless, accidents, etc, there is no reason to not love other people, work as a doctor in society, be an artist, fight for justice. I agree, but it is worth considering that IF theism is true and the cosmos exists for goods (such as persons loving and caring for each other, etc) then perhaps life has even more meaning than if theism is false. This is a quick reply; for more nuanced reflection see T.J. Mawson's God and the Meaning of Life or The Purpose of Life by Stewart Goetz.

Why can’t I argue that God exists noncontingently and is an abstract object? Some say it is because abstract objects lack causal power, and thus to argue as such would deny God at least one essential characteristic which any interesting concept of God cannot lack—omnipotence. But why can’t abstract object possess causal power?

Interesting question. Some philosophers have attributed to abstract objects divine attributes like being eternal and timeless. Perhaps some abstract objects (like the properties of justice and beauty) might be worthy of worship. I have actually argued that abstract objects do have causal roles, so I am sympathetic with your inquiry! Their causal role (in my view) takes place in accounting for our intentionality and thinking. When you think about 1+1, the reason why you reason that 1+1=2 is that you grasp necessary relationships between numbers, which are abstract objects. Moreover, for some of us who think God exists non contingently, we suppose that there is the abstract state of affairs of there being a non contingent, necessarily existing God. And no less a philosopher than Plato suggests that the Good might be the source of what is. However while abstract objects might have some causal powers, few have thought they can have intentional powers (e.g. the property of justice as an abstract object...

Music is considered an art so can we consider the sound of the wind an art?

Great question. It might be made even more vexing if we compare the sound of wind with a musical piece in which musicians play instrumental music that resembles almost exactly the sound of wind. The chief reason why most of us would distinguish the two is because it is long held that works of art are artifactual: things (events or sounds) that are produced intentionally. The term "art" actually comes from the word "ars" which refers to the technique (techne) that is used to produce something. So, for most of history and today, the term "art" is short for "work of art" and because the sound of wind is (typically) not an intentionally produced to be a work (of art), the two are different. Still, we can imagine someone recording the sound of wind and then using this in an overall musical production. We can also imagine musical compositions intended only to be performed on windy day or during extreme weather conditions in which there is thunder and lightning. In such ways, artists might attune their...

I'm thinking about writing a book to teach kids philosophy, but I've run into a bit of a writer's block from the onset. I'm not sure whether to start with epistemology(theory of knowledge) or metaphysics(theory of reality). At first I thought about starting with epistemology, then metaphysics, on the grounds that people base their views on reality around knowledge. But then I realized that one's understanding of reality will often influence how they perceive knowledge. Which one is better to start with? Or perhaps is starting with one or the other inaccurate and should both be introduced at the same time?

I wish you great success in this project! For inspiration, you might look at the entry on philosophy for children on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The books by Gareth Matthews are particularly good and are reference in the SEP entry. I suggest you might begin with both metaphysics and epistemology. It is very difficult to do epistemology without some (presumed) metaphysical claims (there are observations / sensations / there is thinking / doubting...) and difficult to consider metaphysical claims without engaging in epistemology (what do we know -or have good reason to believe about observations / sensations / thinking / doubting). You might even begin the book with making the claim that while it is tempting to prioritize epistemology (for example) it is difficult to do without some commitments or assumptions about what there is. One blended way of practicing philosophy with both epistemology and metaphysics can be found in the tradition of so-called critical common sense philosophy as...

When assessing an act of violence, we tend to be less severe on violence committed in the heat of the moment than on premeditated violence, which we judge to be far more cruel. Yet, when we punish hot-blooded violence with the violence of, say, long-term imprisonment, we do so with premeditation. Are we therefore more cruel as judges than the criminals we condemn?

Great question! I suggest that premeditation may work in both cases in a parallel fashion. So, I propose that If we reach what turns out to be an unjust or wrongful punishment of someone (who is innocent) then the fact that we did so with great premeditation makes our wrongful decision worse than if we made a "heat of the moment" verdict. In the later case, imagine a police officer believes there is sufficient evidence that a person is armed, dangerous and putting innocent persons lives at risk, but this turns out to not be the case (the person is acting, and only simulating a school shooting with a realistically looking guns, but these are props). In such a "heat of the moment" event, an officer might be expected to act on her best judgment even if it turns out to be wrong. But in cases of premeditation --either in the use of force or in reaching verdicts in court-- I think we rightly expect there to be enough time for persons to scrutinize the evidence more thoroughly to reduce the risk of wrongful...

Through some years of philosophical study I've become confused about what exactly it means for me to have knowledge. What was once a familiar and seemingly clear concept has now become unfamiliar and obscure. Can it be made clear again for me? Can I ever know whether or not I know? It seems as though the more I read about knowledge the more obscured it becomes.

The topic of knowledge is an old one, going back at least to Plato who wrestled with the difference between knowledge and correct opinion. The traditional, most common understanding of knowledge is that a person knows X (whatever X stands for) if that person has a true, justified belief about X. Justification refers to evidence. This traditional understanding of knowledge has been challenged on the grounds that you might have a justified true belief about X --that Pat Jones is in Spain-- and yet the justification / evidence is spurious, e.g. imagine you are seeing Jones' identical twin, Chris Jones, in Spain and you inappropriately conclude you are actually seeing Pat. This has caused some philosophers to amend the definition to: A person knows X if the person's belief is true and the evidence for this belief does not involve essential reasoning by way of a false premise. Matters that remain unsettled include (a) Just how much evidence or justification is needed for one's belief to count as knowledge,...

A common defense of an unethical act is to say, "If I didn't do it, someone else would." Let's say for the sake of argument that such a claim is true. Is it a credible defense? I wonder if a utilitarian in particular should be receptive to this line of thought.

Good question. Yes, utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism and, as the term suggests, the concern is with the net consequences of action. If some consequence is inevitable (imagine this involves an injury) and it cannot be prevented, then it may be an open question about who brings about the consequence. I note that this would be an "open question," because a utilitarian might still have good reasons to be very concerned about who does the act. Let's say you and I have applied for a job that will result in one of us (unfairly) injuring someone and, for some reason, this unfair injury cannot be prevented. I get the job and reason that, well, if I don't do it, you would. It still may be worse for me to do the act for, having done it, perhaps I have a weak character and am more likely to do far more unjust acts (than you). But, setting aside this additional way of measuring and comparing consequences, it is usually the non-utilitarian (the Kantian or advocate of virtue theory) who claim that it...

Hello, My dad died before I could pay him back $20,000 that he lent me. My dad had a Will that left 50/50 to my sister and myself. $1,000,000 each. My sister changed my dad's Will when he had dementia and he had no idea what he was doing. My sister ended up with all the money being $2,000,000 in total. Do I have a moral obligation to give me sister half of the $20,000 that my dad lent to me that I never repaid to my dad?

Tough decision. If the father were still alive, even with dementia and even if the sister had altered the Will, I think you would owe him the $20,000 due to the (I presume) promise you made to pay him back. The promise was made to him, after all, and was probably not qualified in terms of mental fitness ("I will pay you back so long as your are mentally competent"). With his passing (and I am sorry for your loss) I suggest that matters change insofar as your sister manipulatively (wrongly) altered the Will. Ideally, the sister might have a moment of conscience and, realizing the wrong she committed, she would voluntarily half the bequest. Perhaps (from a strategic point of view) offering her the $20K might even shock her into some repentance, e.g she might be incredulous (in a good way) that while you have been wronged, you were still trying to make amends. Failing that, there might be legal recourse of declaring the Will null and void, given that your father was not competent to make the change he did...

What is the right (ethical) thing to do with money that has landed on your lap? I recently won $500 based on a workplace recognition award. My nomination was based on strong achievements in the workplace over the past year, but the final selection of the top five nominees was random. I feel that the money would be better served by donating to a charity - but I am interested in whether there is a moral obligation to do so. I am very financially secure, and do not "need" the money

Great question. Some philosophers believe that the distribution of property should be governed by utility or happiness. So, some utilitarians might well contend that you are obligated to give disposable (non-essential) income or wealth to those whose welfare is worse than yours and who would (probably) benefit from the bequest. Some political liberals like John Rawls argue similarly that goods should be distributed to the less fortunate, thus seeking to correct the ostensible unfairness of the fact that some of us have greater goods than others (and this is often not based on merit, but on inheritance or the good fortune of being born in good health, and so on). Robert Nozick, on the other hand, would hold that you are entitled to your good fortune, seeing that you did not receive it unjustly and, you at least partly earned it (even if the final matter was determined by lottery). I am inclined to this later position on the grounds that the utilitarian approach would put us on a slippery slope requiring...

Pages