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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...

Being that Christianity teaches that Jesus is Lord of all of our lives, and this therefore means that He determines how we should live, do you think that God could therefore ask us to stop studying or practicing philosophy? Could surrendering our lives to Christ entail the end of one's philosophical studies?

Being a Christian and a philosopher, I hope not! "Philosophy" comes for the Greek for the love of wisdom, and given that Christianity, like Judaism, supports a rich tradition of wisdom (see, for example, "The Book of Wisdom" in the Hebrew Bible), to think God / Christ would ask us to cease being philosophical seems as likely to me as being asked to stop breathing or to only listen to Bach. But you are on to a good point in asking about when traditions or institutions or when philosophy itself might limit or caution us about the practice of philosophy. Presumably there are all kinds of practical, common sense conditions when it would be good to stop doing philosophy in the sense of, for example, debating some point on how to interpret Kant when engaged in rescuing people who are drowning (unless you are rescuing a Kantian and discussing Kant will calm the person down). We also might allow that while Socrates is commonly praised for giving up his life for his practice of philosophy, sometimes even a...

How is it clear that religious thought and philosophy were totally intertwined during the Middle Ages? Why was it this way?

Interesting question. Many of the seminal figures in medieval philosophy (from Augustine to Anselm to Aquinas) were members of the Christian church. The earliest universities where philosophy was practiced were centers of theological practices (the art of disputation, for example) and were also sites where persons trained for the priesthood. Actually, in pre-Christian philosophy, many of the philosophers engaged in work that touched on matters that we would today describe as religiously significant (the existence of God or gods, the soul, an afterlife, etc). So, in a sense, in over 2,400 years of philosophy in the west, a majority of that time involved philosophers engaging in themes of religious significance. Even philosophers one might read in a secular light such as Hume and Kant spent enormous time and energy in the philosophical assessment of religious beliefs and practices.

Are all moral questions philosophical? Some moral questions depend on factual questions (historical or scientific), but I mean the other ones.

Not an easy question to address. "Moral questions" might refer to questions about a particular act (is it morally permissible for you to buy a cup of coffee when that money might go to Oxfam and save a life) or a general practice or an institution. Moral questions might also include general questions about an overall moral or ethical theory. I suggest that in questioning the moral status of something, it is difficult to avoid some philosophy of values, even if this is not being explicitly invoked or applied. Even when employing historical and scientific methods in addressing the moral status of some state of affairs, some philosophy will be (or so I suggest) at work, even if this principally involves the philosophy of inquiry itself.

How does a study of Philosophy assist your understanding of the activity of helping and of the relationship between self and other that is involved in this undertaking?

That depends on what one is studying philosophically. This term I am conducting a seminar with senior undergraduates in which we are reading the work of Cornel West and Iris Murdoch. They both compel us to think critically about matters of race and our individual responsibility to renounce narcissistic preoccupation and devote ourselves instead to the good, the true, and the beautiful (this is Iris Murdoch's central values as a Platonist), not merely as abstract, theoretical ideals, but as persons who are engaged in confronting racism and sexism. I am also offering two sections of a course, Environmental Ethics with about one hundred students; the goal of the class is to sharpen our understanding of our relationship with nonhuman animals, to live more fully in response to enormous human needs, including future generations. This is a scholarly and scientifically informed undertaking, but it is not intended to be of only academic interest, but to encourage each of us to be active in confronting...

How is it clear that religious thought and philosophy were totally intertwined during the Middle Ages?

Interesting question. During the medieval period, philosophical work was done on many subjects that might be assessed independent of religious convictions on the theory of truth, different accounts of human and animal nature, logic, ethics, the constitution of the world (or reality) but much of that work (and other work that is explicitly religious involving natural and revealed theology) was carried out with one eye on the religious implication of the views at hand. For example, philosophers who were observant Jews, Christians, and Muslim might craft different accounts of human nature influence by Plato and Aristotle while also considering which account would allow for the possibility (or promise) of a dynamic individual afterlife for persons.

Is Science born from Philosophy? And so, what about Quine's anti-foundationalism? Is it correct?

Interesting! Originally, what we might call "science" was done by those referred to as "philosophers." So, the preSocratics (like Thales) investigated the structure of nature / reality and, in doing so, he would have found it very odd if asked whether his "science" stemmed from philosophy --as there would not have been a possible separation. If we move toward the late 20th century and we come to Quine, he contended that science did not require a philosophical foundation. In fact, he rather wanted to subordinate philosophy to science (the natural or physical sciences in particular; in terms of psychology he was, like his friend B.F. Skinner, a radical behaviorist). Quine came to concede that philosophy of science might be prior to (conceptually antecedent to) the natural sciences, and this was (in my view) on the right track but needed to go further. I do not think you can have science without making all sorts of assumptions (that are properly considered philosophical) about the nature of the world,...

why is it difficult to define philosophy?

I am not trying to be difficult, but I am not sure philosophy is difficult to define, or at least I suggest it is not any more difficult to define than (for example) the sciences, the humanities, love or works of art, war and peace, and so on. I usually define "philosophy" as having two levels or dimensions. On the one had, and most generally, to have a view of reality and values is to have a philosophy. Given this general definition, every thoughtful person has a philosophy of some kind. Going further, it should be noted that philosophy involves critical reflection on one or more such views, inquiring into meaning and coherence and raising questions of justification (why accept one view rather than another? or why accept any view at all?) This definition (or maybe it should be thought of as a "characterization" or depiction or sketch) can then be enhanced by offering examples and then by noting how philosophy has a host of sub-fields from metaphysics, epistemology, ethical theory or, more broadly...

Can every philosophical word or term listed in peer-reviewed philosophy dictionaries be explained with a real-life example? If not, how can we know that it's not just BS?

I suppose your reference to when a term is used in a BS fashion, the term is used either without serious intent or it involves some fabrication or pretense to meaning or clarity that is undeserved. I could be wrong, but probably using "a real life example" might not be a guarantee that a term is being used seriously or without BS, partly because there are interesting disputes about when an example is a matter of "real life" or a strange interpretation of real life. For example, an extreme philosophical behaviorist who denies the existence of occurrent experiential states might claim that she can completely describe and explain our exchange right now, but (from my point of view) this would involve completely ignoring an evident feature of real life. Even so, I would not want to accuse the extreme behaviorist as promoting BS. She is seriously committed to a position and methodology that (it may be argued) is powerfully supported by a certain philosophy of science and meaning. In any case, I share...

Is science held to a lesser standard of proof than religion for analytic philosophers?

Interesting question. To begin, matters of "proof" are rarely involved in analytical philosophy of religion. In fact, the days of when any philosopher claims to "prove" a thesis in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of science etc seem past. Philosophers for a while seem to settle on advancing good or cogent arguments (or plausible counter-arguments and counter-examples) rather than claiming to prove a point. Though there are some philosophers who do think they have proofs. Galen Strawson, for example, claims (wrongly, in my view) to have proven that no person is morally responsible for any of their acts. Proofs to one side, it is interesting to wonder whether the evidential standards differ among analytic philosophers when they consider claims in science and claims in or about religion. Roger Trigg is an interesting philosopher who contend that science requires a philosophical foundation and that foundation invites or provides some evidence for theism. Richard Swinburne takes up and...

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