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Hey so I'm actually writing a paper on the biological basis of morality and am taking an evolutionary standpoint on it. So my premise is based upon the fact that all living beings have the intrinsic need to survive and reproduce, which is what natural selection is based upon. Also, it has been researched that species (using the definition of organisms that can breed with each other and produce viable offspring) care for each other and co-operate with each other to ensure the survival of their own species. Now I believe that this would lead to one objective moral truth that we ought to care for the well being of our species. I know this commits the is ought fallacy but I believe it can be overlooked in this case since this behavior of survival and reproduction can be observed in all species that we know of to date. Do you think this Is a fairly viable standpoint to take or am I missing something essential?

When you say that "species...care for each other and co-operate with each other to ensure the survival of their own species," I take it you're referring not to all species (including all plants, all microbes, all invertebrates, etc.) but only to those species whose members care for each other and cooperate with each other, which may be a minority of the species that exist. Anyway, you ask whether something like the following argument is "fairly viable": 1. The members of all species [of the restricted kind referred to above] act so as to promote the survival of their own species. 2. Therefore: We humans ought to act so as to promote the survival of our own species. As you seem to recognize, the argument isn't logically valid: The premise doesn't logically imply the conclusion. But the argument can be made logically valid by inserting a premise, such as P. We humans ought to do what the members of all species [of the restricted kind referred to above] do. One problem is that P itself is highly...

Many theists appeal to certain facts about the world (objectivity of morality, laws of nature, existence of the universe) and infer that these facts must be grounded in God. One response that I found common to atheists is to argue that these facts are rather brute and need no explanation beyond themselves. My question then is this: What makes a particular fact a brute fact? To put it more specifically, are there any criteria for what would make a certain fact brute and also for what would make a certain fact necessarily grounded on something else?

As I understand it, the distinction between brute facts and other facts is that a brute fact has no explanation (not simply an explanation we fail to know) whereas any other fact has an explanation (even if we don't know the explanation). Contingent facts could have been otherwise: they could have failed to be facts. Noncontingent facts couldn't have been otherwise: they couldn't have failed to be facts. Given the history of scientific explanation, I see no reason to accept the existence of brute contingent facts. Many contingent facts that seemed to resist explanation were later explained. I see no reason to think that many of the facts that now seem to resist explanation won't themselves later be explained. One way for every contingent fact to have an explanation is for there to be an endless regress of contingent facts. I see nothing wrong with such a regress. Assuming that the existence and nature of our universe are both contingent, they would be explained by an endless regress of contingent...

Hi! My friend tells me that our purpose in life can't be to be happy. Either one of the religions has got it right, and there is a deity or deities, in which case our purpose is to serve them, or there is no God, in which case we have no purpose other than one we arbitrarily decide for ourselves to follow. Does that claim hold water? Thanks in advance for your help!

I think your friend's argument by dilemma leaves out this possibility: we were made by a deity (or deities) principally in order to lead happy lives rather than principally in order to serve it (or them). Even so, our having been made for the purpose of being happy wouldn't make being happy our purpose . Instruments made for a purpose thereby acquire that purpose (although, of course, they can later be repurposed). But people aren't instruments; I doubt that they're the kind of thing that can be given a purpose, even by their maker. Or at least, because they're autonomous, people can thwart any attempt by their maker to give them a purpose. Hence I don't think there could be any such thing as "our purpose in life," if "our" refers to people in general. So I agree with your friend's conclusion (although for different reasons than your friend gave): our purpose in life can't be to be happy. Nor can it be anything else.

Can philosophy prove/disprove anything or it is just inconclusive and useless?

One of philosophy's most important uses is in helping us to spot bad questions. It's better to diagnose the defect in a bad question than to try to answer a bad question straight up. Take your question, for instance. Its defect is your false dichotomy : your assumption that any discipline either can prove or disprove things or else is inconclusive and useless. It might be neither of those. Historians of Tudor England can't prove or disprove things, if that means answering historically interesting questions with absolute certainty: their historical evidence doesn't allow them to do that. But of course that doesn't make the history of Tudor England a useless area of inquiry, and if it's not useless then it's not inconclusive and useless. Your false dichotomy aside, philosophy does prove some things, such as the principles of logical reasoning. Less abstractly, philosophy often proves that some theory consisting of specific propositions A, B, C (say) is logically committed to some other proposition...

What do you think is a satisfactory response to external world skepticism? I'm having a hard time finding one I can accept.

The external-world skeptic purports to show that I can't know any external-world proposition P. How about this response? 1. Conceptual analysis reveals that knowledge is nothing more than reliably produced true belief, where reliability falls far short of logical infallibility. 2. If knowledge is nothing more than reliably produced true belief, then the skeptic's sensitivity condition on knowledge is false: I can have a reliably produced true belief that P, and hence knowledge that P, even if I would falsely believe that P if I were being deceived by an evil demon. (Analogy: My gas-engine car can be reliable even if it wouldn't work at all if it were on the airless surface of the moon.) 3. In particular, I can have a reliably produced true belief, and hence knowledge, that I'm not being deceived by an evil demon even if, were I being deceived by an evil demon, my belief that I'm not being deceived would not be reliably produced. The skeptic then predictably asks: "But how do you know...

Can you coherently consistently imagine a universe where laws of thoughts are false?

If by "laws of thoughts" you mean laws of logic, then no. No coherent (that is, self-consistent) situation can violate any law of logic. Even philosophers, such as Graham Priest, who claim to be able to imagine situations that violate the law of non-contradiction concede that those situations are not self-consistent.

In a reply to a question about the sorites paradox, Professor Maitzen writes: "Logic requires there to be a sharp cutoff in between those clear cases -- a line that separates having enough leaves to be a head of lettuce from having too few leaves to be a head of lettuce. Or else there couldn't possibly be heads of lettuce." However, there is no justification that clearly leads from his premise to his conclusion: obviously we can have heaps of sand without knowing exactly how many grains of sand are required to distinguish a "heap" from a pile of individual sand grains, or else there would not be a so-called "paradox" in the first place! The premise as he presents it sounds like a tautology, not a logical argument. What makes a "heap" of sand is not only how many grains of sand there are, but also how those grains are arranged. If you took a "heap" of sand and stretched it out in a line, you would have the same number of grains, but it would no longer be a "heap." You could take a head of lettuce...

What makes a "heap" of sand is not only how many grains of sand there are, but also how those grains are arranged. If you took a "heap" of sand and stretched it out in a line, you would have the same number of grains, but it would no longer be a "heap." Agreed! Even so, there must be a sharp cutoff between (a) enough grains to make a heap of sand if they're arranged properly and (b) too few grains to make a heap of sand no matter how they're arranged. An instance of (a) would be 1 billion; an instance of (b) would be 1. Why must there be a sharp cutoff between (a) and (b)? Because otherwise (a) can be shown to apply to 1 (which clearly it doesn't) or (b) can be shown to apply to 1 billion (which clearly it doesn't). That's what the sorites argument shows. ...obviously we can have heaps of sand without knowing exactly how many grains of sand are required to distinguish a "heap" from a pile of individual sand grains, or else there would not be a so-called "paradox" in the first place! You seem...

Is the Sorites paradox really a paradox, or is it more properly considered to be a logical fallacy? By definition, the term "heap" is indeterminate. Yet the Sorites paradox tries to force a specific definition on what is by design an indeterminate concept: the very idea of defining the term "heap" as a specific number of grains of sand is fallacious, is it not? I don't see a paradox here as much as I see confusion about how terms are defined. How many grapes are in a bunch of grapes? How many leaves are in a head of lettuce? How many grains are in an ear of corn? How many chips are in a bag of potato chips? in each of the above questions, the answer will vary from one example to the next, the exact number is not particularly germane to the concept. So what makes a heap different from a bunch or any of the other examples?

I see the sorites paradox as a very serious problem, not a logical fallacy that's easy to diagnose and fix. The paradox arises whenever we have clear cases at the extremes but no known line separating the cases where a concept applies from the cases where the concept doesn't apply. Clearly, 1 grape isn't enough to compose a bunch of grapes. Just as clearly, 100 grapes is enough to compose a bunch of grapes. So which number between 2 and 100 is the smallest number of grapes sufficient to compose a bunch of grapes? If there's no correct answer, then the sorites paradox shows that the concept enough grapes to compose bunch of grapes is an inconsistent concept. But inconsistent concepts, such as the concept colorless red object , necessarily never apply to anything, in which case it would be impossible for anything to be a bunch of grapes. One might reply, "Okay, fine. Necessarily there are no bunches of grapes. Life goes on." The problem, however, is that the sorites paradox applies to every vague...

My understanding is that philosophers like Wittgenstein held that thought without language is impossible. I've seen many people reply that they have non-linguistic thoughts all the time, and my guess is that what they mean is that they often "think" in imagery rather than words. For example, rather than saying with their inner voice, "I should advance my pawn," they picture a chess board with a pawn moving forward. Does this demonstrate non-linguistic thought?

I'm no expert on Wittgenstein, and I don't know the particular argument of his that you're alluding to. He does give a famous argument that anything properly regarded as a language must be usable (if not also used) by more than one person. But your question is about something else: whether a being can think without possessing language, or maybe whether a being can have thoughts with no linguistic content . I think the clearest reason for answering "yes" is given by the problem-solving behavior of non-human animals to whom we have no reason to attribute language. Mice seem able to solve mazes, octopuses can figure out and open screw-top jars, and so on, yet it seems a stretch to attribute language to them. When an octopus encounters, for the first time ever, a closed glass jar containing attractive prey, which linguistic resources or concepts must it use when it figures out how to remove the screw top? What sort of linguistic content is the octopus representing to itself? None that I can imagine....

For some reason, the sorites paradox seems quite a bit like the supposed paradox of Achilles and the turtle with a head start: every time Achilles reaches where the turtle had been, the turtle moves a little bit forward, and so by that line of reasoning, Achilles will never be able to reach the turtle. Yet, when we watch Achilles chase the turtle in real life, he catches it and passes it with ease. By shifting the level of perspective from the molecular to the macro level, so to speak, we move beyond the paradox into a practical solution. If we try to define "heap" by specifying the exact number of grains of sand it takes to differentiate between "x grains of sand" and "a heap of sand," aren't we merely perpetuating the same fallacy, albeit in a different way, by saying that every time Achilles reaches where the turtle had been, the turtle has moved on from there? If not, how are the two situations qualitatively different? Thanks.

In my opinion, the reasoning that generates the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise isn't nearly as compelling as the reasoning that generates the sorites paradox. The Achilles reasoning overlooks the simple fact that Achilles and the tortoise are travelling at different speeds : if you graph the motion of each of them, with one axis for distance and the other axis for elapsed time, the two curves will eventually cross and then diverge as Achilles pulls farther and farther ahead of the tortoise. All of this is compatible with the fact that, for any point along the path that's within the tortoise's head start, the tortoise will have moved on by the time Achilles reaches that point: that's just what it means for the tortoise to have a head start. It's not that the Achilles reasoning is good at the micro level but bad at the macro level. It's just bad. By contrast, the only thing overlooked by the sorites reasoning is the principle that a small quantitative change (e.g., the loss of one grain of...

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