Recent Responses

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 in the Will. If both of these options are not open (and you did not sign an agreement that paying the loan back to the estate would occur in the event of your father's death), I suggest you would not be wrong to keep the money and not give it to your sister. This is because she (essentially) stole from you in terms robbing you of your inheritance. This stealing would, in my view, even nullify a promise you made to your sister to give her money for almost any purpose, e.g. imagine you made a sincere promise to pay off her student loans which are $20,000. After she has stolen $1,000,000 from you unfairly, it seems she has taken the $20,000 herself, along with an additional $980,000.

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 burdensome re-distributions and Rawls' fairness principles would not be sustainable without regular, intrusive government control. So, with Nozick, I am inclined to think you do not have a duty to give the money to those in great need, but that it would be good for you to do so. If such an act were known, it might well motivate others to give. You might even offer the funds in a matching fashion: you will match gifts by co-workers to Oxfam dollar for dollar up to $500, thus doubling the amount given for famine relief. On the other hand, while I think such a course would be noble, it might bring resentment ("are you trying to be like Jesus or something?!"). Speaking of Jesus, while secular ethics often leaves you some room, for persons in the Abrahamic faiths, giving to those in need is considered a religious obligation (a show of love); giving alms is one of the pillars of Islam. So, if you share such religious values, giving the money away would be a spirited act.

Are rights just an idiom for really strong moral rules? (By "really strong," I mean that these rules typically take precedence over other rules.) For example, when we say that someone has a right to life, is that just another way of saying that it's immoral to kill people? Or are rights supposed to be somehow different in kind from other moral rules?

Some philosophers (utilitarians most notably) would agree that rights are "an idiom for really strong moral rules" that typically (though not necessarily) take precedence over other moral considerations. In the language made popular by Ronald Dworkin, rights function as "trumps," i.e., to have a right is to be protected against certain kinds of mistreatment even if that mistreatment would have very good consequences. So (for instance) a right to a fair trial is a right to be judged on the basis of certain procedures and evidence even if suspending those procedures might have very good consequences.

But many philosophical advocates of moral rights would likely assert that while rights are really strong moral rules, when we say 'she has a right to X' we are saying something more than 'it would be immortal not to provide her X'. Rights are personal entitlements, claims to be treated in particular ways by others. Talk of rights thus seems aimed at capturing our sense that individuals are morally important over and above their place within groups or larger wholes. Rightholders are protected against certain forms of mistreatment by others. Rights talk thus reflects the sense that individuals are sources of moral worth, not simply interchangeable 'parts' of some larger ethically salient whole. It's thus not surprising that 'rights' have been strongly associated with individualism in political philosophy and with 'deontological' theories of morality.

Is it a matter of convention that 24 September 2017, 17 September 2017, 10 September 2017, 3 September 2017, 1 February 1970, etc. are or were Sundays? Of course, we could have given and can give them a different name. They actually have different names in different languages. We could even have no common name for them. There could be no English language. There could be no Gregorian calendar (at least it could be that no one invented it). And, of course, what people do with Sundays varies greatly from one place or time to another. But it seems to me that it is no convention that these days were, are or will be Sundays. In any case, these thays would always be Sundays.

I presume that anything you would count as a Sunday must recur every seven days and must be the same day of the week. If not, then I don't know what you mean by "Sunday" in your question. But the decision to treat one week as consisting of seven days is entirely conventional rather than natural. (Notice that neither the solar year nor the lunar month divides equally into seven-day weeks.) See this link. According to other conventions, one week consists of more or fewer than seven days, so no particular day of the week recurs every seven days, so no day of the week is a Sunday.

I was once asked in an interview 'What would you change in the world if you had the power to do so?' I replied that 'if there was no life after death, I would destroy the human race including myself and my family, thus preventing the suffering every human would have undergone if they were alive'. Aside from life after death, at first glance you might think of me as a satanic human being, but I am exactly the contrary, I am a medical student. It would cause temporary suffering but it would also banish endless suffering as well as happy things. My question is that is it ethical and moral to do so?

This strikes me as a particularly easy question. The answer is no.

Among other things, you seem to be making two assumptions. The first is that the suffering prevented by destroying everyone outweighs all the the happiness and satisfaction that would also be prevented. That's already pretty unobvious. But in fact, as you've stated your view, you'd even be justified in wiping out people who would get more satisfaction than suffering out of their lives, since I assume that "everyone" means "everyone." I don't see a scintilla of justification for that.

The more serious problem is in assuming that because this is how you see things, it would justify wiping everyone out, no matter what their view of the matter might be. That's a pretty extraordinary thing to assume. I'm not about to accuse you of being satanic. But the view you're offering might deserve that label.

The attempt of religious believers to understand what atheism is has led many people to have misconceptions about what it entails. I recently went on Facebook and was confronted with an argument/arguments which belies atheism, and science in general. The belief expressed in the Facebook post was that the logical conclusion to an atheistic evolutionary worldview is that we would all be stabbing and raping each other, and simply doing everything we can just to survive. (Additional details about the post are at the end of my question in case of confusion) The conclusion this person is implying is that because we do not live in such a world of violence, we must be relying on the morality of god. This claim seems clearly rediculous to me, yet to many believers it appears cogent. My question is about how to represent this argument in a formal deductive style. Here I will present two propositions i think are involved in the confusion. The first proposition A is my rendition, and the second proposition B is a configuration that I am tacitly assuming an interlocutor might use. Proposition A: 1- If we are acting in accordance with, and rely on, the morals given to us by god, we would not be stabbing each other. 2- We aren't stabbing each other, therefore we are acting in accordance with, and rely on, the morals given to us by god. Proposition B: 1- If we aren't running around stabbing each other, we are reliant on the morality of god. 2- we aren't running around stabbing each other, therefore we are reliant on the morality of god. Proposition A is clearly circular and what is called affirming the consequent. But when it is reconfigured into proposition B, the problem goes away. I feel like this argument is unprovable, and furthermore, it seems similar to saying that if you have a headache, you have a brain tumour. My question is, how does one refute this argument, particularly proposition B. Where did I go wrong?

The philosophical terrain is a bit tricky here. I suspect most of us (whether religious believers or not) know (or maintain) that murder and rape are wrong because they violate other people, as well as (presumably involving a host of vices) like malice, hatred, spite, lust, and so on. A moral argument for theism (the belief that there is a supremely good Creator-God) comes into play when one asks a general question such as:

Is the existence of our cosmos in which there are inteterdependent, moral agents who are ethically obliged to care and respect each other (as well as there being laws of nature, diverse life forms, etc...) better explained naturalistically (e.g. evolutionary biology, etc, but no God) or theistically (e.g. evolutionary biology, etc but with a Creator God)?

So, I think that, rather than your versions of A and B, the better framework for reflection involves looking at a broader picture.

But getting closer to the argument that you reported, I suspect that someone who claims that the only reason they are not murdering others is because of God or a god or something like that.... may be working with a very robust view of punishment (and perhaps reward) that might only come from a very powerful (divine) agent. This is troubling, because it seems that punishment itself cannot explain the wrongness of, say, murder. Punishment might give a would-be murderer a reason not to murder, but the punishment would not be what makes the murder itself wrong.

Any reason someone could give for why they love me renders me replaceable. For instance, if they love me for my appearance, intelligence, kindness, well, there's always someone more attractive, smarter, kinder. So, all things being equal, they ought to trade up to a better model if presented with the choice; or if God is the most perfect example of all desirable traits, then they ought to love God and no one else. I'd like to ask the panel: in contrast to loving someone because of some quality that they might or might not be the best exemplar of, does it at all make sense to love someone in their particularity, ie simply because they occupy a certain position in the time-space continuum? Or does that make a nonsense of the concept of love? Or is it silly, in the first place, to look for reasons for love?

I don't know about loving someone thanks to their position in the time-space continuum, but yes, we can and do love people for their particularity, as you put it. It's important to distinguish what sparks love for someone and what sustains it. It's certainly true that we cannot love just anyone. We vary in the traits we find attractive or lovable. When we first encounter someone, their attributes are what sparks our love for them. But love has a history, and as loving relationships develop or evolve, we often come to love someone less for their attributes than for the person that they are. It's then that the beloved seems irreplaceable, for only that person will have their distinctive set of attributes, etc.

Christopher Grau's article "Love and history" ( is very good on this subject. Bennett Helm's article on love in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ( is a good place to get a foothold on the philosophical issues love raises.

Suppose some man is absolutely shy in romantic matters. Still, he loves to talk to beautiful women about all kinds of non-romantic, non-sexual subjects, and people like to talk to him. The main reason why he likes to talk to beautiful women is that it secretly arouses him sexually. Moreover, when talking to women he gets to see them at a close distance, to hear their voices clearly and to smell them. Perhaps on some occasions women will even touch him in a friendly manner. When he is alone at home, this man will remember those conversations and masturbate while thinking about those women and their physical closeness. My question is whether this is wrong (assuming that masturbation is not generally wrong). I think it is not wrong, but I have some doubts. My first problem is that this man is using those women without their full consent. They don’t know his real reason for talking with them nor what he will do “with” their conversation. I think Kant said something like we should not use other people as means for our interests without their consent. Secondly, I think it is not impossible that this practice will, over the years, have some bad effect on this man. Perhaps it will make him come to see women, in general, as “objects”, and perhaps someday he will do something nasty because of that. This may be improbable, but it seems possible. All in all, do you think it is wrong for him to “use” women in this way?

You've asked an interesting question. I'm not going to say much directly about whether this person is doing wrong. I'm going to say some things more in line with a remark of John Austin's in a very different context: "If only we could forget for a while about the beautiful and get down instead to the dainty and the dumpy." (From Austin's "A Plea For Excuses.") What seems interesting here is more at the level of moral psychology than broad moral judgments. The counterpart for daintiness or dumpiness that came to mind was creepiness.

I suspect I'm not the only panelist who found your first few sentences creepy. I'd stress that this isn't a way of saying that you are creepy, but let's try to bring the creepiness reaction into clearer focus.

I don't know of any philosophical literature on creepiness, but this piece from a website called Family Share gets the basics right:

(Thanks to Taimur Khan for that link.)

What you describe triggers the creepiness response, but the character you describe doesn't fit the stereotype of a creep. The classic creep is someone who makes people uncomfortable because he's either clueless about or doesn't care about personal/social boundaries. Staring, sitting too close, asking inappropriately personal questions, oversharing, not backing off when he should, are the sorts of things that make someone a classic creep. But the person you describe isn't like that. He doesn't creep people out; they like talking with him. And yet at another level the creepiness doesn't go away.

Why is that? One reason is that the matter-of-fact description itself feels invasive—feels like it's crossing boundaries in the way that the classic creep does. It has a meta-creepy feel. That said, clinical descriptions of a good many kinds of behavior bring out the same reaction, and so let's set that aside. Let me offer a three-type picture of deepening creepitude.

The first type is the person who is well-meaning but bad at picking up on social cues. If you explained what made his behavior creepy, he'd feel bad and would want to do better. This is someone you might even try to befriend once you understood them.

The second type may or may not have good social perception, but doesn't care. The creepy behavior wouldn't change if you brought it to his attention, and he may get some sort of pleasure from creeping people out.

The third type is closer to the case you present. This is someone who is skilled at presenting a front that hides his real intentions. As you describe your example, he can simulate innocence and friendliness so that the women he talks to serve the role of pornography for him. His inner attitude is sexual objectification, but he's able to disguise that. This is what makes the portrait creepy. He's crossing boundaries while hiding his tracks in plain sight. What keeps things from adding up to psychopathy is that what drives his behavior is a certain kind of "shyness" as you describe it, or perhaps a sense of inadequacy. If you have a real person in mind, making an all-things-considered judgment of him would call for a lot more information. I can imagine him as someone I'd feel sorry for just as easily as I can imagine him as contemptible.

A fourth type, of course, would be a genuine psychopath: someone who is deeply manipulative and has no empathy at all for the people he interacts with. This person wouldn't care at about the women he manipulates, but understands the social rules exquisitely well and is skilled at using them for his particular form of gratification.

Where does this leave your question about wrongness? You've identified two reasons for moral worry. That said, many (perhaps even most?) people have entertained fantasies that would not be pleasing to their objects were they revealed. Drawing the lines here is complicated, though what you describe suggests someone who's stepped over at least some of them. Rather than trying to sort all that out, I'd say that the person you describe is morally out of tune, as it were. You depict him as stunted in various ways. He's emotionally stunted, but it goes beyond that. Even if he's not directly harming anyone else, he is manipulative, inauthentic and dishonest. None of those are good ways for a person to be. If this is a real person, we might hope that a skilled, sensitive therapist could help him learn to relate to people more meaningfully. But whether or not we want to use the word wrong for what he does, it's off, and off in ways that have a significant moral dimension.

Good Day! I would just like to ask. Is truth relative? Personally, I don't think it is because the question begs you to believe there are instances where it is false which means it is not constantly applicable which makes me question it. However, I find a flaw that I can't quite answer. Let's say something that is true on a specific culture, is false on another, if this is the case, then how could truth be absolute? Or is truth actually relative? Thank you!

I can't make sense of the idea that truth could be relative. Suppose that I find some dish spicy, while you find it mild. We might be inclined to say that

(R) "This dish is spicy" is true relative to me and false relative to you,

but I think that way of speaking is by no means forced on us and, in fact, is misleading. For if R itself were true, its truth would have to be explained in terms of the truth of this non-relative claim:

(NR) This dish is spicy relative to my taste but not yours.

NR neither is nor implies the claim that truth is relative. Rather, perceived spiciness is. So too with

(P) "Polygamy is acceptable" is true relative to culture A but false relative to culture B.

P is an avoidable and misleading way of making the non-relative claim that culture A accepts polygamy whereas culture B doesn't. The acceptance of polygamy is relative to culture, and that's a non-relative truth.

Logic plays an important role in reasoning because it helps us out to evaluate the soundness of an argument. But logic doesn't help us out in the search of truth. Does philosophy have a method/s to find truth ? Is something like truth possible in philosophy ? I just would like to know because, as a guy who studies such a subject, I tried to answer these questions without success. I lack the necessary resource to answer such a question (a definition of truth). By the way, I'm sorry for the bad English; it's not my native language.

I respectfully disagree with your claim that logic doesn't help in the search for truth. On the contrary, we need logic in order to find out what any proposition P implies -- what other propositions must be true if P is true -- which, in turn, is essential for verifying that P itself is true. This holds as much in science as in philosophy or any other kind of inquiry.

You suggest that you need a definition of the word truth before you can answer the question whether philosophy can find truth. But if that's a problem, it isn't a problem just for philosophy: it affects science and any other kind of inquiry just as much as it affects philosophy. You could say to a physicist, "Until I have a definition of truth, how can I know whether physics can find truth?" The only difference here between philosophy and physics is that a philosopher will take your question seriously.

I don't think you need a definition of truth -- or at any rate not an interesting definition -- in order to see whether philosophy, physics, or anything else can find truth. Indeed, the concept of truth may be so fundamental that it can't be analyzed in terms of more basic concepts. Perhaps the most we can say about truth is platitudes like these:

"Mass-energy is always conserved" is true if and only if mass-energy is always conserved.
"Determinism is compatible with moral responsibility" is true if and only if determinism is compatible with moral responsibility.

The first quoted claim is from physics, while the second quoted claim is from philosophy. But as far as the concept of truth is concerned, they're on a par. To find out if mass-energy is always conserved, we make observations, perform experiments, and extrapolate (on a grand scale!) from the results. To find out if determinism is compatible with moral responsibility, we think as carefully as we can about the concepts of determinism and moral responsibility. Substantial progress has been made on both issues. Indeed, I think the second issue has been resolved.