Recent Responses

Logic is supposed to be an objective foundation of all knowledge. But if that's the case then why are there multiple systems of logic? For example there's 'dialetheism', which allows for true contradictions, and 'fuzzy logic' in which the law of excluded middle does not apply. If people can just re-write the rules to create their own system of logic, then doesn't that make logic subjective and arbitrary? It doesn't seem like arguments would have much weight if I could simply just choose whichever system best supports the conclusion I want.

You've asked a very good question, and your final sentence makes a good point. Those who defend one or another non-classical system of logic (paraconsistent, dialetheistic, intuitionistic, fuzzy, quantum, etc.) insist that they're not simply choosing a system of logic on a whim or merely out of convenience. Instead, they say, we're forced to accept non-classical logic because (a) it's an objective fact that arbitrary contradictions don't imply every proposition; because (b) some propositions are objectively both true and false; because (c) some propositions are objectively neither true nor false; because (d) some tautologies aren't completely true and some contradictions aren't completely false; because (e) the data gleaned from reliable experiments don't obey the classical laws of distribution, etc.

Having looked into them, I find none of their arguments for (a)-(e) persuasive. But what's most interesting, as various philosophers have observed, is that the defenders of non-classical logic sooner or later all rely on classical logic in arguing for their preferred systems. Their reliance on classical logic to argue for non-classical logic suggests to me that classical logic is the logic they trust when the chips are down.

My question is regarding Loneliness. How can anyone overcome loneliness? But first some considerations: The uncertainty of the future does not imply an answer. Saying that someday the feeling of loneliness can disappear because of the possibility of finding someone its not a method to overcome it, its just waiting and tolerating it. Present interaction with other people is not efficient. This may result in feeling more lonely. Of course this is a topic that i can relate to. Thats why previous considerations can have the wrong approach, as it personal. In my opinion, getting involved with other people its just a way to cover the real problem. This has gotten me to think that a logical solution cant be generalized or universalized. But I hope there are aspects of loneliness, that every feels, which can be treated with the same solution. Thanks for your time.

Philosophers may not have any special wisdom to impart on this question, but a bit of analyzing might still be useful.

You haven't said what you mean by "loneliness." It might seem that the answer is so obvious that it's not worth asking, but I think it matters for some things you say. Typically when people say that they're lonely, they mean either that they lack company and find that distressing or painful, or that they don't feel an emotional connection with the people they have as "company." We'll at least start with that understanding.

You're surely right that even if it's possible that you'll find someone to salve your loneliness, that doesn't get you very far. But then you go on to say that interacting with people in the here and now isn't "efficient." On the face of it, this is puzzling, since if it's loneliness as spelled out above that you want to cure, it's hard at first to see how the cure could come without relationships with other people. You say that getting involved with people covers up the real problem, and that raises an obvious question: what do you understand the real problem to be?

Since you haven't said, I can only guess. But one thing you might mean is a lack of self-sufficiency. The idea would be that a truly self-sufficient person could be solitary and yet content. There's surely something to that thought; ideally one should be able to abide and be content in one's own company—at least for a while. Though that's true, it's not a problem that people seek the company of others. Valuing self-sufficiency and solitude doesn't entail putting no value on love and friendship.

That doesn't get us nearer to a solution to the problem you've posed, and as already noted, philosophers have no special insight into such matters. However, there's a related matter that may be relevant: what's sometimes called the paradox of happiness. The "paradox" is just this: even though one might wish to be happy, the best way to achieve happiness is unlikely to be by trying. Happiness is a by-product of pursuing more specific, particular goals that are valuable in themselves. Insofar as loneliness is a source of unhappiness, the same point is likely to apply. It may be that the best way to deal with loneliness is not to try to deal with loneliness. The best way may be to pursue goals that one is likely to find satisfying and that are within reach. Which goals isn't a question with an all-purpose answer; it depends on the person. Some might have the side effect of bringing a person into situations that make satisfying relationships with other people more likely, but if the goals are apt, they'll be worth pursuing on their own. Whether or not that solves the problem of loneliness, it could take it out of the foreground and make it less pressing. For a lot of reasons, someone who's not fixated on loneliness is more likely to be less lonely.

Which is the more morally detestable action. To discriminate against people due to the color of their skin, or to discriminate against people due to their religious beliefs? On both accounts one discriminates against an involuntary characteristic, race being innate, and religious views being a matter of conviction. In the question, I assume that one cannot choose ones conviction, one cannot be forced to believe in God, not truly. Thus, being convinced of the truth of a certain religion is involuntary. Therein lies my question, if we accept the moral detestability of racism, should we also accept a moral detestability of religious prosecution? And if so, wouldn't morality dictate the refrain from verbal offenses against religious people, on par with those against races?

There are at least two issues here. One is whether race and religious belief are involuntary in the same way. Another is whether it's ever okay to discriminate on the basis of a person's beliefs—religious or otherwise.

On the first issue I'm going to simplify by mostly setting aside some important questions about whether there is such a thing as race in any deep sense, and just what race amounts to insofar as there is such a thing. The important point is that in typical cases, there is for most any practical purpose nothing people can do about their race; racial identity is strongly involuntary. That's not so clearly true of matters of conviction. There's nothing at all unusual about people changing their convictions, including their religious convictions. Non-believers become believers; believers become non-believers. This doesn't tell us whether such changes are voluntary, but it's an important difference.

Are such changes belief voluntary? That's too simple a way to frame the issue. It's often said that we can't simply decide what we're going to believe. I could no more decide to believe that there's an elephant asleep on the bed behind me than I could pick up that bed (even without an elephant on it) and crush it into a fist-sized ball with my bare hands. But I can decide to reconsider at least some beliefs. I can decide to seek out reasons and evidence on both sides. I can resist the temptation to ignore facts that count against my predilections. That's not the same as simply deciding to change my mind, though if enough evidence accumulates on one side, I can make the effort to focus on that evidence. If it makes me uncomfortable, there are techniques that will help me sit with that discomfort and not simply give in to it. In short: belief isn't simply voluntary, but in exactly the sorts of cases you have in mind, it isn't simply involuntary either.

We can go further: on important matters—especially if they affect other people— we have a responsibility to pay attention to the evidence and to try to be guided by it. Failure to do that can amount to a legal offense (negligence), but it can also be a moral failing. If someone is unwilling or unable to take what we might call epistemic responsibility, this can be a legitimate reason for at least some kinds of discrimination. It might be a reason not to hire the person to watch your kids, or a reason not to appoint them to a position of power, or a reason to vote against them in an election.

That's all general. In the case of religious belief or lack thereof, the details will matter, but that's true in general. Some people might be best described as brainwashed, but some might just be stubborn. That will make a difference when we consider how much blame (or credit) they get for their beliefs.

Responsibility for one's beliefs is a subtle matter, but we don't need to sort it out to answer your last question. The mere fact that someone disagrees with you about an abstruse and possibly undecidable matter is seldom likely to add up to a reason for discrimination. In particular, persecuting people or even insulting them for their beliefs or lack of beliefs is almost never going to be acceptable. Nonetheless, this isn't because one's religious commitments are involuntary in the way that one's race is. In important ways, the two cases are quite different. What beliefs we end up with is not simply out of our control, even if it's not straightforwardly voluntary. Those differences suggest that bad as it may be to persecute people for their beliefs, it's even worse to persecute them for their race.

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 found in, say, Thomas Reid, Bishop Butler, G.E. Moore, Roderick Chisholm.

Good luck with your undertaking!

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 death or unjust verdicts.

A medical doctor has graduated from an accredited school of medicine, passed board exams and completed a residency at a teaching hospital. A barrister has passed the par exam and graduated law school. Even a cosmetologist has received a relevant certification after a training course. What then, qualifies one to bear the title, "professional philosopher?" Adam Smith says, “Many improvements have been made by the ingenuity of the makers of the machines, when to make them became the business of a peculiar trade; and some by that of those who are called philosophers, or men of speculation, whose trade it is not to do any thing, but to observe every thing, and who, upon that account, are often capable of combining together the powers of the most distant and dissimilar objects in the progress of society, philosophy or speculation becomes, like every other employment, the principal or sole trade and occupation of a particular class of citizens. Like every other employment, too, it is subdivided into a great number of different branches, each of which affords occupation to a peculiar tribe or class of philosophers; and this subdivision of employment in philosophy, as well as in every other business, improve dexterity, and saves time. Each individual becomes more expert in his own peculiar branch, more work is done upon the whole, and the quantity of science is considerably increased by it.” If we are to accept his definition, no formal education seems to be required of a professional philosopher. Rather, the status of being a professional philosopher seems to be more of an analogous to being able to speak or write in the manner expected of a philosopher than the status of having received specialized training or certification. What then, prevents any layman from calling himself a philosopher a priori and considering himself equal to you?

Nothing prevents a layperson from calling herself a philosopher. Likewise, nothing prevents someone from calling himself a concert violinist, or a master gardener, or a novelist or a mathematician. Of course, whether someone who calls herself a philosopher or calls himself a master gardener actually has the skills and knowledge that would persuade the well-informed to agree is another matter, and someone who doesn't even know how to tune a fiddle isn't a concert violinist no matter what she calls herself.

When we add the word "professional", things get more complicated. There's no law that stops me from simply calling myself a neurosurgeon. There are laws to stop me from performing neurosurgery on people—particularly if I charge for my "services." Having an unqualified person perform your brain surgery is likely to be bad for your health. Having an untrained cosmetologist give you a perm may be temporarily bad for your social life, but hair grows pretty quickly. We've decided (wisely in my view) that if people are going to charge people to do certain jobs that can go badly wrong, it's worth having a certification system to protect the public from hucksters. In some cases (surgeons, for example), we're pretty strict. Performing surgery without a medical license will get you into a lot of trouble; giving someone a haircut without training—even if you charge for it—will provoke less severe penalties.

Philosophy isn't a profession in the way that medicine or the law or plumbing is. People do get paid to do philosophy (to my continuing astonishment, I'm one of those people) but most of us don't hang out signs and advertise to the untrained public. Academic departments will pay a lot of attention to skills and credentials before they hire someone as a philosopher, but there's no standard list of requirements. I have one colleague whose entire academic training was as a physicist. I have another whose education was entirely as a mathematician and computer scientist. Both of them count as philosophers because they have the knowledge and skills to work in the branches of philosophy that led my department to hire them. Before we hired them, we read their work, heard them lecture and sought the opinions of people with recognized expertise in the relevant subfields. We don't need a licensing system for philosophers. The public isn't at much risk from unqualified people charging for philosophy, and even (especially?) philosophers would have a hard time agreeing about what the required qualifications ought to be.

You may still wonder: what does it actually take to make someone a bona fide philosopher? I don't think there's a precise answer, but there's an old-fashioned kind (old-fashioned, that is, in philosophical circles) that gives us a sort of rule of thumb. It's not a definition because it starts by assuming that at least some people count as philosophers. People who have several publications in respectable philosophy journals would count, for example. So would people with PhDs in philosophy who have positions in philosophy departments at accredited universities. Such folk are paradigm cases of philosophers (at least, in the early 21st century in the west.) People recognized as philosophers by paradigm-case philosophers will count. People similar to paradigm-case philosophers are candidates for being counted as philosophers; the stronger the similarity the stronger the case. That said, there will always be interesting exceptions and the boundaries are bound to change over time.

As you can see, this is close to your "walks like a duck, squawks like a duck" suggestion. It's a functional approach; you might have hoped for a story in terms of what people can do and what they know. There are things we could say here, but the fact is that two people who both count as philosophers by any reasonable standard might have very different professional interests, have read very different books and papers, know about very different corners of the profession. The functional answer is in many ways more useful.

As for your last question, nothing prevents people from calling themselves philosophers. But if they want to get hired by a philosophy department, they'd better have some moves. Philosophers may not have as much in common as you might expect, but they're exquisitely good at sniffing one another out.

Are all concrete objects contingent objects and all abstract objects noncontingent objects? Thank you!

I'm inclined to say that all concrete objects are contingent. But those who believe that God exists noncontingently would likely disagree, because according to standard versions of theism God is a concrete object, since God has causal power.

But I'm inclined to say that not all contingent objects are concrete. The Eiffel Tower is a concrete object, whereas the set whose only member is the Eiffel Tower -- the set {The Eiffel Tower} -- is an abstract object, as all sets are. The identity of any set depends solely on its membership: had any member of a given set failed to exist, then the set itself would have failed to exist. Therefore, because the Eiffel Tower exists only contingently, the non-empty set {The Eiffel Tower} itself exists only contingently. Indeed, any set containing at least one contingent member is itself a contingent, abstract object. Or so it seems to me.

Hi; please, I would like a philosophy professor to answer this question for me: is religion an ideology? And if it's not, then what is the difference? Thank you

An ideology or politically organizing world view doesn't have to be about God, so ideology and religion are not the same thing. Is religion a false view that organizes society? (This is Mannheim's "particular" conception of ideology.) Well, you might think so, but you would then have to think that religion is false. You could study religion under the "general" conception, in which it "arises out of life conditions", but it seems to me that a religious person might not disagree with that, provided that "life conditions" is understood sufficiently deeply.

Dear philosophers: In my reading of Descartes's Discourse on Method, I am fascinated by his project of universal doubt and the promise it seems to give to eliminate the many presuppositions we have. However, it seems that Descartes meant whatever belief one has is not justified if it can be subjected to any doubt, including skepticism. Therefore it would seem that answering skepticism should be among the priority in philosophical research. But this is a very strict requirement - is it the case in current philosophy research? If not, how do philosophers justify not making it the priority?

Three points:

1. It's not clear that the project of eliminating all of our presuppositions even makes sense. For instance: Could we coherently try to eliminate our presupposition that eliminating a given presupposition is inconsistent with keeping that presupposition? I can't see how. Indeed, Descartes himself seems ambivalent about the possibility, or desirability, of eliminating all of our presuppositions, because in his work he frequently appeals to unargued-for principles that, he says, "the natural light" simply shows us must be true.

2. Your argument for the claim that "Answering skepticism should be [a] priority in philosophical research" relies on this premise: Descartes was correct to claim that no belief is justified if it can be subjected to any doubt. Most philosophers, now and in Descartes's time, would reject that condition on justified belief as far too strict. They would challenge Descartes to derive that strict condition from a recognizable concept of justified belief, rather than from some more rarefied concept he simply made up.

3. Even if Cartesian skepticism isn't the central priority of contemporary philosophical research that you think it ought to be, there are many philosophers who take it seriously enough to work on it. For recent and current examples, see the International Journal for the Study of Skepticism.