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Hi...I'd like to begin reading Hume. Should I begin with the Treatise or the Enquiry?

Well, there are two Enquiries, corresponding to the first and the third books of the Treatise. And I'm sure everyone will have her own strategy for reading Hume. My own opinion is that you can't really appreciate the Enquiries until you see how much is behind them; they're too smooth and polished. So I would recommend starting with the Treatise, but not reading it straight through from beginning to end, and not getting too bogged down in the minutiae. Very roughly, I would recommend reading Book 1 of the Treatise relatively quickly to get an overview of the argument, without attempting to be too precise about it. Then I would skip to Book 3 and do the same, though this one is a bit harder to grasp without attending to the details. It is fashionable these days to claim that the long-neglected Book 2 is just as important etc. as Books 1 and 3, but as a way in to Hume I think you'll find Books 1 and/or 3 more accessible. Also, depending on which you are more interested in (Book 1 if you're more into metaphysics and epistemology, Book 3 if you're more into social and political philosophy), there are the corresponding Enquiries to give you a nice overview from a somewhat different viewpoint, just as the Prolegomena gives you a nice overview of Kant's 1st Critique from a somewhat unexpected point of view.

Also there is some secondary literature that can really help to inform your reading. Among the things I have found helpful are Mossner's old biography, which still has merits even though James Harris's recent intellectual biography has in some respects superseded it (and is also very much worth reading). And depending on whether you're more into the epistemological and metaphilosophical aspects or the social and political aspects, you should look at things like Graciela de Pierris on the former and Russell Hardin on the latter. Also, if you're really focused and committed, you might consider looking at Duncan Forbes on Hume's philosophical politics (a challenging book even then). And there are plenty of new things that consider particular aspects. Look in the journals for new articles about Hume, for instance, and just start reading whatever sounds interesting to you from the title.

Only after that should you then go back and start reading the Treatise from the beginning, line by line, carefully. Again, depending on your interests, focus on Book 1 or Book 3 (or, by then, if you insist, on Book 2). Best of luck, it's worth sticking with, as you'll soon figure out once you get over the initial hurdles!

Are there any true contradictions?

None that I can think of, including none of the candidates that I've seen offered by "dialetheists" (i.e., philosophers who say that some contradictions are true). If you have any promising candidates, please let us know!

If there is a category "Empty Set" it has to have the property "nothingness". Thus it is not propertyless - contradiction?

As far as I can see, the definitive property of the empty set is not nothingness but instead emptiness: It's the one and only set having (containing, possessing) no members at all. The empty set can be empty, in that sense, without itself being nothing. So I see no threat of contradiction here. Indeed, the empty set can belong to a non-empty set, such as the set { { } } , which couldn't happen if the empty set were nothing.

Long time follower, first time asker I deeply identify with the second part Nietzsche's aphorism: 'He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.' (Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.) As it relates to a thirst for knowledge that takes you deeper into the rabbit hole (one -- potentially wrong -- interpretation). I found that sometimes unanswerable questions have obsessed me past the point of healthy living, and that to get out of this mindset I had to... just stop gazing However I do not think this was a novel idea. Are there any examples of this idea in ancient philosophy? Citations & references appreciated Best,

A little more pedantically than you, I would say, regarding that sentence about the abyss, that an adventurous philosopher looks long and hard even where no explanation seems to lie. That's the abyss. Gazing into an abyss feels like a neutral or innocuous desire to know, until you imagine yourself being looked at in the age of looking. The abyss gazes into you, meaning that it spots you looking for something in it. It sees you actively searching for an explanation.

In other words, I don't exactly take the sentence as you do, but we're reading it similarly. And I am grateful for your response to it: giving up on gazing when you see you're being gazed at. You can understand Kant's advice to metaphysicians as similar to what you're describing. Stop trying to answer these traditional questions as if they were real questions; learn to diagnose the questions in their unanswerability, down to the human desire to exceed empirical human knowledge.

But you wanted to know specifically about ancient philosophers who might have said as you do: “just stop gazing.” As far as I know, the systematic approach to philosophical questions as unanswerable, hence as questions we respond to with the refusal to answer, dates back to Hellenistic philosophy. The Hellenistic Skeptics sound like Kant or Hume sometimes in the way they urge curious philosophers to give it up and stop making proclamations about the way nature reveals itself (or fails to).

For the Skeptics, most metaphysical inquiries lead to error and dismay, all the more unacceptable outcomes given the Skeptics’ recommendation of ataraxia “tranquility, an untroubled condition.” Worrying about the truth or falsity of a metaphysical assertion only gave you troubles you were better off without; so the Skeptics proposed that you assert your indifference to the question with a simple ou mallon “not more” or “not particularly”: no more true than false. Is change real? – it no more is than it isn’t. The skeptic Pyrrho is credited with having originated this response, promising that talking back to metaphysical utterances in this way will ease your mind.

Pyrrho wrote nothing, so we know of his pioneering skepticism through the writings of others. Of the Skeptics who adopted and elaborated his views, Sextus Empiricus is the best known and his books the best preserved. But rather than spell out a reading list I would just recommend the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry “Ancient Skepticism,” an excellent and extensive discussion by Katja Vogt.

As far as Nietzsche’s relationship to such ideas goes, you might be interested in Jessica Berry’s book “Nietzsche and the Ancient Skeptical Tradition” (Oxford University Press, 2010). Berry finds a deep resonance between Nietzsche’s account of the inquirer and the Skeptics’ cautions. I don’t always agree with her analogies, but her argument is informed and reasonable; and your own thoughts about the abyss remark tell me that you’re inclined to agree with her.

I want to ask about the truth, universal truth. There is any standard about universal truth?I mean the truth which every one agree about it. what is the real truth? Why people have their own argument about their own truth? is it possible all of people agree about one truth?

Do you really believe that there is any truth that you are going to get 7,511,772,360 (the number on the rolling world census at the time of writing) people to agree to? That includes new born infants, who are people. So perhaps we should cut off your question at some later age, say 18. But how will this age be decided? I think probably people have their own views because they have their own ideas, and they have their own ideas because their experiences are different and they are very different people anyway. Still, most people, though by no means all, accept elementary mathematics and the elementary ethics of everyday life. There are standards of evidence and argument that apply to both, to ethics in practical settings and to mathematics in theoretical ones as well. It seems very improbable that short of the coming of the Kingdom of God everyone will agree on everything. But that doesn't mean that what they should agree on, because it is true, isn't true.

Philosophers like Wittgenstein and Plato are known for their distinctive, and challenging, writing styles. Perhaps unsurprisingly, commentators generally don't write like Wittgenstein and Plato in writing about them. Does this show that works like the Tractatus and the Republic could have been written just as well in ordinary prose? My underlying presumption here is that when people write about philosophers, this largely amounts to restating the claims of those philosophers. So if a Wittgenstein scholar insists that Wittgenstein's oracular style is essential to his philosophy, and yet argues as much in an article written in straightforward, conventional prose, she is actually contradicting herself in a way.

Not all of Plato's writings are challenging or difficult. But some are, the Parmenides for example. And Wittgenstein writes perfectly ordinary sentences in the Philosophical Investigations , though people complain that the writing is hard to follow. I can't agree with this, as I think it's a view that insinuates itself when you don't know the arguments very well. The Tractatus is of course different. But both the Parmenides and the Tractatus could have been written in ordinary prose, apart from the symbolic bits, for example in connection with the symbol omega and the theory of numbers, say, or the theory of truth-functions and the general form of the proposition. But your presumption is wrong. When people write about philosophers' work, very little restates the claims of those philosophers. The only point of that would be educational. Much more of the writing about works of philosophy is about what the claims mean and whether they are true. So your contradiction disappears. It is possible to try to unravel the meaning of sentences in the Tractatus and then to argue that they are true or that they are false or that we can't decide, without just repeating what the book says, and so, by your premise, descending in oracularity.

I am currently working on an article whose core argument hinges in part on a premise that refers to Socrates'/Plato's take on beauty, and its relationship to justice, truth and goodness. Put plainly, the premise goes as follows: in opposing the Sophists' privileging of art and poetry, for Plato, beauty is nothing but a sign of the truthfulness, justice and goodness of something. Said otherwise, in Plato there is an implicit yet inextricable correspondence between these four realms- only what is just can be good, and only what is truthful can be just and good, whereas whatever partakes of all these qualities can only be deemed beautiful. Is this premise correct? Does Plato's texts support it? My knowledge of ancient philosophy, and particularly of Platonism, is rather partial, and I am deriving this premise from a rather intuitive interpretation of my piecemeal reading of some of his dialogues. Also, can you specifically suggest some of Plato's dialogues where this premise is apparent? Can you suggest some recent scholarly material that expands in this direction? Thank you in advance!

The terms in which you pose the question are not alien to Plato's dialogues, but in the dialogues his character rarely describe things in such abstract systematic terms. Socrates, for one, is always moving back and forth between the abstractions about what is beautiful and good and specific objects (a fine horse, a golden spoon).

If anything it is the neoplatonic tradition that uses the terms found in your question. And although philosophers like Plotinus have brought great insights both to the study of Plato and to our understanding of the world, they are far from the last word on what the dialogues say. So I begin by cautioning you away from these ways of summarizing Plato.

The dialogue Hippias Major is the first place to look for what you are discussing, both because Socrates tries to understand "to kalon" (what is beautiful, fair, fine), and because he asks how it might be related to the good. Diotima's speech in Plato's Symposium, and the long speech Socrates makes in the middle of the Phaedrus, also contain essentials of the Platonic account of beauty.

If you want to know more about how I understand Plato on beauty, I refer you to my entry on ancient theories of beauty in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, which also contains suggestions for further reading; or you can go to my entry "Plato's aesthetics" in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (I'm referring you to my own writings not because I think they're better than everyone else's but because any summary I give you here will be a summary of what I say in those entries.)

But let's go back to your question, despite what I said at the beginning about the difficulty of answering in those terms. I suppose I dispute one assumption at the heart of what you attribute to Plato. To say that beauty is "nothing but" the truthfulness and goodness of a thing is to describe what Kant will call "dependent beauty," which is to say a beauty that follows from the goodness or intelligible coherence of the thing. If beauty is dependent beauty then, as it were, we need to know why a thing is good in order to perceive it as beautiful.

In fact however Plato's dialogues seem to move in the opposite direction. As I understand him, the beauty he speaks of is what Kant calls free beauty. We see a thing as beautiful and are motivated to understand more about that peculiar property beauty, and our effort to approach beauty leads us to philosophize about what is good. Beauty is the only intelligible property that stimulates our perceptions; that's why it plays such an important role in bringing people to philosophy.

The Sophists have nothing to do with this. You are quite right that they talk about poetry a lot. It doesn't follow that they're talking about beauty. Indeed, from the point of view of modern thinkers for whom aesthetics somehow combines beauty and art, the most striking thing about Plato's discussion of beauty is that it has very little to do with art. Plato speaks as negatively about the arts as any major philosopher has; but as enthusiastically about beauty as any philosopher could. The two don't mix much.

When Bernie Sanders talks about healthcare being a "right", is he talking nonsense? If you consider any other right in the Bill of Rights (eg right to bear arms), it's about freedom from government interference. It's something I can hold against the government. But what Sanders wants seems to be the opposite of that. To pay for a healthcare system, you need to tax people. So, basically, a so-called right to healthcare really means an obligation on the government to interfere with my money. This so-called right would limit my freedom instead of protecting it!

You seem to be assuming that the idea of a positive right is nonsense, though perhaps you don't intend anything quite that strong. If that's what you do intend, then I'll leave it to others to say moe about the debate, but I'd simply note that it's not just obvious that only negative rights can be genuine rights. What I wanted to do instead is to highlight an assumption that lies behind your example and point out that it's open to question. It's the assumption that there's some antecedent fact of the matter about what's "your money." Like it or not, the money you earn (whether as salary or as an entrepreneur) comes to you within a system in which government is already deeply involved. There are courts and police. There are regulatory bodies that keep the banking system (for example) from turning into the wild west. There's a vast network of infrastructure that in fact is provided through the government. The list could clearly be extended. That background of rules, institutions, personnel, physical systems... is the setting in which you make "your" money, and it's not unreasonable to speculate that without it, most of us, yourself included, would be much worse off. But all that machinery in the background doesn't come for free, and so your nominal earnings shouldn't be thought of as all properly "yours," with the government coming along and depriving you of some of what rightfully is your property. There's no simple a priori fact about what part of "your" money is really yours.

Saying all that is consistent with a wide range of views about how much we should be taxed and how big or small government should be. But there's another point. "Freedoms" that are merely nominal and that you aren't in a position actually to exercise aren't worth much. One of the arguments in favor of a welfare state of at least some extent is that it provides people with a background level of security against which they can exercise their freedoms without undue risk. In fact, health care provides a way of focussing the point. In the United States, most people get their health care through their employers, and many of them couldn't afford to pay for the insurance on their own. For many people, this means that their freedom is actually limited. If you have a medical condition that makes insurance essential, you may simply not be in a position to strike out on your own as an entrepreneur, even if you otherwise have the pluck and the talent to succeed in the long run. If health care were a socially guaranteed benefit, you would have more freedom in this case, not less.

The logic and metaphysics of rights is a big topic, and there are many people on this board who have real expertise. I hope some of them chime in. My point here is just to clear a little ground. Whatever the best overall analysis may be, and in particular whether we should treat heath care as a right, there's no quick way of settling the matter.

Is their really an objective answer as to where the world came from?

The current evidence and theory from cosmology almost conclusively give us the objective answer that the first event was the Big Bang. If God brought about the Big Bang, that too is an objective answer, or if the Big Bang came about due to fluctuations in a sea of quantum gravity, that is an objective answer. As Stephen observes, the steady state theory (the universe was always there) is equally objective. The Big Bang and the steady state theory may be counter-intuitive, but they are objective answers.

You ask about the existence of an objective answer to the cosmological question in particular. I cannot see anything about the question where if anywhere the universe came from that raises questions of objectivity. Or is there a religious question behind your question? Does your question really mean, 'Is there an objectively true answer as to where the world came from, rather than a religious answer?' Then is the assumption that religion is subjective? That may be all wrong about what is behind your thinking, but I offer it hoping that it clarifies part of your question, or a possible part of it rather.

Does logic rule out the possibility that someone could travel into the past and affect events so that they turn out otherwise than we remember them?

Does logic rule out the possibility that someone could travel into the past and affect events so that they turn out otherwise than we remember them?

No, because our memory of those events could be mistaken.


Does logic rule out the possibility that someone could travel into the past and affect events so that they turn out otherwise than they in fact did?

Yes, so far as I can see.