Recent Responses

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.

Some psychologists believe, based on empirical research, that people tend first to make a decision intuitively and then afterwards find a way to provide logical justification for why it was a good decision. I think they use the term "heuristic" as a way to describe an analog process in which we use experience, memory, and pattern recognition as tools with which to make that initial intuitive decision. If this description of the process of how we decide is based on how our minds actually do work, what are the implications for philosophy, which seems to imply that our decision-making process is rational? Isn't the "rational" part of our brain a fairly late evolutionary development, in which it was grafted on top of our nervous system?

If the evidence favors the view that we don't always make decisions by reasoning, then philosophy needn't disagree. If the truth of the matter were that all of our decisions—including decisions about which views are more plausible—amounted to post-hoc "rationalizations," then it's hard to see how philosophy as we usually understand it would be possible. But the evidence doesn't come close to showing that. Anyone seriously engaged in doing philosophy implicitly assumes that s/he is capable of giving reasons and being swayed by them. But that's different from assuming that we always exercise that capacity or that it never misfires.

A related thought: even if the reasons we give are often after-the-fact rationalizations, it wouldn't follow that our decision our our belief is unreasonable. The underlying mechanism that brought us to our decision or belief may be well-tuned and suited to the task it was performing, even if we have little or no conscious access to how the mechanism really works. Being reasonable doesn't require being able to give an explicit, articulate account of one's reasons. Indeed, it's not at all unusual for someone to have sounds judgment about one sort of thing or another and yet not to be good at putting the basis for the judgment into words. (Shopworn example: being good at telling whether something is grammatical is one thing; being able to explain or defend the judgment is another.)

Still, it's tempting to assume that when we're doing philosophy, conscious reasoning isn't just an incidental part of the process but is the most important part of the story. And so there's an interesting meta-level question here. If we're just as prone to after-the-fact rationalization when we're doing philosophy as we are in other circumstance, how should this affect our conception of what doing philosophy amounts to? I think you're onto an interesting issue, and I'd be wary of people who offer glib answers. That said, the question isn't really just about philosophy. It seems equally important for science, and for a good many other activities. In the case of science, one common reply is that what's important is not so much the rationality of individual scientists but of the overall enterprise. On this view, science is essentially a social activity and knowledge emerges from somethng like the wisdom of the group. We're a little less inclined to think of philosophy that way, but maybe we should.

In mathematics, it is commonly accepted that it is impossible to divide any number by zero. But I don't see why this necessarily has to be the case. For example, it used to be thought of impossible to take the square root of a negative number, until imaginary numbers were invented. If one could create another set of numbers to account for the square root of negatives, then what is stopping anyone from creating another set of numbers to account for division by zero.

It's actually easy to invent a system of numbers in which division by zero is possible. Just take the usual non-negative rational numbers, say, and add one new number, "infinity". Then we can let anything divided by zero be infinity. Infinity plus or times anything is infinity. Infinity minus or divided by any rational is still infinity. We have a bit more choice what to say about infinity minus infinity or divided by infinity. But we can let those be infinity, too, if we like. So infinity kind of `swallows' everything else. (Oh, any rational divided by infinity should be 0.)

Note, however, that many of the usual laws concerning multiplication and division now fail. For example, it's true in the usual case that, if a/b exists, then a = (a/b) x b. But (3/0) x 0 = infinity, not 3; of course, you can carve out an exception for 0, if you wish, but there's no way to make that work in all cases. This is not a fatal flaw, though. In the reals, a x a is always positive; not so when we add imaginary numbers. So we would expect some old generalizations to fail in the new case.

The real question is: Is there anything useful we can do with these new numbers? So far as I'm aware, the answer is "no". There are, in fact, good and useful theories of infinite numbers, but there doesn't seem to be much use for a notion of division involving them.

What's the difference between saying that the burden of proof is on one's opponent, and simply saying that they are likely wrong? The idiom of "burden of proof" is used in a way that suggests that it's somehow different from ordinary, straightforward evaluations of evidence and arguments, but I can't think of what that difference could be.

You often do hear people in philosophy say that the 'burden of proof' is on their opponent. And you sometimes hear people argue about who has the 'burden of proof'. I think that what this usually is about is which position is antecedently more plausible, or which position presently has the best arguments in favor of it. It's kind of like the game "King of the Hill". Whoever's on top of the hill is king, and someone else has to knock them off.

Personally, I don't find this way of thinking about philosophical arguments very helpful. It's not that I don't think there is a 'truth' to these matters, but philosophical progress tends not to happen in a linear manner. The fact that something seems plausible today may not be a very good guide to whether it is true. More generally, I tend to think that understanding an issue is in a way more important than knowing how to solve it, so telling me that you've given an argument and now someone else has the 'burden of proof' just sounds gratuitous. You gave an argument. Period.