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31 thoughts on “Ask or answer

  1. Is leibniz conception of God as Monad of monads consistent ? What about dominant monads? How are dominant monads and God able to control other monads if they themselves are windowless monads? Is leibniz cheating here ?

    1. Hi Lyn, I’m with Schrodinger in believing that Leibnitz was utterly wrong about monads. Not coincidentally (I would suggest) he seems to have been wrong in the same way that Kant was in respect of ‘things-in-themselves’. Both assume a multiplicity of fundamental ‘things’. This idea will never work. It might work if we say there is just one monad and just one ‘thing-in-itself’, but then these terms would need a lot of work.

      The idea that God is apart from the other monads and needs to control them is (in my opinion) very poor indeed. It would mean that God needs to be busy for all eternity. I don’t think Leibnitz (who I admire) was cheating but in this case I don’t think he was thinking clearly. .

  2. Greetings,

    I have a rather unorthodox question that requires the response of a philosopher. I am in a Marketing class for an online Masters degree program and in one of our discussion posts, a classmate made the statement that all people who love to shop are prone to impulse buying or will make emotionally driven purchases. My rebuttal was that just because a person loves to shop doesn’t mean that they do not take a strategic and logical approach and rationalize their purchases. I said that this statement is a fallacy for this reason as well as others. I added that some people who are on a budget or are frugal will strategically watch what they are spending their money on each month for food, entertainment, clothes etc so that they do not overspend or make impulse buys, but these individuals might love going to malls and love to shop. I added that the Quakers and others with strong faith in their higher power live very simple and structured lives where they do not succumb to temptations and desires of the flesh. But with that being said these individuals may have a deep desire to shop or have new things just like everyone else as we are all human. This person later changed all people to all women and tried to cite some study that was done to validate his point but it’s still not true because each person is wired differently and unique. I would like an answer with a little more substance. So please help! Thank you kindly!



    1. Well, Keith, you do have the right general idea, I think, you just need the technical terms and tools to back up your argument. Your interlocutor’s claim that “all people who love to shop are prone to impulse buying” is problematic. However, it does not appear to be a fallacy. Instead, I would say that it’s an untestable hypothesis.

      An argument (to misquote Monty Python’s Argument Clinic sketch) is a connected series of proposition intended to establish a definite conclusion. Many arguments fail to achieve this aim, for one reason or another. When philosophers notice a certain kind of bad argument cropping up again and again, we slap that kind of argument with a name, and that kind of argument becomes a fallacy – a recognized pattern of bad argumentation.

      Your interlocutor’s claim is not a connected series of propositions intended to establish a conclusion. Instead, it’s simply a proposition standing off by itself. So, it’s not an argument, so it can’t be a fallacy. But you are right that there’s something hinky about it. (To use a technical term.) I would say that this claim is problematic because it’s not testable.

      “All Xs are Y” is a standard form a proposition can take. And while you might not be able to prove a proposition of this form is true, it’s fairly easy to disprove it – all you have to do is show at least one X that isn’t Y.

      However, your interlocutor isn’t claiming that “All people who love to shop are impulse buyers.” Instead, he is claiming that “All people who love to shop are prone to impulse buying.” This hypothesis is difficult to test, since this claim is consistent with the claim that there is at least one person who loves shopping but isn’t actually impulse buying.

      What “X is prone to Y” means, roughly speaking, is there is some feature of X that would ‘normally’ cause X to Y, but this causal connection can sometimes be defeated by some kind of external interference. To use one of your examples, a shopper might be prone to impulse buying, but is merely window shopping because they’re short on cash at the moment. It’s still the case that this person is prone to impulse buying, but there is something preventing them from impulse buying at the moment.

      All of this makes hypotheses about “tendencies” difficult to test. Let’s say that the scientists your interlocutor is quoting have observed a correlation: people who love to shop have a higher rate of impulse buying than some control group (say, people who don’t love to shop). This correlation isn’t perfect – not every person who loves to shop actually impulse buys. There are at least two ways of explaining this lack of perfect correlation. It could be that all shoppers are prone to impulse buying, but there is something extra going on in their cases that is preventing them from doing that. Or it could be that people who love shopping could be divided into sub-categories. Some shoppers might be people who love the thrill of impulse buying, while other shoppers just really love window shopping or people-watching, and are not prone to impulse buying.

      Both hypotheses equally fit the data. There is, presumably, some difference between the impulse buyers and non-impulse-buyers that causes the difference in outcome. (Assuming the difference isn’t just random noise.) The question is whether this difference is ‘external’ (individuals have the same basic nature, but are exposed to different external influences) or ‘internal’ (a difference in the natures of the individuals).

      Something similar could be said for the general claim that “all women tend to have property Y.” Let’s grant that all actual women have that property. But is the reason for this internal (having the property is just natural for women), or is it external (all women in our actual society receive the same cultural programming, which in turn causes them to have this property)?

      I hope this answers your question about what is hinky about your interlocutor’s claim. But I would also disagree with a claim that you appear to make, that any generalization about a category of people can’t be true, since “each person is wired differently and unique.” There may well be differences between the individuals in a category. These differences might not be explained by the causal model (or set of generalizations) we’re applying to the population. It could be that the causes of these differences are only quasi-indeterministic – it’s possible that we could explain these differences using a more fine-grained model. It could also be that these differences are truly indeterministic (a quantum coin in the shopper’s brain flipped to heads instead of tails, so he didn’t buy that cool thing today). But, regardless, generalizations about categories are essential for understanding the world around us, and should not be discarded out of hand. Just be very careful about what your generalizations are claiming, and try to make them testable!

  3. Government is an idea that has a stronger resonance in the U.S. than in Europe. In 2014 there was an armed standoff between Federal Government Agency officials and Militias at the Cliven Bundy Ranch. Why is that Americans tend to be more distrustful of their state/government than Europeans?! (The Danish seem more satisfied with the idea of being ‘governed’ than any other population). Is it history, geography, politics, culture or psychology? What does it say about Hobbes’ idea of human nature being ‘immutable’?

    1. Why are you so sure that the question and the answer are mutually exclusive?

      That was meant to be ironic, but also to elucidate the fact that in asking a question you may in fact be giving an “answer”. In this case my “answer” is to bring to your attention that asking a question is a method of making someone think about a particular issue in a new light, and perhaps come to a different conclusion about it. And obviously an answer cannot exist without and question.

  4. Ever since I was about 8 or 9 years old I was always scared of dying. I would come in tears to my mother crying because I didn’t not want to die. She told me not to worry and I didn’t for a while. By the time I hit middle school I would have an episode so call it where I would just freak out at night and cry. The time it was my last two years of high school till now I have episodes almost every week and I just freak out and cry. I am a Christian and that knowing for me where I’m going isn’t so much my problem. I’m just so scared of the idea of it. I don’t understand it my self. I need your opinion should I see someone about this? Is this more of a insecure problem about my self?

    1. There cannot be a good answer to this, because the very concept of human rights is contested. There once was a time when Socrates and Jesus were put to death as “troublemakers”. Today many people are put to death or at least into penitentiary in many countries by the same argument. The judges always claimed the right to protect the many from the accused, just as Kaiphas did (look up John 11,50). By then same argument Torquemada, Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and many others have killed “troublemakers” by the thousands and millions. Thus as so often right stands agains right, claim against claim.

      There sometimes people want to have “a right to work” or “a right to social justice” or something like that written into a constitution. But this is impossible to have, since what is “social justice” and how do you provide paid work ? There are many such problems.

      But of course there has been much progress in respecting human dignity even in penitentiaries. You need not kill or torture people, and you can at least obey “due process of law”. This is what Human Rights Watch and the International Court of Justice etc. try to assure.

  5. Socrates personifies the laws of Athens, and should not accept critons offer of escape from the prison. Explain the laws and there main points.

    1. This can vary from person to person. We can’t know. But I think, it is not. This happiness, fear, feelings… It should be real.

    2. If it was only a dream, then we surely can’t control it, for our dreams are what our brains imagines of. In contrast, reality gives us the privilege to think on our own. If this is a dream then, it should be considered as lucid dream.

  6. Hello. I am interested in the mind and body theories. I have a clear understanding of Decarte’s theory, but I do not understand the differences between Nagel and Putnam’s views. Can you help me please?

    Thank You

  7. Hi!
    Could you please tell what the meaning Judith Butler subjectively assigns to the statement “One is not born, but rather than becomes, woman” in her essays “Sex and Gender in Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex” and “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution”? and what does Butler agree with Beauvoir?
    I see that Butler share Beauvoir’s argument that woman or femininity is a cultural construction. However, I have difficulty to recognize what ideas in the Second Sex Butler mistakenly interpret?

  8. Hello,
    I am wondering when the concept of ‘meaning’ -as it is understood in ‘the meaning of life’- was first conceived of. What is the first recorded instance of either the question or a statement regarding this, or simply the first instance of the word -or its equivalent in another language of course? I am interested in the process which enabled such a discourse to begin. Any direction you could point me in would be welcome.
    Thank you.

    1. Well, I don’t know much about etymology, but Socrates comes to mind. He stated that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” To me that counts as asking about the meaning of life in a more personal sense.

  9. You and two other people (Your Mother and your Wife) are sailing across the Atlantic ocean, but because of some technical fault on the boat, it can no longer take more that two persons on board. One person must jump into the sea if the boat must get to its destination.

    You are the only authority on the boat and you need to make a decision, Who will you ask to go over board?

    1. I’m guessing the detail would be worked out such that the one that ‘jumps into the sea’ will cease to exist, or at least die.
      There are views that suggest family is the most important (e.g. Care ethics), but concerning humanity as a whole, what kent said seems plausible (i suppose this is along the line of utilitarianism, but there may be difficulties if we appeal to hedonism, and we take damage to the son’s psyche as a harm; after all, there is only one mother, but plenty of potential wives and other relationships).

      1. Take turns being towed behind the boat till we arrive at shore; that way no one has to die. Then kill my boat mechanic when I get back! Well ok I guess someone always has to die. But at least it wasn’t anyone I care about, so it all worked out, see?!

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