Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ten philosophical questions (with answers!)

I have posted a new, brief article to, in which I very quickly survey the ten philosophical questions that have exercised me most since I first became interested in philosophy, provide my own (sometimes tentative) answers, and rate my level of confidence in those answers. I like doing this kind of thing from time to time, with philosophical, political, and ethical questions alike, since I otherwise tend to lose sight of the forest for the trees; collecting everything together forces me to think about how to reconcile two answers or probability assessments with one another, often with instructive results.

What questions, philosophical or otherwise, have drawn most of your attention?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi there. I love your "Defender's Guide"; I've been recommending it to people for years. I do wish that you'd reconsider about one day releasing it in book form, though - I'm worried that one day the website will no longer be around, and that's why I'd like to have a more permanent copy.

Anyway, I figure I'll try to answer these 10 questions. Though I'm not as well-read as you.

1. What are the most fundamental constituents of reality?

The mind's perception of it. Reality for each of us begins with a thought, and ceases to exist when thinking ends. (it depends on what is meant by "reality", though)

2. Is the mind a material phenomenon?

Most likely. Reality begins with the mind, but the reality that we see seems to show us that the mind is a material phenomenon. It may not be true, but this is the answer that has proven to be the most useful, so it's best to work with it.

3. Are there categorical moral facts?

No. It is all based on environment, society, culture and evolution.

4. Is there a god?

Depends on the definition of "god"; there are very many. Some are falsifiable and have been proven to be false. Others are very broad and unfalsifiable, in which case: "maybe, but there's no way to tell if it matters".

5. What is the solution to the problem of induction (or, more generally, underdetermination)?

I just read up on it on Wikipedia. If I understand this correctly, this is the problem of how one can't assume that all Kazakhs are rude anti-semites just because some actor from a movie playing one is. The answer seems pretty obvious... work (cautiously) under the assumptions you do have until something contradicts them, then change your assumptions. We can never be certain, but we can be better at predicting than we were yesterday... that has to count for something.

6. How does one prove that there is an external world?

One can't (see question #2).

7. Do states have moral authority over their citizens?

This question is too vague for me to answer. States have a responsibility to be in touch with the needs of their citizens - I'll leave it there for now.

8. What is the solution to the measurement problem?

I'll leave that to the smart people in the lab coats...

9. Does life have any fundamental meaning?

To the universe: no. To the person living it: yes. And probably to some other close people.

10. Do people have free will?

This is again directly tied to question #2. No, but they do have the illusion of it.