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Showing posts from October, 2007

Comment moderation

Because of a sudden huge increase in the number of fake comments from advertizers, I'm introducing comment moderation. That means genuine comments might be delayed a short while before appearing. Apologies.

Defending secular society

On Saturday I was involved in a debate on The Resurrection of Religion at the RCA. I defended the secular society. Here are some of the points I made, for what they are worth... What is a secular society? It is, roughly, one that is neutral between different views about religion. It protects freedoms: the freedom to believe, or not believe, worship, or not worship. It is founded on basic principles framed independently of any particular religious, or indeed, atheist, point of view: principles to which we ought to be able to sign up whether we are religious or not. An Islamic or Christian theocracy is obviously not secular, because one particular religion dominates the state. But then a totalitarian atheist state, such as Mao’s China, is not secular state either. A secular state does not privilege atheist beliefs. Because you live in a secular society, your right to believe in a particular God, worship him, etc. is protected from those atheists, and those of differing religious v

The problem of evil - "solved by Jesus"

Aaron has left a new comment on " Augustine on evil ". It's below. Let's discuss. Augustine calls evil the “privation of a good” (Confessions Book 3 Chapter 7). Good and evil are similar to light and darkness. Darkness isn’t a “thing” but the absence of light. You appeal to science as revealing false the belief that we descended from Adam and Eve. You are entitled to this bare assertion but it is ironic that you turn around and talk about the evil of millions of years of animal suffering. What’s evil about animal suffering from the scientific standpoint? Isn’t it ultimately indifferent? As you have indicated, Christians have a framework (whether or not you agree with it) for understanding what is good and what is evil. What is your framework for believing in good and evil? Ravi Zacharias helpfully explains, “Some time ago I was speaking at a university in England, when a rather exasperated person in the audience made his attack upon God. "There canno

Richard and Judy - and probability

Not withstanding Mike's suggestion that I drop this topic as its not up to usual standard, I'm going to stick with it for a bit. Jeremy says: ...the R&J show was basically scamming a significant proportion of the population into believing that they had a chance of winning... when they had NO chance at all at the time they decided to commit their money. It is in the withholding of this information that I think the unfairness lies. I'm not sure that's it, as, in my example where stage 1 of whittling down is that half the time entries are received they go straight in the bin, a significant proportion of the population have no chance of winning at the time they decide to commit their money (because their entry is immediately binned). Yet there is no unfairness in withholding this info from them. I didn't make my point about determinism clear, as some of you think it irrelevant. Well, may be it is irrelevant, but let me try again (as the point I was trying to il

THINK news - why late issues?

Anonymous asked about THINK issue 15. It is in the post. The Royal Institute of Philosophy ran into problems with delivery beyond their control, but those problems have been entirely resolved now. Issues 16 and 17 will be in March and June after which we'll be back on track [correction, 16 in December, 17 and 18 in March and June]. Subscribers can rest assured they will receive all the issues for which they have paid. After issue 18, Cambridge University Press take over production. The transition will be seamless and will require no action on the part of subscribers.

Channel 4 phone-in puzzle

The puzzle in a nutshell, is this. On the one hand, most of us feel intuitively that the competition was unfair. Trouble is, now I have started to think more carefully about it, I cannot identify precisely why it was unfair. I am wondering if it was unfair.

Channel 4 phone in - another case

Re my previous post, Jeremy says the unfairness in the Channel 4 phone-in is: "the company was withholding information such that the population thought they could win, when in fact they could not.In this way, they encouraged the population to become contestants and to spend money which they otherwise would not have done." This may be on the right lines. But consider this imaginary case: A winner is to be picked at random from one million callers. The whittling down is in two stages. Stage one is: half the time the phones are being answered, those entries go straight in the bin. The remaining entries are then entered into a lottery from which the winner is picked. Is this competition unfair? If the punters know how it generally works, certainly not. But actually, is it unfair even if the punters don't know how it works? What does it matter how the whittling down is done, as long as it's not done in a way deliberately designed to favour certain previously identif

Channel 4 phone-in competition

"[T]he company behind a quiz on the Richard & Judy show was fined for urging callers to enter after winners had been picked." Regarding the upset over those who entered a Channel 4 phone-in competition (and were charged for doing so) when the winner had already been picked, I have to say, I don't really get it. You enter the competition with an epistemic probability of winning of, say, one in a million. You all know one million entered, and there will be only one winner. None of you have any idea who it will be. Of course, your objective chance of winning (the physical probability, if you like) depends on how we set the parameters. For example, given the laws of nature and antecedent physical conditions, it may be that the winner was determined months or even years beforehand. Given these laws and initial conditions, your chances of winning are zero and those of Bert (the eventual winner) are 100%. Does the fact that the physical probability of Bert winning is 100% m

Israel, Palestine and Terror

This, of course, is bound to get me into trouble... (published '08) I'll also post my contribution to the book around about publication time. I may also post some interviews with contributors.

Review - The Philosopher's Dog, by Rai Gaita

Saturday March 1, 2003 The Guardian The Philosopher's Dog by Raimond Gaita 224pp, Routledge, £14.99 What are minds, exactly? Most of us, when first confronted with this question, find ourselves quickly drawn to a traditional philosophical picture. The picture represents the mind as a sort of private room: a hidden inner sanctum within which our mental lives are played out and to which others are necessarily denied access. Because these inner rooms are hermetically sealed off from each other, the only clue as to what's going on inside the mind of another must be provided by their outward behaviour. Of course, this picture of the mind, once it gets a grip on our thinking, leads to all sorts of puzzles. If all I can have access to is the outward behaviour of other people, then how do I know that they have minds? How can I be sure that they aren't mindless zombies? And do animals have minds? If they do, then what are animal minds like? How does the world seem from insi

Ban private schools? - if private schools have little effect on life chances, why do you keep writing those big cheques?

I will pick out just one thing from your comments on my last post suggesting we ban private schools. Here's a point from John (endorsed by potentilla): "I still haven't seen the evidence that private schooling does prevent those who do not attend it from achieving their best - the over representation of privately schooled individuals in positions of power may well reflect parental values and ethos as much as opportunity - analogously, the largest 'contributor of offspring' to the Armed Forces are parents who themselves served in the Armed Forces; are we to believe that they are given an unfair advantage during recruitment and selection due to the background of their parents? Rather I would suggest the overwhelming reason that many serve is to continue the lifestyle to which they are accustomed, because they have been brought up to value the Armed Forces and they consider it a respectable career option. No doubt the values they have inderited from their parents d

Subscribe to THINK

You can subscribe to THINK: Philosophy For Everyone , a journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, by going to the website here . There are many sample articles available here (including some by me) THINK is being published by Cambridge University Press from Issue 19 onwards. It is edited by me. You can submit pieces via my email address above.

Ban private schools? - taking away the xmas presents

It's been suggested that I have problem with these two cases: 1. Rich kids get big Xmas presents poor kids won't get. So, by my own reasoning, we must take the rich kids presents away to make things "fair". But that's ridiculous. 2. Some kids are taught to read etc. by their parents. Other parents are unwilling or unable. Therefore, we must prevent parents teaching their kids to read etc. to make things "fair". Actually, I am not committed to doing either of these two things. First, my concern is with what will impact on the opportunities of children to develop their native talents and abilities. Extra toys won't much. So I won't be taking the toys away. Second, I agree that, where there's an unfairness (sufficient to warrant action to remedy it) between what x receives and what y receives, if we can realistically remove the unfairness by bringing whoever has less up to the level of whoever has more, then we should do that, rather than

Ban private schools? - the freedom issue

In response to my suggestion that we ban private schools, Joe said: " the problem I have here with all this discussion is that there seems to be an assumption that it is a reasonable response to unfairness to tell people that they are not allowed to provide something for their own children, if not everybody else can also provide it. " This is, of course, an important point. The freedom to help your children as best you can is important, and not to be trodden on lightly. I am not suggesting that whenever a freedom produces any unfairness or inequality, we should take that freedom away. For example, I am not here arguing that people should not be free to, e.g. teach their own kids to read, on the grounds that this causes an unfairness and inequality - i.e. because other parents are unwilling or unable. But "freedom" doesn't trump all other principles on every occasion. Surely, where there is a very great unfairness caused, and indeed, serious harm being don