Philosophical Questions

Some philosophical questions to chew on from a student of logic. Don't think too much about these at once...your head will hurt.

In the style of Socrates, I will give no new information on this page. I will ask questions and hope that someone else can find the information and give it to me. In the style of Wikipedia, links to related information (often on Wikipedia) will be found throughout the text as encouragement to read up on the subjects before answering (though gut feelings are just as good in some cases). The following are questions that need to be answered in order to advance philosophy in a manner noticeable by the general public (in no particular order):

1. How do we know we know anything?
In other words, how can we be certain that anyone has knowledge? This is an important part of the Alan Turing/John Searle debate over artificial intelligence (I have also gotten myself involved). Descartes asked a similar question in his Discourse on the Method and Principles of Philosophy, but did not finish. He ended up sort of at the point of "thought exists." This does not answer the question. If we had an answer (according to Descartes), we could build all of our other knowledge back up on a good foundation. We also need to know what are the ultimate truths of the universe? Similarly to what Descartes suggested, other knowledge can be based on the true knowledge of the universe. Someone call René and tell him to get out of bed so he can keep going.

2. Is there a God? If so, let's find it.
This question is assumed to be answered by many people, but most of them have little or no logic to back it up. Other people seem to have a lot of logic to back it up such as the second law of thermodynamics camp or the banana camp (well...maybe they don't have a lot of logic..), but these are sometimes easily refuted. The no-logic people give in to the idea of faith, but philosophers should at least cringe at themselves when they say something like "it just is" (even when they talk about something as fundamental as mathematics). The idea of a Christian God is based on the idea of faith ("Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.", The Free Online Dictionary), so it seems that finding or proving the existence of said God would prove that it was not the Christian God. This would then mean that the Christian idea of "one true God" is false, and (for lack of a better phrase) it all goes to Hell from there. Pascal threw all of that out and decided to find a logical reason to believe in God whether God exists or not. However, this important philosophical question is not limited to the Christian God, which is one of the main reasons that his wager hasn't solved the problem (insert millions of intro. to philosophy final papers here). Proof of any God would save a lot of people a lot of time.

3. Why is there something rather than nothing?
This one will probably never be answered. It's in the same category as "what is the meaning of life?" You may say, "It's a Monty Python movie isn't it?"...it is, but that's not what we're going for. This question has entered popular culture as well in the nerdily famous Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with the answer "42," which is clearly just a joke (however...it turns out that 42 is the ASCII code for an asterisk which is the wildcard character in POSIX interfaces--it means "everything." So...the answer to life, the universe, and everything is, in a roundabout way, "everything" according to the Hitchhiker's Guide). It really would be nice to figure out why the universe is here, but I think we should figure out how the universe started first (this question is not listed here since it seems to be more scientific than philosophical).

4. Which acts are wrong?
This one will also probably never be answered. How can we decide what actions are bad if we can't decide if milk is good or bad (it's good, by the way, and you can't tell me otherwise)? The God route requires a positive answer to #2. It seems that anytime someone tries to make a general statement about wrong acts, there are TONS of exceptions. Based on all of that, the answer will either never come, or it will be too complicated for anyone to figure out. Maybe we need to figure ourselves as individuals out before we start throwing other people into the mix. Speaking of figuring ourselves out...

5. What makes us who we are?
This is a place where science, psychology, sociology, and philosophy overlap. It brings about subquestions like "what gives us identity?" and "can we control who we become?", and enters into the classic "nature v nurture" debate. Feral children enter into the debate, as they are not genetically wild animals but were "raised" to act as wild animals. John Locke, René Descartes, and good ol' Immanuel Kant (this guy is everywhere...did he have any free time?...Maybe he had too much) enter the picture for this question, too, with their three camps trying to determine the different ways that we learn things. The Chinese may have found what makes us human rather than animals, which is a step in the right direction. Once we find out what makes us who we are...can someone tell me how to make myself better at calculus?

6. Can we really change the future?
1.21 JIGAWATTS!!! (I take every opportunity to yell that) Scientists have already theorized about this question. This question has had assumed answers in popular culture as well (though, in my experience, time travel never makes sense in the movies). It brings up questions like "is there fate or free will?" It ties in with the question of God and whether some ultimate being has already planned out all of time. Also, a question could be asked "is there planned free will?" That is, is there a being (or force or just a plain nature of the universe) that could control every aspect of life but chooses not to. The darker answer to the question is that we can not change the future, which makes life seem pretty pointless. I hope that we have control over what happens, so that I feel like my life has a purpose. Wait...my purpose is making you think!

7. Can we make something that always looks good?
This, of course, is a question of aesthetics and could be very subjective. The idea, though, is to find something that always looks good to everyone. People have come up with different rules and ratios to explain aesthetics mathematically, but these aren't always reliable or even practical. The golden ratio has been used in architecture since ancient times, but even so, these buildings can still look dull. The rule of thirds has been used in photography, film, and painting, but with only four points of interest in a picture, how can one compensate for five or six subjects? There is also an art theory that states that diagonal lines are more interesting than vertical lines are more interesting than horizontal lines (I learned it in high school film talking about Hitchcock...I trust my teacher). With all of these rules and theories, there can't be a way to follow all of them, right? I guess those art majors do have a lot of work to do...

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