More Powerful Questions
Here are some questions to get you thinking. The page Difficult Questions to Ponder
was so popular with newsletter subscribers that it made me want
to put together some more. First, I considered using some of
the some funny questions sent to me, like "If an atheist
swears on the Bible in court, has he committed perjury?"
Funny perhaps, but not one that inspires deep thought. Then
there was this one: " If a man goes back in time and kills
his younger self, is that murder or suicide? At least it gets
you thinking about the paradoxes of time travel. But some more
serious ones follow. These are some powerful questions that will
get you thinking about philosophical matters and more - even
if they are also fun.
How Do We Measure Immorality and Guilt?
Alex, Bob and Carl are lost in the desert. Alex poisons Carl's
canteen, but before the water is drunk Bob puts a hole in the
canteen so the water will leak out. Both are trying to murder
their companion. The poison leaks out with the water, of course,
meaning Bob actually prolonged Carl's life. But then Carl does
eventually die of dehydration - and may have lived if he had
un-poisoned water. So who is guilty of killing Carl?
This gets at the real "juice" of moral questions
- as well as the related legal matters. For example, it reminds
us that if a man attacks another with intent to kill him, the
moral nature of his action doesn't really depend on whether he
succeeds or not. The immorality is in the intention. Nonetheless,
the law treats his success or failure very differently.
Humans and Other Animals
We now know that apes use tools fairly regularly. We also
have found that elephants recognize themselves in a mirror, something
very young humans often can't do. When presented with a piece
of meat hanging inside a cage from a piece of string tied to
the top bars, ravens have been shown to analyze the situation
and come up with a solution before trying to get the treat (other
birds will use the trial-and-error approach). After they apparently
use reasoning ability, they pull the string up with one foot,
step on it with the other to hold the string in place, then repeat
the process until the meat is within reach.
Apart from raising questions about the meaningful differences
between humans and other animals, and the rights that we ascribe
or don't ascribe to each, it makes me wonder:
Do dogs have a sense of humor?
Do cats hold grudges?
Can an animal sympathize with human suffering?
When Are You a Different Person?
You probably feel that you are different person than you were
twenty years ago (especially if you are only in your twenties).
But change in all of us is constant, so how much change is necessary
to say you are someone else, someone different from who you used
to be? Are you the same person you were a minute ago?
This question really isn't about the proper labeling of old-self
versus new-self as much as it is about the possibility that the
self is an illusion to begin with, at least in the sense that
we invent a mental image based on only bits and pieces selected
from the ongoing and ever-changing process we refer to by our
Self Interest and Altruism
Why is it considered morally virtuous for you to do good things
for another person but not for the person who happens to be yourself?
Are others more valuable than you? Related questions: If people
enjoy helping others, is that self interest? If they don't enjoy
it, how does the world become a better place by everyone denying
their own happiness in an attempt to increase that of others?
If you have some powerful questions that have intrigued, entertained
or tormented you, please feel free to send them along. It keep
our brains in good shape to ponder these things, so I hope to
have more pages like this in the future.