Thought experiments

In “5 Thought Experiments That Will Melt Your Brain,” Evan Dashevsky says that because “some science is too big, dangerous, or weird to happen in the lab,” thought experiments “may be the most valuable experiments of all.” But notice that all five of his examples are from philosophers.

Why the world does not exist

Well, if by “world” you mean the true nature of the whole of reality, that does not exist as something we could possibly know. But everything else except the world does exist. In his review of Markus Gabriel’s Why the World Does Not Exist, Richard Wolin explains all this and more.

No theory of everything

In “There Is No Theory of Everything,” Simon Critchley reminisces about his teacher Frank Cioffi. Along the way there are amusing anecdotes, distinctions drawn between explanation and interpretation, warnings about the twin dangers of scientism and obscurantism, and reflections on the value of philosophy (it scratches an itch!). “We don’t need an answer to the question of life’s meaning, just as we don’t need a theory of everything. What we need are multifarious descriptions of many things, further descriptions of phenomena that change the aspect under which they are seen, that light them up and let us see them anew.”

When the truth hurts

Is it ever worth not knowing the truth? Sometimes there are downsides to knowing the truth. For example, the truth about health or personal relationships can sometimes produce more pain than good. But we don’t always know when the truth will be worth it and when it wouldn’t. So what should we do? In “When the Truth Hurts,” Jess Whittlestone proposes this approach: “If I’m right here that the risks involved in seeking the truth too little are greater than those involved in seeking the truth too much, then aiming to always seek the truth might be a good general rule of thumb. This isn’t to say that the truth is ultimately valuable, or that there are no cases where we’re better off not knowing the truth. Valuing the truth doesn’t mean wasting time on understanding trivial, boring things, or asking everyone you meet what they like least about you. But given that most of the time we’re operating under a great deal of uncertainty, we might benefit overall from believing – falsely! – that the truth is what matters most.”

Willful ignorance

Lee McIntyre says in “The Attack on Truth” that we have entered the age of willful ignorance. “There is simple ignorance and there is willful ignorance, which is simple ignorance coupled with the decision to remain ignorant.” And once you have chosen to remain ignorant, what does the truth matter? McIntyre explains how we got to this point and what we might be able to do about it. “Respecting truth is a choice.”

Getting it right

What counts as knowledge? Everyone used to think knowledge is justified true belief. Knowledge is a belief that is both true and justified (i.e. you have good reasons for the belief). But as Ernest Sosa points out in “Getting It Right,” that definition has the problem that we can have good reasons to believe something is true but be right only by accident. So what will count as knowledge? Sosa shows how “virtue epistemology” might work. In living our lives virtue is getting it just right. Similarly, in knowing the world, virtue would again be getting it just right. “[T]o know … is to make an affirmation that is accurate (true) and adroit (which requires taking proper account of the evidence). But in addition, the affirmation must be apt; that is, its accuracy must be attributable to competence rather than luck.”