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Ask A Philosopher

I recently found a website that allows you to ask a philosophical question and (potentially) get it answered from a professional philosopher. It’s called askaphilosopher.org. They get a lot of questions so there’s no guarantee that you will receive a response. I have to admit that I’m sort of jealous for not getting to act as a panelist, but they can’t allow just anyone to respond. And I don’t mind being on the asking side of things. I have already received one response for one of my questions.

Just for fun, here are a few of the questions that have recently interested me and that I have posted:

1) Is there a case to be made for plural voting? In other words, are governments ever justified in giving more votes to some people than others? For instance, I think a good case can be made that those with higher educational status (say, a bachelors degree) should be given more voting power than those of lower educational status assuming that certain conditions maintain (e.g. equal educational opportunity)? This dovetails with a follow up question: what is the current status of such plural voting arguments among philosophers today (are they frequently defended)?

2) I find that a very common discussion that I have with friends and family is about which sport (baseball, football, soccer, etc.) is the “best” or which sport is “better.” As my quotations may indicate, I find this discussion rather fruitless. For instance, I love baseball (watching or playing) but dislike soccer. But I do not know of a way–and am skeptical that there even is a way–to objectively measure the quality of a sport. Although they may share the common, but rather vague and general, attribute “sport,” they nonetheless seem incommensurable with one another. At the same time, I am always wary of becoming a full-blown relativist, no matter the topic. So my question is whether or not there are fruitful ways to have an inner-sports dialogue that attempts to answer the question as to what sport is “better,” “more praiseworthy,” “more sophisticated,” and so on? Or is our conception of what makes a sport good so tied up with our culture and (perhaps) our own athletic abilities that, in this case, we would do well to accept relativism and halt the debate entirely?

3) Do (or should) public figures–professional athletes, politicians, film stars–have a moral obligation to serve as role models for society? Another way to ask this: do public figures have a moral obligation above and beyond that of a non-public figure to act in a morally permissible or morally good way? Take, for instance, the professional athlete who abuses his child or the politician who cheats on his or her spouse. Assuming that such actions are prima facie wrong (leaving aside scenarios in which, say, utilitarianism would morally allow or demand such actions), are there any extra moral obligations that a public figure has–or is there any extra moral weight to their actions–just in virtue of being a public figure?

The question I received an answer to is a rather technical one that probably wouldn’t interest most people, but I’ll post it and the answer anyways:

4) I find that Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is as much a critique of empiricism as it is rationalism. Why then call it the critique of “pure reason” as if the focus of the critique is purely about the rationalist’s favored tool of inquiry?

Response by Thomas Pogge:

I agree that Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is as much a critique of empiricism as it is of rationalism. But the title still makes sense if you understand two things about it. First, the word “Critique” here means not merely criticism but, more broadly, critical examination. The book draws limits to reason in some respects but also vindicates our reason in others. Second, the word “of” here means not only that reason is the object of critical examination, but also that reason is conducting this critical examination. So, in a nutshell, Kant promises in his title a critical self-examination of reason: an examination undertaken by reason of what reason can and cannot do.

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