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October 15, 2018

Imagine that you are standing in front of two buttons, deciding which one to press. If you press the first button, a new universe – call it Universe A – will come into existence, in addition to our current universe. If you press the second button, Universe B will come into existence instead. Universe A […]

October 1, 2018

What if the universe were infinitely large? More specifically, what if there were infinitely many people (or agents relevantly similar to us) in the universe? This possibility raises a number of difficult philosophical problems. In this edition, I outline a paradox that arises in infinite universes. The philosopher Caspar Hare, who has written about the […]

September 17, 2018

Historically, philosophers have defended a wide variety of views about sex and sexual activity; some of these have been traditionally liberal, others traditionally conservative, and some truly bizarre. In this column, I will briefly describe the views on sex expressed by three famous philosophers: beginning in the 18th century with Immanuel Kant, fast-forwarding to the […]

August 20, 2018

Utilitarianism is an ethical doctrine which states that the morally right action is the action which maximises net welfare. Formulated most famously by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill in the 19th century, utilitarianism is a radical ethical theory with a number of counterintuitive conclusions. Among these conclusions is the doctrine of “negative responsibility”: the […]

August 6, 2018

Imagine that we live in a post-apocalyptic society. The apocalypse has had one particularly pernicious effect: it has shattered and fragmented the natural sciences beyond repair. Scattered bits of pre-apocalyptic science turn up – a few pages of a biology textbook here, a chemistry paper there. But these fragments are entirely devoid of scientific context, […]

June 5, 2018

As with most other academic fields, people have a lot of misconceptions about philosophy. These misconceptions range from the idea that philosophers spend all day arguing about “the meaning of life”, to the erroneous belief that philosophy is too abstract to be relevant to everyday life. In reality, blanket statements about any field are rarely […]

May 21, 2018

The philosopher Derek Parfit, who we discussed last column, believes that a dominant theory of rationality — what he calls the “Self-Interest Theory” — is internally inconsistent. The Self-Interest Theory is a theory of rationality which tells us to do whatever would maximise the total wellbeing of our whole life. So according to the Self-Interest […]

May 7, 2018

We can reject theories about morality for many reasons. One potential reason is that it produces results which conflict with strong intuitions that we have. For example, many philosophers reject the moral theory of utilitarianism, which says that we ought to do whatever maximises total happiness, because it provides very counterintuitive answers to a variety […]

April 16, 2018

This week’s Salient theme is “taboo”. Fortunately, there’s quite a substantial intersection between “things which are philosophical” and “things which are taboo”. So in honour of the theme, here are some very counterintuitive philosophical arguments with (potentially) taboo conclusions. Note: all of these are real arguments that have been made by real philosophers. Why killing […]

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