Problems from Philosophy
by James Rachels

second edition by Stuart Rachels
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009)





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This is James Rachels' introduction to philosophy. It does for philosophy what The Elements of Moral Philosophy does for ethics. The second edition is now out.


Preface

1. THE LEGACY OF SOCRATES

1.1 Why Was Socrates Condemned? 1
1.2 Why Did Socrates Believe He Had to Die? 3

2. GOD AND THE ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE

2.1 Is it Reasonable to Believe in God? 10
2.2 The Argument from Design 11
2.3 Evolution and Intelligent Design 16
2.4 The First Cause Argument 22
2.5 The Idea That God Is a Necessary Being 25

3. THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

3.1 Why Do Good People Suffer? 29
3.2 God and Evil 31
3.3 Free Will and Moral Character 35

4. DO WE SURVIVE DEATH?

4.1 The Idea of an Immortal Soul 41
4.2 Is There Any Credible Evidence of an Afterlife? 44
4.3 Hume's Argument against Miracles 53

5. THE PROBLEM OF PERSONAL IDENTITY

5.1 The Problem 55
5.2 Personhood at a Moment 56
5.3 Personhood over Time 60
5.4 Bodily Continuity 61
5.5 Memory 64

6. BODY AND MIND

6.1 Descartes and Elizabeth 71
6.2 Materialist Theories of the Mind 75
6.3 Doubts about Materialist Theories 85

7. COULD A MACHINE THINK?

7.1 Brains and Computers 89
7.2 An Argument That Machines Could Think 90
7.3 The Turing Test 93
7.4 Why the Turing Test Fails 97


8. THE CASE AGAINST FREE WILL

8.1 Are People Responsible for What They Do? 101
8.2 Determinism 103
8.3 Psychology 106
8.4 Genes and Behavior 113

9. THE DEBATE OVER FREE WILL

9.1 The Determinist Argument 119
9.2 The Libertarian Response 120
9.3 The Compatibilist Response 125
9.4 Ethics and Free Will 128

10. OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE WORLD AROUND US

10.1 Vats and Demons 135
10.2 Idealism 137
10.3 What Evidence for These Views Might Be Like 139
10.4 Descartes' Theological Response 140
10.5 Direct vs. Indirect Realism 143
10.6 Vision and the Brain 145
10.7 The Natural Theory 148

11. ETHICS AND OBJECTIVITY

11.1 Thrasymachus's Challenge 149
11.2 Is Ethics Just Social Convention? 150
11.3 Ethics and Science 155
11.4 The Importance of Human Interests 162

12. WHY SHOULD WE BE MORAL?

12.1 The Ring of Gyges 165
12.2 Ethics and Religion 167
12.3 The Social Contract 170
12.4 Morality and Benevolence 173

13. THE MEANING OF LIFE

13.1 The Problem of the Point of View 180
13.2 Happiness 182
13.3 Death 184
13.4 Religion and the Indifferent Universe 185
13.5 The Meaning of Particular Lives 188


Appendix: How to Evaluate Arguments 191
Notes on Sources 200
Index 211




Preface to the Second Edition

This book is an introduction to some of the main problems of philosophy--the existence of God, the nature of the mind, human freedom, the limits of knowledge, and the truth about ethics. The chapters may be read independently of one another, but when read in order, they tell a more or less continuous story. We begin with some reflections on the life of Socrates and then go on to the existence of God, which is the most basic philosophical question, because our answer to it affects everything else. This leads naturally to a discussion of death and the soul, and then to more modern ideas about the nature of persons. The later chapters are about whether we can have objective knowledge in either science or ethics.

It is a weakness of contemporary culture that such issues are often taken to be mere matters of opinion. After all, it is said, no one can prove whether God exists or whether life has a meaning. But these are topics for rational investigation. Even if the questions are so complex that we cannot expect agreement, we should ask what is most reasonable to believe, rather than grab at whatever ideas seem attractive. Like every responsible human inquiry, philosophy is first and last an exercise in reason. We should embrace the ideas that are supported by the best arguments.

Some philosophers believe that philosophy is a "pure" subject that can be pursued in isolation from the sciences. I do not share that belief. Problems from philosophy are best approached by using every available resource. W. V. Quine once remarked that "The universe is not the university." The division of human inquiry into discrete disciplines may be useful in organizing academic departments, but it is of little interest when trying to figure out what the world is like. In this book you will find references to biology, psychology, history, and even the discoveries of the Amazing Randi. They are all part of a single project--the human attempt to understand the world and our place in it.


About the Second Edition

Instructors who taught the first edition of this book need not reread whole chapters, except for chapter 5, "The Problem of Personal Identity," and chapter 10, "Our Knowledge of the World around Us." Those chapters have been reorganized and reworked.

Otherwise, the book has been revised only in small ways. Most of the changes are too trivial to mention, but a few things should be noted:

  In chapter 2, "God and the Origin of the Universe," the Not-By-Chance Argument has been reformulated and is now called the Best-Explanation Argument. Also, I have slightly reworded the Same-Evidence Argument.
  In chapter 3, "The Problem of Evil," I've added a third objection to the subsection, "A Complete Account?" This objection asks why God doesn't intervene to prevent acts of extreme cruelty.
  In chapter 4, "Do We Survive Death?" I have revised the critique of Socrates' argument for the simplicity of the soul.
  In chapter 6, "Body and Mind," Descartes' Conceivability Argument for Dualism has been added to section 6.1, and a materialist response to it now appears at the end of the subsection on the Mind-Brain Identity Theory. Also, I have added a brief subsection on "Radical Emergence."
  In chapter 7, "Could a Machine Think?" I have added a subsection called "The Tipping Point Objection" in response to the Piecemeal-Replacement Argument. Also, the chapter's conclusion is now gone, its content merged with the chapter's final subsection.
  In chapter 9, "The Debate over Free Will," I've given another reason why the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics doesn't establish human freedom. Also, the discussion of "The Argument That We Cannot Predict Our Own Decisions" has been shortened, and "The Argument from Accountability" is no longer claimed to be transcendental. Most significantly, in section 9.4, "Ethics and Free Will," James Rachels claimed in the first edition that the failure of free will would not undermine our ordinary beliefs about human value and responsibility. With apologies, I now claim the opposite at the end of the chapter.
  In chapter 12, "Why Should We Be Moral?" I point out some complications for the idea that we should be moral in order to avoid hellfire.
Problems from Philosophy was James Rachels' last book. It seems fitting that a great philosopher would spend his final days trying to communicate the most basic things in his subject to the next generation. In revising this wonderful book, I received help from Torin Alter, David Chalmers, Janice Daurio, Kevin Dybvig, Heather Elliott, Mike Huemer, Carlo Maley, Justin McBrayer, Nathan Nobis, Carol Rachels, David Rachels, Kerry Ressler, Lynn Stephens, Barbara Stock, and Mark Walton. I thank them. I also thank James Rachels, not just for the obvious reasons, but because I made some revisions based on his personal notes.

Readers who would like to know more about James Rachels can visit www.JamesRachels.org.

--Stuart Rachels



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Are there errors in the book? How can I make it better? Please let me know. My address is srachels@bama.ua.edu.