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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 names.

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.


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