On following moral rules

Everyday Philosophy There’s an interesting tension in Catholic moral thought. On the one hand, we have the prevalent idea that living well as a Catholic is not a matter of rule-following. The last few popes have spoken extensively about how authentic faith is not about obeying a set of rules, but a relationship with God.…

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Judging an authority to be trustworthy

Everyday Philosophy Is there something immature about deferring to authority on moral questions? If your reason for doing something is that “person x said it was good” or “x group says it is morally mandatory” is that ever legitimate? Immanuel Kant is often thought of as arguing something like this. Kant thought that the only…

Realising we are wrong about what is good

Everyday Philosophy If you do something voluntarily, it must be because you wanted to do it, at least in some sense. This apparently innocent statement can in the hands of some philosophers have quite disturbing implications. First, let’s think about the statement itself. It is true as far as it goes. Even if you do…

Dubious definitions of free will

Everyday Philosophy You hear a lot in apologetics about how if the materialist image of the world favoured by the likes of Richard Dawkins was true, there would be no room in reality for human free will. But why exactly is this? What’s the nature of the tension between free will and scientific materialism, and…

Exploring questions rather than shutting them down

Everyday Philosophy In my first year of university, the study of philosophy was divided into three subtopics. There were lectures and classes in logic, ethics, and then ‘general philosophy’ which was supposed to include everything else. I showed up to my first lecture in the latter as a fresh-faced undergraduate eager for knowledge, and left…

Unpicking popular phrases

Everyday Philosophy Popular aphorisms, proverbs and phrases sometimes pithily summarise good ideas. And sometimes, well, they don’t. The enemy of my enemy is my friend You might figure that ‘strong opposition to the government and general programme of Josef Stalin’, might seem to be a pretty good indicator of virtue and wisdom. Not, however, if…

A question of bias

Everyday Philosophy We’re all biased. All of us believe things for bad reasons. We believe things because of wrong assumptions we never question, because of people we want to impress, because of patterns of thought that are evolutionarily useful but not apt for finding the truth. There’s no getting around our bias: the best we…