Ask Phil

Published: June 2, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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(No, not that Phil.)

Ever find yourself walking the streets of life when suddenly, you’re confronted with a philosophical conundrum where you just need to know an answer right away?

Well, there’s an app for that.

AskPhilosophers.org, offers a noble collective of philosophers available to answer your questions via the internet or a free app for mobile devices.  Example:

Q: “Is it morally wrong to go to high school if you know for a fact that you are not being taught any relevant information for living morally and responsibly, you know the assignments are absolutely pointless, and you have the opportunity to benefit the world through becoming a Buddhist monk…?”

Okay, well not all the questions posed fall into the need-to-know-right-now category, but AskPhil offers answers in categories from abortion to war; animals to ethics.

In an interview with the New York Times (May 19): “People don’t stop thinking when they leave their computer terminals,” creator and Amherst philosophy philosopher Alexander George said. “When philosophical questions occur to people away from their desks or computer screens they’ll now have the opportunity through their mobile devices to see quickly whether other people have already asked that question and whether it’s received interesting responses.”

To date, the site has accumulated 2,903 responses to questions in various categories. “Ethics” ranks number one with 647 responses, followed by “Philosophy” (302) and “Religion” (210).

Among the ethical questions examined:

“Is teaching religion in public schools morally wrong?; Is it immoral for a person in a rich country to adopt a child from a very poor country while the parents are still alive?; or this one: “Socrates said, ‘It is better to suffer evil than to do it.’  I am trying to work out if a consequentialist could make good sense of this claim.  If anyone can!”

Interesting head-scratchers, huh?

Okay, but what’s the answer to that first conundrum: “Is it morally wrong to go to high school if you know for a fact that you are not being taught any relevant information for living morally and responsibly, you know the assignments are absolutely pointless, and you have the opportunity to benefit the world through becoming a Buddhist monk…?”

A:  “This answer may not be quite what you want to hear, but if someone is convinced ‘for a fact’ that nothing they’re leaning in high school is relevant to anything that matters, then one of two things is likely: a) this is a very unusual high school, or b) the person making the judgment isn’t really in a very good position to judge…”

Clearly, AskPhil is also able to see through a not-so-clever rationalization… not unlike that other Phil.

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