As much as I love writing systematic philosophical arguments, I like to keep this blog very dialectical too. The best thinking, in my experience, is done through the multiplication of perspectives. One can be self-conscientiously multi-perspectival in one’s solo thinking, and I try to do that as much as possible in order to give as sensitive and nuanced accounts of issues as possible, but there is no replacing the fresh input of other people’s perspectives from their own unique experiences and areas of expertise.
So, I have sought numerous ways to increase the voices on the blog. Every post is conscientiously ended with a specific plea for Your Thoughts. Sometimes, I write fictional dialogues. Sometimes, I debate real people. Sometimes, I reply critically, line by line, to someone else’s writing. Sometimes, I interview interesting people. Sometimes, some other people interview me. Sometimes I invite guest posts. Sometimes I start a new post as a reply to readers’ comments or other bloggers’ comments made in reply to my previous posts.
Introducing “Philosophical Advice”
Now as a new feature, to further increase the back and forth between me and you, I want to do a philosophical advice column. I am not a trained psychologist by any means, so I cannot provide professional psychological counseling. But I am a professional philosopher who spends a great deal of time reading, thinking, teaching, and writing about ethics. I am deeply concerned with rational action that maximizes human good and, within my limitations and with no deluded presumptions to any more certainty or authority than the strengths of my arguments have to offer, I like giving people advice.
Sometimes we need advice from people who are not in our personal situation and who do not even know us personally, who can look at our problems from a fresh perspective for us and tell us what they see. While my perspective could never be the only valuable one you should be seeking out, I find people tend to think it unusual enough and thought provoking enough to be of at least some help in their coming to their own conclusions. And, luckily, if ever I am totally off the mark in my speculations and calculations, I have many hundreds of passionate, opinionated, articulate, well-educated, well-lived readers with expertise in any number of potentially relevant areas who will also be on-hand to correct me and help those writing in for help.
As the flood of mail that the sage friend of Camels With Hammers Richard Wade receives from readers attests. There is plenty of need out there for atheists willing to help other atheists figure out how to navigate their ethical, intellectual, and interpersonal lives. I want to help fulfill that role, in case anyone is interested.
Of course, if it turns out no one is, this column will quietly slink into oblivion.
For now if you have any sort of problem that you think some philosophical analysis might shed light on, send me an e-mail at my gmail account “camels with hammers” “@gmail”, etc., and on Fridays, assuming I have questions to answer, I will post the column “Philosophical Advice”. You can ask me anything and I may not get a lot of questions, so don’t be shy! All questions I publish will be posted strictly anonymously. I will change the names of any e-mails signed with real names. If I cannot answer your question myself because I judge it out of my depth, I will let you know, farm out your question to someone who can help me, and/or refer you to any sources I might know of which can be of help.
Finally, there may be an added twist to some of my replies. Sometimes, I feel torn myself about the advice to give, my fictional characters may debate the merits of alternative replies and leave it up to you to decide which is the shrewdest advice.
In the beginning of 2011, as part of my quest to make the blog ever more dialectical, I intended to everyday write up a philosophical question for readers to answer. I called it the “TOP Q” which stood for “Today’s Open Philosophical Question”. Believe it or not, just writing good philosophical questions was often as time intensive for me as writing good philosophical answers. And, less surprisingly, the pace of a question a day combined with the relatively small size of my readership made it so that questions did not have enough time to breathe such that they could get enough good comments to justify being a daily feature. The comments I got were often excellent, but they were too few and too sporadic.
But now that there is a larger and steadier traffic coming through Camels With Hammers daily, I want to reintroduce the TOP Q with a new twist that will give each TOP Q more room to breathe and to develop a good dialectic among (hopefully) increasingly committed readers who are part of a (hopefully) increasingly cohesive community here at CWH. The new TOP Q will be a weekly feature, instead of a daily one. The phrase “TOP Q” will henceforth refer to either “Thursday’s Open Philosophical Question” or “Tuesday’s Open Philosophical Question” depending on the day I post it that week. So look out tomorrow for the first new TOP Q in almost exactly a year. I hope to sometimes float a topic in the TOP Q that I want to write on myself and to use your takes on the problem as stimulation for my own thinking and/or, where I already know pretty well what I think in advance, as an indication of where the focus in my eventual writing should be once I have a sense of readers’ general opinions, inclinations, and tensions between each other.
So, in the meantime, as I will be working all day and will not be able to blog much on that account, here are the previous TOP Q’s you might consider taking a crack at today: