The Top 10 Questions People Ask Philosophers – Answers by Philosophy Students!

  1. Is philosophy psychology?
  2. What is the meaning of life?
  3. Does the table exist?
  4. If a tree falls but no one hears it, did it really fall?
  5. Why do you study things that are not real?
  6. Do you like to think a lot?
  7. Are there pretty girls in philosophy?
  8. Do I exist?
  9. How do I know that I’m not a brain in a vat (or living in the matrix)?
  10. Why should I study something so impractical?

1. Is philosophy psychology?

The world is not divided into departments. (Bernadette Chin)

Both of them are similar in that they bring you just a bit closer to mastering the Jedi mind trick. Otherwise both disciplines couldn’t be more different. (Huang Yuhuai)

No, psychology is philosophy. Did you know that clicking on the first link in a Wikipedia article and then in subsequent articles eventually gets you to philosophy? All roads lead to philosophy. (Bernadette Chin)

2. What is the meaning of life?

42. (Leung Hao Pu)

The meaning of life is to create a meaning for life! (Phillip Ong)

I have to think about that, return to this place in exactly seven and a half million years. (Huang Yuhuai)

Sorry, can’t seem to find an answer to that. You might however, be able to find an answer to “What is a life of meaning?” (Samuel Lee)

A question to which a simple answer is expected but none at all can be given- you might as well ask, ‘What is the sound of pink?’ (Shannen Song)

Whatever you want it to be. Next question. (Chetan Cetty)

3. Does the table exist?

It’d better, otherwise the non-existent money I spent at the non-existent Ikea would have been wasted. (Huang Yuhuai)

That depends. If you will buy it at or above our asking price, then yes. If not, it doesn’t. (Chetan Chetty)

4. If a tree falls but no one hears it, did it really fall?

Depends on how you established that there was a tree that fell in the first place. (Huang Yuhuai)

Just because the people around the tree are deaf doesn’t me an the tree didn’t fall! (Chetan Cetty)

Well maybe we should check to see if anyone got squashed. (Chetan Cetty)

Assuming the existence of external objects and scientific laws independent of human observation: yes. (Lim Qing Lun)

What tree? (Jonathan Sim)

5. Why do you study things that are not real?

There is no academic discipline that studies ‘real’ things- anything that can be thought of as studied is an idea. They may correspond to something you can perceive, but to expound on the basic perception of that thing is already to study something that isn’t real. You simply are not studying the physical object anymore, but constructing a nexus of ideas based on your perception of said object. (Shannen Song)

We don’t only study things that are not real. And anyway, we’re not the only ones that do it. Physicists do it all the time. Are you sure an atom, quark or boson is real like your hand is and not just a theoretical construction? (Chetan Cetty)

Why not? (Samuel Lee)

6. Do you like to think a lot?

I have to think about that, return to this place in exactly seven and a half million years. (Huang Yuhuai)

Ya, but not about trivial things, so don’t worry. (Chetan Cetty)

I don’t know. To answer the question, I must know what ‘a lot’ means. Presumably, it means I spend more time thinking than the average amount of time people spend thinking. Then I would need to know what is the average amount of time people spend thinking, and how much more than the average I need to think in order for me to count as someone who thinks ‘a lot’. I would also need to know what counts as ‘thinking’. Thinking can mean time spent pondering about how cute your cat is, or time spent thinking about the validity and soundness of philosophical claims. I think ‘thinking’ here means the latter conception. Then we would need to know what counts as philosophical claims such that time spent thinking about them can be taken into account… (Tay Qing Lun)

7. Are there pretty girls in philosophy?

I am sorry to inform you that our department has greatly exceeded its quota for pretty girls. (William Kwan)

Hey girls, there are plenty of hot guys in philosophy. You should come join us. (Siti Jeffrey)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. (Huang Yuhuai)

Well it really depends on which philosopher’s critique of aesthetic judgment you subscribe to. (Shannen Song)

No. Your loss. (Bernadette Chin)

8. Do I exist?

Who am I answering to if you don’t exist? (William Kwan)

As Dehorse*, one of Descarte’s students in university, once said: “I read, therefore I am”. Therefore, you do exist, because you are reading this right now. If this answer sent you into an existential crisis, take some Continental modules with the philosophy department and your existence will be confirmed once you embark on your readings! (*Note: Dehorse didn’t really existed – he didn’t read, so he was not!) (Lester Hio)

I do not know if you exist. I think this is generally known as the ‘problem of other minds’. (Lim Qing Lun)

9. How do I know that I’m not a brain in a vat (or living in the matrix)?

Put a brain that is not yours in a vat and see if it knows. (Siti Jeffrey)

As much I would love to, I can’t activate bullet time or see Keanu Reeves kicking butt. (Huang Yuhuai)

The short answer is that you will never know. At least not until you major in philosophy. (Chetan Cety)

10. Why should I study something so impractical?

I don’t know what you’re talking about. (Chetan Cetty)

Why not? (Samuel Lee)

Today’s employers want an answer to solve an ever-increasing number of problems. Many graduates are trained to provide answers, but only few can thrive on problems. Philosophy does not teach you any answers. Philosophy trains you to take advantage of problems to reach your goals. (Joseph Liew)

“Epistemic and Ethical Conditions for Media Freedom” by Onora O’Neill

Philosophy Seminar Series: 23 Feb 2012, 1-3pm, AS7 Seminar Room B; Speaker: Onora O’Neill, Professor, University of Cambridge; Moderator: Dr. Loy Hui Chieh

Classical arguments for media freedoms do not converge on a shared view of acceptable constraints. Miltonian arguments stress the importance of meeting epistemic requirements for truth seeking, but take too thin a view of these demands and exaggerate the effectiveness of absence of censorship. Millian arguments for rights of self expression minimise ethical and epistemic demands, but cannot plausibly be extended to the media. Arguments that take the epistemic and ethical needs of readers, listeners and viewers into account are more plausible and suggest that media regulation should constrain process but not content.

About the speaker: Baroness O’Neill comes from Northern Ireland and was educated at Oxford and Harvard, where she worked under the late John Rawls. She has taught in the US and the UK, was Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge until 2006 and teaches Philosophy in Cambridge. She was President of the British Academy, the UK National Academy for Humanities and Social Sciences from 2005-9, and chaired the Nuffield Foundation from 1998-2010. She has been a member of the House of Lords since 1999, and is an independent, non-party peer. She has served on the Select Committees on Stem Cell Research, BBC Charter Review, Genomic Medicine, Nanotechnology and Food and Behavioural Change. She writes on ethics and political philosophy, with particular interests in international justice, the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and bioethics. Her books include Faces of Hunger: An Essay on Poverty, Development and Justice (1986), Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant’s Practical Philosophy (1989), Towards Justice and Virtue (1996) and Bounds of Justice (2000), Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics (2002), A Question of Trust (the 2002 Reith Lectures) and Rethinking Informed Consent in Bioethics (jointly with Neil Manson, 2007). She is currently working on practical judgement and normativity, trust and accountability in public life; and the ethics of communication.
More information on the Philosophy Seminar Series can be found here. A list of past talks in the series can be found here.

“Problems in Epistemic Space” by Jens Christian Bjerring

Philosophy Seminar Series: 9 Feb 2012, 2-4pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Jens Christian Bjerring, Lecturer, Aarhus University (Denmark); Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

When a proposition might be the case, for all an agent knows, we can say that the proposition is epistemically possible for the agent. In the standard possible worlds framework, we analyze modal claims using quantification over possible worlds. It is natural to expect that something similar can be done for modal claims involving epistemic possibility. The main aim of this paper is to investigate the prospects of constructing a space of worlds—epistemic space—that allows us to model what is epistemically possible for ordinary, non-ideally rational agents like you and me. I will argue that we cannot successfully construct such a space of worlds without giving up core tenets of the standard possible worlds framework. In turn, this will make a case for the conditional claim that if we want to model epistemic possibility for ordinary agents, we must look for alternatives to the possible worlds framework.

About the speaker: Dr. Bjerring was awarded the PhD degree in philosophy from the Australian National University in November 2010. Currently, he is lecturing at Aarhus University (Denmark). He is particularly interested in issues in epistemology, philosophy of language, logic, mind and metaphysics.


More information on the Philosophy Seminar Series can be found here. A list of past talks in the series can be found here.

Gaining Access: Indirect Measurement in Planetary Astronomy and Geophysics, by Teru Miyake (8 Sept 2011)

Philosophy Seminar Series: 8 Sept 2011, 2-4pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Teru Miyake, Assistant Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, NTU; Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

We have been astonishingly successful in gathering knowledge about certain objects or systems to which we seemingly have extremely limited access.   In light of this success, what are the methods through which we have come to have this knowledge, and what are the limits of what we can know using these methods?  Traditionally, philosophers have viewed the methods that scientists use in the investigation of limited-access systems as being hypothetico-deductive.  I argue that these methods are better understood by thinking of what scientists are doing as gaining access to the previously inaccessible parts of these systems through a series of indirect measurements.  We obtain a clearer picture both of what we can know with confidence about limited-access systems, and the limits of this knowledge.  I illustrate this way of thinking about the epistemology of limited-access systems through an examination of planetary astronomy and geophysics.

TMiyakeAbout the speaker: Teru has a BS in Applied Physics from the California Institute of Technology.  He worked as an engineer and then as a freelance translator specializing in science and technology before doing an MA in Philosophy at Tufts University.  He then went on to Stanford University, where he got his PhD in Philosophy.  His main area is in Philosophy of Science.
More information on the Philosophy Seminar Series can be found here. A list of past talks in the series can be found here.

Singapore Management University (SMU) Social Sciences and Humanities Seminar Series

Singapore Management University (SMU) Social Sciences and Humanities Seminar Series presents:

Topic: Epistemic Closure, Skepticism and Defeasibility


Those of us who have followed Fred Dretske’s lead with regard to epistemic closure and its impact on skepticism have been half-wrong for the last four decades. But those who have opposed our Dretskean stance, contextualists in particular, have been just wrong. We have been half-right. Dretske rightly claimed that epistemic status is not closed under logical implication. Unlike the Dretskean cases, the new counterexamples to closure offered in this talk render every form of contextualist pro-closure maneuvering useless. But there is a way of going wrong under Dretske’s lead. We shall see that Cartesian skepticism thrives on closure failure in a way that is yet to be acknowledged in the literature. The skeptic can make do with principles which are weaker than the familiar closure principles. But I will further claim that this is only a momentary reprieve for the skeptic. As it turns out, one of the weaker principles on which a skeptical modus tollens must rest can be shown false.

Please click HERE to download paper

Chair: Associate Professor John Williams
Presenter: Professor Claudio de Almeida
Pontifical Catholic University at Porto Alegre, Brazil
Date: Friday, 25 March 2011
Time: 3.30 pm – 5.00 pm
Venue: Seminar Room 4.1, Level 4
School of Social Sciences
Singapore Management University
90 Stamford Road
Singapore 178903                                                            (location map)
Registration: Click here to register.

For more information, please refer to

Talk: A Normative Theory of Social Institutions, by Seumas Miller (22 Feb 2011)

Philosophy Seminar Series: 22 February 2011, 2-3:45pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Seumas Miller, Professor of Philosophy, Charles Sturt University and Australian National University; Moderator: Dr. Tang Weng Hong

Abstract: In this paper I present a teleological normative account of social institutions. On this type of account the definition of a social institution will typically include a description of the human good or social benefit that it purports to produce. For example, universities purport to produce knowledge and understanding, language enables the communication of truths, marriages facilitate the raising and moral development of children, economic systems ought to produce material well-being, and so on. Such goods or benefits are collective in character.

The notion of a collective good in the context of this teleological normative account of social institutions is not that of a public good familiar in economics. Rather a collective good can be understood as a good (Miller 2010: Chapter 2): (1) produced, maintained and/or renewed by means of the joint activity of members of organisations (e.g. schools, hospitals, governments, business firms) i.e. by institutional role occupants; (2) made available to the whole community (e.g. food, security, banking services); and (3)one which ought to be produced (or maintained or renewed) and made available to the whole community because they are desirable (as opposed to merely desired) and such that the members of the community have an (institutional) joint moral right to them (Miller 2010: Chapter 2).

millerAbout the speaker: Seumas Miller is Professor of Philosophy at Charles Sturt University and the Australian National University, and Director of the ANU division of the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (an Australian Research Council Special Research Centre). He is the author of Social Action (Cambridge University Press, 2001), Terrorism and Counter-terrorism (Blackwell 2009), and Moral Foundations of Social Institutions (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
More information on the Philosophy Seminar Series can be found here. A list of past talks in the series can be found here.

Kent Ridge Common – GAW 2011 (Guess And Win 2011)!

Kent Ridge Common is organising GAW 2011 (Guess And Win 2011)!

Photos of 10 cities around the world are posted on, and the person who guesses the most number of cities correctly stands to win 50 SGD, and 5 others will win 10 SGD! More details can be found on the website. The competition is also open to ALL NUS Faculty as well as Staff, and it is free to participate so do give it a shot!!

Choon Hwee (Editor of Kent Ridge Common)