As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer questions chosen in advance from the Question Queue. Here are the most recent additions to that queue. Please vote for the ones that you’re most interested in hearing me answer! You can also review and vote on all pending questions sorted by date or sorted by popularity.
Also, I’m perfectly willing to be bribed to answer a question of particular interest to you pronto. So if you’re a regular contributor to Philosophy in Action’s Tip Jar, I can answer your desired question as soon as possible. The question must already be in the queue, so if you’ve not done so already, please submit it. Then just e-mail me at email@example.com to make your request.
Now, without further ado, the most recent questions added to The Queue:
Should I do something nice for a coworker I dislike?
There’s a lady at work that I dislike. My conflict with her is primarily merely a conflict of personality. I find her defensive, passive-aggressive, and awkward to the point of rudeness. I am also not very impressed with her work products, but that rarely has a direct impact on me – except when I’m asked to review them – as is the fact that she only seems to work for about six hours every day. Indirectly, of course, her eccentricities and poor work quality cast our team in a very poor light and could eventually serve as a reason to dissolve or lay off our team. It’s a mystery as to why she hasn’t been fired. But I’m not her manager. In a meeting earlier today, she made a remark that she thought she was being excluded from important meetings that are relevant to her work. The truth is that she’s not being actively excluded from these meetings, but rather everything is happening so fast and the meetings aren’t always planned, so it’s really just not possible to include her in those meetings. She would probably be heartened to understand better how these events take place in our company. (She’s rather new and I am very tenured.) She might feel better about her position and she might become less defensive about things if she had a better understanding of the organizational mechanics here. But I strongly dislike her and would prefer that she seek other employment. Should I be kind and explain those mechanics or not?
Should I put my cat down rather than leave him in a shelter?
After listening to the podcast question about the woman who lived in Philadelphia and wanted to get out of the ghetto, I got the motivation to land a great new job in Seattle. I am moving to a new city in a few weeks and will be traveling quite a bit. I will not be able to take care of my cat with all of the traveling. I don’t have the money to hire people to watch my pet while I am gone. I have put the cat up on billboards and ebay classifieds with no responses. The cat isn’t friendly to anyone but me, so I doubt a prospective adopter would choose to take him after meeting him. As my move date grows closer, I am wondering if it would be better to have my cat put down than to leave him with a shelter. What should I do?
Why do socialists hate the market yet use it for their needs?
Socialists have to eat, wear clothes, stay warm in the winter, use transportation, etc., like everyone else. They could live in public housing, use public transit, and get health care supplied by the state. But for their other goods and services, they have to go to the market for the things they need or want. How can they reconcile their ideology with their actual behavior? Are they hypocrites?
Do people have a right to food and shelter?
I recently had a conversation with a Facebook friend who stated that food and shelter are more than necessities, they are rights. I posed the question, “How does one exercise their right to food and shelter?” No one answered the question, so I would like to pose it here. Most food in this country is grown by farmers and sold fresh, or processed in a factory for sale. If food is a “right,” does anyone without the means to buy these products have an inherent right to take what they need without any remuneration to the farmer or the manufacturer? The same applies to shelter. How does one exercise their “right” to shelter without a means to earn it? We have a right to free speech, and a right to vote. One is exercised by speaking your mind on a subject without fear of government reprisal, and the other is exercised by voting during elections. We have the right to practice whatever religion we want or none at all. The press has the right to print or say whatever they want. Any “right” to food or shelter would have to operate differently. So are food and shelter a “right”? What would that mean in practice?
What counts as a fair book review?
Independent authors who publish their books on their own to Amazon owe much of their success or lack thereof to the star ratings given on their work. Higher average star ratings make their work appear in featured areas of the site and appear higher in searches. While a single star rating on a young book with otherwise high ratings can effectively destroy the sales pipeline. Even if a user writes, “I loved this book! It’s perfect!,” if they give it one star it will hurt sales. Similarly, if a user writes that they hate a book but they still give it five stars it will give the book more of a fighting chance in the market. There are a lot of users on Amazon who will target independent authors with one-star reviews simply to carry out a personal vendetta. The fickleness of star reviews and how great the impact is on sales has led many authors to see the star reviews as less an accurate reflection of the quality of their work than merely a marketing tool. (More well-monied authors and publishers sometimes even buy high star ratings.) So is it wrong to game Amazon’s star rating system? Is it wrong for an author to ask their friends to give their books five stars even if they hate it allowing those same friends to write that they hate the book in their written review? Is it wrong for a reader to give a higher star rating to a book because they want the author to succeed but given an honest written review?
Does social convention have any place in politics or ethics?
Every culture has its social conventions. Are they worthy of respect? Might be worthwhile to sometimes “go along to get along,” even if that conflicts with rational ethical principles? Might social convention sometimes influence rights? Would that amount to social contract theory? If so, is that a problem?
Is it wrong to use racist epithets to insult the truly evil?
A now-former Facebook friend used a racist epithet in reference to Islamic terrorists. I asked him if he understood that it was a racist term and he said he did and said that he used it on purpose to insult those evil-doers because they are so evilly evil that they deserve not even a little respect. I told him he was wrong because race is not the same as ideology and that I can’t find any justification for racism, so I un-friended him. I agree that Islamic terrorists are evil, but is it morally okay to be a racist toward evil people?
Should the police obligated to protect citizens from harm?
On your Facebook page, you recently posted a story about a man who had to fight off a crazed knife-murderer in New York’s subway, in full view of police officers, there specifically to capture this madman. Yet they did never interfered until after the knife-weilder was disarmed and on the ground–and the defender passed out with multiple stab wounds. Unsurprisingly, the man sued the NYPD. The suit was rejected, however, on the grounds that police are not obligated to protect people from harm. Indeed, the Supreme Court had decided just that question in a case in 2005 involving police failure to enforce a restricting order against a woman’s estranged husband, resulting in the kidnapping and murder of their three young daughters. But did the Supreme Court decide correctly? I can see both sides here. On the one hand, how can any individual police officer have a duty to put their life at risk? On other hand, if the whole justification for government’s existence is to protect individual citizens’ rights, how can they not be obligated to protect their lives and limb against violence?
How should deadly diseases be kept out of a free society?
A free society is supposed to have open borders, yet wouldn’t that make preventing the entry of foreign diseases impossible? A society that opens it borders inevitably puts itself at risk for foreign diseases simply because people aren’t being screened and excluded, as they are now. These diseases can be very dangerous, particularly when the domestic population has never been, or rarely is, exposed to them. So shouldn’t the borders be closed to certain countries that might spread Ebola and other dangerous diseases.
Are some opinions more valid than others?
Many people, including my boyfriend, have told me that everyone has an opinion, and nobody is ever “right” or “wrong” in their opinion on something. But is that accurate? I often tell those people that opinions are personal evaluations of things in reality, based on the facts that one has identified. Your opinion might be that Islam is a religion of peace, for example. I would disagree, because the Koran explicitly promotes the killing of non-believers (among many others), and many Islamic terrorists cite Islam as their motivation for performing acts of terror. My opinion is based on concrete facts that I have identified; I think it is valid and substantiated. I also think the opinion that Islam is a religion of peace requires substantiation that can’t be given. You might say that there exist many peaceful Muslims, and you would be right, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are dozens and dozens of passages in the Koran that explicitly promote violence. Is one opinion more valid than the other, or are they equally valid? Is one opinion a better evaluation of facts than another, or are all opinions merely subjective feelings about particular subjects with no basis in reality? Would it be proper to tell someone that you recognize their opinion, but that their opinion is wrong, so long as you could substantiate your statement?
How can I motivate myself to act to further my goals despite my overwhelming lethargy?
I struggle with motivating myself to do what I know I should. I’m not inclined to do wrong, but I just find it hard to act to further my goals in life. I’m 26 and I live with my dad while I (slowly) finish my degree. I want to become financially independent and move out on my own, but I struggle with the normal, necessary daily habits required to get this done. For example, my dad wants me to do more house chores, and I can see how this is a fair thing to ask, given that he works two jobs to support both of us. However, when I think about all the things I should be doing a wave of lethargy overcomes me. It’s the same story when I think about the homework I need to do, which isn’t even very hard to do. Job searching and trying to build my resume are also on my mind, but I can’t seem to get motivated to do that either. I have implemented GTD, but obviously once it comes to actually carrying out all of the plans, I can get a good burst of motivation for a short while, but then something doesn’t go my way, and the lethargy hits me again. Both of my parents have clinical depression and anxiety problems, and I have seen first hand how it has affected their lives. I have spent most of my life combating depression and anxiety. I can always summon up a good mood for myself – sometimes by evading the pressure of my responsibilities, which is not good – and when I feel anxiety I am able to calm myself down by introspecting and thinking through it. So I know that I have the tools to solve problems in my life and achieve my goals, but self awareness has only gotten me so far. What can I do to raise my motivation and keep it up? How do I overcome the tendency to procrastinate and ignore my responsibilities? How do I put my philosophy into action?
Is it morally wrong for an atheist to work for a business that is affiliated with a church?
For many years I had a job teaching at a private preschool that is a part of a Methodist church, and I really loved my job. Every now and then I would get the feeling that I did not really belong among my coworkers since most of them were devout Christians. They were very nice people though, and there was one agnostic coworker with whom I developed an especially positive, comfortable relationship. There was nothing in my job description that required me to perform tasks I felt uncomfortable with. I left because I wanted to try something new, and I liked the idea of not being associated with a church. I accepted a new job at an elementary school with no religious affiliation, and I have found myself missing my old job tremendously. I feel overwhelmed with a very large class and some stressful duties. I also have no lunch break during the day and end up working more hours than I am paid for. I also miss working with younger children; I think that age group was a better fit for me. I am feeling burnt out at my new job, and I have only been here 2 months. I have been considering the possibility of returning to my old school or seeking a position elsewhere at the end of this school year. If I were to ask about returning to my old job, should I have a talk with my boss and let her know that I am atheist? I feel like that might make me feel better, but then again I also feel that religion and politics are topics that should not be discussed in the workplace. Do you think it is wrong for an atheist to work at a church preschool?
Does the patent system need to be reformed?
Patents were meant to spur innovation and reward inventors financially. However, the system seems to have many flaws, such as: (1) Many patents are awarded to obvious “inventions” (such as one-click shopping) or whole problems (not just particular solutions) and amount to a kind of “land grab.” (2) The duration of the patent is not adjusted for the rate of technological change in the industry or for the ingenuity or other value of the particular invention. (3) The government bureaucrats who award patents or not are hardly authorities in the relevant fields, and the mistakes they make can serious damage a business or even a whole industry. (4) The system is easily abused by corrupt lawyers, patent trolls, and the like. (5) Given the enormous cost of litigating patent claims, the patent system benefits established companies at the expense of small entrepreneurs, even if the latter have justice on their side. Are these genuine and serious problems? Are patents still a value in today’s fast-paced, information-based economy? Should the patent system change – and if so, how?
How can I learn to trust people again after years of behind-the-back betrayals?
I have been dealing with a problem that seems unsolvable. I met a Muslim man who blatantly lied to me about being married. Somehow this man has pitted my family, friends, employers, and strangers against me. I did nothing to this man. This has been going on for at least ten years, if not longer. All the actions have been done behind my back by other people, including my family. It has been a situation I would consider of great betrayal. My trust has been shattered, for the most part. You have no idea what this man and my family has done to my life. I am and have been for a long time on the streets. I have tried to move forward to no avail. I have always been an ambitious person and passionate about life. I have a college education and I owned a business. But I did grow up in a dysfunctional alcoholic family and was also married to an alcoholic. After studying Objectivism for a short time, it all makes sense, but I am not sure how to implement it, in this situation. People can really make you crazy and confused and it all stems from altruism. It has been hard not to lose my convictions, but I have made it this far. I don’t want to be mad or angry anymore. I want to get my life back, but I just don’t know where my errors in thinking and action are. How can I do that?
Does the “political spectrum” have any validity?
Typically, when I admit my capitalist views people think of and call me a “far right-wing’er.” This bothered me for quite some time because I am an openly bisexual man and the right is so closely associated with theocracy and anti-gay views. However, I began to embrace “the right” after reading Craig Biddle’s article, “Political ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ Properly Defined.” Do you agree with his classification? Where do you think that classical liberal ideas (including Objectivist political ideas) fall on the political spectrum? Does it make sense to try to find a place on it – or should it be rejected entirely?
To submit a question, use this form. I prefer questions focused on some concrete real-life problem, as opposed to merely theoretical or political questions. I review and edit all questions before they’re posted. (Alas, IdeaInformer doesn’t display any kind of confirmation page when you submit a question.)