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 firstname.lastname@example.org to make your request.
Now, without further ado, the most recent questions added to The Queue:
What’s right or wrong in Michael Huemer’s critique of “The Objectivist Ethics”?
I found Professor Michael Huemer’s essay “Critique of ‘The Objectivist Ethics’” to be a very thoughtful and persuasive essay. It convinced me that Ayn Rand’s ethics has a number of logical and possibly empirical flaws in it. Do you find any of his arguments valid? If, so which ones? Which ones do you think are wrong? Why? It this essay reason enough to reject Ayn Rand’s meta-ethics?
Is charity to strangers virtuous?
In a recent podcast, you answered the following question: “Does providing voluntary, non-sacrificial help to innocent, unfortunate poor people qualify as virtuous? In a free society, would such charity be a moral obligation?” You said that it’s not a moral obligation, and I agree with that. You also said that you think it’s a “great thing to do.” But why? I’d evaluate it as such if the person you’re helping is a good friend or a close relative. In that case, the act would be an expression of integrity, or of loyalty to one’s personal values. But I don’t understand why it’s a “great thing” to provide charity to people you don’t know, even if you’re contextually certain that they didn’t bring their hardship upon themselves and you don’t view it as a moral duty. I’d think that such an act is morally neutral, or at best slightly positive. Can you explain your evaluation a bit more, please?
Is voting for the welfare statist policies and politicians an initiation of force?
I come across right-wing people who proclaim to me that the State is justified to use physical force to deport undocumented Latino immigrants. They tell me this is justified because Latinos consistently vote in favor of politicians who expand the welfare state. They say that even if undocumented immigrants themselves do not vote, their children, who were born in the USA, will eventually become old enough to vote. These right-wingers then tell me that Latinos voting in favor of welfare-state politicians is an initiation of the use of force against them. Therefore, they conclude, if a right-wing government uses force to deport such illiberal Latino voters, the right-wing government is not initiating the use of force against innocent, peaceful people. Rather, continue the right-wingers, the right-wing government is using retaliatory force against the Latinos who initiated the use of force by voting in favor of rights-violating laws. I’m deeply offended by this argument. I think it’s ridiculous, to put it mildly. I have many relatives and neighbors who also consistently vote in favor of welfare-state politicians. If I followed the logic of the anti-immigrationist argument, I would have to conclude that simply because my relatives and neighbors voted for illiberal politicians, I should condone the idea that my relatives and neighbors should be violently removed from the USA. I’m troubled by my relatives and neighbors voting for the welfare state but, of course, using force “in retaliation” against them is absurd. Still, while I cannot condone any so-called retaliatory force against people who simply vote for rights-violating measures, I cannot say that I think that such people are completely morally innocent. I think that if someone votes in favor of legislation that initiates the use of force – or votes in favor of a politician promising to support such rights-violating measures – that voter is, in some manner, complicit in the violation of rights, and an accessory to the wrongs that the regulatory-entitlement state commits. I can always try to explain to my relatives and neighbors my own reasons for thinking as I do on politics, but I know that most of them are at least as stubborn as I am and will probably never change their minds. What is the moral status of someone who publicly supports a rights-violating regulatory-entitlement state but otherwise treats other people’s lives and property with due respect?
Should scientists value philosophy?
Recently, when an interviewer asked the famous astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson about his opinion on philosophy, Tyson replied that he has low regard for the entire discipline of philosophy. Tyson said that the problem with philosophy is that it bogs philosophers down in esoteric nitpicking over matters that will not affect anyone, whereas scientists like himself produce practical results in the real world. That is, Tyson dismissed philosophy as impractical. I think that is a rather common reaction from scientists about philosophy – they dismiss philosophy as impractical. I find that odd, as people once recognized science as “natural philosophy” – they thought that philosophy provided wisdom-lovers and knowledge-seekers with good ideas on how to collect data and analyze it for their own understanding. How did this philosophy-versus-science divide originate? When scientists dismiss philosophy as impractical, is this more the fault of the philosophers for being impractical or of the scientists for being too dismissive? How can philosophers explain the value of philosophy to scientists?
Should medical debt be treated like any other debt in a person’s FICA score?
Recently, credit scoring company FICO announced that it wouldn’t treat medical debt the same as other debts. Most unpaid debts are medical debts. A FICO representative explained the change as follows: “What research has shown us is medical debt is not like other types of collections. For people who have a clean credit history, it’s not an indicator of financial problems that they’re not going to be able to pay their debt. It’s an anomaly, a blip on the screen.” Doesn’t this mean that people can more easily ignore their medical debts? Doesn’t this effectively apply EMTALA to the entire field of medicine? Isn’t this wrong?
Should judges refuse to hear cases from lawyers behind frivolous suits?
In your 15 May 2014 show, you expressed curiosity about possible improvements to the justice system. I came up with the following idea after sitting on a jury for a civil trial where, after the plaintiff presented his case, the judge dismissed the suit without even having the defendant present his defense. In cases where a judge thinks everyone’s time and money were wasted by a pointless case, the judge should refuse to hear any future cases from the lawyer for the losing side. That would cause the lawyer to think twice about representing any frivolous cases, since he would risk being banned from the presiding judge’s courtroom henceforth. In addition, judges who know each other could share lawyer blacklists, preventing the lawyer from wasting other judges’ time as well. Would this be possible? Would it fix the problem of frivolous lawsuits?
Are sports fans collectivists?
A friend of mine thinks that sports fans are living vicariously through the players and are thus collectivistic. I think this is an overgeneralization from contact with super-fans of pro sports. Getting mad when “my” team loses and saying things like “we won” are some of the examples of the collectivist thinking he cites. Is there a logical link between fans and collectivism or are super-fans inherently collectivistic, even if it is compartmentalized? Is team competition or “us-versus-them mentality” a good indicator of someone that should be avoided as a friend or partner?
Are manners objective?
In a recent Rapid Fire Question, I think you rather too quickly dismissed the idea that manners or etiquette can be objective. You fairly quickly threw the whole lot of them over into the socially-subjective category. However, I think there’s a lot that’s not at all subjective, nor even optional, about manners. I happen to live in a country, China, which is much-renowned for its lack of basic human decency, and I would argue that this is a fair claim. For example, it’s quite regular for a parent to pull his child’s pants down and facilitate his or her urinating or defecating all over a vehicle of transportation, up to and including an international flight. It’s also quite normal to hawk in such a way as to clear every cavity in one’s upper torso, admire a particular piece of ground, and splat the results of one’s personal nasal expiration for all to admire and tread upon. After a home-cooked meal, a guest is expected to belch massively. A small belch is a sign of dissatisfaction. To me, the latter seems quite a matter of optional cultural choice. What you said before about manners applies quite nicely to that issue: it’s fairly arbitrary whether you should or you should not belch after your meal. At my in-laws’ place, please do. At my mom’s place, please don’t. However, when I think about other ways in which Chinese people are “rude” to an American, I can think of a thousand examples where it’s not just subjective. Pissing or shitting on a public bus is not just arbitrarily unacceptable to us silly overwrought Westerners. It’s objectively rude. For another example, today when I was trying to get onto a bus, hale and hearty Chinese twenty-somethings were pushing in front of me in a giant triangle of evil. Nobody cared if I was there before them, nobody cared if the signs all said to line up respectfully, they just elbowed each other out of the way in order to get on the bus. So are manners objective, at least in part?
Is it immoral or unwise to accept a better job soon after starting a different one?
I am ready to change jobs. I could probably move to another role within my company pretty quickly and easily and continue to move my career forward, but I could make more money and get better experience outside of my company. Outside job hunts can be lengthy and full of disappointments and all the while I would have to work at a job that is, frankly, killing my soul. I think it’s pretty clear that – if I accept a new job in my company and immediately turn around and give notice to go somewhere else – I run a high risk of burning bridges with key contacts at my current company. But would it be unethical in some way to do that? When you accept a job are you making a tacit promise to work there for some period of time? If so, what’s the minimum amount of time?
Should publicly funded abortions be opposed?
In Victoria, Australia we have fairly good laws on abortion and there are almost no legal or social barriers to access. We also however have a very generous public health care system which means that most if not all of the costs of an abortion will be covered by the public. Is there something especially wrong with publicly funded abortion that advocates of individual rights should be concerned with or is it morally equivalent to the immorality of forcing others to pay for less controversial treatment such as dental surgery? Does the cultural context influence how a free-market advocate should approach this topic? While the majority of the community supports the current laws, there seem to be signs of an anti-abortion faction developing in the Liberal Party (the conservatives). I wouldn’t want to have opposition to publicly-funded abortions result in any kind of ban on abortions. So should publicly funded abortions be opposed or not?
Why is Ayn Rand’s ethics better than that of Jesus?
I was recently invited to participate in a live student debate at a local church on the topic, “Who Was the Better Moral Philosopher: Ayn Rand or Jesus?”. The audience will be mostly Christian or neutral: there will only be a handful of people familiar with Objectivism present. What points would you make if you were to speak to an audience of interested laypeople on this topic? What subjects might be best to avoid? What aspects of Jesus’ ethics might be good to highlight as flaws? What resources – other than the primary sources – might you suggest on this topic?
Why aren’t people grateful for what others do for them?
I volunteer a lot, and I try to be very generous with my time and efforts in the groups that I’m involved with. Mostly, I just want people to express thanks and gratitude for what I’ve done for them. Mostly though, they don’t thank me – or their thanks just seem perfunctory. Why is that? Am I wrong to want a little gratitude? Right now, I feel taken advantage of, and I want to tell everyone to go to hell. Is that wrong?
How can I overcome my fear of leading a value-less life?
Ever since I was young, I’ve had an overwhelming fear of leading a valueless life. I saw my parent and other adult role models live this way. There was nothing in their life: they never strived for anything, never had dreams, and tended to discourage dreams from others. I always thought that I would be different. I always thought that I could live in a fulfilled way. But slowly I noticed that I was falling into their path. I didn’t start college till 23 because of student aid issues and until then I worked minimum wage and I went without food some days. Now at 26, I have a 2 year degree. Even with my new job I still live in a drug and prostitution infested ghetto in Philadelphia because this is the only place I can afford. After calculating how long it will take me to get my career off the ground, I could graduate with a MS by thirty or thirty two. But noticing the patterns that I see in other people, I have this overwhelming fear that all attempts at achieving a value will slowly slip my grasp. I constantly needed to push values off till tomorrow until I get today straightened out. I am scared that tomorrow will never come. I have so many goals and dreams and values but I might never get to achieve them. I see it so clearly sometimes: 45, divorced, alone, with nothing to show for my hard work, debt, a giant mortgage or even worse perpetual renting, and my only outlet going to the pub with other Philly white trash middle-agers. How can rational philosophy help me gain perspective on this fear that I have had since a kid?
It is wrong to keep my pet a secret from my landlord?
My fianc?e and I own a cat. By the rules of our apartment, we should notify our landlord and pay monthly pet rent and deposits. However, we keep a cleaner apartment than the majority of people without pets. If the cat’s not tearing up carpet and peeing on walls, I don’t feel I should pay more than say someone who is disrespectful of the property and causes more damage to the unit. Moreover, I recently heard firsthand from a group of experienced landlords that they prefer cleaner tenants with pets as opposed to straight up dirty tenants. So should I fess up and pay or not?
Does ethical egoism discourage reconciliation after a dispute?
I believe in ethical egoism, and I think humans can validly achieve certainty in their convictions. I don’t think people should apologize for their virtues or for being right. I think ethical egoists who believe in rational certainty tend to come across as very argumentative. The non-egoist argumentative people I know seem to be more conciliatory. When they notice someone’s feelings are hurt, they do not change their minds but they do apologize and make up. By contrast, I am under the impression that when ethical egoists get into very heated disputes, they are much less conciliatory. My impression is that they hold grudges longer and are more reluctant to apologize. I suspect they think that apologizing or trying to reconcile would be interpreted as weakness – that they think “I refuse to apologize for being right!” and that trying to reconcile would amount to self-abasement wherein one apologizes for being right. Non-egoists would call this “Letting your pride stop you from seeking the reconciliation you yearn for.” In my own case, I have had many falling-outs with other ethical egoists. What usually stops me from seeking reconciliation is that I think that if we re-connected, we would soon “schism” over something else. But I do have to ask myself if, on some level, I believe that if I seek reconciliation, I would be abasing myself by “apologizing when I’m the one who is right!” Can strong belief in ethical egoism and rational certainty – and refusal to “apologize for one’s virtues and for being right” – encourage someone to be counter-productively unforgiving and closed against reconciliation? If so, what can an ethical egoist do to address this?
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