New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 28 April 2015 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Apr 282015

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 to make your request.

Now, without further ado, the most recent questions added to The Queue:

What should a person do to make up for a past unpunished crime?

Suppose that a man, say when between 9 to 12 years old, committed a serious offense such as sexual assault or rape. At the time, he did not realize the effect of his actions. Now, as an adult, he is living a decent life – meaning that he’s gotten a good education, he has a good job, and he’s developed good sense of ethics. He’s never told anyone about this incident. It was never reported, and he was never investigated for or convicted of that offense as a juvenile. Legally, he need not report this incident to anyone. But ethically, what should he do about it? Should be disclose it to someone – such as his family, friends, a therapist, or even the police? Should he do anything else?

Is the United States finished as a free country?

Lately, I have seen a lot of people in my circles claim that the United States as a free country is dead and done, that tyranny advances each day and it’s not isolated, it’s everywhere. These are mostly reactions to articles reporting seeming home invasions by police, the FBI’s forensic hair match scandal, and other government abuses. The common claim is that the United States now has an inherently corrupt justice system where policemen can end the lives of citizens with impunity and get away with it. My inner skeptic makes me feel that, while this is evidence of a lot of bad things that shouldn’t be tolerated, the reaction itself seems disproportionate. While there are systemic problems, I have the impression that it is not all-pervasive and not hopeless. Then again, that could be also my inner optimist trying to tell myself that things are not as bad as they first appear. What is your take on the current climate of the United States? Do you think it is as finished as others claim it is? What kind of tools could you recommend for someone to use in gauging the state of the country more accurately?

Can I help my family deal with their grief over the death of my nephew?

My teenage nephew passed away six months ago. He was murdered at a party by someone who crashed it, someone who he had never met before. It was unexpected, and there are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of anger towards the boy who did it. I think that my partner and I are grieving appropriately. We were devastated at first, and we are doing our best to support our family, and we are adapting to life without my him. I remember you saying in a recent episode that if your mother ever passed away it would be really difficult but that you would need train yourself to adapt to life without her. I’ve found that advice really helpful, and I think that my partner and I are doing a good job at it. However, my family is suddenly turning to religion as an answer, clinging onto every detail of the court case, and pushing people who love and care about them away. I know there is no cookie cutter way to grieve, but what support or suggestions can I offer my family?

Are waivers to rights-violating laws good or bad?

There are many examples of immoral laws in which the government initiates force against individuals. There are also many examples of groups of people being carved out of the application of such laws via “waivers.” Some waivers are based on rational motivations, such as business exemptions from Obamacare based on economic burdens. Some waivers are based on irrational motivations, such as religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws or requirements to provide insurance for birth control, because compliance would conflict with a “religious conscience.” If we begin by agreeing that all initiation of force is immoral, how can we proceed with analyzing whether waivers to immoral laws are good or bad? Are the exceptions good if they’re based on rational reasons and bad if based on irrational reasons? Or should we think of the exceptions as either universally good or bad? Philosophically, I’m confused. On one hand, how can I not support all waivers when, in fact, they would result in less initiation of force? On the other hand, I can think of a philosophical argument against all waivers on the following basis: unequal standards for the application of political force implies a variance in the ethical standards which implies a variance in the metaphysical nature of man. If we accept the implication that there are essential differences in our nature as human beings, then we have given up the objective basis for rights and open the door to widespread destruction of freedom. How should a person who wants to consistently support individual rights think about this issue of waivers, in principle?

What are the philosophical underpinnings of growth versus fixed mindsets?

At SnowCon, we discussed the negative impact of the doctrine of Original Sin on Western culture over breakfast one morning. We saw that this idea – which tells people that they are hopelessly flawed by nature – could encourage fixed mindsets. In contrast, an Aristotelian understanding of virtue and vice as dispositions cultivated by repeated action would seem to promote a growth mindset. What other philosophic ideas might tend to promote a fixed versus a growth mindset?

Should I respond to an “Earth Hour” company email?

Every year my company’s HR department sends out an email telling us to turn everything off and share stories about “the amazing things… (we)… get up to… saving the planet.” I feel like I should respond – to at least offer an alternative viewpoint. Silence seems like tacit endorsement. (After all, what kind of heretic would question this moral enlightenment?!?) These emails annoy me because we’re a computer software company. Everything we do relies on energy – consistent, reliable energy. Plus, there’s hypocrisy on multiple levels: you’re asked to turn your lights off for one hour. Try a week. Better yet, turn off your fridge/freezer for a few days and watch the abundance of life grow! Plus, while being asked to print less to reduce our footprint, our HR person has just returned from a world trip. We’re a 100 person company. I’m not sure if this email is company policy or just an arbitrary HR effort. I’ve heard that it is better to register a polite disavowal rather than surrender a value in silence. But I’m concerned that an emailed response to the same company distribution group would strike a sour note. So is it moral cowardice to stay silent, or is it common sense? What should I prioritize – smooth relationships with co-workers or the politicized pseudo-science of environmentalism? Or do I have other options?

When is a person obliged to report a crime?

About ten years ago, as a nurse, I heard a patient planning to do something illegal – particularly, to lie to an insurance company about the relationship between her injuries and the car accident so that she could keep all the settlement money. At the time, I decided to disengage but not confront or report her. I opted for that due to concerns about patient privacy, the non-violence of the planned crime, and the fact that the insurance company could detect her lie from her medical records. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the situation. I’m trying to come up with a principle, and I’m getting all muddled. What is my moral responsibility to intervene or report when I know that another person is planning or has done something illegal – meaning, something that would violate someone’s rights? Does my responsibility change if it’s a friend (assumed in confidence) or stranger (overheard in public)? Does it matter if the crime has already taken place or is merely in the works? Where is the line regarding severity of the crime? (I’d obviously report if I even heard a stranger plotting murder.) Also, what if you might be harmed if you report, such as in the case of a gang murder? Is there some basic principle that can clarify when a person is obliged to report knowledge of a crime?

Should blackmail be illegal?

Recently, a UK man received seven years in prison after pleading guilty of blackmailing two men he had anonymous sex with at a park in Worcester, England. Is that just? In these cases, the blackmailed men were lying to their spouses, and laws against blackmail simply enables their ongoing deception. Putting aside cases of contractual breach, invention, and other sorts of fraud, should blackmail like this be illegal?

Does intuition have any validity?

Intuition is defined as “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” Assuming that we’re not talking about mystical insight, is this possible? When, if ever, should a person rely on such intuitions? How should he check them?

Should it be illegal to smoke around children?

A recently introduced bill in New Mexico would forbid smoking with kids in the car. With all the research related to the dangers of second-hand smoke, does smoking with a child strapped in the back seat really amount to a form of child abuse or endangerment? If so, should the government forbid adults from smoking around kids everywhere?

What’s the value of hierarchical organizations?

One of the main goals of socialists is to abolish hierarchy. They seek to do this by abolishing capitalism, which they see as inherently hierarchical. Advocates of free markets have pointed out, however, that it is perfectly possible for a non-hierarchical organization to exist under a capitalist system, that socialists would have every right to form private co-operatives and such in a free society. Nevertheless, we have to admit that such is not common practice under modern capitalism (or quasi-capitalism): the vast majority of corporations, partnerships, and other private organisations have a strictly hierarchical structure with a boss at the top, administration below him, and rows and rows of employees of various rank below that. Why is this the case? What are the advantages of hierarchical organization? Would a free society be more or less hierarchical?

Are the religious freedoms of Christian bakers being infringed?

Over the past year, the news has been inundated with stories about Christian bakery owners refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings. These bakers are defended by the Christian right for exercising their “religious liberty” and decried by the secular left for discrimination. I am somewhat sympathetic to the bakers, though I am gay myself. However, it isn’t their religious liberty that’s been violated, but their right to their property. When I speak to people about this issue, they don’t understand where I’m coming from when I say the property rights of these bakers are important. Yes, their actions are motivated by a ridiculous moral code, but that isn’t the issue. What is the best way to respond to people who think that these Christian bakers should be forced to bake cakes for gay weddings? Given that businesses are already prohibited by law from discriminating against other minorities, would it be so wrong for the law to encompass sexuality-based discrimination too?

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.)


For Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, I posted a podcast on “Why Personality Matters in Politics… But Not in the Way You Think.” That podcast is now available for streaming or downloading.

Remember, you can automatically download podcasts of Philosophy in Action Radio by subscribing to Philosophy in Action’s Podcast RSS Feed:

Podcast: 26 April 2015

Do you ever worry that you’re just talking past people in your political advocacy? You might be! Happily, by understanding how your own personality differs from that of others, you can become more persuasive and effective in politics (and in life). In this interactive discussion, philosopher Diana Hsieh explained some of the major personality differences between people, then explore how they function in political debate. She showed how minor shifts in emphasis or approach – not compromises on principle – can make others more receptive to your ideas. This talk was given at Liberty on the Rocks, Flatirons on October 28, 2013.

Listen or Download:


  • Principles in politics
  • The basics of personality theory
  • Meyers-Briggs
  • DiSC
  • DiSC in Politics
  • Colorado Tax Increase for Education, Amendment 66
  • Proposed Restrictions on Firearms
  • Three Lessons


Remember the Tip Jar!

The mission of Philosophy in Action is to spread rational principles for real life… far and wide. That’s why the vast majority of my work is available to anyone, free of charge. I love doing the radio show, but each episode requires an investment of time, effort, and money to produce. So if you enjoy and value that work of mine, please contribute to the tip jar. I suggest $5 per episode or $20 per month, but any amount is appreciated. In return, contributors can request that I answer questions from the queue pronto, and regular contributors enjoy free access to premium content and other goodies.

About Philosophy in Action Radio

Philosophy in Action Radio focuses on the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. It broadcasts live on most Sunday mornings and many Thursday evenings over the internet. For information on upcoming shows, visit the Episodes on Tap. For podcasts of past shows, visit the Show Archives.

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No Live Philosophy in Action Radio Tomorrow

 Posted by on 25 April 2015 at 5:00 pm  Announcements
Apr 252015

Due to personal matters, I’m not going to be able to broadcast a new episode of Philosophy in Action Radio on Sunday morning as usual. (Don’t worry… we’re all fine.) I didn’t want to leave you bereft for a second week in a row tho, so I’ve posted a podcast, and that’s available here, if you want to check it out early.

We’ll return to our normal broadcasting schedule next week.


 Posted by on 24 April 2015 at 8:00 am  Link-O-Rama
Apr 242015


Next Tuesday, Ari Armstrong will deliver a lecture for CU Boulder Philosophy Department’s Think! series entitled “Ayn Rand and the Scope of One’s Interests.” I think that Ari will do a marvellous job with this topic, so I hope that some of my readers can attend! Here are the details:

When: Tuesday, April 28, 7:30 pm Where: University of Colorado, Boulder, Eaton Humanities 1B50 A Think! Talk, sponsored by the Center for Values and Social Policy

Abstract: Ayn Rand says that selfishness is a virtue, a claim that many people find odd or outlandish. Won’t an egoist abuse others; ignore the interests of others; free-ride on the efforts of others to better the world; and lie, cheat, and steal if he can get away with it? On the contrary, argued Rand: A rational egoist is concerned with principle, virtue, and justice. How could this be so? The key to the paradox is to discover what, in fact, is in a person’s interests. This talk explores why acting on principle, developing meaningful social relationships, and working toward a rights-respecting society are integral to a person’s rational self-interests.

Bio: Ari Armstrong is an associate editor for the Objective Standard and the author of Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles. He has written about such issues as abortion rights, gun rights, and the drug war for various newspapers, including the Denver Post and Boulder Weekly. In 2009 Ari won the Modern Day Sam Adams award, and in 2011 he was a finalist in the Hoiles Prize for regional journalism.

Activism Recap

 Posted by on 19 April 2015 at 7:00 pm  Activism Recap
Apr 192015

This week on We Stand FIRM, the blog of FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine):

Follow FIRM on Facebook and Twitter.

This week on The Blog of The Objective Standard:

Follow The Objective Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

This week on The Blog of Modern Paleo:

Follow Modern Paleo on Facebook and Twitter.

The Pitfalls of Animal Rescue

 Posted by on 18 April 2015 at 10:00 am  Animals, Economics, Horses
Apr 182015

I saw this post on a group about draft horses on Facebook a few days ago:

Here’s my question: How many sweet, wonderful, and sound draft horses went to slaughter while this person lived out his fantasy of “fate” with this poor colt … who will likely never be more than a pasture ornament? This kind of emotionalism — combined with the broken window fallacy — makes me so very sad.

No Philosophy in Action Radio on Sunday

 Posted by on 17 April 2015 at 8:00 am  Cats, Dogs, Personal
Apr 172015

This Sunday morning, we’re putting doggie Mae to sleep for the aggression problems that I discussed here. At the same time, we’re also putting kitty Elliot to sleep too: his heart is definitely failing, and by keeping him alive, we risk him throwing a clot and thereby having a terribly painful end. My wonderful, wonderful vet is making a special trip out to our place on her day off to do this.

So Sunday will be a terribly day for me, and I couldn’t even think of broadcasting. I know that we’re making the right choice, but still, this is so hard.

Apr 162015

Here’s an interesting philosophical question, raised indirectly by philosopher Iskra Fileva on Facebook:

If a person refrains from doing a wrong act due to some wrong motive, does that person count as self-controlled (in Aristotle’s sense) or not?

For example, a married man wants to have an affair with a co-worker but he refrains — not because he’s pledged his fidelity to his wife, but due to fear of social disapproval if the affair is revealed because she’s black/Jewish/older/Catholic/wiccan/whatever.

I don’t think that this counts as self-control (a.k.a. continence) because the person is ignorant of and/or blind to the relevant moral considerations. On Aristotle’s descending moral scale from virtuous to self-controlled to un-self-controlled to vicious (explained briefly here), he’s in the vicious category, even though he happens not to have done the immoral act of cheating on his wife.

This is why — as I argue in my book on moral luck — we need to distinguish between judgments of actions, outcomes, and character. These judgments identify different facts and serve different purposes. A person can still be of vicious character, yet not perform any immoral acts. (At least, that can happen in the short term. Long-term, bad acts are pretty darn likely.) That’s only a puzzle if we’re not clear about the various purposes and bases of our various kinds of moral judgments.

Forget Inbox Zero…

 Posted by on 15 April 2015 at 10:00 am  GTD, Productivity
Apr 152015

Forget Inbox Zero… Yesterbox Zero is the sweet spot! With Yesterbox Zero, I have to have all of yesterday’s email processed sometime today by 9 pm (i.e. my daily stand-up meeting with Andrew and Arthur Zey).

As a result, I tend to answer only important or interesting emails on the day that I receive them (as opposed to fussing about every new email because I want to stay at Inbox Zero), and then I answer all the rest sometime on the next day, usually in the morning. Then, my inbox is clear to receive this day’s mail. So I delete the unimportant stuff, answer what I please, and leave the rest for later. (I’ve never been able to do a “reply later” folder, as GTD recommends… that’s just a black hole for me.)

As a result, since I cleared out my inbox after SnowCon (when I had about 20 messages languishing in my inbox, which took about 5 hours to process), I’ve spent just 1 hour per week on email. It’s amazing. I’ve felt oppressed by my inbox for years, and just this one small change has made so much difference.

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