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:
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?
Is there a reason why the villains of “Atlas Shrugged” don’t want to live?
Toward the end of Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged,” Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart realize that the looters do not want to live. Does it make sense to ask why that is – meaning, why don’t they want to live? In other words, is the question so basic that a reason cannot be given for a person’s answer? If a person can answer it, what sort of reasons can a person have for choosing to live or not? Moreover, can that choice be rational or not?
Do prisoners have a right to religious freedom?
I recently saw an article about a prisoner suing for the right to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster, as well as another about an upcoming Supreme Court case for a Muslim who would like to grow his beard longer than rules allow. My question is, how much should prisons accommodate religion? Anyone could say anything is part of their religion, e.g., “My religion states we do not believe in prisons. Therefore, I should be set free.” Where should the line be drawn in the sand? Do prisoners have any right to religious freedom?
Does ethics require impartiality?
Critics of egoism, particularly utilitarians, accuse egoists of being biased in favor of oneself without justification. They assert that a scientific ethics must be neutral and impartial: it must take a third-person viewpoint where the self isn’t given any special consideration. Are the utilitarians wrong? If so, why should a scientific ethics bias the self over others?
Is the pleasure/pain mechanism the basis of ethical norms?
Libertarian commentator Stefan Molyneux recently criticized Ayn Rand’s ethics, particularly her solution to the “is-ought gap.” He claims that her ethics relies on the pleasure-pain mechanism as the basis of ethics. So irrationality is penalized via pain, and rationality is rewarded via pleasure. That is a form of automatic knowledge, he claims, which Ayn Rand denies exists. Moreover, he claims, that association must be wrong since some people truly enjoy acting in morally wrong ways, including sociopaths. Are these criticisms apt?
Does virtue require actually performing virtuous acts?
In his essay, “Existentialism and Humanism,” Jean-Paul Sartre argues that who you are is defined by what you do. One consequence of this is that you cannot hide behind claims about your moral character e.g. you cannot say “I am a just person” unless you have actually done just things. Neither can you say “I never had the opportunity to be just, but if I had had the opportunity, then I would have been. Therefore I’m a just person.” According to Sartre, that does not make sense. If you’ve never done a just action, then you cannot be a just person—period. In some ways, Sartre’s seems to have a point. However, accepting his argument seems to entail that we deny the existence of moral character. Is that right? What are the merits of Sartre’s argument, if any?
Does justice require proportionality?
The maxim that “the punishment should fit the crime” tends to go unquestioned in discussions of retributive justice. Those discussions often revolve around whether a particular punishment is proportional or not, rather than taking a step back and looking at the overall concept. In times of war, for example, it often seems necessary to be disproportionate in order to ensure a speedy victory, such as with the nuking of Japan in World War 2. Moreover, disproportionately harsh punishment can be an effective deterrent of crime. So, what is proportionality? And why should the punishment fit the crime?
Do verbal insults sometimes justify a response of physical violence?
In a recent discussion of bullying, most people agreed that the child in question should not have hit the kids bullying him, given that those bullies were merely making awful remarks, as opposed to being violent or threatening. However, one person suggested that a physically violent response might be justified if all other avenues were exhausted – meaning that the bully was told to stop, efforts to enlist the help of the authorities failed, and a warning was given. Is that right? Is it ever right to respond to purely verbal insults with physical violence?
Do I have a moral obligation to stay at my current company?
I am actively looking for a new job at a new company, but my current company has a position that would fit my skills and goals. For various reasons, I would prefer to work for a new company. If I got a new job at my current company, would I be obliged to stay in it for some period of time?
Can crowdsourcing raise money for an academic paleontology project?
I would like to begin a project that would require some funding, and I have been considering crowdsourcing, similar to your recent efforts on the anti-personhood campaign. My project is a systematic study of fossils found in various counties in the state where I live. Such studies are critical for paleontology, but the company I work for won’t pay for it, and no one in a research institution has the time to do it. However, I have not done any crowdsourcing in the past, and my field of study does not include any training in this (most of my colleagues get most if not all of their funding from grants). What advice would you offer someone trying to raise money from ordinary people for such a project?
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.)