On Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, Greg Perkins and I will answer questions on regulation of ultra-hazardous activities, participating in superstitious rituals, punishing yourself, and more. This episode of internet radio airs at 8 am PT / 9 MT / 10 CT / 11 ET on Sunday, 4 January 2015, in our live studio. If you can’t listen live, you’ll find the podcast on the episode’s archive page.
This week’s questions are:
- Question 1: Regulation of Ultra-Hazardous Activities: Would an ideal government issue bans/regulations to prevent harmful activity? At the turn of the 20th century it was common to use cyanide gas to fumigate buildings. Although it was well-known that cyanide gas was extremely poisonous and alternatives were available, its use continued and resulted in a number of accidental deaths due to the gas traveling through cracks in walls and even in plumbing. With the development of better toxicology practices, these deaths were more frequently recognized for what they were and at the end of summer in 1825 the NYC government banned its use. In a similar situation, tetraethyl lead (TEL) was banned after several men in a factory were killed while a couple dozen others when insane from the gas. The factory was adding the chemical to gasoline to render uncombusted gasoline in engines inert. Safety practices in factories being what they were at the time people really didn’t know how to safely handle TEL. Moreover, the chief medical examiner of NYC at the time believed that having it as a gasoline additive presented a risk to the public if they came into contact with either gasoline with the additive or the byproducts of using it in the engines of their vehicles. In these and other situations, it was recognized that the substance in question was extremely poisonous and could only be handled with the most extreme care – care that was rarely demonstrated in the public. The question is this: should the government step in and ban the substance from general use or should it simply stand by and wait for people to die and prosecute the users for manslaughter or is there another option?
- Question 2: Participating in Superstitious Rituals: Is it wrong to participate in superstitious rituals without taking them seriously? If I make some perfunctory observance or participation in some superstitious ritual, and do not believe the superstitious ritual is of any literal importance, am I still promoting irrationality? If I regularly read the horoscope in the newspaper, but do not believe astrology has any real impact on my life, does reading the horoscope promote irrationality? Likewise, in Hawaii, almost all retail establishments possess what are called “good-luck cats.” A good-luck cat is a relatively inexpensive Asian figurine depicting a cat with one paw raised. Having this figurine is supposed to bring good luck to your business. You can commonly see such good-luck cat figurines in doctor’s offices in Honolulu, and for your retail establishment not to have such a figurine would easily strike people as strange. If I spent just a little money on such a good-luck cat to decorate my business, and I didn’t literally believe the figurine itself affected my fortunes, would the purchase be a concession to irrational thinking? Would such a gesture be “social proof” that would help other people rationalize more obviously pathological forms of irrationality, such as wasting hundreds of dollars on fortune tellers and psychic hotlines?
- Question 3: Punishing Yourself: Should a person punish herself for wrongdoing by depriving herself of a value? A friend of mine destroyed her phone in a fit of anger over a difficult situation that wasn’t her fault. Now my friend feels guilty about her outburst. She thinks that she doesn’t deserve to properly replace her phone, as that would reward her irrational outburst. She wants to either buy a cheap phone or go without a phone for a while. That seems needlessly self-destructive. How can I explain to her that she really ought to replace her phone?
After that, we’ll tackle some impromptu “Rapid Fire Questions.”
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