New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 3 July 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Jul 032014
 

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 diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

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

Are magic shows a form of art?

Ayn Rand said, “Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.” Do magic shows, such as those performed by Harry Houdini, David Copperfield, and Penn & Teller, count as “art”? Their magic acts, to me, seem to be symbolic representations of the idea that even when one faces danger, one can rely on one’s own cleverness to triumph over the danger and come out unscathed. Are magic shows malevolent celebrations of trickery, telling the audience members that they cannot trust their own senses? Or can magic shows be a benevolent reminder to audience members of the importance of checking their own premises?

Do artists deserve royalties from unique works with every sale?

Every time a copyrighted book is purchased, the copyright holder receives some royalties for that. The same applies to recordings of music and other intellectual property. However, if an artist sells a painting, no matter the future value of that painting, he receives nothing but the original sale price. Is that fair to the artist? Should he be paid royalties with every sale? Or can he legitimately demand royalties only for the prints of his work?

Was Facebook’s psychological experiment unethical?

Recently, Facebook allowed their network to be used for a psychological experiment on mood. They did not tell people they were participating in the experiment. Was this unethical? Do people have a right to informed consent for these kinds of studies?

What is the role of free will in literature?

In your June 26, 2014 podcast, you raised the idea that what makes a story compelling is that it focuses on characters and the volitional choices they make. The idea was that if all the characters are assumed to be mere automatons with no free will of their own, then there is no real story. So must you implicitly accept the existence of free will even to enjoy a work of narrative fiction that is about fate, such as “Oedipus Rex” and stories about prophesied Chosen Ones? I remember once hearing about an old Japanese movie in which the characters work hard to prevent the fulfillment of a horrible prophesy and, in their efforts, inadvertently start a chain reaction that makes the prophesy come true. Even in these cases, does the story “work” insofar as those who enjoy it implicitly recognize that the characters have free will? More generally, is free will fundamental to literature? Are there other important divides in literature besides “naturalism” versus “romanticism”?

Does resiliency as an adult require enduring hardship as a child?

Many people assume that having faced great hardship is a necessary part of having resiliency – meaning: the ability to withstand great challenges in the future. These people think that if you have faced less-than-average hardship in your youth, that makes you soft, spoiled, pampered, and weak, and therefore ill-equipped to face challenges throughout your adulthood. As an extreme (but, sadly, real) example, I have a relative who insists to me, “All of the men I have met who attended private school are weak and naive. In their private schools, they were able to leave their belongings unattended without fear of their belongings being stolen. That’s not the real world! By contrast, the public school we attended is the school of hard knocks that shows you the Real World. We remember, all too well, that when anyone left possessions unattended, the norm was for the possession to be stolen. That’s Real Life. That builds character and gave me a thicker skin. That’s why, when I have children, I will send them to public school to toughen them up. I refuse to raise privileged weaklings.” I seethe and feel tempted to respond, “What if you got really drunk and beat up your children? Following the logic of your assumptions, wouldn’t that toughen them up even further?” Why are these assumptions about hardship so prevalent? How can a person develop great discipline, stamina, and fortitude absent hardship and cruelty? What can be done to combat the idea that hardship in youth is necessary for strength and resilience as an adult?

What is wrong with Immanuel Kant’s essay “What Is Enlightenment?”?

On your June 26, 2014 radio show, you mentioned that Immanuel Kant’s essay “What Is Enlightenment?” initially seems to be arguing in favor of independent reason and political liberty, but that it really does not. I am confused by this. I thought that “What Is Enlightenment?” indeed praised independent reasoning and political liberty, encouraging readers to “dare to know.” What is wrong with the case Kant makes in “What Is Enlightenment?”? In what manner does it fail to uphold reason and liberty?

Are the police in a mixed economy worthy of respect?

The United States is currently a mixed economy – meaning, a mixture of freedom and rights-violating government controls. Where the rubber meets the road is the police, particularly the officers that enforce the law and interact directly with the public. Police generally do not make the laws, they simply enforce them. If you ask them, they are obliged to do so regardless of personal opinions on the matter. You can see in our own culture a tendency towards distrust and dislike of the police, perhaps in part for that reason. On the one hand, this is understandable because the person holding the gun, far too often literally, is the police officer, not the politician. On the other, that distrust undermines the rule of law, something necessary for a functional society. So is distrust and dislike of police officers in a mixed economy valid, or should we accept that the police are just as much victims as we are? (I’m not talking about situations where the police go rogue or violate the laws themselves; I’m just focused on ordinary cops doing their ordinary jobs.) In general, how should we view people enforcing laws that are mixtures of legitimate protection from force and violations of rights

It is wrong to refuse to return a dog to owners suspected of neglect?

According to a recent local news report, a family’s dog escaped from their backyard. It was found by another party who paid a rather large sum of money to give it medical care and then placed it in foster care. The family searched for their dog, soon discovering the facts and asking for its return. They offered to pay back the cost of the medical care. However, the finders have refused citing a number of things including the suspicion of neglect. Is that wrong? Should the family get the dog back?

Is accepting voluntary sacrifices from others moral?

Imagine that someone offers you a way to increase your wealth, lengthen your lifespan, or achieve your goals at great personal cost to and even sacrifice of himself. Is it wrong to accept that? What if you’ve tried setting them straight and telling them to act in their self-interest, but they still insist on trying to be altruistic? Would accepting such a sacrifice be a breach of integrity for an egoist, or would rational egoism urge you to enjoy the proffered benefits, so long as voluntarily bestowed? In other words, is accepting voluntary sacrifices from others different from forcing others to sacrifice to you?

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?

How can a person make better hard choices?

How to make hard choices was the subject of a recent TED talk from philosopher Ruth Chang. Her thesis is that hard choices are not about finding the better option between alternatives. Choices are hard when there is no better option. Hard choices require you to define the kind of person you want to be. You have to take a stand for your choice, and then you can find reasons for being the kind of person who makes that choice. Her views really speaks to me. In your view, what makes a choice hard? How should a person make hard choices?

Is force truly “anti-mind” and “anti-life”?

Objectivism argues that the initiation of force is anti-mind and anti-life. How does this apply to the perpetrator as it does to the victim? Why is evil to apply force to human beings as opposed to any other animal? One wouldn’t criticize a chicken farmer for forcing chickens to produce for him, on the grounds that he is dependent on them to produce eggs. If a man were to have all the power in the world, what would be anti-mind, anti-life, or anti-self to force another man to give him his food? He needs food, that man has food, how convenient. So how is initiating force is anti-mind and anti-life for the perpetrator if his victims are powerless to stop him?

Is the fact that a name is racist a good reason to cancel or refuse trademarks for it?

The US Patent & Trademark Office recently cancelled the trademarks for the Washington Redskins on the basis that the name is “disparaging to Native Americans.” Putting aside whether or not it’s a good idea for a business to have offensive terms in their trademarks, was this a good decision for the government to have made? Or does this bring America a step toward having thought police? If it was a good decision, by what basis could the government objectively determine whether or not a term is offensive and cannot be trademarked? In general, by what principles do you think the government should guide their decisions about trademarks?

Are some people unworthy of the truth?

“Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it”, said Mark Twain in his Notebook (1902). Is that true? Does that justify lying – or merely withholding information?

Does the virtue of pride create an infinite loop?

Pride is a response to your own virtuous moral character, but pride is also a component of that virtuous moral character. Hence, in order to have the utmost pride, a person would have to have the utmost virtue; but, in order to have the utmost virtue, a person would have to have the utmost pride. Is this a catch 22? Is that a problem?

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.)

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 26 June 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Jun 262014
 

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 diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

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

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?

How can a person make better hard choices?

How to make hard choices was the subject of a recent TED talk from philosopher Ruth Chang. ( https://www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices ) Her thesis is that hard choices are not about finding the better option between alternatives. Choices are hard when there is no better option. Hard choices require you to define the kind of person you want to be. You have to take a stand for your choice, and then you can find reasons for being the kind of person who makes that choice. Her views really speaks to me. In your view, what makes a choice hard? How should a person make hard choices?

Is force truly “anti-mind” and “anti-life”?

Objectivism argues that the initiation of force is anti-mind and anti-life. How does this apply to the perpetrator as it does to the victim? Why is evil to apply force to human beings as opposed to any other animal? One wouldn’t criticize a chicken farmer for forcing chickens to produce for him, on the grounds that he is dependent on them to produce eggs. If a man were to have all the power in the world, what would be anti-mind, anti-life, or anti-self to force another man to give him his food? He needs food, that man has food, how convenient. So how is initiating force is anti-mind and anti-life for the perpetrator if his victims are powerless to stop him?

Is the fact that a name is racist a good reason to cancel or refuse trademarks for it?

The US Patent & Trademark Office recently cancelled the trademarks for the Washington Redskins on the basis that the name is “disparaging to Native Americans.” Putting aside whether or not it’s a good idea for a business to have offensive terms in their trademarks, was this a good decision for the government to have made? Or does this bring America a step toward having thought police? If it was a good decision, by what basis could the government objectively determine whether or not a term is offensive and cannot be trademarked? In general, by what principles do you think the government should guide their decisions about trademarks?

Are some people unworthy of the truth?

“Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it”, said Mark Twain in his Notebook (1902). Is that true? Does that justify lying – or merely withholding information?

Does the virtue of pride create an infinite loop?

Pride is a response to your own virtuous moral character, but pride is also a component of that virtuous moral character. Hence, in order to have the utmost pride, a person would have to have the utmost virtue; but, in order to have the utmost virtue, a person would have to have the utmost pride. Is this a catch 22? Is that a problem?

Does state secrecy contradict the principle of government transparency?

In civics class, many students are taught that a classically liberal republic governs according to the principle of transparency. As every citizen has equal rights, every citizen has an equal right to know exactly what it is that the government is doing. According to this understanding, if only a tiny minority of citizens know what the government is doing, whereas the rest of the public is deliberately kept in the dark about such actions, then there is an imbalance of power, which is inconsistent with the principles of a liberal republic or liberal democracy. And yet every functioning republic, including the United States, has intelligence agencies that maintain classified information hidden to the public. Such information is hidden from the public on the grounds that such secrecy is necessary for defending the public from military threats. And yet such secrecy, it seems to me, contradicts the principle of transparency that is supposedly inherent to the idea of a liberal republic. Does any secrecy on the part of a government contradict the principles of classical-liberal republican transparency? Can state secrecy and classical-liberal republican transparency be reconciled?

How could criminals be identified in a system of open immigration?

You’ve in favor of open immigration, but not for criminals. However, governments can make mistakes about who’s guilty or not and of what. What measures should the government take to exclude criminals? How much trouble and expense should the government take to only exclude actual criminals?

How can I decide whether a business associate has crossed the line?

I am part of a very specialized marketing co-op group. Businesses provide samples to the marketer, who then sells them at his own profit, to the tune of thousands of dollars a month. The marketer also does many web promotions and a monthly set of videos to promote the makers of these samples. This business has worked well in sending customers my way in the past. However, a few months ago, the marketer threatened to call the whole thing off for a month, claiming there were not enough samples to sell. So all the businesses rallied and sent in more. Two weeks later the marketer posted publicly that his spouse’s hours had been cut the month before, and he was strapped for cash. This apparent dishonesty turned me off from using the service for many months. When I finally sent in samples again, I found that the same thing is still happening: the marketer is threatening to call off the promotion for the month if more samples are not sent in. Does this kind of behavior warrant dropping this business tool from my arsenal? Or am I just reacting emotionally?

Is there any validity to the concept of “the friend zone”?

The “friend zone” is used to describe the situation of a man who is interested in a woman, but she’s not interested in being more than friends with him. Then, he’s “in the friend zone,” and he can’t get out except by her say-so. So “nice guys” in the friend zone often use the concept to describe the frustration of watching the women they desire date “bad boys” while they sit over to the side waiting for their chance to graduate from being just friends to being something more. Feminists suggest that this concept devalues a woman’s right to determine the context and standard of their sexual and romantic interests, that it treats a woman’s sexual acceptance as something that a man is entitled to by virtue of not being a jerk. Is that right? Or do women harm themselves by making bad choices about the types of men they date versus the types they put in the “friend zone?”

Can I reclaim lost personality traits?

When I was a kid (probably until the age of about 12 or 13), my personality had a strong ‘I’ element (as in the DISC model I). I was fun, energetic and confident. I was willing to express myself openly (and loudly) and do silly things for the sake of laughs. When I went to high school, I was bullied heavily. I became much more quiet and withdrawn. The C element of my personality took over, and the I element all but disappeared. Now as an adult, I would like to be able to “reclaim” my lost personality. I am generally a shy and withdrawn person, and I long for the energy and enthusiasm that I once had. Is it possible to reclaim my lost personality? If so, how?

How can I create more realistic expectations about the trajectory of my job?

I’ve really only worked for two companies in my 15 years of work experience and I am presently on the hunt for a new job. In both cases, my job hunt has been initiated by the simple fact that I’m long past my breaking point in terms of being unhappy at work. The unhappiness comes as the result of not being challenged, not being given opportunities to advance, bad managers, and other routine afflictions of corporate working life. I think I should have started hunting for a new job much, much sooner but every time I considered doing that I would think to myself, “Oh, maybe it will get better.” Or “This problem isn’t that bad and it could go away in a month or two.” And so I stick it out because there are some advantages to having a long tenure. But by the time I actually kick off my job search I am burned out, apathetic, frustrated, and unproductive. Surely there has to be a better way to pick up on those trends before it reaches this level of misery. How do I know when the problem lies just with my specific circumstances that I might change by moving to a new team, as opposed to a systemic problem within the company?

Should I attend religious ceremonies in support of my friends?

I am an atheist, and I tend to stay away from any religious gatherings. I graduated high school 3 years ago, and one of my friends is graduating this year. He asked me if I would go to him to his baccalaureate ceremony, as his family and girlfriend cannot make it. This is a traditional religious ceremony held before the graduation of high school seniors. As an atheist, I object to the notion of God or that He had anything to do with the success of my friend and his classmates. My friend is semi religious, but it doesn’t seem to be a big issue for him. Should I attend this ceremony in support of my friend or not? More generally, should an atheist attend religious gatherings in support of religious friends?

Is karma real?

Although the concept of “karma” has religious roots, it seems to contain a grain of truth, namely that people will, in the end, get what they deserve. So if a father is mean to his children, he will find them unwilling to help him when he suffers a health crisis in his old age. In contrast, children raised with love and kindness will be eager to help their ailing father. Is this understanding of karma true? Is this a concept that rational people might or should use in their moral thinking?

Can an egoist have too big an ego?

People often speak disapprovingly of “big egos.” The idea seems to be that a person is not supposed to think too well of himself or be too assertive. Is this just the product of altruism, including the idea that a person should be humble? Or could a self-valuing egoist be too big for his britches?

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.)

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 30 May 2014 at 11:00 am  Question Queue
May 302014
 

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 diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

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

Is karma real?

Although the concept of “karma” has religious roots, it seems to contain a grain of truth, namely that people will, in the end, get what they deserve. So if a father is mean to his children, he will find them unwilling to help him when he suffers a health crisis in his old age. In contrast, children raised with love and kindness will be eager to help their ailing father. Is this understanding of karma true? Is this a concept that rational people might or should use in their moral thinking?

Can an egoist have too big an ego?

People often speak disapprovingly of “big egos.” The idea seems to be that a person is not supposed to think too well of himself or be too assertive. Is this just the product of altruism, including the idea that a person should be humble? Or could a self-valuing egoist be too big for his britches?

Do good ideas in superhero movies and television change people’s philosophy?

I have really enjoyed the pro-freedom and pro-personal responsibility messages of some recent superhero movies. However, I wonder whether those messages do any good. Rationally, I believe that a person can enjoy these superhero characters and then relate their qualities to a normal human standard. However, for the average viewer, I wonder whether the gulf between their superpowers and ordinary human powers creates a moral gulf too, so that people see the moral ideals of the superheroes as beyond the reach of us mere mortals. Is that right? Can these movies really affect people’s ideas?

Can the non-existence of God be proven?

I see how a person could believe – purely based on rational argument – that God’s existence cannot be proven, thereby becoming an agnostic. On the one hand, many non-theists criticize theists for believing in a deity strictly on faith, claiming that there’s no rational reason to believe in a deity. Most theists, however, would probably reject that, saying that they have rational reasons for their beliefs too. On the other hand, atheism seems just as unproveable as theism. Yet atheists claim that their beliefs are based on reason, rather than emotion or faith. As a result, aren’t the atheists covertly relying on faith? Or can atheism be proven purely based on reason?

Aren’t politicians like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul allies in the struggle for liberty?

Although I’m an atheist and a novice Objectivist, I’ve always wondered why so many advocates of individual rights oppose candidates and movements that seem to agree with us on a great many issues. Despite their other warts, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are the most likely men to promote our causes. The notion that they evangelize is dubious. And even if true, are there better alternatives today? I’ve also seen this attitude towards Libertarian candidates and their party. Ronald Reagan was the only President who advanced the ball towards free markets in the last fifty years, and yet people condemn him because of his position on abortion and because of his religious/political partnerships. I’ve never understood this. Shouldn’t we embrace the advocates of free markets out there today, even if not perfect?

Do moral principles break down in extreme cases?

When faced with bizarre hypotheticals, advocates of rational egoism often assert that such scenarios would never happen. This seems to be dodging the question. It’s said that conventional understandings of physics break down at microscopic and extremely grand-scale levels. Does morality follow a similar pattern? For example, what if a small society of people stranded on an island faced a shortage of clean water, and a single individual who owned all access to clean water refused to sell it? is that really impossible? Doesn’t that show that the principle of individual rights breaks down in extreme cases?

Why would anyone even want to sleep around?

Ayn Rand used Francisco D’Anconia to describe her view of sexuality in Atlas Shrugged, but while her explanation was easy enough to understand, there were some things she left out. Namely: why would someone, anyone, sleep around? I’ve met, and read articles by, women who describe their experiences in the “hookup” culture, and across the board they agree that most of the men they slept with were poor lovers who cared little for them once the act was finished. I know men like this in real life who seem surprised at how unfulfilling their sex lives (admittedly much more active than mine) really are. So I have to ask: why would someone choose to have sex with someone when they know, or at least have no good reason to not believe, that the person has no actual interest in them personally?

How much generosity is too much?

Generosity seems like a trait that would fit well into your theory of moral amplifiers. But how does one best deal with someone who is being overly generous? I recently relocated to a new city and one of my coworkers with whom I am friendly has really gone above and beyond trying to help me get settled. She is constantly offering to help, lend me things, or even give me things to make life easier. I appreciate her offers and turn down many of them as politely as I can. But I struggle to find the right balance of accepting her generosity in due proportion to our friendship. She seems to be fairly wealthy, so I don’t think her offers are sacrificial in any way, my issue is that we are friends, but not close enough friends to justify the incessant barrage of motherly offerings. Through consistent communication about what I am willing to accept and what I won’t – and also owing to actually getting settled in the new city – she’s backed off a bit. More broadly, how would you recommend dealing with this sort of problem? How can a person make sure not to make this mistake of being overly generous?

Is it wrong for an atheist to believe in some kind of afterlife?

I don’t believe in God, but I hate to think that this life is all that I have. I can’t stand the thought of never again seeing my parents, my children, or my friends again. So is it wrong to think that some kind of afterlife might exist? What’s the harm?

What’s wrong with agnosticism?

In your radio show of May 11th, 2014, you indicated that agnosticism – the view that a person can’t know whether God exists or not – is wrong. But what’s wrong with honestly admitting that you don’t know? Can the question of God’s existence really be answered without some kind of faith? Moreover, isn’t the agnostic – practically speaking – basically the same as an atheist?

How can a disabled person overcome a toxic childhood?

I am a fifty-one-year-old woman with several neurological disabilities, and I would have liked to have been reared as a human being. Instead, I was frequently informed (usually by my mother) that I was a “retarded, subhuman spectacle” – a “vegetable,” a “handicapped monstrosity,” a “travesty of a human being.” It was daily made plain to me that I was being reared purely out of my parents’ sense of duty, so as not to burden other people with my existence. It was likewise continually made clear to me that, whenever anyone played with me or tried to become acquainted with me, they did this purely out of an imposed sense of a duty to do so: for instance, because they were following a parent’s or teacher’s commands in order to avoid being punished for avoiding me. My disabilities (dyspraxia, dysgraphia, and severe Asperger’s among some others) are not physically visible. However, their effects on my behavior led to my being perceived as retarded despite a tested IQ above 150. (This tested overall IQ, in turn, was although scores on three of the subtests were in the 80-90 range.) By that standard, at least – the objective standard of lacking some reasoning power – I am a handicapped human being. As you know, Ayn Rand points out that no child ought to be exposed to “the tragic spectacle of a handicapped human being.” How should this principle have been carried out with regard to me, as a child? Further, the consequences for me of growing up in this way include an immense fear of other people, and a feeling (which I have been unable to change or vanquish) that I am indeed subhuman and should be rejected by anyone I admire, anyone worth dealing with. This feeling persists despite what I rationally consider to be productive adult achievement in the personal and professional realms. So how best can I undo the damage that has been done to my sense of life by my situation itself (being a handicapped human being, and recognizing this) and by how I was reared (which was at least partly a consequence of what I was and am)?

What advice would you give to a new Objectivist?

In late May, you led a discussion at ATLOSCon on “What I Wish I’d Known as a New Objectivist.” Personally, I wish I could tell younger self that the term “selfish” doesn’t mean the “screw everyone else, I’m getting mine” behavior that most people think it means. Other people will use the term that way, and trying to correct them is an uphill battle not worth fighting. I’d tell my younger self to just use a long-winded circumlocution to get the point across. What other kinds of obstacles do people new to Objectivism commonly encounter? What advice would you give to new new Objectivists to help them recognize and overcome them?

How can I convince myself that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side?

I always think that the grass must be greener on the other side of the fence. Whatever subject I study, I think about all the other subjects I’m not studying. Whatever work I’m doing, I think about all the other work I’m not getting done. Whatever book I’m reading, I think about all the other books I could be reading. I want to do everything, and I want to do all of it right now. How can I convince myself to be happy with what I’m actually doing and able to do? How can I stop this perpetual cycle of boredom and longing for change?

What should be the limits of government spying on citizens, residents, and foreigners?

I have been getting into arguments with my friends about the ethics of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing and the ethics of NSA spying on foreigners. My friends say Snowden’s disclosure is evil because it undermined legitimate spying the NSA does for national security. Cited in particular was Snowden’s disclosure that the NSA was spying on the work of a Chinese information-technology firm. I replied that if the NSA had probable cause to suspect that the Chinese IT firm was contributing to a military threat against the USA, I would support the spying, but that the Chinese firm being in IT is not sufficient to justify spying on it. I added that it was highly inappropriate for the NSA to spy on Angela Merkel’s phone calls and that the NSA inappropriately spied on attendees of the Copenhagen climate conference to give President Obama the upper hand when negotiating the climate treaty. I then posed to my friends this question: “How far does the NSA have to go in what it does, before you say it has stepped over the line?” But it occurred to me that I don’t have a set-in-stone answer to my own question. I don’t know how far the NSA should go, other than that I generally think that the NSA should only invade the privacy of specific people and only if it has probable cause to believe they pose a military threat to the USA. So how far should the NSA go? What is and isn’t fair game when it comes to NSA spying – not merely in the case of American citizens and residents but also in the case of foreigners?

Should a business be penalized for past atrocities?

Is it wrong to do business with a company that used to do business for the Nazis? Allianz, the largest insurance company in the world, was started in Berlin in 1890. During the Third Reich, it insured companies belonging to the Nazi government and/or the Nazi Party. By paying claims on those contracts, it helped fund the regime. Moreover, Allianz paid life insurance policies on Jews murdered by the Nazis to the Nazis. Overall, the company was very cozy with the Nazis during the Third Reich. Today, the company is not anti-Semitic, and they talk about those past wrongs openly. Is that sufficient reason to do business with them now? Where should the line be drawn?

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.)

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 13 May 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
May 132014
 

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 diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

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

Is it wrong for an atheist to believe in some kind of afterlife?

I don’t believe in God, but I hate to think that this life is all that I have. I can’t stand the thought of never again seeing my parents, my children, or my friends again. So is it wrong to think that some kind of afterlife might exist? What’s the harm?

What’s wrong with agnosticism?

In your radio show of May 11th, 2014, you indicated that agnosticism – the view that a person can’t know whether God exists or not – is wrong. But what’s wrong with honestly admitting that you don’t know? Can the question of God’s existence really be answered without some kind of faith? Moreover, isn’t the agnostic – practically speaking – basically the same as an atheist?

How can a disabled person overcome a toxic childhood?

I am a fifty-one-year-old woman with several neurological disabilities, and I would have liked to have been reared as a human being. Instead, I was frequently informed (usually by my mother) that I was a “retarded, subhuman spectacle” – a “vegetable,” a “handicapped monstrosity,” a “travesty of a human being.” It was daily made plain to me that I was being reared purely out of my parents’ sense of duty, so as not to burden other people with my existence. It was likewise continually made clear to me that, whenever anyone played with me or tried to become acquainted with me, they did this purely out of an imposed sense of a duty to do so: for instance, because they were following a parent’s or teacher’s commands in order to avoid being punished for avoiding me. My disabilities (dyspraxia, dysgraphia, and severe Asperger’s among some others) are not physically visible. However, their effects on my behavior led to my being perceived as retarded despite a tested IQ above 150. (This tested overall IQ, in turn, was although scores on three of the subtests were in the 80-90 range.) By that standard, at least – the objective standard of lacking some reasoning power – I am a handicapped human being. As you know, Ayn Rand points out that no child ought to be exposed to “the tragic spectacle of a handicapped human being.” How should this principle have been carried out with regard to me, as a child? Further, the consequences for me of growing up in this way include an immense fear of other people, and a feeling (which I have been unable to change or vanquish) that I am indeed subhuman and should be rejected by anyone I admire, anyone worth dealing with. This feeling persists despite what I rationally consider to be productive adult achievement in the personal and professional realms. So how best can I undo the damage that has been done to my sense of life by my situation itself (being a handicapped human being, and recognizing this) and by how I was reared (which was at least partly a consequence of what I was and am)?

What advice would you give to a new Objectivist?

In late May, you’ll be leading a discussion at ATLOSCon on “What I Wish I’d Known as a New Objectivist.” Personally, I wish I could tell younger self that the term “selfish” doesn’t mean the “screw everyone else, I’m getting mine” behavior that most people think it means. Other people will use the term that way, and trying to correct them is an uphill battle not worth fighting. I’d tell my younger self to just use a long-winded circumlocution to get the point across. What other kinds of obstacles do people new to Objectivism commonly encounter? What advice would you give to new new Objectivists to help them recognize and overcome them?

How can I convince myself that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side?

I always think that the grass must be greener on the other side of the fence. Whatever subject I study, I think about all the other subjects I’m not studying. Whatever work I’m doing, I think about all the other work I’m not getting done. Whatever book I’m reading, I think about all the other books I could be reading. I want to do everything, and I want to do all of it right now. How can I convince myself to be happy with what I’m actually doing and able to do? How can I stop this perpetual cycle of boredom and longing for change?

What should be the limits of government spying on citizens, residents, and foreigners?

I have been getting into arguments with my friends about the ethics of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing and the ethics of NSA spying on foreigners. My friends say Snowden’s disclosure is evil because it undermined legitimate spying the NSA does for national security. Cited in particular was Snowden’s disclosure that the NSA was spying on the work of a Chinese information-technology firm. I replied that if the NSA had probable cause to suspect that the Chinese IT firm was contributing to a military threat against the USA, I would support the spying, but that the Chinese firm being in IT is not sufficient to justify spying on it. I added that it was highly inappropriate for the NSA to spy on Angela Merkel’s phone calls and that the NSA inappropriately spied on attendees of the Copenhagen climate conference to give President Obama the upper hand when negotiating the climate treaty. I then posed to my friends this question: “How far does the NSA have to go in what it does, before you say it has stepped over the line?” But it occurred to me that I don’t have a set-in-stone answer to my own question. I don’t know how far the NSA should go, other than that I generally think that the NSA should only invade the privacy of specific people and only if it has probable cause to believe they pose a military threat to the USA. So how far should the NSA go? What is and isn’t fair game when it comes to NSA spying – not merely in the case of American citizens and residents but also in the case of foreigners?

Should a business be penalized for past atrocities?

Is it wrong to do business with a company that used to do business for the Nazis? Allianz, the largest insurance company in the world, was started in Berlin in 1890. During the Third Reich, it insured companies belonging to the Nazi government and/or the Nazi Party. By paying claims on those contracts, it helped fund the regime. Moreover, Allianz paid life insurance policies on Jews murdered by the Nazis to the Nazis. Overall, the company was very cozy with the Nazis during the Third Reich. Today, the company is not anti-Semitic, and they talk about those past wrongs openly. Is that sufficient reason to do business with them now? Where should the line be drawn?

Should revenge porn be illegal?

Apparently, it is increasingly common after a break-up for a person to share sexual pictures or videos of his/her former lover that were taken while in the relationship. Some people think that sharing sexual images intended to be kept private should be illegal, while others argue that such “revenge porn” is protected speech. Which view is right? Should the consent of all parties be required for the posting of sexual imagery?

Was Atlas Shrugged intended to save America?

Recently, I ran across this comment on the internet: “”Saving America wasn’t the point of Atlas Shrugged, that’s not the happily ever after it proposes in the end. It chronicles the main characters getting over that misguided mission and why.” Two questions come to mind: (1) What was Ayn Rand’s purpose in writing Atlas Shrugged? And (2) Do you think that being inspired to “save America” after reading “Atlas Shrugged” is misguided?

Is more information always better in making medical decisions?

In debates about health care reform, some doctors and policy wonks have argued that certain screening tests are overused. They say, for example, that women shouldn’t get routine mammograms before age 50 and that men shouldn’t get routine PSA tests. The problem with these tests, they claim, is that ambiguous or worrisome results encourage patients to pursue serious treatments (such as biopsy or surgery) which offer little in the way of genuine health benefits but sometimes result in serious side effects. Personally, I’d always rather have more information than not, and I’m not going to rush into a serious or unnecessary medical procedure just because of some worrisome test results. Isn’t that the right attitude to have? Or is there a limit to how much information a person should seek out for medical decisions?

Does the morality of homosexuality depend on it being unchosen?

It seems that the advocates of gay rights and acceptance are obsessed with proving that homosexuality is never a choice. I find this confusing as it doesn’t seem to be the best argument. Even if sexual orientation were chosen, I don’t see why there would be anything better or worse about preferences for heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality. Rather, I think that if I were able to pick, I would choose to be bisexual, as being straight limits my expression of admiration towards men who may represent the “highest values one can find in a human being” simply due to their genitals. Is that right? Or does the case for rights for and acceptance of gays depend in some way on sexual orientation being unchosen?

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 hot lines?

Can a person derive any self-esteem or happiness from university study?

Study is not a productive activity: it is preparation for future productivity. In light of this, how can I draw any self-esteem from my studies, whether successful or not? Can I consider my learning as “productive” achievement even though I am not making any money from it or creating anything? Do I have to wait until later to start being happy or feeling self-esteem? Should I be working on the side while taking classes?

Is displaying the Confederate flag racist?

I’ve been told by southerners that displaying the flag of the Confederate States amounts to a display of “southern pride.” I think it amounts to a display of racism, given the history of the south. That flag was used in a time when the agricultural economy of the southern states relied on slave labor. Many southern states seceded from the Union, largely because of their nefarious interests in preserving slavery. The Confederate flag represents these states and their ideology. Hence, I think it’s morally questionable (at least) to display it. I don’t think the south should take pride in or honor the Confederacy. Am I right or wrong in my thinking? What should I think of people who choose to display the Confederate flag?

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.)

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 23 April 2014 at 5:50 pm  Question Queue
Apr 232014
 

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 diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

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

What should be the limits of government spying on citizens, residents, and foreigners?

I have been getting into arguments with my friends about the ethics of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing and the ethics of NSA spying on foreigners. My friends say Snowden’s disclosure is evil because it undermined legitimate spying the NSA does for national secutiry. Cited in particular was Snowden’s disclosure that the NSA was spying on the work of a Chinese information-technology firm. I replied that if the NSA had probable cause to suspect that the Chinese IT firm was contributing to a military threat against the USA, I would support the spying, but that the Chinese firm being in IT is not sufficient to justify spying on it. I added that it was highly inappropriate for the NSA to spy on Angela Merkel’s phone calls and that the NSA inappropriately spied on attendees of the Copenhagen climate conference to give President Obama the upper hand when negotiating the climate treaty. I then posed to my friends this question: “How far does the NSA have to go in what it does, before you say it has stepped over the line?” But it occurred to me that I don’t have a set-in-stone answer to my own question. I don’t know how far the NSA should go, other than that I generally think that the NSA should only invade the privacy of specific people and only if it has probable cause to believe they pose a military threat to the USA. So how far should the NSA go? What is and isn’t fair game when it comes to NSA spying – not merely in the case of American citizens and residents but also in the case of foreigners?

Should a business be penalized for past atrocities?

Is it wrong to do business with a company that used to do business for the Nazis? Allianz, the largest insurance company in the world, was started in Berlin in 1890. During the Third Reich, it insured companies belonging to the Nazi government and/or the Nazi Party. By paying claims on those contracts, it helped fund the regime. Moreover, Allianz paid life insurance policies on Jews murdered by the Nazis to the Nazis. Overall, the company was very cozy with the Nazis during the Third Reich. Today, the company is not anti-Semitic, and they talk about those past wrongs openly. Is that sufficient reason to do business with them now? Where should the line be drawn?

Should revenge porn be illegal?

Apparently, it is increasingly common after a break-up for a person to share sexual pictures or videos of his/her former lover that were taken while in the relationship. Some people think that sharing sexual images intended to be kept private should be illegal, while others argue that such “revenge porn” is protected speech. Which view is right? Should the consent of all parties be required for the posting of sexual imagery?

Was Atlas Shrugged intended to save America?

Recently, I ran across this comment on the internet: “”Saving America wasn’t the point of Atlas Shrugged, that’s not the happily ever after it proposes in the end. It chronicles the main characters getting over that misguided mission and why.” Two questions come to mind: (1) What was Ayn Rand’s purpose in writing Atlas Shrugged? And (2) Do you think that being inspired to “save America” after reading “Atlas Shrugged” is misguided?

Is more information always better in making medical decisions?

In debates about health care reform, some doctors and policy wonks have argued that certain screening tests are overused. They say, for example, that women shouldn’t get routine mammograms before age 50 and that men shouldn’t get routine PSA tests. The problem with these tests, they claim, is that ambiguous or worrisome results encourage patients to pursue serious treatments (such as biopsy or surgery) which offer little in the way of genuine health benefits but sometimes result in serious side effects. Personally, I’d always rather have more information than not, and I’m not going to rush into a serious or unnecessary medical procedure just because of some worrisome test results. Isn’t that the right attitude to have? Or is there a limit to how much information a person should seek out for medical decisions?

Is it a mistake to enter into a serious relationship with a person with serious psychological problems?

Recently, my wife took her own life after a long struggle with major depression and other psychological issues. When we started dating, I saw clearly that she had issues although they were not as bad at the time. She was also intelligent, beautiful, and ambitious – among other good qualities. At the time, I thought she could work through her psychological issues with support, and she did improve for a while. However, after her loss, I’ve decided that, when and if I’m to the point where I’m interested in dating again, I will avoid becoming involved with women who display clear psychological problems. This decision has forced me to wonder if it was a mistake to become involved with my wife in the first place. So is it a mistake to enter into a serious relationship, knowing that the person has serious psychological struggles?

Does the morality of homosexuality depend on it being unchosen?

It seems that the advocates of gay rights and acceptance are obsessed with proving that homosexuality is never a choice. I find this confusing as it doesn’t seem to be the best argument. Even if sexual orientation were chosen, I don’t see why there would be anything better or worse about preferences for heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality. Rather, I think that if I were able to pick, I would choose to be bisexual, as being straight limits my expression of admiration towards men who may represent the “highest values one can find in a human being” simply due to their genitals. Is that right? Or does the case for rights for and acceptance of gays depend in some way on sexual orientation being unchosen?

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 hot lines?

Can a person derive any self-esteem or happiness from university study?

Study is not a productive activity: it is preparation for future productivity. In light of this, how can I draw any self-esteem from my studies, whether successful or not? Can I consider my learning as “productive” achievement even though I am not making any money from it or creating anything? Do I have to wait until later to start being happy or feeling self-esteem? Should I be working on the side while taking classes?

Is displaying the Confederate flag racist?

I’ve been told by southerners that displaying the flag of the Confederate States amounts to a display of “southern pride.” I think it amounts to a display of racism, given the history of the south. That flag was used in a time when the agricultural economy of the southern states relied on slave labor. Many southern states seceded from the Union, largely because of their nefarious interests in preserving slavery. The Confederate flag represents these states and their ideology. Hence, I think it’s morally questionable (at least) to display it. I don’t think the south should take pride in or honor the Confederacy. Am I right or wrong in my thinking? What should I think of people who choose to display the Confederate flag?

Should the government mandate vaccination?

Advocates of free markets often disagree about whether vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary – and whether they could be justly mandated by law. One problem is that the refusal to vaccinate oneself might put others at risk. Not everyone can be vaccinated, and some people who are vaccinated don’t develop immunity. However, when the vast majority of people are vaccinated, that provides “herd immunity” to people who don’t have immunity. People who choose not to be vaccinated degrade that herd immunity and thereby put others at risk. Moreover, parents have to choose whether to vaccinate their children or not, and the failure to vaccinate is regarded as neglect by many people – on par with Christian Science parents refusing to give a sick child antibiotics. Given that, should vaccinations be mandated by the government? If so, under what circumstances? Or might people be held civilly liable for transmitting diseases? Or should vaccination be considered a purely private matter between individuals (and institutions)?

How can I stop obsessing over past conversations?

After having a conversation with someone, I often obsess about what I said to them and the way that I said it. I think about they ways they could have misinterpreted what I meant, and I worry that they thought I was being rude or disrespectful. Most of the time, of course, whatever nuances I thought would offend them were either non-existent or just went straight over their head. How can I overcome this obsessiveness, while still maintaining a healthy level of concern for how what I say may be interpreted?

Can evil be requited with good?

Christians claim that evil can and ought to be requited with good. So in “Les Miserables”, the Bishop inspired Jean Valjean to reform by telling the police that he willingly gave Jean the silver plate (and added the candlesticks) even though Jean stole the silver. Does this strategy ever work to reform an evildoer? Or is it merely a license to further evil? In some cases, might it be useful to “heap burning coals on [an evildoer's] head”? If so, when and why?

Does egoism suffer from “one thought too many”?

Bernard Williams argues that utilitarianism suffers from a problem of inappropriate motivation in which a person has “one thought too many” before acting morally. So, for example, a good utilitarian must calculate whether the general welfare is served by saving a drowning child before jumping into the water. A truly good person, in contrast, simply jumps into the water to save the child without that calculation. Wouldn’t this same objection apply to even rational, benevolent egoism? Or are those extra thoughts between situation and action actually rational?

Is sharing an interest in philosophy necessary for a good romance?

I am extremely interested in philosophy. I’m studying it and planning to make it my career. My girlfriend is not. She wants nothing to do with philosophy, although she is perfectly happy with me doing it. However, I find that I am missing that intellectual engagement with her. I’ve asked a number of times if she would try to talk to me about any sort of philosophical issue – really just anything deeper than day to day happenings – and she just can’t do it. She becomes uninterested or even begins to get overwhelmed and frustrated to the point of tears. Is it necessary for us to engage in this activity together to be happy? Is there any way that I can help her to engage in rational inquiry without it being forced on her, if at all?

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.)

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 16 April 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Apr 162014
 

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 diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

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

Is more information always better in making medical decisions?

In debates about health care reform, some doctors and policy wonks have argued that certain screening tests are overused. They say, for example, that women shouldn’t get routine mammograms before age 50 and that men shouldn’t get routine PSA tests. The problem with these tests, they claim, is that ambiguous or worrisome results encourage patients to pursue serious treatments (such as biopsy or surgery) which offer little in the way of genuine health benefits but sometimes result in serious side effects. Personally, I’d always rather have more information than not, and I’m not going to rush into a serious or unnecessary medical procedure just because of some worrisome test results. Isn’t that the right attitude to have? Or is there a limit to how much information a person should seek out for medical decisions?

Is it a mistake to enter into a serious relationship with a person with serious psychological problems?

Recently, my wife took her own life after a long struggle with major depression and other psychological issues. When we started dating, I saw clearly that she had issues although they were not as bad at the time. She was also intelligent, beautiful, and ambitious – among other good qualities. At the time, I thought she could work through her psychological issues with support, and she did improve for a while. However, after her loss, I’ve decided that, when and if I’m to the point where I’m interested in dating again, I will avoid becoming involved with women who display clear psychological problems. This decision has forced me to wonder if it was a mistake to become involved with my wife in the first place. So is it a mistake to enter into a serious relationship, knowing that the person has serious psychological struggles?

Does the morality of homosexuality depend on it being unchosen?

It seems that the advocates of gay rights and acceptance are obsessed with proving that homosexuality is never a choice. I find this confusing as it doesn’t seem to be the best argument. Even if sexual orientation were chosen, I don’t see why there would be anything better or worse about preferences for heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality. Rather, I think that if I were able to pick, I would choose to be bisexual, as being straight limits my expression of admiration towards men who may represent the “highest values one can find in a human being” simply due to their genitals. Is that right? Or does the case for rights for and acceptance of gays depend in some way on sexual orientation being unchosen?

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 hot lines?

Can a person derive any self-esteem or happiness from university study?

Study is not a productive activity: it is preparation for future productivity. In light of this, how can I draw any self-esteem from my studies, whether successful or not? Can I consider my learning as “productive” achievement even though I am not making any money from it or creating anything? Do I have to wait until later to start being happy or feeling self-esteem? Should I be working on the side while taking classes?

Is displaying the Confederate flag racist?

I’ve been told by southerners that displaying the flag of the Confederate States amounts to a display of “southern pride.” I think it amounts to a display of racism, given the history of the south. That flag was used in a time when the agricultural economy of the southern states relied on slave labor. Many southern states seceded from the Union, largely because of their nefarious interests in preserving slavery. The Confederate flag represents these states and their ideology. Hence, I think it’s morally questionable (at least) to display it. I don’t think the south should take pride in or honor the Confederacy. Am I right or wrong in my thinking? What should I think of people who choose to display the Confederate flag?

Should the government mandate vaccination?

Advocates of free markets often disagree about whether vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary – and whether they could be justly mandated by law. One problem is that the refusal to vaccinate oneself might put others at risk. Not everyone can be vaccinated, and some people who are vaccinated don’t develop immunity. However, when the vast majority of people are vaccinated, that provides “herd immunity” to people who don’t have immunity. People who choose not to be vaccinated degrade that herd immunity and thereby put others at risk. Moreover, parents have to choose whether to vaccinate their children or not, and the failure to vaccinate is regarded as neglect by many people – on par with Christian Science parents refusing to give a sick child antibiotics. Given that, should vaccinations be mandated by the government? If so, under what circumstances? Or might people be held civilly liable for transmitting diseases? Or should vaccination be considered a purely private matter between individuals (and institutions)?

How can I stop obsessing over past conversations?

After having a conversation with someone, I often obsess about what I said to them and the way that I said it. I think about they ways they could have misinterpreted what I meant, and I worry that they thought I was being rude or disrespectful. Most of the time, of course, whatever nuances I thought would offend them were either non-existent or just went straight over their head. How can I overcome this obsessiveness, while still maintaining a healthy level of concern for how what I say may be interpreted?

Can evil be requited with good?

Christians claim that evil can and ought to be requited with good. So in “Les Miserables”, the Bishop inspired Jean Valjean to reform by telling the police that he willingly gave Jean the silver plate (and added the candlesticks) even though Jean stole the silver. Does this strategy ever work to reform an evildoer? Or is it merely a license to further evil? In some cases, might it be useful to “heap burning coals on [an evildoer's] head”? If so, when and why?

Does egoism suffer from “one thought too many”?

Bernard Williams argues that utilitarianism suffers from a problem of inappropriate motivation in which a person has “one thought too many” before acting morally. So, for example, a good utilitarian must calculate whether the general welfare is served by saving a drowning child before jumping into the water. A truly good person, in contrast, simply jumps into the water to save the child without that calculation. Wouldn’t this same objection apply to even rational, benevolent egoism? Or are those extra thoughts between situation and action actually rational?

Is sharing an interest in philosophy necessary for a good romance?

I am extremely interested in philosophy. I’m studying it and planning to make it my career. My girlfriend is not. She wants nothing to do with philosophy, although she is perfectly happy with me doing it. However, I find that I am missing that intellectual engagement with her. I’ve asked a number of times if she would try to talk to me about any sort of philosophical issue – really just anything deeper than day to day happenings – and she just can’t do it. She becomes uninterested or even begins to get overwhelmed and frustrated to the point of tears. Is it necessary for us to engage in this activity together to be happy? Is there any way that I can help her to engage in rational inquiry without it being forced on her, if at all?

Is creating art necessary for a moral life?

Since material values are a human need, independence requires that human beings engage in productive activity. Can the same logic be applied to art? Since art is a human need, does independence require human beings to be artistically creative? Would someone who enjoys art without producing any be an “aesthetic moocher”?

What is the value of artistic creation?

In “The Romantic Manifesto,” Ayn Rand discusses the value of art to those who experience it, but she does not say much about the value for those who create it. What is the value of artistic creation and expression to a rational person? Is artistic expression a human need? Is artistic creation a productive activity?

Are horse rescues a worthy charitable cause?

I know that you love horses, and that you’ve adopted dogs and cats from rescues. So what’s your opinion of horse rescues? Are they charities worth supporting? Are they a good alternative to euthanasia or slaughter? Would you ever adopt a rescued horse?

Do confidentiality agreements justify privacy lies?

Some professions, like clinical psychology, law, or sex work commonly utilize confidentiality agreements between professionals and clients due to the sensitive nature of the information shared between them. Generally, such professionals can (and do) have a policy of refusing to answer any questions about their clients and so avoid any supposed need for privacy lies to protect from nosy inquiries. However, these agreements also often include the understanding (sometimes explicit) that, if professional and client should ever meet in a social situation, the professional would follow the client’s lead about if and how they knew each other. This means that a dishonest client could push the professional into a lie. Yet even in the case where both people are basically honest, the mere act of showing recognition of each other could compromise the client’s privacy if the professional’s job is not a secret. And there are reasonable social situations in which you couldn’t hide familiarity without deceit of some kind. So ethically, we seem to be stuck between (1) clients having their privacy might be violated if they are unlucky enough to encounter their professional outside the office or (2) professionals having to lie to protect the privacy of their clients. Is there another alternative here? If not, what’s the best course?

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.)

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 4 April 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Apr 042014
 

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 diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

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

Is displaying the Confederate flag racist?

I’ve been told by southerners that displaying the flag of the Confederate States amounts to a display of “southern pride.” I think it amounts to a display of racism, given the history of the south. That flag was used in a time when the agricultural economy of the southern states relied on slave labor. Many southern states seceded from the Union, largely because of their nefarious interests in preserving slavery. The Confederate flag represents these states and their ideology. Hence, I think it’s morally questionable (at least) to display it. I don’t think the south should take pride in or honor the Confederacy. Am I right or wrong in my thinking? What should I think of people who choose to display the Confederate flag?

Should the government mandate vaccination?

Advocates of free markets often disagree about whether vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary – and whether they could be justly mandated by law. One problem is that the refusal to vaccinate oneself might put others at risk. Not everyone can be vaccinated, and some people who are vaccinated don’t develop immunity. However, when the vast majority of people are vaccinated, that provides “herd immunity” to people who don’t have immunity. People who choose not to be vaccinated degrade that herd immunity and thereby put others at risk. Moreover, parents have to choose whether to vaccinate their children or not, and the failure to vaccinate is regarded as neglect by many people – on par with Christian Science parents refusing to give a sick child antibiotics. Given that, should vaccinations be mandated by the government? If so, under what circumstances? Or might people be held civilly liable for transmitting diseases? Or should vaccination be considered a purely private matter between individuals (and institutions)?

How can I stop obsessing over past conversations?

After having a conversation with someone, I often obsess about what I said to them and the way that I said it. I think about they ways they could have misinterpreted what I meant, and I worry that they thought I was being rude or disrespectful. Most of the time, of course, whatever nuances I thought would offend them were either non-existent or just went straight over their head. How can I overcome this obsessiveness, while still maintaining a healthy level of concern for how what I say may be interpreted?

Can evil be requited with good?

Christians claim that evil can and ought to be requited with good. So in “Les Miserables”, the Bishop inspired Jean Valjean to reform by telling the police that he willingly gave Jean the silver plate (and added the candlesticks) even though Jean stole the silver. Does this strategy ever work to reform an evildoer? Or is it merely a license to further evil? In some cases, might it be useful to “heap burning coals on [an evildoer's] head”? If so, when and why?

Does egoism suffer from “one thought too many”?

Bernard Williams argues that utilitarianism suffers from a problem of inappropriate motivation in which a person has “one thought too many” before acting morally. So, for example, a good utilitarian must calculate whether the general welfare is served by saving a drowning child before jumping into the water. A truly good person, in contrast, simply jumps into the water to save the child without that calculation. Wouldn’t this same objection apply to even rational, benevolent egoism? Or are those extra thoughts between situation and action actually rational?

Is sharing an interest in philosophy necessary for a good romance?

I am extremely interested in philosophy. I’m studying it and planning to make it my career. My girlfriend is not. She wants nothing to do with philosophy, although she is perfectly happy with me doing it. However, I find that I am missing that intellectual engagement with her. I’ve asked a number of times if she would try to talk to me about any sort of philosophical issue – really just anything deeper than day to day happenings – and she just can’t do it. She becomes uninterested or even begins to get overwhelmed and frustrated to the point of tears. Is it necessary for us to engage in this activity together to be happy? Is there any way that I can help her to engage in rational inquiry without it being forced on her, if at all?

Is creating art necessary for a moral life?

Since material values are a human need, independence requires that human beings engage in productive activity. Can the same logic be applied to art? Since art is a human need, does independence require human beings to be artistically creative? Would someone who enjoys art without producing any be an “aesthetic moocher”?

What is the value of artistic creation?

In “The Romantic Manifesto,” Ayn Rand discusses the value of art to those who experience it, but she does not say much about the value for those who create it. What is the value of artistic creation and expression to a rational person? Is artistic expression a human need? Is artistic creation a productive activity?

Are horse rescues a worthy charitable cause?

I know that you love horses, and that you’ve adopted dogs and cats from rescues. So what’s your opinion of horse rescues? Are they charities worth supporting? Are they a good alternative to euthanasia or slaughter? Would you ever adopt a rescued horse?

Do confidentiality agreements justify privacy lies?

Some professions, like clinical psychology, law, or sex work commonly utilize confidentiality agreements between professionals and clients due to the sensitive nature of the information shared between them. Generally, such professionals can (and do) have a policy of refusing to answer any questions about their clients and so avoid any supposed need for privacy lies to protect from nosy inquiries. However, these agreements also often include the understanding (sometimes explicit) that, if professional and client should ever meet in a social situation, the professional would follow the client’s lead about if and how they knew each other. This means that a dishonest client could push the professional into a lie. Yet even in the case where both people are basically honest, the mere act of showing recognition of each other could compromise the client’s privacy if the professional’s job is not a secret. And there are reasonable social situations in which you couldn’t hide familiarity without deceit of some kind. So ethically, we seem to be stuck between (1) clients having their privacy might be violated if they are unlucky enough to encounter their professional outside the office or (2) professionals having to lie to protect the privacy of their clients. Is there another alternative here? If not, what’s the best course?

How can I become more comfortable advocating free market ideas?

In the past, I have found opportunities to express free market opinions to friends and acquaintances. However, I have found that in doing so, I lose focus on what matters most to me (i.e. my work and family) and my stress level spikes. For instance, commenting on a friends Facebook post where he scorned the wealthiest individuals in society, I found that my sleep was significantly impacted for about 7 days. During the first day I had to calm myself down many times to respond to my friend’s ad hominem replies. My physical conditions included shaky hands, damp armpits, and chattering teeth. All of that is presumably from an adrenaline response. Currently, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t know how to comfortably advocate free market ideas while maintaining my life, health, and happiness. I see this as me lacking a skill, not an innate failing. So am I doomed to keep my mouth shut? Can I learn these skills? If so, how and where?

Is evil is necessary for good to exist?

Often people – particularly religious people – say that evil exists so that we know what good is. I think this is wrong, because a thing is what it is regardless of whether it can be contrasted with an opposite. Also, this idea seems to imply a tautology that evil is non-good and good is non-evil. I think this just an “out” that people give to God. So does the existence of good require the existence of evil?

How can I overcome my past failure to capitalize on the perfect opportunity?

Two years ago, after years of struggling in the post-2008 job market, I had a job opportunity that could have been the best thing that ever happened to me. It was a job that represents my values and could have brought me much-needed financial success if I had pulled it off. But it was also an extremely difficult, demanding, and stressful proposition, and I was uncertain whether I have what it takes to succeed at it. To make matters worse, when it came along, I was depressed to the point of having lost the will to live. In my bad emotional state, I was unable to go through with the job, and I let the opportunity slip. In the two years since then, I have done nothing but hold down an menial job while reflecting on the missed opportunity. I can’t move on or get over the fact of what I did and have become almost obsessed with it. I need to approach the employer and ask him for another chance at it. It is doubtful that he would say yes, but I have nothing to lose by trying. However, for all the same reasons I didn’t go through with it before, I still cannot work up the will to do it. Every day I wake up wanting to die and I am so depressed that I can’t feel the warmth of a great opportunity; everything just seems hopeless and pointless. How can I rehabilitate myself enough approach the employer for a second chance?

How can I trust a therapist to help me?

I have psychological problems, and I probably need help. However, I have a negative view of the mental health profession in general due to bad experiences in the past. It bothers me that therapists are educated in modern universities where all forms of leftism and equally irrational psychological theories predominate. In my state, many licensed “counselors” are just social workers (the most leftist whackjob profession of all time) with government licenses to counsel people. I am afraid that they will have me involuntarily committed if I am honest about my thoughts of suicide, which I have ready plans to carry out if I decide to. How can I trust anybody in this [expletive deleted] profession?

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.)

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 14 March 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Mar 142014
 

As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer four (or so) 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 diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

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

Can evil be requited with good?

Christians claim that evil can and ought to be requited with good. So in “Les Miserables”, the Bishop inspired Jean Valjean to reform by telling the police that he willingly gave Jean the silver plate (and added the candlesticks) even though Jean stole the silver. Does this strategy ever work to reform an evildoer? Or is it merely a license to further evil? In some cases, might it be useful to “heap burning coals on [an evildoer's] head”? If so, when and why?

Does egoism suffer from “one thought too many”?

Bernard Williams argues that utilitarianism suffers from a problem of inappropriate motivation in which a person has “one thought too many” before acting morally. So, for example, a good utilitarian must calculate whether the general welfare is served by saving a drowning child before jumping into the water. A truly good person, in contrast, simply jumps into the water to save the child without that calculation. Wouldn’t this same objection apply to even rational, benevolent egoism? Or are those extra thoughts between situation and action actually rational?

Is sharing an interest in philosophy necessary for a good romance?

I am extremely interested in philosophy. I’m studying it and planning to make it my career. My girlfriend is not. She wants nothing to do with philosophy, although she is perfectly happy with me doing it. However, I find that I am missing that intellectual engagement with her. I’ve asked a number of times if she would try to talk to me about any sort of philosophical issue – really just anything deeper than day to day happenings – and she just can’t do it. She becomes uninterested or even begins to get overwhelmed and frustrated to the point of tears. Is it necessary for us to engage in this activity together to be happy? Is there any way that I can help her to engage in rational inquiry without it being forced on her, if at all?

Is creating art necessary for a moral life?

Since material values are a human need, independence requires that human beings engage in productive activity. Can the same logic be applied to art? Since art is a human need, does independence require human beings to be artistically creative? Would someone who enjoys art without producing any be an “aesthetic moocher”?

What is the value of artistic creation?

In “The Romantic Manifesto,” Ayn Rand discusses the value of art to those who experience it, but she does not say much about the value for those who create it. What is the value of artistic creation and expression to a rational person? Is artistic expression a human need? Is artistic creation a productive activity?

Are horse rescues a worthy charitable cause?

I know that you love horses, and that you’ve adopted dogs and cats from rescues. So what’s your opinion of horse rescues? Are they charities worth supporting? Are they a good alternative to euthanasia or slaughter? Would you ever adopt a rescued horse?

Do confidentiality agreements justify privacy lies?

Some professions, like clinical psychology, law, or sex work commonly utilize confidentiality agreements between professionals and clients due to the sensitive nature of the information shared between them. Generally, such professionals can (and do) have a policy of refusing to answer any questions about their clients and so avoid any supposed need for privacy lies to protect from nosy inquiries. However, these agreements also often include the understanding (sometimes explicit) that, if professional and client should ever meet in a social situation, the professional would follow the client’s lead about if and how they knew each other. This means that a dishonest client could push the professional into a lie. Yet even in the case where both people are basically honest, the mere act of showing recognition of each other could compromise the client’s privacy if the professional’s job is not a secret. And there are reasonable social situations in which you couldn’t hide familiarity without deceit of some kind. So ethically, we seem to be stuck between (1) clients having their privacy might be violated if they are unlucky enough to encounter their professional outside the office or (2) professionals having to lie to protect the privacy of their clients. Is there another alternative here? If not, what’s the best course?

What is “open Objectivism”?

Recently, I checked out the website of “The Atlas Society,” the organization run by David Kelley. It advocates for “open Objectivism,” which I assume means that each person defines what Objectivism is. Am I interpreting that correctly? Is this dangerous? How can people explain what’s wrong with this approach or combat it?

How can I become more comfortable advocating free market ideas?

In the past, I have found opportunities to express free market opinions to friends and acquaintances. However, I have found that in doing so, I lose focus on what matters most to me (i.e. my work and family) and my stress level spikes. For instance, commenting on a friends Facebook post where he scorned the wealthiest individuals in society, I found that my sleep was significantly impacted for about 7 days. During the first day I had to calm myself down many times to respond to my friend’s ad hominem replies. My physical conditions included shaky hands, damp armpits, and chattering teeth. All of that is presumably from an adrenaline response. Currently, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t know how to comfortably advocate free market ideas while maintaining my life, health, and happiness. I see this as me lacking a skill, not an innate failing. So am I doomed to keep my mouth shut? Can I learn these skills? If so, how and where?

Is evil is necessary for good to exist?

Often people – particularly religious people – say that evil exists so that we know what good is. I think this is wrong, because a thing is what it is regardless of whether it can be contrasted with an opposite. Also, this idea seems to imply a tautology that evil is non-good and good is non-evil. I think this just an “out” that people give to God. So does the existence of good require the existence of evil?

How can I overcome my past failure to capitalize on the perfect opportunity?

Two years ago, after years of struggling in the post-2008 job market, I had a job opportunity that could have been the best thing that ever happened to me. It was a job that represents my values and could have brought me much-needed financial success if I had pulled it off. But it was also an extremely difficult, demanding, and stressful proposition, and I was uncertain whether I have what it takes to succeed at it. To make matters worse, when it came along, I was depressed to the point of having lost the will to live. In my bad emotional state, I was unable to go through with the job, and I let the opportunity slip. In the two years since then, I have done nothing but hold down an menial job while reflecting on the missed opportunity. I can’t move on or get over the fact of what I did and have become almost obsessed with it. I need to approach the employer and ask him for another chance at it. It is doubtful that he would say yes, but I have nothing to lose by trying. However, for all the same reasons I didn’t go through with it before, I still cannot work up the will to do it. Every day I wake up wanting to die and I am so depressed that I can’t feel the warmth of a great opportunity; everything just seems hopeless and pointless. How can I rehabilitate myself enough approach the employer for a second chance?

How can I trust a therapist to help me?

I have psychological problems, and I probably need help. However, I have a negative view of the mental health profession in general due to bad experiences in the past. It bothers me that therapists are educated in modern universities where all forms of leftism and equally irrational psychological theories predominate. In my state, many licensed “counselors” are just social workers (the most leftist whackjob profession of all time) with government licenses to counsel people. I am afraid that they will have me involuntarily committed if I am honest about my thoughts of suicide, which I have ready plans to carry out if I decide to. How can I trust anybody in this [expletive deleted] profession?

Is ‘scientism’ an anti-concept?

In discussions about philosophy and social science, the pejorative label of “scientism” often arises. It seems to have two definitions. The first is “the improper application of scientific-sounding jargon to rationalize unscientific assertions.” The second definition is: “the application of any scientific discoveries to the discipline of studying human behavior.” Many leftwing and rightwing activists say that those two definitions are the same – meaning that any attempt to apply scientific discoveries to understanding human behavior is invalid, rationalistic scientism. They cite the eugenics movement as proof of this, and say that anyone who tries to apply scientific discoveries to understanding human behavior is as guilty of Scientism as were the eugenicists. I do think that some people cite neuroscience to foist irrational conclusions, such as saying that brain scans prove that non-leftwing people are more paranoid and hysterical than are leftwing people. But I think there are cases where applying scientific discoveries to studying human nature can be valid. Am I right to think that the pejorative label of “scientism” is a problematic “package deal”?

Is Immanuel Kant’s distinction between noumenal and phenomenal realms valid?

In the past, I’ve dismissed Kant’s distinction between noumenal and phenomenal realms simply because Kant seems to suggest that the noumenal realm is unknowable. If that were true, then not only can he not say anything about the noumenal realm, but he can’t even say that it’s unknowable because even that would require some evidence. Is that right? Does the distinction have any validity? If not, why is it so widely accepted by philosophers?

Do dog owners violate rights by allowing their dogs to poop on others’ lawns?

I live in a residential urban area along with many dog owners. On a daily basis, I observe those dog owners allowing their dogs to defecate on other peoples’ lawns. I view this action as a trespass and violation of property rights, whether or not they pick up afterward. (For those who believe that picking up after your dog mitigates the trespass, would you let your child play on that spot afterward?) I don’t believe that property owners should have to create fences, hedges, or other structures to prevent this trespass. On several occasions, I have asked owners not to let their dogs poop on the front lawn of our apartment. I have received various responses from polite acquiescence to incredulousness. Many dog owners seem to feel a sense of entitlement about using others’ property without permission. Isn’t that wrong? Would you agree that it is the SOLE RESPONSIBILITY of the animal owners to care for their pets without violating the rights of the people around them? What, if any, recourse would property owners have in a free society against blatant repeat offenders of this principle?

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.)

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 26 February 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Feb 262014
 

As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer four 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 diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

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

Are horse rescues a worthy charitable cause?

I know that you love horses, and that you’ve adopted dogs and cats from rescues. So what’s your opinion of horse rescues? Are they charities worth supporting? Are they a good alternative to euthanasia or slaughter? Would you ever adopt a rescued horse?

Do confidentiality agreements justify privacy lies?

Some professions, like clinical psychology, law, or sex work commonly utilize confidentiality agreements between professionals and clients due to the sensitive nature of the information shared between them. Generally, such professionals can (and do) have a policy of refusing to answer any questions about their clients and so avoid any supposed need for privacy lies to protect from nosy inquiries. However, these agreements also often include the understanding (sometimes explicit) that, if professional and client should ever meet in a social situation, the professional would follow the client’s lead about if and how they knew each other. This means that a dishonest client could push the professional into a lie. Yet even in the case where both people are basically honest, the mere act of showing recognition of each other could compromise the client’s privacy if the professional’s job is not a secret. And there are reasonable social situations in which you couldn’t hide familiarity without deceit of some kind. So ethically, we seem to be stuck between (1) clients having their privacy might be violated if they are unlucky enough to encounter their professional outside the office or (2) professionals having to lie to protect the privacy of their clients. Is there another alternative here? If not, what’s the best course?

What is “open Objectivism”?

Recently, I checked out the website of “The Atlas Society,” the organization run by David Kelley. It advocates for “open Objectivism,” which I assume means that each person defines what Objectivism is. Am I interpreting that correctly? Is this dangerous? How can people explain what’s wrong with this approach or combat it?

How can I become more comfortable advocating free market ideas?

In the past, I have found opportunities to express free market opinions to friends and acquaintances. However, I have found that in doing so, I lose focus on what matters most to me (i.e. my work and family) and my stress level spikes. For instance, commenting on a friends Facebook post where he scorned the wealthiest individuals in society, I found that my sleep was significantly impacted for about 7 days. During the first day I had to calm myself down many times to respond to my friend’s ad hominem replies. My physical conditions included shaky hands, damp armpits, and chattering teeth. All of that is presumably from an adrenaline response. Currently, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t know how to comfortably advocate free market ideas while maintaining my life, health, and happiness. I see this as me lacking a skill, not an innate failing. So am I doomed to keep my mouth shut? Can I learn these skills? If so, how and where?

Is evil is necessary for good to exist?

Often people – particularly religious people – say that evil exists so that we know what good is. I think this is wrong, because a thing is what it is regardless of whether it can be contrasted with an opposite. Also, this idea seems to imply a tautology that evil is non-good and good is non-evil. I think this just an “out” that people give to God. So does the existence of good require the existence of evil?

How can I overcome my past failure to capitalize on the perfect opportunity?

Two years ago, after years of struggling in the post-2008 job market, I had a job opportunity that could have been the best thing that ever happened to me. It was a job that represents my values and could have brought me much-needed financial success if I had pulled it off. But it was also an extremely difficult, demanding, and stressful proposition, and I was uncertain whether I have what it takes to succeed at it. To make matters worse, when it came along, I was depressed to the point of having lost the will to live. In my bad emotional state, I was unable to go through with the job, and I let the opportunity slip. In the two years since then, I have done nothing but hold down an menial job while reflecting on the missed opportunity. I can’t move on or get over the fact of what I did and have become almost obsessed with it. I need to approach the employer and ask him for another chance at it. It is doubtful that he would say yes, but I have nothing to lose by trying. However, for all the same reasons I didn’t go through with it before, I still cannot work up the will to do it. Every day I wake up wanting to die and I am so depressed that I can’t feel the warmth of a great opportunity; everything just seems hopeless and pointless. How can I rehabilitate myself enough approach the employer for a second chance?

How can I trust a therapist to help me?

I have psychological problems, and I probably need help. However, I have a negative view of the mental health profession in general due to bad experiences in the past. It bothers me that therapists are educated in modern universities where all forms of leftism and equally irrational psychological theories predominate. In my state, many licensed “counselors” are just social workers (the most leftist whackjob profession of all time) with government licenses to counsel people. I am afraid that they will have me involuntarily committed if I am honest about my thoughts of suicide, which I have ready plans to carry out if I decide to. How can I trust anybody in this [expletive deleted] profession?

Is ‘scientism’ an anti-concept?

In discussions about philosophy and social science, the pejorative label of “scientism” often arises. It seems to have two definitions. The first is “the improper application of scientific-sounding jargon to rationalize unscientific assertions.” The second definition is: “the application of any scientific discoveries to the discipline of studying human behavior.” Many leftwing and rightwing activists say that those two definitions are the same – meaning that any attempt to apply scientific discoveries to understanding human behavior is invalid, rationalistic scientism. They cite the eugenics movement as proof of this, and say that anyone who tries to apply scientific discoveries to understanding human behavior is as guilty of Scientism as were the eugenicists. I do think that some people cite neuroscience to foist irrational conclusions, such as saying that brain scans prove that non-leftwing people are more paranoid and hysterical than are leftwing people. But I think there are cases where applying scientific discoveries to studying human nature can be valid. Am I right to think that the pejorative label of “scientism” is a problematic “package deal”?

Is Immanuel Kant’s distinction between noumenal and phenomenal realms valid?

In the past, I’ve dismissed Kant’s distinction between noumenal and phenomenal realms simply because Kant seems to suggest that the noumenal realm is unknowable. If that were true, then not only can he not say anything about the noumenal realm, but he can’t even say that it’s unknowable because even that would require some evidence. Is that right? Does the distinction have any validity? If not, why is it so widely accepted by philosophers?

Do dog owners violate rights by allowing their dogs to poop on others’ lawns?

I live in a residential urban area along with many dog owners. On a daily basis, I observe those dog owners allowing their dogs to defecate on other peoples’ lawns. I view this action as a trespass and violation of property rights, whether or not they pick up afterward. (For those who believe that picking up after your dog mitigates the trespass, would you let your child play on that spot afterward?) I don’t believe that property owners should have to create fences, hedges, or other structures to prevent this trespass. On several occasions, I have asked owners not to let their dogs poop on the front lawn of our apartment. I have received various responses from polite acquiescence to incredulousness. Many dog owners seem to feel a sense of entitlement about using others’ property without permission. Isn’t that wrong? Would you agree that it is the SOLE RESPONSIBILITY of the animal owners to care for their pets without violating the rights of the people around them? What, if any, recourse would property owners have in a free society against blatant repeat offenders of this principle?

Can laws against animal cruelty be justified without animal rights?

In past radio shows, you’ve said that animals don’t have rights – even though you condemn cruelty toward animals. You’ve also explained why the “marginal humans” argument does not validate animal rights. If that’s the case, is there any hope for a rational argument for laws against cruelty to animals? Would such laws always violate human rights? If not, are people obliged to sit on their hands while animals are deliberately tortured or starved on neighboring property?

Is jury nullification moral and proper?

Jury nullification happens when the jury knows that the defendant in a criminal case broke the law, yet that jury finds the defendant not guilty due to moral objections to the law. For instance, during Prohibition, a jury might have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant produced liquor, yet find him not guilty. Today, the same might happen with people guilty of drug crimes. Some critics of jury nullification say that the practice is illegal, anarchistic, and undermines the rule of law. Is that right? Or is jury nullification a moral and proper aspect of our system of checks and balances?

Why aren’t women strongly condemned for sexual relationships with underage boys?

A few years ago, I saw a flurry of news stories about female teachers in their twenties committing statutory rape by having sex with their teenage male students. At the time, many public commentators and comedians said that they didn’t see how the boys could have been harmed, and they thought an adult male teacher having sex with a female student would be much more predatory. Besides, those commentators often added, the female teachers in these cases were “hot.” At the time, I agreed with those views, but lately, I’ve been thinking that I should check my premises. So is it the case that an adult man having sex with a female minor is more predatory than that of an adult woman having sex with a male minor? Are the teenage male minor’s rights are violated if he is seduced into a sexual relationship with a female teacher? is a double standard at work here?

Should a rational person’s atheism be weak or strong?

People often distinguish between “weak atheism” and “strong atheism.” The weak atheist regards the arguments for the existence of God as invalid, such that God’s existence has not been proven. The strong atheist positively asserts that God does not exist. Which of these views is correct?

Can a black market dealer in a corrupt society be moral?

I lived in a purely free society with a night watchman state, I think that being a vigilante would be unjust, as I would not be constrained by the due-process procedures that properly constrain the government. However, imagine that I lived in a developing country where the police and courts were corrupt, and they wouldn’t do anything if I didn’t bribe them. Then, if someone violated my rights, vigilante justice might be the only justice available to me. Likewise, if I lived in such a corrupt regime, I might only be able to survive and live decently by becoming an unlicensed operator in the black market. Yet then I’d be obliged to act as a vigilante too: if someone cheated me in the black market, I would only be able to exact justice by acting as a vigilante. Therefore, is the decision to become a black-market operator inevitably corrupting, even though vigilante justice would only be required because the police and the courts cannot be relied upon?

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.)

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 15 January 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Jan 152014
 

As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer four 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 diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

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

What should I do about the dishonesty of my new project manager?

One of the project managers at my job recently lied when evaluating my co-worker. We are evaluated yearly, but aren’t supposed to share the results of the reviews with others. However, my co-worker shared her review with me. It painted her in an extremely negative light via false accusations, and her yearly raise was affected by it. She wasn’t given any warning about the accusations either. I’ve taken over her duties, which include working under the accuser. I’m afraid my review next year will be unjustly and perhaps even dishonestly negative, but I wasn’t supposed to see her review in the first place. What should I do? Is there something I should do about my co-worker’s false negative review? How can I protect myself from this dishonest project manager?

Is the doctrine of double effect true?

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says: “The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. It is claimed that sometimes it is permissible to cause such a harm as a side effect (or ‘double effect’) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end.” How has this principled used in analyzing real-world ethics? Is it true? Why or why not?

What are the moral limits on the doctrine of collateral damage in wartime?

Collateral damage was originally applied to damage to civilian lives and property in the course of a battle. New and different modes of conflict over the past half century have extended the battlefield into more areas than merely front line conflicts – as seen in guerrilla or asymmetric warfare. Should the doctrine of collateral damage be expanded or restrained in these new contexts? If so, what moral limits should be imposed on defensive or preemptive military actions in these new contexts – and why?

What human qualities count at metaphysical versus the man-made?

Many human qualities – including simple ones such as handedness – seem to be influenced by a person’s genetic makeup. Often, such qualities develop substantially before the person can make conscious choices. In the case of handedness, every person with the use of his hands develops a dominant hand. Does that mean that handedness is metaphysically given, rather than a man-made fact which can vary with each individual? More generally, what kinds of qualities of a person are “metaphysical” versus “man-made”?

What is the free market solution to climate change?

Most political arguments about global warming revolve around the question of whether global warming truly exists or not, and if so, whether its cause is industry. Assuming that global warming is a real and dangerous phenomena, what is the free market solution? How could it be addressed without government controls and regulations? Would assigning pollution rights or adjusting property rights help? if so, how?

Are some people so awful as to be unworthy of any friendship?

Dennis Rodman is friends with North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un. When asked about it, “Rodman said he hoped the friendly competition would “open the doors” to “talk about certain things,” but he isn’t going to bring up the regime’s human rights abuses. “I am not going to sit there and go ‘Hey guy, you are doing the wrong thing. That is not the right way to do it. He is my friend first… and I love him,” Rodman told reporters at Beijing airport. Is Rodman’s approach wrong? Are some people so bad that they aren’t worthy of any friendship? If so, when? Being a murderous tyrant seems to be a clear-cut case, but what about more common failings in a person?

How can I live more joyfully?

I believe that the world is a wonderful place full of opportunity, great things, and lovely people. I also believe that I am an efficacious person, and therefore capable of flourishing and achieving happiness. So why do my emotions not match my convictions? I want to live more joyfully; I adhere to the cardinal virtues to the best of my ability; I’ve tried mental exercises, such as listing all my personal values and thinking about how important and good they are for me, but it still doesn’t make me feel happy. What am I doing wrong? What can I do instead?

Could nineteenth-century contract laborers consent to their employers’ use of violence on them?

During the nineteenth century, it was commonly understood among Asian contract laborers in Hawaii’s sugar cane fields that they could be whipped by supervisors if they worked too slowly. Did the contract laborers therefore tacitly consent to the risk of being subjected to whippings? Or is the corporal punishment a wrongful initiation of the use of force, even if the contract laborers accepted the job knowing that they might be whipped? Does the answer change if consent was explicit – meaning that the laborer voluntarily signed a contract allowing the supervisor to whip him at will?

Should ethics begin with facts about evolution, including altruism?

The ethical egoism advocated by Ayn Rand doesn’t seem to incorporate genetics or evolution. Having evolved in tribal and family groups, we are creatures tuned to group behavior more than to individual behavior. Altruism wasn’t made up by religion. In a tribe, helping those around you helps you survive too. Helping your kin helps your genes survive. The fact is that feeling good when you help others is built into the core of being human. The fact is that much status seeking and other seemingly irrational actions are techniques to ensure the propagation of our genes. Objectivism starts with “A is A.” But, if reality is most important, shouldn’t people base their ethics on the facts about humans as they actually are – altruism and all?

Should an egoist be willing to torture millions to benefit himself?

In your discussion of explaining egoistic benevolence on December 22, 2013, you indicated that you regarded such a scenario as absurd. Could you explain why that is? Why wouldn’t such torture be not merely permitted but rather obligatory under an egoistic ethics? Why should an egoist even care about what happens to strangers?

Should the government of a free society be permitted to do more than just protect rights?

If the proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights, why shouldn’t a government of a free society do other, additional things as long as it does them without violating anyone’s rights? If courts, police, and military could be publicly financed without the use of force, couldn’t roads and schools? Is there some reason besides reliance on taxation why these sorts of government programs are bad?

Should voters attempt to “buy time” for liberty by voting for Republican candidates?

Often, supporters of capitalism are told that they need to “buy time” in order to advocate for liberty – meaning: they should vote for Republicans to stave off disaster and allow time to persuade the public of the nature and value of freedom. Does the debacle with the rollout of ObamaCare contradict this claim? ObamaCare has suffered from widespread attacks, not just from the right wing, but also from many mainstream media outlets and average citizens. These backlashes have forced the administration to issue substantive revisions of the law, and its political backers appear to be running scared. In this case, a statist policy has gone into effect, the public has felt its harmful effects, and that public has turned against the statist policy and its supporting politicians. After this, I am more optimistic about Americans, as well as less inclined to support Republicans at the federal level. Given the utter failure of free market advocates to turn back the regulatory state, might the public need to learn more lessons like that of ObamaCare, just as much as they need to be educated about abstract philosophy? Does support for Republicans in the federal government, who will at best maintain the mixed economy – where the positives caused by freedom can cloud the negatives caused by controls – actually result in a perpetual solidification of the status quo? If so – and combined with some of the GOP’s irrational theocratic tendencies – should people actively (or passively) support keeping the Republican Party as the minority party in the near future by refusing to vote for or support its candidates?

Should I pursue justice against a wrongdoer at great personal expense?

I am trying to decide if I should file an ethics complaint against my former property manager for a rental property. Basically, she managed the property for me for several years until I visited the property and found it in a state of disrepair that annoyed and concerned me. So, I wanted to fire her. But before she would release me from our agreement, she charged me $1,200 for repairs and maintenance that she had done to the house between tenants. She never asked me if I wanted the work done and when pressed she told me it was a matter of routine and our contract granted her the power to make decisions like that. Upon inspection, I discovered that not only were some of the prices she paid were above market rate, it was her husband’s company doing the work. (I found out the rates because in getting the repairs done, I got quotes from other companies in the area.) I’ve reviewed some of the past records and she did this about 50% of the time. The Association of Realtors’ code of ethics in my state specifically notes that she has to disclose relationships like that, but she didn’t. So, I think whether she was in violation is pretty clear cut; however, some have argued that our contract supersedes the code of ethics. (If the board agrees with that argument, then this becomes a contract dispute and not an ethics concern.) If I file the complaint and the board decides to hear the case, I will have to hire a lawyer, make trips to the area, and basically shovel out even more money. The board could take her license or fine her, but in talking to a lawyer, and a couple of officers on the board it’s more likely that they will push for some sort of education rather than taking her license. And none of that would do anything to get my money back. To get my money back, I’d probably have to go through an even more costly process of mediation, then arbitration, then suing her in small claims court where I would never recoup all of my costs. I think it’s pretty obvious she’s in the wrong and I think I can make the case strong enough to bring some measure of justice on her, but it would be expensive and stressful. On the other hand, she was very unpleasant to me and I hate to see her get away with being a horrible person and a corrupt professional. What should I do? How do I decide whether pursuing justice is worth my time and effort?

Is “body acceptance” rational and healthy – or dangerous?

People seem to be divided on the issue of “body acceptance.” Some think that a person should be proud to be “healthy at any size” (or even just a larger-than-average size). Others say that such views perpetuate unhealthy lifestyles, as well as destroy standards of beauty and health, perhaps out of envy. What is a rational view of body acceptance? Is fat shaming or fit shaming ever acceptable? More generally, what are the boundaries of morally acceptable comments on such matters between acquaintances, friends, and strangers?

Should children star in films not suitable for children?

It is immoral to put a child actor in an adult-level movie, such as horror movies that involve lots of murder? Consider the R-rated horror movie “Child’s Play,” starring a child actor battling a homicidal doll. Is it wrong to expose the child actor to that kind of horror, or is there a potentially proper way to handle it? Additionally, isn’t it a double-standard to have it a practice of having young actors starring in these movies, yet to consider these same movies unfit for children to watch?

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.)

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