New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 29 July 2015 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Jul 292015
 

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 is the difference between familiarity and intimacy?

In a recent Facebook post, you wrote: “Lately, I’ve been thinking about the difference between mere familiarity with another person and the intimacy of a deep connection. By familiarity, I mean that each person knows what the other is up to, how they spend their days, what their concerns are, how they’re likely to act, etc. In contrast, the intimacy of a deep connection requires openness, vulnerability, visibility, total trust, generosity with the self, accessibility, etc. (Intimacy often involves familiarity, but not necessarily.) Obviously, I’m thinking here of the psychological aspects of a relationship, although I think that the distinction works for physical and sexual aspects too, if they exist.” Can you say more about this difference? How does it impact a person’s psychology and various relationships?

How can a person use accountabilibuddies to be more productive?

Lately, you’ve mentioned using accountabilibuddies to help break bad habits, cultivate new habits, get more done, or eliminate procrastination. How does that work? What kind of person do you want as you accountabilibuddy? What do you do for them? What do they do for you? What are the major benefits? What are some of the pitfalls to avoid?

Did Hank Rearden really threaten to beat up Lillian Rearden in Atlas Shrugged?

Consider the following quote from Atlas Shrugged: “‘Lillian,’ he said, in an unstressed voice that did not grant her even the honor of anger, ‘you are not to speak of her to me. If you ever do it again, I will answer you as I would answer a hoodlum: I will beat you up. Neither you nor anyone else is to discuss her.’ (p. 530). Was Hank serious in his threat, or were these just the words he chose to emphasize how important the issue was to him? Ayn Rand’s heroes tend to be very careful and literal in their word choice, but I can’t imagine Hank would ever have followed through with this. As evil as Lillian was, I don’t think assaulting her can be justified. What’s the right interpretation of this passage?

Is vulnerability of value?

In a recent blog post, you stated “…I’m opting for a “vulnerability through strength” and “strength through vulnerability” route…” Could you please explain this idea? Why is vulnerability something that should be cultivated in the first place? It doesn’t seem compatible with rational egoism, given that “vulnerability” and “weakness” are often used interchangeably.

How can I counter the effects of ghosting in dating?

Ghosting is when one person disappears from a relationship – suddenly cutting off all contact – without rhyme or reason or explanation of any kind. How does that affect the ghoster and the ghostee? Personally, when I go on dates, it does not matter how well they go. Even if I get my date’s number at the end of the night (if I didn’t already have it), my default assumption is that I will never hear from them again even if I try to contact them. Even if there are second and third dates, I still carry the expectation that I will be ghosted. Currently, being ghosted does not have as much of an emotional impact as it used to for me, but I think that’s because I expect it now (which is, unfortunately, justified). When I don’t receive a call or text after a 24 hour period, I consider myself ghosted and move on…but I find that that window is getting smaller. How can I psychologically arm myself against the damage of this increasingly prevalent practice while not simultaneously shutting down my ability to be emotionally vulnerable and open to new relationships? What should ghosters be doing instead of just disappearing?

Do doctors deserve our trust?

It seems that the majority of doctors are extremely second-handed today. Their attitudes toward medicine revolve around what they were taught in school and the edicts of the FDA.They have almost no intellectual independence and would be paralyzed without their structure of authority to tell them what to do. Like most people they are clueless about the free market. How can anyone trust their judgment given this second-handedness?

How do we keep good ideas from becoming trite?

Individualism is a big part of American culture, so much so that I think certain aspects of it have become trite. I know that as a kid I would always roll my eyes at such cliches as “be yourself” and “follow your dreams.” Even though on reflection they were actually good advice, they always sounded phony to me and I think most people felt the same and continue to feel that way for all their lives. I’ve been inspired a lot by some of Ayn Rand’s writings, but if her ideas were to become more commonplace, I wonder whether the principles of Objectivism would just start to sound like more uninspiring platitudes. How can we prevent this? How can we rescue good ideas from being dismissed as clich?s?

When is delegation in a marriage irresponsible or unwise?

There are some parts of normal adult life that I’m really bad at, in part due to social anxiety. Examples include calling or meeting with companies (airlines, banks, etc) to make changes, writing emails that involve stress or conflict, scheduling events that we’ll both attend, budgeting and finance, driving and navigating, and dealing with mechanical stuff. Should I ask my husband to do those chores? If I ask for help, I worry that I’m being weak, lazy, and avoiding my responsibilities. On the other hand, if I try to do the hard things on my own, I often mess up. Where’s the line between delegating and shirking?

Should I change my name when I marry?

I’m a gay man who is engaged to be married. The question has come up about whether or not either of us would change our last name and historically we’ve said no. We have just thought we would just maintain our given names. My fiance doesn’t want to change his name and we both think trying to hyphenate our last names would be unwieldy and fussy. But as we’ve talked about planning a family in the future, it’s occurred to me that I actually like the idea of sharing a name with my husband and my children. So, I’ve been considering changing my name. Somewhat ironically, however, changing my name means giving up a five-generation-old family name in order to take on the name of our new family. I don’t mind this irony very much since my decision would be about taking on a family I choose rather than one I don’t. What do you think? What pros and cons do you see for changing your name at marriage? Do you see any additional pros or cons for gay men considering this question?

Is loving and excelling at the process of the work enough for a career?

In your June 14th, 2015 discussing of choosing a career, you said that a person should love the day-to-day process of doing the work, not merely the effects it creates. What about the reserve problem – meaning that you enjoy the day-to-day work but you don’t feel very inspired by its effects, and you feel like it’s not important, inspiring, or real work? In my own case, I enjoy translation, foreign languages and linguistics. I taught myself French and German, and I am teaching myself several more languages. When I began tutoring others, I realized that I learn instantly what others struggle to master. I’m fascinated by how different languages express the same thought, and I’ll lose myself in the process of translation. However, I don’t find myself inspired by the results. If I were to translate patents or fiction, I wouldn’t feel like I was doing much of importance. Plus, I’d not feel like I was doing any real work because it’s like playing to me. Also, it doesn’t pay well. I’m also interested in technology and electronics, and I like the process of programming too. I feel like the effects of programming are more inspiring and have way more potential, but I have more aptitude for languages. Given these factors, how should I decide on a career path?

Is it wrong for a woman not to report a sexual assault?

I harshly judge grown women who do not report or otherwise address sexual assault. (I say “address” because I’m super picky about bringing in the police on questionable matters, but saying something about it to mutual contacts often might be enough.) I’m missing the empathy component when some douche assaults one lady after another. I do not understand why someone would not address this in some way: assault is a major deal. But maybe I am being too harsh. How should these women be judged?

Do my parents have a right to force me to take a paternity test?

My parents’ marriage has always been rocky, with doubts about my mother’s faithfulness pervading their relationship despite the fact that her infidelity has never been proven. About a year ago, my parents approached me out of the blue about taking a paternity test due to my father’s doubt that I am his biological daughter. Given their unhealthy, abusive past, I was immediately concerned about opening an old wound for my father and endangering my mother with this dangerous “evidence.” So I agreed to take the test only if my father would be willing to forgive my mom for either result and get counseling for past pains. He was infuriated by this and refused to agree to forgive mom or address his anger. He claims that he “deserves to know the truth” and that I am unfairly torturing him by not taking the test. I do not feel it is my responsibility or obligation to take a paternity test that would contribute nothing to me, but could result in more abuse and resentment toward my mother. At age 33, I could care less about the test results as I am a grown adult who will always relate to my dad as my only father, for better or for worse. I was secure in my decision until several weeks ago when I received a letter from my parents threatening legal action if I do not take the paternity test. I am unsure what the law says on this matter, but I do not trust the courts to act rationally (especially because my mother works for a law firm and has some weight to throw around here). I am now uncertain how to balance protecting myself against protecting them from each other and from additional pain. I have consulted other trusted family members on what to do and they have urged me to hold out on taking the test. What should I do?

Why do you think men have dominated societies throughout most of history?

The obvious answer to that question is that men are physically stronger, therefore they have been able to take and keep political and intellectual control. But I wonder if there other factors that have also contributed, such as psychological factors. For example, I have often heard women say they are attracted to men who will “take charge” (at least at times, or in certain situations). Might women have at least some tendency to allow men to take leadership roles? And a disproportionate amount of violent crimes are committed by men, suggesting that men have greater tendencies towards aggressive behavior. What, if any, psychological factors or personality traits have led to history to play out as it has?

How do altruists cope with their own moral hypocrisy?

Since learning about the egoism of the Objectivist ethics, I’ve been fascinated by how often morally righteous altruists – who live with their ideas and push them on others – are able to maintain a seemingly high level of psychological strength, self-esteem, and motivation in life. I’m thinking of the kind of altruist who achieves a high standard of living for himself and his family and who pursues a career of his own choice. Many politicians are good examples of this. The Objectivist ethics seems to say that these individuals should not be able to exist. How do they do it? How do they get away with it?

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 1 July 2015 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Jul 012015
 

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:

When is delegation in a marriage irresponsible or unwise?

There are some parts of normal adult life that I’m really bad at due to social anxiety. Should I ask my husband to do those chores? If I ask for help, I worry that I’m being weak, lazy, and avoiding my responsibilities. On the other hand, if I try to do the hard things on my own, I often mess up. Where’s the line between delegating and shirking?

Should I change my name when I marry?

I’m a gay man who is engaged to be married. The question has come up about whether or not either of us would change our last name and historically we’ve said no. We have just thought we would just maintain our given names. My fiance doesn’t want to change his name and we both think trying to hyphenate our last names would be unwieldy and fussy. But as we’ve talked about planning a family in the future, it’s occurred to me that I actually like the idea of sharing a name with my husband and my children. So, I’ve been considering changing my name. Somewhat ironically, however, changing my name means giving up a five-generation-old family name in order to take on the name of our new family. I don’t mind this irony very much since my decision would be about taking on a family I choose rather than one I don’t. What do you think? What pros and cons do you see for changing your name at marriage? Do you see any additional pros or cons for gay men considering this question?

Is it wrong to take up a hobby for the sake of dating?

I’m single, and I want to meet more women. Is it wrong or unwise to take up hobbies like dancing, acting, painting, singing, or guitar just to have some skill to show and to meet women interested in those activities? I wouldn’t take up these hobbies without the dating angle: I’m just not interested in them, at least not right now. Is that wrong?

Is loving and excelling at the process of the work enough for a career?

In your June 14th, 2015 discussing of choosing a career, you said that a person should love the day-to-day process of doing the work, not merely the effects it creates. What about the reserve problem – meaning that you enjoy the day-to-day work but you don’t feel very inspired by its effects, and you feel like it’s not important, inspiring, or real work? In my own case, I enjoy translation, foreign languages and linguistics. I taught myself French and German, and I am teaching myself several more languages. When I began tutoring others, I realized that I learn instantly what others struggle to master. I’m fascinated by how different languages express the same thought, and I’ll lose myself in the process of translation. However, I don’t find myself inspired by the results. If I were to translate patents or fiction, I wouldn’t feel like I was doing much of importance. Plus, I’d not feel like I was doing any real work because it’s like playing to me. Also, it doesn’t pay well. I’m also interested in technology and electronics, and I like the process of programming too. I feel like the effects of programming are more inspiring and have way more potential, but I have more aptitude for languages. Given these factors, how should I decide on a career path?

Is it wrong for a woman not to report a sexual assault?

I harshly judge grown women who do not report or otherwise address sexual assault. (I say “address” because I’m super picky about bringing in the police on questionable matters, but saying something about it to mutual contacts often might be enough.) I’m missing the empathy component when some douche assaults one lady after another. I do not understand why someone would not address this in some way: assault is a major deal. But maybe I am being too harsh. How should these women be judged?

Do my parents have a right to force me to take a paternity test?

My parents’ marriage has always been rocky, with doubts about my mother’s faithfulness pervading their relationship despite the fact that her infidelity has never been proven. About a year ago, my parents approached me out of the blue about taking a paternity test due to my father’s doubt that I am his biological daughter. Given their unhealthy, abusive past, I was immediately concerned about opening an old wound for my father and endangering my mother with this dangerous “evidence.” So I agreed to take the test only if my father would be willing to forgive my mom for either result and get counseling for past pains. He was infuriated by this and refused to agree to forgive mom or address his anger. He claims that he “deserves to know the truth” and that I am unfairly torturing him by not taking the test. I do not feel it is my responsibility or obligation to take a paternity test that would contribute nothing to me, but could result in more abuse and resentment toward my mother. At age 33, I could care less about the test results as I am a grown adult who will always relate to my dad as my only father, for better or for worse. I was secure in my decision until several weeks ago when I received a letter from my parents threatening legal action if I do not take the paternity test. I am unsure what the law says on this matter, but I do not trust the courts to act rationally (especially because my mother works for a law firm and has some weight to throw around here). I am now uncertain how to balance protecting myself against protecting them from each other and from additional pain. I have consulted other trusted family members on what to do and they have urged me to hold out on taking the test. What should I do?

Why do you think men have dominated societies throughout most of history?

The obvious answer to that question is that men are physically stronger, therefore they have been able to take and keep political and intellectual control. But I wonder if there other factors that have also contributed, such as psychological factors. For example, I have often heard women say they are attracted to men who will “take charge” (at least at times, or in certain situations). Might women have at least some tendency to allow men to take leadership roles? And a disproportionate amount of violent crimes are committed by men, suggesting that men have greater tendencies towards aggressive behavior. What, if any, psychological factors or personality traits have led to history to play out as it has?

How do altruists cope with their own moral hypocrisy?

Since learning about the egoism of the Objectivist ethics, I’ve been fascinated by how often morally righteous altruists – who live with their ideas and push them on others – are able to maintain a seemingly high level of psychological strength, self-esteem, and motivation in life. I’m thinking of the kind of altruist who achieves a high standard of living for himself and his family and who pursues a career of his own choice. Many politicians are good examples of this. The Objectivist ethics seems to say that these individuals should not be able to exist. How do they do it? How do they get away with it?

Why are there so many popular songs idealizing women who don’t know they are beautiful?

I’ve noticed that there are lots of pop songs that glorify women who don’t know they’re physically attractive. Here’s an example: “You don’t know you’re beautiful, That’s what makes you beautiful.” Does this indicate something about what men want? Do they want a woman who doesn’t know her own value? Or does this indicate something about how most women have body image issues?

How can I be less annoyed with “Atlas Shrugged”?

I love Ayn Rand’s ideas, and I thoroughly enjoy her non-fiction. I want to enjoy Atlas Shrugged and her other fiction more, but I’m often annoyed with the aesthetics of her work. I acknowledge the fact that the novels are great, but every time I see mention of Francisco’s mocking smile or John Galt’s mocking eyes or Hank Rearden’s mocking laugh or John Galt’s implacable voice or New York City’s implacable skyline or Dagny Taggart’s silent terror, I just want to pull my hair out. I find myself wanting to throw the book at the wall every time she uses those words! I understand that loving her novels is not a prerequisite for applying her philosophy, but I really desire to experience the joy that many other people feel while reading her work. How can I get more enjoyment out of it?

What is the harm of granting unearned forgiveness?

Some people are too forgiving. For example, some religions preach that people should forgive a cheating or abusive spouse or forgive a deadbeat sibling who has stolen money from the family – and many people do just that. I have even seen some people claim that rape victims should forgive their attacker. Aside from the obvious answer that an unreformed perpetrator may commit the same act against us in the future, what are some other real-life practical harms of offering forgiveness when it is not earned?

Is the United States finished as a free country?

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

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

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

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

As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer questions chosen in advance from the Question Queue. Here are the most recent additions to that queue. Please vote for the ones that you’re most interested in hearing me answer! You can also review and vote on all pending questions sorted by date or sorted by popularity.

Also, I’m perfectly willing to be bribed to answer a question of particular interest to you pronto. So if you’re a regular contributor to Philosophy in Action’s Tip Jar, I can answer your desired question as soon as possible. The question must already be in the queue, so if you’ve not done so already, please submit it. Then just e-mail me at diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

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

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

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

Is the United States finished as a free country?

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

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

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

Are waivers to rights-violating laws good or bad?

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

What are the philosophical underpinnings of growth versus fixed mindsets?

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

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

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

When is a person obliged to report a crime?

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

Should blackmail be illegal?

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

Does intuition have any validity?

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

Should it be illegal to smoke around children?

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

What’s the value of hierarchical organizations?

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

Are the religious freedoms of Christian bakers being infringed?

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

To submit a question, use this form. I prefer questions focused on some concrete real-life problem, as opposed to merely theoretical or political questions. I review and edit all questions before they’re posted. (Alas, IdeaInformer doesn’t display any kind of confirmation page when you submit a question.)

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 25 March 2015 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Mar 252015
 

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 are the philosophical underpinnings of growth versus fixed mindsets?

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

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

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

When is a person obliged to report knowledge of a crime?

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

Should blackmail be illegal?

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

Does intuition have any validity?

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

What are the signs of emotional repression?

It’s very important not to repress your emotions, especially if you are a person with rationalistic tendencies. But how might a person identify when he’s repressing some emotions? What are the signs? What can be done to avoid and overcome the tendency to repress, if such a tendency has become habitual?

Should it be illegal to smoke around children?

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

What’s the value of hierarchical organizations?

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

Are the religious freedoms of Christian bakers being infringed?

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

Is the existence of a prison system congruent with a free and just society?

Prisons are seen as a kind of “criminal holiday resort” by some and by others as a sort of criminal “training center.” Prisons help criminals network, harden their character, and learn new crime skills. In addition, the prison system has grown up as part of an overall trend within society towards what one might call the “management and correction of human beings.” Prison is not about punishing people for their actions, but about educating them—about moulding them into “better citizens.” It has been argued (mostly notably by Michel Foucault) that prisons are simply part of a general mechanism of government control, that includes institutions such as schools and mental asylums, all of which operate on a similar philosophy of government enforced correction and education. Should then a society based on opposite principles – on the principles of individualism, small government and personal responsibility – eschew the prison system? If so, what would it be replaced with, if anything? If not, what justifies the existence of the prison system in a free society?

Should I trust the medical profession more?

I suffer from a serious chronic disease. I have become extremely dismayed both at how limited medicine is in its ability to help me and how consistently wrong the doctors I’ve consulted have been about everything they’ve ever said. I have come to believe that doctors are poorly trained in medical school and that most people in the profession are basically second-handed. I attribute this situation to the extreme degree of government control over the medical profession, especially licensing laws and FDA controls. Is my attitude justified, or am I being overly negative?

Are people living in a free society obliged to contribute to its government?

Given that each person benefits hugely from the protection of his and others’ individual rights by the government of a free society, does each person have an obligation to contribute to that government in some fashion? If so, is that obligation just a moral obligation or might it be a legal obligation too? Would public scorn for “free riders” or benefits given to contributors be enough motivation for people to contribute what’s required to keep the government operational? Or is that unrealistic?

Is it hypocritical to manufacture products based on wrong ideas?

I work in CNC manufacturing (computer numerical control), and I recently purchased one of our machines in order to start a side business as a craftsman. Many immediate family members, for instance, would be interested in personalized home furniture goods like wall hangings, picture frames, jewelry boxes, and so on. Items with a Christian theme – like a cross with a Bible verse – are easy to make, customizable, and sell widely and well. Given that I’m an atheist, would manufacturing such goods be hypocritical? But what about other religious imagery, such as an engraved picture of the god Aries sleeping with Aphrodite and being caught her husband Hephaestus? After all, Greek mythology endorsed self-sacrifice, which I oppose. Also, what of historically-relevant symbols flags for Great Britain and Nazi Germany on a game board? I would refuse to print something like an ISIL flag but that seems different. So do these symbols have some intrinsic meaning that I would be promoting if I were to create them? Or are they merely given meaning by particular people in particular contexts, such that my producing and selling them isn’t of any moral significance?

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 3 February 2015 at 9:00 am  Question Queue
Feb 032015
 

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:

Does intuition have any validity?

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

Do parents have a moral duty to vaccinate their children to improve “herd immunity”?

My doctor is currently making the case for my son (age 12) getting the Gardasil/HPV vaccination, arguing that even though HPV won’t really harm him, he could become a carrier and spread HPV to women he has sex with at some time in the future, and thereby harm them. I don’t think he has a duty to become one of the “immunized herd” (referring to the idea of “herd immunity” regarding vaccines) and therefore I am not inclined to have him vaccinated against HPV. Should he choose to do so at a later time, he is free to make that decision. Does my son – or do I as a parent – have an obligation to vaccinate purely to promote “herd immunity”? If not in this case, where there is a clear issue of undergoing the vaccination primarily for the sake of risk to others, then what about in other cases of vaccines? Does a person have an obligation to society in general to become part of the immunized herd, even if taking a vaccination is probably at low risk to that person’s health?

What are the signs of emotional repression?

It’s very important not to repress your emotions, especially if you are a person with rationalistic tendencies. But how might a person identify when he’s repressing some emotions? What are the signs? What can be done to avoid and overcome the tendency to repress, if such a tendency has become habitual?

Should it be illegal to smoke around children?

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

What’s the value of hierarchical organizations?

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

Are the religious freedoms of Christian bakers being infringed?

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

How can I avoid coming out as an atheist to my boyfriend’s parents?

I’m gay and my boyfriend recently came out to his parents. They are older and pretty religious, but they are doing their best to be accepting to our relationship. However, my boyfriend says that they believe that I am changing him for the worse in that he has not been as communicative and open with them because he didn’t come out to them sooner and has not been sharing the progression of our relationship with them. (The whole concept of being in the closet seems completely alien to them.) But they do know our relationship is serious, so they have invited us to spend the holidays with them in order to get to know me better. My boyfriend says that they will insist that we attend church with them and has asked that I not tell them that I’m atheist right away. I’ve explained to him that I am not going to lie about anything, but I am not sure how to remain true to my convictions without making things more difficult for my boyfriend and upsetting his parents. What are your suggestions for making the Christmas holidays pleasant while maintaining my integrity?

Is the existence of a prison system congruent with a free and just society?

Prisons are seen as a kind of “criminal holiday resort” by some and by others as a sort of criminal “training center.” Prisons help criminals network, harden their character, and learn new crime skills. In addition, the prison system has grown up as part of an overall trend within society towards what one might call the “management and correction of human beings.” Prison is not about punishing people for their actions, but about educating them—about moulding them into “better citizens.” It has been argued (mostly notably by Michel Foucault) that prisons are simply part of a general mechanism of government control, that includes institutions such as schools and mental asylums, all of which operate on a similar philosophy of government enforced correction and education. Should then a society based on opposite principles – on the principles of individualism, small government and personal responsibility – eschew the prison system? If so, what would it be replaced with, if anything? If not, what justifies the existence of the prison system in a free society?

Should I trust the medical profession more?

I suffer from a serious chronic disease. I have become extremely dismayed both at how limited medicine is in its ability to help me and how consistently wrong the doctors I’ve consulted have been about everything they’ve ever said. I have come to believe that doctors are poorly trained in medical school and that most people in the profession are basically second-handed. I attribute this situation to the extreme degree of government control over the medical profession, especially licensing laws and FDA controls. Is my attitude justified, or am I being overly negative?

Are people living in a free society obliged to contribute to its government?

Given that each person benefits hugely from the protection of his and others’ individual rights by the government of a free society, does each person have an obligation to contribute to that government in some fashion? If so, is that obligation just a moral obligation or might it be a legal obligation too? Would public scorn for “free riders” or benefits given to contributors be enough motivation for people to contribute what’s required to keep the government operational? Or is that unrealistic?

Is it hypocritical to manufacture products based on wrong ideas?

I work in CNC manufacturing (computer numerical control), and I recently purchased one of our machines in order to start a side business as a craftsman. Many immediate family members, for instance, would be interested in personalized home furniture goods like wall hangings, picture frames, jewelry boxes, and so on. Items with a Christian theme – like a cross with a Bible verse – are easy to make, customizable, and sell widely and well. Given that I’m an atheist, would manufacturing such goods be hypocritical? But what about other religious imagery, such as an engraved picture of the god Aries sleeping with Aphrodite and being caught her husband Hephaestus? After all, Greek mythology endorsed self-sacrifice, which I oppose. Also, what of historically-relevant symbols flags for Great Britain and Nazi Germany on a game board? I would refuse to print something like an ISIL flag but that seems different. So do these symbols have some intrinsic meaning that I would be promoting if I were to create them? Or are they merely given meaning by particular people in particular contexts, such that my producing and selling them isn’t of any moral significance?

How should a doctor respond to questions about her religious beliefs?

My wife recently told me about a colleague of hers – a physician and an atheist – being caught off guard when asked by the parents of one of her cancer patients in the hospital if she believed in God. These parents wanted their son treated only by a doctor who believes in God, and my wife’s friend did not qualify. How should she have answered their question?

How does personality theory affect ethics?

In your 21 December 2014 discussion of the relationship between philosophy and science, you stated that your grasp of personality theory has given you a fresh perspective on ethics and changed your understanding of the requirements of the virtues. How does personality theory inform the field of ethics, in general? How should personality theory inform our moral judgments? How does one avoid slipping into subjectivism when accounting for personality differences? (Presumably, it doesn’t matter whether Hitler was a High-D or not before we judge him as evil.) How can we distinguish between making reasonable accommodations for personality differences and appeasing destructive behavior and people? Do signs of honesty or dishonesty vary between personality types? Are virtues other than justice affected by an understanding of personality theory?

Is it wrong to contribute to a podcaster with odious political views?

I listen regularly to about a dozen different podcasts and I try to contribute financially to those that request listener contributions (with the exception of those produced by NPR). I generally feel that if I am getting some value from a service I should give something back in return. However, one of the hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, the Life of Caesar, is a full-blown Chomskyite who occasionally uses the platform to express his opinion that America is a brutal empire, that the pursuit of wealth is immoral, that capitalism is inherently exploitative, that the failure of communism in the late twentieth century in Cuba, the USSR, and other places was a result of American oppression, etc. Moreover, he connects the events in the history he discusses to events happening today, and although I have the perspective to distinguish the Marxist theory from the historical facts I worry that other listeners might not. I can forgive these interjections enough to listen to the show because I find the host, Cameron Reilly, very funny and I appreciate his methodology in the study of history. The show is generally well made and enjoyable and I receive actual value from it, but he and his partner frequently discuss their desire to produce podcasts full time. Although I’d like to see more shows from them because I enjoy their work, I worry that I’d be spending money to support the spread of ideas I consider evil. Should I contribute to this show? Should I send in half of what I would otherwise send and give the other half to an organization that spreads rational ideas? Or should I just send all my podcast contributions to Philosophy in Action?

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 2015 at 2:00 pm  Question Queue
Jan 152015
 

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 I trust the medical profession more?

I suffer from a serious chronic disease. I have become extremely dismayed both at how limited medicine is in its ability to help me and how consistently wrong the doctors I’ve consulted have been about everything they’ve ever said. I have come to believe that doctors are poorly trained in medical school and that most people in the profession are basically second-handed. I attribute this situation to the extreme degree of government control over the medical profession, especially licensing laws and FDA controls. Is my attitude justified, or am I being overly negative?

Are people living in a free society obliged to contribute to its government?

Given that each person benefits hugely from the protection of his and others’ individual rights by the government of a free society, does each person have an obligation to contribute to that government in some fashion? If so, is that obligation just a moral obligation or might it be a legal obligation too? Would public scorn for “free riders” or benefits given to contributors be enough motivation for people to contribute what’s required to keep the government operational? Or is that unrealistic?

Is it hypocritical to manufacture products based on wrong ideas?

I work in CNC manufacturing (computer numerical control), and I recently purchased one of our machines in order to start a side business as a craftsman. Many immediate family members, for instance, would be interested in personalized home furniture goods like wall hangings, picture frames, jewelry boxes, and so on. Items with a Christian theme – like a cross with a Bible verse – are easy to make, customizable, and sell widely and well. Given that I’m an atheist, would manufacturing such goods be hypocritical? But what about other religious imagery, such as an engraved picture of the god Aries sleeping with Aphrodite and being caught her husband Hephaestus? After all, Greek mythology endorsed self-sacrifice, which I oppose. Also, what of historically-relevant symbols flags for Great Britain and Nazi Germany on a game board? I would refuse to print something like an ISIL flag but that seems different. So do these symbols have some intrinsic meaning that I would be promoting if I were to create them? Or are they merely given meaning by particular people in particular contexts, such that my producing and selling them isn’t of any moral significance?

How should a doctor respond to questions about her religious beliefs?

My wife recently told me about a colleague of hers – a physician and an atheist – being caught off guard when asked by the parents of one of her cancer patients in the hospital if she believed in God. These parents wanted their son treated only by a doctor who believes in God, and my wife’s friend did not qualify. How should she have answered their question?

It is moral to advocate for the boycott of a business?

Over the holidays, my brother and I discussed cases in which businesses are compelled by government to provide services against their will. For example, the Colorado courts demanded that a bakery make cakes for gay couples or face fines. We agreed that the business should be left free to operate as they see fit, absent violating anyone’s actual rights, and reap the rewards or penalties from their choice. Where we diverged was on the moral status of the business owner and whether the bakery deserved to be boycotted. In my view, the decision of the owner of the Colorado bakery was immoral: they were being irrational, discriminating by non-essentials. My brother disagreed. Moreover, my brother opposed any advocacy of a boycott, seeing this as a call for force to be applied against the owner. This would be wrong, in his view, but he would be fine with suggesting that people patronize a different store. Ultimately, I found that I could not adequately explain why I think people might actively and openly oppose wrong acts by businesses, even if those acts don’t violate rights. So what justifies such boycotts, if anything?

How does personality theory affect ethics?

In your 21 December 2014 discussion of the relationship between philosophy and science, you stated that your grasp of personality theory has given you a fresh perspective on ethics and changed your understanding of the requirements of the virtues. How does personality theory inform the field of ethics, in general? How should personality theory inform our moral judgments? How does one avoid slipping into subjectivism when accounting for personality differences? (Presumably, it doesn’t matter whether Hitler was a High-D or not before we judge him as evil.) How can we distinguish between making reasonable accommodations for personality differences and appeasing destructive behavior and people? Do signs of honesty or dishonesty vary between personality types? Are virtues other than justice affected by an understanding of personality theory?

Is it wrong to contribute to a podcaster with odious political views?

I listen regularly to about a dozen different podcasts and I try to contribute financially to those that request listener contributions (with the exception of those produced by NPR). I generally feel that if I am getting some value from a service I should give something back in return. However, one of the hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, the Life of Caesar, is a full-blown Chomskyite who occasionally uses the platform to express his opinion that America is a brutal empire, that the pursuit of wealth is immoral, that capitalism is inherently exploitative, that the failure of communism in the late twentieth century in Cuba, the USSR, and other places was a result of American oppression, etc. Moreover, he connects the events in the history he discusses to events happening today, and although I have the perspective to distinguish the Marxist theory from the historical facts I worry that other listeners might not. I can forgive these interjections enough to listen to the show because I find the host, Cameron Reilly, very funny and I appreciate his methodology in the study of history. The show is generally well made and enjoyable and I receive actual value from it, but he and his partner frequently discuss their desire to produce podcasts full time. Although I’d like to see more shows from them because I enjoy their work, I worry that I’d be spending money to support the spread of ideas I consider evil. Should I contribute to this show? Should I send in half of what I would otherwise send and give the other half to an organization that spreads rational ideas? Or should I just send all my podcast contributions to Philosophy in Action?

Should I pursue a career that interests me even if I don’t have much aptitude for it?

I have a strong interest in the field of bioengineering for what it can potentially accomplish. However, in my own estimation, I have little aptitude for hard science and seriously doubt whether I can succeed academically in the areas necessary to enter the field. This self-assessment is based on my academic history, life accomplishments, and aptitude test results. My Should I try to pursue this career against the odds anyway, or should I accept that I don’t have the intellectual capability to do so?

What is the moral status of actions aimed at tending to one’s body?

In an egoistic ethics, the ultimate end of moral action is the growth and continuation of one’s own life. Ayn Rand elaborated on discussed many of the kinds of actions required to achieve this goal, but she didn’t discuss matters of “bodily care,” such as cleaning your teeth, clipping your fingernails, exercising regularly, bandaging a wound, and seeking necessary medical care. These constitute a whole universe of actions necessary for the maintenance of one’s body and, hence, one’s life. Are such actions moral and virtuous? Should bodily care itself be considered a virtue? Or are these actions already subsumed under the virtues. (If so, I would love to know how to brush my teeth with integrity and pride!)

How should nuisance limits be set for new technology?

Often new technologies initially involve negative side effects, and sometimes those side effects impact even those who didn’t choose to use the new technology. Here’s an example: supersonic flight. Supersonic aircraft are generally noisier than slower aircraft – they lay down a sonic boom when they fly over. In the US, supersonic travel has been banned outright since the 1960s due to concerns about boom noise. There’s technology to help quiet the aircraft, but no one knows how much “quiet” (and political muscle) it will take to reverse this ban – and as a result we’re still trundling around at 1960s speeds. But this is only one example. Many other technologies (e.g., fossil fuels) initially have some physical impact even on those who choose not to adopt, until they advance sufficiently that the impact is immaterial. In a free society, how should these technologies be allowed to develop? What restrictions should be placed, and how? How does one objectively determine, for instance, how much noise pollution from aircraft constitutes a rights violation?

How much confidence should a person express in his/her own opinions?

I work with a woman who constantly makes declarative statements about things for which she lacks sufficient facts and knowledge. The result is that she is often contradicted and people have to tell her, “That’s not true.” She will argue with them and then they have to prove her wrong so that the conversation can move forward. By contrast, I’ve noticed that I often express uncertainty in ways that undermine confidence in my knowledge and experience. The default position I tend to take is that maybe I am missing something and the other people in the conversation can give me that information. How does one learn to strike the right balance between being open to new facts and information but also being confident in one’s own knowledge and experience?

How should the police respond to people resisting arrest?

Recently, Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York City have made headlines because they were killed by police officers who, many feel, used excessive force during their respective encounters. While the two cases were quite different, they did have one thing in common. In both cases, the officers were compelled to use force which resulted in lethal injury when the men, Brown and Garner respectively, resisted arrest. Brown attacked officer Wilson and then ran away, refusing to stop until Wilson chased him down. Garner refused to be arrested. Is there a more objective way to deal with an arrest in a free society? Since, in a free society, the government has a monopoly over the use of force, does that mean that the police are allowed to use brutal force when a suspect refuses to comply with the officer’s demands, regardless of the charges against the person in question?

Should I cut ties with my homophobic family?

My boyfriend and I visit my family every year for Christmas, and every year they treat him rudely and unfairly. This is solely because they do not accept my sexuality, and they blame him for it. I have made it very clear that if their behavior continues, I will no longer visit them on holidays. They always agree to my terms, but as soon as we arrive, they immediately go back on their word. To make matters worse, I visited them alone this summer for my birthday. During my visit, the daughter of a “family friend” “just happened to stop by.” It was very clear to me that this was a set up. When we received a moment alone, I told her that I was in a happy, committed relationship with a man. Her reaction showed that she was entirely deceived. I left the house, and I have not spoken to my family since. I have no desire to have a relationship with them. Should I permanently end the relationship?

What is the value of “political correctness”?

I used to be a fairly typical ‘right-winger’ who would regularly cry out ‘political correctness has gone mad!’ While I still come across politically correct ideas that I find ridiculous (e.g. the ban bossy campaign), I’m finding myself more sympathetic to these ideas as I become more informed on them. So I’m now in favor of using the right pronouns for transgender people, avoiding words that can be perceived as derogatory (e.g. fag), and even changing school event names like ‘parent day’ or ‘Christmas party’ to something that doesn’t exclude those it doesn’t apply to. Where should the line be drawn between “political correctness” and making valuable change in our language or practices to be more accommodating and inclusive of people outside the mainstream? Are there legitimate concerns about language becoming more politically correct?

Is it wrong to live tweet conversations between strangers that you overhear?

A woman recently live tweeted a date between two people who met on Tinder. Based on her tweets, the date was pretty awful. Lots of people found what she wrote funny, and her tweets were widely circulated. But was what she did wrong? Would it matter if she had identified the people on the date in some way?

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 1 January 2015 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Jan 012015
 

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:

It is moral to advocate for the boycott of a business?

Over the holidays, my brother and I discussed cases in which businesses are compelled by government to provide services against their will. For example, the Colorado courts demanded that a bakery make cakes for gay couples or face fines. We agreed that the business should be left free to operate as they see fit, absent violating anyone’s actual rights, and reap the rewards or penalties from their choice. Where we diverged was on the moral status of the business owner and whether the bakery deserved to be boycotted. In my view, the decision of the owner of the Colorado bakery was immoral: they were being irrational, discriminating by non-essentials. My brother disagreed. Moreover, my brother opposed any advocacy of a boycott, seeing this as a call for force to be applied against the owner. This would be wrong, in his view, but he would be fine with suggesting that people patronize a different store. Ultimately, I found that I could not adequately explain why I think people might actively and openly oppose wrong acts by businesses, even if those acts don’t violate rights. So what justifies such boycotts, if anything?

How does personality theory affect ethics?

In your 21 December 2014 discussion of the relationship between philosophy and science, you stated that your grasp of personality theory has given you a fresh perspective on ethics and changed your understanding of the requirements of the virtues. How does personality theory inform the field of ethics, in general? How should personality theory inform our moral judgments? How does one avoid slipping into subjectivism when accounting for personality differences? (Presumably, it doesn’t matter whether Hitler was a High-D or not before we judge him as evil.) How can we distinguish between making reasonable accommodations for personality differences and appeasing destructive behavior and people? Do signs of honesty or dishonesty vary between personality types? Are virtues other than justice affected by an understanding of personality theory?

Is it wrong to contribute to a podcaster with odious political views?

I listen regularly to about a dozen different podcasts and I try to contribute financially to those that request listener contributions (with the exception of those produced by NPR). I generally feel that if I am getting some value from a service I should give something back in return. However, one of the hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, the Life of Caesar, is a full-blown Chomskyite who occasionally uses the platform to express his opinion that America is a brutal empire, that the pursuit of wealth is immoral, that capitalism is inherently exploitative, that the failure of communism in the late twentieth century in Cuba, the USSR, and other places was a result of American oppression, etc. Moreover, he connects the events in the history he discusses to events happening today, and although I have the perspective to distinguish the Marxist theory from the historical facts I worry that other listeners might not. I can forgive these interjections enough to listen to the show because I find the host, Cameron Reilly, very funny and I appreciate his methodology in the study of history. The show is generally well made and enjoyable and I receive actual value from it, but he and his partner frequently discuss their desire to produce podcasts full time. Although I’d like to see more shows from them because I enjoy their work, I worry that I’d be spending money to support the spread of ideas I consider evil. Should I contribute to this show? Should I send in half of what I would otherwise send and give the other half to an organization that spreads rational ideas? Or should I just send all my podcast contributions to Philosophy in Action?

Should I pursue a career that interests me even if I don’t have much aptitude for it?

I have a strong interest in the field of bioengineering for what it can potentially accomplish. However, in my own estimation, I have little aptitude for hard science and seriously doubt whether I can succeed academically in the areas necessary to enter the field. This self-assessment is based on my academic history, life accomplishments, and aptitude test results. My Should I try to pursue this career against the odds anyway, or should I accept that I don’t have the intellectual capability to do so?

What is the moral status of actions aimed at tending to one’s body?

In an egoistic ethics, the ultimate end of moral action is the growth and continuation of one’s own life. Ayn Rand elaborated on discussed many of the kinds of actions required to achieve this goal, but she didn’t discuss matters of “bodily care,” such as cleaning your teeth, clipping your fingernails, exercising regularly, bandaging a wound, and seeking necessary medical care. These constitute a whole universe of actions necessary for the maintenance of one’s body and, hence, one’s life. Are such actions moral and virtuous? Should bodily care itself be considered a virtue? Or are these actions already subsumed under the virtues. (If so, I would love to know how to brush my teeth with integrity and pride!)

How should nuisance limits be set for new technology?

Often new technologies initially involve negative side effects, and sometimes those side effects impact even those who didn’t choose to use the new technology. Here’s an example: supersonic flight. Supersonic aircraft are generally noisier than slower aircraft – they lay down a sonic boom when they fly over. In the US, supersonic travel has been banned outright since the 1960s due to concerns about boom noise. There’s technology to help quiet the aircraft, but no one knows how much “quiet” (and political muscle) it will take to reverse this ban – and as a result we’re still trundling around at 1960s speeds. But this is only one example. Many other technologies (e.g., fossil fuels) initially have some physical impact even on those who choose not to adopt, until they advance sufficiently that the impact is immaterial. In a free society, how should these technologies be allowed to develop? What restrictions should be placed, and how? How does one objectively determine, for instance, how much noise pollution from aircraft constitutes a rights violation?

How much confidence should a person express in his/her own opinions?

I work with a woman who constantly makes declarative statements about things for which she lacks sufficient facts and knowledge. The result is that she is often contradicted and people have to tell her, “That’s not true.” She will argue with them and then they have to prove her wrong so that the conversation can move forward. By contrast, I’ve noticed that I often express uncertainty in ways that undermine confidence in my knowledge and experience. The default position I tend to take is that maybe I am missing something and the other people in the conversation can give me that information. How does one learn to strike the right balance between being open to new facts and information but also being confident in one’s own knowledge and experience?

How should the police respond to people resisting arrest?

Recently, Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York City have made headlines because they were killed by police officers who, many feel, used excessive force during their respective encounters. While the two cases were quite different, they did have one thing in common. In both cases, the officers were compelled to use force which resulted in lethal injury when the men, Brown and Garner respectively, resisted arrest. Brown attacked officer Wilson and then ran away, refusing to stop until Wilson chased him down. Garner refused to be arrested. Is there a more objective way to deal with an arrest in a free society? Since, in a free society, the government has a monopoly over the use of force, does that mean that the police are allowed to use brutal force when a suspect refuses to comply with the officer’s demands, regardless of the charges against the person in question?

Should I cut ties with my homophobic family?

My boyfriend and I visit my family every year for Christmas, and every year they treat him rudely and unfairly. This is solely because they do not accept my sexuality, and they blame him for it. I have made it very clear that if their behavior continues, I will no longer visit them on holidays. They always agree to my terms, but as soon as we arrive, they immediately go back on their word. To make matters worse, I visited them alone this summer for my birthday. During my visit, the daughter of a “family friend” “just happened to stop by.” It was very clear to me that this was a set up. When we received a moment alone, I told her that I was in a happy, committed relationship with a man. Her reaction showed that she was entirely deceived. I left the house, and I have not spoken to my family since. I have no desire to have a relationship with them. Should I permanently end the relationship?

What is the value of “political correctness”?

I used to be a fairly typical ‘right-winger’ who would regularly cry out ‘political correctness has gone mad!’ While I still come across politically correct ideas that I find ridiculous (e.g. the ban bossy campaign), I’m finding myself more sympathetic to these ideas as I become more informed on them. So I’m now in favor of using the right pronouns for transgender people, avoiding words that can be perceived as derogatory (e.g. fag), and even changing school event names like ‘parent day’ or ‘Christmas party’ to something that doesn’t exclude those it doesn’t apply to. Where should the line be drawn between “political correctness” and making valuable change in our language or practices to be more accommodating and inclusive of people outside the mainstream? Are there legitimate concerns about language becoming more politically correct?

Is it wrong to live tweet conversations between strangers that you overhear?

A woman recently live tweeted a date between two people who met on Tinder. Based on her tweets, the date was pretty awful. Lots of people found what she wrote funny, and her tweets were widely circulated. But was what she did wrong? Would it matter if she had identified the people on the date in some way?

Is suicide a wrong choice for a person with terminal illness?

In early November 2014, Brittany Maynard ended her life by choice. She was suffering from terminal brain cancer and probably wouldn’t have survived till 2015. The story was highly publicized and elicited a lot of reactions. Some people asserted that Ms. Maynard had no right to end her life, even though she’d spent a long time honestly deliberating on it and decided she did not want her death to be long and painful. What is the basis for the moral opposition to this kind of suicide? Her choice seems rational to me, but others clearly oppose it. Is their opposition purely religious in nature? Is it based on Kant’s duty ethics? Is there any validity to such opposition, or should the right to “death with dignity” be adopted in every state, rather than in the five in which it is currently legal?

Should a political candidate deceive voters in the service of protecting rights?

Telling a lie is perfectly moral, even obligatory, if it is done to protect your rights. But can this idea be extended to the realm of politics? Imagine that the majority of the electorate in a democratic society is opposed to free markets. The majority of the electorate thus desires, and will vote for, the violation of rights. So would it be moral for a free market politician to lie in his campaign for office by telling the anti-free market electorate that he is going to violate rights. That way, they’d vote for him, but he’d be able to enact free market policies once he is in office. Would that be justified by the above mentioned principle? If not, why?

Should I do something nice for a coworker I dislike?

There’s a lady at work that I dislike. My conflict with her is primarily merely a conflict of personality. I find her defensive, passive-aggressive, and awkward to the point of rudeness. I am also not very impressed with her work products, but that rarely has a direct impact on me – except when I’m asked to review them – as is the fact that she only seems to work for about six hours every day. Indirectly, of course, her eccentricities and poor work quality cast our team in a very poor light and could eventually serve as a reason to dissolve or lay off our team. It’s a mystery as to why she hasn’t been fired. But I’m not her manager. In a meeting earlier today, she made a remark that she thought she was being excluded from important meetings that are relevant to her work. The truth is that she’s not being actively excluded from these meetings, but rather everything is happening so fast and the meetings aren’t always planned, so it’s really just not possible to include her in those meetings. She would probably be heartened to understand better how these events take place in our company. (She’s rather new and I am very tenured.) She might feel better about her position and she might become less defensive about things if she had a better understanding of the organizational mechanics here. But I strongly dislike her and would prefer that she seek other employment. Should I be kind and explain those mechanics or not?

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 10 December 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Dec 102014
 

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:

How should the police respond to people resisting arrest?

Recently, Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York City have made headlines because they were killed by police officers who, many feel, used excessive force during their respective encounters. While the two cases were quite different, they did have one thing in common. In both cases, the officers were compelled to use force which resulted in lethal injury when the men, Brown and Garner respectively, resisted arrest. Brown attacked officer Wilson and then ran away, refusing to stop until Wilson chased him down. Garner refused to be arrested. Is there a more objective way to deal with an arrest in a free society? Since, in a free society, the government has a monopoly over the use of force, does that mean that the police are allowed to use brutal force when a suspect refuses to comply with the officer’s demands, regardless of the charges against the person in question?

Should a I cut ties with my homophobic family?

My boyfriend and I visit my family every year for Christmas, and every year they treat him rudely and unfairly. This is solely because they do not accept my sexuality, and they blame him for it. I have made it very clear that if their behavior continues, I will no longer visit them on holidays. They always agree to my terms, but as soon as we arrive, they immediately go back on their word. To make matters worse, I visited them alone this summer for my birthday. During my visit, the daughter of a “family friend” “just happened to stop by.” It was very clear to me that this was a set up. When we received a moment alone, I told her that I was in a happy, committed relationship with a man. Her reaction showed that she was entirely deceived. I left the house, and I have not spoken to my family since. I have no desire to have a relationship with them. Should I permanently end the relationship?

What is the value of “political correctness”?

I used to be a fairly typical ‘right-winger’ who would regularly cry out ‘political correctness has gone mad!’ While I still come across politically correct ideas that I find ridiculous (e.g. the ban bossy campaign), I’m finding myself more sympathetic to these ideas as I become more informed on them. So I’m now in favor of using the right pronouns for transgender people, avoiding words that can be perceived as derogatory (e.g. fag), and even changing school event names like ‘parent day’ or ‘Christmas party’ to something that doesn’t exclude those it doesn’t apply to. Where should the line be drawn between “political correctness” and making valuable change in our language or practices to be more accommodating and inclusive of people outside the mainstream? Are there legitimate concerns about language becoming more politically correct?

Is it wrong to live tweet conversations between strangers that you overhear?

A woman recently live tweeted a date between two people who met on Tinder. Based on her tweets, the date was pretty awful. Lots of people found what she wrote funny, and her tweets were widely circulated. But was what she did wrong? Would it matter if she had identified the people on the date in some way?

Is suicide a wrong choice for a person with terminal illness?

In early November 2014, Brittany Maynard ended her life by choice. She was suffering from terminal brain cancer and probably wouldn’t have survived till 2015. The story was highly publicized and elicited a lot of reactions. Some people asserted that Ms. Maynard had no right to end her life, even though she’d spent a long time honestly deliberating on it and decided she did not want her death to be long and painful. What is the basis for the moral opposition to this kind of suicide? Her choice seems rational to me, but others clearly oppose it. Is their opposition purely religious in nature? Is it based on Kant’s duty ethics? Is there any validity to such opposition, or should the right to “death with dignity” be adopted in every state, rather than in the five in which it is currently legal?

Should a political candidate deceive voters in the service of protecting rights?

Telling a lie is perfectly moral, even obligatory, if it is done to protect your rights. But can this idea be extended to the realm of politics? Imagine that the majority of the electorate in a democratic society is opposed to free markets. The majority of the electorate thus desires, and will vote for, the violation of rights. So would it be moral for a free market politician to lie in his campaign for office by telling the anti-free market electorate that he is going to violate rights. That way, they’d vote for him, but he’d be able to enact free market policies once he is in office. Would that be justified by the above mentioned principle? If not, why?

Should I do something nice for a coworker I dislike?

There’s a lady at work that I dislike. My conflict with her is primarily merely a conflict of personality. I find her defensive, passive-aggressive, and awkward to the point of rudeness. I am also not very impressed with her work products, but that rarely has a direct impact on me – except when I’m asked to review them – as is the fact that she only seems to work for about six hours every day. Indirectly, of course, her eccentricities and poor work quality cast our team in a very poor light and could eventually serve as a reason to dissolve or lay off our team. It’s a mystery as to why she hasn’t been fired. But I’m not her manager. In a meeting earlier today, she made a remark that she thought she was being excluded from important meetings that are relevant to her work. The truth is that she’s not being actively excluded from these meetings, but rather everything is happening so fast and the meetings aren’t always planned, so it’s really just not possible to include her in those meetings. She would probably be heartened to understand better how these events take place in our company. (She’s rather new and I am very tenured.) She might feel better about her position and she might become less defensive about things if she had a better understanding of the organizational mechanics here. But I strongly dislike her and would prefer that she seek other employment. Should I be kind and explain those mechanics or not?

Why do socialists hate the market yet use it for their needs?

Socialists have to eat, wear clothes, stay warm in the winter, use transportation, etc., like everyone else. They could live in public housing, use public transit, and get health care supplied by the state. But for their other goods and services, they have to go to the market for the things they need or want. How can they reconcile their ideology with their actual behavior? Are they hypocrites?

Do people have a right to food and shelter?

I recently had a conversation with a Facebook friend who stated that food and shelter are more than necessities, they are rights. I posed the question, “How does one exercise their right to food and shelter?” No one answered the question, so I would like to pose it here. Most food in this country is grown by farmers and sold fresh, or processed in a factory for sale. If food is a “right,” does anyone without the means to buy these products have an inherent right to take what they need without any remuneration to the farmer or the manufacturer? The same applies to shelter. How does one exercise their “right” to shelter without a means to earn it? We have a right to free speech, and a right to vote. One is exercised by speaking your mind on a subject without fear of government reprisal, and the other is exercised by voting during elections. We have the right to practice whatever religion we want or none at all. The press has the right to print or say whatever they want. Any “right” to food or shelter would have to operate differently. So are food and shelter a “right”? What would that mean in practice?

What counts as a fair book review?

Independent authors who publish their books on their own to Amazon owe much of their success or lack thereof to the star ratings given on their work. Higher average star ratings make their work appear in featured areas of the site and appear higher in searches. While a single star rating on a young book with otherwise high ratings can effectively destroy the sales pipeline. Even if a user writes, “I loved this book! It’s perfect!,” if they give it one star it will hurt sales. Similarly, if a user writes that they hate a book but they still give it five stars it will give the book more of a fighting chance in the market. There are a lot of users on Amazon who will target independent authors with one-star reviews simply to carry out a personal vendetta. The fickleness of star reviews and how great the impact is on sales has led many authors to see the star reviews as less an accurate reflection of the quality of their work than merely a marketing tool. (More well-monied authors and publishers sometimes even buy high star ratings.) So is it wrong to game Amazon’s star rating system? Is it wrong for an author to ask their friends to give their books five stars even if they hate it allowing those same friends to write that they hate the book in their written review? Is it wrong for a reader to give a higher star rating to a book because they want the author to succeed but given an honest written review?

Does social convention have any place in politics or ethics?

Every culture has its social conventions. Are they worthy of respect? Might be worthwhile to sometimes “go along to get along,” even if that conflicts with rational ethical principles? Might social convention sometimes influence rights? Would that amount to social contract theory? If so, is that a problem?

Is it wrong to use racist epithets to insult the truly evil?

A now-former Facebook friend used a racist epithet in reference to Islamic terrorists. I asked him if he understood that it was a racist term and he said he did and said that he used it on purpose to insult those evil-doers because they are so evilly evil that they deserve not even a little respect. I told him he was wrong because race is not the same as ideology and that I can’t find any justification for racism, so I un-friended him. I agree that Islamic terrorists are evil, but is it morally okay to be a racist toward evil people?

Should the police obligated to protect citizens from harm?

On your Facebook page, you recently posted a story about a man who had to fight off a crazed knife-murderer in New York’s subway, in full view of police officers, there specifically to capture this madman. Yet they did never interfered until after the knife-weilder was disarmed and on the ground–and the defender passed out with multiple stab wounds. Unsurprisingly, the man sued the NYPD. The suit was rejected, however, on the grounds that police are not obligated to protect people from harm. Indeed, the Supreme Court had decided just that question in a case in 2005 involving police failure to enforce a restricting order against a woman’s estranged husband, resulting in the kidnapping and murder of their three young daughters. But did the Supreme Court decide correctly? I can see both sides here. On the one hand, how can any individual police officer have a duty to put their life at risk? On other hand, if the whole justification for government’s existence is to protect individual citizens’ rights, how can they not be obligated to protect their lives and limb against violence?

How should deadly diseases be kept out of a free society?

A free society is supposed to have open borders, yet wouldn’t that make preventing the entry of foreign diseases impossible? A society that opens it borders inevitably puts itself at risk for foreign diseases simply because people aren’t being screened and excluded, as they are now. These diseases can be very dangerous, particularly when the domestic population has never been, or rarely is, exposed to them. So shouldn’t the borders be closed to certain countries that might spread Ebola and other dangerous diseases.

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 11 November 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Nov 112014
 

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 I do something nice for a coworker I dislike?

There’s a lady at work that I dislike. My conflict with her is primarily merely a conflict of personality. I find her defensive, passive-aggressive, and awkward to the point of rudeness. I am also not very impressed with her work products, but that rarely has a direct impact on me – except when I’m asked to review them – as is the fact that she only seems to work for about six hours every day. Indirectly, of course, her eccentricities and poor work quality cast our team in a very poor light and could eventually serve as a reason to dissolve or lay off our team. It’s a mystery as to why she hasn’t been fired. But I’m not her manager. In a meeting earlier today, she made a remark that she thought she was being excluded from important meetings that are relevant to her work. The truth is that she’s not being actively excluded from these meetings, but rather everything is happening so fast and the meetings aren’t always planned, so it’s really just not possible to include her in those meetings. She would probably be heartened to understand better how these events take place in our company. (She’s rather new and I am very tenured.) She might feel better about her position and she might become less defensive about things if she had a better understanding of the organizational mechanics here. But I strongly dislike her and would prefer that she seek other employment. Should I be kind and explain those mechanics or not?

Should I put my cat down rather than leave him in a shelter?

After listening to the podcast question about the woman who lived in Philadelphia and wanted to get out of the ghetto, I got the motivation to land a great new job in Seattle. I am moving to a new city in a few weeks and will be traveling quite a bit. I will not be able to take care of my cat with all of the traveling. I don’t have the money to hire people to watch my pet while I am gone. I have put the cat up on billboards and ebay classifieds with no responses. The cat isn’t friendly to anyone but me, so I doubt a prospective adopter would choose to take him after meeting him. As my move date grows closer, I am wondering if it would be better to have my cat put down than to leave him with a shelter. What should I do?

Why do socialists hate the market yet use it for their needs?

Socialists have to eat, wear clothes, stay warm in the winter, use transportation, etc., like everyone else. They could live in public housing, use public transit, and get health care supplied by the state. But for their other goods and services, they have to go to the market for the things they need or want. How can they reconcile their ideology with their actual behavior? Are they hypocrites?

Do people have a right to food and shelter?

I recently had a conversation with a Facebook friend who stated that food and shelter are more than necessities, they are rights. I posed the question, “How does one exercise their right to food and shelter?” No one answered the question, so I would like to pose it here. Most food in this country is grown by farmers and sold fresh, or processed in a factory for sale. If food is a “right,” does anyone without the means to buy these products have an inherent right to take what they need without any remuneration to the farmer or the manufacturer? The same applies to shelter. How does one exercise their “right” to shelter without a means to earn it? We have a right to free speech, and a right to vote. One is exercised by speaking your mind on a subject without fear of government reprisal, and the other is exercised by voting during elections. We have the right to practice whatever religion we want or none at all. The press has the right to print or say whatever they want. Any “right” to food or shelter would have to operate differently. So are food and shelter a “right”? What would that mean in practice?

What counts as a fair book review?

Independent authors who publish their books on their own to Amazon owe much of their success or lack thereof to the star ratings given on their work. Higher average star ratings make their work appear in featured areas of the site and appear higher in searches. While a single star rating on a young book with otherwise high ratings can effectively destroy the sales pipeline. Even if a user writes, “I loved this book! It’s perfect!,” if they give it one star it will hurt sales. Similarly, if a user writes that they hate a book but they still give it five stars it will give the book more of a fighting chance in the market. There are a lot of users on Amazon who will target independent authors with one-star reviews simply to carry out a personal vendetta. The fickleness of star reviews and how great the impact is on sales has led many authors to see the star reviews as less an accurate reflection of the quality of their work than merely a marketing tool. (More well-monied authors and publishers sometimes even buy high star ratings.) So is it wrong to game Amazon’s star rating system? Is it wrong for an author to ask their friends to give their books five stars even if they hate it allowing those same friends to write that they hate the book in their written review? Is it wrong for a reader to give a higher star rating to a book because they want the author to succeed but given an honest written review?

Does social convention have any place in politics or ethics?

Every culture has its social conventions. Are they worthy of respect? Might be worthwhile to sometimes “go along to get along,” even if that conflicts with rational ethical principles? Might social convention sometimes influence rights? Would that amount to social contract theory? If so, is that a problem?

Is it wrong to use racist epithets to insult the truly evil?

A now-former Facebook friend used a racist epithet in reference to Islamic terrorists. I asked him if he understood that it was a racist term and he said he did and said that he used it on purpose to insult those evil-doers because they are so evilly evil that they deserve not even a little respect. I told him he was wrong because race is not the same as ideology and that I can’t find any justification for racism, so I un-friended him. I agree that Islamic terrorists are evil, but is it morally okay to be a racist toward evil people?

Should the police obligated to protect citizens from harm?

On your Facebook page, you recently posted a story about a man who had to fight off a crazed knife-murderer in New York’s subway, in full view of police officers, there specifically to capture this madman. Yet they did never interfered until after the knife-weilder was disarmed and on the ground–and the defender passed out with multiple stab wounds. Unsurprisingly, the man sued the NYPD. The suit was rejected, however, on the grounds that police are not obligated to protect people from harm. Indeed, the Supreme Court had decided just that question in a case in 2005 involving police failure to enforce a restricting order against a woman’s estranged husband, resulting in the kidnapping and murder of their three young daughters. But did the Supreme Court decide correctly? I can see both sides here. On the one hand, how can any individual police officer have a duty to put their life at risk? On other hand, if the whole justification for government’s existence is to protect individual citizens’ rights, how can they not be obligated to protect their lives and limb against violence?

How should deadly diseases be kept out of a free society?

A free society is supposed to have open borders, yet wouldn’t that make preventing the entry of foreign diseases impossible? A society that opens it borders inevitably puts itself at risk for foreign diseases simply because people aren’t being screened and excluded, as they are now. These diseases can be very dangerous, particularly when the domestic population has never been, or rarely is, exposed to them. So shouldn’t the borders be closed to certain countries that might spread Ebola and other dangerous diseases.

Are some opinions more valid than others?

Many people, including my boyfriend, have told me that everyone has an opinion, and nobody is ever “right” or “wrong” in their opinion on something. But is that accurate? I often tell those people that opinions are personal evaluations of things in reality, based on the facts that one has identified. Your opinion might be that Islam is a religion of peace, for example. I would disagree, because the Koran explicitly promotes the killing of non-believers (among many others), and many Islamic terrorists cite Islam as their motivation for performing acts of terror. My opinion is based on concrete facts that I have identified; I think it is valid and substantiated. I also think the opinion that Islam is a religion of peace requires substantiation that can’t be given. You might say that there exist many peaceful Muslims, and you would be right, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are dozens and dozens of passages in the Koran that explicitly promote violence. Is one opinion more valid than the other, or are they equally valid? Is one opinion a better evaluation of facts than another, or are all opinions merely subjective feelings about particular subjects with no basis in reality? Would it be proper to tell someone that you recognize their opinion, but that their opinion is wrong, so long as you could substantiate your statement?

How can I motivate myself to act to further my goals despite my overwhelming lethargy?

I struggle with motivating myself to do what I know I should. I’m not inclined to do wrong, but I just find it hard to act to further my goals in life. I’m 26 and I live with my dad while I (slowly) finish my degree. I want to become financially independent and move out on my own, but I struggle with the normal, necessary daily habits required to get this done. For example, my dad wants me to do more house chores, and I can see how this is a fair thing to ask, given that he works two jobs to support both of us. However, when I think about all the things I should be doing a wave of lethargy overcomes me. It’s the same story when I think about the homework I need to do, which isn’t even very hard to do. Job searching and trying to build my resume are also on my mind, but I can’t seem to get motivated to do that either. I have implemented GTD, but obviously once it comes to actually carrying out all of the plans, I can get a good burst of motivation for a short while, but then something doesn’t go my way, and the lethargy hits me again. Both of my parents have clinical depression and anxiety problems, and I have seen first hand how it has affected their lives. I have spent most of my life combating depression and anxiety. I can always summon up a good mood for myself – sometimes by evading the pressure of my responsibilities, which is not good – and when I feel anxiety I am able to calm myself down by introspecting and thinking through it. So I know that I have the tools to solve problems in my life and achieve my goals, but self awareness has only gotten me so far. What can I do to raise my motivation and keep it up? How do I overcome the tendency to procrastinate and ignore my responsibilities? How do I put my philosophy into action?

Is it morally wrong for an atheist to work for a business that is affiliated with a church?

For many years I had a job teaching at a private preschool that is a part of a Methodist church, and I really loved my job. Every now and then I would get the feeling that I did not really belong among my coworkers since most of them were devout Christians. They were very nice people though, and there was one agnostic coworker with whom I developed an especially positive, comfortable relationship. There was nothing in my job description that required me to perform tasks I felt uncomfortable with. I left because I wanted to try something new, and I liked the idea of not being associated with a church. I accepted a new job at an elementary school with no religious affiliation, and I have found myself missing my old job tremendously. I feel overwhelmed with a very large class and some stressful duties. I also have no lunch break during the day and end up working more hours than I am paid for. I also miss working with younger children; I think that age group was a better fit for me. I am feeling burnt out at my new job, and I have only been here 2 months. I have been considering the possibility of returning to my old school or seeking a position elsewhere at the end of this school year. If I were to ask about returning to my old job, should I have a talk with my boss and let her know that I am atheist? I feel like that might make me feel better, but then again I also feel that religion and politics are topics that should not be discussed in the workplace. Do you think it is wrong for an atheist to work at a church preschool?

Does the patent system need to be reformed?

Patents were meant to spur innovation and reward inventors financially. However, the system seems to have many flaws, such as: (1) Many patents are awarded to obvious “inventions” (such as one-click shopping) or whole problems (not just particular solutions) and amount to a kind of “land grab.” (2) The duration of the patent is not adjusted for the rate of technological change in the industry or for the ingenuity or other value of the particular invention. (3) The government bureaucrats who award patents or not are hardly authorities in the relevant fields, and the mistakes they make can serious damage a business or even a whole industry. (4) The system is easily abused by corrupt lawyers, patent trolls, and the like. (5) Given the enormous cost of litigating patent claims, the patent system benefits established companies at the expense of small entrepreneurs, even if the latter have justice on their side. Are these genuine and serious problems? Are patents still a value in today’s fast-paced, information-based economy? Should the patent system change – and if so, how?

How can I learn to trust people again after years of behind-the-back betrayals?

I have been dealing with a problem that seems unsolvable. I met a Muslim man who blatantly lied to me about being married. Somehow this man has pitted my family, friends, employers, and strangers against me. I did nothing to this man. This has been going on for at least ten years, if not longer. All the actions have been done behind my back by other people, including my family. It has been a situation I would consider of great betrayal. My trust has been shattered, for the most part. You have no idea what this man and my family has done to my life. I am and have been for a long time on the streets. I have tried to move forward to no avail. I have always been an ambitious person and passionate about life. I have a college education and I owned a business. But I did grow up in a dysfunctional alcoholic family and was also married to an alcoholic. After studying Objectivism for a short time, it all makes sense, but I am not sure how to implement it, in this situation. People can really make you crazy and confused and it all stems from altruism. It has been hard not to lose my convictions, but I have made it this far. I don’t want to be mad or angry anymore. I want to get my life back, but I just don’t know where my errors in thinking and action are. How can I do that?

Does the “political spectrum” have any validity?

Typically, when I admit my capitalist views people think of and call me a “far right-wing’er.” This bothered me for quite some time because I am an openly bisexual man and the right is so closely associated with theocracy and anti-gay views. However, I began to embrace “the right” after reading Craig Biddle’s article, “Political ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ Properly Defined.” Do you agree with his classification? Where do you think that classical liberal ideas (including Objectivist political ideas) fall on the political spectrum? Does it make sense to try to find a place on it – or should it be rejected entirely?

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 21 October 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Oct 212014
 

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:

How should deadly diseases be kept out of a free society?

A free society is supposed to have open borders, yet wouldn’t that make preventing the entry of foreign diseases impossible? A society that opens it borders inevitably puts itself at risk for foreign diseases simply because people aren’t being screened and excluded, as they are now. These diseases can be very dangerous, particularly when the domestic population has never been, or rarely is, exposed to them. So shouldn’t the borders be closed to certain countries that might spread Ebola and other dangerous diseases.

Are some opinions more valid than others?

Many people, including my boyfriend, have told me that everyone has an opinion, and nobody is ever “right” or “wrong” in their opinion on something. But is that accurate? I often tell those people that opinions are personal evaluations of things in reality, based on the facts that one has identified. Your opinion might be that Islam is a religion of peace, for example. I would disagree, because the Koran explicitly promotes the killing of non-believers (among many others), and many Islamic terrorists cite Islam as their motivation for performing acts of terror. My opinion is based on concrete facts that I have identified; I think it is valid and substantiated. I also think the opinion that Islam is a religion of peace requires substantiation that can’t be given. You might say that there exist many peaceful Muslims, and you would be right, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are dozens and dozens of passages in the Koran that explicitly promote violence. Is one opinion more valid than the other, or are they equally valid? Is one opinion a better evaluation of facts than another, or are all opinions merely subjective feelings about particular subjects with no basis in reality? Would it be proper to tell someone that you recognize their opinion, but that their opinion is wrong, so long as you could substantiate your statement?

How can I motivate myself to act to further my goals despite my overwhelming lethargy?

I struggle with motivating myself to do what I know I should. I’m not inclined to do wrong, but I just find it hard to act to further my goals in life. I’m 26 and I live with my dad while I (slowly) finish my degree. I want to become financially independent and move out on my own, but I struggle with the normal, necessary daily habits required to get this done. For example, my dad wants me to do more house chores, and I can see how this is a fair thing to ask, given that he works two jobs to support both of us. However, when I think about all the things I should be doing a wave of lethargy overcomes me. It’s the same story when I think about the homework I need to do, which isn’t even very hard to do. Job searching and trying to build my resume are also on my mind, but I can’t seem to get motivated to do that either. I have implemented GTD, but obviously once it comes to actually carrying out all of the plans, I can get a good burst of motivation for a short while, but then something doesn’t go my way, and the lethargy hits me again. Both of my parents have clinical depression and anxiety problems, and I have seen first hand how it has affected their lives. I have spent most of my life combating depression and anxiety. I can always summon up a good mood for myself – sometimes by evading the pressure of my responsibilities, which is not good – and when I feel anxiety I am able to calm myself down by introspecting and thinking through it. So I know that I have the tools to solve problems in my life and achieve my goals, but self awareness has only gotten me so far. What can I do to raise my motivation and keep it up? How do I overcome the tendency to procrastinate and ignore my responsibilities? How do I put my philosophy into action?

Is it morally wrong for an atheist to work for a business that is affiliated with a church?

For many years I had a job teaching at a private preschool that is a part of a Methodist church, and I really loved my job. Every now and then I would get the feeling that I did not really belong among my coworkers since most of them were devout Christians. They were very nice people though, and there was one agnostic coworker with whom I developed an especially positive, comfortable relationship. There was nothing in my job description that required me to perform tasks I felt uncomfortable with. I left because I wanted to try something new, and I liked the idea of not being associated with a church. I accepted a new job at an elementary school with no religious affiliation, and I have found myself missing my old job tremendously. I feel overwhelmed with a very large class and some stressful duties. I also have no lunch break during the day and end up working more hours than I am paid for. I also miss working with younger children; I think that age group was a better fit for me. I am feeling burnt out at my new job, and I have only been here 2 months. I have been considering the possibility of returning to my old school or seeking a position elsewhere at the end of this school year. If I were to ask about returning to my old job, should I have a talk with my boss and let her know that I am atheist? I feel like that might make me feel better, but then again I also feel that religion and politics are topics that should not be discussed in the workplace. Do you think it is wrong for an atheist to work at a church preschool?

Does the patent system need to be reformed?

Patents were meant to spur innovation and reward inventors financially. However, the system seems to have many flaws, such as: (1) Many patents are awarded to obvious “inventions” (such as one-click shopping) or whole problems (not just particular solutions) and amount to a kind of “land grab.” (2) The duration of the patent is not adjusted for the rate of technological change in the industry or for the ingenuity or other value of the particular invention. (3) The government bureaucrats who award patents or not are hardly authorities in the relevant fields, and the mistakes they make can serious damage a business or even a whole industry. (4) The system is easily abused by corrupt lawyers, patent trolls, and the like. (5) Given the enormous cost of litigating patent claims, the patent system benefits established companies at the expense of small entrepreneurs, even if the latter have justice on their side. Are these genuine and serious problems? Are patents still a value in today’s fast-paced, information-based economy? Should the patent system change – and if so, how?

How can I learn to trust people again after years of behind-the-back betrayals?

I have been dealing with a problem that seems unsolvable. I met a Muslim man who blatantly lied to me about being married. Somehow this man has pitted my family, friends, employers, and strangers against me. I did nothing to this man. This has been going on for at least ten years, if not longer. All the actions have been done behind my back by other people, including my family. It has been a situation I would consider of great betrayal. My trust has been shattered, for the most part. You have no idea what this man and my family has done to my life. I am and have been for a long time on the streets. I have tried to move forward to no avail. I have always been an ambitious person and passionate about life. I have a college education and I owned a business. But I did grow up in a dysfunctional alcoholic family and was also married to an alcoholic. After studying Objectivism for a short time, it all makes sense, but I am not sure how to implement it, in this situation. People can really make you crazy and confused and it all stems from altruism. It has been hard not to lose my convictions, but I have made it this far. I don’t want to be mad or angry anymore. I want to get my life back, but I just don’t know where my errors in thinking and action are. How can I do that?

Does the “political spectrum” have any validity?

Typically, when I admit my capitalist views people think of and call me a “far right-wing’er.” This bothered me for quite some time because I am an openly bisexual man and the right is so closely associated with theocracy and anti-gay views. However, I began to embrace “the right” after reading Craig Biddle’s article, “Political ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ Properly Defined.” Do you agree with his classification? Where do you think that classical liberal ideas (including Objectivist political ideas) fall on the political spectrum? Does it make sense to try to find a place on it – or should it be rejected entirely?

Is there a reason why the villains of “Atlas Shrugged” don’t want to live?

Toward the end of Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged,” Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart realize that the looters do not want to live. Does it make sense to ask why that is – meaning, why don’t they want to live? In other words, is the question so basic that a reason cannot be given for a person’s answer? If a person can answer it, what sort of reasons can a person have for choosing to live or not? Moreover, can that choice be rational or not?

Do prisoners have a right to religious freedom?

I recently saw an article about a prisoner suing for the right to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster, as well as another about an upcoming Supreme Court case for a Muslim who would like to grow his beard longer than rules allow. My question is, how much should prisons accommodate religion? Anyone could say anything is part of their religion, e.g., “My religion states we do not believe in prisons. Therefore, I should be set free.” Where should the line be drawn in the sand? Do prisoners have any right to religious freedom?

Does ethics require impartiality?

Critics of egoism, particularly utilitarians, accuse egoists of being biased in favor of oneself without justification. They assert that a scientific ethics must be neutral and impartial: it must take a third-person viewpoint where the self isn’t given any special consideration. Are the utilitarians wrong? If so, why should a scientific ethics bias the self over others?

Is the pleasure/pain mechanism the basis of ethical norms?

Libertarian commentator Stefan Molyneux recently criticized Ayn Rand’s ethics, particularly her solution to the “is-ought gap.” He claims that her ethics relies on the pleasure-pain mechanism as the basis of ethics. So irrationality is penalized via pain, and rationality is rewarded via pleasure. That is a form of automatic knowledge, he claims, which Ayn Rand denies exists. Moreover, he claims, that association must be wrong since some people truly enjoy acting in morally wrong ways, including sociopaths. Are these criticisms apt?

Does virtue require actually performing virtuous acts?

In his essay, “Existentialism and Humanism,” Jean-Paul Sartre argues that who you are is defined by what you do. One consequence of this is that you cannot hide behind claims about your moral character e.g. you cannot say “I am a just person” unless you have actually done just things. Neither can you say “I never had the opportunity to be just, but if I had had the opportunity, then I would have been. Therefore I’m a just person.” According to Sartre, that does not make sense. If you’ve never done a just action, then you cannot be a just person—period. In some ways, Sartre’s seems to have a point. However, accepting his argument seems to entail that we deny the existence of moral character. Is that right? What are the merits of Sartre’s argument, if any?

Does justice require proportionality?

The maxim that “the punishment should fit the crime” tends to go unquestioned in discussions of retributive justice. Those discussions often revolve around whether a particular punishment is proportional or not, rather than taking a step back and looking at the overall concept. In times of war, for example, it often seems necessary to be disproportionate in order to ensure a speedy victory, such as with the nuking of Japan in World War 2. Moreover, disproportionately harsh punishment can be an effective deterrent of crime. So, what is proportionality? And why should the punishment fit the crime?

Do verbal insults sometimes justify a response of physical violence?

In a recent discussion of bullying, most people agreed that the child in question should not have hit the kids bullying him, given that those bullies were merely making awful remarks, as opposed to being violent or threatening. However, one person suggested that a physically violent response might be justified if all other avenues were exhausted – meaning that the bully was told to stop, efforts to enlist the help of the authorities failed, and a warning was given. Is that right? Is it ever right to respond to purely verbal insults with physical violence?

Do I have a moral obligation to stay at my current company?

I am actively looking for a new job at a new company, but my current company has a position that would fit my skills and goals. For various reasons, I would prefer to work for a new company. If I got a new job at my current company, would I be obliged to stay in it for some period of time?

Can crowdsourcing raise money for an academic paleontology project?

I would like to begin a project that would require some funding, and I have been considering crowdsourcing, similar to your recent efforts on the anti-personhood campaign. My project is a systematic study of fossils found in various counties in the state where I live. Such studies are critical for paleontology, but the company I work for won’t pay for it, and no one in a research institution has the time to do it. However, I have not done any crowdsourcing in the past, and my field of study does not include any training in this (most of my colleagues get most if not all of their funding from grants). What advice would you offer someone trying to raise money from ordinary people for such a project?

To submit a question, use this form. I prefer questions focused on some concrete real-life problem, as opposed to merely theoretical or political questions. I review and edit all questions before they’re posted. (Alas, IdeaInformer doesn’t display any kind of confirmation page when you submit a question.)

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