New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

Is displaying the Confederate flag racist?

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

Should the government mandate vaccination?

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

How can I stop obsessing over past conversations?

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

Can evil be requited with good?

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

Does egoism suffer from “one thought too many”?

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

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

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

Is creating art necessary for a moral life?

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

What is the value of artistic creation?

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

Are horse rescues a worthy charitable cause?

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

Do confidentiality agreements justify privacy lies?

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

How can I become more comfortable advocating free market ideas?

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

Is evil is necessary for good to exist?

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

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

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

How can I trust a therapist to help me?

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

Can evil be requited with good?

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

Does egoism suffer from “one thought too many”?

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

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

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

Is creating art necessary for a moral life?

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

What is the value of artistic creation?

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

Are horse rescues a worthy charitable cause?

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

Do confidentiality agreements justify privacy lies?

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

What is “open Objectivism”?

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

How can I become more comfortable advocating free market ideas?

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

Is evil is necessary for good to exist?

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

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

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

How can I trust a therapist to help me?

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

Is ‘scientism’ an anti-concept?

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

Are horse rescues a worthy charitable cause?

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

Do confidentiality agreements justify privacy lies?

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

What is “open Objectivism”?

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

How can I become more comfortable advocating free market ideas?

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

Is evil is necessary for good to exist?

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

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

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

How can I trust a therapist to help me?

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

Is ‘scientism’ an anti-concept?

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

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

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

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

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

Can laws against animal cruelty be justified without animal rights?

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

Is jury nullification moral and proper?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the doctrine of double effect true?

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

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

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

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

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

What is the free market solution to climate change?

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

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

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

How can I live more joyfully?

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

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

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

Should ethics begin with facts about evolution, including altruism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should children star in films not suitable for children?

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 27 December 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Dec 272013
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should children star in films not suitable for children?

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

How can I overcome feeling like a slacker?

I am a very productive person, with multiple projects going on simultaneously, both personal and professional. Generally, I handle juggling things pretty well, and accomplish quite a bit. I can usually attain most of my goals, and I like that about myself. (I’m also a pretty ambitious person so I have many big goals.) However, I also often feel like a complete slacker. I can see all of the things I accomplish, but I often feel like I could be doing more–one more thing, one more project. Sometimes, when I look at the things I’ve accomplished, all I can see are the things I wasn’t able to do and it can be easy to feel defeated and negative about that. How can I reconcile the gap here? How can I get better at feeling the sense of accomplishment I think I should–and deserve–to feel? Do you have any ideas for getting rid of this mantle of slackerness I’ve saddled myself with – unfairly, I think? I’ve been making some changes that have helped, such as writing down my accomplishments each day, but I’m looking for more ideas.

Should an egoist refuse an overly generous, altruistic tip?

Recently, I read a news story about the former president of PayPal leaving huge tips for servers at restaurants around the country. On the receipt, he would write “TipsForJesus,” and the tip was often exorbitant. For example, on a bill of $88.78 the tip was $3000. It is wrong to accept these tips – particularly given that the customer is motivated by altruism and religion?

How can I defend gay rights as individual rights?

Recently, a Colorado court issued a cease and desist order to a local bakeshop which refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. Being a gay person myself, I find the refusal of the bakeshop to be annoying and idiotic, but I vehemently disagree with the court’s decision: I believe the owner of the bakeshop has a right to his own property. However, I have a few gay friends and a few liberal friends who think this Colorado court ruling was a step in the right direction for gay rights. I think the opposite, but I support “gay rights” in a way that’s consistent with the concept of individual rights. How can that be explained and defended in a rational way? In other words, how can I defend the rights of gays to marry without suggesting that the government should force people to associate or conduct business with gay people?

Is it wrong to remain silent when a cashier makes a mistake in your favor?

At a popular department store, I wanted to buy two items for $2.94 each and condoms for $14.00. The cashier was about my grandmother’s age. She scanned the $2.94 items three times and said the total was $8.82. I knew the price wasn’t right, , but I didn’t want to say to the elderly woman, “Excuse me, but you didn’t scan my condoms.” I got a good deal, but I think that was somewhat immoral on my part. Is that right? What should I have done?

What is the nature of character?

What is meant by a person’s “character”? Is that broader than moral character? What is the relationship between character, personality, and sense of life?

How can I protect myself from moral degradation during prolonged contact with destructive people?

In your 1 December 2003 discussion of the morality and legality of abandoning a roommate during a diabetic emergency, you recommend that a person extract himself from that situation as soon as possible – and that a failure to do so might result in developing undesirable character traits, such as becoming callous to other people’s suffering. However, what if a person finds himself in situations in which many people are untrustworthy, immoral, and/or unhealthy – and that fully extracting himself may require some years? I’m worried about ruining my prospects for making an ideal self because I’ve had to deal with terrible family, dishonest and unjust employers, abusive coworkers, bad landlords, and so on. It seems like it’s going to take a long time for me to get out of this situation. That’s a lot of stress and negativity to endure in the medium-term. So how can I protect my psyche – and prevent myself from becoming callous, indifferent, rude, and so forth?

What should I do if I think someone I know is a potential murderer?

With the mass shootings that gained great news coverage, I was intrigued to read upon the visible psychological warning signs of such personalities, and it disturbed me to remember that I once lived with a person who casted off these signs. He was a roommate who started off extremely friendly, but mentally deteriorated rapidly. Whereas he started warm, he was soon walking around the house with a paranoia-stricken face, and threatened me with a stiletto knife in asking whether I had been snooping in his room. (I hadn’t, and he had no reason to think I was.) Through his own admission, I learned he regularly likes to bare-fist fight people on the streets in illegal fighting contests, and, by searching an address from his mail, learned he served time for a violent assault on a landlord, where he attacked a man with a tire chain and struck his wife. Altogether the picture is of a man struggling with severe mental issues who feeds them with his fighting habits, and has factually caved into violent urges. There’s the potential that someday he could literally commit murder. I no longer deal with this person, but wonder what I could have done. How should I respond when I think someone has the capability to literally commit murder, as backed up by his violent crime history, his fighting habit, and his visible mental deterioration?

What are the major branches of philosophy?

Ayn Rand claimed that philosophy consisted of five major branches – metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and esthetics. Is that right? If so, why are those the five major branches? Are they comprehensive in some way? Why not include philosophy of science, logic, philosophy of mind, and so on?

Does ethical egoism promote narcissism and insensitivity to others?

People often suggest that ethical egoism – such as that advocated by Ayn Rand – promotes unfriendly if not hostile behavior toward other people. Ultimately, the egoist cares for himself above everything else, perhaps to the point that the thoughts and feelings of others aren’t even noticed or of concern. The problem seems to be exacerbated by a commitment to moral absolutes and moral judgment. Do such philosophic principles incline a person to be self-absorbed, insensitive, hostile, unkind, or otherwise unpleasant to others? How can egoists take care not to fall into these traps?

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 December 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Dec 112013
 

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

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

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

Should an egoist refuse an overly generous, altruistic tip?

Recently, I read a news story about the former president of PayPal leaving huge tips for servers at restaurants around the country. On the receipt, he would write “TipsForJesus,” and the tip was often exorbitant. For example, on a bill of $88.78 the tip was $3000. It is wrong to accept these tips – particularly given that the customer is motivated by altruism and religion?

How can I defend gay rights as individual rights?

Recently, a Colorado court issued a cease and desist order to a local bakeshop which refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. Being a gay person myself, I find the refusal of the bakeshop to be annoying and idiotic, but I vehemently disagree with the court’s decision: I believe the owner of the bakeshop has a right to his own property. However, I have a few gay friends and a few liberal friends who think this Colorado court ruling was a step in the right direction for gay rights. I think the opposite, but I support “gay rights” in a way that’s consistent with the concept of individual rights. How can that be explained and defended in a rational way? In other words, how can I defend the rights of gays to marry without suggesting that the government should force people to associate or conduct business with gay people?

Is it wrong to remain silent when a cashier makes a mistake in your favor?

At a popular department store, I wanted to buy two items for $2.94 each and condoms for $14.00. The cashier was about my grandmother’s age. She scanned the $2.94 items three times and said the total was $8.82. I knew the price wasn’t right, , but I didn’t want to say to the elderly woman, “Excuse me, but you didn’t scan my condoms.” I got a good deal, but I think that was somewhat immoral on my part. Is that right? What should I have done?

What is the nature of character?

What is meant by a person’s “character”? Is that broader than moral character? What is the relationship between character, personality, and sense of life?

How can I protect myself from moral degradation during prolonged contact with destructive people?

In your 1 December 2003 discussion of the morality and legality of abandoning a roommate during a diabetic emergency, you recommend that a person extract himself from that situation as soon as possible – and that a failure to do so might result in developing undesirable character traits, such as becoming callous to other people’s suffering. However, what if a person finds himself in situations in which many people are untrustworthy, immoral, and/or unhealthy – and that fully extracting himself may require some years? I’m worried about ruining my prospects for making an ideal self because I’ve had to deal with terrible family, dishonest and unjust employers, abusive coworkers, bad landlords, and so on. It seems like it’s going to take a long time for me to get out of this situation. That’s a lot of stress and negativity to endure in the medium-term. So how can I protect my psyche – and prevent myself from becoming callous, indifferent, rude, and so forth?

What should I do if I think someone I know is a potential murderer?

With the mass shootings that gained great news coverage, I was intrigued to read upon the visible psychological warning signs of such personalities, and it disturbed me to remember that I once lived with a person who casted off these signs. He was a roommate who started off extremely friendly, but mentally deteriorated rapidly. Whereas he started warm, he was soon walking around the house with a paranoia-stricken face, and threatened me with a stiletto knife in asking whether I had been snooping in his room. (I hadn’t, and he had no reason to think I was.) Through his own admission, I learned he regularly likes to bare-fist fight people on the streets in illegal fighting contests, and, by searching an address from his mail, learned he served time for a violent assault on a landlord, where he attacked a man with a tire chain and struck his wife. Altogether the picture is of a man struggling with severe mental issues who feeds them with his fighting habits, and has factually caved into violent urges. There’s the potential that someday he could literally commit murder. I no longer deal with this person, but wonder what I could have done. How should I respond when I think someone has the capability to literally commit murder, as backed up by his violent crime history, his fighting habit, and his visible mental deterioration?

What are the major branches of philosophy?

Ayn Rand claimed that philosophy consisted of five major branches – metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and esthetics. Is that right? If so, why are those the five major branches? Are they comprehensive in some way? Why not include philosophy of science, logic, philosophy of mind, and so on?

Does ethical egoism promote narcissism and insensitivity to others?

People often suggest that ethical egoism – such as that advocated by Ayn Rand – promotes unfriendly if not hostile behavior toward other people. Ultimately, the egoist cares for himself above everything else, perhaps to the point that the thoughts and feelings of others aren’t even noticed or of concern. The problem seems to be exacerbated by a commitment to moral absolutes and moral judgment. Do such philosophic principles incline a person to be self-absorbed, insensitive, hostile, unkind, or otherwise unpleasant to others? How can egoists take care not to fall into these traps?

Should a person seek to create a stylized life?

In “The Romantic Manifesto,” Ayn Rand said that “An artist does not fake reality—he stylizes it. He selects those aspects of existence which he regards as metaphysically significant—and by isolating and stressing them, by omitting the insignificant and accidental, he presents his view of existence.” Should a person try to stylize his own life, such as by deliberately cultivating a consistent personal aesthetic? Should he aim to make every aspect of his life reflect his values – eliminating the rest? Would that make for a more integrated and meaningful life – or might that be dangerous or undesirable in some way?

Could force be morally used in self-defense against people enabling violations of rights?

Suppose there is a tyrannical politician or a corrupt businessman in a semi-free society like America. The tyrannical politician drafts and campaigns for legislation that blatantly violates the rights of his constituents. The corrupt businessman colludes with the government to destroy his competitors. Suppose that these two people are consciously evil. They know what they are doing is immoral, and they do it because they despise the good. Would it be moral to initiate force against them, i.e. assassinate them? On one hand, they may not have directly initiated force against anyone, but aren’t they technically responsible for forcibly violating the rights of hundreds or thousands of people? In that case, wouldn’t initiating the use of force against these people be a form of self-defense?

Should my romantic partner be interested in and supportive of my accomplishments and pursuits?

I have struggled for years in a relationship with someone who shows no interest in or support for my pursuits. I try not to be hurt. I tell myself I just need to do better in order to be worthy of respect and admiration. When I do explain to my partner why I’m hurt, he says I am being needy and that I shouldn’t need his praise or reinforcement. I don’t know how to logically disagree with this, yet I know how good it feels to receive earned praise from friends, and how painful it feels to accomplish something big and not receive any acknowledgement from my partner. What kind of emotional support should be expected from a partner? If a partner is dismissive and neglectful, how can one gain the confidence needed to leave the relationship?

If a victim of child molestation doesn’t feel harmed were his rights still violated?

Recently, Richard Dawkins spoke of an incident in which an adult supervising him sexually molested him. Dawkins said that, at the time, he didn’t understand what happened, and that he didn’t physically struggle against the molester. Nor did he feel particularly afraid or intimidated at the time. Then, most controversially, Dawkins added that he didn’t think any real violation of his rights occurred given those circumstances. Is that right? I think that Dawkins’ rights were violated, but I have trouble explaining exactly why.

Should government action that would benefit everyone but violate rights be forbidden?

Suppose that the government taxed people to pay for more basic and applied scientific and technological research – and that such could be shown to increase the standard of living of the population quicker than what would would happen under private funding. Would such taxes violate rights? Would it be immoral? Should it be forbidden?

Does photography qualify as art?

I’ve always viewed photography as a legitimate form of art. However, many people I disagree: Ayn Rand argued that it’s a technical rather than a creative skill. However, I regard photography as a technical and creative skill, just like painting. So does photography qualify as art? If not, does that mean that photography doesn’t have value – or has less value than proper art forms like painting? If photography has value nonetheless, what is the source of that value?

Is laughing at absurd but tragic events wrong?

I work for a modest land surveying company in South Florida. Today, a seemingly deranged man parked his van on top of a highway interchange ramp, pulled out a rifle with an American flag stuck in the barrel, put a noose around his own neck, and seated himself on the concrete railing, about 80ft from the other highway below. (The other end of the rope was attached to the van.) On the side of the van, hand-painted letters read “Hippocrates [sic] Traitors.” I don’t know what he wanted, but his stunt shut down both highways for three hours while police and SWAT tried to talk him down. I happened to be in the area, working on a construction site, close enough to see him sitting on the railing – and I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. While I understand that suicide isn’t a laughing matter, the situation was so absurd. I wasn’t alone in my reaction. Is that kind of laughter inappropriate or wrong? What explains it, other than the sheer absurdity of the situation? Is it wrong to laugh at absurd but horrible events?

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 20 November 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Nov 202013
 

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

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

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

Should a person seek to create a stylized life?

In “The Romantic Manifesto,” Ayn Rand said that “An artist does not fake reality—he stylizes it. He selects those aspects of existence which he regards as metaphysically significant—and by isolating and stressing them, by omitting the insignificant and accidental, he presents his view of existence.” Should a person try to stylize his own life, such as by deliberately cultivating a consistent personal aesthetic? Should he aim to make every aspect of his life reflect his values – eliminating the rest? Would that make for a more integrated and meaningful life – or might that be dangerous or undesirable in some way?

Could force be morally used in self-defense against people enabling violations of rights?

Suppose there is a tyrannical politician or a corrupt businessman in a semi-free society like America. The tyrannical politician drafts and campaigns for legislation that blatantly violates the rights of his constituents. The corrupt businessman colludes with the government to destroy his competitors. Suppose that these two people are consciously evil. They know what they are doing is immoral, and they do it because they despise the good. Would it be moral to initiate force against them, i.e. assassinate them? On one hand, they may not have directly initiated force against anyone, but aren’t they technically responsible for forcibly violating the rights of hundreds or thousands of people? In that case, wouldn’t initiating the use of force against these people be a form of self-defense?

Should my romantic partner be interested in and supportive of my accomplishments and pursuits?

I have struggled for years in a relationship with someone who shows no interest in or support for my pursuits. I try not to be hurt. I tell myself I just need to do better in order to be worthy of respect and admiration. When I do explain to my partner why I’m hurt, he says I am being needy and that I shouldn’t need his praise or reinforcement. I don’t know how to logically disagree with this, yet I know how good it feels to receive earned praise from friends, and how painful it feels to accomplish something big and not receive any acknowledgement from my partner. What kind of emotional support should be expected from a partner? If a partner is dismissive and neglectful, how can one gain the confidence needed to leave the relationship?

If a victim of child molestation doesn’t feel harmed were his rights still violated?

Recently, Richard Dawkins spoke of an incident in which an adult supervising him sexually molested him. Dawkins said that, at the time, he didn’t understand what happened, and that he didn’t physically struggle against the molester. Nor did he feel particularly afraid or intimidated at the time. Then, most controversially, Dawkins added that he didn’t think any real violation of his rights occurred given those circumstances. Is that right? I think that Dawkins’ rights were violated, but I have trouble explaining exactly why.

Should government action that would benefit everyone but violate rights be forbidden?

Suppose that the government taxed people to pay for more basic and applied scientific and technological research – and that such could be shown to increase the standard of living of the population quicker than what would would happen under private funding. Would such taxes violate rights? Would it be immoral? Should it be forbidden?

Does photography qualify as art?

I’ve always viewed photography as a legitimate form of art. However, many people I disagree: Ayn Rand argued that it’s a technical rather than a creative skill. However, I regard photography as a technical and creative skill, just like painting. So does photography qualify as art? If not, does that mean that photography doesn’t have value – or has less value than proper art forms like painting? If photography has value nonetheless, what is the source of that value?

Is laughing at absurd but tragic events wrong?

I work for a modest land surveying company in South Florida. Today, a seemingly deranged man parked his van on top of a highway interchange ramp, pulled out a rifle with an American flag stuck in the barrel, put a noose around his own neck, and seated himself on the concrete railing, about 80ft from the other highway below. (The other end of the rope was attached to the van.) On the side of the van, hand-painted letters read “Hippocrates [sic] Traitors.” I don’t know what he wanted, but his stunt shut down both highways for three hours while police and SWAT tried to talk him down. I happened to be in the area, working on a construction site, close enough to see him sitting on the railing – and I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. While I understand that suicide isn’t a laughing matter, the situation was so absurd. I wasn’t alone in my reaction. Is that kind of laughter inappropriate or wrong? What explains it, other than the sheer absurdity of the situation? Is it wrong to laugh at absurd but horrible events?

Should corporations employ lobbyists to protect their rights?

Free market advocates (including me) rightly decry cronyists for using the state regulatory apparatus to get special privileges. However, many corporations regard having lobbyists in Washington as a strategy to protect their rights. Is that a viable strategy – or does that merely sanction and encourage cronyism? In other words, is lobbying inherently corrupt? Would such lobbying exist in a free society?

Does the government monopoly on the use of force violate rights?

Anarchist libertarians have long argued that a rights-respecting government is a contradiction in terms. A government, by its very nature, must have a monopoly on the use of force. That must be a coercive monopoly, since the government will not permit competition in the form of any competing defense agencies advocated by anarchists. Hence, government will always violate rights. What is wrong – if anything – with this argument? I’ve never gotten a good answer, despite often inquiring about it. Moreover, what assurances do we have that this government monopoly will not behave like other monopolies, such that it gets out of control, increases costs, and eventually fails?

Would company scrip be a problem in a capitalist economy?

I’ve heard people object to capitalism on the grounds that companies would be able to issue scrip in place of legal tender, and that scrip would only be redeemable at company stores, which would be able to manipulate prices at their will. Is that a legitimate criticism? Would issuing scrip be permitted in a capitalist society? Would it be a problem?

Are public shamings morally justifiable?

I often read of judges handing down sentences designed to humiliate the offender, such as standing at a busy intersection wearing a sandwich board apologizing for their offense. Many people favor these kinds of punishments in lieu of jail time because they consume less resources of the penal system and are perhaps more effective. However, what’s the morality of similar shamings by the private section? A bodega in my neighborhood posts surveillance camera footage of shoplifters, usually with some snarky comment about their theft. I find this practice amusing, but is that moral? Is it akin to vigilantism?

Is it morally wrong to profit from someone else’s distress?

People often decry “taking advantage” of other people as cruel and wrong. For example, suppose that a person desperately needs water, and I charge him $1000 for a gallon from my tap, knowing that he can pay that much if he’s really that desperate. Is such price gouging immoral? Is it fundamentally different from other kinds of trade – or just different in degree? Is it morally wrong to profit so handsomely by the distress and scanty options of other people in this way?

Should sellers of homes be obliged to report the spiritual or criminal history of the property?

Many state laws require that “stigmatized” properties, such as those with a history of paranormal activity or a past owner such as Jeffrey Dahmer, be reported by real estate agents. That leads to the home being devalued in price. Should such a law exist? Moreover, should potential buyers take advantage of any “stigmatized” property, thereby offering and paying less, even though belief in paranormal activity is irrational?

Is performing sex act via webcam for pay a form of prostitution?

On some internet pornography sites, a person can pay models to strip on webcam. Most of these sites allow the customer to appear on his own webcam and engage in cyber-sex acts with the host. Is this a form of prostitution – or just pornography? Is it immoral for either party?

What should a person do when another person is likely to go insane or commit suicide if others cut him off?

At one point in my life, I knew a person who led such a self-destructive life that he essentially reached the point where he had to have evasions in place and enablers around him in order to keep sane, for if he fully realized how self-destructive he had been he would have literally gone insane or, extremely likely, committed suicide. I know this since I was aware of his extreme emotional instability persisting for decades, suicide attempts, alcoholism, and so on. The only way for him to keep it together was to keep evading how he ruined his life or be surrounded by people pretended to love and care for them, who in reality felt indifference or contempt since this person was very malicious, envious, and toxic towards other people. What should a person or network of people do in this case, where it’s extremely likely this person would simply lose his mind or commit suicide within a few days of people cutting him off?

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 6 November 2013 at 12:00 pm  Question Queue
Nov 062013
 

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

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

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

Does the government monopoly on the use of force violate rights?

Anarchist libertarians have long argued that a rights-respecting government is a contradiction in terms. A government, by its very nature, must have a monopoly on the use of force. That must be a coercive monopoly, since the government will not permit competition in the form of any competing defense agencies advocated by anarchists. Hence, government will always violate rights. What is wrong – if anything – with this argument? I’ve never gotten a good answer, despite often inquiring about it. Moreover, what assurances do we have that this government monopoly will not behave like other monopolies, such that it gets out of control, increases costs, and eventually fails?

Would company scrip be a problem in a capitalist economy?

I’ve heard people object to capitalism on the grounds that companies would be able to issue scrip in place of legal tender, and that scrip would only be redeemable at company stores, which would be able to manipulate prices at their will. Is that a legitimate criticism? Would issuing scrip be permitted in a capitalist society? Would it be a problem?

Are public shamings morally justifiable?

I often read of judges handing down sentences designed to humiliate the offender, such as standing at a busy intersection wearing a sandwich board apologizing for their offense. Many people favor these kinds of punishments in lieu of jail time because they consume less resources of the penal system and are perhaps more effective. However, what’s the morality of similar shamings by the private section? A bodega in my neighborhood posts surveillance camera footage of shoplifters, usually with some snarky comment about their theft. I find this practice amusing, but is that moral? Is it akin to vigilantism?

Is it morally wrong to profit from someone else’s distress?

People often decry “taking advantage” of other people as cruel and wrong. For example, suppose that a person desperately needs water, and I charge him $1000 for a gallon from my tap, knowing that he can pay that much if he’s really that desperate. Is such price gouging immoral? Is it fundamentally different from other kinds of trade – or just different in degree? Is it morally wrong to profit so handsomely by the distress and scanty options of other people in this way?

Should sellers of homes be obliged to report the spiritual or criminal history of the property?

Many state laws require that “stigmatized” properties, such as those with a history of paranormal activity or a past owner such as Jeffrey Dahmer, be reported by real estate agents. That leads to the home being devalued in price. Should such a law exist? Moreover, should potential buyers take advantage of any “stigmatized” property, thereby offering and paying less, even though belief in paranormal activity is irrational?

Is performing sex act via webcam for pay a form of prostitution?

On some internet pornography sites, a person can pay models to strip on webcam. Most of these sites allow the customer to appear on his own webcam and engage in cyber-sex acts with the host. Is this a form of prostitution – or just pornography? Is it immoral for either party?

What should a person do when another person is likely to go insane or commit suicide if others cut him off?

At one point in my life, I knew a person who led such a self-destructive life that he essentially reached the point where he had to have evasions in place and enablers around him in order to keep sane, for if he fully realized how self-destructive he had been he would have literally gone insane or, extremely likely, committed suicide. I know this since I was aware of his extreme emotional instability persisting for decades, suicide attempts, alcoholism, and so on. The only way for him to keep it together was to keep evading how he ruined his life or be surrounded by people pretended to love and care for them, who in reality felt indifference or contempt since this person was very malicious, envious, and toxic towards other people. What should a person or network of people do in this case, where it’s extremely likely this person would simply lose his mind or commit suicide within a few days of people cutting him off?

In a free society, would psychics be prosecuted for fraud?

How would the government in a rational, free-market system handle people and businesses, such as the Psychic Friends Network, which claim to have psychic powers (such as being able to talk to the dead) and charge the gullible hundreds of dollars in fees for “spiritual consultations”? Would the government prosecute such people for fraud? Or would the government have a “caveat emptor” attitude and say, “If people want to waste their money on that nonsense, that’s their rightful prerogative”?

How can we better explain that benevolence toward others is egoistic?

In the October 7, 2013 podcast, you mentioned that people have a difficult time understanding how exercising benevolence towards one’s friends is egoistic and self-interested. Instead, they think that being benevolent toward anyone is “other-regarding” and hence, not egoistic. You also mentioned that proponents of ethical egoism need to develop new methods of explaining how egoism does not preclude benevolence toward others. How can egoists help people understand the proper distinction between altruism and egoism better?

Should a professor pass a student who deserved to flunk for fear of reprisals?

Because you’ve taught at the university level, I want to ask you about integrity in grading as a professor. Suppose you flunked a student who never showed up to class and didn’t complete the assigned work adequately. However, this student was well-connected to university donors and administrators. After you flunked this student, suppose that a high-ranking administrator threatened reprisals against you if you didn’t give this student a passing grade. What should you do? Would it be corrupt to comply with the administrator’s demand? What might you (or another professor) do instead?

Does the limited-liability of corporations allow them to harm people with impunity?

I have heard libertarians argue that the limited-liability status of corporations allows them to violate rights and not pay the full cost of doing so. I’ve heard an argument like this: suppose ten billionaires, each with a net worth of $1 billion, co-found a corporation. Each billionaire puts $100,000 into the company, and it doesn’t yet have any debts, giving the corporation a net book value of $1 million. This corporation ends up accidentally leaking toxic chemicals into a city, causing $100 million worth of damage. Yet if the victims sue the corporation for damages, they can receive no more than the $1 million value of the corporation, and they can’t go after the billionaire shareholders’ personal assets. Therefore, limited liability is evil. But can’t plaintiffs sue a corporation and in addition sue its principal stockholders personally? Are anti-corporation libertarians right that limited liability is a violation of rights that should be abolished?

How can I achieve greater psychological visibility?

Recently, I realized that many of my emotional difficulties in life – such as in maintaining motivation or keeping serene – may be exacerbated by feelings of psychological invisibility. In other words, I feel uncared for and unnoticed, and the deep dissatisfaction stemming from that could be potentially affecting a lot of areas in my life. For instance, I recently spoke to my manager as to my problems at work, and it made me feel so uniquely good that I was able to finish my shift in peace and on-track, in contrast to the bitter, near seething prior hours. That unique feeling indicates that I may have a deep unfulfilled emotional need in their area, hurting other realms of performance. Thus, what is psychological visibility? What does it add to my life? How can I satisfy it?

Is memory trustworthy?

Memory is often described as being highly fallible and even malleable. Is that true? If so, what are the implications of that for claims about the objectivity and reliability of knowledge? What are the implications for daily life? Should we trust our experiences when we can’t be trusted to remember them?

Should employers be required to warn employees of possible harms on the job?

Discovery Channel’s TV show titled “Gold Rush” depicted a South American gold miner using mercury in the mining process because mercury binds to gold and makes extraction from a “sluice.” Mercury being heavier, falls below the surface and is collectible at the bottom of a “sluice box.” The episode (possibly titled “The Jungle”) depicts workers using their bare hands in the sluice where I’m assuming they are in direct physical contact with the mercury. In a free society, should employers be allowed to expose their employees to such risks? Should they be obliged to warn them of those risks? Or are workers responsible for the risks and correct procedures of their job?

Should minors be forbidden from buying dangerous goods?

Under current law, minors are often restricted from buying goods regarded as dangerous, such as cigarettes, alcohol, fireworks, or firearms. In a free society, should those restrictions be abolished or upheld? Should parents be allowed to permit their children to buy such goods?

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

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 23 October 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Oct 232013
 

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

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

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

What should a person do when another person is likely to go insane or commit suicide if others cut him off?

At one point in my life, I knew a person who led such a self-destructive life that he essentially reached the point where he had to have evasions in place and enablers around him in order to keep sane, for if he fully realized how self-destructive he had been he would have literally gone insane or, extremely likely, committed suicide. I know this since I was aware of his extreme emotional instability persisting for decades, suicide attempts, alcoholism, and so on. The only way for him to keep it together was to keep evading how he ruined his life or be surrounded by people pretended to love and care for them, who in reality felt indifference or contempt since this person was very malicious, envious, and toxic towards other people. What should a person or network of people do in this case, where it’s extremely likely this person would simply lose his mind or commit suicide within a few days of people cutting him off?

In a free society, would psychics be prosecuted for fraud?

How would the government in a rational, free-market system handle people and businesses, such as the Psychic Friends Network, which claim to have psychic powers (such as being able to talk to the dead) and charge the gullible hundreds of dollars in fees for “spiritual consultations”? Would the government prosecute such people for fraud? Or would the government have a “caveat emptor” attitude and say, “If people want to waste their money on that nonsense, that’s their rightful prerogative”?

How can we better explain that benevolence toward others is egoistic?

In the October 7, 2013 podcast, you mentioned that people have a difficult time understanding how exercising benevolence towards one’s friends is egoistic and self-interested. Instead, they think that being benevolent toward anyone is “other-regarding” and hence, not egoistic. You also mentioned that proponents of ethical egoism need to develop new methods of explaining how egoism does not preclude benevolence toward others. How can egoists help people understand the proper distinction between altruism and egoism better?

Should a professor pass a student who deserved to flunk for fear of reprisals?

Because you’ve taught at the university level, I want to ask you about integrity in grading as a professor. Suppose you flunked a student who never showed up to class and didn’t complete the assigned work adequately. However, this student was well-connected to university donors and administrators. After you flunked this student, suppose that a high-ranking administrator threatened reprisals against you if you didn’t give this student a passing grade. What should you do? Would it be corrupt to comply with the administrator’s demand? What might you (or another professor) do instead?

Does the limited-liability of corporations allow them to harm people with impunity?

I have heard libertarians argue that the limited-liability status of corporations allows them to violate rights and not pay the full cost of doing so. I’ve heard an argument like this: suppose ten billionaires, each with a net worth of $1 billion, co-found a corporation. Each billionaire puts $100,000 into the company, and it doesn’t yet have any debts, giving the corporation a net book value of $1 million. This corporation ends up accidentally leaking toxic chemicals into a city, causing $100 million worth of damage. Yet if the victims sue the corporation for damages, they can receive no more than the $1 million value of the corporation, and they can’t go after the billionaire shareholders’ personal assets. Therefore, limited liability is evil. But can’t plaintiffs sue a corporation and in addition sue its principal stockholders personally? Are anti-corporation libertarians right that limited liability is a violation of rights that should be abolished?

How can I achieve greater psychological visibility?

Recently, I realized that many of my emotional difficulties in life – such as in maintaining motivation or keeping serene – may be exacerbated by feelings of psychological invisibility. In other words, I feel uncared for and unnoticed, and the deep dissatisfaction stemming from that could be potentially affecting a lot of areas in my life. For instance, I recently spoke to my manager as to my problems at work, and it made me feel so uniquely good that I was able to finish my shift in peace and on-track, in contrast to the bitter, near seething prior hours. That unique feeling indicates that I may have a deep unfulfilled emotional need in their area, hurting other realms of performance. Thus, what is psychological visibility? What does it add to my life? How can I satisfy it?

Is memory trustworthy?

Memory is often described as being highly fallible and even malleable. Is that true? If so, what are the implications of that for claims about the objectivity and reliability of knowledge? What are the implications for daily life? Should we trust our experiences when we can’t be trusted to remember them?

Should employers be required to warn employees of possible harms on the job?

Discovery Channel’s TV show titled “Gold Rush” depicted a South American gold miner using mercury in the mining process because mercury binds to gold and makes extraction from a “sluice.” Mercury being heavier, falls below the surface and is collectable at the bottom of a “sluice box.” The episode (possibly titled “The Jungle”) depicts workers using their bare hands in the sluice where I’m assuming they are in direct physical contact with the mercury. In a free society, should employers be allowed to expose their employees to such risks? Should they be obliged to warn them of those risks? Or are workers responsible for the risks and correct procedures of their job?

Should minors be forbidden from buying dangerous goods?

Under current law, minors are often restricted from buying goods regarded as dangerous, such as cigarettes, alcohol, fireworks, or firearms. In a free society, should those restrictions be abolished or upheld? Should parents be allowed to permit their children to buy such goods?

How should I judge the rapper Eminem?

I love the rapper Eminem. In terms of lyrical writing ability, I consider him the most gifted individual probably in the history of music, and a better poet than anyone who writes poetry. Much of his content, which includes lyrics glorifying drug use and raping and killing women, is morally abhorrent on the surface; however, it’s obvious to me that he doesn’t intend for such statements to be taken literally, and I actually find some of his most “evil” lyrics to be quite fun. I am struggling to understand why I find such artistic value in such malevolent music. How should I judge him and similar musicians?

How should European colonizers be judged for their treatment of Native Americans?

Some people, especially conservatives, give blanket praise to Columbus and European colonizers, notwithstanding their conquest and displacement of native populations. Those Native Americans are sometimes denigrated as ignorant, brutal, and/or lacking any concept of property – and hence, as unworthy of the protection of rights. Many others consider the Native Americans either noble savages or at least the rightful owners of the land. They condemn European colonization as unethical conquest or even genocide. Are either of those approaches correct? What counts as a fair judgment of European colonizers in their behavior toward Native Americans? How should European colonizers have treated native persons?

Should I leave my inmate boyfriend?

I am in a dilemma. My current boyfriend is in prison serving a 6 year sentence. He has been away for a year and a half. It took over two years for the legal matters to be settled and for him to finally get a sentence. This is also my first ever boyfriend and I am already 26. Is it wrong for me to want to move on with my life? After he gets out (if no appeal is granted) he will be forced into a very limited lifestyle being on a sex offender list. I keep thinking about trying to make new friends and what I should and should not disclose to them. Right now, I live with his parents and work with his mother. I feel like I have myself cornered and am drowning in this huge mess. I want my own life but with zero support and friends I am terrified of the risk. Do I stick it out? do I suck it up and leave him, my home, and my job?

Does the military ethos of honor, duty, and sacrifice have a rational basis?

Soldiers are often portrayed as acting from duty and nobly sacrificing themselves for their country and its citizens (present and future). Is this ethic completely irrational? Or does it have some rational roots?

Should fashion be protected by copyright?

In France, it is somewhat (really, just a wee bit) possible to obtain copyright over certain aspects of apparel and accessory design. Yet in the US, there is no protection for new garment design, only for textile innovations and processes. But if something is truly unique and new in ways that have never existed before, should the designer be able to own that design as his intellectual property and prevent others from using it? Artists, musicians, and writers are able to protect their works from partial or whole plagiarism. Shouldn’t fashion be afforded the same protections?

How strongly should a student object to a professor’s objectionable views?

I am a senior undergraduate in liberal arts major at a public university. I’m currently taking a class with the bleak subject matter of genocide. My blatantly socialist teacher presents her views in discussions of the Armenian genocide, the “genocide” in Soviet Russia, and the Holocaust. Often, she ignores the role of religion and flawed socialist policies. Also, she blames greed and capitalism to an unreasonable degree for the woes of the aforementioned countries. How should I respond to these objectionable claims of hers? How much should I try to undermine her wrongheaded views?

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

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 16 October 2013 at 6:00 pm  Question Queue
Oct 162013
 

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

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

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

How can I achieve greater psychological visibility?

Recently, I realized that many of my emotional difficulties in life – such as in maintaining motivation or keeping serene – may be exacerbated by feelings of psychological invisibility. In other words, I feel uncared for and unnoticed, and the deep dissatisfaction stemming from that could be potentially affecting a lot of areas in my life. For instance, I recently spoke to my manager as to my problems at work, and it made me feel so uniquely good that I was able to finish my shift in peace and on-track, in contrast to the bitter, near seething prior hours. That unique feeling indicates that I may have a deep unfulfilled emotional need in their area, hurting other realms of performance. Thus, what is psychological visibility? What does it add to my life? How can I satisfy it?

Is memory trustworthy?

Memory is often described as being highly fallible and even malleable. Is that true? If so, what are the implications of that for claims about the objectivity and reliability of knowledge? What are the implications for daily life? Should we trust our experiences when we can’t be trusted to remember them?

Should employers be required to warn employees of possible harms on the job?

Discovery Channel’s TV show titled “Gold Rush” depicted a South American gold miner using mercury in the mining process because mercury binds to gold and makes extraction from a “sluice.” Mercury being heavier, falls below the surface and is collectable at the bottom of a “sluice box.” The episode (possibly titled “The Jungle”) depicts workers using their bare hands in the sluice where I’m assuming they are in direct physical contact with the mercury. In a free society, should employers be allowed to expose their employees to such risks? Should they be obliged to warn them of those risks? Or are workers responsible for the risks and correct procedures of their job?

Should minors be forbidden from buying dangerous goods?

Under current law, minors are often restricted from buying goods regarded as dangerous, such as cigarettes, alcohol, fireworks, or firearms. In a free society, should those restrictions be abolished or upheld? Should parents be allowed to permit their children to buy such goods?

How should I judge the rapper Eminem?

I love the rapper Eminem. In terms of lyrical writing ability, I consider him the most gifted individual probably in the history of music, and a better poet than anyone who writes poetry. Much of his content, which includes lyrics glorifying drug use and raping and killing women, is morally abhorrent on the surface; however, it’s obvious to me that he doesn’t intend for such statements to be taken literally, and I actually find some of his most “evil” lyrics to be quite fun. I am struggling to understand why I find such artistic value in such malevolent music. How should I judge him and similar musicians?

How should European colonizers be judged for their treatment of Native Americans?

Some people, especially conservatives, give blanket praise to Columbus and European colonizers, notwithstanding their conquest and displacement of native populations. Those Native Americans are sometimes denigrated as ignorant, brutal, and/or lacking any concept of property – and hence, as unworthy of the protection of rights. Many others consider the Native Americans either noble savages or at least the rightful owners of the land. They condemn European colonization as unethical conquest or even genocide. Are either of those approaches correct? What counts as a fair judgment of European colonizers in their behavior toward Native Americans? How should European colonizers have treated native persons?

Should I leave my inmate boyfriend?

I am in a dilemma. My current boyfriend is in prison serving a 6 year sentence. He has been away for a year and a half. It took over two years for the legal matters to be settled and for him to finally get a sentence. This is also my first ever boyfriend and I am already 26. Is it wrong for me to want to move on with my life? After he gets out (if no appeal is granted) he will be forced into a very limited lifestyle being on a sex offender list. I keep thinking about trying to make new friends and what I should and should not disclose to them. Right now, I live with his parents and work with his mother. I feel like I have myself cornered and am drowning in this huge mess. I want my own life but with zero support and friends I am terrified of the risk. Do I stick it out? do I suck it up and leave him, my home, and my job?

Does the military ethos of honor, duty, and sacrifice have a rational basis?

Soldiers are often portrayed as acting from duty and nobly sacrificing themselves for their country and its citizens (present and future). Is this ethic completely irrational? Or does it have some rational roots?

Should fashion be protected by copyright?

In France, it is somewhat (really, just a wee bit) possible to obtain copyright over certain aspects of apparel and accessory design. Yet in the US, there is no protection for new garment design, only for textile innovations and processes. But if something is truly unique and new in ways that have never existed before, should the designer be able to own that design as his intellectual property and prevent others from using it? Artists, musicians, and writers are able to protect their works from partial or whole plagiarism. Shouldn’t fashion be afforded the same protections?

Is it wrong to buy goods with the intent to return them?

A friend of mine will often buy jewelry from large department stores for events, knowing that she’ll likely return the items. (Sometimes, however, she’ll keep an item even when she thought she’d return it.) She returns the goods undamaged and soon after buying. She asked me what I thought of the morality of her actions. In my opinion, she’s acting morally because she’s not committing fraud. The stores in question have liberal return policies (“if you are unhappy for whatever reason…”). They must know that some of their customers might do what she’s doing and think that allowing it is good for business. Is that right?

Can we learn ethical and social behavior from animals?

A National Geographic article on insect behavior entitled “Swarm Theory” closes with the following lines: “‘A honeybee never sees the big picture any more than you or I do,’ says Thomas Seeley, the bee expert. ‘None of us knows what society as a whole needs, but we look around and say, oh, they need someone to volunteer at school, or mow the church lawn, or help in a political campaign.’ If you’re looking for a role model in a world of complexity, you could do worse than to imitate a bee.” Is that right? Can studying animal behavior give us insights into how we should act?

Does Ayn Rand’s acceptance of Social Security payments invalidate her case for laissez faire capitalism?

I often hear leftists claim that Ayn Rand’s acceptance of Social Security payments makes her a hypocrite and invalidates her criticism of the welfare state. Was Ayn Rand wrong to accept such payments? Why or why not? More generally, if free-market advocates incur benefits from government-provided services financed through compulsory taxation – such as collecting Social Security, driving on government-built roads, and using city-owned public libraries – does this invalidate the case for privatization and the night watchman state?

How can I convince myself, deep-down, that God does not exist?

I was raised Catholic, although I was never deeply religious. Now, many years later, a friend is showing me Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. I can see its benefits, but my religious upbringing still lingers in the back of my head. So part of me still thinks that God exists, even though I don’t really believe that any longer. It was just engrained in me from such a young age that I can’t seem to let it go. Can I change that? If so, how?

Does being rational mean having faith in reason?

I’m a high school student in a religious school. Many of my classmates claim that my belief in a knowable reality, science, and reason is merely a form of faith. So how can a person validate his own reason and senses? How can a person know that they are reliable means of knowing reality – unless he uses them and thereby engages in circular reasoning? My classmates claim that God is the only way out of this puzzle: God checks our reasoning by verifying and opposing our various conclusions. How can I respond to their arguments effectively?

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.)

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha