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.
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Now, without further ado, the most recent questions added to The Queue:
Suppose that a man, say when between 9 to 12 years old, committed a serious offense such as sexual assault or rape. At the time, he did not realize the effect of his actions. Now, as an adult, he is living a decent life – meaning that he’s gotten a good education, he has a good job, and he’s developed good sense of ethics. He’s never told anyone about this incident. It was never reported, and he was never investigated for or convicted of that offense as a juvenile. Legally, he need not report this incident to anyone. But ethically, what should he do about it? Should be disclose it to someone – such as his family, friends, a therapist, or even the police? Should he do anything else?
Lately, I have seen a lot of people in my circles claim that the United States as a free country is dead and done, that tyranny advances each day and it’s not isolated, it’s everywhere. These are mostly reactions to articles reporting seeming home invasions by police, the FBI’s forensic hair match scandal, and other government abuses. The common claim is that the United States now has an inherently corrupt justice system where policemen can end the lives of citizens with impunity and get away with it. My inner skeptic makes me feel that, while this is evidence of a lot of bad things that shouldn’t be tolerated, the reaction itself seems disproportionate. While there are systemic problems, I have the impression that it is not all-pervasive and not hopeless. Then again, that could be also my inner optimist trying to tell myself that things are not as bad as they first appear. What is your take on the current climate of the United States? Do you think it is as finished as others claim it is? What kind of tools could you recommend for someone to use in gauging the state of the country more accurately?
My teenage nephew passed away six months ago. He was murdered at a party by someone who crashed it, someone who he had never met before. It was unexpected, and there are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of anger towards the boy who did it. I think that my partner and I are grieving appropriately. We were devastated at first, and we are doing our best to support our family, and we are adapting to life without my him. I remember you saying in a recent episode that if your mother ever passed away it would be really difficult but that you would need train yourself to adapt to life without her. I’ve found that advice really helpful, and I think that my partner and I are doing a good job at it. However, my family is suddenly turning to religion as an answer, clinging onto every detail of the court case, and pushing people who love and care about them away. I know there is no cookie cutter way to grieve, but what support or suggestions can I offer my family?
There are many examples of immoral laws in which the government initiates force against individuals. There are also many examples of groups of people being carved out of the application of such laws via “waivers.” Some waivers are based on rational motivations, such as business exemptions from Obamacare based on economic burdens. Some waivers are based on irrational motivations, such as religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws or requirements to provide insurance for birth control, because compliance would conflict with a “religious conscience.” If we begin by agreeing that all initiation of force is immoral, how can we proceed with analyzing whether waivers to immoral laws are good or bad? Are the exceptions good if they’re based on rational reasons and bad if based on irrational reasons? Or should we think of the exceptions as either universally good or bad? Philosophically, I’m confused. On one hand, how can I not support all waivers when, in fact, they would result in less initiation of force? On the other hand, I can think of a philosophical argument against all waivers on the following basis: unequal standards for the application of political force implies a variance in the ethical standards which implies a variance in the metaphysical nature of man. If we accept the implication that there are essential differences in our nature as human beings, then we have given up the objective basis for rights and open the door to widespread destruction of freedom. How should a person who wants to consistently support individual rights think about this issue of waivers, in principle?
At SnowCon, we discussed the negative impact of the doctrine of Original Sin on Western culture over breakfast one morning. We saw that this idea – which tells people that they are hopelessly flawed by nature – could encourage fixed mindsets. In contrast, an Aristotelian understanding of virtue and vice as dispositions cultivated by repeated action would seem to promote a growth mindset. What other philosophic ideas might tend to promote a fixed versus a growth mindset?
Every year my company’s HR department sends out an email telling us to turn everything off and share stories about “the amazing things… (we)… get up to… saving the planet.” I feel like I should respond – to at least offer an alternative viewpoint. Silence seems like tacit endorsement. (After all, what kind of heretic would question this moral enlightenment?!?) These emails annoy me because we’re a computer software company. Everything we do relies on energy – consistent, reliable energy. Plus, there’s hypocrisy on multiple levels: you’re asked to turn your lights off for one hour. Try a week. Better yet, turn off your fridge/freezer for a few days and watch the abundance of life grow! Plus, while being asked to print less to reduce our footprint, our HR person has just returned from a world trip. We’re a 100 person company. I’m not sure if this email is company policy or just an arbitrary HR effort. I’ve heard that it is better to register a polite disavowal rather than surrender a value in silence. But I’m concerned that an emailed response to the same company distribution group would strike a sour note. So is it moral cowardice to stay silent, or is it common sense? What should I prioritize – smooth relationships with co-workers or the politicized pseudo-science of environmentalism? Or do I have other options?
About ten years ago, as a nurse, I heard a patient planning to do something illegal – particularly, to lie to an insurance company about the relationship between her injuries and the car accident so that she could keep all the settlement money. At the time, I decided to disengage but not confront or report her. I opted for that due to concerns about patient privacy, the non-violence of the planned crime, and the fact that the insurance company could detect her lie from her medical records. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the situation. I’m trying to come up with a principle, and I’m getting all muddled. What is my moral responsibility to intervene or report when I know that another person is planning or has done something illegal – meaning, something that would violate someone’s rights? Does my responsibility change if it’s a friend (assumed in confidence) or stranger (overheard in public)? Does it matter if the crime has already taken place or is merely in the works? Where is the line regarding severity of the crime? (I’d obviously report if I even heard a stranger plotting murder.) Also, what if you might be harmed if you report, such as in the case of a gang murder? Is there some basic principle that can clarify when a person is obliged to report knowledge of a crime?
Recently, a UK man received seven years in prison after pleading guilty of blackmailing two men he had anonymous sex with at a park in Worcester, England. Is that just? In these cases, the blackmailed men were lying to their spouses, and laws against blackmail simply enables their ongoing deception. Putting aside cases of contractual breach, invention, and other sorts of fraud, should blackmail like this be illegal?
Intuition is defined as “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” Assuming that we’re not talking about mystical insight, is this possible? When, if ever, should a person rely on such intuitions? How should he check them?
A recently introduced bill in New Mexico would forbid smoking with kids in the car. With all the research related to the dangers of second-hand smoke, does smoking with a child strapped in the back seat really amount to a form of child abuse or endangerment? If so, should the government forbid adults from smoking around kids everywhere?
One of the main goals of socialists is to abolish hierarchy. They seek to do this by abolishing capitalism, which they see as inherently hierarchical. Advocates of free markets have pointed out, however, that it is perfectly possible for a non-hierarchical organization to exist under a capitalist system, that socialists would have every right to form private co-operatives and such in a free society. Nevertheless, we have to admit that such is not common practice under modern capitalism (or quasi-capitalism): the vast majority of corporations, partnerships, and other private organisations have a strictly hierarchical structure with a boss at the top, administration below him, and rows and rows of employees of various rank below that. Why is this the case? What are the advantages of hierarchical organization? Would a free society be more or less hierarchical?
Over the past year, the news has been inundated with stories about Christian bakery owners refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings. These bakers are defended by the Christian right for exercising their “religious liberty” and decried by the secular left for discrimination. I am somewhat sympathetic to the bakers, though I am gay myself. However, it isn’t their religious liberty that’s been violated, but their right to their property. When I speak to people about this issue, they don’t understand where I’m coming from when I say the property rights of these bakers are important. Yes, their actions are motivated by a ridiculous moral code, but that isn’t the issue. What is the best way to respond to people who think that these Christian bakers should be forced to bake cakes for gay weddings? Given that businesses are already prohibited by law from discriminating against other minorities, would it be so wrong for the law to encompass sexuality-based discrimination too?
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