New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

Does intuition have any validity?

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

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

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

What are the signs of emotional repression?

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

Should it be illegal to smoke around children?

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

What’s the value of hierarchical organizations?

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

Are the religious freedoms of Christian bakers being infringed?

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

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

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

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

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

Should I trust the medical profession more?

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

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

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

Is it hypocritical to manufacture products based on wrong ideas?

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

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

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

How does personality theory affect ethics?

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

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

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 15 January 2015 at 2:00 pm  Question Queue
Jan 152015
 

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

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

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

Should I trust the medical profession more?

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

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

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

Is it hypocritical to manufacture products based on wrong ideas?

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

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

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

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

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

How does personality theory affect ethics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should nuisance limits be set for new technology?

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

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

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

How should the police respond to people resisting arrest?

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

Should I cut ties with my homophobic family?

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

What is the value of “political correctness”?

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

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

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does personality theory affect ethics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should nuisance limits be set for new technology?

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

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

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

How should the police respond to people resisting arrest?

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

Should I cut ties with my homophobic family?

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

What is the value of “political correctness”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should I do something nice for a coworker I dislike?

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

How should the police respond to people resisting arrest?

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

Should a I cut ties with my homophobic family?

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

What is the value of “political correctness”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should I do something nice for a coworker I dislike?

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

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

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

Do people have a right to food and shelter?

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

What counts as a fair book review?

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

Does social convention have any place in politics or ethics?

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

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

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

Should the police obligated to protect citizens from harm?

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

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

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

Should I do something nice for a coworker I dislike?

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

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

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

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

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

Do people have a right to food and shelter?

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

What counts as a fair book review?

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

Does social convention have any place in politics or ethics?

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

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

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

Should the police obligated to protect citizens from harm?

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

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

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

Are some opinions more valid than others?

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

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

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

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

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

Does the patent system need to be reformed?

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

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

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

Does the “political spectrum” have any validity?

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are some opinions more valid than others?

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

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

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

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

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

Does the patent system need to be reformed?

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

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

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

Does the “political spectrum” have any validity?

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

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

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

Do prisoners have a right to religious freedom?

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

Does ethics require impartiality?

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

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

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

Does virtue require actually performing virtuous acts?

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

Does justice require proportionality?

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

Do verbal insults sometimes justify a response of physical violence?

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

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

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

Can crowdsourcing raise money for an academic paleontology project?

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 24 September 2014 at 6:00 pm  Question Queue
Sep 242014
 

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:

Do verbal insults sometimes justify a response of physical violence?

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

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

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

Should spanking be banned as child abuse?

Studies have shown that spanking is harmful and ineffective, and yet spanking remains a common parenting discipline approach. (Some public schools use it, even against the express wishes of the parents.) Does spanking violate a child’s rights? If so, is it time for a ban on spanking in the United States?

Is it wrong to conceal information from my father while I live in his home?

I am a 21 year old gay college student still living with my parents as I pay my own tuition and progress through college. Both of my parents know I’m gay. My mom is completely fine with it; it’s a sore subject with my dad and it’s something we don’t discuss. He threatened to kick me out of the house when I came out but then recanted because (I think) he’s wrestling with the morality of the issue. Two months ago, I started dating a really wonderful guy. He comes over often and sometimes spends the night. My mom knows we are together; she is happy for me and approves of my relationship. I haven’t told my dad for fear of being kicked out. My dad specifically told me that he “did not want that kind of activity in his home.” I understand that it is his house (as well as my mom’s, who doesn’t have a problem with my sexuality), and I try to keep things low-key whenever my boyfriend comes over; I also try to spend as much time with him away from my home as possible. But. sometimes I would just like to sit down in the comfort of my own room and watch a movie with him. I think my dad would kick me out if he ever thought there was anything going on between me and this guy he knows only as my friend. Am I obligated to tell him about our relationship? Doing so may result in me having to couch-hop until I find a suitable dwelling. It may also make it impossible for me to continue paying my own tuition, a thing I’m quite proud to be able to do. Living at home helps cut a lot of expenses to make that possible. But, is it immoral to lie to my dad about my relationship? I am planning to move out after my bills for the semester are paid and I can save up enough money to afford the down payment on an apartment or house. I will not be keeping my relationship a secret from anyone after that. But, until then, do you think it is immoral to continue lying? I do not understand or sympathize with my dad’s aversion to my sexuality. He’s told me once before that no one else can know, because it would bring embarrassment to him. I think that’s second-handed and irrational. My sexuality has no bearing on anyone but me. Still, I feel like I have to lie to protect my own interests.

Is the distinction between needs and wants valid?

Anti-capitalist philosophers such as Giles Deleuze accuse the capitalist system of depending on blurring the distinction between needs and wants and tyrannizing over us by implanting artificial needs into our minds. In contrast, George Reisman justifies capitalist extravagance on the basis that human needs are technically infinite and that our needs expand as we become more affluent. Who is right? Is the distinction between needs and wants valid or not? Is it useful in thinking about ethics or politics?

What is moral character?

In “Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics,” Tara Smith describes moral character as an aspect of human action, as a sort of averaging of the type of actions someone performs. In contrast, most Aristoteleans regard moral character as an aspect of the person themselves, as some sort of abiding, internal thing which has the power to affect your actions. Are either of these views correct? Or is moral character something else?

Is random jury selection necessary to ensure defendants receive a fair trial?

In your 15 May 2011 podcast, you discussed whether or not it is moral to compel people to serve on juries. I agree with your conclusion that it is not moral, and that jury duty should instead be voluntary. But you went on to suggest that volunteers should be able to choose what time range to serve, and even what case to serve on. Wouldn’t this just lead to attempts to ‘stack’ juries? An influential organization could encourage, and perhaps even compensate, its members to ‘volunteer’ for a certain case, thereby influencing the outcome. For example, an anti-abortion organization could try to ‘stack’ the jury for the trial of an abortion doctor. Of course the pro-choice organizations could try and counter with the same, but that just means the verdict is ultimately determined not by objectivity, but by numbers – by whoever is able to round up more volunteers. Isn’t a random selection process necessary to keep this sort of influence out of the system and thereby ensure that defendants receive a fair and impartial trial?

Can morality be studied via scientific studies?

In other words, is it possible to conduct research into morality, especially larger field studies, thereby bolstering the case for ethical egoism? I’ve seen several such studies that examine moral behavior and what it might mean. For example, I found one today that seems especially interesting for Objectivists: it found that “Texted responses from participants across political and religious spectrums indicated that being the target of moral or immoral deeds had a big impact on their level of happiness.” Is such research possible? Is it worth doing? Is anyone doing it?

Is it wrong to suggest that a crime victim should have taken greater precautions?

My wife and I were discussing the recent iCloud data breach in which a hacker stole and published nude photos of hundreds of female celebrities. I made the comment that while the hacker’s actions were despicable, at the same time I thought the celebrities were stupid to have trusted iCloud to protect the privacy of their photos in the first place. My wife balked at this, saying that this amounts to blaming the victim, and is no better than saying a woman who is raped was stupid for wearing a short skirt, or for drinking alcohol. But I see it as being more akin to saying a person whose bag was stolen from their car was stupid for leaving the door unlocked. Do comments of this sort really amount to ‘blaming the victim’? Is it proper or improper to make such comments? Does my level of expertise or the victim’s level of expertise make any difference? (As a computer engineer, I am very aware of the dangers of the cloud, whereas your average celebrity would probably be clueless about it.) Intuitively, I feel like the comments would be improper in my wife’s example, proper in my example, and I’m unsure about the data breach itself. But I’m struggling to identify what the defining characteristics are for each case. What’s the right approach here?

Should a person study mindsets before philosophy?

In a prior radio show, you said that adopting a rational philosophy like Objectivism is not a guarantee of rationality and other virtues in practice, but appears more to be a kind of “moral amplifier.” If I remember correctly, you said that studying and adopting that philosophy will make a person morally better or morally worse depending upon whether that person has a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset” about ethics. So if someone has a fixed mindset and embraces Objectivism, that person may not act rationally or decently: he will tend to use the philosophy to beat other people over the head with (often unwarranted) moral judgments and commands. By contrast, a person with a growth mindset who embraces Objectivism will tend to focus on applying that philosophy to improving his own life, while acknowledging and correcting mistakes along the way. If being able to apply rational philosophy to life properly is contingent upon having a growth mindset, does that mean that before even learning that philosophy, a person should work on developing a growth mindset? Does that mean that until a person feels reasonably confident that he has a growth mindset, he should refrain from studying rational philosophy? If learning rational philosophy is valuable only insofar as a person holds a growth mindset, does that mean that the distinction between fixed mindsets and growth mindsets is more important or fundamental than philosophy? Or it is an aspect of philosophy?

Was the Civil War fought for just reasons?

Typically, we hear that the American Civil War was fought to free the slaves in the South. A competing narrative is that the South was fighting for state’s rights. It would seem to me that neither of these are strictly true, the North was fighting to maintain the Union, the South to keep their right to slaves. In that case, was either side justified in fighting the war? Should the North have simply allowed the South to secede, then welcomed runaway slaves? Would slavery have died on its own due to economic inefficiency?

What’s right or wrong in Michael Huemer’s critique of “The Objectivist Ethics”?

I found Professor Michael Huemer’s essay “Critique of ‘The Objectivist Ethics’” to be a very thoughtful and persuasive essay. It convinced me that Ayn Rand’s ethics has a number of logical and possibly empirical flaws in it. Do you find any of his arguments valid? If, so which ones? Which ones do you think are wrong? Why? It this essay reason enough to reject Ayn Rand’s meta-ethics?

Is charity to strangers virtuous?

In a recent podcast, you answered the following question: “Does providing voluntary, non-sacrificial help to innocent, unfortunate poor people qualify as virtuous? In a free society, would such charity be a moral obligation?” You said that it’s not a moral obligation, and I agree with that. You also said that you think it’s a “great thing to do.” But why? I’d evaluate it as such if the person you’re helping is a good friend or a close relative. In that case, the act would be an expression of integrity, or of loyalty to one’s personal values. But I don’t understand why it’s a “great thing” to provide charity to people you don’t know, even if you’re contextually certain that they didn’t bring their hardship upon themselves and you don’t view it as a moral duty. I’d think that such an act is morally neutral, or at best slightly positive. Can you explain your evaluation a bit more, please?

Is voting for the welfare statist policies and politicians an initiation of force?

I come across right-wing people who proclaim to me that the State is justified to use physical force to deport undocumented Latino immigrants. They tell me this is justified because Latinos consistently vote in favor of politicians who expand the welfare state. They say that even if undocumented immigrants themselves do not vote, their children, who were born in the USA, will eventually become old enough to vote. These right-wingers then tell me that Latinos voting in favor of welfare-state politicians is an initiation of the use of force against them. Therefore, they conclude, if a right-wing government uses force to deport such illiberal Latino voters, the right-wing government is not initiating the use of force against innocent, peaceful people. Rather, continue the right-wingers, the right-wing government is using retaliatory force against the Latinos who initiated the use of force by voting in favor of rights-violating laws. I’m deeply offended by this argument. I think it’s ridiculous, to put it mildly. I have many relatives and neighbors who also consistently vote in favor of welfare-state politicians. If I followed the logic of the anti-immigrationist argument, I would have to conclude that simply because my relatives and neighbors voted for illiberal politicians, I should condone the idea that my relatives and neighbors should be violently removed from the USA. I’m troubled by my relatives and neighbors voting for the welfare state but, of course, using force “in retaliation” against them is absurd. Still, while I cannot condone any so-called retaliatory force against people who simply vote for rights-violating measures, I cannot say that I think that such people are completely morally innocent. I think that if someone votes in favor of legislation that initiates the use of force – or votes in favor of a politician promising to support such rights-violating measures – that voter is, in some manner, complicit in the violation of rights, and an accessory to the wrongs that the regulatory-entitlement state commits. I can always try to explain to my relatives and neighbors my own reasons for thinking as I do on politics, but I know that most of them are at least as stubborn as I am and will probably never change their minds. What is the moral status of someone who publicly supports a rights-violating regulatory-entitlement state but otherwise treats other people’s lives and property with due respect?

Should scientists value philosophy?

Recently, when an interviewer asked the famous astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson about his opinion on philosophy, Tyson replied that he has low regard for the entire discipline of philosophy. Tyson said that the problem with philosophy is that it bogs philosophers down in esoteric nitpicking over matters that will not affect anyone, whereas scientists like himself produce practical results in the real world. That is, Tyson dismissed philosophy as impractical. I think that is a rather common reaction from scientists about philosophy – they dismiss philosophy as impractical. I find that odd, as people once recognized science as “natural philosophy” – they thought that philosophy provided wisdom-lovers and knowledge-seekers with good ideas on how to collect data and analyze it for their own understanding. How did this philosophy-versus-science divide originate? When scientists dismiss philosophy as impractical, is this more the fault of the philosophers for being impractical or of the scientists for being too dismissive? How can philosophers explain the value of philosophy to scientists?

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 9 September 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Sep 092014
 

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

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

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

Is it wrong to suggest that a crime victim should have taken greater precautions?

My wife and I were discussing the recent iCloud data breach in which a hacker stole and published nude photos of hundreds of female celebrities. I made the comment that while the hacker’s actions were despicable, at the same time I thought the celebrities were stupid to have trusted iCloud to protect the privacy of their photos in the first place. My wife balked at this, saying that this amounts to blaming the victim, and is no better than saying a woman who is raped was stupid for wearing a short skirt, or for drinking alcohol. But I see it as being more akin to saying a person whose bag was stolen from their car was stupid for leaving the door unlocked. Do comments of this sort really amount to ‘blaming the victim’? Is it proper or improper to make such comments? Does my level of expertise or the victim’s level of expertise make any difference? (As a computer engineer, I am very aware of the dangers of the cloud, whereas your average celebrity would probably be clueless about it.) Intuitively, I feel like the comments would be improper in my wife’s example, proper in my example, and I’m unsure about the data breach itself. But I’m struggling to identify what the defining characteristics are for each case. What’s the right approach here?

Should a person study mindsets before philosophy?

In a prior radio show, you said that adopting a rational philosophy like Objectivism is not a guarantee of rationality and other virtues in practice, but appears more to be a kind of “moral amplifier.” If I remember correctly, you said that studying and adopting that philosophy will make a person morally better or morally worse depending upon whether that person has a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset” about ethics. So if someone has a fixed mindset and embraces Objectivism, that person may not act rationally or decently: he will tend to use the philosophy to beat other people over the head with (often unwarranted) moral judgments and commands. By contrast, a person with a growth mindset who embraces Objectivism will tend to focus on applying that philosophy to improving his own life, while acknowledging and correcting mistakes along the way. If being able to apply rational philosophy to life properly is contingent upon having a growth mindset, does that mean that before even learning that philosophy, a person should work on developing a growth mindset? Does that mean that until a person feels reasonably confident that he has a growth mindset, he should refrain from studying rational philosophy? If learning rational philosophy is valuable only insofar as a person holds a growth mindset, does that mean that the distinction between fixed mindsets and growth mindsets is more important or fundamental than philosophy? Or it is an aspect of philosophy?

Was the Civil War fought for just reasons?

Typically, we hear that the American Civil War was fought to free the slaves in the South. A competing narrative is that the South was fighting for state’s rights. It would seem to me that neither of these are strictly true, the North was fighting to maintain the Union, the South to keep their right to slaves. In that case, was either side justified in fighting the war? Should the North have simply allowed the South to secede, then welcomed runaway slaves? Would slavery have died on its own due to economic inefficiency?

What’s right or wrong in Michael Huemer’s critique of “The Objectivist Ethics”?

I found Professor Michael Huemer’s essay “Critique of ‘The Objectivist Ethics’” to be a very thoughtful and persuasive essay. It convinced me that Ayn Rand’s ethics has a number of logical and possibly empirical flaws in it. Do you find any of his arguments valid? If, so which ones? Which ones do you think are wrong? Why? It this essay reason enough to reject Ayn Rand’s meta-ethics?

Is charity to strangers virtuous?

In a recent podcast, you answered the following question: “Does providing voluntary, non-sacrificial help to innocent, unfortunate poor people qualify as virtuous? In a free society, would such charity be a moral obligation?” You said that it’s not a moral obligation, and I agree with that. You also said that you think it’s a “great thing to do.” But why? I’d evaluate it as such if the person you’re helping is a good friend or a close relative. In that case, the act would be an expression of integrity, or of loyalty to one’s personal values. But I don’t understand why it’s a “great thing” to provide charity to people you don’t know, even if you’re contextually certain that they didn’t bring their hardship upon themselves and you don’t view it as a moral duty. I’d think that such an act is morally neutral, or at best slightly positive. Can you explain your evaluation a bit more, please?

Is voting for the welfare statist policies and politicians an initiation of force?

I come across right-wing people who proclaim to me that the State is justified to use physical force to deport undocumented Latino immigrants. They tell me this is justified because Latinos consistently vote in favor of politicians who expand the welfare state. They say that even if undocumented immigrants themselves do not vote, their children, who were born in the USA, will eventually become old enough to vote. These right-wingers then tell me that Latinos voting in favor of welfare-state politicians is an initiation of the use of force against them. Therefore, they conclude, if a right-wing government uses force to deport such illiberal Latino voters, the right-wing government is not initiating the use of force against innocent, peaceful people. Rather, continue the right-wingers, the right-wing government is using retaliatory force against the Latinos who initiated the use of force by voting in favor of rights-violating laws. I’m deeply offended by this argument. I think it’s ridiculous, to put it mildly. I have many relatives and neighbors who also consistently vote in favor of welfare-state politicians. If I followed the logic of the anti-immigrationist argument, I would have to conclude that simply because my relatives and neighbors voted for illiberal politicians, I should condone the idea that my relatives and neighbors should be violently removed from the USA. I’m troubled by my relatives and neighbors voting for the welfare state but, of course, using force “in retaliation” against them is absurd. Still, while I cannot condone any so-called retaliatory force against people who simply vote for rights-violating measures, I cannot say that I think that such people are completely morally innocent. I think that if someone votes in favor of legislation that initiates the use of force – or votes in favor of a politician promising to support such rights-violating measures – that voter is, in some manner, complicit in the violation of rights, and an accessory to the wrongs that the regulatory-entitlement state commits. I can always try to explain to my relatives and neighbors my own reasons for thinking as I do on politics, but I know that most of them are at least as stubborn as I am and will probably never change their minds. What is the moral status of someone who publicly supports a rights-violating regulatory-entitlement state but otherwise treats other people’s lives and property with due respect?

Should scientists value philosophy?

Recently, when an interviewer asked the famous astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson about his opinion on philosophy, Tyson replied that he has low regard for the entire discipline of philosophy. Tyson said that the problem with philosophy is that it bogs philosophers down in esoteric nitpicking over matters that will not affect anyone, whereas scientists like himself produce practical results in the real world. That is, Tyson dismissed philosophy as impractical. I think that is a rather common reaction from scientists about philosophy – they dismiss philosophy as impractical. I find that odd, as people once recognized science as “natural philosophy” – they thought that philosophy provided wisdom-lovers and knowledge-seekers with good ideas on how to collect data and analyze it for their own understanding. How did this philosophy-versus-science divide originate? When scientists dismiss philosophy as impractical, is this more the fault of the philosophers for being impractical or of the scientists for being too dismissive? How can philosophers explain the value of philosophy to scientists?

Should medical debt be treated like any other debt in a person’s FICA score?

Recently, credit scoring company FICO announced that it wouldn’t treat medical debt the same as other debts. Most unpaid debts are medical debts. A FICO representative explained the change as follows: “What research has shown us is medical debt is not like other types of collections. For people who have a clean credit history, it’s not an indicator of financial problems that they’re not going to be able to pay their debt. It’s an anomaly, a blip on the screen.” Doesn’t this mean that people can more easily ignore their medical debts? Doesn’t this effectively apply EMTALA to the entire field of medicine? Isn’t this wrong?

Should judges refuse to hear cases from lawyers behind frivolous suits?

In your 15 May 2014 show, you expressed curiosity about possible improvements to the justice system. I came up with the following idea after sitting on a jury for a civil trial where, after the plaintiff presented his case, the judge dismissed the suit without even having the defendant present his defense. In cases where a judge thinks everyone’s time and money were wasted by a pointless case, the judge should refuse to hear any future cases from the lawyer for the losing side. That would cause the lawyer to think twice about representing any frivolous cases, since he would risk being banned from the presiding judge’s courtroom henceforth. In addition, judges who know each other could share lawyer blacklists, preventing the lawyer from wasting other judges’ time as well. Would this be possible? Would it fix the problem of frivolous lawsuits?

Are sports fans collectivists?

A friend of mine thinks that sports fans are living vicariously through the players and are thus collectivistic. I think this is an overgeneralization from contact with super-fans of pro sports. Getting mad when “my” team loses and saying things like “we won” are some of the examples of the collectivist thinking he cites. Is there a logical link between fans and collectivism or are super-fans inherently collectivistic, even if it is compartmentalized? Is team competition or “us-versus-them mentality” a good indicator of someone that should be avoided as a friend or partner?

Are manners objective?

In a recent Rapid Fire Question, I think you rather too quickly dismissed the idea that manners or etiquette can be objective. You fairly quickly threw the whole lot of them over into the socially-subjective category. However, I think there’s a lot that’s not at all subjective, nor even optional, about manners. I happen to live in a country, China, which is much-renowned for its lack of basic human decency, and I would argue that this is a fair claim. For example, it’s quite regular for a parent to pull his child’s pants down and facilitate his or her urinating or defecating all over a vehicle of transportation, up to and including an international flight. It’s also quite normal to hawk in such a way as to clear every cavity in one’s upper torso, admire a particular piece of ground, and splat the results of one’s personal nasal expiration for all to admire and tread upon. After a home-cooked meal, a guest is expected to belch massively. A small belch is a sign of dissatisfaction. To me, the latter seems quite a matter of optional cultural choice. What you said before about manners applies quite nicely to that issue: it’s fairly arbitrary whether you should or you should not belch after your meal. At my in-laws’ place, please do. At my mom’s place, please don’t. However, when I think about other ways in which Chinese people are “rude” to an American, I can think of a thousand examples where it’s not just subjective. Pissing or shitting on a public bus is not just arbitrarily unacceptable to us silly overwrought Westerners. It’s objectively rude. For another example, today when I was trying to get onto a bus, hale and hearty Chinese twenty-somethings were pushing in front of me in a giant triangle of evil. Nobody cared if I was there before them, nobody cared if the signs all said to line up respectfully, they just elbowed each other out of the way in order to get on the bus. So are manners objective, at least in part?

Is it immoral or unwise to accept a better job soon after starting a different one?

I am ready to change jobs. I could probably move to another role within my company pretty quickly and easily and continue to move my career forward, but I could make more money and get better experience outside of my company. Outside job hunts can be lengthy and full of disappointments and all the while I would have to work at a job that is, frankly, killing my soul. I think it’s pretty clear that – if I accept a new job in my company and immediately turn around and give notice to go somewhere else – I run a high risk of burning bridges with key contacts at my current company. But would it be unethical in some way to do that? When you accept a job are you making a tacit promise to work there for some period of time? If so, what’s the minimum amount of time?

Should publicly funded abortions be opposed?

In Victoria, Australia we have fairly good laws on abortion and there are almost no legal or social barriers to access. We also however have a very generous public health care system which means that most if not all of the costs of an abortion will be covered by the public. Is there something especially wrong with publicly funded abortion that advocates of individual rights should be concerned with or is it morally equivalent to the immorality of forcing others to pay for less controversial treatment such as dental surgery? Does the cultural context influence how a free-market advocate should approach this topic? While the majority of the community supports the current laws, there seem to be signs of an anti-abortion faction developing in the Liberal Party (the conservatives). I wouldn’t want to have opposition to publicly-funded abortions result in any kind of ban on abortions. So should publicly funded abortions be opposed or not?

Why aren’t people grateful for what others do for them?

I volunteer a lot, and I try to be very generous with my time and efforts in the groups that I’m involved with. Mostly, I just want people to express thanks and gratitude for what I’ve done for them. Mostly though, they don’t thank me – or their thanks just seem perfunctory. Why is that? Am I wrong to want a little gratitude? Right now, I feel taken advantage of, and I want to tell everyone to go to hell. Is that wrong?

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 August 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Aug 202014
 

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

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

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

What’s right or wrong in Michael Huemer’s critique of “The Objectivist Ethics”?

I found Professor Michael Huemer’s essay “Critique of ‘The Objectivist Ethics’” to be a very thoughtful and persuasive essay. It convinced me that Ayn Rand’s ethics has a number of logical and possibly empirical flaws in it. Do you find any of his arguments valid? If, so which ones? Which ones do you think are wrong? Why? It this essay reason enough to reject Ayn Rand’s meta-ethics?

Is charity to strangers virtuous?

In a recent podcast, you answered the following question: “Does providing voluntary, non-sacrificial help to innocent, unfortunate poor people qualify as virtuous? In a free society, would such charity be a moral obligation?” You said that it’s not a moral obligation, and I agree with that. You also said that you think it’s a “great thing to do.” But why? I’d evaluate it as such if the person you’re helping is a good friend or a close relative. In that case, the act would be an expression of integrity, or of loyalty to one’s personal values. But I don’t understand why it’s a “great thing” to provide charity to people you don’t know, even if you’re contextually certain that they didn’t bring their hardship upon themselves and you don’t view it as a moral duty. I’d think that such an act is morally neutral, or at best slightly positive. Can you explain your evaluation a bit more, please?

Is voting for the welfare statist policies and politicians an initiation of force?

I come across right-wing people who proclaim to me that the State is justified to use physical force to deport undocumented Latino immigrants. They tell me this is justified because Latinos consistently vote in favor of politicians who expand the welfare state. They say that even if undocumented immigrants themselves do not vote, their children, who were born in the USA, will eventually become old enough to vote. These right-wingers then tell me that Latinos voting in favor of welfare-state politicians is an initiation of the use of force against them. Therefore, they conclude, if a right-wing government uses force to deport such illiberal Latino voters, the right-wing government is not initiating the use of force against innocent, peaceful people. Rather, continue the right-wingers, the right-wing government is using retaliatory force against the Latinos who initiated the use of force by voting in favor of rights-violating laws. I’m deeply offended by this argument. I think it’s ridiculous, to put it mildly. I have many relatives and neighbors who also consistently vote in favor of welfare-state politicians. If I followed the logic of the anti-immigrationist argument, I would have to conclude that simply because my relatives and neighbors voted for illiberal politicians, I should condone the idea that my relatives and neighbors should be violently removed from the USA. I’m troubled by my relatives and neighbors voting for the welfare state but, of course, using force “in retaliation” against them is absurd. Still, while I cannot condone any so-called retaliatory force against people who simply vote for rights-violating measures, I cannot say that I think that such people are completely morally innocent. I think that if someone votes in favor of legislation that initiates the use of force – or votes in favor of a politician promising to support such rights-violating measures – that voter is, in some manner, complicit in the violation of rights, and an accessory to the wrongs that the regulatory-entitlement state commits. I can always try to explain to my relatives and neighbors my own reasons for thinking as I do on politics, but I know that most of them are at least as stubborn as I am and will probably never change their minds. What is the moral status of someone who publicly supports a rights-violating regulatory-entitlement state but otherwise treats other people’s lives and property with due respect?

Should scientists value philosophy?

Recently, when an interviewer asked the famous astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson about his opinion on philosophy, Tyson replied that he has low regard for the entire discipline of philosophy. Tyson said that the problem with philosophy is that it bogs philosophers down in esoteric nitpicking over matters that will not affect anyone, whereas scientists like himself produce practical results in the real world. That is, Tyson dismissed philosophy as impractical. I think that is a rather common reaction from scientists about philosophy – they dismiss philosophy as impractical. I find that odd, as people once recognized science as “natural philosophy” – they thought that philosophy provided wisdom-lovers and knowledge-seekers with good ideas on how to collect data and analyze it for their own understanding. How did this philosophy-versus-science divide originate? When scientists dismiss philosophy as impractical, is this more the fault of the philosophers for being impractical or of the scientists for being too dismissive? How can philosophers explain the value of philosophy to scientists?

Should medical debt be treated like any other debt in a person’s FICA score?

Recently, credit scoring company FICO announced that it wouldn’t treat medical debt the same as other debts. Most unpaid debts are medical debts. A FICO representative explained the change as follows: “What research has shown us is medical debt is not like other types of collections. For people who have a clean credit history, it’s not an indicator of financial problems that they’re not going to be able to pay their debt. It’s an anomaly, a blip on the screen.” Doesn’t this mean that people can more easily ignore their medical debts? Doesn’t this effectively apply EMTALA to the entire field of medicine? Isn’t this wrong?

Should judges refuse to hear cases from lawyers behind frivolous suits?

In your 15 May 2014 show, you expressed curiosity about possible improvements to the justice system. I came up with the following idea after sitting on a jury for a civil trial where, after the plaintiff presented his case, the judge dismissed the suit without even having the defendant present his defense. In cases where a judge thinks everyone’s time and money were wasted by a pointless case, the judge should refuse to hear any future cases from the lawyer for the losing side. That would cause the lawyer to think twice about representing any frivolous cases, since he would risk being banned from the presiding judge’s courtroom henceforth. In addition, judges who know each other could share lawyer blacklists, preventing the lawyer from wasting other judges’ time as well. Would this be possible? Would it fix the problem of frivolous lawsuits?

Are sports fans collectivists?

A friend of mine thinks that sports fans are living vicariously through the players and are thus collectivistic. I think this is an overgeneralization from contact with super-fans of pro sports. Getting mad when “my” team loses and saying things like “we won” are some of the examples of the collectivist thinking he cites. Is there a logical link between fans and collectivism or are super-fans inherently collectivistic, even if it is compartmentalized? Is team competition or “us-versus-them mentality” a good indicator of someone that should be avoided as a friend or partner?

Are manners objective?

In a recent Rapid Fire Question, I think you rather too quickly dismissed the idea that manners or etiquette can be objective. You fairly quickly threw the whole lot of them over into the socially-subjective category. However, I think there’s a lot that’s not at all subjective, nor even optional, about manners. I happen to live in a country, China, which is much-renowned for its lack of basic human decency, and I would argue that this is a fair claim. For example, it’s quite regular for a parent to pull his child’s pants down and facilitate his or her urinating or defecating all over a vehicle of transportation, up to and including an international flight. It’s also quite normal to hawk in such a way as to clear every cavity in one’s upper torso, admire a particular piece of ground, and splat the results of one’s personal nasal expiration for all to admire and tread upon. After a home-cooked meal, a guest is expected to belch massively. A small belch is a sign of dissatisfaction. To me, the latter seems quite a matter of optional cultural choice. What you said before about manners applies quite nicely to that issue: it’s fairly arbitrary whether you should or you should not belch after your meal. At my in-laws’ place, please do. At my mom’s place, please don’t. However, when I think about other ways in which Chinese people are “rude” to an American, I can think of a thousand examples where it’s not just subjective. Pissing or shitting on a public bus is not just arbitrarily unacceptable to us silly overwrought Westerners. It’s objectively rude. For another example, today when I was trying to get onto a bus, hale and hearty Chinese twenty-somethings were pushing in front of me in a giant triangle of evil. Nobody cared if I was there before them, nobody cared if the signs all said to line up respectfully, they just elbowed each other out of the way in order to get on the bus. So are manners objective, at least in part?

Is it immoral or unwise to accept a better job soon after starting a different one?

I am ready to change jobs. I could probably move to another role within my company pretty quickly and easily and continue to move my career forward, but I could make more money and get better experience outside of my company. Outside job hunts can be lengthy and full of disappointments and all the while I would have to work at a job that is, frankly, killing my soul. I think it’s pretty clear that – if I accept a new job in my company and immediately turn around and give notice to go somewhere else – I run a high risk of burning bridges with key contacts at my current company. But would it be unethical in some way to do that? When you accept a job are you making a tacit promise to work there for some period of time? If so, what’s the minimum amount of time?

Should publicly funded abortions be opposed?

In Victoria, Australia we have fairly good laws on abortion and there are almost no legal or social barriers to access. We also however have a very generous public health care system which means that most if not all of the costs of an abortion will be covered by the public. Is there something especially wrong with publicly funded abortion that advocates of individual rights should be concerned with or is it morally equivalent to the immorality of forcing others to pay for less controversial treatment such as dental surgery? Does the cultural context influence how a free-market advocate should approach this topic? While the majority of the community supports the current laws, there seem to be signs of an anti-abortion faction developing in the Liberal Party (the conservatives). I wouldn’t want to have opposition to publicly-funded abortions result in any kind of ban on abortions. So should publicly funded abortions be opposed or not?

Why is Ayn Rand’s ethics better than that of Jesus?

I was recently invited to participate in a live student debate at a local church on the topic, “Who Was the Better Moral Philosopher: Ayn Rand or Jesus?”. The audience will be mostly Christian or neutral: there will only be a handful of people familiar with Objectivism present. What points would you make if you were to speak to an audience of interested laypeople on this topic? What subjects might be best to avoid? What aspects of Jesus’ ethics might be good to highlight as flaws? What resources – other than the primary sources – might you suggest on this topic?

Why aren’t people grateful for what others do for them?

I volunteer a lot, and I try to be very generous with my time and efforts in the groups that I’m involved with. Mostly, I just want people to express thanks and gratitude for what I’ve done for them. Mostly though, they don’t thank me – or their thanks just seem perfunctory. Why is that? Am I wrong to want a little gratitude? Right now, I feel taken advantage of, and I want to tell everyone to go to hell. Is that wrong?

How can I overcome my fear of leading a value-less life?

Ever since I was young, I’ve had an overwhelming fear of leading a valueless life. I saw my parent and other adult role models live this way. There was nothing in their life: they never strived for anything, never had dreams, and tended to discourage dreams from others. I always thought that I would be different. I always thought that I could live in a fulfilled way. But slowly I noticed that I was falling into their path. I didn’t start college till 23 because of student aid issues and until then I worked minimum wage and I went without food some days. Now at 26, I have a 2 year degree. Even with my new job I still live in a drug and prostitution infested ghetto in Philadelphia because this is the only place I can afford. After calculating how long it will take me to get my career off the ground, I could graduate with a MS by thirty or thirty two. But noticing the patterns that I see in other people, I have this overwhelming fear that all attempts at achieving a value will slowly slip my grasp. I constantly needed to push values off till tomorrow until I get today straightened out. I am scared that tomorrow will never come. I have so many goals and dreams and values but I might never get to achieve them. I see it so clearly sometimes: 45, divorced, alone, with nothing to show for my hard work, debt, a giant mortgage or even worse perpetual renting, and my only outlet going to the pub with other Philly white trash middle-agers. How can rational philosophy help me gain perspective on this fear that I have had since a kid?

It is wrong to keep my pet a secret from my landlord?

My fianc?e and I own a cat. By the rules of our apartment, we should notify our landlord and pay monthly pet rent and deposits. However, we keep a cleaner apartment than the majority of people without pets. If the cat’s not tearing up carpet and peeing on walls, I don’t feel I should pay more than say someone who is disrespectful of the property and causes more damage to the unit. Moreover, I recently heard firsthand from a group of experienced landlords that they prefer cleaner tenants with pets as opposed to straight up dirty tenants. So should I fess up and pay or not?

Does ethical egoism discourage reconciliation after a dispute?

I believe in ethical egoism, and I think humans can validly achieve certainty in their convictions. I don’t think people should apologize for their virtues or for being right. I think ethical egoists who believe in rational certainty tend to come across as very argumentative. The non-egoist argumentative people I know seem to be more conciliatory. When they notice someone’s feelings are hurt, they do not change their minds but they do apologize and make up. By contrast, I am under the impression that when ethical egoists get into very heated disputes, they are much less conciliatory. My impression is that they hold grudges longer and are more reluctant to apologize. I suspect they think that apologizing or trying to reconcile would be interpreted as weakness – that they think “I refuse to apologize for being right!” and that trying to reconcile would amount to self-abasement wherein one apologizes for being right. Non-egoists would call this “Letting your pride stop you from seeking the reconciliation you yearn for.” In my own case, I have had many falling-outs with other ethical egoists. What usually stops me from seeking reconciliation is that I think that if we re-connected, we would soon “schism” over something else. But I do have to ask myself if, on some level, I believe that if I seek reconciliation, I would be abasing myself by “apologizing when I’m the one who is right!” Can strong belief in ethical egoism and rational certainty – and refusal to “apologize for one’s virtues and for being right” – encourage someone to be counter-productively unforgiving and closed against reconciliation? If so, what can an ethical egoist do to address this?

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 August 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Aug 062014
 

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

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

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

Are sports fans collectivists?

A friend of mine thinks that sports fans are living vicariously through the players and are thus collectivistic. I think this is an overgeneralization from contact with super-fans of pro sports. Getting mad when “my” team loses and saying things like “we won” are some of the examples of the collectivist thinking he cites. Is there a logical link between fans and collectivism or are super-fans inherently collectivistic, even if it is compartmentalized? Is team competition or “us-versus-them mentality” a good indicator of someone that should be avoided as a friend or partner?

Are manners objective?

In a recent Rapid Fire Question, I think you rather too quickly dismissed the idea that manners or etiquette can be objective. You fairly quickly threw the whole lot of them over into the socially-subjective category. However, I think there’s a lot that’s not at all subjective, nor even optional, about manners. I happen to live in a country, China, which is much-renowned for its lack of basic human decency, and I would argue that this is a fair claim. For example, it’s quite regular for a parent to pull his child’s pants down and facilitate his or her urinating or defecating all over a vehicle of transportation, up to and including an international flight. It’s also quite normal to hawk in such a way as to clear every cavity in one’s upper torso, admire a particular piece of ground, and splat the results of one’s personal nasal expiration for all to admire and tread upon. After a home-cooked meal, a guest is expected to belch massively. A small belch is a sign of dissatisfaction. To me, the latter seems quite a matter of optional cultural choice. What you said before about manners applies quite nicely to that issue: it’s fairly arbitrary whether you should or you should not belch after your meal. At my in-laws’ place, please do. At my mom’s place, please don’t. However, when I think about other ways in which Chinese people are “rude” to an American, I can think of a thousand examples where it’s not just subjective. Pissing or shitting on a public bus is not just arbitrarily unacceptable to us silly overwrought Westerners. It’s objectively rude. For another example, today when I was trying to get onto a bus, hale and hearty Chinese twenty-somethings were pushing in front of me in a giant triangle of evil. Nobody cared if I was there before them, nobody cared if the signs all said to line up respectfully, they just elbowed each other out of the way in order to get on the bus. So are manners objective, at least in part?

Is it immoral or unwise to accept a better job soon after starting a different one?

I am ready to change jobs. I could probably move to another role within my company pretty quickly and easily and continue to move my career forward, but I could make more money and get better experience outside of my company. Outside job hunts can be lengthy and full of disappointments and all the while I would have to work at a job that is, frankly, killing my soul. I think it’s pretty clear that – if I accept a new job in my company and immediately turn around and give notice to go somewhere else – I run a high risk of burning bridges with key contacts at my current company. But would it be unethical in some way to do that? When you accept a job are you making a tacit promise to work there for some period of time? If so, what’s the minimum amount of time?

Should publicly funded abortions be opposed?

In Victoria, Australia we have fairly good laws on abortion and there are almost no legal or social barriers to access. We also however have a very generous public health care system which means that most if not all of the costs of an abortion will be covered by the public. Is there something especially wrong with publicly funded abortion that advocates of individual rights should be concerned with or is it morally equivalent to the immorality of forcing others to pay for less controversial treatment such as dental surgery? Does the cultural context influence how a free-market advocate should approach this topic? While the majority of the community supports the current laws, there seem to be signs of an anti-abortion faction developing in the Liberal Party (the conservatives). I wouldn’t want to have opposition to publicly-funded abortions result in any kind of ban on abortions. So should publicly funded abortions be opposed or not?

Why is Ayn Rand’s ethics better than that of Jesus?

I was recently invited to participate in a live student debate at a local church on the topic, “Who Was the Better Moral Philosopher: Ayn Rand or Jesus?”. The audience will be mostly Christian or neutral: there will only be a handful of people familiar with Objectivism present. What points would you make if you were to speak to an audience of interested laypeople on this topic? What subjects might be best to avoid? What aspects of Jesus’ ethics might be good to highlight as flaws? What resources – other than the primary sources – might you suggest on this topic?

Why aren’t people grateful for what others do for them?

I volunteer a lot, and I try to be very generous with my time and efforts in the groups that I’m involved with. Mostly, I just want people to express thanks and gratitude for what I’ve done for them. Mostly though, they don’t thank me – or their thanks just seem perfunctory. Why is that? Am I wrong to want a little gratitude? Right now, I feel taken advantage of, and I want to tell everyone to go to hell. Is that wrong?

How can I overcome my fear of leading a value-less life?

Ever since I was young, I’ve had an overwhelming fear of leading a valueless life. I saw my parent and other adult role models live this way. There was nothing in their life: they never strived for anything, never had dreams, and tended to discourage dreams from others. I always thought that I would be different. I always thought that I could live in a fulfilled way. But slowly I noticed that I was falling into their path. I didn’t start college till 23 because of student aid issues and until then I worked minimum wage and I went without food some days. Now at 26, I have a 2 year degree. Even with my new job I still live in a drug and prostitution infested ghetto in Philadelphia because this is the only place I can afford. After calculating how long it will take me to get my career off the ground, I could graduate with a MS by thirty or thirty two. But noticing the patterns that I see in other people, I have this overwhelming fear that all attempts at achieving a value will slowly slip my grasp. I constantly needed to push values off till tomorrow until I get today straightened out. I am scared that tomorrow will never come. I have so many goals and dreams and values but I might never get to achieve them. I see it so clearly sometimes: 45, divorced, alone, with nothing to show for my hard work, debt, a giant mortgage or even worse perpetual renting, and my only outlet going to the pub with other Philly white trash middle-agers. How can rational philosophy help me gain perspective on this fear that I have had since a kid?

It is wrong to keep my pet a secret from my landlord?

My fianc?e and I own a cat. By the rules of our apartment, we should notify our landlord and pay monthly pet rent and deposits. However, we keep a cleaner apartment than the majority of people without pets. If the cat’s not tearing up carpet and peeing on walls, I don’t feel I should pay more than say someone who is disrespectful of the property and causes more damage to the unit. Moreover, I recently heard firsthand from a group of experienced landlords that they prefer cleaner tenants with pets as opposed to straight up dirty tenants. So should I fess up and pay or not?

Does ethical egoism discourage reconciliation after a dispute?

I believe in ethical egoism, and I think humans can validly achieve certainty in their convictions. I don’t think people should apologize for their virtues or for being right. I think ethical egoists who believe in rational certainty tend to come across as very argumentative. The non-egoist argumentative people I know seem to be more conciliatory. When they notice someone’s feelings are hurt, they do not change their minds but they do apologize and make up. By contrast, I am under the impression that when ethical egoists get into very heated disputes, they are much less conciliatory. My impression is that they hold grudges longer and are more reluctant to apologize. I suspect they think that apologizing or trying to reconcile would be interpreted as weakness – that they think “I refuse to apologize for being right!” and that trying to reconcile would amount to self-abasement wherein one apologizes for being right. Non-egoists would call this “Letting your pride stop you from seeking the reconciliation you yearn for.” In my own case, I have had many falling-outs with other ethical egoists. What usually stops me from seeking reconciliation is that I think that if we re-connected, we would soon “schism” over something else. But I do have to ask myself if, on some level, I believe that if I seek reconciliation, I would be abasing myself by “apologizing when I’m the one who is right!” Can strong belief in ethical egoism and rational certainty – and refusal to “apologize for one’s virtues and for being right” – encourage someone to be counter-productively unforgiving and closed against reconciliation? If so, what can an ethical egoist do to address this?

Was John Galt evil, or at least a jerk, for not commercializing his motor?

In “Atlas Shrugged,” John Galt went on strike when the world seemed only a little worse off than today politically in America. Things got really bad so fast because Galt dismantled everything. If, instead of going on strike, he had quit the Twentieth Century Motor Company and started the Galt Motor Company, things seem like they would have gone a very different way. By my reading, Galt’s motor was pretty much a free energy miracle — for the same price as a car engine a car could need no fuel and be nearly maintenance free. Electricity would be too cheap to meter and probably within a decade the Galt Motor Company would provide the engines for every plane, train, automobile, and power plant in America. The resulting economic boom from ultra-cheap energy would have probably improved conditions — there’d be less calls for controls because everything would be going so swimmingly. Galt could have gone into the other countries and demanded they liberalize their economies if they wanted him to electrify their countries. His wealth and influence would let him meet with titans of industry and convince them of his morality. He could invest in Hollywood and make movies and TV shows that showed his views. He could have met Dagny and fallen in love with her, and I’m sure over months of dating she would have come around to realize that his morality was right. Her resistance was, after all, to the strike, not really the idea that we should be selfish. People seem to get more panicky and politicians more lusting after power when the economy is doing poorly. In huge booms things seem to get better. People who are well off don’t cry out for a savior and accept whatever anyone tells them will make things better, because things are going pretty well. If Galt probably could have gotten rich, liberalized the economies of the world, married Dagny, and sparked a moral revolution all without dismantling civilization, shouldn’t he have? If his motor really could save everyone (and it seems like it could have), he is at least kind of a jerk to not commercialize it – and probably self-destructive too. So why go on strike at all?

How should I introduce my teenagers to “Atlas Shrugged” and Objectivism?

I’d like to introduce my teenagers to Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged,” as well as to the principles of her philosophy of Objectivism. How should I do that? My concern is that I’ll bungle it up and bore them to death or succeed too well and convert them into Objectivist jerks for the next ten years. What’s a rational approach for parents?

What are the limits of religious freedom?

What is your opinion of the recent Supreme Court decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby? A friend and I were discussing the case, and we disagree on whether or not the decision is good or bad. He views it as good because Hobby Lobby regained some of the freedom that they would have under an ideal free society. I view it as bad because while they did gain that freedom, it was granted to them for an incorrect reason – exemption from the law due to religious beliefs. Does this distinction really matter? Also, should individuals or corporations be allowed exemptions from laws that interfere with their religious beliefs? Should religious beliefs be treated any differently than non-religious beliefs under the law?

Are magic shows a form of art?

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

Do artists deserve royalties from unique works with every sale?

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

Was Facebook’s psychological experiment unethical?

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

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

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