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.)

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 25 July 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Jul 252014
 

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:

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?

What is the role of free will in literature?

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

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

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

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

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

Are the police in a mixed economy worthy of respect?

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

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

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

Are magic shows a form of art?

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

Do artists deserve royalties from unique works with every sale?

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

Was Facebook’s psychological experiment unethical?

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

What is the role of free will in literature?

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

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

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

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

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

Are the police in a mixed economy worthy of respect?

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

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

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

Is accepting voluntary sacrifices from others moral?

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

Should a person punish herself for wrongdoing by depriving herself of a value?

A friend of mine destroyed her phone in a fit of anger over a difficult situation that wasn’t her fault. Now my friend feels guilty about her outburst. She thinks that she doesn’t deserve to properly replace her phone, as that would reward her irrational outburst. She wants to either buy a cheap phone or go without a phone for a while. That seems needlessly self-destructive. How can I explain to her that she really ought to replace her phone?

How can a person make better hard choices?

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

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

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

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

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

Are some people unworthy of the truth?

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

Does the virtue of pride create an infinite loop?

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

Should a person punish herself for wrongdoing by depriving herself of a value?

A friend of mine destroyed her phone in a fit of anger over a difficult situation that wasn’t her fault. Now my friend feels guilty about her outburst. She thinks that she doesn’t deserve to properly replace her phone, as that would reward her irrational outburst. She wants to either buy a cheap phone or go without a phone for a while. That seems needlessly self-destructive. How can I explain to her that she really ought to replace her phone?

How can a person make better hard choices?

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

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

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

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

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

Are some people unworthy of the truth?

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

Does the virtue of pride create an infinite loop?

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

Does state secrecy contradict the principle of government transparency?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can I reclaim lost personality traits?

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

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

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

Should I attend religious ceremonies in support of my friends?

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

Is karma real?

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

Can an egoist have too big an ego?

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

Is karma real?

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

Can an egoist have too big an ego?

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

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

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

Can the non-existence of God be proven?

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

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

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

Do moral principles break down in extreme cases?

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

Why would anyone even want to sleep around?

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

How much generosity is too much?

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

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

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

What’s wrong with agnosticism?

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

How can a disabled person overcome a toxic childhood?

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

What advice would you give to a new Objectivist?

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

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

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

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

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

Should a business be penalized for past atrocities?

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s wrong with agnosticism?

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

How can a disabled person overcome a toxic childhood?

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

What advice would you give to a new Objectivist?

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

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

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

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

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

Should a business be penalized for past atrocities?

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

Should revenge porn be illegal?

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

Was Atlas Shrugged intended to save America?

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

Is more information always better in making medical decisions?

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

Does the morality of homosexuality depend on it being unchosen?

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

Is it wrong to participate in superstitious rituals without taking them seriously?

If I make some perfunctory observance or participation in some superstitious ritual, and do not believe the superstitious ritual is of any literal importance, am I still promoting irrationality? If I regularly read the horoscope in the newspaper, but do not believe astrology has any real impact on my life, does reading the horoscope promote irrationality? Likewise, in Hawaii, almost all retail establishments possess what are called “good-luck cats.” A good-luck cat is a relatively inexpensive Asian figurine depicting a cat with one paw raised. Having this figurine is supposed to bring good luck to your business. You can commonly see such good-luck cat figurines in doctor’s offices in Honolulu, and for your retail establishment not to have such a figurine would easily strike people as strange. If I spent just a little money on such a good-luck cat to decorate my business, and I didn’t literally believe the figurine itself affected my fortunes, would the purchase be a concession to irrational thinking? Would such a gesture be “social proof” that would help other people rationalize more obviously pathological forms of irrationality, such as wasting hundreds of dollars on fortune tellers and psychic hot lines?

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

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

Is displaying the Confederate flag racist?

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should a business be penalized for past atrocities?

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

Should revenge porn be illegal?

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

Was Atlas Shrugged intended to save America?

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

Is more information always better in making medical decisions?

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

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

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

Does the morality of homosexuality depend on it being unchosen?

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

Is it wrong to participate in superstitious rituals without taking them seriously?

If I make some perfunctory observance or participation in some superstitious ritual, and do not believe the superstitious ritual is of any literal importance, am I still promoting irrationality? If I regularly read the horoscope in the newspaper, but do not believe astrology has any real impact on my life, does reading the horoscope promote irrationality? Likewise, in Hawaii, almost all retail establishments possess what are called “good-luck cats.” A good-luck cat is a relatively inexpensive Asian figurine depicting a cat with one paw raised. Having this figurine is supposed to bring good luck to your business. You can commonly see such good-luck cat figurines in doctor’s offices in Honolulu, and for your retail establishment not to have such a figurine would easily strike people as strange. If I spent just a little money on such a good-luck cat to decorate my business, and I didn’t literally believe the figurine itself affected my fortunes, would the purchase be a concession to irrational thinking? Would such a gesture be “social proof” that would help other people rationalize more obviously pathological forms of irrationality, such as wasting hundreds of dollars on fortune tellers and psychic hot lines?

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

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

Is displaying the Confederate flag racist?

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

Should the government mandate vaccination?

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

How can I stop obsessing over past conversations?

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

Can evil be requited with good?

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

Does egoism suffer from “one thought too many”?

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

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

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

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

New Questions in the Queue

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

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

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

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

Is more information always better in making medical decisions?

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

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

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

Does the morality of homosexuality depend on it being unchosen?

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

Is it wrong to participate in superstitious rituals without taking them seriously?

If I make some perfunctory observance or participation in some superstitious ritual, and do not believe the superstitious ritual is of any literal importance, am I still promoting irrationality? If I regularly read the horoscope in the newspaper, but do not believe astrology has any real impact on my life, does reading the horoscope promote irrationality? Likewise, in Hawaii, almost all retail establishments possess what are called “good-luck cats.” A good-luck cat is a relatively inexpensive Asian figurine depicting a cat with one paw raised. Having this figurine is supposed to bring good luck to your business. You can commonly see such good-luck cat figurines in doctor’s offices in Honolulu, and for your retail establishment not to have such a figurine would easily strike people as strange. If I spent just a little money on such a good-luck cat to decorate my business, and I didn’t literally believe the figurine itself affected my fortunes, would the purchase be a concession to irrational thinking? Would such a gesture be “social proof” that would help other people rationalize more obviously pathological forms of irrationality, such as wasting hundreds of dollars on fortune tellers and psychic hot lines?

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

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

Is displaying the Confederate flag racist?

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

Should the government mandate vaccination?

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

How can I stop obsessing over past conversations?

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

Can evil be requited with good?

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

Does egoism suffer from “one thought too many”?

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

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

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

Is creating art necessary for a moral life?

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

What is the value of artistic creation?

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

Are horse rescues a worthy charitable cause?

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

Do confidentiality agreements justify privacy lies?

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

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

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