New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 12 June 2013 at 5:12 pm  Question Queue
Jun 122013

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

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

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

Is it wrong to indulge romantic infatuation?

I am infatuated with a young woman for whom I am not a suitable match, including because I am 30 and she is 16. It is strictly a fantasy; I no effort to pursue or to make my feelings known to her and have no intention to ever do so. However, in private, I am deeply in love with her and practically worship her like a celebrity and collect all her pictures. (I refrain from masturbating to her because doing so makes me feel guilty.) Due to deficiencies in my life that I consider unfixable, I have low self-esteem and have given up on dating for the foreseeable future, if not indefinitely. Do you think my behavior is creepy, immoral, or bad for my own well being? [Note from Diana: Oh dear.]

How should a person judge whether an activist organization is worthy of support or not?

What is the proper process for judging activist and advocacy organizations? Do the standards for moral support differ from those of financial support? What kinds of problems would make you withdraw support from an organization?

How should I respond to my morally corrupt sister?

My 20 year old sister is morally destitute. She is an unapolegetic shoplifter. Her justifications amount to things like: “My shoplifting is not an addiction because I can stop any time I want to,” “everyone does it,” “you have to lie and cheat to keep up with the competition,” “companies account for shoplifters in their business plans so they mark prices higher to compensate for it,” “I’d never steal from a friend,” “I need to steal while I look young and can get away with it because no one suspects me,” etc. Over the years she has stolen hundreds if not thousands of dollars from our parents, too. And justifies this by saying that they’re wealthy and don’t even notice because she does it in small increments. She lies and cheats frequency. She’s accepted money in return for writing a paper for a friend and says of course she would do it again if some one were willing to pay her. She knows what she does is “wrong,” but maintains that this is better than not knowing, at least. (That makes no sense, I know.) I also just found out that she’s selling marijuana because, as she says, she needs a way to support her expensive taste in clothes and makeup. (Stealing these things directly and the money with which to buy them doesn’t cut it, apparently.) She acknowledges that this is, on some level, “wrong,” but does not care. She has no integrity or moral conscience. She’s my sister and despite my horror at these behaviors and the cavalier attitude with which she knowingly does wrong, but she laughs this off and doesn’t care! She does not respond to reason. She is vain, ignorant, and idle. Part of me wants to help her and try to talk sense into her because I care about her and want her to be a healthy person and not have a miserable life, another part of me wants to forget it and let her ruin herself. But I don’t want to stand by and watch that happen, and I also know that there’s only so much I can do to really help her. What is the rational thing to do?

How can parents and teachers effectively oppose calls for “service” in schools?

Today, more schools have “community service” requirements for graduation or promote “service learning” opportunities for students. The teachers and parents who support these initiatives are often well-intentioned: their motive seems to be benevolence towards other people. They aren’t aware of the origin of these ideas (i.e. altruism), not what is entailed when practiced consistently. The effect these initiatives have is to smuggle in a seed of altruism which leaves many students who accept these ideas defenseless later in life when later called on to “serve the greater good” or to “act selflessly.” Personally, I’ve struggled to help people see the true nature of what they’re advocating. Often, they regard any opposition to these programs as due to a lack of desire to help other people in any way. They seem to think that either you value and help every human life or you don’t care about others at all. How can I help the more thoughtful people understand this issue? Might these programs be changed for the better in some way?

Should causing harm to a fetus in a criminal assault be a second crime?

If a person harms or even kills a fetus while assaulting a pregnant woman, is that an additional crime, over and above the assault of the pregnant woman? If so, what should the charge be for this second crime? Alternatively, is the harm to the fetus included in the charge of assault against the pregnant woman herself? Or should the harm to the fetus be considered harm to the woman’s private property? Also, should it matter if the assailant didn’t know that the woman was pregnant? I think the anti-abortion activists will say that punishing the assailant for harm to the fetus only makes sense if the fetus is recognized as a separate person with rights. Are they wrong?

In ethics, should moral actions be differentiated from prudential actions?

I often hear academic philosophers say that a person should clearly distinguish prescriptive actions that are “prudential” from those that are “moral.” For example, if I want to bake a cake properly, I have to follow a certain set of procedures. However, whether I bake the cake or not – or whether I follow the recipe competently or not – has no bearing on my moral standing. Generally, “prudential actions” are considered actions that would benefit me and not harm others. By contrast, I hear it said that whether my action is moral or immoral is determined by whether it harms others. In moral philosophy, is it valid to separate that which is prudential from that which is moral — and to do so in that way?

How is a person’s appearance related to self-esteem?

Should a rational person care much about his body — including height, weight, musculature, beauty, and so on? Is that second-handed somehow? How much effort should a person exert to make himself look the way he wants to look? Should a person’s looks affect his self-esteem? Do a person’s looks reveal his character or self-esteem to others?

Does the “trolley problem” have any validity or use?

I often come across people who think ethical philosophy consists of asking others what they would do in “hypothetical situations” in which they are allowed only two options, both terrible. One I keep coming across is that of the Trolley Problem proposed by Philippa Foot and modified by Judith Thomson, in which one must choose whether to kill one person or let five others die. Psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Joshua Greene even take fMRIs of people when they answer this question. Greene says that when someone chooses to sacrifice one individual, the prefrontal cortex – which regulates impersonal, long-term decisions – lights up. By contrast, when one refuses to sacrifice the individual, blood rushes to the amygdala – the part of the brain regulating empathy and visceral emotional responses. Is it valid for moral philosophers to pose the Trolley Problem to people and to insist that people’s answers show that one can only either be a deontologist or a utilitarian?

What are the similarities and differences between Objectivism and secular humanism?

Objectivism and secular humanism are two secular worldviews. What are their basic points? Are they hopelessly at odds? Or do they share some or even many attributes?

Should I care about future generations?

People often claim that we should act for the sake of future generations, particularly regarding environmental concerns. Is that rational? Why should I care what happens to people after I am dead? Why should I work for the benefit of people who cannot possibly benefit my life and who aren’t even known, let alone of value, to me?

Should hopelessly insane murderers be put to death?

Imagine a totally psychotic and extremely mentally disturbed person who has a propensity to violently kill innocent people. I am talking about a really stark raving bonkers individual. This person has no capability to think and act rationally. How can this person have any rights whatsoever? Why should it be the job of the state to provide for this person when they are locked up in an asylum? Would it be moral and practical to simply execute this person, thus removing the burden of having to keep an eye on him in case he escapes and kill someone?

What does the term “inductive” mean?

What is the distinction (if any) between some claim being “inductive” versus (1) ad hoc, (2) non-systematic, (3) disintegrated, (4) anecdotal, and (5) empirical? Basically, what is the proper meaning of the term “inductive”?

Should soldiers be subject to punishment via the Uniform Code of Military Justice?

Via the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the military can dole out discipline in the same ways as ordinary employers – such as via loss of pay, suspension, firing, and so on. In addition, it can prosecute and punish behavior in military court leading to imprisonment. That’s something a regular job could not do. Is that valid? Should soldiers have to function under a whole different legal system than civilians? Why shouldn’t crimes by soldiers be prosecuted in ordinary courts?

Should the military ban marital infidelity?

On June 2nd, 2013, you answered the question: “Should marital infidelity be illegal?” I agree with you that infidelity shouldn’t be illegal. However, might some government organizations – such as the military – legitimately ban and even criminalize infidelity for its voluntary members? According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, infidelity is against the law for military members. Might that be proper? Might the military want to enforce strict rules of moral conduct on their members, even for seemingly private matters?

How does a person cultivate a healthy body image?

Suppose that a woman realizes that she has been unconsciously influenced by unrealistic body images – as portrayed in movies, magazines, and so on? She is basically healthy, and so it would be good for her to feel good about how she looks. But a person can’t always change everything about herself: she can’t change her height, however much she dislikes it. Even if a person can make changes, most people need to accept that they will never look like movie stars. So how does a person cultivate a healthy body image? How might a person notice and combat an unhealthy obsession with appearance?

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.)

  • John Pryce

    Couple of comments, Diana:

    1) I really hope you take the fetus/assault one, because I’ve had some serious difficulty with that one myself.

    2) On the subject of banning infidelity, consider the security concerns. An adulterous soldier or officer could be more vulnerable to coercion via blackmail. This was why the CIA and MI6 and such used to remove officers who were homosexual. They have also required that officers resign for infidelity (re: Petraeus).

    3) On the insane killer one, I’m generally of the opinion that if they can’t be cured or confined prior to their killing spree, then yes, we should put them down.

    4) Very interested in your take on the “trolley problem”.

    5) With regards to the infatuation one: I was once a regular member of 4chan, and I once saw a comment thread where a man confessed to being similarly in love with his underage niece (I think she was 14). One commenter asked about the girl’s shirt (the man provided a photo), to which the man responded that her shirt was a school shirt. Using that, the commenters were able to track down the girl’s school, examine the online yearbook to find out her name, search for and find her family members, and successfully locate the name of her only uncle (as well as his wife’s email address), upon which the thread and the man’s comments were sent to his family. I don’t know what happened to him, but this question reminded me of that.

    • Diana Hsieh

      Wow, amazing story about 4chan… Good for them for reporting him!!

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