New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 10 July 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Jul 102013

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:

How can I learn to act on principles that I know to be true?

I believe in reality, rationality, individualism, self-interest, and self-esteem. Yet I don’t act on these beliefs. Right now, I don’t have any self-esteem. Once I act upon believing in reality, instead of merely believing in it, I will develop self-esteem. But I’m really lost as to how to apply reality in my life. I don’t know what that would mean. How can I act on my beliefs?

Is Aristotle right that ethics is not an exact science?

In Book 1, Chapter 3 of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says that ethics does not enjoy the clearness and precision of other subjects, in part because even positive values may be harmful in some circumstances. Hence, we must “indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premises of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better.” Is that all the precision that’s possible in ethics? Or does Ayn Rand’s ethics provide greater clarity than was possible for Aristotle?

Is it wrong to hire others to spray hazardous chemicals?

I live in a country where I doubt the regulations pertaining to any household pesticides are more than a rubber stamp. At present, my kitchen is full of cockroaches, and labor is cheap. Would it be immoral for me to hire the old housekeeper who does tasks for me to spray the pesticide that I bought at our supermarket for me? I wouldn’t be willing to do the spraying myself, due to the potential hazards.

Can ethics be a hard science?

In hard sciences, scientists in the discipline seem compare to control groups and experimental groups, making quantitative measurements of each. That does not seem possible with ethics. Moreover, ethical values are measured by ordinal ranking and not in cardinal numbers. So I can measure one value against another by saying that I value my mother more than I value my hat, but I cannot say, with confidence, that my mother is worth exactly 100 utils to me, as opposed to 130 utils. Is that an obstacle to ethics being a hard science? What is the status of ethics as a science?

Are “gay pride” parades legitimate?

Sexuality is not chosen, so being gay is not something that a person could be proud of. However, these parades seem like harmless fun, and they might even help alleviate homophobia. (They might perpetuate stereotypes too, however.) So are they, on balance, of benefit? Also, what should be made of the fact that a “straight pride” parade would be seen as homophobic? Isn’t the goal here equality? Does that show that gay pride parades are elevating a minority into something special and unequal?

Do horror movies or books have any redeeming value?

In The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand argued that horror was the worst genre of art, “belonging more to psychopathology than to esthetics.” Is that right? Might a rational person find some value in a horror film or book? Don’t some horror movies have heroic characters – such as Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator?

How much sympathy should I have for people failing in their obligations due to personal struggles?

In the past two years, I’ve witnessed two businesses (both one-person operations) crash and burn due to the owners’ inability to continue to operate while suffering from severe depression. I don’t know the trigger in the first case, but in the second case, the depression was precipitated by a divorce, then the murder of a toddler in the family. The business is online, and unhappy customers have been airing their frustration with the fact that they never received goods already paid-for. Some friends are stepping in to help, but the owner’s reputation has been ruined. How much slack should I – or others aware of the situation – cut the owner? How far should my sympathy go?

Should we want to be moral saints?

In her classic article “Moral Saints,” Susan Wolf argues that a person should not wish to be morally perfect, i.e. a moral saint. What is her basic argument? What’s right or wrong about it? Does it apply to rational egoism?

Have Ayn Rand’s claims about concept-formation in children been validated by developmental psychology?

In “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” Ayn Rand outlines her revolutionary theory of concepts. In it, she makes some bold claims about the intellectual development of infants. What is the evidence for her claims? Does research in developmental psychology confirm the Objectivist theory of concept formation?

What are Immanuel Kant’s views on sex?

In your June 30th, 2013 discussion of studying philosophy in academia, you’ve said that Immanuel Kant has some very distinctive and revealing views about marriage, sex, and masturbation. What are they? What do they reveal about this ethics? Have they been influential in academia or the culture?

What kinds of charities are worthy of support?

Many people laud donating to charities, but they don’t seem particularly concerned with which charities they support. However, I’d like my charitable dollars to do some good in the world – and do me good in return. So when is it proper to donate to charity? What kinds of charities are worthy of support or not? How can I judge the effectiveness of a charity? Are local charities better than national or international charities?

Should a person forgo having children to avoid the risk of needing welfare?

I know that accepting government welfare is wrong: it’s a kind of loot stolen from taxpayers. For a person to accept welfare is damaging to his life and happiness. However, I would like children, but in today’s economy, particularly with my spouse’s frequent job turnover, I’m not sure that’s possible without ever relying on welfare. If I had children, I don’t know if I would be able to resist becoming a looter to care for them. What if the only alternative is for the state to take charge of them? I couldn’t allow that. Wouldn’t accepting welfare be better than that?

When should I respect a person’s request to keep information secret?

Often, people ask me to keep something they’ve told me (or will tell me) to myself. Or, they’ll ask me not to share it with anyone other than my spouse. Such secrets might consist of happy news that will soon be known, such as future career plans or a pregnancy. That’s no problem. However, when the matter is more serious – like psychological struggles, personal wrongdoings, marital troubles, and conflicts with mutual friends – I feel like I’m caught in a bind. Often, I have reason to fear that other people I care about might be hurt, and I feel an obligation to warn them. Is that right? Or am I obliged to keep secrets scrupulously?

How should I respond to people who think that homosexuality is an immoral or neurotic choice?

I’m straight, but I have many gay friends. From years of experience, I know that they’re virtuous and rational people. Moreover, their romantic relationships are not fundamentally different from mine. Also, I’m a strong believer in gay rights, including gay marriage. So what should I do when confronted with seemingly decent people who think that homosexuality is an immoral choice, based in neurosis, or otherwise unhealthy? These people often present their ideas in polite and seemingly respectable ways; they’re not just flaming bigots. Yet still I find them appalling, particularly when used to justify denying rights to gays. Should I be more tolerant of such views? How should I express my disagreement?

What’s wrong with thinking about the virtues as duties?

My parents taught me ethics in terms of “duties.” So being honest and just was a duty, along with “sharing” and “selflessness.” They were simply “the right way to be,” period. Now, I tend to think of the Objectivist virtues – rationality, productiveness, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, and pride – as duties. I have a duty to myself to act in these ways. Is that right or is that a mistake?

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

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha