New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 23 August 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Aug 232013
 

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 diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

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

How forthcoming should I be with new people I meet about my checkered past?

My past is not a source of pride for me. Over four years ago, I read “Atlas Shrugged.” That book radically altered the radical change I was already bringing into my life – for the better. I’ve recently begun meeting Objectivists in real life, and I dislike discussing my white-trash, moocher-esque history with these new acquaintances. (At the time, I was between 17 and 20 years old.) I rarely share these details with non-Objectivist friends, but I fear their judgment less. If I shared my past with an Objectivist, I think they might choose to cut ties with me immediately, given that they don’t know me well. However, given my past, I have a clearer understanding of the irrational, twisted, cruel, and nasty nature of people who choose to live like leeches off of other human beings. I think that sharing these experiences with others can be a source of strength to them. (I don’t want others to stumble into these poor decisions when they could do better!) So how much of my past should I share with other people, and how should I share it?

How should I educate myself so that I can cast informed votes in elections?

I am 25, and I have never voted in any local, state or national election. I think I have good reason for that: I’ve never been able to educate myself sufficiently on the candidates to be certain of who to vote for. Also, as a marketing student with a passion for advertising and public relations, I don’t think I could vote until I’d seen the inside of a campaign team as a member of it, so that I have a personal understanding of the degree to which a candidate presented is real or idealized. I know that such is unrealistic, because I wouldn’t know which candidate to work for. Instead of that, what steps could I take to inform myself, without consuming too much time, so that I could vote in the next presidential election?

Is it theft to read unauthorized translations of Japanese comics?

I’m in college, and many of my friends like to read Japanese comic books. English translations of these comics often take over a year to appear, so my friends instead read them on websites for free where fans download and translate them. I heard your podcast on “Friendships with Intellectual Property Pirates,” but this situation seems different. I cannot say that they’re ripping off the creator, since they couldn’t pay even if they wanted to. Plus, it seems unreasonable to tell them to learn Japanese, although I did. Are they stealing? If so, what could they do instead? What could I say to persuade them?

How can I overcome feelings of unearned guilt about refusing other people’s requests?

Too often, I feel guilty when I shouldn’t – for example, for rejecting unwanted romantic advances or declining invitations to events with family or coworkers. Even though I know logically that I have the right to pursue my own values rather than satisfy the wishes of others, I feel terrible knowing that my actions will disappoint or upset someone else. Too often I succumb to the guilt: I agree to things I’d rather not because I don’t want to let someone else down. What philosophical or psychological strategies might I use for dealing with such unearned guilt?

Why is realism incompatible with abstraction in epistemology?

Why does Objectivism assert that realism (or “intrinsicism”) is incompatible with concept formation or abstraction? In “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” Ayn Rand says that realism (whether moderate or extreme) regards “the referents of concepts as intrinsic, i.e., as ‘universals’ inherent in things (either as archetypes or as metaphysical essences), as special existents unrelated to man’s consciousness—to be perceived by man directly, like any other kind of concrete existents, but perceived by some non-sensory or extra-sensory means.” Why couldn’t essences (as posited by realism) be grasped via abstraction? Why must the grasp thereof be direct? Also, why is the realist view of concepts referred to by Objectivists as “intrinsicism”?

When is a person responsible for an unexpected and unwanted child?

Sex sometimes results in an unexpected and perhaps unwanted pregnancy. What are the moral responsibilities of each party in this situation? Do a person’s obligation depend on prior agreements about what would be done in such a case? Do they depend on whether contraception was used or not? If the man said that he didn’t want children and used contraception, yet a pregnancy occurs, does he have any moral or legal obligation to pay for an abortion, support the child, or act as a father? Does the answer change if the woman agreed to have an abortion in advance, then changes her mind? Should couples talk explicitly about these matters before sex?

Why did Ayn Rand and Emma Goldman develop such divergent political views?

Ayn Rand and Emma Goldman had some striking similarities. Both were born in Russia, saw the rise of communism, and then fled to America. Both espoused ethical egoism and individual liberty (they both explicitly held the ‘pursuit of happiness’ to be the most important thing about American culture). But there was one crucial difference: Goldman advocated anarchism and the abolition of private property in the means of production, whereas Rand supported laissez-faire capitalism. What lead Goldman to hold such different political views from Ayn Rand?

What is the value of competition?

You recently competed in your first three-phase event on your horse. Why did you bother to do that? How did that affect your mindset and training? What did you learn from the experience? More broadly, what is the value of such competition? Shouldn’t people always do their best, even when not being tested against other people?

How can a person gain the self-confidence required to ask for a promotion at work?

I know some people who don’t socialize much, and they really seem to struggle during interviews for promotions. They seem to lack confidence in themselves. How can they gain it? Does that kind of self-confidence depend on social acceptance and support?

Is it wrong to protect my competitive advantage in sport by refusing to share information?

I am an aspiring MMA fighter. I’ve done a lot of work studying personal fitness, how to prevent and fix personal injuries, and how to maximize force output. I recently signed up for a MMA gym to prepare for some amateur fights. I’m concerned that when I do non-conventional “stretches” before or after a workout I’ll get questions from curious people. Then I’m in a dilemma. I would like to make friends, but I really don’t want to give away for free my knowledge that I have worked hard to achieve – knowledge which gives me an edge over many competitors. I don’t want to tell them where I got this information either. Perhaps if they ask what I’m doing, I could say “trade secret” or something else. Ultimately though, I don’t want to give potential competitors the tools that will help them beat me. Is this legitimate? Is it immoral or unwise?

When should a person euthanize a sick pet?

Over the years, I’ve had to decide whether to medically treat my cats or euthanize them when they’re seriously ill, and it tends to be a hard choice to make. Concern for the cat’s quality of life is a factor, but so is the monetary cost of veterinary procedures and medication, the time required, and the emotional pain of parting from an animal that has been part of my life for many years. In my own decisions, I’ve come down to, “Am I keeping this cat alive because his life has value to him, or because I don’t want to face losing him?” Yet in online discussions, I see comments from other people who strike me as prolonging a pet’s life even when the pet is miserable, which seems horrifying to me. What is your approach to these decisions? What do you think is the best way to approach them? Is this a question of ethical principle or purely one of optional values?

What should I do when a friend exhibits severe body dysmorphia on social media?

At several points in my life, I had a valued friend who seemed otherwise rational and grounded, but who also exhibited dangerous body dysmorphia on social media. In these cases, the friend would first go through a several-month phase of confessing to several psychological problems, such as fantasizing about suicide and of cutting herself with a blade. This friend would then sternly add that she has since recovered, but would admit to still feeling that her natural physical features are ugly and deformed. Then, months later, the friend would go into another phase. On social media, in front of many other people, she would make brazen gestures indicating body dysmorphia, such as uploading photoshopped pictures of herself as a corpse ready for burial or saying that she planned to starve herself to achieve her ideal of being skeletally thin. A major problem was the reaction from our online mutual acquaintances. Some admitted that they saw these problems, yet they acted like the friend was behaving normally. Others outright complimented the dysmorphic imagery and statements. In these cases, I think that my friend knew that her body dysmorphia was dangerous. She put it on display so that others would normalize her pathology, because then she could more easily rationalize her behavior as harmless. That seems really dangerous, but what is the proper alternative? How should people respond when a person puts his pathological self-destruction on display?

It is wrong to refuse any involvement in my biological child’s life?

Some years back I had a contraceptive malfunction, and a child was conceived as a result. I offered to pay for an abortion but the woman refused. The child was born, and the mother and child moved away. I voluntarily pay child support, but I have no desire to be part of the child’s life. I never wanted to be a father nor do I want to now. Am I right – morally and legally – to take this stance?

Should I abandon my stepdaughter?

I’m 30, my stepdaughter from my ex-marriage is 12, and I’ve been in her life for 11 years. She doesn’t know her real father and considers me her dad. I divorced her mother a year ago and don’t want to deal with her anymore, but I’ve stayed close to my stepdaughter, skyping with her most days, and seeing her usually at least a couple times a week. The divorce devastated her and I feel like sh*t about it, so I stayed on as her dad for HER sake to help get her through it. But for my own sake, I think I would benefit from breaking ties with my former family at this point. I don’t want to see my ex at all, both her and I will date other people, and my stepdaughter will soon hit adolescence and put me through everything that that implies. It was fun when she was little, but the idea of being a parent to a teenage girl weirds me out. Would it be evil of me to abandon her when I’m the only father figure she’s ever known?

Should a person’s credibility matter in judging his empirical claims?

Is it rational to use a person’s track record – meaning the frequency or consistency of truth in his past statements – in judging the likely truth of his current statements? In “Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics,” Tara Smith explains that to believe something just because someone said it is a violation of the virtue of independence. Also, to judge an argument by the speaker is known as the fallacy of “ad hominem.” However, doesn’t the character of the speaker matter when considering whether to believe his claims? For example, when Thomas Sowell makes an empirical claim, my knowledge that he vigorously tests his hypotheses against the facts makes me more likely to judge his claim as true, even before I’ve confirmed his statement. Likewise, if a person is frequently wrong in his factual claims, I’d be sure to require lots of evidence before believing him. Is that rational? Or should all factual claims be treated equally regardless of who makes them?

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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