New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 18 September 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Sep 182013

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:

Does Ayn Rand’s acceptance of Social Security payments invalidate her case for laissez faire capitalism?

I often hear leftists claim that Ayn Rand’s acceptance of Social Security payments makes her a hypocrite and invalidates her criticism of the welfare state. Was Ayn Rand wrong to accept such payments? Why or why not? More generally, if free-market advocates incur benefits from government-provided services financed through compulsory taxation – such as collecting Social Security, driving on government-built roads, and using city-owned public libraries – does this invalidate the case for privatization and the night watchman state?

How can I convince myself, deep-down, that God does not exist?

I was raised Catholic, although I was never deeply religious. Now, many years later, a friend is showing me Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. I can see its benefits, but my religious upbringing still lingers in the back of my head. So part of me still thinks that God exists, even though I don’t really believe that any longer. It was just engrained in me from such a young age that I can’t seem to let it go. Can I change that? If so, how?

Does being rational mean having faith in reason?

I’m a high school student in a religious school. Many of my classmates claim that my belief in a knowable reality, science, and reason is merely a form of faith. So how can a person validate his own reason and senses? How can a person know that they are reliable means of knowing reality – unless he uses them and thereby engages in circular reasoning? My classmates claim that God is the only way out of this puzzle: God checks our reasoning by verifying and opposing our various conclusions. How can I respond to their arguments effectively?

Do you owe another person an explanation for unfriending him on Facebook?

I’m “friends” with many people on Facebook who I can’t stand and with whom I would never willingly spend time in real life. I’ve purged many Facebook friends I didn’t really know and/or who’ve contributed nothing of value to my life, all for the better. Now I am considering whether to unfriend former lovers and one-time real life friends from my youth for a host of insurmountable reasons – for example, our politics don’t jive, I’m annoyed by seeing endless photos of their pets, and so on. Odds are I will never have any dealings with these people again, mostly because I don’t want to. Do I owe them an explanation for the unfriending?

Should blackmail be legalized?

In his book “Defending the Undefendable,” libertarian anarchist Walter Block argues that blackmail should be legal because the blackmailer does not initiate force against person or property. If I learn that Mr. X is cheating on his wife, for example, I may tell him that I will tell his wife about the affair unless he pays me $1,000 every month. Block says this is not an initiation of force, but merely a peaceful, mutually consensual trade. Block even goes on to say that the blackmailer is morally superior to a gossip. As a blackmailer, I would give Mr. X an “out”; he has the option of confessing to his wife or paying me. By contrast, if I were a gossip, I would snitch on Mr. X to his wife and give Mr. X no options on what to do. Therefore, Block says blackmail should be legal. Is Block right that blackmail is merely free speech and not an initiation of force? Since blackmail involves the withholding of very sensitive information – secrets some people would kill to protect – do laws against blackmail protect people from the likely initiation of force?

Is forced abortion murder or some other crime?

If a man forces a woman to have an abortion against her will, is that murder? Or is it some other crime like destruction of property or assault? If a man tricks a woman into taking birth control pills, is that a crime? Given that men don’t have a say over whether to have a child or not – as women do, via abortion – are such actions always wrong? Or might they be justifiable if a woman breaks her promise to have an abortion if she gets pregnant?

Does Ayn Rand’s philosophy encourage overwork?

In Ayn Rand’s novels, her heroes seem to have a nearly unlimited well of energy. They work long hours, and they don’t have many interests outside work. However, isn’t that dangerous? Does this approach to work risk exhaustion and burnout? What’s the rational approach to balancing work and self-care?

What counts as a right?

The passage of ObamaCare inspired me to think more about the nature of rights, particularly what constitutes a right. It seems to me that two criteria are required for a right: (1) it must be universally applicable (at least within the group – for example, it’s not expected that we grant an Iranian citizen the same rights we grant a United States citizen), and (2) it cannot infringe upon the rights of another (such as by demanding that someone give another goods or services). So for example, property rights are universal in that all human beings have the potential to own property, and the act of owning property does not infringe upon the potential for others to own property. Are these valid criteria for rights? Are they sufficient? What might I be missing?

What can be done to prevent the hijacking of Ayn Rand’s ideas?

Ayn Rand has become more and more popular over the last decade, and her ideas have begun to spread into academia. There is more literature being written about Objectivism now then ever before. But there is one thing that worries me. There is a great risk that as Ayn Rand becomes “trendy,” second handers will try to use her ideas, manipulate them, to gain respect, and to further their nefarious ends. This is exactly what happened to Friedrich Nietzsche—when his ideas became popular, his philosophy was hijacked by anarchists, nazis, and postmodernists, completely destroying his reputation for a century. How do we prevent this from happening to Ayn Rand?

How should a person approach the study of history?

I’ve always prided myself on being a “student of history” – meaning that I read and think a great deal about the past and try to apply its lessons to the future. Is this a valid concept? Am I missing a bigger picture? Do you have any tips on being a better “student of history”?

Can a rational person extract any value from studying theology?

Theology includes a mix of arguments for the existence of God, plus views on ethics, and more. It’s the earliest form of philosophy. Can a person benefit by cherry picking ideas from theological teachings or does the mysticism and other faults outweigh any benefits?

What’s the proper response to an accusation of date rape in the absence of hard evidence?

When faced with this kind of serious accusation within a social group, what is the proper judgment and course of action? If the victim seems believable, should the accused rapist be shunned or banned from the group? Should private warnings be given to group members? Does refusing to engage in any public discussion of the matter constitute silent assent to the crime? Or should judgment and action be reserved until further evidence comes to light?

How can I overcome my paralyzing indecision?

I am caught amid some difficult circumstances at present. To make matters worse, I suffer from almost paralyzing indecision about major life decisions, especially with respect to career. As a result of my failure to act decisively, I have stagnated painfully for years, missing many opportunities. How can I break out of this horrible pattern?

Does the concept of the “gift economy” have any validity or value?

I recently read “Lynchpin,” by Seth Godin, and much of the book is devoted to the “Gift Economy.” One of his explicit messages is that you can make lots of money by sharing your skills and talents without charge, by making “gifts” of your time and talents to customers, who will later pay you for your time and talents. It’s my experience this can be true, but I think he’s conflating benevolence and good manners (and maybe marketing 101), all of which can be very helpful in advancing a career, with the giving “gifts.” What role should “gift giving” play in a free society in the field of economics? Is a “loss leader” or “free sample” properly viewed as a “gift” when you know a large percentage of the people who accept it will not do business with you? Another argument Godin makes is that tremendously productive people have given “gifts” to society. This sounds a bit like Ayn Rand’s concept of a “pyramid of ability.” Should the super-productive, who have created tremendous value for society, think of themselves as having given “gifts” to society? “Gifts” are given without expectation of payment or returned value; am I correct that to be morally good must be non-sacrificial, in that the giver should receive some non-monetary value in return?

Is it wrong to lie when filling out personality questionnaires when seeking employment?

Here’s an example of a common question: “True or False—Do you know anyone who has ever stolen anything?” The answer is obviously true, but It seems that my honest answers have not been getting me interviews. If I keep answering honestly, I am going to starve. If I say false, I get to eat. What is the best way to reconcile this dilemma? Should I continue to tell the truth or not?

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

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