New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 6 November 2013 at 12:00 pm  Question Queue
Nov 062013

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 the government monopoly on the use of force violate rights?

Anarchist libertarians have long argued that a rights-respecting government is a contradiction in terms. A government, by its very nature, must have a monopoly on the use of force. That must be a coercive monopoly, since the government will not permit competition in the form of any competing defense agencies advocated by anarchists. Hence, government will always violate rights. What is wrong – if anything – with this argument? I’ve never gotten a good answer, despite often inquiring about it. Moreover, what assurances do we have that this government monopoly will not behave like other monopolies, such that it gets out of control, increases costs, and eventually fails?

Would company scrip be a problem in a capitalist economy?

I’ve heard people object to capitalism on the grounds that companies would be able to issue scrip in place of legal tender, and that scrip would only be redeemable at company stores, which would be able to manipulate prices at their will. Is that a legitimate criticism? Would issuing scrip be permitted in a capitalist society? Would it be a problem?

Are public shamings morally justifiable?

I often read of judges handing down sentences designed to humiliate the offender, such as standing at a busy intersection wearing a sandwich board apologizing for their offense. Many people favor these kinds of punishments in lieu of jail time because they consume less resources of the penal system and are perhaps more effective. However, what’s the morality of similar shamings by the private section? A bodega in my neighborhood posts surveillance camera footage of shoplifters, usually with some snarky comment about their theft. I find this practice amusing, but is that moral? Is it akin to vigilantism?

Is it morally wrong to profit from someone else’s distress?

People often decry “taking advantage” of other people as cruel and wrong. For example, suppose that a person desperately needs water, and I charge him $1000 for a gallon from my tap, knowing that he can pay that much if he’s really that desperate. Is such price gouging immoral? Is it fundamentally different from other kinds of trade – or just different in degree? Is it morally wrong to profit so handsomely by the distress and scanty options of other people in this way?

Should sellers of homes be obliged to report the spiritual or criminal history of the property?

Many state laws require that “stigmatized” properties, such as those with a history of paranormal activity or a past owner such as Jeffrey Dahmer, be reported by real estate agents. That leads to the home being devalued in price. Should such a law exist? Moreover, should potential buyers take advantage of any “stigmatized” property, thereby offering and paying less, even though belief in paranormal activity is irrational?

Is performing sex act via webcam for pay a form of prostitution?

On some internet pornography sites, a person can pay models to strip on webcam. Most of these sites allow the customer to appear on his own webcam and engage in cyber-sex acts with the host. Is this a form of prostitution – or just pornography? Is it immoral for either party?

What should a person do when another person is likely to go insane or commit suicide if others cut him off?

At one point in my life, I knew a person who led such a self-destructive life that he essentially reached the point where he had to have evasions in place and enablers around him in order to keep sane, for if he fully realized how self-destructive he had been he would have literally gone insane or, extremely likely, committed suicide. I know this since I was aware of his extreme emotional instability persisting for decades, suicide attempts, alcoholism, and so on. The only way for him to keep it together was to keep evading how he ruined his life or be surrounded by people pretended to love and care for them, who in reality felt indifference or contempt since this person was very malicious, envious, and toxic towards other people. What should a person or network of people do in this case, where it’s extremely likely this person would simply lose his mind or commit suicide within a few days of people cutting him off?

In a free society, would psychics be prosecuted for fraud?

How would the government in a rational, free-market system handle people and businesses, such as the Psychic Friends Network, which claim to have psychic powers (such as being able to talk to the dead) and charge the gullible hundreds of dollars in fees for “spiritual consultations”? Would the government prosecute such people for fraud? Or would the government have a “caveat emptor” attitude and say, “If people want to waste their money on that nonsense, that’s their rightful prerogative”?

How can we better explain that benevolence toward others is egoistic?

In the October 7, 2013 podcast, you mentioned that people have a difficult time understanding how exercising benevolence towards one’s friends is egoistic and self-interested. Instead, they think that being benevolent toward anyone is “other-regarding” and hence, not egoistic. You also mentioned that proponents of ethical egoism need to develop new methods of explaining how egoism does not preclude benevolence toward others. How can egoists help people understand the proper distinction between altruism and egoism better?

Should a professor pass a student who deserved to flunk for fear of reprisals?

Because you’ve taught at the university level, I want to ask you about integrity in grading as a professor. Suppose you flunked a student who never showed up to class and didn’t complete the assigned work adequately. However, this student was well-connected to university donors and administrators. After you flunked this student, suppose that a high-ranking administrator threatened reprisals against you if you didn’t give this student a passing grade. What should you do? Would it be corrupt to comply with the administrator’s demand? What might you (or another professor) do instead?

Does the limited-liability of corporations allow them to harm people with impunity?

I have heard libertarians argue that the limited-liability status of corporations allows them to violate rights and not pay the full cost of doing so. I’ve heard an argument like this: suppose ten billionaires, each with a net worth of $1 billion, co-found a corporation. Each billionaire puts $100,000 into the company, and it doesn’t yet have any debts, giving the corporation a net book value of $1 million. This corporation ends up accidentally leaking toxic chemicals into a city, causing $100 million worth of damage. Yet if the victims sue the corporation for damages, they can receive no more than the $1 million value of the corporation, and they can’t go after the billionaire shareholders’ personal assets. Therefore, limited liability is evil. But can’t plaintiffs sue a corporation and in addition sue its principal stockholders personally? Are anti-corporation libertarians right that limited liability is a violation of rights that should be abolished?

How can I achieve greater psychological visibility?

Recently, I realized that many of my emotional difficulties in life – such as in maintaining motivation or keeping serene – may be exacerbated by feelings of psychological invisibility. In other words, I feel uncared for and unnoticed, and the deep dissatisfaction stemming from that could be potentially affecting a lot of areas in my life. For instance, I recently spoke to my manager as to my problems at work, and it made me feel so uniquely good that I was able to finish my shift in peace and on-track, in contrast to the bitter, near seething prior hours. That unique feeling indicates that I may have a deep unfulfilled emotional need in their area, hurting other realms of performance. Thus, what is psychological visibility? What does it add to my life? How can I satisfy it?

Is memory trustworthy?

Memory is often described as being highly fallible and even malleable. Is that true? If so, what are the implications of that for claims about the objectivity and reliability of knowledge? What are the implications for daily life? Should we trust our experiences when we can’t be trusted to remember them?

Should employers be required to warn employees of possible harms on the job?

Discovery Channel’s TV show titled “Gold Rush” depicted a South American gold miner using mercury in the mining process because mercury binds to gold and makes extraction from a “sluice.” Mercury being heavier, falls below the surface and is collectible at the bottom of a “sluice box.” The episode (possibly titled “The Jungle”) depicts workers using their bare hands in the sluice where I’m assuming they are in direct physical contact with the mercury. In a free society, should employers be allowed to expose their employees to such risks? Should they be obliged to warn them of those risks? Or are workers responsible for the risks and correct procedures of their job?

Should minors be forbidden from buying dangerous goods?

Under current law, minors are often restricted from buying goods regarded as dangerous, such as cigarettes, alcohol, fireworks, or firearms. In a free society, should those restrictions be abolished or upheld? Should parents be allowed to permit their children to buy such goods?

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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