New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 20 November 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Nov 202013

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:

Should a person seek to create a stylized life?

In “The Romantic Manifesto,” Ayn Rand said that “An artist does not fake reality—he stylizes it. He selects those aspects of existence which he regards as metaphysically significant—and by isolating and stressing them, by omitting the insignificant and accidental, he presents his view of existence.” Should a person try to stylize his own life, such as by deliberately cultivating a consistent personal aesthetic? Should he aim to make every aspect of his life reflect his values – eliminating the rest? Would that make for a more integrated and meaningful life – or might that be dangerous or undesirable in some way?

Could force be morally used in self-defense against people enabling violations of rights?

Suppose there is a tyrannical politician or a corrupt businessman in a semi-free society like America. The tyrannical politician drafts and campaigns for legislation that blatantly violates the rights of his constituents. The corrupt businessman colludes with the government to destroy his competitors. Suppose that these two people are consciously evil. They know what they are doing is immoral, and they do it because they despise the good. Would it be moral to initiate force against them, i.e. assassinate them? On one hand, they may not have directly initiated force against anyone, but aren’t they technically responsible for forcibly violating the rights of hundreds or thousands of people? In that case, wouldn’t initiating the use of force against these people be a form of self-defense?

Should my romantic partner be interested in and supportive of my accomplishments and pursuits?

I have struggled for years in a relationship with someone who shows no interest in or support for my pursuits. I try not to be hurt. I tell myself I just need to do better in order to be worthy of respect and admiration. When I do explain to my partner why I’m hurt, he says I am being needy and that I shouldn’t need his praise or reinforcement. I don’t know how to logically disagree with this, yet I know how good it feels to receive earned praise from friends, and how painful it feels to accomplish something big and not receive any acknowledgement from my partner. What kind of emotional support should be expected from a partner? If a partner is dismissive and neglectful, how can one gain the confidence needed to leave the relationship?

If a victim of child molestation doesn’t feel harmed were his rights still violated?

Recently, Richard Dawkins spoke of an incident in which an adult supervising him sexually molested him. Dawkins said that, at the time, he didn’t understand what happened, and that he didn’t physically struggle against the molester. Nor did he feel particularly afraid or intimidated at the time. Then, most controversially, Dawkins added that he didn’t think any real violation of his rights occurred given those circumstances. Is that right? I think that Dawkins’ rights were violated, but I have trouble explaining exactly why.

Should government action that would benefit everyone but violate rights be forbidden?

Suppose that the government taxed people to pay for more basic and applied scientific and technological research – and that such could be shown to increase the standard of living of the population quicker than what would would happen under private funding. Would such taxes violate rights? Would it be immoral? Should it be forbidden?

Does photography qualify as art?

I’ve always viewed photography as a legitimate form of art. However, many people I disagree: Ayn Rand argued that it’s a technical rather than a creative skill. However, I regard photography as a technical and creative skill, just like painting. So does photography qualify as art? If not, does that mean that photography doesn’t have value – or has less value than proper art forms like painting? If photography has value nonetheless, what is the source of that value?

Is laughing at absurd but tragic events wrong?

I work for a modest land surveying company in South Florida. Today, a seemingly deranged man parked his van on top of a highway interchange ramp, pulled out a rifle with an American flag stuck in the barrel, put a noose around his own neck, and seated himself on the concrete railing, about 80ft from the other highway below. (The other end of the rope was attached to the van.) On the side of the van, hand-painted letters read “Hippocrates [sic] Traitors.” I don’t know what he wanted, but his stunt shut down both highways for three hours while police and SWAT tried to talk him down. I happened to be in the area, working on a construction site, close enough to see him sitting on the railing – and I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. While I understand that suicide isn’t a laughing matter, the situation was so absurd. I wasn’t alone in my reaction. Is that kind of laughter inappropriate or wrong? What explains it, other than the sheer absurdity of the situation? Is it wrong to laugh at absurd but horrible events?

Should corporations employ lobbyists to protect their rights?

Free market advocates (including me) rightly decry cronyists for using the state regulatory apparatus to get special privileges. However, many corporations regard having lobbyists in Washington as a strategy to protect their rights. Is that a viable strategy – or does that merely sanction and encourage cronyism? In other words, is lobbying inherently corrupt? Would such lobbying exist in a free society?

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?

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

    “Does the government monopoly on the use of force violate rights?”

    Well, at least this question is easy enough to answer.

    The question that follows it is easy enough to answer as well.

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