New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 14 March 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Mar 142014

As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer four (or so) 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:

Can evil be requited with good?

Christians claim that evil can and ought to be requited with good. So in “Les Miserables”, the Bishop inspired Jean Valjean to reform by telling the police that he willingly gave Jean the silver plate (and added the candlesticks) even though Jean stole the silver. Does this strategy ever work to reform an evildoer? Or is it merely a license to further evil? In some cases, might it be useful to “heap burning coals on [an evildoer's] head”? If so, when and why?

Does egoism suffer from “one thought too many”?

Bernard Williams argues that utilitarianism suffers from a problem of inappropriate motivation in which a person has “one thought too many” before acting morally. So, for example, a good utilitarian must calculate whether the general welfare is served by saving a drowning child before jumping into the water. A truly good person, in contrast, simply jumps into the water to save the child without that calculation. Wouldn’t this same objection apply to even rational, benevolent egoism? Or are those extra thoughts between situation and action actually rational?

Is sharing an interest in philosophy necessary for a good romance?

I am extremely interested in philosophy. I’m studying it and planning to make it my career. My girlfriend is not. She wants nothing to do with philosophy, although she is perfectly happy with me doing it. However, I find that I am missing that intellectual engagement with her. I’ve asked a number of times if she would try to talk to me about any sort of philosophical issue – really just anything deeper than day to day happenings – and she just can’t do it. She becomes uninterested or even begins to get overwhelmed and frustrated to the point of tears. Is it necessary for us to engage in this activity together to be happy? Is there any way that I can help her to engage in rational inquiry without it being forced on her, if at all?

Is creating art necessary for a moral life?

Since material values are a human need, independence requires that human beings engage in productive activity. Can the same logic be applied to art? Since art is a human need, does independence require human beings to be artistically creative? Would someone who enjoys art without producing any be an “aesthetic moocher”?

What is the value of artistic creation?

In “The Romantic Manifesto,” Ayn Rand discusses the value of art to those who experience it, but she does not say much about the value for those who create it. What is the value of artistic creation and expression to a rational person? Is artistic expression a human need? Is artistic creation a productive activity?

Are horse rescues a worthy charitable cause?

I know that you love horses, and that you’ve adopted dogs and cats from rescues. So what’s your opinion of horse rescues? Are they charities worth supporting? Are they a good alternative to euthanasia or slaughter? Would you ever adopt a rescued horse?

Do confidentiality agreements justify privacy lies?

Some professions, like clinical psychology, law, or sex work commonly utilize confidentiality agreements between professionals and clients due to the sensitive nature of the information shared between them. Generally, such professionals can (and do) have a policy of refusing to answer any questions about their clients and so avoid any supposed need for privacy lies to protect from nosy inquiries. However, these agreements also often include the understanding (sometimes explicit) that, if professional and client should ever meet in a social situation, the professional would follow the client’s lead about if and how they knew each other. This means that a dishonest client could push the professional into a lie. Yet even in the case where both people are basically honest, the mere act of showing recognition of each other could compromise the client’s privacy if the professional’s job is not a secret. And there are reasonable social situations in which you couldn’t hide familiarity without deceit of some kind. So ethically, we seem to be stuck between (1) clients having their privacy might be violated if they are unlucky enough to encounter their professional outside the office or (2) professionals having to lie to protect the privacy of their clients. Is there another alternative here? If not, what’s the best course?

What is “open Objectivism”?

Recently, I checked out the website of “The Atlas Society,” the organization run by David Kelley. It advocates for “open Objectivism,” which I assume means that each person defines what Objectivism is. Am I interpreting that correctly? Is this dangerous? How can people explain what’s wrong with this approach or combat it?

How can I become more comfortable advocating free market ideas?

In the past, I have found opportunities to express free market opinions to friends and acquaintances. However, I have found that in doing so, I lose focus on what matters most to me (i.e. my work and family) and my stress level spikes. For instance, commenting on a friends Facebook post where he scorned the wealthiest individuals in society, I found that my sleep was significantly impacted for about 7 days. During the first day I had to calm myself down many times to respond to my friend’s ad hominem replies. My physical conditions included shaky hands, damp armpits, and chattering teeth. All of that is presumably from an adrenaline response. Currently, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t know how to comfortably advocate free market ideas while maintaining my life, health, and happiness. I see this as me lacking a skill, not an innate failing. So am I doomed to keep my mouth shut? Can I learn these skills? If so, how and where?

Is evil is necessary for good to exist?

Often people – particularly religious people – say that evil exists so that we know what good is. I think this is wrong, because a thing is what it is regardless of whether it can be contrasted with an opposite. Also, this idea seems to imply a tautology that evil is non-good and good is non-evil. I think this just an “out” that people give to God. So does the existence of good require the existence of evil?

How can I overcome my past failure to capitalize on the perfect opportunity?

Two years ago, after years of struggling in the post-2008 job market, I had a job opportunity that could have been the best thing that ever happened to me. It was a job that represents my values and could have brought me much-needed financial success if I had pulled it off. But it was also an extremely difficult, demanding, and stressful proposition, and I was uncertain whether I have what it takes to succeed at it. To make matters worse, when it came along, I was depressed to the point of having lost the will to live. In my bad emotional state, I was unable to go through with the job, and I let the opportunity slip. In the two years since then, I have done nothing but hold down an menial job while reflecting on the missed opportunity. I can’t move on or get over the fact of what I did and have become almost obsessed with it. I need to approach the employer and ask him for another chance at it. It is doubtful that he would say yes, but I have nothing to lose by trying. However, for all the same reasons I didn’t go through with it before, I still cannot work up the will to do it. Every day I wake up wanting to die and I am so depressed that I can’t feel the warmth of a great opportunity; everything just seems hopeless and pointless. How can I rehabilitate myself enough approach the employer for a second chance?

How can I trust a therapist to help me?

I have psychological problems, and I probably need help. However, I have a negative view of the mental health profession in general due to bad experiences in the past. It bothers me that therapists are educated in modern universities where all forms of leftism and equally irrational psychological theories predominate. In my state, many licensed “counselors” are just social workers (the most leftist whackjob profession of all time) with government licenses to counsel people. I am afraid that they will have me involuntarily committed if I am honest about my thoughts of suicide, which I have ready plans to carry out if I decide to. How can I trust anybody in this [expletive deleted] profession?

Is ‘scientism’ an anti-concept?

In discussions about philosophy and social science, the pejorative label of “scientism” often arises. It seems to have two definitions. The first is “the improper application of scientific-sounding jargon to rationalize unscientific assertions.” The second definition is: “the application of any scientific discoveries to the discipline of studying human behavior.” Many leftwing and rightwing activists say that those two definitions are the same – meaning that any attempt to apply scientific discoveries to understanding human behavior is invalid, rationalistic scientism. They cite the eugenics movement as proof of this, and say that anyone who tries to apply scientific discoveries to understanding human behavior is as guilty of Scientism as were the eugenicists. I do think that some people cite neuroscience to foist irrational conclusions, such as saying that brain scans prove that non-leftwing people are more paranoid and hysterical than are leftwing people. But I think there are cases where applying scientific discoveries to studying human nature can be valid. Am I right to think that the pejorative label of “scientism” is a problematic “package deal”?

Is Immanuel Kant’s distinction between noumenal and phenomenal realms valid?

In the past, I’ve dismissed Kant’s distinction between noumenal and phenomenal realms simply because Kant seems to suggest that the noumenal realm is unknowable. If that were true, then not only can he not say anything about the noumenal realm, but he can’t even say that it’s unknowable because even that would require some evidence. Is that right? Does the distinction have any validity? If not, why is it so widely accepted by philosophers?

Do dog owners violate rights by allowing their dogs to poop on others’ lawns?

I live in a residential urban area along with many dog owners. On a daily basis, I observe those dog owners allowing their dogs to defecate on other peoples’ lawns. I view this action as a trespass and violation of property rights, whether or not they pick up afterward. (For those who believe that picking up after your dog mitigates the trespass, would you let your child play on that spot afterward?) I don’t believe that property owners should have to create fences, hedges, or other structures to prevent this trespass. On several occasions, I have asked owners not to let their dogs poop on the front lawn of our apartment. I have received various responses from polite acquiescence to incredulousness. Many dog owners seem to feel a sense of entitlement about using others’ property without permission. Isn’t that wrong? Would you agree that it is the SOLE RESPONSIBILITY of the animal owners to care for their pets without violating the rights of the people around them? What, if any, recourse would property owners have in a free society against blatant repeat offenders of this principle?

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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