New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 15 January 2015 at 2:00 pm  Question Queue
Jan 152015

As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer 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 I trust the medical profession more?

I suffer from a serious chronic disease. I have become extremely dismayed both at how limited medicine is in its ability to help me and how consistently wrong the doctors I’ve consulted have been about everything they’ve ever said. I have come to believe that doctors are poorly trained in medical school and that most people in the profession are basically second-handed. I attribute this situation to the extreme degree of government control over the medical profession, especially licensing laws and FDA controls. Is my attitude justified, or am I being overly negative?

Are people living in a free society obliged to contribute to its government?

Given that each person benefits hugely from the protection of his and others’ individual rights by the government of a free society, does each person have an obligation to contribute to that government in some fashion? If so, is that obligation just a moral obligation or might it be a legal obligation too? Would public scorn for “free riders” or benefits given to contributors be enough motivation for people to contribute what’s required to keep the government operational? Or is that unrealistic?

Is it hypocritical to manufacture products based on wrong ideas?

I work in CNC manufacturing (computer numerical control), and I recently purchased one of our machines in order to start a side business as a craftsman. Many immediate family members, for instance, would be interested in personalized home furniture goods like wall hangings, picture frames, jewelry boxes, and so on. Items with a Christian theme – like a cross with a Bible verse – are easy to make, customizable, and sell widely and well. Given that I’m an atheist, would manufacturing such goods be hypocritical? But what about other religious imagery, such as an engraved picture of the god Aries sleeping with Aphrodite and being caught her husband Hephaestus? After all, Greek mythology endorsed self-sacrifice, which I oppose. Also, what of historically-relevant symbols flags for Great Britain and Nazi Germany on a game board? I would refuse to print something like an ISIL flag but that seems different. So do these symbols have some intrinsic meaning that I would be promoting if I were to create them? Or are they merely given meaning by particular people in particular contexts, such that my producing and selling them isn’t of any moral significance?

How should a doctor respond to questions about her religious beliefs?

My wife recently told me about a colleague of hers – a physician and an atheist – being caught off guard when asked by the parents of one of her cancer patients in the hospital if she believed in God. These parents wanted their son treated only by a doctor who believes in God, and my wife’s friend did not qualify. How should she have answered their question?

It is moral to advocate for the boycott of a business?

Over the holidays, my brother and I discussed cases in which businesses are compelled by government to provide services against their will. For example, the Colorado courts demanded that a bakery make cakes for gay couples or face fines. We agreed that the business should be left free to operate as they see fit, absent violating anyone’s actual rights, and reap the rewards or penalties from their choice. Where we diverged was on the moral status of the business owner and whether the bakery deserved to be boycotted. In my view, the decision of the owner of the Colorado bakery was immoral: they were being irrational, discriminating by non-essentials. My brother disagreed. Moreover, my brother opposed any advocacy of a boycott, seeing this as a call for force to be applied against the owner. This would be wrong, in his view, but he would be fine with suggesting that people patronize a different store. Ultimately, I found that I could not adequately explain why I think people might actively and openly oppose wrong acts by businesses, even if those acts don’t violate rights. So what justifies such boycotts, if anything?

How does personality theory affect ethics?

In your 21 December 2014 discussion of the relationship between philosophy and science, you stated that your grasp of personality theory has given you a fresh perspective on ethics and changed your understanding of the requirements of the virtues. How does personality theory inform the field of ethics, in general? How should personality theory inform our moral judgments? How does one avoid slipping into subjectivism when accounting for personality differences? (Presumably, it doesn’t matter whether Hitler was a High-D or not before we judge him as evil.) How can we distinguish between making reasonable accommodations for personality differences and appeasing destructive behavior and people? Do signs of honesty or dishonesty vary between personality types? Are virtues other than justice affected by an understanding of personality theory?

Is it wrong to contribute to a podcaster with odious political views?

I listen regularly to about a dozen different podcasts and I try to contribute financially to those that request listener contributions (with the exception of those produced by NPR). I generally feel that if I am getting some value from a service I should give something back in return. However, one of the hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, the Life of Caesar, is a full-blown Chomskyite who occasionally uses the platform to express his opinion that America is a brutal empire, that the pursuit of wealth is immoral, that capitalism is inherently exploitative, that the failure of communism in the late twentieth century in Cuba, the USSR, and other places was a result of American oppression, etc. Moreover, he connects the events in the history he discusses to events happening today, and although I have the perspective to distinguish the Marxist theory from the historical facts I worry that other listeners might not. I can forgive these interjections enough to listen to the show because I find the host, Cameron Reilly, very funny and I appreciate his methodology in the study of history. The show is generally well made and enjoyable and I receive actual value from it, but he and his partner frequently discuss their desire to produce podcasts full time. Although I’d like to see more shows from them because I enjoy their work, I worry that I’d be spending money to support the spread of ideas I consider evil. Should I contribute to this show? Should I send in half of what I would otherwise send and give the other half to an organization that spreads rational ideas? Or should I just send all my podcast contributions to Philosophy in Action?

Should I pursue a career that interests me even if I don’t have much aptitude for it?

I have a strong interest in the field of bioengineering for what it can potentially accomplish. However, in my own estimation, I have little aptitude for hard science and seriously doubt whether I can succeed academically in the areas necessary to enter the field. This self-assessment is based on my academic history, life accomplishments, and aptitude test results. My Should I try to pursue this career against the odds anyway, or should I accept that I don’t have the intellectual capability to do so?

What is the moral status of actions aimed at tending to one’s body?

In an egoistic ethics, the ultimate end of moral action is the growth and continuation of one’s own life. Ayn Rand elaborated on discussed many of the kinds of actions required to achieve this goal, but she didn’t discuss matters of “bodily care,” such as cleaning your teeth, clipping your fingernails, exercising regularly, bandaging a wound, and seeking necessary medical care. These constitute a whole universe of actions necessary for the maintenance of one’s body and, hence, one’s life. Are such actions moral and virtuous? Should bodily care itself be considered a virtue? Or are these actions already subsumed under the virtues. (If so, I would love to know how to brush my teeth with integrity and pride!)

How should nuisance limits be set for new technology?

Often new technologies initially involve negative side effects, and sometimes those side effects impact even those who didn’t choose to use the new technology. Here’s an example: supersonic flight. Supersonic aircraft are generally noisier than slower aircraft – they lay down a sonic boom when they fly over. In the US, supersonic travel has been banned outright since the 1960s due to concerns about boom noise. There’s technology to help quiet the aircraft, but no one knows how much “quiet” (and political muscle) it will take to reverse this ban – and as a result we’re still trundling around at 1960s speeds. But this is only one example. Many other technologies (e.g., fossil fuels) initially have some physical impact even on those who choose not to adopt, until they advance sufficiently that the impact is immaterial. In a free society, how should these technologies be allowed to develop? What restrictions should be placed, and how? How does one objectively determine, for instance, how much noise pollution from aircraft constitutes a rights violation?

How much confidence should a person express in his/her own opinions?

I work with a woman who constantly makes declarative statements about things for which she lacks sufficient facts and knowledge. The result is that she is often contradicted and people have to tell her, “That’s not true.” She will argue with them and then they have to prove her wrong so that the conversation can move forward. By contrast, I’ve noticed that I often express uncertainty in ways that undermine confidence in my knowledge and experience. The default position I tend to take is that maybe I am missing something and the other people in the conversation can give me that information. How does one learn to strike the right balance between being open to new facts and information but also being confident in one’s own knowledge and experience?

How should the police respond to people resisting arrest?

Recently, Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York City have made headlines because they were killed by police officers who, many feel, used excessive force during their respective encounters. While the two cases were quite different, they did have one thing in common. In both cases, the officers were compelled to use force which resulted in lethal injury when the men, Brown and Garner respectively, resisted arrest. Brown attacked officer Wilson and then ran away, refusing to stop until Wilson chased him down. Garner refused to be arrested. Is there a more objective way to deal with an arrest in a free society? Since, in a free society, the government has a monopoly over the use of force, does that mean that the police are allowed to use brutal force when a suspect refuses to comply with the officer’s demands, regardless of the charges against the person in question?

Should I cut ties with my homophobic family?

My boyfriend and I visit my family every year for Christmas, and every year they treat him rudely and unfairly. This is solely because they do not accept my sexuality, and they blame him for it. I have made it very clear that if their behavior continues, I will no longer visit them on holidays. They always agree to my terms, but as soon as we arrive, they immediately go back on their word. To make matters worse, I visited them alone this summer for my birthday. During my visit, the daughter of a “family friend” “just happened to stop by.” It was very clear to me that this was a set up. When we received a moment alone, I told her that I was in a happy, committed relationship with a man. Her reaction showed that she was entirely deceived. I left the house, and I have not spoken to my family since. I have no desire to have a relationship with them. Should I permanently end the relationship?

What is the value of “political correctness”?

I used to be a fairly typical ‘right-winger’ who would regularly cry out ‘political correctness has gone mad!’ While I still come across politically correct ideas that I find ridiculous (e.g. the ban bossy campaign), I’m finding myself more sympathetic to these ideas as I become more informed on them. So I’m now in favor of using the right pronouns for transgender people, avoiding words that can be perceived as derogatory (e.g. fag), and even changing school event names like ‘parent day’ or ‘Christmas party’ to something that doesn’t exclude those it doesn’t apply to. Where should the line be drawn between “political correctness” and making valuable change in our language or practices to be more accommodating and inclusive of people outside the mainstream? Are there legitimate concerns about language becoming more politically correct?

Is it wrong to live tweet conversations between strangers that you overhear?

A woman recently live tweeted a date between two people who met on Tinder. Based on her tweets, the date was pretty awful. Lots of people found what she wrote funny, and her tweets were widely circulated. But was what she did wrong? Would it matter if she had identified the people on the date in some way?

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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