New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 25 March 2015 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Mar 252015

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:

What are the philosophical underpinnings of growth versus fixed mindsets?

At SnowCon, we discussed the negative impact of the doctrine of Original Sin on Western culture over breakfast one morning. We saw that this idea — which tells people that they are hopelessly flawed by nature — could encourage fixed mindsets. In contrast, an Aristotelian understanding of virtue and vice as dispositions cultivated by repeated action would seem to promote a growth mindset. What other philosophic ideas might tend to promote a fixed versus a growth mindset?

Should I respond to an “Earth Hour” company email?

Every year my company’s HR department sends out an email telling us to turn everything off and share stories about “the amazing things… (we)… get up to… saving the planet.” I feel like I should respond – to at least offer an alternative viewpoint. Silence seems like tacit endorsement. (After all, what kind of heretic would question this moral enlightenment?!?) These emails annoy me because we’re a computer software company. Everything we do relies on energy – consistent, reliable energy. Plus, there’s hypocrisy on multiple levels: you’re asked to turn your lights off for one hour. Try a week. Better yet, turn off your fridge/freezer for a few days and watch the abundance of life grow! Plus, while being asked to print less to reduce our footprint, our HR person has just returned from a world trip. We’re a 100 person company. I’m not sure if this email is company policy or just an arbitrary HR effort. I’ve heard that it is better to register a polite disavowal rather than surrender a value in silence. But I’m concerned that an emailed response to the same company distribution group would strike a sour note. So is it moral cowardice to stay silent, or is it common sense? What should I prioritize – smooth relationships with co-workers or the politicized pseudo-science of environmentalism? Or do I have other options?

When is a person obliged to report knowledge of a crime?

About ten years ago, as a nurse, I heard a patient planning to do something illegal – particularly, to lie to an insurance company about the relationship between her injuries and the car accident so that she could keep all the settlement money. At the time, I decided to disengage but not confront or report her. I opted for that due to concerns about patient privacy, the non-violence of the planned crime, and the fact that the insurance company could detect her lie from her medical records. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the situation. I’m trying to come up with a principle, and I’m getting all muddled. What is my moral responsibility to intervene or report when I know that another person is planning or has done something illegal – meaning, something that would violate someone’s rights? Does my responsibility change if it’s a friend (assumed in confidence) or stranger (overheard in public)? Does it matter if the crime has already taken place or is merely in the works? Where is the line regarding severity of the crime? (I’d obviously report if I even heard a stranger plotting murder.) Also, what if you might be harmed if you report, such as in the case of a gang murder? Is there some basic principle that can clarify when a person is obliged to report knowledge of a crime?

Should blackmail be illegal?

Recently, a UK man received seven years in prison after pleading guilty of blackmailing two men he had anonymous sex with at a park in Worcester, England. Is that just? In these cases, the blackmailed men were lying to their spouses, and laws against blackmail simply enables their ongoing deception. Putting aside cases of contractual breach, invention, and other sorts of fraud, should blackmail like this be illegal?

Does intuition have any validity?

Intuition is defined as “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” Assuming that we’re not talking about mystical insight, is this possible? When, if ever, should a person rely on such intuitions? How should he check them?

What are the signs of emotional repression?

It’s very important not to repress your emotions, especially if you are a person with rationalistic tendencies. But how might a person identify when he’s repressing some emotions? What are the signs? What can be done to avoid and overcome the tendency to repress, if such a tendency has become habitual?

Should it be illegal to smoke around children?

A recently introduced bill in New Mexico would forbid smoking with kids in the car. With all the research related to the dangers of second-hand smoke, does smoking with a child strapped in the back seat really amount to a form of child abuse or endangerment? If so, should the government forbid adults from smoking around kids everywhere?

What’s the value of hierarchical organizations?

One of the main goals of socialists is to abolish hierarchy. They seek to do this by abolishing capitalism, which they see as inherently hierarchical. Advocates of free markets have pointed out, however, that it is perfectly possible for a non-hierarchical organization to exist under a capitalist system, that socialists would have every right to form private co-operatives and such in a free society. Nevertheless, we have to admit that such is not common practice under modern capitalism (or quasi-capitalism): the vast majority of corporations, partnerships, and other private organisations have a strictly hierarchical structure with a boss at the top, administration below him, and rows and rows of employees of various rank below that. Why is this the case? What are the advantages of hierarchical organization? Would a free society be more or less hierarchical?

Are the religious freedoms of Christian bakers being infringed?

Over the past year, the news has been inundated with stories about Christian bakery owners refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings. These bakers are defended by the Christian right for exercising their “religious liberty” and decried by the secular left for discrimination. I am somewhat sympathetic to the bakers, though I am gay myself. However, it isn’t their religious liberty that’s been violated, but their right to their property. When I speak to people about this issue, they don’t understand where I’m coming from when I say the property rights of these bakers are important. Yes, their actions are motivated by a ridiculous moral code, but that isn’t the issue. What is the best way to respond to people who think that these Christian bakers should be forced to bake cakes for gay weddings? Given that businesses are already prohibited by law from discriminating against other minorities, would it be so wrong for the law to encompass sexuality-based discrimination too?

Is the existence of a prison system congruent with a free and just society?

Prisons are seen as a kind of “criminal holiday resort” by some and by others as a sort of criminal “training center.” Prisons help criminals network, harden their character, and learn new crime skills. In addition, the prison system has grown up as part of an overall trend within society towards what one might call the “management and correction of human beings.” Prison is not about punishing people for their actions, but about educating them—about moulding them into “better citizens.” It has been argued (mostly notably by Michel Foucault) that prisons are simply part of a general mechanism of government control, that includes institutions such as schools and mental asylums, all of which operate on a similar philosophy of government enforced correction and education. Should then a society based on opposite principles – on the principles of individualism, small government and personal responsibility – eschew the prison system? If so, what would it be replaced with, if anything? If not, what justifies the existence of the prison system in a free society?

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?

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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