New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 17 October 2012 at 4:00 pm  Question Queue
Oct 172012

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, submit it. Just e-mail me at to make arrangements.

Now, without further ado, the most recent questions added to The Queue:

How can I stop exchanging meaningless holiday presents with my siblings?

My siblings and I are friendly but not close, but we still exchange Christmas presents. Mostly, that means that we buy each other stuff that we really don’t want. That seems like a waste of time and money. I’d like to stop exchanging gifts with them, but how can I do so without hurting their feelings?

Can chess be regarded as a kind of art?

Can the concept of art be legitimately expanded to domains like chess? I find some chess combinations beautiful and enjoy contemplating them. Isn’t that similar to enjoying a work of art? If so, can we recognize different schools of art in different chess combinations? Particularly, could we see romanticism versus naturalism in chess?

Is it wrong to refuse to share lecture notes with a lazy student?

A classmate of mine is nice enough but a bit odd. She’s always at least 30 minutes late for lecture, and she doesn’t come to lab sometimes. In lecture, she does not take notes but instead usually draws the whole class period. Today, she asked to borrow some of my lecture notes. I told her that I noticed that she was always late and that she didn’t take notes, and she denied that. Still, I told her that lending her my notes would be inconvenient, then I suggested that she ask someone else. Normally, I’d be happy to share my notes, but in this case, I didn’t want to share the results of my efforts in attending this class on time, every day, and paying attention. Was that wrong?

Is it wrong to be indifferent to the rights-violations of people who advocate rights-violations?

Some celebrities actively promote the violation of rights by lending their support to political groups. For example, former American Idol contestant Krista Branch has actively campaigned against gay marriage on behalf of Focus on the Family. However, in a recent interview, Branch complained that people were pirating her songs. I know that Branch’s intellectual property rights should be respected, and I would never pirate her music. Yet I can’t feel any sympathy for her, given that she advocates violating other people’s rights. I’m of the opinion that people who advocate for the use of force against others should not be spared from the consequences of the kind of culture that creates. Is that wrong? Am I being malevolent? Should I defend her rights, even though she advocates violating my rights?

Am I wrong to be upset that I learned of my uncle’s death via Facebook?

My uncle recently died. We weren’t close, but I would have expected a phone call from my parents about it. Instead, I learned about his death via a Facebook status update from one of my cousins (not his child, but his niece). I’ve been really angry that I learned such momentous news that way, but I’m having trouble explaining why to my family. Am I wrong to be upset? If I should be upset, what’s wrong with what happened?

Do I owe my boyfriend an explanation for my breaking up with him?

I dated my recently-ex-boyfriend for a few months. Over the past few weeks, I realized that some personality and value differences preclude any long-term prospects. When I broke up with him, I didn’t give him any reasons why, and that really upset him. Do I owe him an explanation? Would that help or hurt our chances of a cordial relationship in the future? If I should talk to him about my reasons, what should I say?

What are “inalienable” rights?

The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But what does it mean to say that our rights to life, liberty, and property are “inalienable” or “unalienable”? If that means that the state cannot take away a person’s rights, then does the state violate the rights of criminals by imprisoning or executing them?

How would antibiotic misuse be handled in a free society?

It may be possible that antibiotic-resistant bacteria acquire such resistance by exposure to low doses of antibiotics. Such low doses may come from misuse of antibiotics, for example when taken to combat a cold or flu, which are viral infection against which antibiotics do nothing, or by not completing the full course as prescribed by a doctor. Antibiotics are indeed awesome drugs which have saved millions of people. But resistant bacteria pose a serious health problem, often causing serious and difficult-to-treat illness in third parties. What would be the proper way to address this problem in a free society?

Does the virtue of courage require struggling against the temptation to succumb to fear?

In your September 16th show, you argued that “it is far better for a person to cultivate a virtuous moral character so that right actions are easy for him, rather than constantly struggling against temptation.” How does this apply to the virtue of courage? The common understanding of courage is that it requires acting rightly in spite of fear. So the courageous person struggles to do the right thing in face of the temptation to retreat in fear. Is this a correct formulation? If so, wouldn’t that mean that a courageous person must constantly struggle against fear, not overcome it? If this view of courage is wrong, how would you define the virtue and its relation to fear?

Shouldn’t the government intervene when widespread racism makes life impossible for some people?

Given that the effect of strictly respecting the rights of private property owners in the South was that blacks could not find accommodations, health care, transportation, food, and other basic necessities of life, shouldn’t the government have intervened? Didn’t civil rights legislation help eliminate racism – and wasn’t that a good thing – even if that meant violating the right to property of racists?

Was California right or wrong to ban “gay cure” therapy for minors?

Recently, California banned “reparative” or “conversion” therapy – meaning, therapy that aims to make gay teenagers straight. Such therapy is widely regarded as dangerous pseudo-science by mental health professionals. The ban only applies to patients under 18. So adults can still choose such therapy for themselves, but parents cannot foist it on their minor children. Is such therapy a form of child abuse? Or should parents have the power to compel such therapy on their children, even if they’re morally wrong to do so?

Is social morality objective and enforceable by government?

Are “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “bad” enforceable objective standards or subjective preferences? If they are objective, what is the most effective means of social enforcement? If they are subjective, should we then encourage unrestrained personal freedom, with only personal responsibility as a self-limiter? Is that possible – or do we need caretaking by a (hopefully) benevolent government?

What is the purpose of government?

What is the purpose of government? If the purpose of government is to ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens, then should the government then remove all freedom of choice and expression in hopes of maintaining the safety and well-being of its citizens as a whole? If its purpose is to ensure that individual rights and freedoms are protected, then shouldn’t the government do as little as possible?

Is it wrong to work on a programming project that files tax returns?

I am a programmer, and I work for a private company. I am the lead developer on a on a system that files tax returns. I believe that all taxation is theft, and that our current tax system massively violates rights. I feel like hypocrite for working on this project. Am I wrong? What should I do?

Is yelling at and shaming an employee ever justifiable?

Imagine that a product at work must be shipped by a certain deadline – and if it’s late, the company will suffer a major loss. All the workers involved know that, yet as the deadline approaches, one worker works slowly, seemingly without concern for the deadline. When reminded, he acknowledges the deadline, yet his work continues to be as slow as ever. In such cases, might yelling at that worker – even shaming him in front of co-workers – be just what he needs to motivate him to get the project done? If not, what else should be done?

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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