New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 27 February 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Feb 272013

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:

How can I minimize interruptions at work?

I’m a programmer, and I need long stretches of quiet time in order to be productive. Unfortunately, my work has an open floor plan, and people tend to pop by my desk if they have a question. I hate those interruptions, but I don’t know how to discourage them without being snippy or unfriendly. Plus, sometimes my co-workers have good reason to interrupt me with a question or news. So how can I eliminate the unimportant interruptions?

Should I limit my time away from family in deference to their cultural expectations?

My family comes from a conservative Turkish background. They see the amount of independence granted me as a 19 year old as more than enough. I see it as unsatisfactory. In fact, they feel pushed to their limit by the amount of time I ask to spend away from family on a daily basis. They believe I should not ask for any more independence, as they are already trying their hardest to accept me having even a small amount. However, what I’m allowed is very little compared to most people my age. It affects what I can do or not with my life, not just in the short term but in the long term too. Should I respect my family’s wishes on this point, given that they are already trying their hardest within the context of their own cultural values? Or should I ask for more independence, even if that violates their beliefs?

Is it wrong to write essays I don’t believe to win contest money?

I am a current university student with severe financial limitations. I’ve found that one of my best assets is my knack for writing a solid, persuasive essay. Recently, I’ve come across a trove of very generous scholarship essay contests. I feel confident that I could write a solid essay for most of them. The problem is that the majority are funded by organizations whose values I don’t support. Specifically, the essays I’d have to write argue in favor of social and political policies with which I disagree. Would it be moral for me to enter these writing competitions? If I did, would I just be demonstrating my writing ability – or misleading the sponsor into thinking that I agree with what I’ve written?

Isn’t reproduction – not life – the standard of value?

In “The Objectivist Ethics,” Ayn Rand claims that “an organism’s life is its standard of value,” meaning that “that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.” She claims that on the grounds that the physical functions of a living organism are “actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism’s life.” In fact, however, evolutionary theory teaches us that reproduction, not life, is the ultimate end of every living organism. Is that true? If so, does that have implications for ethics?

Is “common sense” a form of rationality?

Wikipedia defines “common sense” as “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.” Is that a form of rationality? What’s the value of “common sense”? Should a rational person rely on common sense in moral decision-making?

How can people improve the quality of politicians in office?

Although it’s easy to condemn all politicians, some are better than others. How can we get more of the better politicians into office? Should people committed to rights run for office? Or should those people work to elect better (but still mixed) politicians? Or should they try to convince established politicians to embrace rights? What’s the best strategy for effective political change?

Are high taxes comparable to slavery?

On Facebook, some friends suggest that America is becoming more like Nazi Germany. Others share images comparing Americans workers to slaves picking cotton in the antebellum south due to our ever-higher taxes. I think these comparisons go way too far: Americans are still some of the freest people the world has ever known. No doubt, our freedom is being chipped away, but are we really like slaves or serfs?

What are the proper bounds of reporting versus interpretation in writing history?

In a recent blog post, you criticized “interpretation-heavy” histories. ( What constitutes too much or otherwise inappropriate interpretation – and why? Does interpretation by the author impair the reader’s capacity to draw his own conclusions? Doesn’t an author’s mere selection of which journalistic details to include in a history constitute an implicit interpretation?

Can a feminist be an advocate of individual rights?

Many feminists today are leftists, if not Marxists. Is another kind of feminism possible, where individual rights are recognized and upheld? More broadly, should a rational person want to be a feminist? What would such rational feminism look like?

Should alimony payments upon divorce be abolished?

Traditionally, a man was obliged to financially support his ex-wife upon divorce. Recent reforms have decreased the amount and duration of alimony in some states, as well as made it gender neutral (in theory). But are such payments ever justifiable? If so, under what conditions?

Are the promises of marriage binding when a spouse becomes self-destructive?

When couples marry, they often promise to stay together “for better or for worse” and “in sickness and in health.” But imagine that a wife chooses a self-destructive course of action – say, abusing drugs, profligate spending, or gambling. She refuses to listen to reason or change her behavior. Does the husband have an obligation to stay in the marriage or support her financially due to his past promise? If her self-destructive behavior causes some permanent disability, is he obliged to assist her financially or in some other way? Basically, what do the promises of marriage oblige a person to do?

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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