Question: 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?
Question: 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. 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?
Question: Should a person always care to work or earn money? Most people need to work to earn their bread, so to speak. They need to be productive – and be paid for that – to survive. However, that's not true in all cases. Perhaps someone has inherited enough money to provide for his life, or he has won the lottery, or a spouse can provide for the two of them. That person still needs a purpose in life to work toward, but must that purpose be productive, in the strict sense of creating material values? Might the person reasonably choose to spend his time studying subjects of interest to him, without any other goal in mind? Might he choose to spend the rest of his life travelling? Or producing art for his own personal satisfaction? Could such a person live a happy, virtuous, and meaningful life?
Question: 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 had what it would take 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 a 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 to approach the employer for a second chance?
Question: Should a person quit or wait to be fired from an increasingly intolerable job? I have been employed with a large company for 26 years, and it has been a mildly satisfying career until recently. Since a new CEO took the helm, working conditions have degraded exponentially. Some changes were necessary. Others are arbitrary and designed to intimidate employees to the point of resignation. For example, I recently phoned to report in sick, and I had to argue for an hour and a half before they would show me unavailable. The actuarial value of my pension at this point is about $400,000. If I stay for six more years, that amount will double. I believe that the shareholders have a right to fire me if I don't toe the line. But I believe that management is violating my rights by blatantly circumventing my contract. (For example, time off depends on manpower available, but they've laid off 20% of the workforce.) So should I quit now – or should I hang on and wait to be fired?
Question: How can I overcome my fear of leading a value-less life? Ever since I was young, I've had an overwhelming fear of leading a valueless life. I saw my parent and other adult role models live this way. There was nothing in their life: they never strived for anything, never had dreams, and tended to discourage dreams from others. I always thought that I would be different. I always thought that I could live in a fulfilled way. But slowly I noticed that I was falling into their path. I didn't start college till 23 because of student aid issues. Until then I worked minimum wage, and I went without food some days. Now at 26, I have a 2 year degree. Even with my new job I still live in a drug and prostitution infested ghetto in Philadelphia because this is the only place I can afford. After calculating how long it will take me to get my career off the ground, I could graduate with a MS by 30 or 32. But noticing the patterns that I see in other people, I have this overwhelming fear that all attempts at achieving a value will slowly slip my grasp. I constantly needed to push values off till tomorrow until I get today straightened out. I am scared that tomorrow will never come. I have so many goals and dreams and values but I might never get to achieve them. I see it so clearly sometimes: 45, divorced, alone, with nothing to show for my hard work, debt, a giant mortgage or even worse perpetual renting, and my only outlet going to the pub with other Philly white trash middle-agers. How can rational philosophy help me gain perspective on this fear that I have had since a kid?
Question: How can I convince myself that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence? Whatever subject I study, I think about all the other subjects I'm not studying. Whatever work I'm doing, I think about all the other work I'm not getting done. Whatever book I'm reading, I think about all the other books I could be reading. I want to do everything, and I want to do all of it right now. How can I convince myself to be happy with what I'm actually doing and able to do? How can I stop this perpetual cycle of boredom and longing for change?
Question: Is it moral to live on passive income or just work a "four hour work week"? Would that be compatible with the idea that a person's productive work should be his central purpose? If a person is so productive that he is able to enjoy a great life by only working a few hours per week, would it be wrong for that person to spend the rest of his time on travel, relationships, hobbies, self-improvement, education, and other non-productive interests?
Question: Should a person without other options accept welfare from the government? I've had generalized anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember. I live in Sweden, and my government has so many labor regulations that no business can hire me, and charities don't exist to help me. Is it wrong, in such a case, to accept government assistance? I don't have any savings, and it seems like my only other options are criminal activity and suicide.
Question: How can I identify my own central purpose? I understand the importance of a central purpose to organize my values and pursuits. However, I'm not sure how to identify what my central purpose is. What if I have a few major pursuits, but none dominates the others? What if my career is in flux – or not yet settled? Also, how concrete or abstract should my central purpose be?
Question: What is the meaning and value of a central purpose? In "The Objectivist Ethics," Ayn Rand says that "productive work is the central purpose of a rational man's life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values." I find that confusing. What constitutes a central purpose? How does it function in a person's life, particularly in relation to other values like a spouse, children, and hobbies? Should I be worried if I don't have a clearly identified central purpose?
Question: How can I make my boss more communicative? My boss hardly ever tells me company news affecting my projects, even when critical. As a result, I've wasted days and weeks on useless work, and I've gotten into needless conflicts with co-workers. I'm always guessing at what I should be doing, and I just hate that. What can I do to make my boss to be more communicative with me?
Summary: What is the work of a prosecutor really like? In this interview, former Arizona prosecutor William E. Perry discussed the cases he prosecuted and various issues in criminal law – including the role of juries, standards of evidence, the drug war, confessions, and plea bargaining.
Question: Is it wrong for a person to do less than his best at work? At work, I used to go above and beyond my basic obligations routinely. However, I was never recognized or rewarded for my superior performance. Instead, I was paid the same as those who barely functioned in their jobs. To this day, my employer uses only collective or team recognition; he does not appreciate individuals. Also, those who do poorly or make serious mistakes are not being disciplined, while those of us who work hard are given more duties. My response has been to lower my own work output. While I meet the minimum standards of my employment and still do far more than my equally paid coworkers, I am not performing nearly close to the level I could. Is that wrong of me? Should I do my best at work, even though my employer doesn't seem to value that? Should I continue to suggest ideas for improvement – and perhaps work on them on the side, in secret, if ignored?
Question: Is it wrong to accept Social Security disability benefits when I could work? I'm blind. Although I can work, my recent job at the IRS seemed to be so soul-draining and vexing that I determined to look elsewhere for employment. However, jobs are limited right now, and I am not sure what else I want to do at this point. Was it right for me to quit my job before having the next one lined up? In the meantime, is it moral for me to receive Social Security? Have I gone from being a maker to a taker?
Question: Is time for recreation compatible with the virtue of productiveness? If productive work is the means by which I achieve my values, how can one justify spending even one minute doing something that doesn't propel me toward some value? I am specifically referring to leisure activities like going to the movies, playing video games, and following sports. I'm not referring to activities that have obvious benefits like sleep, exercise, or cooking healthy food. What about hobbies that are enriching, but ultimately have no productive purpose like dance or guitar lessons (assuming I don't want to perform in either context as a career)? Is pursuing such hobbies wrong?
Question: Is it a sacrifice for a soldier to fight for his country? Most people regard fighting for one's country to be a glorious sacrifice. The soldier risks life and limb, but gets little in return. Assuming a proper government and a justified war for self-defense, is serving in the military a sacrifice? And if so, is that sacrifice noble?
Question: Can parenting be a central purpose in life? Many people think that only a career can serve as a person's central purpose. They think that a central purpose must be remunerative, and that it can't be merely temporary. Is that right? Can parenting be a person's central purpose, even if only for a few years?
Question: Should an employer have to explain and justify his firing of an employee? Should an employer be able to fire an employee for some alleged misconduct, even though the employer never bothered to verify the misconduct, nor asked the employee for his side of the story? For example, suppose that when the employee shows up for work he is simply told that he's been fired because someone made a complaint about him. The employee could easily prove the complaint to be false but the employer isn't concerned with proof or lack thereof. The employee's reputation in the eyes of possible future employers is damaged, even if the employer never discusses the firing with anyone else. In such a case, should the employee be able to sue for having been fired without proper cause?
Question: Is it moral to work for the IRS? Is it morally wrong to work for government agencies like the IRS (or equivalent tax bureaus), IAS (Indian Administrative Services), or the EPA? I'm an advocate of free markets. Would I be a hypocrite to work for such illegitimate government agencies?
Summary: Do you want to accomplish more? Do you find yourself spinning your wheels or procrastinating on your projects?
Question: How can I encourage my friends to be more purposeful and passionate? I have been certain about my life's purpose – in terms of what career and personal creative works I'd like to pursue – from a young age. I've had friends who are above-average in their academic and career work, and who explore various hobbies, but they do not pursue those activities with eager passion. They say that they "do not know what they want out of life" and have not "found their calling." What is at the root of uncertainty about one's purpose? Is there a moral breach involved? How can I motivate, encourage, and inspire my friends?
Question: Should employers ask applicants for their Facebook logins and passwords? More employers are asking job applicants for their Facebook logins and passwords as part of a background check. Of course, applicants can decline, in which case they might not be considered for the job. Should employers be asking for this information? Is it proper to want to check on the online activities of potential employees? Is that an invasion of privacy? How should someone respond if asked by a potential employer?
Question: How can I manage my projects better? Too often, I'm overwhelmed by the sheer volume of projects on my agenda. Because I'm overcommitted, I'll miss important deadlines or allow some projects to be delayed into oblivion. Other times, my work is rushed and sloppy. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that I become paralyzed, and then I don't get any work done. What can I do to manage my various work and home projects better, so that I keep making progress on what really matters to me?
Question: Did Ayn Rand regard women as inferior to men? I admire Ayn Rand, and I've used her philosophy in my business and personal life, but I disagree with her view of women. In her article "About a Woman President," Ayn Rand said that "For a woman qua woman, the essence of femininity is hero-worship – the desire to look up to man. 'To look up' does not mean dependence, obedience or anything implying inferiority." Yet her view seems to imply inferiority in practice: Rand says that no woman should aspire to be U.S. President because that would put her in the psychologically unbearable position of not having any man to look up to. So, does Rand's view imply that women are inferior to men? What is the factual basis of her view, if any? Do you agree with her?
Question: Should a person always be interested in the creative works of a romantic interest or lover? I'm romantically interested in a woman who writes as her career. While my admiration of her is based in her virtues and even heroic qualities, I'm don't find the subjects of her writing to be particularly interesting. If I were to begin dating this woman, should I read everything that she's written and writes?
Question: What should I do if I have a good job but not burning professional ambition? I have a good job that pays well. I perform my job well to the best of my ability. But I don't feel about it the same way that Howard Roark felt about the field of architecture in The Fountainhead or that Dagny felt about the railroad business in Atlas Shrugged. I don't hate my job – I do enjoy the work and the people I work with. But it's not my burning passion. On a scale of 1-to-10, my paying job (and the overall field) is a 7, but I also have various non-paying outside hobbies and activities that are more of a 8 or 9 for me. Should I try to cultivate a strong passion for my paying job? Or look for a different line of work? Or ramp up my pursuit of various hobbies and outside activities that give me greater satisfaction on the side?
Question: Is it moral to sell your body? Selling our bodies or certain parts of them are perfectly acceptable in our society, such as being an egg or sperm donor, being a pregnancy surrogate, or selling hair. But others are condemned, such as prostitution or selling organs. Where should the line be drawn? When is it moral to sell a part of oneself – and why?
Question: At death, should a person regret all the years spent at work? I often hear the saying, "No one ever laid on their death bed wishing they had spent more time in the office." What should a person think of that – and of the fact that so many people agree with it – in light of the virtue of productiveness?
Question: Is it immoral to work for a company that uses government to eliminate or hamper the competition? For example, if a company has brought antitrust lawsuits against its competitors, should you refuse to work for them?
Question: Can lobbying be a proper career choice? Lobbying involves asking for various kind of favors from the government. Is that a profession that someone who values free markets should avoid like the plague?
Question: Is it proper to join non-mandatory professional groups? Many professional organizations provide great benefits to their members, such as educational opportunities, professional conferences, networking, journal subscriptions, insurance, and product discounts. However, many also engage in lobbying of government officials on issues both related to the profession's direct interests and on issues only loosely associated (i.e. funding for political candidates). While some of this lobbying can be viewed as professional self-defense in an immorally regulated industry, where does one draw the line? Is there a point where joining professional associations is providing sanction to activities you believe are wrong?
Question: Should a married couple ever separate temporarily for the sake of their respective careers? In your 1 May 2011 webcast, you said that long-distance relationships are inherently problematic because the people are living separate lives due to the physical distance between them. Does that mean that committed couples should never separate temporarily for career reasons? If they do, how can they manage that better so as to preserve the relationship?
Question: What is the difference (if any) between 'productiveness' and 'productivity'? People often seem to use the terms interchangeably, but are they the same?
Question: Would it be ethical for a public relations practitioner to work for a client whose activities, while legal, potentially damage others--e.g., defend cigarette/alcohol companies, or fast food producers, or asbestos manufacturers?
Question: I've been thinking about my central purpose in life (CPL) quite a bit lately. A common thread in my current and former passions is art, and I used to love drawing with pencil and coloring with oil pastels. This week I purchased some inexpensive art supplies and I've been experimenting. It's made me feel pretty darn happy. My hesitation with this though is not subsiding. I don't want to be a starving artist and I can't imagine giving up my career in financial planning, which leaves me with little time for art. Can you perform your CPL "on the side" in your spare time and still feel fulfilled, or must it be what you do full-time? For what it's worth, I eventually want to have a child and home-school, which I think will be tremendously fulfilling. Can my CPL be more than one thing? Do you have any recommendations for further reading on CPL?
Question: Ought non-income generating activities such as child rearing, dancing, making friends, etc., be properly considered an exercise of the Objectivist virtue of productivity? In response to my question in an OAC class, Dr. Ghate stated that he interprets Rand's writings to mean that such activities, while rational, ought not be considered "productive" by her definition of the term. Upon further research, I agree with Ghate's interpretation of Rand, but I think I disagree with Rand here. Is it not unusual that someone who chooses motherhood as a career, for instance, is disqualified from practicing the virtue of productivity (assuming she does no other work for pay)? None of the other virtues exclude any rationally acting adult from practicing them. If productivity need to be redefined, would you have an alternate definition to suggest?
Question: We are sometimes forced to choose a professional endeavor out of financial necessity rather than professional passion, leading to difficulty in motivation and decreased creative output. How might one improve effectiveness under those circumstances?
Question: I am a 20-something girl with ambitious career goals and a strong desire to have a family. How did you decide to pursue a career rather than having children? Do you have any advice about how to go about making the decision?