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: Is a person responsible for his incapable sibling? Imagine that your brother (or sister) is not capable of taking care of himself: he makes poor choices, he has poor work habits, and he is emotionally immature. Are you thereby responsible for him? Should you try to help as much as possible, so long as you don't drag yourself down? Or should you refuse to help on the principle of "tough love," even though that won't help him take care of himself? If you take the latter approach, doesn't that mean that you're foisting the care for your sibling on society? Wouldn't that be shirking your responsibilities as a sibling? Also, does your responsibility depend on whether your brother is incapable due to his own choices, as opposed to merely bad luck?
Question: How do I teach my toddlers how to share voluntarily? I'm the father of 23 month-old girl/boy twins who are just beginning to develop morality. I'm also an atheist with strong Objectivist leanings. I don't want to teach my children that they shouldn't commit a particular offense because God is watching them, as that will instill only fear of the unknown in them. What should I do instead? The twins will fight over particular things (e.g. toys, books, plastic containers, etc.). Too often I find myself trying to keep the peace with the one word command of "Share!" Forced sharing offends me but I find myself using it with the children because their understanding is limited and because it's easy to use. What might I do instead?
Question: How should I respond to my morally corrupt sister? My 20 year old sister is morally destitute. She is an unapologetic shoplifter. Her justifications amount to things like: "My shoplifting is not an addiction because I can stop anytime I want to," "everyone does it," "companies account for shoplifters in their business plans so they mark prices higher to compensate for it," "I'd never steal from a friend," "I need to steal while I look young and can get away with it because no one suspects me," etc. Over the years she has stolen hundreds if not thousands of dollars from our parents, too. She lies and cheats frequently. She's accepted money in return for writing a paper for a friend. She knows what she does is "wrong," and she maintains that such is better than not knowing, at least. (That makes no sense, I know.) I also just found out that she's selling marijuana because, as she says, she needs a way to support her expensive taste in clothes and makeup. She has no integrity or moral conscience. She doesn't care about my horror at her behavior. She does not respond to reason. Part of me wants to help her by trying to talk sense into her. I care about her, and I want her to be a healthy person and not have a miserable life. Another part of me wants to forget her and let her ruin herself. Yet I don't want to stand by and watch that happen, and I also know that there's only so much I can do to really help her. What is the rational thing to do?
Question: What's the rationale for declaring some physically mature people too young to have children? Given that nature has dictated that both male and female humans can procreate in their early teens and given that morality is deduced from reality, why would sex and procreation at that young age be immoral? Isn't that what nature intended? More generally, is there a rational basis for moral judgments about the proper age of procreation? Or is it purely subjective?
Question: 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?
Question: Are arranged marriages legally and socially valid? A coworker of mine in his early 20s grew up in India. His parents have arranged his marriage to a young woman who also now lives in the US. He appreciates that his parents selected a wife for him: he doesn't want to spend the time or take the risk of finding a wife himself. Should such a marriage be considered legally valid? Is it just a marriage of convenience? Is the practice of arranged marriages immoral and/or impractical?
Question: Is it wrong for an atheist to refuse to attend a sibling's religious ceremony? I've decided not to attend the religious ceremony of my younger sister's upcoming Bat Mitzvah. I'm an atheist, and while I don't think attending would be immoral, I don't want to support any kind of religiosity or connection to religion. Other family members have criticized me for that decision, saying that I should support my sister and not pressure her into agreeing with my own views. Should I attend? If not, how should I handle the family dynamics?
Question: Why is consensual incest between adults morally wrong? In late 2010, David Epstein, a professor of political science at Columbia University, was charged with incest for a consensual sexual relationship with his adult daughter. That case raised uncomfortable questions about the morality and legality of consensual incest. What constitutes incest? Why is it wrong? Should it be outlawed?
Question: What is the value of marriage? How is it different from living with a romantic partner in a committed relationship? Is marriage only a legal matter? Or does it have some personal or social benefit?
Question: What is the purpose of exchanging gifts during the holidays? To me, gift exchanges seem meaningless: they're a waste of time and money. What am I missing?
Summary: Many people struggle with difficult decisions about complex medical problems as they near the end of their lives. That time is wrenching for family too. How can people make good decisions about medical care? What mistakes should they try to avoid? How can people prepare for that future now?
Question: Should I keep in contact with my morally questionable and mystical father? Recently, I initiated contact with my father. I've not seen or spoken to him for most of my life. He left behind a lot of damage, and I was very hurt by that. I made amends with him, thinking that he was in recovery. However, I recently discovered his eastern mystic philosophy. Also, although he is fully recovered, he still has moral problems. Now I'm second guessing my decision. Would it be immoral for me to break off the contact with him after I've made peace with him? Should I preserve the relationship to keep my character intact? Or should I cut ties with him, on the principle that I should only maintain relationships of value to me?
Question: Should an atheist refuse to have a religious wedding? I'm an atheist, but my fiancée is a not-terribly-devout Christian. My parents – and her parents too – are Christian. Everyone wants and expects us to have a religious wedding, but I don't want that. My future wife would be willing to have a secular wedding, but she prefers a religious one. Mostly, she doesn't want to argue with her parents over it. Should I insist on a secular wedding? Or should I just let this one go? What's the harm, either way?
Question: How can I stay out of conflicts between family members? When two people you love have competing claims about the facts in a conflict between them, how do not imply that one or the other is lying? My daughter said she told my wife something important. My wife said my daughter didn't say anything about it. How can you react without destroying one or the other's trust? I wasn't there: I can believe or dis-believe either one. But I am forced by each to choose. When I refuse to choose sides, I'm still subjected to being accused of taking the other's side and calling each one a liar. What can I do to make peace, at least with me?
Question: If cloning humans were possible, would it be wrong? Most people think that cloning humans, if possible, would be terribly immoral and creepy. What are their arguments? Are those arguments right or wrong? Also, would cloning a person without his or her consent be some kind of rights violation?
Question: Do adopted people have a right to know who their biological parents are? Some adopted people want to know their biological parents, and knowing one's family medical history could be important to a person. So does a person have a right to know his biological parents? If so, does that apply to children conceived with sperm or egg donors? Do parents giving children up for adoption or donating reproductive tissue have a right to privacy?
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: What should I do when other people offer to pray for me? Sometimes my friends and family members offer to pray for me – whether because I've got some problem in my life or because they know that I'm an atheist. How should I respond?
Question: What is the proper response of an atheist to requests for prayers? A relative of mine recently had surgery to have his appendix removed. I was asked by another relative to pray for the first relative, even though everyone in my family knows that I don't believe in God or the power of prayer. I tried to let it slide during the conversation, but she was insistent. How should I respond to such requests for prayers, particularly when I don't want to offend anyone or seem unconcerned?
Question: How much should I tell my parents about my beliefs, given that I'm still financially dependent on them? I'm in college, and if I told my parents that I'm an atheist, they'd probably stop paying my tuition. Should I tell them now, or wait until I'm done with college?
Question: What's the proper approach to nudity? Should we all be nude all the time? Should nudity be saved for your lover only? Should children see their parents naked? Should we have clothing-optional get-togethers with friends? Basically, what is your view of the proper contexts for nudity?
Question: How should a person deal with filial responsibility laws? In your April 10th webcast, you discussed the morality of taking care of elderly parents. Some states have filial responsibility laws, which would force people to take care of indigent elderly parents. How should a person would cope with such laws in practice?
Question: What should a person do with destructive family members and their enablers? One of my brothers, diagnosed with a mental illness, is causing serious problems for my parents. My parents invited my brother to live with them. This brother is 26 years old, he does not hold a steady job, and he has been emotionally abusive and physically violent with my parents. At this point, my parents will not kick him out for fear of being hurt. I don't live at home, but I'm deeply worried for my parents. What should I do?
Question: When should a person maintain a relationship with his parents – or not? When, if ever, should an adult child distance himself from his parents – or cut them off completely? Does it matter if the parent was awful years ago, but since then, he's seemed to reform his ways?
Question: What are some common mistakes that adults make in dealing with their parents? Why do they make those mistakes? And how can they do better?
Question: How can I maintain my integrity in friendships with people of opposite philosophic views? I struggle to keep good relations with family and friends who support our current political system in which some people are helped at the expense of others, which I regard as slavery. They support ObamaCare, EPA restrictions, and welfare programs. Through years of caring discussions, I realize that they do not hold the individual as sacred but instead focus on what's best for "the group." At this point, I often feel more pain than pleasure being with them, even though we have many other values in common, yet I hate to cut them off. How can I maintain good relationships with them – or should I stop trying?
Question: How should I respond to the urban legends forwarded by a family member? I've repeatedly pointed this family member to Snopes.com, in response to his forwarding of yet another urban legend. I keep hoping that he'll get the hint – and check for himself before hitting the "forward" button. Yet he never does so, and he's sending false, defamatory, and/or possibly dangerous information to everyone in his address book. This person is pretty smart – and he's kind and friendly. I'd hate to do anything that would mar our relationship. What should I do?
Question: When a person adopts a life-changing set of beliefs, how should he present that to family and friends? The point would not be to try to convince them to follow, but to say "look... this is what I believe, these are the principles by which I now live my life now, and please respect my choice to do so."
Question: Do kids have moral obligations to their parents? If so, what obligations and why?
Question: Am I obliged to visit my family for the holidays? I'm in my mid-20s. My family expects me to return home for the holidays, i.e. for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I dislike the trouble of traveling during that hectic time. (I live across the country.) Also, I dislike the chaotic bustle at my parents' home during the holidays. I feel like I never get to spend meaningful time with anyone, and I'm stuck with people I can barely tolerate. I'd prefer to visit family I like at other times in the year. However, my parents would be extremely angry with me if I refused to come home during the holidays. They'd probably attempt to make me feel guilty for ruining their holidays. Should I just give in to their wishes? If not, how can I make them accept that I'd rather visit at some other time?
Question: How should a person celebrate his birthday, if at all? And if so, why? Would a rational egoist throw a party and invite people that he doesn't value much, like estranged family members?
Question: Do I have any responsibility towards my younger brother? My parents constantly ask me to help my brother with his studies, homework, etc, and look after him when they're out and do things for him at the expense of my own studies and time. But I don't find any value in helping my brother. Should I refuse to help my parents in this way?
Question: What do you say to parents pressuring you to have kids? Lately, my parents have been urging my wife and me to have kids. They really want grandkids, I think. So they've been dropping not-so-subtle hints to that effect. Also, they say that I'll regret not having kids, that kids are just part of being an adult, that I'll adore my own kids once I have them, and so on. What should I say in reply to those kinds of hints and comments?
Question: Is it my responsibility to look after my parents in their old age? Should I expect to support my parents financially and/or care for them as they get older? More generally, what responsibilities do adult children have towards their parents, if any?
Question: Should people call their parents-in-law "Mom" and "Dad"? My brother in law started calling my parents "mom" and "dad" – and in turn my sister now calls his parents "mom" and "dad". This seriously offends me. My parents earned the title of mom and dad. They RAISED us – they cared for us, educated us, taught us values, loved us, and corrected us when we were wrong. My relationship with my parents is one of the most important relationships of my life and one I don't take lightly. I would never think to call anyone else "mom" and "dad" because no one else has even remotely earned it. It would only cheapen the relationship for me. I think my brother in law is being too familiar with my parents, and disrespectful to his own (and vice versa for my sister). Are my feelings valid? And what can I do about them if they are not?
Question: If you were physically abused as a child, but have grown up and "gotten over it," is it still reasonable to demand justice if only in the form of refusing to deal with the abuser?
Question: My father and his side of the family are very religious while I am not. Is it moral for me to jeopardize my relationship with them to share the countless fallacies and inhumanities that is religion? If so, how does one go about this process?
Question: How would you treat an adult child who wishes to move back home after a history of poor self-control and irresponsible choices?
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?
Summary: I answer two questions – one on the morality of accepting an inheritance and another on a moral conflict about doing agreed-upon work when that promotes Islam on the anniversary of 9/11.