Question: What's so special about the seven virtues? Ayn Rand identified seven virtues: rationality, honesty, productiveness, independence, justice, integrity, and pride. What's different about those qualities – as compared to other commonly touted virtues like benevolence, creativity, temperance, or courage? Basically, why are those seven the virtues in Objectivism? Is Objectivism right to single them out? Are they exhaustive?
Tags: Character, Context, Ethics, Honesty, Independence, Integrity, Justice, Major Values, Moral Amplifiers, Objectivism, Pride, Productiveness, Productivity, Purposefulness, Rationalism, Rationality, Virtue
Question: How can I decide whether a business associate has crossed the line? I am part of a very specialized marketing co-op group. Businesses provide samples to the marketer, who then sells them at his own profit, to the tune of thousands of dollars a month. The marketer also does many web promotions and a monthly set of videos to promote the makers of these samples. This business has worked well in sending customers my way in the past. However, a few months ago, the marketer threatened to call the whole thing off for a month, claiming there were not enough samples to sell. So all the businesses rallied and sent in more. Two weeks later the marketer posted publicly that his spouse's hours had been cut the month before, and he was strapped for cash. This apparent dishonesty turned me off from using the service for many months. When I finally sent in samples again, I found that the same thing is still happening: the marketer is threatening to call off the promotion for the month if more samples are not sent in. Does this kind of behavior warrant dropping this business tool from my arsenal? Or am I just reacting emotionally?
Question: Are some people unworthy of the truth? "Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it," said Mark Twain in his Notebooks. Is that true? Does that justify lying or withholding information?
Question: Does fraud require deliberate deception? Some libertarians, most notably Walter Block, have tried to argue that fraud does not require deliberate deception. For example, argues Block, if I tried to sell you a square circle, and I believed that square circles existed, and so did you, and you agreed to the transaction, then, since square circles do not actually exist, this would still count as fraud, even though no deliberate deception has taken place. Block has used this argument to indict fractional reserve banking, by arguing that it still counts as fraud even though all parties are knowingly consenting. Is he talking rationalist nonsense?
Question: Do parents have a moral duty to vaccinate their children to improve "herd immunity"? My doctor is currently making the case for my son (age 12) getting the Gardasil/HPV vaccination, arguing that even though HPV won't really harm him, he could become a carrier and spread HPV to women he has sex with at some time in the future, and thereby harm them. I don't think he has a duty to become one of the "immunized herd" (referring to the idea of "herd immunity" regarding vaccines) and therefore I am not inclined to have him vaccinated against HPV. Should he choose to do so at a later time, he is free to make that decision. Does my son – or do I as a parent – have an obligation to vaccinate purely to promote "herd immunity"? If not in this case, where there is a clear issue of undergoing the vaccination primarily for the sake of risk to others, then what about in other cases of vaccines? Does a person have an obligation to society in general to become part of the immunized herd, even if taking a vaccination is probably at low risk to that person's health?
Question: It is moral to advocate for the boycott of a business? Over the holidays, my brother and I discussed cases in which businesses are compelled by government to provide services against their will. For example, the Colorado courts demanded that a bakery make cakes for gay couples or face fines. We agreed that the business should be left free to operate as they see fit, absent violating anyone's actual rights, and reap the rewards or penalties from their choice. Where we diverged was on the moral status of the business owner and whether the bakery deserved to be boycotted. In my view, the decision of the owner of the Colorado bakery was immoral: they were being irrational, discriminating by non-essentials. My brother disagreed. Moreover, my brother opposed any advocacy of a boycott, seeing this as a call for force to be applied against the owner. This would be wrong, in his view, but he would be fine with suggesting that people patronize a different store. Ultimately, I found that I could not adequately explain why I think people might actively and openly oppose wrong acts by businesses, even if those acts don't violate rights. So what justifies such boycotts, if anything?
Question: Is it immoral or unwise to accept a better job soon after starting a different one? I am ready to change jobs. I could probably move to another role within my company pretty quickly and easily and continue to move my career forward, but I could make more money and get better experience outside of my company. Outside job hunts can be lengthy and full of disappointments and all the while I would have to work at a job that is, frankly, killing my soul. I think it's pretty clear that – if I accept a new job in my company and immediately turn around and give notice to go somewhere else – I run a high risk of burning bridges with key contacts at my current company. But would it be unethical in some way to do that? When you accept a job are you making a tacit promise to work there for some period of time? If so, what's the minimum amount of time?
Question: Should people who merely like and respect each other ever marry? Imagine that a person doesn't think that he'll ever find true and deep love – perhaps for good reason. In that case, is it wrong to marry someone you enjoy, value, like, and respect – even if you don't love that person? What factors might make a decision reasonable, if any? Should the other person know about the lack of depth in your feelings?
Question: Should a person's credibility matter in judging his empirical claims? Is it rational to use a person's track record – meaning the frequency or consistency of truth in his past statements – in judging the likely truth of his current statements? In Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics, Tara Smith explains that to believe something just because someone said it is a violation of the virtue of independence. Also, to judge an argument based on the speaker is known as the fallacy of "ad hominem." However, doesn't the character of the speaker matter when considering whether to believe his claims? For example, when Thomas Sowell makes an empirical claim, my knowledge that he vigorously tests his hypotheses against the facts makes me more likely to judge his claim as true, even before I've confirmed his statement. Likewise, if a person is frequently wrong in his factual claims, I'd be sure to require lots of evidence before believing him. Is that rational? Or should all factual claims be treated equally regardless of who makes them?
Question: Should a person punish herself for wrongdoing by depriving herself of a value? A friend of mine destroyed her phone in a fit of anger over a difficult situation that wasn't her fault. Now my friend feels guilty about her outburst. She thinks that she doesn't deserve to properly replace her phone, as that would reward her irrational outburst. She wants to either buy a cheap phone or go without a phone for a while. That seems needlessly self-destructive. How can I explain to her that she really ought to replace her phone?
Question: Why would anyone even want to sleep around? Ayn Rand used Francisco D'Anconia to describe her view of sexuality in Atlas Shrugged, but while her explanation was easy enough to understand, there were some things she left out. Namely: why would someone, anyone, sleep around? I've met, and read articles by, women who describe their experiences in the "hookup" culture, and across the board they agree that most of the men they slept with were poor lovers who cared little for them once the act was finished. I know men like this in real life who seem surprised at how unfulfilling their sex lives (admittedly much more active than mine) really are. So I have to ask: why would someone choose to have sex with someone when they know, or at least have good reason to believe, that the person has no actual interest in them personally?
Question: What is the meaning and value of sportsmanship? Kids are often taught – or not taught – to be "good sports." What does that mean? What's the value in that? More broadly, what's a healthy versus unhealthy attitude toward competition in life – not just in sports, but also work, hobbies, friendship, and so on?
Question: In a free society, would psychics be prosecuted for fraud? How would the government in a rational, free-market system handle people and businesses, such as the Psychic Friends Network, which claim to have psychic powers (such as being able to talk to the dead) and charge the gullible hundreds of dollars in fees for "spiritual consultations"? Would the government prosecute such people for fraud? Or would the government have a "caveat emptor" attitude and say, "If people want to waste their money on that nonsense, that's their rightful prerogative"?
Question: It is wrong to keep my pet a secret from my landlord? My fiancee and I own a cat. By the rules of our apartment, we should notify our landlord and pay monthly pet rent and deposits. However, we keep a cleaner apartment than the majority of people without pets. If the cat's not tearing up carpet and peeing on walls, I don't feel I should pay more than, say, someone who is disrespectful of the property and causes more damage to the unit. Moreover, I recently heard firsthand from a group of experienced landlords that they prefer cleaner tenants with pets as opposed to straight up dirty tenants. So should I fess up and pay or not?
Question: Can an egoist have too big an ego? People often speak disapprovingly of "big egos." The idea seems to be that a person is not supposed to think too well of himself or be too assertive. Is this just the product of altruism, including the idea that a person should be humble? Or can a person really be too big for his britches?
Question: Is there any validity to the concept of "the friend zone"? The "friend zone" is used to describe the situation of a man who is interested in a woman, but she's not interested in being more than friends with him. Then, he's "in the friend zone," and he can't get out except by her say-so. So "nice guys" in the friend zone often use the concept to describe the frustration of watching the women they desire date "bad boys" while they sit over to the side waiting for their chance to graduate from being just friends to being something more. Feminists suggest that this concept devalues a woman's right to determine the context and standard of their sexual and romantic interests, that it treats a woman's sexual acceptance as something that a man is entitled to by virtue of not being a jerk. Is that right? Or do women harm themselves by making bad choices about the types of men they date versus the types they put in the "friend zone?"
Question: How can I overcome feelings of unearned guilt about refusing other people's requests? Too often, I feel guilty when I shouldn't – for example, for rejecting unwanted romantic advances or declining invitations to events with family or coworkers. Even though I know logically that I have the right to pursue my own values rather than satisfy the wishes of others, I feel terrible knowing that my actions will disappoint or upset someone else. Too often I succumb to the guilt: I agree to things I'd rather not because I don't want to let someone else down. What philosophical or psychological strategies might I use for dealing with such unearned guilt?
Question: Is it wrong to remain silent when a cashier makes a mistake in your favor? At a popular department store, I wanted to buy two items for $2.94 each and condoms for $14.00. The cashier was about my grandmother's age. She scanned the $2.94 items three times and said the total was $8.82. I knew the price wasn't right, but I didn't want to say to the elderly woman, "Excuse me, but you didn't scan my condoms." I got a good deal, but I think that was somewhat immoral on my part. Is that right? What should I have done?
Question: What should I do about the dishonesty of my new project manager? One of the project managers at my job recently lied when evaluating my co-worker. We are evaluated yearly, but aren't supposed to share the results of the reviews with others. However, my co-worker shared her review with me. It painted her in an extremely negative light via false accusations, and her yearly raise was affected by it. She wasn't given any warning about the accusations either. I've taken over her duties, which include working under the accuser. I'm afraid my review next year will be unjustly and perhaps even dishonestly negative, but I wasn't supposed to see her review in the first place. What should I do? Is there something I should do about my co-worker's false negative review? How can I protect myself from this dishonest project manager?
Question: Should people ask for permission or ask for forgiveness when breaking the rules? People often say that "it's better to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission" when excusing their own rule-breaking. I hate the phrase, but I can't put my finger on what's so objectionable about it. So what does the phrase mean? Is it right or wrong? If it's true for some organizations, doesn't that indicate that the organization's rules or policies are somehow bass-ackwards?
Question: Should a person seek to create a stylized life? In "The Romantic Manifesto," Ayn Rand said that "An artist does not fake reality – he stylizes it. He selects those aspects of existence which he regards as metaphysically significant – and by isolating and stressing them, by omitting the insignificant and accidental, he presents his view of existence." Should a person try to stylize his own life, such as by deliberately cultivating a consistent personal aesthetic? Should he aim to make every aspect of his life reflect his values, eliminating the rest? Would that make for a more integrated and meaningful life or might that be dangerous or undesirable in some way?
Question: Should juries be present at trials? In fictional portrayals of trials, the jury is often told to disregard certain statements. Also, interruptions in the form of objections are common. Wouldn't it be easier for the jury to be absent from the trial itself, then presented with all and only the admissible evidence and testimony afterward? In fact, the jury need not see the parties in question, nor even know their names. Wouldn't that eliminate the possibility of racial discrimination and other irrelevant judgments?
Question: How can I maintain my sense of self when surrounded by people I don't relate to deeply? At places like work I have trouble relating to my coworkers on a significantly deep level. For the most part, we just don't share the deepest or most important aspects of life, such as a genuine interests in ideas, various nuances of the culinary arts, and so on. However, I enjoy interacting with these people, but I'm not likely to engage in frequent outings and whatnot. Yet, in other aspects of life – for the time – I don't have the ability to deal with people I share a "like soul" with, to use Aristotelian terms. Thus, how can I truthfully express my personality and values while maintaining, or even deepening, my friendship with these people? I feel like I'm "faking" myself too often.
Question: What's so bad about the philosophy of Immanuel Kant? In academic philosophy, Kant is often regarded as the culmination of the Enlightenment. According to this standard view, Kant sought to save reason from skeptics such as Hume, he aimed to ground ethics in reason, and he defended human autonomy and liberty. In contrast, Ayn Rand famously regarded Kant as "the most evil man in mankind's history." She rejected his metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, saying that "the philosophy of Kant is a systematic rationalization of every major psychological vice." Who is right here? What's right or wrong with his philosophy?
Question: 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? Basically, what do the promises of marriage oblige a person to do?
Question: What is "open Objectivism"? Recently, I checked out the website of "The Atlas Society," the organization run by David Kelley. It advocates for "open Objectivism," which I assume means that each person defines what Objectivism is. Am I interpreting that correctly? What's wrong with that approach? Does regarding Objectivism as "closed" lead to intolerance, insularity, and schisms?
Question: Is it wrong to buy goods with the intent to return them? A friend of mine will often buy jewelry from large department stores for events, knowing that she'll likely return the items. (Sometimes, however, she'll keep an item even when she thought she'd return it.) She returns the goods undamaged and soon after buying. She asked me what I thought of the morality of her actions. In my opinion, she's acting morally because she's not committing fraud. The stores in question have liberal return policies ("if you are unhappy for whatever reason..."). They must know that some of their customers might do what she's doing and think that allowing it is good for business. Is that right?
Question: Does ethical egoism promote narcissism and insensitivity to others? People often suggest that ethical egoism – such as the Objectivist ethics advocated by Ayn Rand – promotes unfriendly if not hostile behavior toward other people. Ultimately, the egoist cares for himself above everything else, perhaps to the point that the thoughts and feelings of others aren't even noticed or of concern. The problem seems to be exacerbated by a commitment to moral absolutes and moral judgment. So do these ethical principles incline a person to be self-absorbed, insensitive, hostile, unkind, or otherwise unpleasant to others? How can egoists take care not to fall into these traps?
Question: Is it wrong to invent stories about yourself to tell to strangers? In the past, I've made up stories about myself (basically assuming a character) and told them to strangers on the bus or in an airport. When I mentioned this to my spouse, I hadn't really thought of this as lying until I saw his horrified reaction. Do you think this is wrong? If so, why? Would it be acceptable in some contexts, such as for an acting class?
Question: Are "gay pride" parades good? Sexuality is not chosen, so being gay is not something that a person could be proud of. However, these parades seem like harmless fun, and they might even help alleviate homophobia. (They might perpetuate stereotypes too, however.) So are they, on balance, of benefit? Also, what should be made of the fact that a "straight pride" parade would be seen as homophobic? Isn't the goal here equality? Does that show that gay pride parades are elevating a minority into something special and unequal?
Question: Should I leave my inmate boyfriend? I am in a dilemma. My current boyfriend is in prison serving a six year sentence. He has been away for a year and a half. It took over two years for the legal matters to be settled and for him to finally get a sentence. This is also my first ever boyfriend and I am already 26. Is it wrong for me to want to move on with my life? After he gets out (if no appeal is granted) he will be forced into a very limited lifestyle being on a sex offender list. I keep thinking about trying to make new friends and what I should and should not disclose to them. Right now, I live with his parents and work with his mother. I feel like I am cornered and am drowning in this huge mess. I want my own life, but with zero support and friends I am terrified of the risk. Do I stick it out? Or do I suck it up and leave him, my home, and my job?
Question: 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, I'd have to write essays 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?
Question: Can life be morally black and white? People often say life is not "black and white," meaning that sometimes we must navigate morally gray zones, particularly when dealing with complex decisions involving other people. However, if we make decisions based on objective absolutes, doesn't that eliminate these so-called "morally gray zones"?
Question: How should I respond to panhandlers asking for money? I live and work in a downtown area, and I am often asked by strangers on the street for money. These requests vary in form from the brief but honest ("Spare some change?") to the manipulative and dishonest. My stock response is to say that I have no cash, which is almost always true, but somewhat dishonest in that my lack of cash is not my main reason for refusing to give. Explaining my real reasons – I don't know who this person is, I don't know how he will spend the money, and I don't think giving people money helps reduce their reliance on handouts in the future – seems overly harsh on someone who is obviously having a rough time of it already, and takes a long time to boot. I feel like I should acknowledge the request somehow, but I want to effectively disengage from the situation as quickly and safely as possible. Is my stock response inappropriate because it is dishonest? If I shouldn't be using my stock response, what can I say to quickly and safely disengage? Also, I get a lot of dubious stories about being stranded downtown without bus fare. I've often thought about carrying a few valid, single-use transit tickets with which to respond to such stories. It's something I can afford, and it would in theory limit how my charity gets used. Would this be a wise or safe course of action?
Question: How can I better identify dangerous or immoral people in my life? I don't like to be morally judgmental about personality and other optional differences. In fact, I like being friends with a variety of kinds of people: that expands my own horizon. Yet I've been prey to some really awful people in my life. Looking back, I'd have to say that I ignored some signs of trouble – dismissing them as mere optional matters, as opposed to moral failures. How can I better differentiate "interesting" and "quirky" from "crazy" and "dangerous" in people I know? How can I see "red flags" more clearly?
Question: Are there moral limits to romanticizing historical figures in art? For example, a writer might romanticize Robin Hood as the Ragnar Danneskjöld of the Middle Ages. If this is proper, is there an ethical limit as to what kinds of persons one may or may not romanticize, or as to how far one may stretch the historic truth? For example, does it matter if there are still contemporaries of that historic person alive who suffered unjustly because of him? Would it be wrong to ignore some unpleasant facts in order to present a fictionalized heroic character?
Question: Is it ever okay to tell a lie as part of a happy surprise for someone else? This question is from Ryan (age 11) and Morgan (age 8). We bought birthday presents for our brother Sean, and we had to sneak them into the house. We didn't want Sean to know what we were doing. At first, we thought we should make up a story about why we were going back and forth to the car. Morgan thought she should tell Sean she was going outside to swing. But then we talked about how that would be a lie and she decided to go out and actually swing before bringing her present inside, that way there was no lying involved. Should we have told the lie to Sean? Is it okay to tell a lie as part of doing something nice for someone?
Question: When is a relationship broken beyond repair? Relationships can be severely strained, fraught with anger and frustration, and perhaps put on ice for weeks or months or years. Yet in the end, the two people can often reconcile in some way, so that they can enjoy a genuine (even if not deep) relationship again. In some cases, however, that's not possible. Why not? In such cases, must the problem be that one person (or both people) continue to behave badly? Or might reconciliation be impossible between two good people? If so, why?
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: Can open relationships be moral? Can it ever be moral to have sex with someone else while in a relationship, assuming that you're honest with everyone involved? If not, why not? If so, what might be some of the pitfalls to be aware of? For example, should the criteria for selecting sexual partners be stricter than if you were single? How should you navigate the tricky territory of opening a previously closed relationship?
Question: How should a person respond when pressured to reveal private information? Some people think themselves entitled to know about the private lives of their co-workers, acquaintances, family, or friends. They won't take a hint, and they might even demand the information in front of other people or in a public forum. How should a person who wishes to protect his privacy respond to such invasive inquiries? Is lying justifiable?
Question: Is it wrong to have a romantic relationship with a married person? In Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart had an affair with Hank Rearden, knowing that he was married. How should those actions be judged in real life? Clearly, Hank's cheating was dishonest and wrong. Was Dagny wrong to pursue the affair? What should she have done instead? Or, imagine that Dagny didn't know that Hank was married until after they'd slept together. What should she have done in that case upon finding out the truth? Should she stop the affair? Should she inform the wife about the cheating? Should she apologize to the wife? Also, if your answer is different than Dagny's, how do you reconcile that?
Question: How can I say no to a friend's request to become a business partner? Over the past several years, I developed a home craft business. Now that it is successful, one of my friends wants to be involved. She sends messages asking to get together to discuss ideas for new products and expanding the business. However, I am not interested in having a partner. How can I let her know that I don't want a partner – without coming across as mean or hurting her feelings? Also, since I want to support and encourage my friends' interests, I'm struggling with guilt for saying "no." How can I overcome that?
Question: Can a romance between an atheist and a religious believer work? What are the major obstacles? Should the atheist attend church or church socials with his spouse? Should they have a religious wedding ceremony? Should they send their children to religious schools? Do the particular beliefs – or strength of beliefs – of the religious person matter?
Question: Is it wrong to manipulate your finances to qualify for welfare? An acquaintance of mine – who is moderately wealthy – feels justified in manipulating her finances to get government aid whenever possible on the grounds that it is "getting back" some of what she has paid. For example, she had her elderly mother buy a new car for her own use, in order to have her mother deplete her savings faster and qualify for Medicaid. However, while she had paid much in tax, her mother collects more in social security every month than she ever paid in taxes. Is it rational to view this as "getting back" money that was taken inappropriately, or is it actually immoral and self-destructive?
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?
Question: Is it moral to deceive to someone to help him through a crisis? Imagine that a man is about to break up with his girlfriend (or divorce his wife), but then he discovers that she has a serious disease or she suffers a serious accident. Is it moral for him to help her through the crisis under the false pretense of a stable, loving relationship? (What if that would take months of deception?) Or should the man be frank with the woman as soon as possible about parting ways, perhaps only offering help as a friend, if that? Would that be cruel?
Question: Should people be 'radically honest'? Psychotherapist Brad Blanton claims that people should be "radically honest" – meaning that they should say what they think all the time. Is that a life-serving policy – or simply an excuse for rudeness? For example, if my friend is telling me a story that I don't care to hear, should I tell her of my disinterest? Would that foster a more authentic and valuable relationship? Should I try to gently signal my disinterest? Or should I try to cultivate some interest in her story? In other words, is tact a value – or a destructive form of pretense?
Question: 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?
Question: Should a person allow his ideology to set his default positions? When people adopt a religion, philosophy, or politics as their own, they often don't think through every issue - or they've not done so yet. Does accepting the various positions of that ideology as a kind of default amount to accepting them on faith? What should a person do when he hasn't thought through the issue for himself?
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: 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?
Question: Is is second-handed to work hard to clean and repair your house before company arrives? I'm constantly fighting a battle to get my house looking reasonable. Then, right before company arrives from out-of-town, I make an extra big push to get it as clean and tidy as possible. I'd like it to always be that way, but I'll work a lot harder when I know that someone else will be in the space. So is it second-handed to want to present a better home than I normally maintain? Or is putting in that effort that a matter of respecting and providing for people that I value?
Question: Should parents make empty threats to their children? At the grocery store last week, I heard a mother threaten to throw away her daughter's favorite toys unless the daughter behaved. That seems to be pretty common: parents make empty threats in an attempt to scare their kids into better behavior. They'll say that it works, and perhaps it does. But what are the consequences? Are such empty threats a valid parenting technique?
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: It is wrong to judge others when I'm still flawed? Given that I have various inconsistencies and unresolved contradictions, for me to morally judge others seems like self-righteousness. Does a person need to be morally good (or even perfect) to justly judge others?
Question: What should a student do when he thinks his professors are intellectually inferior? The idea is i'm aiming at is how to learn from a teacher whom shows no genuine interest in the fundamental aspects of knowledge in terms of it's fundamentals. For instance, I had a teacher whom never asked us to question the merit of given theories to mass media ethics, the ideas were presented as ready-made packaged deals of how censorship was ideal in the communication model presented to us via textbook. Considering also when asked the verity of such concepts, the teacher will hide by claiming since the textbook says so, it is truth, and if that is not satisfactory then look it up online. [Note from DH: I did not edit this question.]
Question: Is it wrong to manipulate a dishonest business into honoring its promises? A friend of mine bought tires from ACME Tire Company (that's not their real name) and purchased the additional road hazard coverage. Road hazard coverage says that Acme will repair the tire if it loses pressure due to driving over some hazard. If the tire is too damaged to repair, they will sell you a pro-rated replacement tire. My friend's tire started losing air and he took it to Acme, but they couldn't find anything wrong, so they put more air in it and let him go. Three weeks later, it lost air again and he went back. He did this five times. One time they told him they found a bit of metal in his tire, but when he asked to see it they said they already threw it away. Another time they said the tire didn't have a good seal, so they re-sealed it. Another time they said they found a little hole and that they fixed it. Each time, he explains his history each time and says he wants to purchase a pro-rated tire according to the terms of the agreement. But they won't do that because each time they claim to have found and fixed the problem. But after five times, he simply does not believe them. If the tire were actually fixed, he wouldn't mind. But since it's never fixed he's thinking that the only solution is to get a new tire. He's contemplating doing something to damage the tire to a point where they can't repair it. Would this be an ethical thing to do? Why or why not? What other options would you suggest?
Question: How should I respond to an unwanted gift given to me by my in-laws? My in-laws often give me presents that I don't much like – like frumpy boring sweaters and books I'll never read. I thank them kindly for the present, but I'm not effusive in my praise. Recently, they gave me something really pretty inappropriate for me – on par with giving a bacon cookbook to a vegetarian. I wasn't sure whether it was just clueless or hostile. How should I respond?
Question: What should you do when your allies are exposed as hypocrites? Just because a person advocates good ideas doesn't mean that he practices them. For example, a defender of free markets might use zoning laws to prevent the construction of a new building on land adjacent to his home to preserve his view. Or an advocate of justice and independence as virtues might condemn and ostracize people who disagree with him on trivial matters. Or an advocate of productive work might sponge off friends and relatives. When you discover such behavior in your allies, what should you do? Should you attempt to defend them? Should you try to keep the hypocrisy quiet? Should you condemn them? Should you say that "nobody's perfect"? What's fair – and what's best for your cause?
Question: Is it true that, "if you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partner"? A few months ago, a Republican presidential candidate said of Newt Gingrich, "if you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partner." Leaving aside the specifics of any particular politician's personal life, is the broader principle accurate? If you knew that someone cheated on his wife, does that mean he should be regarded as an untrustworthy for a business partnership? Or as morally unfit to be your doctor? Or as unfit to be an elected official?
Question: Is corporal punishment of children ever proper? The 2011 video of Judge William Adams beating his daughter raises the question of whether it's ever necessary or proper to physically discipline children. Does the age of the child matter, particularly given that you can't reason with younger children? Does the amount of force used matter? When does physical punishment violate the child's rights?
Question: How should a person respond to another's irrational discussion tactics? What should one do when engaged in an intellectual conversation with someone where you're trying to advance your ideas, but the other person has irrational, or even outright dishonest conversation techniques? Such techniques include frequent interruption, talking over you, giving arbitrary time limits for answers before arbitrarily ending the conversation or moving on, and so forth. All of these tactics make it difficult to fully explicate your position or even get full sentences out. In a one-on-one, unobserved conversation, I know it's obvious that one should simply not deal with this person, for they're obviously not listening if they utilize these habits so regularly and frequently. So my main concern is in those cases when you happen to be talking to an irrational conversationalist where other people are observing, such as in a classroom or meeting where you might want to continue the conversation in hopes of reaching the audience instead. In such cases, what should one do?
Question: Am I obliged to disclose that I am gay if I know that the person then wouldn't wish to do business with me? Let's say that I have a job that I enjoy, but I find out that my boss does not like gay people and would refuse to hire or would fire anyone that she knew was gay. Somehow, she doesn't know that I am, in fact, gay. Should I tell her knowing that she would want to fire me – a decision that I think is wrong, but nonetheless something she should be free to do? Assume that in every other regard I enjoy my work and job, and sharing her discriminatory view is by no means a requirement for my work.
Question: Should I mention we are atheists when interviewing babysitters? I am looking for a babysitter. The question is: How do I handle the fact that many of the candidates will be very very strong Christians? Should I bring up the fact we are atheists right away or would that be creating an issue when there could be none? I definitely have to set some boundaries like "No praying with my children," but what is the appropriate way to handle it?
Question: Is it wrong to browse in a local store but then buy online? Suppose that you shop for an item in a brick-and-mortar store, taking advantage of the opportunity to browse and get recommendations from staff, but then make your purchases at a discounted online retailer – for example, browsing through a local bookstore but then buying from Amazon at a lower price. Is that wrong or unfair?
Summary: Do you wonder what people are entitled to know about you? Do you want to maintain your privacy without resorting to dishonesty?
Question: Is doing activities just to pad you application or resumé dishonest? Some people work on mastering playing the violin, competing in tennis tournaments, learning calculus, and other activities – not because they have any interest in them or because they think they might develop an interest once tried, but rather because they think these activities will look good on an application or resumé. Is that dishonest? Is it unwise?
Question: Is it wrong to stockpile medication now in the event of an economic crash in the future? We are concerned that increasing economic troubles will raise the prices of some prescription and over-the-counter medications, and make them hard to find in the future. Is it okay to start a stockpile of some medications (most of which have a long shelf-life)? In the case of prescription medications, is it okay to exaggerate to our doctors or play "musical pharmacies" in order to obtain more medication?
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: 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: Am I obliged to tell a friend that I've developed romantic feelings towards her? Recently, I've developed romantic feelings for a platonic friend. Is it dishonest to withhold this information from her and just continue our friendship? What should I do if she asks me a direct question about my feelings? When would it be wrong to withhold this information from her, if ever?
Question: Should I act uninterested in a man to attract him? One common theme in romance advice is that a woman should act aloof and unattainable in order to attract a man or to get him to commit to a relationship. Is that dishonest? Is it counterproductive?
Question: Is it moral to help inept co-workers? On my team at work, we have only a very few people who use their time productively. We all get paid for 8 hours of "work", every day, but most of my team would rather talk on their phone, hide from management, and underperform at their job. We also belong to a union, which makes it harder for management to fire the ones who don't work despite being informed about the situation. I often find myself in the position of helping these people, or going in behind them and fixing their work. I am beginning to feel taken advantage of, and am getting fed up with most of my co-workers. Is it moral to continue helping people who do not take their own work seriously?
Question: Should I reveal my atheism to strangers when asked? I work at a hospital. One night a patient asked me if I'm religious. I answered yes. He then asked me if I believed that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. I answered yes. Then he took my hand and prayed for me. Immediately, I felt guilty, because I lied in answering these questions. In fact, I'm an atheist. The next day, I told the patient the truth, and he thanked me for my honesty. What should I have done in answering his original questions?
Question: Should parents convince their kids that fictional creatures, such as Ewoks, are real for the sake of fun? As recounted in Wired, a father told his kids that Ewoks from Star Wars lived in the Sequoia National Forest. On their recent family vacation, they made a game of looking for these imaginary Ewoks. Afterwards, the father photoshopped a few Ewoks into the family vacation pictures. Are these kinds of deceptions harmless or are they bad parenting? The father said: "Maybe I'm a little wrong for lying to her and falsifying the pictures, but I don't care. She'll never forget the time she spent in the big woods with Ewoks."
Question: Is it wrong to lie to a person on their deathbed? Is lying in such cases justified so that the dying person can "go in peace"? For instance, a man might tell his fellow soldier dying on the battlefield that his heroism helped win a critical victory, even if it actually made no difference. Or a nurse might tell a dying mother desperate to make peace with her long-estranged daughter that the daughter called to tell her she loves her, even if that didn't happen. Is that wrong? If so, what's the harm?
Question: Are "friends with benefits" relationships a mistake? It is moral and/or wise to pursue sexual relationships with friends, even though you're not in a romantic relationship? What are some of the benefits and/or pitfalls? If it's a mistake, what should a person do to avoid such entanglements?
Question: How can I politely decline outings with friends that I cannot afford? Recently, a friend proposed an outing that was far too costly for my limited budget. In such cases, how do you recommend telling the person that it's too pricey? If the person then offers to pay my way, is it wrong to accept that? I don't want to be an object of charity, nor pressure my friends into paying for me in any way.
Question: Should you always own up to your mistakes? Recently, I made a huge mistake at work, accidentally discarding some very important files. When inquiry was made, I denied knowing anything about it. Should I have fessed up?
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 is the proper purpose of bankruptcy laws? When should a person renegotiate his debt with lenders, if ever? Should a person be able to wipe his debt clean by going into bankruptcy? In your 10 July 2011 webcast discussion of strategic default on mortgages, you suggested that a person shouldn't be able to do that, but shouldn't lenders be responsible for who they lend money to?
Question: Is sexting a form of cheating? If you are married or in a committed relationship and you send sexually explicit texts or emails to another person, is that cheating?
Question: Is it moral to "defraud" a public library? There is an out-of-print book that I can't get for less than $100, a price I am not willing to pay. My library has a copy but they won't offer it for sale. Is it wrong to tell the library it is "lost" and just pay the fees, assuming they are reasonable? Does it matter that the library is an illegitimate government program that I'm taxed to support?
Question: If you find money in a house that you've purchased should you return it? A man recently found about $45,000 hidden in the house that he'd recently bought. (See this article.) It was saved up by the prior owner, now dead. He returned it to the man's children. Should the buyer of the house have returned the money? Was he morally or legally obligated to do so? If not, was doing so foolish or altruistic?
Question: Should the police lie to suspects in the course of an investigation? Police routinely do this, usually in order to trick people into admitting something or revealing information they would normally not reveal. Note that the people they lie to may not have been convicted of any crime, and are merely "persons of interest" or suspects. Is this routine constant lying moral? What do you think it does to the policeman's character after many years?
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: Is it proper (and sensible) for parents to "spy" on their children? Amid the recent controversy over the iPhone's location tracking database, I realized that some enterprising parents might use it to surreptitiously track their teenager's whereabouts. In most cases, I'd assume the parents have good intentions in doing so. Is this responsible parenting – or an invasion of the child's privacy?
Question: Is it moral to strategically default on your mortgage? Suppose that you could continue to pay your mortgage, but you're underwater: you owe more than the house is worth. You realize that you'd save tens of thousands of dollars by defaulting. Would it be morally wrong to default, assuming that you don't engage in any fraud or other dishonesty in doing so? Would it make a difference if you do that in today's highly regulated market versus in a fully free market?
Question: Is it dishonest to use tact when talking to someone? When I have something important to tell someone and I am concerned that the other person might be put on the defensive or have hurt feelings, I try to say what I need to say with tact. That is, I change what I say from brutal honesty to something easier for a person to hear and accept. However, I worry that I'm being dishonest in doing so. When does using tact cross the line into dishonesty?
Question: Is it moral to take advantage of another person's ignorance? Suppose that I drop by a yard sale to see whatever is up for grabs. While rummaging through the junk for which the owners no longer see a reason to keep, I catch sight of an item which I know to be extremely rare and valuable. Would it be moral for me to pay the low asking price, then resell the item at auction for a much higher price, knowing that the owners are clueless about its value?
Question: Is it moral to exploit a design flaw in a government or private lottery? An article in Wired describes how a statistician noticed a design flaw in the Ontario government lottery "scratchers" game which would allow people to consistently win money. He was described as being "ethical" because he alerted the authorities rather than taking advantage of it for personal gain, and they fixed the problem. Would it be moral to exploit a mathematical flaw in a government lottery without alerting anyone? Would it make a difference if the game was the work of a private casino rather than the government (e.g., exploiting a bias in a casino's roulette wheel)?
Question: Is it moral to accept discounts for products and services when the person giving you the discount isn't a manager or owner of the business? Is it moral for a person to accept "nice face" discounts? I've had people (mostly women) tell me that they've received discounts or better service for being nice, dressing in low-cut shirts or short skirts, being cheerful or otherwise friendly to store clerks or employees (usually of the opposite sex). Is it moral to offer or accept such discounts?
Question: What advice do you have about dating coworkers? A romantic interest, who is a sort of coworker of mine, is concerned about the effect on her reputation (she's new), as well as conflicts of interest, should we decide to date. If this is the reason she gave for declining a date, does it make sense to ask again after a period of friendship and to suggest we keep our relationship secret? On the other hand, it might be hard to maintain such a secret.
Question: Is it rationally selfish to be brutally honest in some contexts? Often, you need to tell a person some hard truth, and you can do so either tactfully or brutally. In many instances, you might want to be brutally honest because you fear that the person will not understand what you say if you're tactful. So which approach is better?
Question: Is it immoral to browse a store with no intention of buying there? Is it immoral to take advantage of the freedom to look through books in a bookstore, or to try out a laptop in a shop, with no intention to actually buying it in that shop? For instance, you check out a book in the shop to decide whether you want to buy it, knowing that if you buy it, you'll do so from Amazon instead. Is that wrong?
Question: Is it morally wrong to be a free rider? Some people say that it's wrong to be a free rider – for example, by sneaking into a movie without paying for it, using a gas station bathroom without buying anything, accepting a ride to the airport but refusing to return the favor, hiking on trails in your community without helping to maintain them, or enjoying the Christmas lights of your neighbors without putting up your own. In such cases, you seem to be enjoying a benefit from someone else that you've not paid for or earned. Isn't that unjust, and hence, morally wrong?
Question: Should you tell someone else's secret to a spouse? I know a lot of times when I share personal information with my best friend, I assume that she will (and am okay with) her sharing some or all of that information with her significant other. I think she makes the same assumption, that I will share some of what she tells me with my husband. If (hypothetically) there was something I didn't want her significant other to know about, would I be right in asking that she keep a secret from him? On one hand, the information I'm sharing is personal and I might like to keep it between us. On the other, is it right to ask her to keep something from him?
Question: Why bother being honest, when surrounded by dishonest people? Why not lie, just a little bit to "get ahead". If the guy next to you "games the system" aren't you leaving yourself at a disadvantage? Isn't honesty and integrity, when dealing with people only important if everyone respects those virtues? Why play a game when the rules keep changing?
Question: Is it immoral to cheat on your taxes? It's essentially a lie to protect the products of your labor. So is it wrong just because it's illegal?
Question: Is it wrong to cheat on a work-style questionnaire on a job application? I've been denied certain jobs because I've answered too selfishly on job questionnaires that gauge a person's work style. The questions often ask what you would do in certain situations, if you prefer working alone or with others, etc. Is it wrong to answer falsely on those tests for a job you want and know you can do well?
Question: Since eating wheat is purported to be unhealthy due to gluten (and other stuff), is it immoral to eat bread? (Analogous to smoking being purportedly bad for you.) Since one has to eat something, it would be better to ask, "Is eating bread immoral when other food sources are available?"
Question: If a woman, for example, has cheated on her husband, should she always tell him afterward? So if a woman cheats on her husband, then regrets doing so, and decides to re-commit herself to the marriage. Should she tell her husband about that infidelity? What if the cheating was a short fling rather than a serious affair? What if the revelation would seriously damage or even destroy the marriage?
Question: Is lying to protect one's own privacy moral or not? Many people regard lies to protect their own privacy as justifiable, even necessary. For example, a woman might tell her co-workers that she's not seeing anyone, even though she's dating the boss. She might tell those co-workers that she didn't get a hefty end-of-year bonus, even though she did. She might tell a nosy acquaintance that she didn't want children, rather than reveal her struggles with infertility. Is that wrong – or unwise? How could the woman protect her privacy in those circumstances without lying?
Question: If a husband cheated on his wife, and she never knew about it, he never got anyone pregnant, and he never got any STDs, would she be harmed? If so, how?
Question: Is it moral to introduce the idea of Santa Claus to children – and why or why not? Some Objectivists say that introducing Santa or staying silent on the issue to let the child figure it out for himself constitutes deception and lying. Others say it's a playful and fun game with Santa as a hero standing for justice in a way kiddies can understand.
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: A friend (we were once close, but have grown apart in recent years) confides that she is cheating on her husband and has no plans to tell him. I have no idea what to do – I neither wanted this secret nor want to help keep it from the husband. I'm angry.