Question: Is vulnerability of value? In a recent blog post, you stated "...I'm opting for a 'vulnerability through strength' and 'strength through vulnerability' route..." Could you please explain this idea? Why is vulnerability something that should be cultivated in the first place? It doesn't seem compatible with rational egoism, given that "vulnerability" and "weakness" are often used interchangeably.
Question: What's the proper response to an accusation of date rape in the absence of hard evidence? When faced with this kind of serious accusation within a social group, what is the proper judgment and course of action? If the accuser seems believable, should the accused be shunned or banned from the group? Should private warnings be given to group members? Does refusing to engage in any public discussion of the matter constitute silent assent to the crime? Or should judgment and action be reserved until further evidence comes to light?
Question: Should I change my name when I marry? I'm a gay man who is engaged to be married. The question has come up about whether or not either of us would change our last name and historically we've said no. We have thought we would just maintain our given names. My fiance doesn't want to change his name and we both think trying to hyphenate our last names would be unwieldy and fussy. But as we've talked about planning a family in the future, it's occurred to me that I actually like the idea of sharing a name with my husband and my children. So, I've been considering changing my name. Somewhat ironically, however, changing my name means giving up a five-generation-old family name in order to take on the name of our new family. I don't mind this irony very much since my decision would be about taking on a family I choose rather than one I didn't. What do you think? What pros and cons do you see for changing your name at marriage? Do you see any additional pros or cons for gay men considering this question?
Question: Does ethics require impartiality? Critics of egoism, particularly utilitarians, accuse egoists of being biased in favor of oneself without justification. They assert that a scientific ethics must be neutral and impartial: it must take a third-person viewpoint where the self isn't given any special consideration. Are the utilitarians wrong? If so, why should a scientific ethics bias the self over others?
Question: When is delegation in a marriage irresponsible or unwise? There are some parts of normal adult life that I'm really bad at, in part due to social anxiety. Examples include calling or meeting with companies (airlines, banks, etc) to make changes, writing emails that involve stress or conflict, scheduling events that we'll both attend, budgeting and finance, driving and navigating, and dealing with mechanical stuff. Should I ask my husband to do those chores? If I ask for help, I worry that I'm being weak, lazy, and avoiding my responsibilities. On the other hand, if I try to do the hard things on my own, I often mess up. Where's the line between delegating and shirking?
Question: Am I wrong to be upset that I learned of my uncle's death via Facebook? My uncle recently died. We weren't close, but I would have expected a phone call from my parents about it. Instead, I learned about his death via a Facebook status update from one of my cousins (not his child, but his niece). I've been really angry that I learned such momentous news that way, but I'm having trouble explaining why to my family. Am I wrong to be upset? If I should be upset, what's wrong with what happened? What should I say to my parents now?
Question: Is it wrong to take up a hobby for the sake of dating? I'm single, and I want to meet more women. Is it wrong or unwise to take up hobbies like dancing, acting, painting, singing, or guitar just to have some skill to show and to meet women interested in those activities? I wouldn't take up these hobbies without the dating angle: I'm just not interested in them, at least not right now. Is that wrong?
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: What should a person do about social and psychological needs he temporarily can't satisfy? For right now, the context of my life makes it so that it's hard to satisfy the needs for companionship. Most of the people around me don't offer deep and intense enough values to satisfy it, even as I do have friends. The majority of the people who could fulfill my needs live out of state. Furthermore, the industry I work in, by and large, prohibits me from being able to attend clubs and whatnot, as I usually work when they run. As such, I've got to grin and bear my loneliness for the meanwhile, temporarily. How can I make myself feel better in doing so?
Question: How can I help my father understand that I respect him, even when I disagree with him? I generally value experience for its ability to provide helpful insights, but I am suspicious of people who fall back on appeals to authority in an attempt to win arguments. My father often does that during our debates on various subjects, as we do not see eye-to-eye on many important issues. When I reject his appeals on the grounds that they are logically fallacious, he takes personal offense and accuses me of disrespecting him. I respect my father, and I try to convey my appreciation for his experience in other ways. But I want to have civil discourse with him that doesn't dead-end in this uncomfortable way someday. My father and I have been estranged for the last five years, in large part due to his tendency toward communicating in this and other manipulative ways, and my current attempt at reconciliation is failing again because of these communication issues. This is a shame because I truly feel that the makings of a good father-daughter relationship are in place, but my father cannot seem to stop predicating our ability to love and respect each other on my willingness to constantly agree with him simply because he is my father. What advice can you give on how best to halt this unhealthy pattern, so that I can save my relationship with my dad?
Question: When is a person responsible for an unexpected and unwanted child? Sex sometimes results in an unexpected and perhaps unwanted pregnancy. What are the moral responsibilities of each party in this situation? Do a person's obligations depend on prior agreements about what would be done in such a case? Do they depend on whether contraception was used or not? If the man said that he didn't want children and used contraception, yet a pregnancy occurs, does he have any moral or legal obligation to pay for an abortion, support the child, or act as a father? Does the answer change if the woman agreed to have an abortion in advance, then changes her mind? Should couples talk explicitly about these matters before sex?
Question: Should I end my friendship with a persistent and devout Christian? I am an atheist who has been befriended by a very devout Christian (read: an ex-missionary). I often find that our philosophical differences prevent me from expressing myself the way I would like. However, this friend has been very devoted to pursuing a deeper friendship with me despite my attempts to keep the relationship very casual. She calls me her "best friend" to others and goes out of her way to forge a deeper bond by regularly telling me how "special" I am to her and reiterating how close to me she feels. She will often say that she regards me as a "sister." I am puzzled by her persistence, given that she has so many friendship options within her Church and the rest of the Christian community. I am also increasingly uncomfortable with our interactions, given their necessarily narrow breadth and depth: we tend to focus our discussions mainly on a shared hobby we enjoy that has nothing to do with religion or philosophy. I really value time spent engaging in philosophical discussions with my other friends, and this is simply not possible with her. The dilemma is that she has been admirably non-judgmental toward my lifestyle, at least outwardly. She does not proselytize or try to "convert" me. (I have made it clear to her that this is not possible.) Still, our friendship feels vacant to me. I have tried to express my concerns to her at various times but her response is always that she loves me and accepts me "no matter what." I think she is being sincere, but it feels like a manipulation or, at least, an evasion of our many differences. Still, I always end up feeling guilty for keeping her at a distance while she works so hard to be my friend. Should I end this friendship once and for all?
Question: Should I cut ties with my homophobic family? My boyfriend and I visit my family every year for Christmas, and every year they treat him rudely and unfairly. This is solely because they do not accept my sexuality, and they blame him for it. I have made it very clear that if their behavior continues, I will no longer visit them on holidays. They always agree to my terms, but as soon as we arrive, they immediately go back on their word. To make matters worse, I visited them alone this summer for my birthday. During my visit, the daughter of a family friend "just happened to stop by." It was very clear to me that this was a set up. When we received a moment alone, I told her that I was in a happy, committed relationship with a man. Her reaction showed that she was entirely deceived. I left the house, and I have not spoken to my family since. I have no desire to have a relationship with them. Should I permanently end the relationship?
Question: Should I do something nice for a coworker I dislike? There's a lady at work that I dislike. My conflict with her is primarily merely a conflict of personality. I find her defensive, passive-aggressive, and awkward to the point of rudeness. I am also not very impressed with her work products, but that rarely has a direct impact on me – except when I'm asked to review them – as is the fact that she only seems to work for about six hours every day. Indirectly, of course, her eccentricities and poor work quality cast our team in a very poor light and could eventually serve as a reason to dissolve or lay off our team. It's a mystery as to why she hasn't been fired. But I'm not her manager. In a meeting earlier today, she made a remark that she thought she was being excluded from important meetings that are relevant to her work. The truth is that she's not being actively excluded from these meetings, but rather everything is happening so fast and the meetings aren't always planned, so it's really just not possible to include her in those meetings. She would probably be heartened to understand better how these events take place in our company. (She's rather new, and I am very tenured.) She might feel better about her position and she might become less defensive about things if she had a better understanding of the organizational mechanics here. But I strongly dislike her and would prefer that she seek other employment. Should I be kind and explain those mechanics or not?
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: Should revenge porn be illegal? Apparently, it is increasingly common after a break-up for a person to share sexual pictures or videos of his/her former lover that were taken while in the relationship. Some people think that sharing sexual images intended to be kept private should be illegal, while others argue that such "revenge porn" is protected speech. Which view is right? Should the consent of all parties be required for the posting of sexual imagery?
Question: Should spouses always share activities? A friend of mine is loathe to pursue any hobbies or interests that her husband doesn't share. He's not controlling: she's the same way. Although I know that they want to spend time together, that seems really limiting to me. Is that a reasonable policy in a marriage – or does it lead to self-sacrifice and mutual resentment?
Question: How can I refuse solicitations for gifts for co-workers? I work in a department of about thirty people. In the past few months, we have been asked to contribute money to buy gifts for co-workers – for engagements, baby showers, bereavement flowers, and Christmas gifts for the department chair, administrative assistants, housekeeping staff, and lab manager. Generally these requests are made by e-mail, and I can see from the "reply all" messages that everyone else contributes. Often these donations add up to a large amount ($10-20 each time). I do not wish to take part, but am worried that since I am a newer employee my lack of participation will be interpreted negatively. What can I do?
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: How should a young adult manage persistent differences with his family? As I grew up, I turned out radically different from what my family expected. They think college is necessary for success in life. I didn't, and I dropped out. They eat the Standard American Diet and hate fat. I eat Paleo, and I glorify fat. And so on. Basically, we diverge on many points. I've never committed the mistake of attempting to preach to my family in order to persuade them, but many of them grew unduly concerned with these differences between us. They would argue with me on the subject for months, if not years, no matter what good results I had to show them. Assuming that the relationship is otherwise worth maintaining, how should an older child or young adult handle such contentious differences with his family? How can he best communicate his point of view to them – for example, on the question of college, after they've saved for two decades for his college education?
Question: How can I stop exchanging meaningless holiday presents with my siblings? My siblings and I are friendly but not close, but we still exchange Christmas presents. Mostly, that means that we buy each other stuff that we really don't want. That seems like a waste of time and money. I'd like to stop exchanging gifts with them, but how can I do so without hurting their feelings?
Question: How can I achieve greater psychological visibility? Recently, I realized that many of my emotional difficulties in life – such as in maintaining motivation or keeping serene – may be exacerbated by feelings of psychological invisibility. In other words, I feel uncared for and unnoticed, and the deep dissatisfaction stemming from that could be potentially affecting a lot of areas in my life. For instance, I recently spoke to my manager as to my problems at work, and it made me feel so uniquely good that I was able to finish my shift in peace and on-track, in contrast to the bitter, near seething prior hours. That unique feeling indicates that I may have a deep unfulfilled emotional need in this area, hurting other realms of performance. Thus, what is psychological visibility? What does it add to my life? How can I satisfy it?
Question: Is charity to strangers virtuous? In a recent podcast, you answered the following Rapid Fire Question: "Does providing voluntary, non-sacrificial help to innocent, unfortunate poor people qualify as virtuous? In a free society, would such charity be a moral obligation?" You said that it's not a moral obligation, and I agree with that. You also said that you think it's a "great thing to do." But why? I'd evaluate it as such if the person you're helping is a good friend or a close relative. In that case, the act would be an expression of integrity, or of loyalty to one's personal values. But I don't understand why it's a "great thing" to provide charity to people you don't know, even if you're contextually certain that they didn't bring their hardship upon themselves and you don't view it as a moral duty. I'd think that such an act is morally neutral, or at best slightly positive. Can you explain your evaluation a bit more, please?
Question: Is it wrong for an atheist to believe in some kind of afterlife? I don't believe in God, but I hate to think that this life is all that I have. I can't stand the thought of never again seeing my parents, my children, or my friends again. So is it wrong to think that some kind of afterlife might exist? What's the harm?
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?"
Summary: As we live our lives, some people will harm us by their moral wrongs and honest errors, and we may commit such wrongs and errors ourselves. Objective moral judgment is an essential part of the rational response to such events. Yet circumstances often call for more than judgment: sometimes, forgiveness and redemption come into play. In this lecture given to ATLOSCon in 2012, I explored the nature, function, and limits of forgiveness and redemption in relation to the virtue of justice. Then we applied that understanding to common examples of wrongs and errors.
Question: Is accepting voluntary sacrifices from others moral? Imagine that someone offers you a way to increase your wealth, lengthen your lifespan, or achieve your goals at great personal cost to and even sacrifice of himself. Is it wrong to accept that? What if you've tried setting them straight and telling them to act in their self-interest, but they still insist on trying to be altruistic? Would accepting such a sacrifice be a breach of integrity for an egoist, or would rational egoism urge you to enjoy the proffered benefits, so long as voluntarily bestowed? In other words, is accepting voluntary sacrifices from others different from forcing others to sacrifice to you?
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: How much generosity is too much? Generosity seems like a trait that would fit well into your theory of moral amplifiers. But how does one best deal with someone who is being overly generous? I recently relocated to a new city and one of my coworkers with whom I am friendly has really gone above and beyond trying to help me get settled. She is constantly offering to help, lend me things, or even give me things to make life easier. I appreciate her offers and turn down many of them as politely as I can. But I struggle to find the right balance of accepting her generosity in due proportion to our friendship. She seems to be fairly wealthy, so I don't think her offers are sacrificial in any way, my issue is that we are friends, but not close enough friends to justify the incessant barrage of motherly offerings. Through consistent communication about what I am willing to accept and what I won't – and also owing to actually getting settled in the new city – she's backed off a bit. More broadly, how would you recommend dealing with this sort of problem? How can a person make sure not to make this mistake of being overly generous?
Question: What advice would you give to a new Objectivist? At ATLOSCon, you led a discussion on "What I Wish I'd Known as a New Objectivist." Personally, I wish I could tell younger self that the term "selfish" doesn't mean the "screw everyone else, I'm getting mine" behavior that most people think it means. Other people will use the term that way, and trying to correct them is an uphill battle not worth fighting. I'd tell my younger self to just use a long-winded circumlocution to get the point across. What other kinds of obstacles do people new to Objectivism commonly encounter? What advice would you give to new Objectivists to help them recognize and overcome those obstacles?
Question: Should an egoist be willing to torture millions to benefit himself? In your discussion of explaining egoistic benevolence on December 22, 2013, you indicated that you regarded such a scenario as absurd. Could you explain why that is? Why wouldn't such torture be not merely permitted but rather obligatory under an egoistic ethics? Why should an egoist even care about what happens to strangers?
Question: Is it a mistake to enter into a serious relationship with a person with serious psychological problems? Recently, my wife took her own life after a long struggle with major depression and other psychological issues. When we started dating, I saw clearly that she had issues although they were not as bad at the time. She was also intelligent, beautiful, and ambitious – among other good qualities. At the time, I thought she could work through her psychological issues with support, and she did improve for a while. However, after her loss, I've decided that, when and if I'm to the point where I'm interested in dating again, I will avoid becoming involved with women who display clear psychological problems. This decision has forced me to wonder if it was a mistake to become involved with my wife in the first place. So is it a mistake to enter into a serious relationship, knowing that the person has serious psychological struggles?
Question: What should I do when a friend exhibits severe body dysmorphia on social media? At several points in my life, I had a valued friend who seemed otherwise rational and grounded, but who also exhibited dangerous body dysmorphia on social media. In these cases, the friend would first go through a several-month phase of confessing to several psychological problems, such as fantasizing about suicide and of cutting herself with a blade. This friend would then sternly add that she has since recovered, but would admit to still feeling that her natural physical features are ugly and deformed. Then, months later, the friend would go into another phase. On social media, in front of many other people, she would make brazen gestures indicating body dysmorphia, such as uploading photoshopped pictures of herself as a corpse ready for burial or saying that she planned to starve herself to achieve her ideal of being skeletally thin. A major problem was the reaction from our online mutual acquaintances. Some admitted that they saw these problems, yet they acted like the friend was behaving normally. Others outright complimented the dysmorphic imagery and statements. In these cases, I think that my friend knew that her body dysmorphia was dangerous. She put it on display so that others would normalize her pathology, because then she could more easily rationalize her behavior as harmless. That seems really dangerous, but what is the proper alternative? How should people respond when a person puts his pathological self-destruction on display?
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: 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: Should a woman give back her engagement ring if the relationship goes sour? A friend of mine asked his girlfriend to marry him, and she accepted. However, they broke off the engagement – and the relationship – a few months later. Is she morally or legally obliged to give back the ring? Is the answer different if they married, then split?
Question: Can a rational atheist extract any value from studying theology? Theology includes a mix of arguments for the existence of God, plus views on ethics, and more. It's the earliest form of philosophy. Can a person benefit by cherry picking ideas from theological teachings or does the mysticism and other faults outweigh any benefits?
Question: Should ethics begin with facts about evolution, including altruism? The ethical egoism advocated by Ayn Rand doesn't seem to incorporate genetics or evolution. Having evolved in tribal and family groups, we are creatures tuned to group behavior more than to individual behavior. Altruism wasn't invented by religion. In a tribe, helping those around you helps you survive too. Helping your kin helps your genes survive. The fact is that feeling good when you help others is built into the core of being human. The fact is that much status seeking and other seemingly irrational actions are techniques to ensure the propagation of our genes. Objectivism starts with "A is A." But, if reality is most important, shouldn't people base their ethics on the facts about humans as they actually are – altruism and all?
Question: Should my romantic partner be interested in and supportive of my accomplishments and pursuits? I have struggled for years in a relationship with someone who shows no interest in or support for my pursuits. I try not to be hurt. I tell myself I just need to do better in order to be worthy of respect and admiration. When I explain to my partner why I'm hurt, he says I am being needy and that I shouldn't need his praise or reinforcement. I don't know how to logically disagree with this, yet I know how good it feels to receive earned praise from friends, and how painful it feels to accomplish something big and not receive any acknowledgement from my partner. What kind of emotional support should be expected from a partner? If a partner is dismissive and neglectful, how can one gain the confidence needed to leave the relationship?
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: How can we better explain how helping others can be egoistic? In your October 7, 2013 radio show, you observed that people often don't understand how acting kindly and generously towards friends is self-interested. Instead, they think that being benevolent toward anyone is "other-regarding" and hence, altruistic. How can we egoists untangle this seeming conflict for people?
Question: What should a person do about a neighbor's aggressive dog? My husband was attacked (but barely injured) by a neighbor's dog. No one else was in the room at the time. Our children often play at this person's house, and the dog has always been friendly in the past. How do you suggest handling the situation? Should we allow our children to play with the dog, as we always have in the past? What should the owner do about the dog?
Question: When should a person declare his love for another? What is an appropriate amount of time to wait before saying "I love you" in a new relationship? New relationships often start out strong, but then the feelings of eros dissipate after a few months. When you meet someone who you share the same values and ideals (and you are super-attracted to him or her) when should you say those three little words?
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: Should a person try to "win friends and influence people"? In the classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie offers a wide range of advice on how to get what you want from other people. Some of this seems manipulative or second-handed, but is that right? Is the advice in the book of genuine value to a rational egoist seeking honest trade with others?
Question: Does a person owe others an explanation for unfriending them on Facebook? I'm "friends" with many people on Facebook who I can't stand and with whom I would never willingly spend time in real life. I've purged many Facebook friends I didn't really know and/or who've contributed nothing of value to my life, all for the better. Now I am considering whether to unfriend former lovers and one-time real life friends from my youth for a host of insurmountable reasons – for example, our politics don't jive, I'm annoyed by seeing endless photos of their pets, and so on. Odds are I will never have any dealings with these people again, mostly because I don't want to. Do I owe them an explanation for the unfriending?
Question: How forthcoming should I be with new people I meet about my checkered past? My past is not a source of pride for me. Over four years ago, I read "Atlas Shrugged." That book altered the radical change I was already bringing into my life for the better. I've recently begun meeting other fans of Ayn Rand in real life, and I dislike discussing my white-trash, moocher-esque history with these new acquaintances. (At the time, I was between 17 and 20 years old.) If I shared my past with these people, I think they might judge me harshly and cut ties with me, given that they don't know me well. However, given my past, I have a clearer understanding of the irrational, twisted, cruel, and nasty nature of people who choose to live like leeches off of other human beings. I think that sharing these experiences with others can be a source of strength to them. (I don't want others to stumble into these poor decisions when they could do better!) So how much of my past should I share with other people, and how should I share it?
Summary: In early October, I gathered a few close friends in Atlanta to discuss the ins and outs of personality theory. We focused on various theories of personality, as well as the effects of personality differences at work, in parenting, in personal relations, and in activism. In this episode, my then-husband Paul and I shared the highlights.
Question: When should I respect a person's request to keep information secret? Often, people ask me to keep something they've told me (or will tell me) to myself. Or, they'll ask me not to share it with anyone other than my spouse. Such secrets might consist of happy news that will soon be known, such as future career plans or a pregnancy. That's no problem. However, when the matter is more serious – like psychological struggles, personal wrongdoings, marital troubles, and conflicts with mutual friends – I feel like I'm caught in a bind. Often, I have reason to fear that other people I care about might be hurt, and I feel an obligation to warn them. Is that right? Or am I obliged to keep secrets scrupulously?
Question: How can I help my partner accept my doing risky activities? I would describe my partner as modestly adventurous. He's willing to try things now and then, but there are lots of things that I'd like to do that he not only refuses to do but forbids me to do as well. For example, I saw a deal to take a beginner pilot lesson on LivingSocial. I have no interest in getting my pilot's license, but I think it would be fun to sit in the seat with a teacher and learn a little something about how it's done. To my mind, this is perfectly safe. My partner, however, says, "No way." Also, I want to go swimming with sharks (with supervision, inside a cage). Yes, there's some risk, but I think that sounds like a lot of fun. My boyfriend disagrees. I did talk him into going skydiving with me once, but he refuses to go again. He bought me a gift certificate so I could do another tandem dive. But I loved it enough that I would consider getting certified to jump on my own. Yet he forbids it. People do these kinds of activities all the time without injury or any other harm. Plus, I want to do them with all proper supervision and safety precautions. I'm certain that my boyfriend understands these mandates of his carry little to no weight with me, but I wish he would be a little more reasonable about the way he assesses these risks. I definitely wish he'd find a better way of expressing his concern for my safety than just issuing commands about what I will and will not do. What should I do?
Question: What are Immanuel Kant's views on sex? In your June 30th, 2013 discussion of studying philosophy in academia, you said that Immanuel Kant has some very distinctive and revealing views about marriage, sex, and masturbation. What are they? What do they reveal about this ethics? Have they been influential in academia or the culture?
Summary: What is rhetoric? Why does it matter? How can the basic concepts of rhetoric help us write more effectively, understand advertising better, or speak more persuasively?
Question: How much sympathy should I have for people failing in their obligations due to personal struggles? In the past two years, I've witnessed two businesses (both one-person operations) crash and burn due to the owners' inability to continue to operate while suffering from severe depression. I don't know the trigger in the first case, but in the second case, the depression was precipitated by a divorce, then the murder of a toddler in the family. The business is online, and unhappy customers have been airing their frustration with the fact that they never received goods already paid-for. Some friends are stepping in to help, but the owner's reputation has been ruined. How much slack should I – or others aware of the situation – cut the owner? How far should my sympathy go?
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: Does mental illness excuse wrong behavior? Recently, a friend of mine apologized for making hurtful and unfair comments to me. (It's not the first time she's done that.) She said that she's been struggling with depression, and she's now on anti-depressants and in therapy. I'm not sure how to take that. I feel for her, yet I also feel like I'm being manipulated into overlooking her bad behavior because she's "sick." How should struggles with mental illness figure into explanations and apologies for wrong behavior – if at all?
Question: Is it wrong to have sex when you're not in the mood? Assume that you're in a long-term romantic relationship with another person. You are not always going to feel the desire to have sex. If your lover wants sex, is it wrong to have sex? Might you have sex anyway, perhaps because you want to do something nice for your lover - perhaps in the hope that your lover might do the same for you later? Many people seem uncomfortable with sex under those circumstances, i.e. absent a strong physical desire. Some think that having sex even if not in the mood isn't right: it's degrading and might lead to resentment. Others claim that if you're truly in love, then your physical desires will fall into line. Hence, if you don't want to have sex, you might not really be in love - or you might have other philosophical or psychological problems. Which of these views is right?
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: 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: 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: Does individualism imply social isolation and atomism? Many critics of Ayn Rand argue that her individualism is hostile to love, concern, and respect for other people. They claim that her "atomistic individualism" doesn't permit, let alone support, groups or community. Are these criticisms true? What is the right view of human society and sociability?
Summary: People often think of major medical disasters as unpredictable "black swan" events. In fact, emergency physicians see the same injuries from the same causes time and again, and ordinary people can lessen those risks by their own choices. Dr. McGuff explained the risks, how to mitigate them, and how to best cope if you or a loved one lands in the emergency room.
Question: Should people define themselves using the negative term "atheist"? To me, a rational person sells himself short when he calls himself an "atheist": he's only saying what he doesn't stand for, not what he does stand for. Plus, to use the term "atheist" seems to be accepting the religious frame of reference. A rational person values individual healthy human life, and everything else he believes follows from that, such as respect for reality, reason, and rights. When a person defines himself in those positive terms, what he's against follows. So, can a person be more clear and persuasive when he focuses on what he's for rather than what he's against? If so, what terms might he use to describe himself?
Question: Can people with divergent political views enjoy a good romantic relationship? Some of my liberal friends won't date conservatives, and some of my conservative friends are horrified at the thought of dating a liberal. Is that reasonable? Since I'm in favor of free markets, should I only date other advocates of free markets? Can people with very different political views enjoy a good romantic relationship?
Question: What's the proper response to the dissolution of a friendship within a social group? I loved your your May 6th, 2012 discussion of "unforgivable acts," and I have a follow-up question. Now – after cutting my losses with a best friend, after years of giving second chances, talking with him repeatedly, and determining that there's no more basis for a friendship – how do I judge mutual friends of ours? Some of them think that my actions weren't justified. Some resent me for breaking up a group of friends. Many want me to either make up with this person or tolerate him at gatherings. Is this reaction by these mutual friends fair? How should I respond to them?
Question: How can a person deal with overzealous ideologues? Suppose that an overzealous follower of a particular belief system constantly monitors and polices the behavior of other followers. When he sees what he believes to be a failure by someone to live up to their ideals, he attacks that person publicly, trying to shame him into proper behavior. What is the proper response if I am attacked by this overzealous follower in public? What if the attacks are private? Should I respond if my friends and acquaintances are attacked?
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: Should you care whether other people find you attractive? I’ve heard some people say they don't care what other people think of their physical appearance: they only care about their own judgment. To care, they say, is second-handed. Is that right? It is wrong to be pleased when someone compliments you on your clothes or hair?
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: How can I politely tell my co-workers that I'm not interested in socializing? I have always struggled with the pressure to form friendships at work. Personally, I don't want to hang out with my coworkers after work. I don't want to chit chat during work. I won't want to celebrate birthdays or other personal events. This is always interpreted as me being snobbish, aloof, and worst of all "not a team player." It's so annoying. I just want to do a good job and then leave, not join a social club. How can I communicate that without being offensive?
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: When does humor work against my values? Sometimes, I wonder whether my jokes undermine what I value. Is it wrong to poke fun at my friends or myself? Is it wrong to joke about principles that I hold dear? How do I draw the line?
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: What's the difference between griping about people and morally judging them? I try to be careful in my moral judgments of others, and then act accordingly. However, most people don't seem to do that: they bitch about other people out of annoyance, but then do nothing to solve their problems. What's wrong with such bitching? How can I explain my objections to such bitching in a friendly way? How can I avoid being bitched-to or bitched-about?
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: How important are a person's particular sexual values in a romantic relationship? The problems in many relationships seem to be due to conflicting sexual values, such as one partner wanting variety while the other opposes an open relationship. So why aren't such sexual values considered at least on par with other important values in a relationship? When faced with sexual problems, why is the assumption that a couple needs to "work on them" – as opposed to thinking that such problems should be resolved before any commitment? In other words, before accepting and establishing a relationship, shouldn't people seek sexual compatibility in the same way they seek emotional compatibility?
Question: Should I spend time with a friend and her husband if I can't stand him? A friend of mine is married to a man with the same views of love and marriage as Jim Taggart. He is of no value to me, and I hate being in his presence. My friend invites me to spend time with the two of them and other friends of hers. Should I decline the invitations so that I do not grant her husband any undeserved attention or friendliness? Or should I accept so that I can see my friend? To do the latter feels like insulting my friend and betraying my own values.
Question: When and how should I express my frustration to another person? I've always found it difficult to determine whether I should express a frustration to another person, whether in a personal or professional context. When and how should I tell someone that they've disrespected, offended, or insulted me? Does the nature of the relationship – purely financial or deeply emotional, for example – matter?
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?
Summary: Is your romantic relationship and sex life hampered by wrong ideas and bad habits? Are you inadvertently sabotaging your relationships? Find out how to stop holding yourself back with some simple tips.
Question: What do you think of the "Five Love Languages"? The basic idea of the "Five Love Languages" is that every person has "a primary way of expressing and interpreting love," and that "we all identify primarily with one of the five love languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch." What do you think of this concept? Do you think that a person's "love language" might be connected to his personality traits?
Summary: Most couples know the joy of sharing loving "extras" with their partner. In fact, making those efforts to do something special isn't really "extra," it's part of a vibrant romantic relationship. The challenge is figuring out what actions to take in practice.
Question: When should a person speak up against bigotry? My boyfriend and I were at a party at the home of one of his coworkers. One person at the party started using offensive homophobic slurs, so I asked him not to use that kind of language. He persisted, and the conversation escalated into an argument. My boyfriend did not take a position, and he later said he "didn't want to get involved" and that it had been "none of my business" to stick my neck out against the bigot. I believe that silence implies acceptance. Though there may not be a moral obligation to intervene, it still seems like the right thing to do. What is the moral principle behind this? Is it important enough to end a relationship over?
Summary: DiSC is a personality profile system that uses four basic profiles: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Conscientiousness. A person can use DiSC to understand himself more deeply, capitalize on his strengths, compensate for his weaknesses, and communicate and collaborate with others better. How so?
Question: How can a person effectively manage office politics? In almost any job, the internal politics of the company can be overwhelming. If you speak out, you can be embroiled in conflict and drama. If you stay silent, the pushy people will have their way, often for the worse. What should a person do who wants to actually work?
Summary: What are the best ways to seek out promising prospects for friendship or romance? What can you do to make yourself a better prospect to others?
Summary: When a person wrongs you, when should you forgive him? When should you ask someone to forgive you?
Question: Can an ordinary person do something unforgivable? Could a friend act in a way that would make rational forgiveness impossible? Might a person do something so hurtful or unfair that you couldn't ever trust them again? In such cases, how should the person wronged acted towards the unforgivable person?
Summary: Do you wonder what people are entitled to know about you? Do you want to maintain your privacy without resorting to dishonesty?
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: Is poking fun at people's ideas on social media rude, offensive, or otherwise wrong? For example, is it proper to make jokes about Jesus, Obama, or environmentalism on Facebook - knowing that some of your Facebook friends are Christians, Democrats, or environmentalists? Should those people be offended? Should a person limit himself to serious arguments?
Question: Are statutory rape laws proper? Statutory rape laws criminalize seemingly consensual sex when at least one party is below the age of consent, but sexually mature, e.g. when an 18 year old has sex with a 15 year old. Are such laws proper? Should the over-age person be convicted if he or she didn't know (or couldn't reasonably know) that the under-age person was under-age? What if the under-age person lied about his or her age? What, if anything, should happen legally when both parties are under-age, e.g. when two 15 year olds have sex?
Question: Why are disputes so belligerent in online communities? I've noticed that people get into very loud and heated disputes online, whereas that doesn't seem to happen in local communities. Disputes in local communities tend to be less frequent, less belligerent, and last for a shorter time - even when some people end up hating each other and refusing to have anything to do with each other in the end. Why is that? Also, why do people who are closest with each other (whether close friends, dating, or married) seem to agree more on hot-button issues? Are people more willing to reject a stranger's arguments than those of a friend? Is that an error?
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: Are cynicism and sarcasm unhealthy? I know some very bright people who also frequently express cynicism and sarcasm towards world events, public figures, etc. Their remarks can often be quite witty and insightful. But is there something unhealthy about looking at the world in this way, or can that be an appropriate response to all the many real negative facts of reality?
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: What's the proper threshold for cutting off a digital versus in-person acquaintance? Morally, when it is wrong to end your friendly interactions with an in-person acquaintance? And when is it wrong not to do so? Does the answer differ for a digital acquaintance – meaning, for example, someone that you know only via Facebook?
Question: What constitutes consent in sex? Can a person give tacit consent by his or her actions? Is explicit consent required for some sex acts? Once consent has been given, when and how can a person withdraw that consent? Does the legal perspective on these questions differ from the moral perspective?
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: 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: Is possessiveness wrong in a romantic relationship? I have a drawback: I'm extremely possessive. I expect that the person who loves and understands me – he being the only one who understands me – should be mine and only mine. I can accept other women in his life and contain my jealousy on the condition that he reveals to me every single of them who was, is, or will be. But he should love me the most. And I expect that he should stay with me till the end and that we spend the last days together reflecting on the past and life. Am I wrong in expecting all that from my partner? If so, what can I do to change?
Question: Should you just keep quiet when a friend's bad philosophy works for him? If someone you know pretty well believes in something mystical, such as "The Law of Attraction" (from "The Secret"), or "The Power of Prayer," and this has helped them move their outlook on life toward a benevolent universe premise, and they are more productive and happier, is it better to leave them with their faulty metaphysics and avoid the topic, or should you try to show them the error? What do you say when they start trying to convince you of the truth of their view?
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: Should people be willing to "walk on eggshells" around temperamental people? Some people – often very talented – are known to be highly temperamental. They'll explode in anger if others disagree with them, make innocent mistakes, or just act differently than they'd prefer. Is that a moral failing, and if so, what is its source? How should people around them act? When and how much should others try to placate them?
Question: How should a rational person evaluate unproven accusations of serious wrongdoing about people he deals with? I recently heard some information about a business associate's dealings with another of his associates that, if true, would make me reconsider doing business with him. However, his side of the story is that the other person is the one who acted wrongly. This is a serious matter, and it's clear that one or both of them acted very badly, but since I was not personally involved and the only information I have is of a "he said/she said" nature, I am not sure how to decide what I should do. Am I right to consider the information I heard at all, since I can't confirm it?
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: 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: How do I ask my neighbor not to take liberties with my driveway? I work out of my office on the ground floor of our home overlooking the street with partial view of our driveway. Every day, several times a day, a neighbor uses our driveway as a turnaround instead of using the intersection one house down, or her own driveway. My big problem with this is that she is using our private property for public use. I also find this distracting when I'm working as every time she pulls into the driveway I think someone is visiting. I'm having a difficult time deciding how to approach this as I want to remain friendly with my neighbor, and don't want to come off as an unbearable jerk for just asking her not to use my property. How would you approach this situation?
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: Should I terminate friendships with people who steal music and other intellectual property from the internet? I don't know a single person who doesn't steal something off the internet. I used to do this myself, but stopped when I realized it was wrong and why. Normally, I would cut off contact with anyone who violates rights, because that's worse than just holding wrong ideas, but the activity is so prevalent now that doing so would end my social life. Even now, my clear moral position strains my friendships. So what should I do?
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: What should you do when you meet someone who treated you badly in the past? Recently, I ran into a person at an event who I used to know as a fellow member of a local discussion group. When he left the group about a year ago, he posted a long rambling e-mail to our mailing list condemning us for all kinds of imaginary sins. The letter was unfair and rude – not to mention wholly unnecessary. I avoided talking to him when I saw him recently, but I wish I'd said something pointed to him. What, if anything, should I have said?
Question: Is it racist to refuse to date people of a certain ethnic background? Recently, black singer Jill Scott said that she felt her soul "wince" whenever a black man married a white woman. Many people have denounced that as racism, and I agree with that. However, I was shocked to see a black man (known to me only via Facebook) say that he'd never date a white woman due to the history of slavery in America. He even suggested that Tiger Woods was some kind of traitor to his race for marrying blonde beauty Ellen Nordegren. Is that racist?
Question: What's right or wrong about calls for "moderation"? Many things are black and white, but sometimes moderation seems like the right course. For example, you don't want to stuff yourself full of every food that strikes your fancy, nor deny yourself foods that you enjoy. So you should eat moderately. Similarly, you don't want to agree to or deny every favor asked by a friend, but rather do some moderate amount. Is moderation a good guide in some areas of life?
Question: Are there times when you shouldn't help a friend? If you see a friend taking some action which may be ultimately self-defeating or self-destructive, but you are pretty sure they don't have the knowledge or experience to understand the future consequences of their actions, should you allow them to learn on their own or stop them from making a mistake that you know will be disastrous?
Question: Should you swear in front of strangers? Swearing is sometimes a great "exclamation point" when you're telling a story or having an intense or extraordinary conversation. But, is it appropriate to swear in front of people who don't know you very well? Is that poor manners? Would "being yourself" conflict with "putting your best foot forward" in this case?
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: Was Francisco justified in slapping Dagny? In their teenage years, when Dagny asked Francisco whether she should try to get D's in order to gain popularity in school, Francisco slapped her. I understand what he meant by the "unspeakable" thing that she said. But couldn't have he talked it over with her instead of slapping her – and shouldn't he have done so? Why does he use physical violence – and why does Dagny not just accept but relish in it?
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: 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: If you have a mild to moderate contagious disease, is it immoral to go about your ordinary business knowing that this will expose other people to the disease? I'm not talking about life-threatening illness here, nor am I talking about intentionally trying to get someone sick (like spitting in their food). I'm just talking about going to work, school, entertainment events, or scheduled appointments while you have an ordinary disease like a cold, flu, or strep throat. Is that moral?
Question: Do you believe in love at first sight? Why or why not?
Question: What do you think of long-distance relationships? Do you see any dangers in long-distance relationships? Hasn't the internet made such relationships nearly as good as living in the same city?
Question: How do you objectively define manners? Is that even possible? What makes some action rude or polite? Is it purely subjective or based on personal values? For example, some people think that guests ought to take off their shoes in another person's house, while others don't care or even prefer shoes to remain on the feet. And some people think that putting elbows on the dinner table or feet on the coffee table is barbaric, while others regard that as fine. Since manners vary from person to person, how do you "mind your manners" when interacting with other people? Or should you not bother with that, and instead do what you please?
Question: Should age matter in romance? Is it in your rational best interest to date someone who is significantly older or younger than you? Assuming that both individuals are mature, is there anything wrong with an 18 year old dating someone who is 38? Or a 40 year old dating someone who is 60? Or a 70 year old dating someone in their 20s? Does age matter?
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: How should a person deal with ideological conflicts with a spouse? In particular, if a person discovers and embraces Objectivism while already in a serious relationship (perhaps marriage) with a non-Objectivist, what's the best way to deal with conflicts that arise due to divergent principles?
Question: What are the benefits of attending Objectivist conferences in person? I know that there are several regional Objectivist conferences this year in addition to the Ayn Rand Institute's OCON. What are the benefits of attending these in person, rather than just listening to the lectures via a webcast or buying the lectures afterwards?
Question: Is it ever acceptable to act immorally if one is willing to accept the consequences? This question was sparked by a statement in the 9 January 2011 webcast that it would be wrong to deceive a partner in order to save a relationship. Are there ever cases where one cares so much about a particular value that it can be legitimate to act immorally (and thus, in all probability, hurt one's own life) in order to gain or keep that value? For example, what if life were not worth living without that value?
Question: How should one approach a girl one is interested in? How does one go about asking her on a date?
Question: If one is bisexual and derives different values from relationships/sex with men than with women, is it proper to maintain concurrent relationships with both? Assume here, that if such an individual were to forsake having a relationship or sex with either gender, he/she would feel like something is missing and would long for the other.
Question: How does one best deal with unrequited love? I am most interested in this from the perspective of someone who harbors feelings for a friend. In particular, how do you "move on"? When I have been in this situation, I have found it difficult to be interested in others I'm trying to date when so "hung up". Is it necessary to distance oneself from the object of one's affection, even if it means to some extent giving up a life-enhancing friendship? What if one would rather remain single than diminish the friendship? Can that be a rational choice? If so, for how long? Does the answer change if the initial rejection was not unequivocal, but based on some possibly temporary circumstances (like a current relationship)?
Question: What is love? How would you distinguish between romantic love and the love of close friendship? What is the difference between infatuation and love? How can a rational person know when he or she is "in love"?
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: What is the best way to cut someone out of one's life? When ending a friendship with someone is one obliged to give them reasons or is a simple "I no longer want to have a friendship with you" sufficient? What if the person would not accept the reasons or maybe even be driven to revenge or depression by such an action?
Question: How can I criticize someone's work without hurting their feelings? In student theater circles, I struggle to be honest when asked what I thought of an actor's performance, or a director's job, or the writer's work. The writing can be very bad and the performances pretty flat too. My first instinct is to latch onto anything positive I can in the play, and to just talk about that. However, then I seem to be someone afraid to offer criticism to someone's face, and I'd hate to criticize behind their back. So how can I be critical in a helpful and friendly way?
Question: What is a proper view of gossip? Should a rationally egoistic person listen to and/or tell gossip about other people? Why or why not?
Question: At what point is a compromise in a relationship irrational? Couples can reach a point where one of them wants something that is mutually exclusive from what the other wants (To move, to have children, to do something sexually), and it becomes a make-or-break moment: either the curtains go, or I do. So to speak. But when is a spouse's refusal to accept a change irrational? At what point is it no longer something one must learn to deal with, but instead must break up with the other person over? And if it hasn't yet crossed over into the break-up point, how can one reach a suitable compromise, when the choices are, or seem, mutually exclusive?
Question: Is there a fundamental/substantial difference between seriously wanting to have sex with someone other than your significant other and actually doing it? Should a person not act on such desires solely in order to be monogamous? Isn't that still like cheating? (Read the full question.)
Question: What's the difference between a close friendship and an "emotional affair"? Where do you draw the line between them? What's the essential wrong of emotional affairs, if any?
Question: Can men and women be "just friends"? (This is a follow-up to the discussion on infidelity from January 23rd.) Where is the line crossed from friendship to something more intimate that would be a threat to a committed relationship? Is it fair for me to expect a romantic partner to keep his female friends at a distance?
Question: Is it moral and/or wise to pursue someone else's "significant other"? In particular: (1) Is it immoral to try to pursue or court another person's committed romantic partner? (2) Would a rational woman want to be with a man, for example, who abandoned an existing relationship to be with with her? Also: (3) And if pursuing an already-attached person can be moral, do you have any advice about succeeding?
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 it proper to date a girl who smokes pot? This woman, while not being an Objectivist, has many great qualities like being smart, attractive, funny, pro-reason and pro-man in general. She, however, likes to smoke marijuana. She says that it provides a great pleasure and relaxes her body and mind after a long day of work. What should I do about it? Confront her? Immediately break up with her?
Question: Why are some people such jerks on the internet? Some seemingly decent people become downright malicious bastards on the internet, particularly when posting anonymously. Why is that? What does such behavior say about a person's moral character? How can a person keep his manners, his benevolence, and his cool in full force when online?
Question: How can I judge people more efficiently? It would be helpful to be more efficient in judging whether certain individuals are appropriate for a friendship. Sometimes it takes me a long time to decide whether I would like to be friends with someone or not. It takes me even longer to decide whether I would like to be in a romantic relationship with someone. How can I speed this process up? What are some key factors that might help me make these types of decisions more efficiently?
Question: How can Diana and Greg 'co-exist' with their difference regarding the question of personhood at/before birth, as seen in the 19 December 2010 show? I ask this especially in light of the discussion in the 26 December 2010 discussion of reality being binary. One of you is wrong on the personhood issue and the issue is so fundamental, I could never tolerate a dispute at this level with a close friend.
Question: Why do you think most women typically have disdain for men who are 'too nice'?
Question: Suppose you were a rational man in a relationship with a less rational woman, how would you handle your girlfriend's ever-expanding irrational behavior?
Question: How do you judge people of mixed premises? Many people are of "mixed" premises. How does one develop close and personal friendships or pursue long-term, serious, romantic relationships when many people are not consistently rational or moral? How does one judge such people objectively as to their worthiness for friendship or as a potential romantic interest?
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: What's wrong with multiple sexual partners at a time? Why do you think that multiple romantic partners are psychologically destructive for everyone involved? What is it about romantic love that you think demands attention on one and only one other person?
Question: What's a reasonable friending policy for Facebook? I've been getting more Facebook friend requests from people I don't know lately. Should I accept or refuse them?
Question: I have a friend who is pretty hardcore paleo and is often very critical of other people's diets. Food is really important to her and I don't think she means to sound so disparaging. How do I kindly tell her to butt out of mine and my friends' eating habits?
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: What is the proper etiquette in regards to dealing with a deeply irrational person you have to deal with temporarily? Especially when his irrationality interferes with your value pursuits to some extent.
Question: Why do some habitually project their death as a means of silencing criticisms or getting people to do what they want? E.g. a senior that intimidates his children to answer the phone by stating his next call might be while he's actively dying.
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.
Question: Objectivists seem to be disagreeing a lot recently about some hot button issues. Do you have any principles to suggest on how to best handle such disagreements?
Question: Could you give or recommend a set of guidelines for blog/online discussion etiquette? How can someone maximize their benefit from online discussions and relationships?
Summary: I discuss the error of expecting a spouse or lover to notice some change about you – and the proper approach.
Summary: I answer three questions on romantic relationships concerning (1) friendship after a failed romance, (2) romance between people of very different philosophies, and (3) managing finances in marriage.