Question: Is a person responsible for his incapable sibling? Imagine that your brother (or sister) is not capable of taking care of himself: he makes poor choices, he has poor work habits, and he is emotionally immature. Are you thereby responsible for him? Should you try to help as much as possible, so long as you don't drag yourself down? Or should you refuse to help on the principle of "tough love," even though that won't help him take care of himself? If you take the latter approach, doesn't that mean that you're foisting the care for your sibling on society? Wouldn't that be shirking your responsibilities as a sibling? Also, does your responsibility depend on whether your brother is incapable due to his own choices, as opposed to merely bad luck?
Question: It is wrong to refuse any involvement in my biological child's life? Some years back I had a contraceptive malfunction, and a child was conceived as a result. I offered to pay for an abortion but the woman refused. The child was born, and the mother and child moved away. I voluntarily pay child support, but I have no desire to be part of the child's life. I never wanted to be a father nor do I want to now. Am I right – morally and legally – to take this stance?
Question: Is elective abortion morally wrong? Some people support abortion in the cases of rape or incest, as well as in cases of serious medical problems with the fetus or the pregnancy. However, they regard the termination of a normal, healthy pregnancy as morally wrong, particularly as irresponsible. Are such abortions wrong? Does the judgment change if the couple used birth control or not?
Question: Is it wrong to walk away from a person who suffers from repeated medical emergencies due to their own irresponsibility? Over a year ago, I was the tenant of a type-1 diabetic who refused to eat properly. As a result, I regularly had to call the ambulance for her, as she would allow her blood-sugar to drop to dangerous levels, such that she couldn't think or move for herself. She never learned anything from these experiences. She never put emergency food within reach, for example. So a few days or weeks later, I would have to call the ambulance again. I believe that I was being forced – literally – to take care of her. I feared that I'd face manslaughter or other criminal charges if I left her alone in that state. Would it have been morally proper for me to leave her in that state without any advance warning? Should that be legally permissible?
Question: What is the relationship between free will and moral responsibility? To me, the concept of free will found in debates about determinism seems different from the concept of free will relevant to questions of moral responsibility. The former is a metaphysical concept, and a person either has free will or not. The latter is a psychological concept, and it seems to be a matter of degree based on nature and nurture. However, psychological free will seems to presuppose metaphysical free will. Is that right? What is the relationship between free will and moral responsibility?
Summary: In this podcast, I read Chapter One of my new book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame. Chapter One introduces Thomas Nagel's problem of moral luck, then surveys the three major types of moral luck – resultant moral luck, circumstantial moral luck, and constitutive moral luck. The problem of moral luck is not merely some small problem in ethics. It threatens to undermine any and all moral praise and blame of persons. It also provides the foundation for John Rawls' arguments for an egalitarian political order. This chapter concludes by surveying the book as a whole, chapter by chapter. Chapter One is also freely available as a PDF.
Question: Should a person forgo having children to avoid the risk of needing welfare? I know that accepting government welfare is wrong: it's a kind of loot stolen from taxpayers. For a person to accept welfare is damaging to his life and happiness. However, I would like children, but in today's economy, particularly with my spouse's frequent job turnover, I'm not sure that's possible without ever relying on welfare. If I had children, I don't know if I would be able to resist becoming a looter to care for them. What if the only alternative is for the state to take charge of them? I couldn't allow that. Wouldn't accepting welfare be better than that?
Summary: Colorado is experiencing yet another very destructive – even deadly – fire season. What can people do to prepare for that? How can they mitigate the risk to their property? How can they make sure that people and animals are evacuated safely?
Question: Should a person cultivate his powers of self-control? What is self-control? Is strong capacity for self-control of value? Does self-control have a downside or limits? How can a person develop more self-control?
Question: Is an armed society a polite society – or a violent society? Author Robert Heinlein famously said that "An armed society is a polite society." Many liberals, however, fear an armed society as barbaric and violent. Is widespread ownership and/or carry of arms a positive or a negative feature of a society?
Question: What kinds of privacy can people reasonably expect online? Online privacy is an increasing concern in the media and the culture. The FTC is working on redefining what companies are and are not allowed to do with data they collect online. But given that the internet functions by sending your data through lots and lots of different systems, what rights and/or reasonable expectations should people have concerning their privacy online?
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: Is it moral to choose to live in a socialist country? A person might move to England to study at a conservatory or move to China for a job. Would it be moral to do that – meaning, to move to a socialist country and make use their government institutions? Would there be some kind of obligation to "pay back" what the person gains from that country's taxpayers, such as by donating to organizations that promote capitalism in that country? Or would it be immoral altogether, such that a person should pursue whatever opportunities he can in America (or where he is)?
Question: Does everything happen for a reason? When confronted with some unwelcome turn of events, many people tell themselves that "everything happens for a reason." What does that mean – and is it true? Is it harmless – or does believing that have negative effects on a person's life?
Summary: Questions on any and all topics were welcome!
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?
Summary: With ObamaCare confirmed by the Supreme Court, what can a person do to preserve his health under America's increasingly socialized system of medical care?
Question: Should an employer have to explain and justify his firing of an employee? Should an employer be able to fire an employee for some alleged misconduct, even though the employer never bothered to verify the misconduct, nor asked the employee for his side of the story? For example, suppose that when the employee shows up for work he is simply told that he's been fired because someone made a complaint about him. The employee could easily prove the complaint to be false but the employer isn't concerned with proof or lack thereof. The employee's reputation in the eyes of possible future employers is damaged, even if the employer never discusses the firing with anyone else. In such a case, should the employee be able to sue for having been fired without proper cause?
Summary: Do you wonder what people are entitled to know about you? Do you want to maintain your privacy without resorting to dishonesty?
Question: What is the difference between obligation, responsibility, and duty? Often, people use these terms interchangeably. What's difference between them, if any?
Question: Is it moral to anonymously donate sperm or eggs, not knowing how the resulting children will be raised? Is the answer the same for donating fertilized embryos left over from an in vitro fertilization procedure, where the DNA is both yours and your spouse's?
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: Is it immoral to give away food that you regard as unhealthy? Assuming that one believes (as I do) that candy and sweets are harmful to health (especially in quantity), is it immoral to participate in trick-or-treat by giving children candy when they come to your door? Or, is it immoral to "dispose" of an unwanted gift of, say, a rich chocolate cake by leaving it by the coffee machine at work to be quickly scarfed up by one's co-workers (as an alternative to simply discarding it)? Is the morality of these two cases different because in one case the recipients are children while in the other case they are adults?
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: How can young adults learn to use credit cards responsibly? Some young adults (usually college students) seem to make terrible financial decisions, often getting themselves into serious and overwhelming credit card debt. Others seem to handle their new financial responsibilities just fine. How would you recommend that parents teach their teenage children to use credit cards wisely? What advice would you give to young people headed to college about managing their finances well?
Question: How should a person deal with filial responsibility laws? In your April 10th webcast, you discussed the morality of taking care of elderly parents. Some states have filial responsibility laws, which would force people to take care of indigent elderly parents. How should a person would cope with such laws in practice?
Question: 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 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: Doesn't greater wealth entail greater responsibility? If you have amassed a great fortune, don't you also have to shoulder a greater responsibility to society and your fellow man than others? After all, success in business doesn't occur in a vacuum: it always depends on the community to some extent. People like Michael Bloomberg or George Lucas know that they would not be where they are today without some pretty significant assistance from others. So shouldn't they assume more responsibility for their fellow man than others?
Question: Do I have any responsibility towards my younger brother? My parents constantly ask me to help my brother with his studies, homework, etc, and look after him when they're out and do things for him at the expense of my own studies and time. But I don't find any value in helping my brother. Should I refuse to help my parents in this way?
Question: What do you think of the oft-quoted bromide "I'm only human"? I have heard that phrase often, and it seems there are several uses to which it is applied, some legitimate and some seem nefarious and ugly.
Question: Is it morally obligatory to engage in activism? I want to fight for a better, more rational culture. But I know that I'm not a good writer or speaker. If I instead give my money to those who are, isn't that a good division of labor? Is it obligatory that I myself attempt to engage in such activism or can I pay others who are better at it (and would like to earn money doing so)?
Question: Under what circumstances does it become incumbent to challenge another's beliefs, especially in a religious context?