New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 29 May 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
May 292013

As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer four questions chosen in advance from the Question Queue. Here are the most recent additions to that queue. Please vote for the ones that you’re most interested in hearing me answer! You can also review and vote on all pending questions sorted by date or sorted by popularity.

Also, I’m perfectly willing to be bribed to answer a question of particular interest to you pronto. So if you’re a regular contributor to Philosophy in Action’s Tip Jar, I can answer your desired question as soon as possible. The question must already be in the queue, so if you’ve not done so already, please submit it. Then just e-mail me at [email protected] to make your request.

Now, without further ado, the most recent questions added to The Queue:

Isn’t everyone selfish?

If you dig deep enough, everyone seems to be selfish. I work because that’s easier than being a welfare queen. But a college student might cave to his parents about his choice of career because that’s easier than standing up for himself. Even the nun who seems to sacrifice everything is doing what she enjoys most and thinks best by her own religious standards. So isn’t true altruism impossible? Isn’t everyone selfish?

Can naturally occurring genetic material be intellectual property?

The US Supreme Court will soon rule on a case concerning patents on parts of the genome. Should a person be able to patent something in nature that he discovered? What about artificially created genetic products/sequences? Is a person’s own genome his intellectual property? Can living organisms be subject to intellectual property law – and if so, in what way?

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?

Should a person preserve or eradicate his unusual accent?

I’m often embarrassed when friends or family point out that I’m speaking with a distinctive accent. I’m a native English speaker, and I appreciate (albeit with some annoyance, sometimes) people who’ve learned English as a second language. (That’s hard, as my own less than spectacular attempts to learn a second language show.) Still, sometimes I catch myself using a turn of phrase or even word that is only used by my extended family. Half the time, I’m pleased to be reminded of my older relatives, but the other half of the time, I wonder if I just sound like a moron. Is an accent or dialect part of who you are – or should you work to eradicate it?

Should concealed carry permits be required to carry firearms concealed?

In the United States today, most states have “shall-issue” concealed carry laws, whereby the sheriff of a county must issue a concealed carry permit to anyone who meets the requirements. Those requirements usually include no history of criminal activity, no history of mental illness, and some training. However, two states permit “constitutional carry,” meaning that any law-abiding citizen has a right to carry a concealed firearm, without the need for a permit. Is requiring a “concealed carry” permit a violation of the right to self-defense? Or is “constitutional carry” a dangerous form of anarchy?

Is 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?

What’s wrong with the “marginal humans” argument against meat-eating?

Ayn Rand (in agreement with Aristotle) defined man as the rational animal – meaning that man’s essential quality is that he possesses the faculty of reason, while other animals do not. In debates about vegetarianism and animal rights, many advocates of eating meat try to use this distinction to justify raising animals to be killed and eaten. They say that animals have no rights because they are not rational, and hence, we can do whatever we please with them. Advocates of animals rights, however, reject this claim via the “marginal humans” argument. They observe that human infants lack the faculty of reason, and hence, we should not use that as the relevant moral criterion. What is wrong with this argument? Does the meat-eating viewpoint conflate potential with actual rationality, in that the infant seems potentially but not actually capable of reason? Is eating animals the same as eating human infants?

What would suicide be rational?

What conditions make suicide a proper choice? Are there situations other than a terminal illness or living in a dictatorship – such as the inability to achieve sufficient values to lead a happy life – that justify the act of suicide?

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?

Is philosophy deduced from axioms?

Often, I hear people claim that philosophy – particularly Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism – is deduced from axioms. Is that right? Personally, I don’t see how that can be: How can anything be deduced from “existence exists”? But if that’s right, then what’s the purpose of the axioms?

Are spouses entitled to privacy with each other?

My wife thinks that she should have access to all my online accounts, including my email. I don’t have any secrets from her, and my email doesn’t contain anything scandalous. Still, I don’t want her prying into my conversations, and I don’t see that she has any reason to do so. I’ve never given her any reason to distrust me. Aren’t I entitled to some privacy online?

How would the poor obtain medical care in a free society?

In your May 12th, 2013 show, you discussed how EMTALA – the law that obliges emergency rooms and doctors to treat patients, regardless of ability to pay – violates the rights of doctors and results in worse care for the poor. But what is the alternative? How would the poor and indigent get medical care – if at all – in a society without government welfare programs? What if charity wasn’t sufficient?

What is the individualist response to claims about “white privilege”?

You recently published a blog entry entitled, “Personal Motives for Benevolence” where you introduced the idea that prejudice is often formed by favoritism and not overt bigotry. Clearly, favoritism can extend to race too, in the same way it extended to your example of “professor” vs “quilter.” So what is the proper response to advocates of “white privilege awareness” such as David Wise and David Sirota? David Sirota recently wrote a article entitled “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American” where he argued that culturally,”white terrorists” are treated as lone wolves, whereas Islamists are treated as existential threats. Semi-noted Objectivist hater David Wise wrote an article called “Terrorism and Privilege: Understanding the Power of Whiteness” where he claims “White privilege is knowing that even if the Boston Marathon bomber turns out to be white, his or her identity will not result in white folks generally being singled out for suspicion by law enforcement, or the TSA, or the FBI.” What is the individualist answer to this collectivist viewpoint?

How should a young adult manage persistent differences with his family?

As I grew up, I turned out radically different from 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?

What is the proper relationship between ownership and control over property?

Today, politicians seem to want to reduce a person’s control over his property, such that it’s ever-closer to ownership in name only – such as by limiting the capacity of landowners to develop property. Also, selling plots of land on Mars would seem to be silly, given that no one controls that land. So what is the proper connection between a person’s ownership over his property and his control over that property? How does that principle affect proper principles for dealing with temporarily or permanently abandoned property?

To submit a question, use this form. I prefer questions focused on some concrete real-life problem, as opposed to merely theoretical or political questions. I review and edit all questions before they’re posted. (Alas, IdeaInformer doesn’t display any kind of confirmation page when you submit a question.)

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