New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 26 June 2013 at 9:00 am  Question Queue
Jun 262013

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:

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?

How should I respond to people who think that homosexuality is an immoral or neurotic choice?

I’m straight, but I have many gay friends. From years of experience, I know that they’re virtuous and rational people. Moreover, their romantic relationships are not fundamentally different from mine. Also, I’m a strong believer in gay rights, including gay marriage. So what should I do when confronted with seemingly decent people who think that homosexuality is an immoral choice, based in neurosis, or otherwise unhealthy? These people often present their ideas in polite and seemingly respectable ways; they’re not just flaming bigots. Yet still I find them appalling, particularly when used to justify denying rights to gays. Should I be more tolerant of such views? How should I express my disagreement?

What’s wrong with thinking about the virtues as duties?

My parents taught me ethics in terms of “duties.” So being honest and just was a duty, along with “sharing” and “selflessness.” They were simply “the right way to be,” period. Now, I tend to think of the Objectivist virtues – rationality, productiveness, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, and pride – as duties. I have a duty to myself to act in these ways. Is that right or is that a mistake?

How can I learn to act on principles that I know to be true?

I believe in reality, rationality, individualism, self-interest, and self-esteem. Yet I don’t act on these beliefs. Right now, I don’t have any self-esteem. Once I act upon believing in reality, instead of merely believing in it, I will develop self-esteem. But I’m really lost as to how to apply reality in my life. I don’t know what that would mean. How can I act on my beliefs?

Is “self-ownership” a valid concept?

Libertarians sometimes stress “self-ownership” – the principle that you rightfully own yourself – as a basis for political liberty. However, some criticize the concept of self-ownership is a stolen concept. This criticism says, “If you own X, then it means X is external to yourself. Therefore you cannot own yourself. To say you own yourself is to say that you are external to yourself. That doesn’t compute!” But I thought rightful ownership referred to “rightful control.” The law recognizes that people own their own hair and gametes and bone marrow, and therefore have a right to sell hair and sperm and eggs and marrow. These organs aren’t always external to the body but are part of the body, and ownership of them refers to rightful control over them. If I should have rightful control over my own body and decisions, then do I not rightfully own myself?

Does the lack of respect for rights among some Muslims immigrants justify banning all Muslim immigrants?

Sometimes, I hear people say that immigrants from Muslim countries are so illiberal (in the classical sense) that they ought to banned from entering the United States and Western Europe. The anti-immigrationists say that when people from Muslim countries are allowed to reside in the West, such immigrants remain committed to political Islam, honor-kill their own daughters, rape native-born women, and plot to impose sharia law on the West through “stealth jihad.” Is the illiberalism of some (or even many) Muslim immigrants grounds for limiting immigration from Muslim countries? What is the proper response to this problem?

Should institutions divest themselves of racist traditions?

Some Native Americans and other Americans take offense to the name “Redskins,” as in the “Washington Redskins.” Sports writer Tony Kornheiser recently made an excellent point that one wouldn’t go onto a reservation and ask “How you redskins doing today?” So should team owner Daniel Snyder change the name? Does it matter that many Native Americans don’t care about the issue? Similarly, Clemson University has a statue and other honors for the fiery defender of slavery and secession, John C. Calhoun. Should those be eliminated?

Can a person be a racist yet still a morally decent person?

Paula Deen has been in hot water – with her shows and sponsorships cancelled – because of allegedly racist comments that she admitted to making in a deposition. (The lawsuit was brought by Lisa Jackson – a former manager of a restaurant owned by her and her brother. She alleges sexual harassment and tolerance of racial slurs at the restaurant.) Based on Paula Deen’s admissions in the deposition, is she racist? If so, can she still be a moral person? Do matters of race trump all other moral convictions?

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 will not always going to feel the desire to have sex. If your lover wants sex, is it wrong to do so? 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 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. Others think that to have sex even if not in the mood isn’t right: it’s degrading and might lead to resentment. Which of these views is right?

How do emotional desires and intellectual judgments motivate actions?

Is desire merely feeling a physical or emotional urge to have or do something? Or is it an intellectual judgment that to have or do something would be good? Or is it the combination of the two of them? Many people seem to mean just the first (i.e. the physical or emotional urge) when speaking of desire: an intellectual judgment is neither necessary nor sufficient for desire. Yet they seem able to act on merely intellectual judgment. For example, people will say or think “I don’t want to take the trash out” or “I want to eat that entire cake” – while nonetheless ttaking the trash out and refraining from eating the cake. In such cases, the emotional desire is opposite to the intellectual judgment. In such cases, is the action motivated purely by the intellectual judgment? Is emotional desire not required for action? Or is the intellectual judgment a kind of desire?

How can President Obama’s apparent contradictions be understood?

From a na?ve viewpoint, President Obama seems to be acting and thinking very erratically and self-contradictorily. For example, he praised whistle-blowers and promised the “most transparent administration in history” in the past. Now he persecutes whistle-blowers and even journalists who report leaked information. Similarly, Obama is now conducting drone warfare with little apparent regard for innocents, he’s continued to use Gitmo, and he’s escalated attacks on privacy, freedom of speech and other civil rights using the Patriot Act. Yet he condemned the Bush Administration for similar (or lesser) offenses in his 2008 campaign. Why has this happened? Was Obama just scheming and lying to gain power? Did he simply change his mind once he got into office? Or can some deeper moral core be found to integrate his words and deeds into a coherent ideology?

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?

What’s so bad about the philosophy of Immanuel Kant?

In academic philosophy, Kant is often regarded as the culmination of the Enlightenment. According to this standard views, Kant sought to save reason from skeptics such as Hume, he aimed to ground ethics in reason, and he defended human autonomy and liberty. In contrast, Ayn Rand famously regarded Kant as “the most evil man in mankind’s history.” She rejected his metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, saying that “the philosophy of Kant is a systematic rationalization of every major psychological vice.” Who is right here? What’s right or wrong with his philosophy? Are Ayn Rand’s criticisms justified?

What is the meaning and value of a central purpose?

In “The Objectivist Ethics,” Ayn Rand says that “productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values.” I find that confusing. What constitutes a central purpose? How does it function in a person’s life, particularly in relation to other values like a spouse, children, and hobbies? Should I be worried if I don’t have a clearly-identified central purpose?

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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