New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 7 August 2013 at 4:00 pm  Question Queue
Aug 072013

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:

Should a person’s credibility matter in judging his empirical claims?

Is it rational to use a person’s track record – meaning the frequency or consistency of truth in his past statements – in judging the likely truth of his current statements? In “Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics,” Tara Smith explains that to believe something just because someone said it is a violation of the virtue of independence. Also, to judge an argument by the speaker is known as the fallacy of “ad hominem.” However, doesn’t the character of the speaker matter when considering whether to believe his claims? For example, when Thomas Sowell makes an empirical claim, my knowledge that he vigorously tests his hypotheses against the facts makes me more likely to judge his claim as true, even before I’ve confirmed his statement. Likewise, if a person is frequently wrong in his factual claims, I’d be sure to require lots of evidence before believing him. Is that rational? Or should all factual claims be treated equally regardless of who makes them?

Should driving drunk be illegal in a free society?

Should the government of a free society forbid and punish people for activities potentially harmful to others when they’ve impaired their judgment via drugs or alcohol? Basically, should driving or shooting a firearm while drunk be illegal? Or should such decisions be left entirely to the discretion of private property owners? Also, given that the government owns the roads today, are laws against drunk driving unjust?

Should I abandon my stepdaughter?

I’m 30, my stepdaughter from my ex-marriage is 12, and I’ve been in her life for 11 years. She doesn’t know her real father and considers me her dad. I divorced her mother a year ago and don’t want to deal with her anymore, but I’ve stayed close to my stepdaughter, skyping with her most days, and seeing her usually at least a couple times a week. The divorce devastated her and I feel like sh*t about it, so I stayed on as her dad for HER sake to help get her through it. But for my own sake, I think I would benefit from breaking ties with my former family at this point. I don’t want to see my ex at all, both her and I will date other people, and my stepdaughter will soon hit adolescence and put me through everything that that implies. It was fun when she was little, but the idea of being a parent to a teenage girl weirds me out. Would it be evil of me to abandon her when I’m the only father figure she’s ever known?

(Just for the record, this question makes me want to rip out my eyeballs and punch someone in the face. I’m so glad that such questions are a rarity on Philosophy in Action. I love my work: I love answering questions from basically decent people seeking to live well and do right. That inspires me, and I’m glad to help where I can. A person who could ask this question, in my view, has to be a moral monster. No good can come to anyone from any contact with him, and to think about the harm that this man will do to this child, whether he leaves or stays, just makes me sick. If that offends the questioner… well, screw you, you psychopathic asshole! BLECH.)

How can I make better progress on my long-term goals?

I have the curious affliction of stagnating, often for very long periods of time, on long term goals. That happens even when those goals pertain to pursuits I enjoy. This pattern has me confused and somewhat alarmed, because I know that these long term goals I have set for myself will be the most meaningful for me to accomplish. Although I see the great value in skill-building for a new career, learning to play the piano, learning a new language, and so on, I cannot seem to get myself to take the daily, repeated action required for more than a week or two. That happens, despite my applying GTD and breaking down the larger task into manageable pieces. My neophile personality simply takes interest in something else, and I miss a day (then two, then three) of taking action, preventing me from ever establishing an activity as a habit. How can I break this cycle of mediocrity, so that I can really start making progress on long term goals?

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?

Would genetic engineering of children be wrong?

In future, technology might permit parents to choose the qualities of a future child – such as eye color, hair color, sex, and more. Would this be moral? Should it be legal? Could this be a “step towards eugenics” or “playing God”? What would the potential benefits and pitfalls of this technology be?

Should verbal or physical attacks on short people be tolerated?

Given your view that anti-gay bigots should be ostracized, what would you say about people who attack – physically or verbally – people who are shorter than most, say under five feet tall but otherwise perfectly normal and healthy? Many small people have long histories of physical, emotional, and even job-related abuse because of their size. How should those people respond to such attacks? What should third parties do when they witness such attacks? How should people judge and treat the attacker in future?

Once some children are genetically engineered, wouldn’t discrimination against natural children be inevitable?

Assume that humanity has advanced to the technological capacities of the movie “Gattaca,” where the best possible genes for each child could be (and mostly would be) chosen before implantation of the embryo. In that case, how could society prevent discrimination against people who were conceived naturally, such that their genes were just a random assortment of better and worse? Those chosen genes would include genes for determination, the desire to learn, motivation, on so on, so engineered people would always win out based on merit. The movie “Gattaca” shows a natural child rising above his engineered counterparts because of his great determination and spirit. The movie’s tagline is even “there is no gene for the human spirit.” But if there is such a thing as a human spirit, then there surely must be a gene for it. So would discrimination against natural children be inevitable? If so, would it be unjust?

Is it wrong to discipline other people’s children when they refuse to do so?

I was eating lunch at an outdoor market. A woman and her son stopped near me, and the boy (who was probably around 8 years old) leaned over my table and stuck his finger in my food. Then he started laughing and ran around in circles. The mom look at me and dismissively said, “He’s autistic.” Then she walked away. How should I have responded? Is there a respectful way to tell a stranger that her son’s behavior is unacceptable in a public setting? Would it be wrong to speak to the boy directly?

Does a person ever benefit from being forced to act against his own judgment?

Suppose that Wise William intervenes with his brother Foolish Fred, thereby forcing Fred to act sensibly rather self-destructively. For example, (1) William hides Fred’s guns when very drunk Fred proposes to go out to a deserted field to fire his gun in the air. (2) William flushes some dangerous snake-oil medicine down the toilet that Fred ordered via a shady web site, rather than allow Fred to risk serious harm by taking it. And (3) William intercepts a check written by Fred to a fraudulent investment advisor, thereby saving Fred’s life savings. What’s the proper way to think about such actions? Is a person like Fred, in fact, benefitted by others exerting force against him in a paternalistic way, even though his rights are violated? Or is such force, however kindly meant, always a worse cure than the disease of Fred’s irrationality? If the former, does that justify violating Fred’s rights? If the latter, how can we make sense of medical power of attorney or guardianship for mentally incompetent adults?

Does freedom of speech apply to government officials?

Recently, Rolling Stone caused a furor by putting accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover. In response, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino wrote to the publisher of Rolling Stone, telling him that doing so “rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment” – treatment the magazine should have given to the survivors. Other government officials were similarly critical of Rolling Stone. My first reaction was that these government officials had no place saying anything about a publication. But then I wondered: Doesn’t the First Amendment still apply to them? In other words, do government officials have freedom of speech?

Should Bradley Manning have been prosecuted for leaking military secrets?

After being arrested for leaking secret documents, Bradley Manning was held for over two years. He’s currently being prosecuted in military court, and he’s pled guilty to 10 counts. As of July 23, 2013, the trial is currently ongoing. This situation raises a host of thorny questions about national defense and justice. Most importantly, when might a soldier justifiably leak military secrets, given the threat of such secrets being used by enemies? Should that always be condemned as treason? Also, should the media be held legally liable for disseminating such secrets in cases when the leaker is convicted? Finally, should the government be permitted to detain soldiers like Manning indefinitely – or should that power be limited?

Isn’t every action selfish, ultimately?

Unless coerced, people act however they deems best at that moment. Even if that action is self-destructive, aren’t they acting selfishly, so as to satisfy their own desires? Even paragons of altruism act because they want to help people, please God, or save the environment: that’s what makes them happy. So isn’t true, deep-down altruism impossible?

What is the meaning and value of sportsmanship?

Kids are often taught – or not taught – to be “good sports.” What does that mean? What’s the value in that? More broadly, what’s a healthy versus unhealthy attitude toward competition in life – not just in sports, but also work, hobbies, friendship, and so on?

If a person instigates a fight with another person, does he retain the right to self-defense?

Suppose that Bob bumps into Frank, and Frank takes offense. The argument escalates from harsh language to yelling to threats to pushing. Neither man makes any effort to placate the other or depart. Ultimately, a serious fistfight ensues. At that point, does either man have the right to defend himself using deadly force? If so, doesn’t that mean that a person might use that method to murder another under the guise of self-defense? Basically, does instigating or escalating a verbal or physical altercation with another person preclude claims of self-defense?

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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