New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 11 September 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Sep 112013

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:

What counts as a right?

The passage of ObamaCare inspired me to think more about the nature of rights, particularly what constitutes a right. It seems to me that two criteria are required for a right: (1) it must be universally applicable (at least within the group – for example, it’s not expected that we grant an Iranian citizen the same rights we grant a United States citizen), and (2) it cannot infringe upon the rights of another (such as by demanding that someone give another goods or services). So for example, property rights are universal in that all human beings have the potential to own property, and the act of owning property does not infringe upon the potential for others to own property. Are these valid criteria for rights? Are they sufficient? What might I be missing?

What can be done to prevent the hijacking of Ayn Rand’s ideas?

Ayn Rand has become more and more popular over the last decade, and her ideas have begun to spread into academia. There is more literature being written about Objectivism now then ever before. But there is one thing that worries me. There is a great risk that as Ayn Rand becomes “trendy,” second handers will try to use her ideas, manipulate them, to gain respect, and to further their nefarious ends. This is exactly what happened to Friedrich Nietzsche—when his ideas became popular, his philosophy was hijacked by anarchists, nazis, and postmodernists, completely destroying his reputation for a century. How do we prevent this from happening to Ayn Rand?

How should a person approach the study of history?

I’ve always prided myself on being a “student of history” – meaning that I read and think a great deal about the past and try to apply its lessons to the future. Is this a valid concept? Am I missing a bigger picture? Do you have any tips on being a better “student of history”?

Can a rational person 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?

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 victim seems believable, should the accused rapist 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?

How can I overcome my paralyzing indecision?

I am caught amid some difficult circumstances at present. To make matters worse, I suffer from almost paralyzing indecision about major life decisions, especially with respect to career. As a result of my failure to act decisively, I have stagnated painfully for years, missing many opportunities. How can I break out of this horrible pattern?

Does the concept of the “gift economy” have any validity or value?

I recently read “Lynchpin,” by Seth Godin, and much of the book is devoted to the “Gift Economy.” One of his explicit messages is that you can make lots of money by sharing your skills and talents without charge, by making “gifts” of your time and talents to customers, who will later pay you for your time and talents. It’s my experience this can be true, but I think he’s conflating benevolence and good manners (and maybe marketing 101), all of which can be very helpful in advancing a career, with the giving “gifts.” What role should “gift giving” play in a free society in the field of economics? Is a “loss leader” or “free sample” properly viewed as a “gift” when you know a large percentage of the people who accept it will not do business with you? Another argument Godin makes is that tremendously productive people have given “gifts” to society. This sounds a bit like Ayn Rand’s concept of a “pyramid of ability.” Should the super-productive, who have created tremendous value for society, think of themselves as having given “gifts” to society? “Gifts” are given without expectation of payment or returned value; am I correct that to be morally good must be non-sacrificial, in that the giver should receive some non-monetary value in return?

Is it wrong to lie when filling out personality questionnaires when seeking employment?

Here’s an example of a common question: “True or False—Do you know anyone who has ever stolen anything?” The answer is obviously true, but It seems that my honest answers have not been getting me interviews. If I keep answering honestly, I am going to starve. If I say false, I get to eat. What is the best way to reconcile this dilemma? Should I continue to tell the truth or not?

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, in Aristotle paraphrased 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.

What is the relationship between empathy and morality?

Must a person possess a strong sense of empathy to be moral? Is empathy an important quality of character or moral emotion – or the most important? What’s the role of empathy in a rational person’s life?

How do I teach my toddlers how to share voluntarily?

I’m a father of 23 month-old girl/boy twins who are just beginning to develop morality. I’m also an atheist with strong Objectivist leanings. I don’t want to teach my children that they shouldn’t commit a particular offense because God is watching them as that will instill only fear of the unknown in them. What should I do instead? The twins also fight over particular things (e.g. toys, books, plastic containers, etc.). Too often I find myself trying to keep the peace with the one word command of “Share!”. Forced sharing offends me but I find myself using it with the children because their understanding is limited and because it’s easy to use. What might I do instead?

Should the Washington Redskins football team change its name to something supposedly less racist?

Team owner Dan Snyder (as well as previous owner Jack Kent Cooke) vowed never to the team’s name, insisting that it stood for “bravery.” I’ve read conflicting reports about polls of Native Americans. Some are offended, and some don’t care. It appears that D.C. area politicians and various academics looking to make names for themselves are leading the charge to change the name, and they seem to have much to gain thereby. Personally, I am not offended by the name. (I’m not Native American, except for being 1/8th Eskimo.) However, I wouldn’t go onto a reservation and address the people there as “redskins”. While the name may be racist and offensive to some, is that a sufficient reason to change it?

Do the arguments for abortion rights contradict claims about the rights of infants?

A fetus does not have rights because it is a “potential” person, not an “actual” person, and its existence is dependent upon the pregnant mother, whose right to her own body takes precedence. But what is the difference between a “potential” fetus and an “actual” infant, who is still dependent upon its mother (or father or acting guardian) to survive? If a mother neglected taking care of her child, but refused to give the child to someone else who would care for it, on what grounds is it acceptable to take the child from her possession? Just as she has the right to her own body, so she also has the right to personal freedom and to make her own choices – so why should (or shouldn’t) child negligence be considered a crime? As a matter of law, why is a woman responsible for her own child, but not for everyone else’s?

Does fraud require deliberate deception?

Some libertarians, most notably Walter Block, have tried to argue that fraud does not require deliberate deception. For example, argues Block, if I tried to sell you a square circle, and I believed that square circles existed, and so did you, and you agreed to the transaction, then, since square circles do not actually exist, this would still count as fraud, even though no deliberate deception has taken place. Block has used this argument to indict fractional reserve banking, by arguing that it still counts as fraud even though all parties are knowingly consenting. Is he talking rationalist nonsense?

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 radically altered the radical change I was already bringing into my life – for the better. I’ve recently begun meeting Objectivists 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.) I rarely share these details with non-Objectivist friends, but I fear their judgment less. If I shared my past with an Objectivist, I think they might choose to cut ties with me immediately, 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?

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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