New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 11 December 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Dec 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:

Should an egoist refuse an overly generous, altruistic tip?

Recently, I read a news story about the former president of PayPal leaving huge tips for servers at restaurants around the country. On the receipt, he would write “TipsForJesus,” and the tip was often exorbitant. For example, on a bill of $88.78 the tip was $3000. It is wrong to accept these tips – particularly given that the customer is motivated by altruism and religion?

How can I defend gay rights as individual rights?

Recently, a Colorado court issued a cease and desist order to a local bakeshop which refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. Being a gay person myself, I find the refusal of the bakeshop to be annoying and idiotic, but I vehemently disagree with the court’s decision: I believe the owner of the bakeshop has a right to his own property. However, I have a few gay friends and a few liberal friends who think this Colorado court ruling was a step in the right direction for gay rights. I think the opposite, but I support “gay rights” in a way that’s consistent with the concept of individual rights. How can that be explained and defended in a rational way? In other words, how can I defend the rights of gays to marry without suggesting that the government should force people to associate or conduct business with gay people?

Is it wrong to remain silent when a cashier makes a mistake in your favor?

At a popular department store, I wanted to buy two items for $2.94 each and condoms for $14.00. The cashier was about my grandmother’s age. She scanned the $2.94 items three times and said the total was $8.82. I knew the price wasn’t right, , but I didn’t want to say to the elderly woman, “Excuse me, but you didn’t scan my condoms.” I got a good deal, but I think that was somewhat immoral on my part. Is that right? What should I have done?

What is the nature of character?

What is meant by a person’s “character”? Is that broader than moral character? What is the relationship between character, personality, and sense of life?

How can I protect myself from moral degradation during prolonged contact with destructive people?

In your 1 December 2003 discussion of the morality and legality of abandoning a roommate during a diabetic emergency, you recommend that a person extract himself from that situation as soon as possible – and that a failure to do so might result in developing undesirable character traits, such as becoming callous to other people’s suffering. However, what if a person finds himself in situations in which many people are untrustworthy, immoral, and/or unhealthy – and that fully extracting himself may require some years? I’m worried about ruining my prospects for making an ideal self because I’ve had to deal with terrible family, dishonest and unjust employers, abusive coworkers, bad landlords, and so on. It seems like it’s going to take a long time for me to get out of this situation. That’s a lot of stress and negativity to endure in the medium-term. So how can I protect my psyche – and prevent myself from becoming callous, indifferent, rude, and so forth?

What should I do if I think someone I know is a potential murderer?

With the mass shootings that gained great news coverage, I was intrigued to read upon the visible psychological warning signs of such personalities, and it disturbed me to remember that I once lived with a person who casted off these signs. He was a roommate who started off extremely friendly, but mentally deteriorated rapidly. Whereas he started warm, he was soon walking around the house with a paranoia-stricken face, and threatened me with a stiletto knife in asking whether I had been snooping in his room. (I hadn’t, and he had no reason to think I was.) Through his own admission, I learned he regularly likes to bare-fist fight people on the streets in illegal fighting contests, and, by searching an address from his mail, learned he served time for a violent assault on a landlord, where he attacked a man with a tire chain and struck his wife. Altogether the picture is of a man struggling with severe mental issues who feeds them with his fighting habits, and has factually caved into violent urges. There’s the potential that someday he could literally commit murder. I no longer deal with this person, but wonder what I could have done. How should I respond when I think someone has the capability to literally commit murder, as backed up by his violent crime history, his fighting habit, and his visible mental deterioration?

What are the major branches of philosophy?

Ayn Rand claimed that philosophy consisted of five major branches – metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and esthetics. Is that right? If so, why are those the five major branches? Are they comprehensive in some way? Why not include philosophy of science, logic, philosophy of mind, and so on?

Does ethical egoism promote narcissism and insensitivity to others?

People often suggest that ethical egoism – such as that advocated by Ayn Rand – promotes unfriendly if not hostile behavior toward other people. Ultimately, the egoist cares for himself above everything else, perhaps to the point that the thoughts and feelings of others aren’t even noticed or of concern. The problem seems to be exacerbated by a commitment to moral absolutes and moral judgment. Do such philosophic principles incline a person to be self-absorbed, insensitive, hostile, unkind, or otherwise unpleasant to others? How can egoists take care not to fall into these traps?

Should a person seek to create a stylized life?

In “The Romantic Manifesto,” Ayn Rand said that “An artist does not fake reality—he stylizes it. He selects those aspects of existence which he regards as metaphysically significant—and by isolating and stressing them, by omitting the insignificant and accidental, he presents his view of existence.” Should a person try to stylize his own life, such as by deliberately cultivating a consistent personal aesthetic? Should he aim to make every aspect of his life reflect his values – eliminating the rest? Would that make for a more integrated and meaningful life – or might that be dangerous or undesirable in some way?

Could force be morally used in self-defense against people enabling violations of rights?

Suppose there is a tyrannical politician or a corrupt businessman in a semi-free society like America. The tyrannical politician drafts and campaigns for legislation that blatantly violates the rights of his constituents. The corrupt businessman colludes with the government to destroy his competitors. Suppose that these two people are consciously evil. They know what they are doing is immoral, and they do it because they despise the good. Would it be moral to initiate force against them, i.e. assassinate them? On one hand, they may not have directly initiated force against anyone, but aren’t they technically responsible for forcibly violating the rights of hundreds or thousands of people? In that case, wouldn’t initiating the use of force against these people be a form of self-defense?

Should my romantic partner be interested in and supportive of my accomplishments and pursuits?

I have struggled for years in a relationship with someone who shows no interest in or support for my pursuits. I try not to be hurt. I tell myself I just need to do better in order to be worthy of respect and admiration. When I do explain to my partner why I’m hurt, he says I am being needy and that I shouldn’t need his praise or reinforcement. I don’t know how to logically disagree with this, yet I know how good it feels to receive earned praise from friends, and how painful it feels to accomplish something big and not receive any acknowledgement from my partner. What kind of emotional support should be expected from a partner? If a partner is dismissive and neglectful, how can one gain the confidence needed to leave the relationship?

If a victim of child molestation doesn’t feel harmed were his rights still violated?

Recently, Richard Dawkins spoke of an incident in which an adult supervising him sexually molested him. Dawkins said that, at the time, he didn’t understand what happened, and that he didn’t physically struggle against the molester. Nor did he feel particularly afraid or intimidated at the time. Then, most controversially, Dawkins added that he didn’t think any real violation of his rights occurred given those circumstances. Is that right? I think that Dawkins’ rights were violated, but I have trouble explaining exactly why.

Should government action that would benefit everyone but violate rights be forbidden?

Suppose that the government taxed people to pay for more basic and applied scientific and technological research – and that such could be shown to increase the standard of living of the population quicker than what would would happen under private funding. Would such taxes violate rights? Would it be immoral? Should it be forbidden?

Does photography qualify as art?

I’ve always viewed photography as a legitimate form of art. However, many people I disagree: Ayn Rand argued that it’s a technical rather than a creative skill. However, I regard photography as a technical and creative skill, just like painting. So does photography qualify as art? If not, does that mean that photography doesn’t have value – or has less value than proper art forms like painting? If photography has value nonetheless, what is the source of that value?

Is laughing at absurd but tragic events wrong?

I work for a modest land surveying company in South Florida. Today, a seemingly deranged man parked his van on top of a highway interchange ramp, pulled out a rifle with an American flag stuck in the barrel, put a noose around his own neck, and seated himself on the concrete railing, about 80ft from the other highway below. (The other end of the rope was attached to the van.) On the side of the van, hand-painted letters read “Hippocrates [sic] Traitors.” I don’t know what he wanted, but his stunt shut down both highways for three hours while police and SWAT tried to talk him down. I happened to be in the area, working on a construction site, close enough to see him sitting on the railing – and I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. While I understand that suicide isn’t a laughing matter, the situation was so absurd. I wasn’t alone in my reaction. Is that kind of laughter inappropriate or wrong? What explains it, other than the sheer absurdity of the situation? Is it wrong to laugh at absurd but horrible events?

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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