New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 27 December 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Dec 272013

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 be willing to torture millions to benefit himself?

In your discussion of explaining egoistic benevolence on December 22, 2013, you indicated that you regarded such a scenario as absurd. Could you explain why that is? Why wouldn’t such torture be not merely permitted but rather obligatory under an egoistic ethics? Why should an egoist even care about what happens to strangers?

Should the government of a free society be permitted to do more than just protect rights?

If the proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights, why shouldn’t a government of a free society do other, additional things as long as it does them without violating anyone’s rights? If courts, police, and military could be publicly financed without the use of force, couldn’t roads and schools? Is there some reason besides reliance on taxation why these sorts of government programs are bad?

Should voters attempt to “buy time” for liberty by voting for Republican candidates?

Often, supporters of capitalism are told that they need to “buy time” in order to advocate for liberty – meaning: they should vote for Republicans to stave off disaster and allow time to persuade the public of the nature and value of freedom. Does the debacle with the rollout of ObamaCare contradict this claim? ObamaCare has suffered from widespread attacks, not just from the right wing, but also from many mainstream media outlets and average citizens. These backlashes have forced the administration to issue substantive revisions of the law, and its political backers appear to be running scared. In this case, a statist policy has gone into effect, the public has felt its harmful effects, and that public has turned against the statist policy and its supporting politicians. After this, I am more optimistic about Americans, as well as less inclined to support Republicans at the federal level. Given the utter failure of free market advocates to turn back the regulatory state, might the public need to learn more lessons like that of ObamaCare, just as much as they need to be educated about abstract philosophy? Does support for Republicans in the federal government, who will at best maintain the mixed economy – where the positives caused by freedom can cloud the negatives caused by controls – actually result in a perpetual solidification of the status quo? If so – and combined with some of the GOP’s irrational theocratic tendencies – should people actively (or passively) support keeping the Republican Party as the minority party in the near future by refusing to vote for or support its candidates?

Should I pursue justice against a wrongdoer at great personal expense?

I am trying to decide if I should file an ethics complaint against my former property manager for a rental property. Basically, she managed the property for me for several years until I visited the property and found it in a state of disrepair that annoyed and concerned me. So, I wanted to fire her. But before she would release me from our agreement, she charged me $1,200 for repairs and maintenance that she had done to the house between tenants. She never asked me if I wanted the work done and when pressed she told me it was a matter of routine and our contract granted her the power to make decisions like that. Upon inspection, I discovered that not only were some of the prices she paid were above market rate, it was her husband’s company doing the work. (I found out the rates because in getting the repairs done, I got quotes from other companies in the area.) I’ve reviewed some of the past records and she did this about 50% of the time. The Association of Realtors’ code of ethics in my state specifically notes that she has to disclose relationships like that, but she didn’t. So, I think whether she was in violation is pretty clear cut; however, some have argued that our contract supersedes the code of ethics. (If the board agrees with that argument, then this becomes a contract dispute and not an ethics concern.) If I file the complaint and the board decides to hear the case, I will have to hire a lawyer, make trips to the area, and basically shovel out even more money. The board could take her license or fine her, but in talking to a lawyer, and a couple of officers on the board it’s more likely that they will push for some sort of education rather than taking her license. And none of that would do anything to get my money back. To get my money back, I’d probably have to go through an even more costly process of mediation, then arbitration, then suing her in small claims court where I would never recoup all of my costs. I think it’s pretty obvious she’s in the wrong and I think I can make the case strong enough to bring some measure of justice on her, but it would be expensive and stressful. On the other hand, she was very unpleasant to me and I hate to see her get away with being a horrible person and a corrupt professional. What should I do? How do I decide whether pursuing justice is worth my time and effort?

Is “body acceptance” rational and healthy – or dangerous?

People seem to be divided on the issue of “body acceptance.” Some think that a person should be proud to be “healthy at any size” (or even just a larger-than-average size). Others say that such views perpetuate unhealthy lifestyles, as well as destroy standards of beauty and health, perhaps out of envy. What is a rational view of body acceptance? Is fat shaming or fit shaming ever acceptable? More generally, what are the boundaries of morally acceptable comments on such matters between acquaintances, friends, and strangers?

Should children star in films not suitable for children?

It is immoral to put a child actor in an adult-level movie, such as horror movies that involve lots of murder? Consider the R-rated horror movie “Child’s Play,” starring a child actor battling a homicidal doll. Is it wrong to expose the child actor to that kind of horror, or is there a potentially proper way to handle it? Additionally, isn’t it a double-standard to have it a practice of having young actors starring in these movies, yet to consider these same movies unfit for children to watch?

How can I overcome feeling like a slacker?

I am a very productive person, with multiple projects going on simultaneously, both personal and professional. Generally, I handle juggling things pretty well, and accomplish quite a bit. I can usually attain most of my goals, and I like that about myself. (I’m also a pretty ambitious person so I have many big goals.) However, I also often feel like a complete slacker. I can see all of the things I accomplish, but I often feel like I could be doing more–one more thing, one more project. Sometimes, when I look at the things I’ve accomplished, all I can see are the things I wasn’t able to do and it can be easy to feel defeated and negative about that. How can I reconcile the gap here? How can I get better at feeling the sense of accomplishment I think I should–and deserve–to feel? Do you have any ideas for getting rid of this mantle of slackerness I’ve saddled myself with – unfairly, I think? I’ve been making some changes that have helped, such as writing down my accomplishments each day, but I’m looking for more ideas.

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?

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