New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 3 July 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Jul 032014

As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer 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:

Are magic shows a form of art?

Ayn Rand said, “Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.” Do magic shows, such as those performed by Harry Houdini, David Copperfield, and Penn & Teller, count as “art”? Their magic acts, to me, seem to be symbolic representations of the idea that even when one faces danger, one can rely on one’s own cleverness to triumph over the danger and come out unscathed. Are magic shows malevolent celebrations of trickery, telling the audience members that they cannot trust their own senses? Or can magic shows be a benevolent reminder to audience members of the importance of checking their own premises?

Do artists deserve royalties from unique works with every sale?

Every time a copyrighted book is purchased, the copyright holder receives some royalties for that. The same applies to recordings of music and other intellectual property. However, if an artist sells a painting, no matter the future value of that painting, he receives nothing but the original sale price. Is that fair to the artist? Should he be paid royalties with every sale? Or can he legitimately demand royalties only for the prints of his work?

Was Facebook’s psychological experiment unethical?

Recently, Facebook allowed their network to be used for a psychological experiment on mood. They did not tell people they were participating in the experiment. Was this unethical? Do people have a right to informed consent for these kinds of studies?

What is the role of free will in literature?

In your June 26, 2014 podcast, you raised the idea that what makes a story compelling is that it focuses on characters and the volitional choices they make. The idea was that if all the characters are assumed to be mere automatons with no free will of their own, then there is no real story. So must you implicitly accept the existence of free will even to enjoy a work of narrative fiction that is about fate, such as “Oedipus Rex” and stories about prophesied Chosen Ones? I remember once hearing about an old Japanese movie in which the characters work hard to prevent the fulfillment of a horrible prophesy and, in their efforts, inadvertently start a chain reaction that makes the prophesy come true. Even in these cases, does the story “work” insofar as those who enjoy it implicitly recognize that the characters have free will? More generally, is free will fundamental to literature? Are there other important divides in literature besides “naturalism” versus “romanticism”?

Does resiliency as an adult require enduring hardship as a child?

Many people assume that having faced great hardship is a necessary part of having resiliency – meaning: the ability to withstand great challenges in the future. These people think that if you have faced less-than-average hardship in your youth, that makes you soft, spoiled, pampered, and weak, and therefore ill-equipped to face challenges throughout your adulthood. As an extreme (but, sadly, real) example, I have a relative who insists to me, “All of the men I have met who attended private school are weak and naive. In their private schools, they were able to leave their belongings unattended without fear of their belongings being stolen. That’s not the real world! By contrast, the public school we attended is the school of hard knocks that shows you the Real World. We remember, all too well, that when anyone left possessions unattended, the norm was for the possession to be stolen. That’s Real Life. That builds character and gave me a thicker skin. That’s why, when I have children, I will send them to public school to toughen them up. I refuse to raise privileged weaklings.” I seethe and feel tempted to respond, “What if you got really drunk and beat up your children? Following the logic of your assumptions, wouldn’t that toughen them up even further?” Why are these assumptions about hardship so prevalent? How can a person develop great discipline, stamina, and fortitude absent hardship and cruelty? What can be done to combat the idea that hardship in youth is necessary for strength and resilience as an adult?

What is wrong with Immanuel Kant’s essay “What Is Enlightenment?”?

On your June 26, 2014 radio show, you mentioned that Immanuel Kant’s essay “What Is Enlightenment?” initially seems to be arguing in favor of independent reason and political liberty, but that it really does not. I am confused by this. I thought that “What Is Enlightenment?” indeed praised independent reasoning and political liberty, encouraging readers to “dare to know.” What is wrong with the case Kant makes in “What Is Enlightenment?”? In what manner does it fail to uphold reason and liberty?

Are the police in a mixed economy worthy of respect?

The United States is currently a mixed economy – meaning, a mixture of freedom and rights-violating government controls. Where the rubber meets the road is the police, particularly the officers that enforce the law and interact directly with the public. Police generally do not make the laws, they simply enforce them. If you ask them, they are obliged to do so regardless of personal opinions on the matter. You can see in our own culture a tendency towards distrust and dislike of the police, perhaps in part for that reason. On the one hand, this is understandable because the person holding the gun, far too often literally, is the police officer, not the politician. On the other, that distrust undermines the rule of law, something necessary for a functional society. So is distrust and dislike of police officers in a mixed economy valid, or should we accept that the police are just as much victims as we are? (I’m not talking about situations where the police go rogue or violate the laws themselves; I’m just focused on ordinary cops doing their ordinary jobs.) In general, how should we view people enforcing laws that are mixtures of legitimate protection from force and violations of rights

It is wrong to refuse to return a dog to owners suspected of neglect?

According to a recent local news report, a family’s dog escaped from their backyard. It was found by another party who paid a rather large sum of money to give it medical care and then placed it in foster care. The family searched for their dog, soon discovering the facts and asking for its return. They offered to pay back the cost of the medical care. However, the finders have refused citing a number of things including the suspicion of neglect. Is that wrong? Should the family get the dog back?

Is accepting voluntary sacrifices from others moral?

Imagine that someone offers you a way to increase your wealth, lengthen your lifespan, or achieve your goals at great personal cost to and even sacrifice of himself. Is it wrong to accept that? What if you’ve tried setting them straight and telling them to act in their self-interest, but they still insist on trying to be altruistic? Would accepting such a sacrifice be a breach of integrity for an egoist, or would rational egoism urge you to enjoy the proffered benefits, so long as voluntarily bestowed? In other words, is accepting voluntary sacrifices from others different from forcing others to sacrifice to you?

Should a person punish herself for wrongdoing by depriving herself of a value?

A friend of mine destroyed her phone in a fit of anger over a difficult situation that wasn’t her fault. Now my friend feels guilty about her outburst. She thinks that she doesn’t deserve to properly replace her phone, as that would reward her irrational outburst. She wants to either buy a cheap phone or go without a phone for a while. That seems needlessly self-destructive. How can I explain to her that she really ought to replace her phone?

How can a person make better hard choices?

How to make hard choices was the subject of a recent TED talk from philosopher Ruth Chang. Her thesis is that hard choices are not about finding the better option between alternatives. Choices are hard when there is no better option. Hard choices require you to define the kind of person you want to be. You have to take a stand for your choice, and then you can find reasons for being the kind of person who makes that choice. Her views really speaks to me. In your view, what makes a choice hard? How should a person make hard choices?

Is force truly “anti-mind” and “anti-life”?

Objectivism argues that the initiation of force is anti-mind and anti-life. How does this apply to the perpetrator as it does to the victim? Why is evil to apply force to human beings as opposed to any other animal? One wouldn’t criticize a chicken farmer for forcing chickens to produce for him, on the grounds that he is dependent on them to produce eggs. If a man were to have all the power in the world, what would be anti-mind, anti-life, or anti-self to force another man to give him his food? He needs food, that man has food, how convenient. So how is initiating force is anti-mind and anti-life for the perpetrator if his victims are powerless to stop him?

Is the fact that a name is racist a good reason to cancel or refuse trademarks for it?

The US Patent & Trademark Office recently cancelled the trademarks for the Washington Redskins on the basis that the name is “disparaging to Native Americans.” Putting aside whether or not it’s a good idea for a business to have offensive terms in their trademarks, was this a good decision for the government to have made? Or does this bring America a step toward having thought police? If it was a good decision, by what basis could the government objectively determine whether or not a term is offensive and cannot be trademarked? In general, by what principles do you think the government should guide their decisions about trademarks?

Are some people unworthy of the truth?

“Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it”, said Mark Twain in his Notebook (1902). Is that true? Does that justify lying – or merely withholding information?

Does the virtue of pride create an infinite loop?

Pride is a response to your own virtuous moral character, but pride is also a component of that virtuous moral character. Hence, in order to have the utmost pride, a person would have to have the utmost virtue; but, in order to have the utmost virtue, a person would have to have the utmost pride. Is this a catch 22? Is that a problem?

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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