New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 25 July 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Jul 252014

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:

Why aren’t people grateful for what others do for them?

I volunteer a lot, and I try to be very generous with my time and efforts in the groups that I’m involved with. Mostly, I just want people to express thanks and gratitude for what I’ve done for them. Mostly though, they don’t thank me – or their thanks just seem perfunctory. Why is that? Am I wrong to want a little gratitude? Right now, I feel taken advantage of, and I want to tell everyone to go to hell. Is that wrong?

How can I overcome my fear of leading a value-less life?

Ever since I was young, I’ve had an overwhelming fear of leading a valueless life. I saw my parent and other adult role models live this way. There was nothing in their life: they never strived for anything, never had dreams, and tended to discourage dreams from others. I always thought that I would be different. I always thought that I could live in a fulfilled way. But slowly I noticed that I was falling into their path. I didn’t start college till 23 because of student aid issues and until then I worked minimum wage and I went without food some days. Now at 26, I have a 2 year degree. Even with my new job I still live in a drug and prostitution infested ghetto in Philadelphia because this is the only place I can afford. After calculating how long it will take me to get my career off the ground, I could graduate with a MS by thirty or thirty two. But noticing the patterns that I see in other people, I have this overwhelming fear that all attempts at achieving a value will slowly slip my grasp. I constantly needed to push values off till tomorrow until I get today straightened out. I am scared that tomorrow will never come. I have so many goals and dreams and values but I might never get to achieve them. I see it so clearly sometimes: 45, divorced, alone, with nothing to show for my hard work, debt, a giant mortgage or even worse perpetual renting, and my only outlet going to the pub with other Philly white trash middle-agers. How can rational philosophy help me gain perspective on this fear that I have had since a kid?

It is wrong to keep my pet a secret from my landlord?

My fianc?e and I own a cat. By the rules of our apartment, we should notify our landlord and pay monthly pet rent and deposits. However, we keep a cleaner apartment than the majority of people without pets. If the cat’s not tearing up carpet and peeing on walls, I don’t feel I should pay more than say someone who is disrespectful of the property and causes more damage to the unit. Moreover, I recently heard firsthand from a group of experienced landlords that they prefer cleaner tenants with pets as opposed to straight up dirty tenants. So should I fess up and pay or not?

Does ethical egoism discourage reconciliation after a dispute?

I believe in ethical egoism, and I think humans can validly achieve certainty in their convictions. I don’t think people should apologize for their virtues or for being right. I think ethical egoists who believe in rational certainty tend to come across as very argumentative. The non-egoist argumentative people I know seem to be more conciliatory. When they notice someone’s feelings are hurt, they do not change their minds but they do apologize and make up. By contrast, I am under the impression that when ethical egoists get into very heated disputes, they are much less conciliatory. My impression is that they hold grudges longer and are more reluctant to apologize. I suspect they think that apologizing or trying to reconcile would be interpreted as weakness – that they think “I refuse to apologize for being right!” and that trying to reconcile would amount to self-abasement wherein one apologizes for being right. Non-egoists would call this “Letting your pride stop you from seeking the reconciliation you yearn for.” In my own case, I have had many falling-outs with other ethical egoists. What usually stops me from seeking reconciliation is that I think that if we re-connected, we would soon “schism” over something else. But I do have to ask myself if, on some level, I believe that if I seek reconciliation, I would be abasing myself by “apologizing when I’m the one who is right!” Can strong belief in ethical egoism and rational certainty – and refusal to “apologize for one’s virtues and for being right” – encourage someone to be counter-productively unforgiving and closed against reconciliation? If so, what can an ethical egoist do to address this?

Was John Galt evil, or at least a jerk, for not commercializing his motor?

In “Atlas Shrugged,” John Galt went on strike when the world seemed only a little worse off than today politically in America. Things got really bad so fast because Galt dismantled everything. If, instead of going on strike, he had quit the Twentieth Century Motor Company and started the Galt Motor Company, things seem like they would have gone a very different way. By my reading, Galt’s motor was pretty much a free energy miracle — for the same price as a car engine a car could need no fuel and be nearly maintenance free. Electricity would be too cheap to meter and probably within a decade the Galt Motor Company would provide the engines for every plane, train, automobile, and power plant in America. The resulting economic boom from ultra-cheap energy would have probably improved conditions — there’d be less calls for controls because everything would be going so swimmingly. Galt could have gone into the other countries and demanded they liberalize their economies if they wanted him to electrify their countries. His wealth and influence would let him meet with titans of industry and convince them of his morality. He could invest in Hollywood and make movies and TV shows that showed his views. He could have met Dagny and fallen in love with her, and I’m sure over months of dating she would have come around to realize that his morality was right. Her resistance was, after all, to the strike, not really the idea that we should be selfish. People seem to get more panicky and politicians more lusting after power when the economy is doing poorly. In huge booms things seem to get better. People who are well off don’t cry out for a savior and accept whatever anyone tells them will make things better, because things are going pretty well. If Galt probably could have gotten rich, liberalized the economies of the world, married Dagny, and sparked a moral revolution all without dismantling civilization, shouldn’t he have? If his motor really could save everyone (and it seems like it could have), he is at least kind of a jerk to not commercialize it – and probably self-destructive too. So why go on strike at all?

How should I introduce my teenagers to “Atlas Shrugged” and Objectivism?

I’d like to introduce my teenagers to Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged,” as well as to the principles of her philosophy of Objectivism. How should I do that? My concern is that I’ll bungle it up and bore them to death or succeed too well and convert them into Objectivist jerks for the next ten years. What’s a rational approach for parents?

What are the limits of religious freedom?

What is your opinion of the recent Supreme Court decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby? A friend and I were discussing the case, and we disagree on whether or not the decision is good or bad. He views it as good because Hobby Lobby regained some of the freedom that they would have under an ideal free society. I view it as bad because while they did gain that freedom, it was granted to them for an incorrect reason – exemption from the law due to religious beliefs. Does this distinction really matter? Also, should individuals or corporations be allowed exemptions from laws that interfere with their religious beliefs? Should religious beliefs be treated any differently than non-religious beliefs under the law?

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?

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.)

  • advancedatheist

    I suppose in this alternative reality, John Galt would have an organic reason for an introduction to Dagny early on through their mutual friendship with Francisco d’Anconia. But if he missed out on early dating and sexual experiences and then tried to start around the time he turned 30 or so, in something like real life he would find the situation extremely awkward at that age, unless Dagny proved unusually understanding about Galt’s inexperience and implied adult virginity.

    • Diana Hsieh

      I don’t see any reason to think that John Galt was a virgin!

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