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.
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Now, without further ado, the most recent questions added to The Queue:
Recently, Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York City have made headlines because they were killed by police officers who, many feel, used excessive force during their respective encounters. While the two cases were quite different, they did have one thing in common. In both cases, the officers were compelled to use force which resulted in lethal injury when the men, Brown and Garner respectively, resisted arrest. Brown attacked officer Wilson and then ran away, refusing to stop until Wilson chased him down. Garner refused to be arrested. Is there a more objective way to deal with an arrest in a free society? Since, in a free society, the government has a monopoly over the use of force, does that mean that the police are allowed to use brutal force when a suspect refuses to comply with the officer’s demands, regardless of the charges against the person in question?
My boyfriend and I visit my family every year for Christmas, and every year they treat him rudely and unfairly. This is solely because they do not accept my sexuality, and they blame him for it. I have made it very clear that if their behavior continues, I will no longer visit them on holidays. They always agree to my terms, but as soon as we arrive, they immediately go back on their word. To make matters worse, I visited them alone this summer for my birthday. During my visit, the daughter of a “family friend” “just happened to stop by.” It was very clear to me that this was a set up. When we received a moment alone, I told her that I was in a happy, committed relationship with a man. Her reaction showed that she was entirely deceived. I left the house, and I have not spoken to my family since. I have no desire to have a relationship with them. Should I permanently end the relationship?
I used to be a fairly typical ‘right-winger’ who would regularly cry out ‘political correctness has gone mad!’ While I still come across politically correct ideas that I find ridiculous (e.g. the ban bossy campaign), I’m finding myself more sympathetic to these ideas as I become more informed on them. So I’m now in favor of using the right pronouns for transgender people, avoiding words that can be perceived as derogatory (e.g. fag), and even changing school event names like ‘parent day’ or ‘Christmas party’ to something that doesn’t exclude those it doesn’t apply to. Where should the line be drawn between “political correctness” and making valuable change in our language or practices to be more accommodating and inclusive of people outside the mainstream? Are there legitimate concerns about language becoming more politically correct?
A woman recently live tweeted a date between two people who met on Tinder. Based on her tweets, the date was pretty awful. Lots of people found what she wrote funny, and her tweets were widely circulated. But was what she did wrong? Would it matter if she had identified the people on the date in some way?
In early November 2014, Brittany Maynard ended her life by choice. She was suffering from terminal brain cancer and probably wouldn’t have survived till 2015. The story was highly publicized and elicited a lot of reactions. Some people asserted that Ms. Maynard had no right to end her life, even though she’d spent a long time honestly deliberating on it and decided she did not want her death to be long and painful. What is the basis for the moral opposition to this kind of suicide? Her choice seems rational to me, but others clearly oppose it. Is their opposition purely religious in nature? Is it based on Kant’s duty ethics? Is there any validity to such opposition, or should the right to “death with dignity” be adopted in every state, rather than in the five in which it is currently legal?
Telling a lie is perfectly moral, even obligatory, if it is done to protect your rights. But can this idea be extended to the realm of politics? Imagine that the majority of the electorate in a democratic society is opposed to free markets. The majority of the electorate thus desires, and will vote for, the violation of rights. So would it be moral for a free market politician to lie in his campaign for office by telling the anti-free market electorate that he is going to violate rights. That way, they’d vote for him, but he’d be able to enact free market policies once he is in office. Would that be justified by the above mentioned principle? If not, why?
There’s a lady at work that I dislike. My conflict with her is primarily merely a conflict of personality. I find her defensive, passive-aggressive, and awkward to the point of rudeness. I am also not very impressed with her work products, but that rarely has a direct impact on me – except when I’m asked to review them – as is the fact that she only seems to work for about six hours every day. Indirectly, of course, her eccentricities and poor work quality cast our team in a very poor light and could eventually serve as a reason to dissolve or lay off our team. It’s a mystery as to why she hasn’t been fired. But I’m not her manager. In a meeting earlier today, she made a remark that she thought she was being excluded from important meetings that are relevant to her work. The truth is that she’s not being actively excluded from these meetings, but rather everything is happening so fast and the meetings aren’t always planned, so it’s really just not possible to include her in those meetings. She would probably be heartened to understand better how these events take place in our company. (She’s rather new and I am very tenured.) She might feel better about her position and she might become less defensive about things if she had a better understanding of the organizational mechanics here. But I strongly dislike her and would prefer that she seek other employment. Should I be kind and explain those mechanics or not?
Socialists have to eat, wear clothes, stay warm in the winter, use transportation, etc., like everyone else. They could live in public housing, use public transit, and get health care supplied by the state. But for their other goods and services, they have to go to the market for the things they need or want. How can they reconcile their ideology with their actual behavior? Are they hypocrites?
I recently had a conversation with a Facebook friend who stated that food and shelter are more than necessities, they are rights. I posed the question, “How does one exercise their right to food and shelter?” No one answered the question, so I would like to pose it here. Most food in this country is grown by farmers and sold fresh, or processed in a factory for sale. If food is a “right,” does anyone without the means to buy these products have an inherent right to take what they need without any remuneration to the farmer or the manufacturer? The same applies to shelter. How does one exercise their “right” to shelter without a means to earn it? We have a right to free speech, and a right to vote. One is exercised by speaking your mind on a subject without fear of government reprisal, and the other is exercised by voting during elections. We have the right to practice whatever religion we want or none at all. The press has the right to print or say whatever they want. Any “right” to food or shelter would have to operate differently. So are food and shelter a “right”? What would that mean in practice?
Independent authors who publish their books on their own to Amazon owe much of their success or lack thereof to the star ratings given on their work. Higher average star ratings make their work appear in featured areas of the site and appear higher in searches. While a single star rating on a young book with otherwise high ratings can effectively destroy the sales pipeline. Even if a user writes, “I loved this book! It’s perfect!,” if they give it one star it will hurt sales. Similarly, if a user writes that they hate a book but they still give it five stars it will give the book more of a fighting chance in the market. There are a lot of users on Amazon who will target independent authors with one-star reviews simply to carry out a personal vendetta. The fickleness of star reviews and how great the impact is on sales has led many authors to see the star reviews as less an accurate reflection of the quality of their work than merely a marketing tool. (More well-monied authors and publishers sometimes even buy high star ratings.) So is it wrong to game Amazon’s star rating system? Is it wrong for an author to ask their friends to give their books five stars even if they hate it allowing those same friends to write that they hate the book in their written review? Is it wrong for a reader to give a higher star rating to a book because they want the author to succeed but given an honest written review?
Every culture has its social conventions. Are they worthy of respect? Might be worthwhile to sometimes “go along to get along,” even if that conflicts with rational ethical principles? Might social convention sometimes influence rights? Would that amount to social contract theory? If so, is that a problem?
A now-former Facebook friend used a racist epithet in reference to Islamic terrorists. I asked him if he understood that it was a racist term and he said he did and said that he used it on purpose to insult those evil-doers because they are so evilly evil that they deserve not even a little respect. I told him he was wrong because race is not the same as ideology and that I can’t find any justification for racism, so I un-friended him. I agree that Islamic terrorists are evil, but is it morally okay to be a racist toward evil people?
On your Facebook page, you recently posted a story about a man who had to fight off a crazed knife-murderer in New York’s subway, in full view of police officers, there specifically to capture this madman. Yet they did never interfered until after the knife-weilder was disarmed and on the ground–and the defender passed out with multiple stab wounds. Unsurprisingly, the man sued the NYPD. The suit was rejected, however, on the grounds that police are not obligated to protect people from harm. Indeed, the Supreme Court had decided just that question in a case in 2005 involving police failure to enforce a restricting order against a woman’s estranged husband, resulting in the kidnapping and murder of their three young daughters. But did the Supreme Court decide correctly? I can see both sides here. On the one hand, how can any individual police officer have a duty to put their life at risk? On other hand, if the whole justification for government’s existence is to protect individual citizens’ rights, how can they not be obligated to protect their lives and limb against violence?
A free society is supposed to have open borders, yet wouldn’t that make preventing the entry of foreign diseases impossible? A society that opens it borders inevitably puts itself at risk for foreign diseases simply because people aren’t being screened and excluded, as they are now. These diseases can be very dangerous, particularly when the domestic population has never been, or rarely is, exposed to them. So shouldn’t the borders be closed to certain countries that might spread Ebola and other dangerous diseases.
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