New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 1 January 2015 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Jan 012015

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:

It is moral to advocate for the boycott of a business?

Over the holidays, my brother and I discussed cases in which businesses are compelled by government to provide services against their will. For example, the Colorado courts demanded that a bakery make cakes for gay couples or face fines. We agreed that the business should be left free to operate as they see fit, absent violating anyone’s actual rights, and reap the rewards or penalties from their choice. Where we diverged was on the moral status of the business owner and whether the bakery deserved to be boycotted. In my view, the decision of the owner of the Colorado bakery was immoral: they were being irrational, discriminating by non-essentials. My brother disagreed. Moreover, my brother opposed any advocacy of a boycott, seeing this as a call for force to be applied against the owner. This would be wrong, in his view, but he would be fine with suggesting that people patronize a different store. Ultimately, I found that I could not adequately explain why I think people might actively and openly oppose wrong acts by businesses, even if those acts don’t violate rights. So what justifies such boycotts, if anything?

How does personality theory affect ethics?

In your 21 December 2014 discussion of the relationship between philosophy and science, you stated that your grasp of personality theory has given you a fresh perspective on ethics and changed your understanding of the requirements of the virtues. How does personality theory inform the field of ethics, in general? How should personality theory inform our moral judgments? How does one avoid slipping into subjectivism when accounting for personality differences? (Presumably, it doesn’t matter whether Hitler was a High-D or not before we judge him as evil.) How can we distinguish between making reasonable accommodations for personality differences and appeasing destructive behavior and people? Do signs of honesty or dishonesty vary between personality types? Are virtues other than justice affected by an understanding of personality theory?

Is it wrong to contribute to a podcaster with odious political views?

I listen regularly to about a dozen different podcasts and I try to contribute financially to those that request listener contributions (with the exception of those produced by NPR). I generally feel that if I am getting some value from a service I should give something back in return. However, one of the hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, the Life of Caesar, is a full-blown Chomskyite who occasionally uses the platform to express his opinion that America is a brutal empire, that the pursuit of wealth is immoral, that capitalism is inherently exploitative, that the failure of communism in the late twentieth century in Cuba, the USSR, and other places was a result of American oppression, etc. Moreover, he connects the events in the history he discusses to events happening today, and although I have the perspective to distinguish the Marxist theory from the historical facts I worry that other listeners might not. I can forgive these interjections enough to listen to the show because I find the host, Cameron Reilly, very funny and I appreciate his methodology in the study of history. The show is generally well made and enjoyable and I receive actual value from it, but he and his partner frequently discuss their desire to produce podcasts full time. Although I’d like to see more shows from them because I enjoy their work, I worry that I’d be spending money to support the spread of ideas I consider evil. Should I contribute to this show? Should I send in half of what I would otherwise send and give the other half to an organization that spreads rational ideas? Or should I just send all my podcast contributions to Philosophy in Action?

Should I pursue a career that interests me even if I don’t have much aptitude for it?

I have a strong interest in the field of bioengineering for what it can potentially accomplish. However, in my own estimation, I have little aptitude for hard science and seriously doubt whether I can succeed academically in the areas necessary to enter the field. This self-assessment is based on my academic history, life accomplishments, and aptitude test results. My Should I try to pursue this career against the odds anyway, or should I accept that I don’t have the intellectual capability to do so?

What is the moral status of actions aimed at tending to one’s body?

In an egoistic ethics, the ultimate end of moral action is the growth and continuation of one’s own life. Ayn Rand elaborated on discussed many of the kinds of actions required to achieve this goal, but she didn’t discuss matters of “bodily care,” such as cleaning your teeth, clipping your fingernails, exercising regularly, bandaging a wound, and seeking necessary medical care. These constitute a whole universe of actions necessary for the maintenance of one’s body and, hence, one’s life. Are such actions moral and virtuous? Should bodily care itself be considered a virtue? Or are these actions already subsumed under the virtues. (If so, I would love to know how to brush my teeth with integrity and pride!)

How should nuisance limits be set for new technology?

Often new technologies initially involve negative side effects, and sometimes those side effects impact even those who didn’t choose to use the new technology. Here’s an example: supersonic flight. Supersonic aircraft are generally noisier than slower aircraft – they lay down a sonic boom when they fly over. In the US, supersonic travel has been banned outright since the 1960s due to concerns about boom noise. There’s technology to help quiet the aircraft, but no one knows how much “quiet” (and political muscle) it will take to reverse this ban – and as a result we’re still trundling around at 1960s speeds. But this is only one example. Many other technologies (e.g., fossil fuels) initially have some physical impact even on those who choose not to adopt, until they advance sufficiently that the impact is immaterial. In a free society, how should these technologies be allowed to develop? What restrictions should be placed, and how? How does one objectively determine, for instance, how much noise pollution from aircraft constitutes a rights violation?

How much confidence should a person express in his/her own opinions?

I work with a woman who constantly makes declarative statements about things for which she lacks sufficient facts and knowledge. The result is that she is often contradicted and people have to tell her, “That’s not true.” She will argue with them and then they have to prove her wrong so that the conversation can move forward. By contrast, I’ve noticed that I often express uncertainty in ways that undermine confidence in my knowledge and experience. The default position I tend to take is that maybe I am missing something and the other people in the conversation can give me that information. How does one learn to strike the right balance between being open to new facts and information but also being confident in one’s own knowledge and experience?

How should the police respond to people resisting arrest?

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?

Should I cut ties with my homophobic family?

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?

What is the value of “political correctness”?

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?

Is it wrong to live tweet conversations between strangers that you overhear?

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?

Is suicide a wrong choice for a person with terminal illness?

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?

Should a political candidate deceive voters in the service of protecting rights?

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?

Should I do something nice for a coworker I dislike?

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?

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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