New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 3 February 2015 at 9:00 am  Question Queue
Feb 032015

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:

Does intuition have any validity?

Intuition is defined as “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” Assuming that we’re not talking about mystical insight, is this possible? When, if ever, should a person rely on such intuitions? How should he check them?

Do parents have a moral duty to vaccinate their children to improve “herd immunity”?

My doctor is currently making the case for my son (age 12) getting the Gardasil/HPV vaccination, arguing that even though HPV won’t really harm him, he could become a carrier and spread HPV to women he has sex with at some time in the future, and thereby harm them. I don’t think he has a duty to become one of the “immunized herd” (referring to the idea of “herd immunity” regarding vaccines) and therefore I am not inclined to have him vaccinated against HPV. Should he choose to do so at a later time, he is free to make that decision. Does my son – or do I as a parent – have an obligation to vaccinate purely to promote “herd immunity”? If not in this case, where there is a clear issue of undergoing the vaccination primarily for the sake of risk to others, then what about in other cases of vaccines? Does a person have an obligation to society in general to become part of the immunized herd, even if taking a vaccination is probably at low risk to that person’s health?

What are the signs of emotional repression?

It’s very important not to repress your emotions, especially if you are a person with rationalistic tendencies. But how might a person identify when he’s repressing some emotions? What are the signs? What can be done to avoid and overcome the tendency to repress, if such a tendency has become habitual?

Should it be illegal to smoke around children?

A recently introduced bill in New Mexico would forbid smoking with kids in the car. With all the research related to the dangers of second-hand smoke, does smoking with a child strapped in the back seat really amount to a form of child abuse or endangerment? If so, should the government forbid adults from smoking around kids everywhere?

What’s the value of hierarchical organizations?

One of the main goals of socialists is to abolish hierarchy. They seek to do this by abolishing capitalism, which they see as inherently hierarchical. Advocates of free markets have pointed out, however, that it is perfectly possible for a non-hierarchical organization to exist under a capitalist system, that socialists would have every right to form private co-operatives and such in a free society. Nevertheless, we have to admit that such is not common practice under modern capitalism (or quasi-capitalism): the vast majority of corporations, partnerships, and other private organisations have a strictly hierarchical structure with a boss at the top, administration below him, and rows and rows of employees of various rank below that. Why is this the case? What are the advantages of hierarchical organization? Would a free society be more or less hierarchical?

Are the religious freedoms of Christian bakers being infringed?

Over the past year, the news has been inundated with stories about Christian bakery owners refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings. These bakers are defended by the Christian right for exercising their “religious liberty” and decried by the secular left for discrimination. I am somewhat sympathetic to the bakers, though I am gay myself. However, it isn’t their religious liberty that’s been violated, but their right to their property. When I speak to people about this issue, they don’t understand where I’m coming from when I say the property rights of these bakers are important. Yes, their actions are motivated by a ridiculous moral code, but that isn’t the issue. What is the best way to respond to people who think that these Christian bakers should be forced to bake cakes for gay weddings? Given that businesses are already prohibited by law from discriminating against other minorities, would it be so wrong for the law to encompass sexuality-based discrimination too?

How can I avoid coming out as an atheist to my boyfriend’s parents?

I’m gay and my boyfriend recently came out to his parents. They are older and pretty religious, but they are doing their best to be accepting to our relationship. However, my boyfriend says that they believe that I am changing him for the worse in that he has not been as communicative and open with them because he didn’t come out to them sooner and has not been sharing the progression of our relationship with them. (The whole concept of being in the closet seems completely alien to them.) But they do know our relationship is serious, so they have invited us to spend the holidays with them in order to get to know me better. My boyfriend says that they will insist that we attend church with them and has asked that I not tell them that I’m atheist right away. I’ve explained to him that I am not going to lie about anything, but I am not sure how to remain true to my convictions without making things more difficult for my boyfriend and upsetting his parents. What are your suggestions for making the Christmas holidays pleasant while maintaining my integrity?

Is the existence of a prison system congruent with a free and just society?

Prisons are seen as a kind of “criminal holiday resort” by some and by others as a sort of criminal “training center.” Prisons help criminals network, harden their character, and learn new crime skills. In addition, the prison system has grown up as part of an overall trend within society towards what one might call the “management and correction of human beings.” Prison is not about punishing people for their actions, but about educating them—about moulding them into “better citizens.” It has been argued (mostly notably by Michel Foucault) that prisons are simply part of a general mechanism of government control, that includes institutions such as schools and mental asylums, all of which operate on a similar philosophy of government enforced correction and education. Should then a society based on opposite principles – on the principles of individualism, small government and personal responsibility – eschew the prison system? If so, what would it be replaced with, if anything? If not, what justifies the existence of the prison system in a free society?

Should I trust the medical profession more?

I suffer from a serious chronic disease. I have become extremely dismayed both at how limited medicine is in its ability to help me and how consistently wrong the doctors I’ve consulted have been about everything they’ve ever said. I have come to believe that doctors are poorly trained in medical school and that most people in the profession are basically second-handed. I attribute this situation to the extreme degree of government control over the medical profession, especially licensing laws and FDA controls. Is my attitude justified, or am I being overly negative?

Are people living in a free society obliged to contribute to its government?

Given that each person benefits hugely from the protection of his and others’ individual rights by the government of a free society, does each person have an obligation to contribute to that government in some fashion? If so, is that obligation just a moral obligation or might it be a legal obligation too? Would public scorn for “free riders” or benefits given to contributors be enough motivation for people to contribute what’s required to keep the government operational? Or is that unrealistic?

Is it hypocritical to manufacture products based on wrong ideas?

I work in CNC manufacturing (computer numerical control), and I recently purchased one of our machines in order to start a side business as a craftsman. Many immediate family members, for instance, would be interested in personalized home furniture goods like wall hangings, picture frames, jewelry boxes, and so on. Items with a Christian theme – like a cross with a Bible verse – are easy to make, customizable, and sell widely and well. Given that I’m an atheist, would manufacturing such goods be hypocritical? But what about other religious imagery, such as an engraved picture of the god Aries sleeping with Aphrodite and being caught her husband Hephaestus? After all, Greek mythology endorsed self-sacrifice, which I oppose. Also, what of historically-relevant symbols flags for Great Britain and Nazi Germany on a game board? I would refuse to print something like an ISIL flag but that seems different. So do these symbols have some intrinsic meaning that I would be promoting if I were to create them? Or are they merely given meaning by particular people in particular contexts, such that my producing and selling them isn’t of any moral significance?

How should a doctor respond to questions about her religious beliefs?

My wife recently told me about a colleague of hers – a physician and an atheist – being caught off guard when asked by the parents of one of her cancer patients in the hospital if she believed in God. These parents wanted their son treated only by a doctor who believes in God, and my wife’s friend did not qualify. How should she have answered their question?

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?

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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