- Q&A: Workplace Diversity: 6 Sep 2015, Question 1
Question: Is the lack of racial and sexual diversity in the workplace a problem? Lately, there have been a lot of discussions about the lack of diversity in the tech industry. I have been asked to fill out surveys indicating my gender and race, which I politely refuse to complete. I don't see how my sex or the color of my skin impacts my work as an engineer. Some companies promote diversity statistics on their blog and claim that they're working to improve workplace diversity. In late July, Pinterest posted a similar blog entry and went even further by explicitly setting goals to hire women and people of "underrepresented ethnic backgrounds." Is this lack of diversity a problem in an industry? If so, what kinds of measures should be used to address it?
- Q&A: Waivers to Rights-Violating Laws: 10 May 2015, Question 1
Question: Are waivers to rights-violating laws good or bad? There are many examples of immoral laws in which the government initiates force against individuals. There are also many examples of groups of people being carved out of the application of such laws via waivers. Some waivers are based on rational motivations, such as business exemptions from Obamacare based on economic burdens. Some waivers are based on irrational motivations, such as religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws or requirements to provide insurance for birth control because compliance would conflict with a "religious conscience." If we begin by agreeing that all initiation of force is immoral, how can we proceed with analyzing whether waivers to immoral laws are good or bad? Are the exceptions good if they're based on rational reasons and bad if based on irrational reasons? Or should we think of the exceptions as either universally good or bad? Philosophically, I'm confused. On one hand, how can I not support all waivers when, in fact, they would result in less initiation of force? On the other hand, I can think of a philosophical argument against all waivers on the following basis: unequal standards for the application of political force implies a variance in the ethical standards which implies a variance in the metaphysical nature of man. If we accept the implication that there are essential differences in our nature as human beings, then we have given up the objective basis for rights and open the door to widespread destruction of freedom. Is that right? How should a person who wants to consistently support individual rights think about this issue of waivers, in principle?
- Chat: Argument from Miracles for the Existence of God, Part 1: 9 Apr 2015
Summary: Do reports of miracles prove the existence of God? Most people of faith appeal to the miracles of their faith as grounds for their belief. Here, I consider what miracles are, how they are supposed to prove God's existence, and raise some concerns about them.
- Q&A: Insulting with Racial Epithets: 11 Jan 2015, Question 3
Question: Is it wrong to use racist epithets to insult the truly evil? 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?
- Q&A: The Reliability of Memory: 16 Mar 2014, Question 2
Question: Is memory trustworthy? Memory is often described as being highly fallible and even malleable. Is that true? If so, what are the implications of that for claims about the objectivity and reliability of knowledge? What are the implications for daily life? Should we trust our experiences when we can't be trusted to remember them?
- Q&A: Feeling Unproductive: 6 Feb 2014, Question 1
Question: How can I overcome feeling like a slacker? I am a very productive person, with multiple projects going on simultaneously, both personal and professional. Generally, I handle juggling things pretty well, and accomplish quite a bit. I can usually attain most of my goals, and I like that about myself. (I'm also a pretty ambitious person so I have many big goals.) However, I also often feel like a complete slacker. I can see all of the things I accomplish, but I often feel like I could be doing more – one more thing, one more project. Sometimes, when I look at the things I've accomplished, all I can see are the things I wasn't able to do and it can be easy to feel defeated and negative about that. How can I reconcile the gap here? How can I get better at feeling the sense of accomplishment I think I should – and deserve – to feel? Do you have any ideas for getting rid of this mantle of slackerness I've saddled myself with – unfairly, I think? I've been making some changes that have helped, such as writing down my accomplishments each day, but I'm looking for more ideas.
- Q&A: Justifying Punishment: 12 Jan 2014, Question 1
Question: What justifies punishing people for committing crimes? In your 2006 graduate paper, "The Scope Problem in Punishment," you criticize utilitarian theories of punishment that aim for deterrence of future crimes on the grounds that they don't punish all and only those who are guilty. Yet why is that a problem? Moreover, why should a criminal be punished if doing so won't have any future benefits, such as deterring future crimes? Doesn't self-interest require that actions have some future benefit – and if so, shouldn't all punishment have some positive future effect like deterrence?
- Q&A: Fervent Hatred for President Obama: 28 Jul 2013, Question 4
Question: How should I respond to friends who fanatically hate President Obama? As a free-market advocate, I'm distressed about President Obama's policies. However, I'm increasingly worried about some of my friends in the free-market movement exhibiting an alarming level of hatred for President Obama. I have seen my friends latch on to every "juicy"-sounding accusation against the President, which they spread all over Facebook, such as spurious claims that the administration violently threatened Bob Woodward, or that the President conspires to grant himself a third term. I think a reasonable discourse on Obama's faults is necessary, but the conspiracy theories and outright hatred cloud people's judgments. I want to ask my pro-free-market, Obama-hating friends that they not bring up their dubious accusations in conversation, but I don't know how to do that without offending them. Is there a solution to this dilemma?
- Q&A: The Objectivity of Color Concepts: 14 Jul 2013, Question 4
Question: Are concepts of color objective? Given that people from different cultures conceptualize colors differently, I don't see how concepts of color – or at least the demarcation of colors – can be objective. For example, in English, the colors "green" and "blue" have different names because they refer to different concepts. In Japanese, however, the word "aoi" can refer to either light green or blue: they don't draw a distinction between them. Similarly, English speakers refer to both the sky and a sapphire as "blue." But in Italian this is not the case: the word "blu" only refers to dark blue, and the sky is the distinct color of "azzuro." Do such cultural differences cast doubt on the claim that concepts of color are objective?
- Q&A: Objectively Assessing Yourself: 17 Jun 2012, Question 1
Question: How can a person objectively assess his own character? If a person has a good character, then he'll recognize that fact. But if a person has a bad character, then he'll probably deceive himself into thinking himself good. So it seems likely that every person will think that he has a good character, even when that's not true. So, is objective assessment of one's own character possible? If so, how?
- Q&A: Staying Objective: 10 Jun 2012, Question 1
Question: How can a person be certain of his own objectivity? It's often difficult to stick to the facts in reasoning, and it's even harder to make sure that you're focused on all and only the relevant facts. How can a person know that he's being objective – as opposed to relying on unwarranted assumptions, ignoring relevant facts, or rationalizing what he wants to be true?
- Q&A: Unfriendly Disputes in Online Communities: 25 Mar 2012, Question 1
Question: Why are disputes so belligerent in online communities? I've noticed that people get into very loud and heated disputes online, whereas that doesn't seem to happen in local communities. Disputes in local communities tend to be less frequent, less belligerent, and last for a shorter time - even when some people end up hating each other and refusing to have anything to do with each other in the end. Why is that? Also, why do people who are closest with each other (whether close friends, dating, or married) seem to agree more on hot-button issues? Are people more willing to reject a stranger's arguments than those of a friend? Is that an error?