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I have a fifteen year old son, bright competent, popular, who has been missing school on a regular basis for the past one and a half years. He has attended a psychologist (for this reason) and the psychologist has found nothing wrong with him - the psychologist said that my son had, for his age, a "phenomenal understanding of people" . I always felt that my son was emotionally and psychologically very advanced for his age - from a very young age. Anyway my son cannot explain why he does not attend school other than that he hates it (he was badly bullied - mainly by shaming and humiliating by a teacher when he was aged seven - having to stand in a public place in the schoolyard known as "No Man's Land" for three to four lunch times at a go - but the school would not hear a word against the teacher - my son has little recollection of this)and things went down hill from there. My son understands the long term affects of not attending school - he can see that he is falling behind more and more each time...

It's hard to give advice on the basis of a one-paragraph description; so please take the following as no more than a suggestion for your consideration. Unfortunately, your son's problem is not unique. At least I feel that Isee it ever more often: really bright teenagers peaking prematurely,then becoming ever more dim, dull and lethargic. I doubt your son's attitude to school is much affected by what happened to him eight years ago; and I doubt it could be much affected by the anticipation of any long-term effects that his non-attendance might have eight years down the road. I think he would happily go to school if he found the experience interesting and rewarding either intellectually or at least socially. You cannot control the school's curriculum to make it more interesting for your son, more responsive to his needs and curiosity. But you may be able to supply links: materials that really interest him and are also related to what's being taught in school. Perhaps he is interested in deep-space...

if you have an unethical position or emotion towards a person or issue, but never act on it, is it still unethical?

Because you take a position to be something one can act on, I interpret this in the sense of "commitment" or "disposition". So suppose a person has the deliberate disposition to "fix" student grades whenever he is offered $100 or more to do so. (This might be a professor or an administrator or a person with access to the university's computer system.) Surely this is an unethical disposition, that is, a disposition that one ought not to have, and the person so disposed is typically unethical on account of this disposition even if he never engages in any unethical conduct (e.g., because he is never offered a sufficiently large amount). It's different with emotions because these cannot be simply willed away. It is problematic, then, to characterize a person as unethical on account of an emotion that she just finds herself having, without choice. Still, we do have ways of influencing our future emotions, and there are surely emotions that we ought to try to diminish or eradicate (e.g. disgust for...

Is it unethical to not tell your date that you are not interested in a long term relationship with them until they start developing feelings for you?

This would really depend on the expectations one's conduct gives rise to. These are initially the expectations that it would be reasonable to have in the society and subculture in question. Thus, if a college student from Montana is spending spring break in Florida and there dating someone from Oklahoma, for example, then the reasonable expectation would be that the relationship is a fling that will not lead to a long-term relationship. On the other hand, if two young Amish people from neighboring villages in Pennsylvania are dating each other, then the reasonable expectation would be that they are contemplating a life-long bond. Most cases obviously are somewhere in-between in that it is somewhat unclear what counts as normal in the relevant context. It is helpful here that, as the dating proceeds, the two persons may learn a lot about each other and, in particular, about each other's actual expectations. These may differ from the reasonable expectations, which are (roughly speaking) based on...

It makes sense to me that there should be nothing rather than anything. I find this issue rather mind boggling because obviously there is something. Fortunately I'm able to dismiss this issue and go on to other things. My only hope is that if there is an afterlife, and there are orientation sessions I will ask the lecturer (an angel?) about it. I'm just afraid that his reply will be a board with a bunch of incomprehensible formulae. My question is do philosophers deal with this issue or has it already been dismissed as undealable.

As your formulations nicely bring out, the problem here arises from the combination of two phenomena: that there is something rather than nothing, and that our mind finds it more natural (less surprising, less boggling, more sense-making) that there should be nothing rather than anything. Our disposition to find certain things disturbing is a feature of the mind we have, which developed through evolution and education. It's not hard to tell a story about why our mind should have developed this way: we do best concentrating our explanatory efforts on events and changes rather than where nothing it happening. So we reason with a maxim like "nothing happens without a reason" (meaning: whenever something happens, then there is a reason for it). But this useful maxim, deeply entrenched in even our more unreflective behavior, may not serve us best in all contexts. It may make us overlook that in some cases a non-event needs explanation (Sherlock Holmes' famous case of the dog that did not bark). And it...

Is democracy a just form of government because it leads to the fairest results, or because it is inherently most fair to let everyone have an equal say in the decision-making process? In a situation where the population overwhelmingly makes a decision that will harm them in the long-term and reduce everyone's standard of living (for example, when the population votes for parties whose policies lead to individual freedom in the short term but collective suffering via environmental decay, financial crisis, war and poverty in the long term), are we witnessing a failure of democracy to do what it is supposed to do (i.e. create the fairest possible society), or are we witnessing democracy doing exactly what it is supposed to do (i.e. let everyone have a fair say in the decision-making process)?

Both extreme views seem patently implausible: we should not be indifferent either to the procedure of political decision-making (e.g., to the disenfranchisement of women and African-Americans) nor to the outcome (e.g., collective suffering via environmental decay, financial crisis, war and poverty). So in specifying, institutionally embodying and adjusting democratic procedures we should be guided by both: the concern to enable citizens fully to participate in political deliberation and decision-making and the concern to achieve just and otherwise morally good outcomes. This requires some balancing, a willingness to compromise one or both of these concerns for the sake of better realizing the other. Different political philosophies will differ in how they formulate and balance these two concerns. But I don't think any democratic theorists are dismissing one of these concerns entirely.

Where should we draw the line between conduct that is required and conduct that is good although not required? If we have the means to alleviate poverty for example (knowing how serious poverty an issue is), and we did not help alleviate it (or at least the help we gave them was not sufficient enough), should we feel guilty?

While some conduct is clearly morally required and some other conduct is clearly morally good but not required, I don't think there is a line separating the two kinds of conduct. If there were such a line, then there would be -- given all the relevant empirical facts about poverty in the world today and all the relevant empirical facts about your situation -- some precise amount that you would be required to contribute to poverty alleviation. I don't think there is such a precise amount, though it may be helpful to have some reasonably precise guidelines of the sort Peter Singer has proposed (in "What Should a Billionaire Give -- and What Should You?"). There's a grey zone, much like there is about baldness and heaps. Of course poverty is a horrible thing. Out of seven billion, over one billion human beings are so poor that they are chronically undernourished, more than ever before. Right now in East Africa people are dying by the thousands from famine. Of course we are required to act in the face...

Is it possible to imagine a color you've never seen before? --Noah L., age 10

It would not be right to raise a child in a very controlled environment where she is cut off from all that wonderful, colorful nature you get to experience every day. But we can think about such a child. So let's do this. Suppose this child is raised in such a very controlled environment where she can ever see only six basic colors: blue, white, black, red, yellow and violet. I think we would be able to explain to this child -- in fact, to any child -- that the color violet lies between red and blue, is really a mixture of red and blue. And I think we could then go farther and say that red and blue can also be mixed in different proportions, so that the mixture contains less blue and more red. In this way, I think we can get the child to imagine the color purple. So the answer to your question is yes, it is possible. But it is possible only in those cases where the child knows colors that are close enough. You probably know from your experience in drawing that you can mix yellow, red and black to...

Over at TED.com, a website where videos are posted of speakers discussing things from consciousness and virtual reality to comedy and architecture, there are often talks dealing with issues such as hunger, AIDS, and poverty. Shockingly, to me, many people who post comments on these videos strongly oppose measures helping those suffering based on the fact that "there are already far too many people on this planet." Helping those who are currently dying or otherwise suffering, the logic goes, increases the ecological and economical burden on the world by letting more people live longer and healthier lives, which, they seem to think, will ultimately worsen conditions for everyone via lack of resources. So my question is this. Assume it is true that there are too many people on this planet (a debatable fact that depends on what metrics one uses). Is it then ethical to let millions die because helping them would further increase the ecological burden humanity places on the planet?

I let others answer the hypothetical. The key point to stress in response to such comments is that the assumption on which they are based is empirically false (see my answer to question 2459 at www.askphilosophers.org/question/2459 ). We are fortunate that the moral imperative to eradicate the massive incidence of hunger, severe poverty and trivial diseases is in harmony with the moral imperative to bequeath a sustainable world, with a sustainable human population, to future generations. It is very unfortunate that this fact is not widely known. It should be stressed in any discussion of your hypothetical: a morally attractive and highly cost-effective way of slowing human population growth is to fight hunger, severe poverty and trivial diseases and to promote education, especiaally for girls and women.

Has a person been wronged if they are cloned without their consent? Presume that the cloning process is non-invasive; a scientist simply picks up stray hair you left behind, and then makes a clone of you. Does that violate your rights? Do we have a copyright on our DNA?

This question is at the extreme end of a cloud of questions. The person who picked up your stray hair might use your entire genetic information (cloning) or any subset thereof. I don't think there is a general moral answer here about where to draw the line. There are some clues to a moral answer about how the line should be drawn in the law. Obviously, the less of your genetic information is copied, the less of a legitimate interest you have in preventing the copying. If they just copied the bit that controls hair color (I know, this isn't quite the way it works, but let me simplify a bit), then it is hard to see how you would become worse off by the fact that there is someone somewhere 20 years younger than you who has the same hair color. In cases where more substantial chunks or your genetic information are copied, you may well become worse off -- for example, because your talents, looks, or basic personality traits become less unique. In these cases, the more copies are produced, the...

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