Do you think it is ethical to have romantic desires for people with good looks? I know the obvious (pop culture) answer is yes. One may even assert further that it is natural to do so. However, my point then is that some desires, albeit natural, are unethical. (If I don't have money on me and I am hungry, I may feel the urge to steal some food.) And even though most people may feel that it is okay, the general public may be very often wrong. My reasoning is: (1) We should evaluate people only on their choices and not on conditions they haven't achieved by making choices. (2) People don't choose to look good or bad. Conclusion: Therefore, it is unethical to grant people ANY advantage based on their looks. A friend of mine, against this argument, tells me that for instance, a mathematician has not chosen to be born with her talent, so we shouldn't also value her mathematical works. This seems like an inextricable tangle! Thanks.

The question begins: "Do you think it is ethical to have romantic desires for people with good looks?" The questioner then constructs a syllogism that concludes: "it is unethical to grant people ANY advantage based on their looks." Perhaps this particular conclusion is right, i.e., the syllogism is both valid and sound. However, that doesn't get us very far in answering the original question at the very top, for we would still have to add the premise/assumption: "my having romantic desires for a physically attractive person grants an advantage to that person." That is very doubtful! (Except for the megalomaniac.) By the way, I cover this territory in depth in my Sexual Investigations (Yale, 1996), chapter 5, "Beauty."

Why are all people sometimes mean? Robert (12 years old)

My daughter Rachel, who is now 12, used to watch the Rugrats--she was, maybe, 6 at the time. Often she asked me, "Daddy, why is Angelica so mean?" All I could muster, back then, was something about how difficult a question that was to answer. But we went back to the question as she got older. I began with the distinction between reasons and causes, and suggested to her that we could ask "why?" in two different senses. Eventually I blamed Angelica's parents: a wimpy dad who gave her everything she asked for; a superaggressive, selfish, self-absorbed, absent mother. (I can hear Ray's mother, Marie Romano, exclaiming: "It's always the mother!") The genesis of evil (and of good) is a question philosophers and other scholars have grappled with for a very long time, going back at least to Socrates and Plato. Angelica has her share of Original Sin. Blame Eve. Due to Natural Selection, humans are by nature egoists--the selfish gene writ large. Bad people are really only ignorant; if they knew more, or knew...

Why is stupidity not painful?

Why is stupidity not painful? Huh? It is painful. Every time I do something stupid, I feel the searing pain, I wince like a dog hit by a car. Really. This is supposed to help me not do stupid things, like putting my hand in the flame. Doesn't work much, does it? We continue to do stupid things and feel the pain. So much the worse for both Intelligent Design and Natural Selection.

Is tiredness an emotion, and if not, why not?

I'm too exhausted to answer this one. (Anyone have more energy?) I am angry at myself because I'm too exhausted to answer it; I feel remorse over being too exhausted to answer it; and I even fear that some will criticize me for not really being too exhausted to answer it but for being lazy, or a wiseacre, or both. In a Doonesbury strip years ago (see a footnote in Patricia Greenspan's book on the emotions for a slightly different version), a football team, the offense, is in a huddle, arguing over the meaning of "emotion" and its extension (or the things that count as emotions). "Horniness!" opines the fullback. "Horniness is NOT an emotion, you dummy," retorts the quarterback. So, is being tired more like being horny or more like being angry that I haven't answered the question?

There is nothing quite like a swift kick to the fanny to get one energized. I thank Professor Gentzler for arousing me from my stupor. All I did last night, of course, was to suggest that tiredness was not an emotion because it didn't look much like standard emotions such as anger, remorse, and fear. I did not explain the difference. But Professor Gentzler is too modest about her own contribution to this thread, and exaggerates my ability to improve its quality. What she taught us about Plato is superb, while I merely dabble in the theory of the emotions. Nonetheless, here goes. (Maybe another panelist can help by telling us something about the Solomon-Schachter experiments.) On a currently popular model of emotion (see Daniel Farrell and O. Harvey Green, for starters), emotions are composed of three elements: a belief (the cognitive feature), a desire (the conative), and a feeling (the affective). I believe that the animal is a hyena and that it is about to strike; I desire not to have my...