For what reason should beliefs of others be honored or respected? That is to say, if something I say makes another uncomfortable because of their belief, what reason do I have to not say it? I have heard many times people say, "Don't say that, it will insult people because of their beliefs." Given this reason, if there were a person who was deeply insulted by the word "is" in any conjugation I would have to really tip toe around any speech! I suppose I am talking mostly about religious/superstitious belief. There doesn't seem to be any reason to respect beliefs in this regard when the belief may or may not be true. My second question: Did I just answer my own question?

Do people's beliefs deserve our respect? I'm not sure what this would mean. I think that often what people who offer this sort of advice mean is that one should be respectful to other people whose beliefs are different from one's own. But I don't think that a respectful attitude toward others requires us to pretend that we don't disagree or to refrain from saying anything that might lead them to question their beliefs. It's true that I can disrespectfully disagree. I can be condescending, abrasive, ordismissive. But equally, I think, I could disrespectfully agree (or at least not voice my disagreement). I might think that the other person is so irrational that neither of us could profit from a discussion of the basis for our disagreement.

Is it philosophically defensible, or morally right, to inculcate your child to an organized religion when you yourself do not firmly believe in it? Along the same line, is there anything wrong about avoiding religious topics with your child with the intent that the child will choose her own set of beliefs when she becomes more mature?

I’ve long been a non-believer, but I remember that when my firstdaughter was born, I too began to worry about the sorts of questionsthat are raised here. It’s one thing for me to be a non-believer— can’treally help that, since the only thing that can give me a reason tobelieve in God would be evidence that suggests the existence of a God–but it’s a separate matter whether I should try to inculcate a beliefin God in my daughter. After all, I reasoned (in a panicky sort of way–overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the responsibility that I hadjust taken on), I could be wrong, I’ve been wrong before, and if othersare right in their belief that the existence of God is necessary foreternal bliss and non-belief in God is sufficient for eternaldamnation, then perhaps itwould be morally wrong for me to take a chance and doom my child toeternal damnation. I got over this worry pretty quickly, but now thatI’ve just rehearsed it again, I’m beginning to panic again. What in theworld is wrong with that reasoning? ...

What are the moral responsibilities of a very intelligent person to the general public? Should they be held to the same standard of behavior as their less fortunate peers?

A widely accepted dictum in ethics is that “ought” implies “can”.Philosophers disagree about what exactly this means– but I think thatthe kernel of truth in this idea is that we can’t hold someone morallyresponsible for doing things that he or she couldn’t have not done.One's abilities in some sense set the limit of one's obligations. Presumably, it’sin virtue of their possession of certain abilities that other people lack that some people aredescribed as “very intelligent.” But it’s not clear to me that one ofthese abilities is necessarily the ability to act morally. For myreasons for doubt, go here .

Suppose that I'm working on a medical treatment for a project with no known cure or even treatment. My subjects report that they feel much better after receiving the treatment, but subsequent study shows that the treatment is, in fact, ineffective and all that I'm seeing is the placebo effect. Can I ethically tell them the truth and thereby make them feel worse subjectively? Would that violate the "do no harm" principle of medical ethics?

The injunction “Do no harm” is hard to follow unless one knows whatcounts as harm, and there is no clear consensus about this issue. Itdoes seem that by making a person feel worse, I am harming her. Feelingbad is in itself a bad thing, and it might also lead to other badthings. If I feel bad, then I may not be able to do other things that Iwould otherwise enjoy, things that I might believe have value inthemselves. At the same time, it seems that I could be harmed if I amprevented from learning the truth about my situation. If I have falsebeliefs, I might make choices that I would otherwise not make, choicesthat lead me to feeling worse than I would otherwise have felt. Could Ibe harmed by being led to believe something false about myself even ifthis false belief never leads to any decrease of good feelings or anyincrease in feelings of pain, dissatisfaction, or discontent? Let’simagine that I believe about myself that I am widely admired and deeplyloved by my friends and family and that this belief...

I believe in allowing other people to live out their respective journeys in life - this requires a lot of tolerance sometimes. How does one reconcile respecting another person's journey with the great harm the person can do in the community by their actions? A right-wing zealot with his/her black-and-white world view versus a left-wing person whose view on life comes with a much more complex color-shaded world view. It is the right winger, that threatens the community with his/her worship of free-market capitalism (which really isn't so free-market), their dependence on lying and twisting the facts to fit their narrow view of the world (they just do it a lot more than liberals), and imposing their heretic version of Christianity on the rest of us. How does one respond ethically to counter the right-wing influence in this country yet respect this person's journey of self-discovery and their contribution (eventual perhaps?) to the community?

When you say that you “believe in allowing other people to live outtheir respective journeys in life,” do you make no exceptions? Do youthink that it’s a good idea to let anyone do anything that he or shesees fit? Liberals who are committed to tolerance often draw the lineat actions that threaten great harm to others. After all, even liberalsare committed to laws against murder, fraud, maiming, and the like, andmost don’t worry that their endorsement of such laws reveals a morallyobjectionable intolerance of people who are committed to different lifeplans from their own. Your question raises interesting questionsabout when and why tolerance is a good thing. I think that many peopleare committed to tolerance because they believe that tolerance is theonly attitude that is respectful of other people. But if a respectfulattitude toward others is what people who are tolerant are attemptingto achieve through their tolerance, then their commitment to tolerancecannot be absolute (i.e., exceptionless)....