Would it be ethical for a doctor to change his last name to a Jewish sounding name in order to attract more patients?

A doctor who changes his last name to a Jewish sounding name in order to attract more patients is taking advantage of stereotypes about Jews and doctors in order to be more successful. This tends to reinforces the stereotype (unless this doctor is obviously a terrible doctor). And it thereby increases any prejudice against non-Jewish doctors. This is one reason why the change of name is, in my opinion, unethical. It is also unethical because it is deliberately deceptive (even though it does not involve the explicit telling of a lie). Physicians are held to high standards of truth telling because they are in positions of trust.

I'm sure that, for almost any position I take on a controversial political issue, there is an expert out there who has investigated it more than I have and, as a result, rejected my position -- or who *would* reject my position *if* they investigated it more thoroughly. (Take, for example, the question of whether Obamacare is good public policy.) This humbles me and makes it difficult for me to be fully confident in my conclusions and work up the motivation to fight for what seems like the right thing. More generally, careful reflection on how I could be wrong often removes or severely diminishes the passion I might have originally felt about a political issue. My reflection breeds a sort of apathy. Is that inappropriate? How do philosophers who passionately fight for political causes deal with the uncertainty that they could be wrong, or with the fact that there is (or could be) someone out there who is more of an expert *and* has the opposite view?

The quick answer to your question is that most people have more self-confidence--even arrogance--than you seem to have about their opinions, especially if they are "experts." So, they might be wrong, but they don't worry about it like you do (as my husband the surgeon says about surgeons "sometimes wrong but never in doubt"). A more thoughtful answer to your question, which draws on epistemological ideas, is that so-called experts--just as non-experts--are susceptible to various kinds of bias, such as confirmation bias (evidence for one's position is weighed more heavily than evidence against) and salience bias (one's personal experiences are weighed more heavily than the experiences one has merely heard about). And so-called non-experts can in fact be more knowledgeable than so-called experts about their own experiences of e.g. what it feels like to be poor. So, you shouldn't defer to the experts, although you can sometimes learn from them. There is now a philosophical literature on "peer...

Is it possible to make scientific observations through armchair philosophy while bypassing the scientific method? For example, a caveman with a powerful brain might have been able to hypothesize and describe in detail what radio is despite not a single radio message even being sent until tens of thousands of years later. Wasn't that caveman right anyway that radio does exist even though he had no way to prove it? Isn't much of metaphysics like this too?

It is possible to dream up hypotheses in an armchair. But our imagination is limited (especially if we spend too much time in an armchair!) and of course we can't gather evidence for or against a hypothesis without doing some observation or experimentation. We might even dream up a correct hypothesis--but its correctness would be a matter of luck, and we could not know whether or not it was correct. So, the Greek philosopher Democritus, for example, was correct in thinking that there were atoms, but he just got lucky (he had no idea of the size of atoms or the nature of atoms and did not make any telling observations). Those who do metaphysics often claim that they are doing something different from science, such as exploring reason, or analysis of concepts, such that an armchair is the best place to do it. Some philosophers (e.g. W.V. Quine) think that all knowledge needs to be empirically engaged, and they reject metaphysics that is uninformed by observation or experiment.

What is value of knowledge?

Knowledge may be valuable in itself i.e. for its own sake. When you ask "What is the value of knowledge?" you may be asking what else is it valuable for. There is hardly any human activity that is not aided by relevant knowledge. Medicine and technology are the result of applying scientific knowledge to a vast range of human needs.

How would you respond to the following argument against tolerating gay athletes on sports teams. The problem with gay athletes is that they may be attracted to their teammates. Even if a particular athlete is not attracted to his teammates, or does not act on his attraction, the mere possibility of such an attraction is enough to create a distressing environment. Heterosexual players may reasonably feel uncomfortable undressing and showering in the presence of someone that might view them with sexual interest. To put this another way: gay athletes should be kept out of locker rooms for just the same reason that we do not allow men to be present in women's locker rooms. What matters is not that we separate different sexes, but rather that we separate groups that are liable to sexually objectify each other.

This argument seems to be one against tolerating gay athletes in locker rooms (not on sports teams). And if the argument is correct, we'd need a lot of locker rooms....two for avowed heterosexuals (with some cutoff for bisexual attraction) and one each for everyone else! I think it is far more comfortable and respectful for us to simply tolerate any discomfort one might feel undressing and showering in front of someone who might view them with sexual interest. Or perhaps those who experience the discomfort can have their own private locker rooms. In any case, the reasons for having separate sex locker rooms is not (merely?) to separate groups that are likely to be sexually attracted to one another; it may be in part because of fears of rape (sexual violence). People don't get as upset about women being in men's locker rooms as they do about men being in women's locker rooms. Students who live in dorms with co-ed bathrooms manage their various sexual attractions just fine.

In roles where individuals have a lot of responsibility (e.g. the direct protection of others) how can the idea of a 'learning curve' be tolerated? It seems to me that there are always situations in which people, like doctors or soldiers, must make judgement calls, but if such decisions - though rational and educated - don't achieve the desired outcome (e.g a patient dies, a fellow soldier is put in harm's way), how can the decision makers tolerate having made them? Are there certain roles (like being an emergency room doctor or president) in which the individual filling that role has to accept that despite their best efforts they are very likely to cause others harm or to contribute to it? Is that a risk that just goes with the job?

This is a timely question, since medical residencies typically begin on July 1, so we will soon have some new MDs starting the learning curve! If we don't permit the inexperienced to treat patients we will not be able to train the next generation. To keep saving lives, then, we will have to tolerate some harm. Computer and other kinds of simulation used for training purposes can avoid some of this harm. Patients keep going to training hospitals, presumably because the learning curve harm is compensated for by the skilled supervision that residents get from attending physicians. But yes, physicians in training (and even those already qualified) do have to accept that they will cause some harm. A classic book to read about this is Charles Bosk's Forgive and Remember .

How would a philosopher of math describe what happened when ancient mathematicians discovered (?) the number zero?

Ancient mathematicians (Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek) did not in fact discover the number zero. The discovery is thought to have been in India, which was the first place to treat zero like any other number (rather than as a placeholder), sometime between the 6th and the 10th century CE. It is thought that this advance required abstract thinking that was perhaps facilitated by Indian Philosophy. The discovery spread to the West through Arabic mathematics.

Why Nature selected only 2 genders through evolution, why not 3, 4 or any other number?

There are species with only female gender (parthenogenetic species such as some lizards), and species with three or more genders (some bacteria, insects and fish). An interesting and accessible book that explores gender and evolution is Evolution's Rainbow by Joan Roughgarden.

Is the claim that all scientists believe in man made global warming and thus so should you an illegitimate appeal to authority?

It is certainly an appeal to authority to argue that you should believe in anthropogenic global warming because all (or most) scientists do! Of course, the question is, why are scientists in (almost complete) agreement? It might be because the evidence is overwhelming, but it also could be for other reasons such as peer pressure, politics, intimidation etc. So the important issue is WHY the scientists agree and, to figure this out, you need to dig more deeply into the science and the politics. You might say (if you were generally trusting of scientists)--it is a legitimate appeal to authority, but authority is fallible.

Feminists often allege that their is something especially sexist about departments of academic philosophy? What would you day about this charge? One criticism of philisophy is that it doesn't allow any consideration of the subjective aspects of existence which are essential to feminist theorizing. They argue that philosophy as it is practiced excludes any possibility of addressing important questions of identity. An overly narrow concept of objectivity leads to erasure and marginalization of aspects of experience and this narrowing reflects the privilige of an overwhelmingly white male profession. What are your thoughts on that?

There are two issues here: whether or not philosophy departments are sexist, and whether or not philosophers devalue "subjective" reasoning. You seem to be more concerned about the second issue, so I will address that. It is true that many philosophers (male, female and trans, sexist and non-sexist), especially those of an analytic bent, are devoted to a general and abstract conception of objectivity. Such philosophers are usually willing to acknowledge that experience is particular/subjective, and that different people have different experiences. There is a good deal of room in their positions to acknowledge different social identities. It is true that some feminist philosophers, such as Sandra Harding, critique general and abstract conceptions of objectivity, claiming that they are supported by an underlying white male middle class partiality. Some non-feminist philosophers (especially in Continental and pragmatic philosophy) also reject general and abstract conceptions of objectivity.