Some theories of behavior seem to rely on the idea that we are unaware of what we are doing, and that much of our behavior is programmed or conditionned into us by "our culture" without us actually being aware of this happening. To what extents are such accounts credible? A theory that tells me that the *real* reason I eat meat is because I am expressing my belief in human supremacy and dominance over animals I consider inferior doesn't seem at all credible to me, and yet if that theory also says that I just *think* I'm eating meat because it's tasty and (in some circumstances) healthy - presumably because my human supremacist culture indoctrinates me into believing this - how can I know that the theory isn't right? To what extent can a person trust their own introspection?

This may not be much help but I would say "to some extent." There can be no doubt that judgments based on introspection are sometimes wrong. I have often had the experience of thinking that I did something with one motivation only to realize later that there was another at work as well. Also, our introspective judgments are often self serving. We need to approach them with a degree of skepticism. The veracity of our inner soundings also depends on the concepts that we are looking at ourselves through. It makes all the difference in the world whether I examione myself through a Freudian, Marxist, or purely phsycalistic lens. Whether looking out or rolling our eyes balls in looking in - what we see is deeply impacted by the ideas that we are peering through.

I believe we do something unethical by leading children to believe in a grossly simplified version of the world where right and wrong actions are clearly marked, and good and bad people similarly so. We tell them nothing of good intentions leading to evil actions through stupidity, the every day small compromises to our integrity and the submission to authority that people make every day at their jobs, etc. Do you agree that there is something unethical in this, and if so, are there any forums out there where this is voiced? Any books to recommend? Any remedy available?

I don't know that I would come down with the same moral judgment that you do but I strongly agree that we do not do enough to prepare people for the ambiguities in life. And you are on the mark with your small compromises. One of the greatest impediments to the moral life is our "ability" to pull the wool over our own eyes- to deceive ourselves - and we do little to address this issue in our ethics education. Thanks for your astute observation - formulated, of course, as a question

Considering that the primary drive which motivates human behaviour is the ubiquitous drive to reproduce; does happiness to a significant extent depend upon how physically attractive you are? From personal experience it seems like this is indeed the case; but how can we make sense of a world in which the ultimate goal of life (happiness) can be dependent upon such a superficial thing as physical attractiveness?

I'm not sure that the goal of procreation trumps all others for human beings, so I can't accept your premise here. But I'm afraid that the world is in fact such that there are certain things that are beyond our powers that have an enormous impact on our "quality of life." I understand that it grinds against our need to feel in control, but I think a person who lives in abject poverty and can do next to nothing to help his or her family and friends, is more poorly positioned to lead a full life, than someone born in better circumstances. And if having friends is an important element of a good life, and I think it is , then being good looking is probably an asset. Of course, a person who relied on this quality too much might not develop sufficient depth to develop powerful relations but that is another issue.

I am at that age when people try to postpone adulthood (or what is generally conceived as such). This is a time when, if one comes from a developed country, has a lot of money or is educated enough, one has many opportunities to define one’s life. I am from a poor country that suffers from chronic lack of security, spurts of hideous violence and many structural problems, but am educated enough (proof being that I can formulate this question in English, not my mother tongue) to have many opportunities when it comes to my personal/professional development. Among these different opportunities is whether or not I want to reside, and thus work, in my country of origin. Moving away would definitely lead to a richer, easier – though not necessarily happier- life, I am quite sure of it. The problem is I feel an ethical duty to work and live in and for my country. I feel that if every educated person leaves my country, we will be doing a disservice to the place where we and our loved ones are from. Brain drain...

You are right, you did not choose to be born where you were born. You say that there is nothing essential about being from a place. I'm not sure. Maybe I am premodern but I have the sense, and I know that this is pretty gauzy, that there is more of a connection between place and spirit than the constantly moving and job searching Americans believe. But the only case I could make that that you have a special duty to the place that you grew up in would be along the lines that Socrates thought of Athens - that is, as a parent that nurtured him. It also sounds as though you are not thinking simply of a piece of earth - you loved ones are there too. In that sense, you could I suppose think along Socratic lines. But that is as far as I can go. This is a very difficult choice and I can't think of any formula for resolving that will remove the anguish.

Should we teach philosophy to younger children? Would it help them in anyway, or would it be harmful in later life?

Children are natural philosophers in that they are naturally filled with wonder. And very early on in life, they have all kinds of pressing issues about justice. In that sense, I don't think it could hurt to talk with them about philosophy. It depends on where the child is calling from, where he or she is at. But it seems to me that some people (often philosophers) imagine that if we just got them going a little earlier on the likes of Plato and Aristotle they would be better, more moral people. I don't see any reason for believing that - which, is to sigh, that I'm not as confident as some in the power of philosophy to convey wisdom. As Nietzsche was well aware, for some folks it just feeds into an unhealthy kind of obsessiveness and a need to be in control.

Is it moral to use brain-enhancing drugs that have no negative consequences?

A well known neuro-pharmacologist once explained that there are no free rides with drugs-- no brain enhancing drugs that don't have serious negative consequences but if there were I can't imagine what would be morally wrong with using them. Suppose, for instance, that these positive effects followed from eating a certain type of vegetable - would it be wrong to eat the plant? I don't believe so. Now, inasmuch as we often compete on the basis of mental performance, it would be nice to think that everyone had access to this drug. Suppose, for instance, that only millionaires could afford it. Would it be wrong to take it then? Maybe so. But the rich already enjoy vast advantages in the foot race of life, so I don't know that this would be any different. It would just add to the inequalities that we already live with in our society.

Perhaps someone will be able to settle this argument between me and my friend once and for all. Whenever I whine about some unfortunate happening or circumstance in my life, my friend will remind me that I'm better off than, say, poor starving children in Ethiopia. However, I think this is a faulty apples vs. oranges comparison. If I were to compare myself to others, shouldn't I compare myself among those who are in similar circumstances? That is, if I were to draw valid comparisons between myself and others, wouldn't it make more sense to compare across socioeconomic strata, rather than to compare myself to someone who is clearly more unfortunate or more successful simply because they were born in extraordinary circumstances different from my own? (Essentially, what my friend is trying to tell me is to not take things for granted. But I find that to be empty advice, especially since I don't think that it's a valid comparison and therefore not a valid argument.) Thanks for your time! --MJ

I think you are right to take issue with your friend. On his or her account, the only person in the world who can legitimately complain is the person who is worst off in the world. Of course, we should be grateful for many things in life - but life is also filled with a great deal of sadness and pain - and we would be better off if we could share our pain and sorrow together rather than to have to listen to the blather that "it could be worse." And it will be worse someday. The fifth acts is almost always bloody and degrading.

Seeing the devout passion of sports fans I've often wondered if sports today are a substitute for war. People root for their hometown team and despise people from other towns because of their sport teams. This also isn't just an American thing and it seems as if this is the case all around the world. Since most people in non-third world countries at least are not constantly at war and fighting traditional country against country wars I've wondered this. My question is this: do we use sports as a substitute for war?

It depends what you mean by "substitute." If by that you mean function symbolically than yes, I think sports can work as a substitute for war. Just consider some of the lingo in football. The long pass is the bomb and we talk of an offense as having a lot of weapons and of the qb as a general. I suppose that sports might also be considered as a way of sublimating aggressions and reinforcing communal bonds. For instance, when I lived in central Florida many people who seemed to share very little else in common, thought of themselves as "Gators" and could always relate to each other along those lines. And they got hyped up for certain games as though it were a kind of symbolic war. In thinking about the uses of sport, we should also consider that famous soccer game that took place between enemies during a cease fire. The men played together, embraced, shared food etc and the next day went back to bayoneting one another.

I recently had a discussion about racial pride. It is my belief that circumstances of birth are random and just as they should not be a source of shame, cannot be claimed as a source of pride. One has nothing to do with being born Irish, therefore how can they claim this as a source of pride? We all sneer at white supremacists for claiming a sense of pride in their race, yet people all over are doing essentially the same thing. Pride implies achievement. You did not achieve anything in being born, it's just something that happened to you. I was born in America, I didn't do anything to be born here, so I can only claim that I'm proud to be an American so far as I haven't chosen to move elsewhere. I think you all get the idea here. Everyone loves to say they're proud of their ethnicity or heritage, but is this logically correct? I would say no.

By the same token one shouldn't be proud of say one'smother if she discovered a cure for cancer. It also depends upon what you mean by pride. A warm, postive feeling about the connection. I don't see any problem with that. I don't think our emotions follow the dictates of reason. There are all sorts of feelings that we have that would not seem to be "justified."That is the way that we are put together. Some philosophers seem to imagine that we can talk/ reason ourselves out of such feelings. For the most part, i don't think so.

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