Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Can Parenthood Be A Rational Choice?

I just read "What Mary can't expect when she's expecting," by L.A. Paul.  H/T to Brian Leiter, who says Paul's analysis is "smart" and "rings true."  I beg to differ.  I don't think Paul makes a convincing, or even valid, case for her conclusion. (See my more recent post, here, for a more focused, semi-formal discussion of why Paul's argument might be invalid.)

The paper is a philosophical analysis of whether or not the decision to have children is rational.  According to Paul, it isn't--at least, not as the decision is commonly made.

In Paul's model, for a choice to be rational, it must involve the evaluation of consequences in a logical space of limited, well-defined possibilities.  For the matter in question, Paul is only considering the consequences for the parents-to-be:  If the decision to have children is a rational one, says Paul, then it is based on a cost-benefit analysis in terms of the consequences for the people making the decision.

This leads to my first objection:  Isn't it common to take the well-being of other people into consideration?  At least some parents consider other people, and not just themselves, when deciding whether or not to have children.  For example, having children does not just make you a parent; it also makes your parents grandparents.  It also brings new people into the world, thereby potentially increasing the overall level of happiness in the world.  Why does Paul ignore these aspects of the decision-making process?

Paul limits the analysis in another curious way:  The relevant consequences are limited to the phenomenal character of the experience of having children.  Paul claims that the standard approach to deciding whether or not one is to become a parent is, first and foremost, to make assumptions about the phenomenal qualities uniquely associated with parenthood.  Appealing to Frank Jackson's knowledge argument, Paul then argues that those unique phenomenal qualities cannot be known beforehand, and so those assumptions cannot be reliable.  Parents-to-be are thus deluding themselves if they think they have any idea of what it will be like for them to be parents.  And if their decision is based on a delusion, it cannot be rational.

I'm sure a good many mothers and fathers will agree that having children is a transformative experience.  However, it's not clear that parenthood has unique phenomenal properties.  It might for some people, but not for others.  Furthermore, when people make the decision to have children, they might talk about "what it will be like," but it's not obvious that they are referring to phenomenal qualities.  They could be talking about other things, like how difficult life will be, how their work and social lives will be affected, how their health and well-being will be affected, and so on.  These are the common issues that are discussed by parents-to-be, and they are not what philosophers of mind mean by the phrase "what it is like."  Therefore, I don't think Paul has keyed in on how people generally approach parenthood.

In any case, it's unfortunate that Paul does not recognize any of the well-known objections to Jackson's knowledge argument.  Frank Jackson has changed his own mind about it, and philosophers widely disagree about what conclusions, if any, can be drawn from it.  Still, for those who are sympathetic to Paul's extreme claim, they might not need more reason to believe it:  It might just seem obvious to some people that you cannot rationally evaluate what it is like to have children unless you have had children.  In that case, it might seem logical to conclude that you cannot rationally decide to have children in the first place--if your decision only takes into consideration what it is like to have children, of course.

Perhaps parenting has some absolutely unique phenomenal character.  I grant that there is strong evidence that it is a psychologically transformative experience.  But there are sharable accounts of those transformations and these can rationally be considered.  All Paul has motivated is the claim that a deliberation about whether or not to have children may not include all of the relevant information that one might like to have at their disposal.  That is a far cry from what Paul actually claims to have shown:  that the decision itself is completely irrational.

I think most people will agree that, while they might not have been able to predict everything about what parenthood is like, their decision was not completely uninformed.  Parents-to-be live in a world full of parents and therefore gain information from parents about how being a parent affects their lives.  Paul does not say this kind of information is irrelevant.  In fact, she appeals to scientific studies of how parenthood affects well-being, arguing that many parents-to-be make assumptions which are challenged by those studies.  (Footnote:  Paul makes this topic appear less controversial than it is.  A recent study, "In Defense Of Parenting," offers a different perspective on the issue.)

The fact that Paul recognizes the relevance of scientific studies makes her appeal to the knowledge argument inconsistent.  If the knowledge argument is valid and applicable to parenthood, then nothing anybody says could be relevant to one's understanding of what it is like to be a parent.  Yet, Paul accepts reports and studies which inform non-parents about the relevant psychological character of parents.  If parents-to-be can be informed about the relevant costs and benefits of parenthood, then Paul's argument falls apart.

Paul tries to overcome this problem as follows:

If a person were to make a choice whether or not to have a child based solely on the objective chance of being in a “good” class, making one’s choice this way strikes us as deeply wrong. Imagine Anne, who has never wanted children, deciding to have a child simply because she knows the objective distribution of the members of our four classes. To choose this way is bizarre.  So even if we know the relative sizes of our four classes, we find ourselves in a dilemma: make the choice rationally, based only on the objective chance of ending up in a class of value-maximizers, and ignoring what you personally think about whether you want to have a child, or do not make the choice rationally, instead taking into account your own beliefs and projections about the character of your future phenomenal states.
The idea is that we can either objectively evaluate our chances of ending up happy with our parenting decision or not, but (says Paul) if we approach it that way, we must ignore our personal beliefs and desires.  Conversely, if we go by our personal beliefs and desires, we must ignore our objective chances of ending up happy with our decision.  Neither option is appealing to Paul.

This is a false dilemma.  It's not that we can either try to maximize happiness or think about our personal desires.  People can think about how to maximize happiness while taking their personal needs and desires into account.    People grow up and enter adulthood learning all sorts of facts about parenthood and facts about themselves, and they consider both sorts when making the decision whether or not to have children.  So I don't see Paul squarely addressing the situation.

Even if you disagree with me so far, there's another reason to doubt Paul's conclusion.  Remember Socrates, who drank the hemlock instead of choosing exile?  Socrates reasoned that death, as an unknown, might be better than exile, which is known to be terrible.  Similarly, a parent-to-be might reason that parenthood, while an unknown quantity, might be better than a life without children.  I suspect a number of parents-to-be might think this way:  They might (based on their phenomenal experience of life without children, or other facts) judge that a life without children would be so terrible that the risk of having children is rationally justified.  They are not under the delusion that they know more than they do.  They take the risk, believing that they would forever regret not taking it.  That looks like a rational decision to me, and plausibly reflects the way a lot of people think about the issue.

Check out these follow up posts:


(I made some substantive changes to this post at 10:10 pm GMT, February 24, 2013.)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A More Measured Gun Proposal

In my last post on the topic, I presented a radical position on gun control: We should get rid of all the guns.  The term "gun" is broad enough to make my position open to absurd readings.  Staple guns, for example, should obviously not be outlawed.  But we should, on my view, at the very least, aim to remove all handguns and assault rifles from the world.  While that is the most justifiable long-term goal I can see, it is not a practical short-term goal.  I think it's therefore important to explain my views on some of the more justifiable uses of guns--guns of the self-defensive variety, of course.

There's a good argument to be made for an armed forces.  Governments, by definition, have a monopoly on certain forms of violence.  I can see a lot of justification for keeping guns in the hands of the state, but not in the hands of private citizens.  Sure, this means the people will not have the firepower required to resist state tyranny, but handguns and assault rifles aren't enough for that nowadays, anyway.  Few, if any, in the gun debate advocate a populace as equally armed as the world's superpowers.  So why not let the police and military have guns, and make private ownership illegal?

On the other hand, I could see justification for the creation of a new class of civil servant:  private citizens who are licensed to carry and use government weapons--not for self-defense, but as a voluntary arm of the law.  Some people would thus be able to have guns without working for the state, but the guns would be owned by the state and regulated by the state.  The ownership would be based on proven capacity to uphold certain duties, as pertaining to the position of a voluntary civil servant.

Other than that, I think some guns could be justifiable for farmers, hunters and other people who sometimes have to kill livestock for their jobs.  The regulations on these guns should be similar to regulations for other dangerous, work-related machinery.

I'm open to discussion, but at the moment I don't think other private uses for guns are worth the risk.

Blog Etiquette: Cosmetic Editing

This is a confession and a disclaimer.  I have a bad blogging habit.  I secretly edit my blog posts after I've already posted them.

These edits are never substantive.  I do, on rare occasion, make substantive changes to my arguments, but not without explicitly signalling the fact.  However, I often make important cosmetic changes within 24 to 48 hours after I post, and I usually don't make it known.  I change paragraph structure and phrasing, remove ambiguities, add clarification, etc.  For example, my last post, A Closer Look At Sam Harris On Guns, is not the same as when I first posted it a couple days ago.  It's a much better read now.  If you reread it, you certainly won't notice all of the changes, but you might notice some.  You should at least notice that I added a music video.

I wonder how common this practice is, and how it is commonly received.  I think, if there are no substantive additions or subtractions, then there's no big deal.  On the other hand, I can understand if some people find it irresponsible or off-putting.  I'm not so happy about doing it, but I think it comes with the blogging territory.  Blog posts are informal enough that I don't want to spend a lot of time thoroughly editing a post before I post it, but I take my ideas seriously enough that I want them to look as good as possible.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Closer Look At Sam Harris On Guns

Like most people, I have strong feelings about guns.  I have strongly negative feelings about guns.  I'm not convinced we could create a world without them, but I see no reason not to try, as XTC says, to melt the guns.



Of course, a world without guns may never happen, and certainly won't happen in any of our lifetimes.  Fortunately, the gun debate is more practically oriented.  It's not so much about whether we should aim for a world without guns, but about whether America needs stronger, stricter control of private gun ownership.  I think private gun ownership should be prohibited by law. (Update February 16, 2013: I explain and qualify my position here.)  Unlike me, Sam Harris is in favor of private gun ownership, at least until a non-lethal alternative is readily available.  In fact, he doesn't see a need for any stronger weapons bans at all.

I have some original and damning criticisms to make against Harris' arguments.  Even if you have a less radical position than I do, you may find my arguments relevant.  If you are in favor of private gun ownership, but think we should have stronger limitations and regulations, then you might want to read what I have to say.  Even if you are not in favor of stronger limitations or regulations of private gun ownership, you might also want to read this, since I'm dispensing with arguments that you might well be relying on.

Why am I focusing on Sam Harris?  Mainly because he caused a small stir when he posted "The Riddle Of The Gun" on his blog.  (He followed it up with a response to some of his critics.)  It might not stand out so much, as far as popular writing on the issue is concerned.  It's not particularly original or insightful, but it is worth commenting on for a number of reasons.  First, because it has sparked some controversy in the atheist and skeptical communities.  Second, because it is explicitly aimed at reaching a well-reasoned, balanced approach.  Third, because Harris' critics are often accused of being uncharitable and of not appreciating his arguments.  I think there are serious problems with many of his arguments, and with some of his responses to his critics.  Furthermore, his critics don't always drive home the right points in the best way possible.  So I think it might be worth having a go.

There are some points I am glad Harris makes, such as that the original intent of the 2nd Amendment is no longer applicable, and that the need for a well-regulated militia is no longer a viable justification for the private ownership of guns.  I also appreciate Harris' resistance to America's gun culture, which he sees as a sort of "collective psychosis."  His diagnosis might not be too far off the mark, though he might not be aware of how much a part of that culture he is.  I also appreciate that he is critical of the NRA's political strength, though his criticism here is not on target.  He does not voice any concern about the NRA's principles, aims or tactics; he only says their political influence is disproportionate to the importance of gun control.  While he disagrees with NRA enthusiasts about the need for gun advocacy, he has nothing critical to say about the NRA itself.  In fact, as he readily admits, his arguments are aimed at supporting tired NRA talking points.

Before I get to those points, I have to criticize the way Harris frames his discussion.  He persistently paints his opposition in false and unflattering terms.  Here is just one example:

Can’t a gun go off by accident? Wouldn’t it be more likely to be used against them in an altercation with a criminal? I am surrounded by otherwise intelligent people who imagine that the ability to dial 911 is all the protection against violence a sane person ever needs.

That's plainly a straw man argument.  By Harris' reasoning, if a person thinks that gun ownership is not a risk worth taking, then they think the police can protect them from any and all possible threats against their well-being.  It's hard to believe that Harris would make this claim in good faith.  I know Sam Harris has heard of other forms of self-protection besides guns--he talks about them often enough--but perhaps he just forgot.  Or maybe he decided to ignore the truth and go with a more rhetorically satisfying zinger.  Either way, it's not admirable.

Harris' positive argument for private guns centers around the need for self-defense.  He recognizes that there are other forms available, but he says guns are the best.  His main claim here is that they level the playing field.  While your height, weight, coordination, strength and other physical factors can severely limit your ability to defend yourself in hand-to-hand combat, a gun will help most people overcome all of these difficulties.  There is some truth to this, but it is not as powerful an argument as Harris seems to think.  He does not give full consideration to all of its weaknesses. We have to consider what happens when your attacker has a bullet-proof vest, when they have the element of surprise, when they are faster on the draw, when they have your children held hostage at gun point, when their guns are more effective than yours.  In those cases, there is no level playing field.

Your gun is not a guarantee of equality, though it might be a greater threat to a burglar or potential rapist.  For that very reason, it also increases the risk of deadly force against you.  Harris has already considered the objection that gun ownership increases the risk of harm to the owner, and responds as follows:

I also realize that handling guns and keeping them in my home increases the risk of being accidentally injured or killed by them. I am also aware that other gun owners occasionally commit suicide or murder members of their families (or both)—and it could be that guns are more often used this way than they are to defend against crime (reliable information on the defensive use of firearms is very difficult to come by). But I don’t think these broader statistics apply to me (and I don’t think this judgment is the product of a reasoning bias). Just as I can say to a moral certainty that I’m not going to open a meth lab or start a dog-fighting ring, I can say that I’m not going to commit suicide or murder my family.
It looks to me like Harris has missed the point.  I accept Harris' estimation that he is not going to murder his family or commit suicide, but the criticism was not that gun ownership leads to a higher risk of those particular things.  It is the broader point that gun ownership increases the risk of harm to the owner.  This could be from accidents (and I'm not convinced that Harris is immune to firearm accidents) or from the mere fact that using a gun to respond to an aggressor can increase your own chances of getting hurt, or even killed.  In short, Harris has not taken this bull by the horns.

Harris also claims that gun ownership can sometimes reduce the amount of gun violence in the world, but his use of statistics here is highly suspicious.  He writes:
the correlation between guns and violence in the United States is far from straightforward. Thirty percent of urban households have at least one firearm. This figure increases to 42 percent in the suburbs and 60 percent in the countryside. As one moves away from cities, therefore, the rate of gun ownership doubles. And yet gun violence is primarily a problem in cities.

Against Harris, there is evidence that the correlation is straightforward and direct:  More guns does lead to more gun violence, and even more violence in general.  Yet, Harris thinks there may be an inverse correlation between gun ownership and gun violence, he says, because the areas with the highest concentrations of guns (per capita) in America have the least amount of gun violence.  However, even if these statistics are accurate, Harris' reasoning is not convincing.  He is making the mistake of treating rural, suburban and urban areas as if they were equivalent in all relevant aspects.

To see how this works, you have to understand Simpson's Paradox.  Faulty statistical analysis can mislead us into believing a false correlation, one which in fact is the opposite of the real correlation.  This happens when you combine statistical data from populations of very different sizes without taking all of the relevant variables into consideration.  The the situation Harris is talking about, the population densities in urban, suburban and rural America are significantly different.  Furthermore, I think Harris is overlooking two important variables:  gun type and gun culture.

It is reasonable to assume that rural, urban and suburban America tend to have very different gun cultures and very different guns.  For example, guns in the countryside most likely tend not to be handguns or assault rifles, but hunting weapons.  These are most likely used to scare trespassers off of private property, to put down suffering animals, and to hunt.  It is therefore possible that more guns in rural America equals more gun violence in rural America, more guns in suburbia means more gun violence in suburbia, and more guns in urban American equals more gun violence in urban America.  In short, even if Harris' statistics are accurate, there can be a direct correlation between gun ownership and gun violence in rural, suburban and urban America.  And given the evidence for such a direct correlation (see link above), the odds are not in Harris' favor.

Harris also says "the only reliable way for one person to stop a man with a knife is to shoot him."  This shows a lack of imagination, and also an unjustified faith in the power of the gun--unless Harris is talking about the kinds of guns that are not so attractive to most people looking for simple self-defense.  It is in cases like this, with his overly romantic infatuation with guns, that Harris looks at home in the gun culture that he himself has criticized.

Harris is a strong advocate of responsible gun ownership, and he holds himself up as a model.  He claims that, unless we come up with a non-lethal alternative to guns, the best we can hope for is a world in which all gun owners are as responsible as he is.  He says we cannot, and should not, hope to reduce gun ownership significantly, unless and until technological advancements produce a non-lethal, but self-defensively equivalent alternative. However, he favors mandatory training courses and thorough background checks to make sure legal gun owners are as capable as possible.

I'm in favor of such measures as a short-term goal, but we cannot expect that mandatory training courses and universal background checks are going to guarantee a lifetime of responsible gun ownership.  No matter how responsible you are, people have a tendency towards inconsistency.  Some more than others, of course, and in various ways.  I'm sure there are many gun owners who live their whole lives without ever encountering gun violence.  Nevertheless, even if we upped it to mandatory annual training courses and periodic (perhaps random) psychological testing, we cannot expect most people to always handle and store their guns responsibly.  I suspect that even Sam Harris is capable of making a mistake with one of his guns--the kind of mistake that can cost a life--though he may be one of the safest gun owners on the planet.

To his credit, Harris does not assume that he has found the solution to the gun problem.  He just doesn't see a better alternative.  For that reason, his position is only as strong as his arguments against other proposals.  He does make negative arguments--arguments aimed at making his perspective look like the only reasonable option.  Even if his positive arguments are flawed (which, as I have shown above, they are), and even if there is no proof that he is right about guns (and he admits there isn't any), he will still say there is no better path forward.

Harris makes a few points against other paths.  First, he says that we cannot reasonably hope to eliminate private gun ownership from American society.  He doesn't take that suggestion seriously at all.  He also says that any possible gun prohibition would not make a significant difference, because the Supreme Court has decided that a prohibition of handguns would be unconstitutional, and handguns are the only serious problem (in Harris' opinion).  He says it would be too difficult for America to enact anything as effective as the anti-gun legislation which has been successful in the U.K. and Australia (both the result of mass shootings in their respective countries).  In other words, Harris thinks the political and legal culture of America is too thick to penetrate.  Those looking for weapons bans are simply unrealistic.

Harris' criticism of the anti-gun lobby is therefore an argument from incredulity, nothing more.  It's a well-known fallacy.  While Harris is certainly right that it would be very difficult to change America's legal and political culture, he has given no reason not to try.  All he has done is remind us that the fight is a very difficult one.  Harris has not given us good reason to refrain from advocating for the complete (or almost complete) abolition of private gun ownership, including handguns.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Sam Harris on Gun Control

One of Sam Harris' New Years' resolutions may have been to make a contribution to the debate over stricter gun laws.  That would explain his January 2nd blog entry, "The Riddle Of The Gun," though its merits as a substantive contribution to the public discourse are questionable.  I will briefly address the lack of any such merits, but first I want to comment on some of the reactions to Harris.

Though Harris' comments on gun control have provoked some debate in various quarters, the debate does not appear to have anything to do with any unique arguments or insights Harris has offered.  It has more to do with Sam Harris himself and, sometimes, how one should respond to his so-called "contributions."  Russell Blackford has been particularly keen on focusing on the latter point.  The last of those links takes you to Russell's most recent post, in which he criticizes Ian Murphy's rather harsh criticism of Harris, which Russell says is too insubstantive and uncharitable.  Murphy asks, "Why does anyone take Sam Harris seriously?"  Russell replies, "Why do so many of Harris's opponents engage him without charity and in what seems like bad faith? What brings this out in them?"

I'm on Murphy's side here.  I've made a number of pointed criticisms of Sam Harris in the past--not about his controversial stances on Islam or torture, but about his approach to philosophical topics such as moral realism and free will, and about his role in the community of skeptics.  Harris is a gifted writer and speaker, but he has yet to make a substantial contribution to our understanding of any philosophical or political issues. He has helped bring many important issues to the attention of a wider public audience, and deserves credit for that.  However, his approach to such issues tends to be irresponsible, misguided and at times intellectually dishonest in ways which can do more harm than good to the public discourse.  So I sympathize with Ian Murphy, even if I slightly distance myself from some of his comments

I don't think Russell understands the force and focus of Murphy's criticism.  Russell says Harris shouldn't be attacked for merely pointing out that the current US Supreme Court views a ban on handguns as unconstitutional and that any policy proposals would have to take that into consideration.  That's true.  However, Murphy does not criticize Harris for merely making that point.  He criticizes Harris for using the point as an excuse for not taking a firmer stance on handguns.

Of course, Russell has the right to ask for a calmer, friendlier critique of Harris--not to replace Murphy's, but to add to it.  I'd like to comply, but I don't have the time or patience to make a full-on review of Harris' thoughts on gun control at the moment, and I don't expect to in the near future.  (Update: I've made a little time for a closer look at Harris' arguments, here.)  For the time being, I will only make a few observations which will hopefully help people see why I sympathize with Murphy.

Harris begins by framing the debate in implausible and unfair terms.  He says we need to find a middle ground between the "zealots" who, on the one hand, resist any stricter gun control laws and those who, on the other hand, "seem unable to understand why a good person would ever want ready access to a loaded firearm."  While it is remarkably easy to find zealots of the first sort, I have never come across, or seen any evidence for, any of the second.  Proponents of stricter gun control have no problem at all understanding why good people might want ready access to a loaded firearm.  Maybe Harris has met some people like that, but their presence in the public debate is virtually non-existent, so far as I can tell.  It seems that Harris isn't so interested in accurately reflecting the contours of the gun debate.  He's just interested in setting up his own arguments by creating the false impression that the world has been waiting for his voice of reason.  By setting up his arguments in such poor terms, he's laying a groundwork for confusion, not insight.  Harris' goal is to help us find a middle ground in an imaginary world of his own creation.

I challenge anyone to point out one unique insight Harris has brought to the table--one original contribution to the gun debate.  Because all of his points seem to come directly from other sources, including Wayne LaPierre.  Consider this, from Harris: "And the only reliable way for one person to stop a man with a knife is to shoot him."  That's wrong in a number of ways.  First, shooting a person with a knife does not always stop them, despite what Hollywood action movies have to say about it. Second, shooting a person is not the only way to stop them.

One of Harris' lines is that the fact he is just repeating "talking points" does not make him wrong.  True, it doesn't make him wrong.  But it does make him somewhat useless.  And it happens that he is wrong about guns and the gun debate in many ways.  Maybe I'll get deeper into those issues one day.  In the meantime, Murphy has made a number of very good points, if you can stomach his tone.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Humanism

The British Humanist Association has a quiz on their Website encouraging people to see how much of a humanist they are.  (H/T Russell Blackford.)  I've never self-defined as a humanist, but I've never rejected humanism, either.  I'm a big fan of Renaissance Humanists like Sir Thomas More, Erasmus of Rotterdam and Michel de Montaigne.  Back then, humanism was a liberating coctail mixed something along these lines: one part skepticism, one part cultural relativism, one part individualism, one part humility, one part scathing social and political criticism, and one part absurd self-mockery.  These days, humanism is a broader blanket with manifold colors, and I wouldn't assume that I fit comfortably within a contemporary conception of it. Thus, when I took the quiz, I had no interest in getting any of the answers "right."  So I was pleasantly surprised when I came out with a perfect score.

By the lights of the British Humanist Association, I am 100% humanist.  However, I have some issues with the quiz.  I do not think all of their answers are the best answers.  I always chose the answer which most resembled my true thoughts and feelings, but in some cases the closest fit still left something to be desired, and it wasn't always easy to figure out which answer was the right one for me.  Saying it wasn't easy is not the same as saying I am not sure of my answers.  I don't doubt any of my choices.  It's just that I had to think about some of them a bit, and in some cases I would have much preferred very different answers to the ones given.  I will go through the quiz, question by question, and explain what I mean.

Question 1:  Does God exist?
Answer: There is no evidence that any god exists, so I'll assume there isn't one.

I self-identify as a theological non-cognitivist, which means I don't think the existence of God is an empirical matter.  I think the question of God's existence is conceptually problematic, and so I don't think it's a matter of evidence at all.  However, if we do consider "God" to denote some historical figure who lacks supposedly supernatural attributes, if we are just talking about some being who has played a causal-historical role in the creation of mankind, then the British Humanist Association's "right" answer here is obviously the correct one.  There is no evidence that humanity has been designed, or that the earth or life in general are the work of any intelligent creatures.

Question 2: When I die . . .
Answer: I will live on in people's memories or because of the work I have done or through my children.

My choice here has to do with my conception of personal identity.  While my experiences are clearly dependent on the workings of my body, my identity is not as easy to locate in space and time.  In one sense, my thoughts exist on printed pages and online documents, and can have a sort of life of their own--not only by the consequences they have for others, but also by the way they are replicated in others.  The meme idea is useful here:  In some ways, part of me is composed of the memes I create and replicate, and so that part of me lives on when the memory of my thoughts and behaviours lives on in others.  The same goes for genes and phenotypes: I carry on some of my ancestors' genes and phenotypic traits, just as my children carry on some of mine.  So part of me does live on through them, just as I am partly an extension of my ancestors.

That said, there is another option that is at least somewhat attractive:  "When I die, that will be the end of me." This is true, in the sense that I will no longer have any experiences or thoughts.  So if I define myself as the locus of my conscious awareness, then my death is certainly the end of me.  But that is only one aspect of my identity and should not overshadow the others.  (It's also worth noting that this supposedly fundamental aspect of my identity is quite possibly an illusion, which is another reason why I chose the "right" answer.)

Question 3: How did the universe begin?
Answer:  The scientific explanations are the best ones available. No gods were involved.

I think the idea of the universe having a beginning is conceptually problematic, so I'd probably prefer not to answer this question at all.  Since I have to answer, "I don't know" wouldn't be such a bad choice, but in the context of the other answers, it would suggest agnosticism towards the idea of a divine or intelligent creator.  Thus, the "right" answer is better.

Question 4: The theory that life on Earth evolved gradually over billions of years is . . .
Answer:  True.  There is plenty of evidence . . .

That is a no-brainer.

Question 5: When I look at a beautiful view I think that . . .
Answer: We ought to do everything possible to protect this for future generations.

My younger self might have chosen the "this is what life is all about. I feel good" option, but for the last decade or so, I've been more aware of the need to protect nature from commerce and industry.  Not that commerce and industry are bad, and not that we can and should always protect nature from them.  But when I see something like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park--quintessentially "good views" in my American experience--I experience them with a sense of awe and humility.  I am lucky to have had those experiences, and I think everybody should have them or some like them.  I experience places like that with an awareness that they must be preserved.  I do not want them for myself.  I want them to share.

Question 6: I can tell right from wrong by . . .
Answer:  Thinking hard about the probable consequences of actions and their effects on people.

This makes it look like I'm a true blood consequentialist, which isn't so.  But I find that I do consider the consequences of my actions and that this does help me decide on what I think is right or wrong.  Furthermore, the other options are plainly unacceptable.  This is the only possible choice.

Question 7:  It's best to be honest because . . .
Answer:  I'm happier and feel better about myself if I'm honest.

This is just true.  I thought a lot about choosing "people respect you more if you're trustworthy," but then I realized I don't think that's true.  People don't always respect people for telling the truth, though they might trust you more if you're honest.  I sometimes think it's better to be honest to maintain people's trust, but not their respect.

Question 8: Other people matter and should be treated with respect because . . .
Answer: We will all be happier if we treat each other well.

Again, this seems obvious to me.  The answer about "they are people with feelings like mine" is not terrible, but it is not good enough.  I don't think everybody should be treated with respect just because they have feelings like mine, and I don't think only those animals with feelings like mine deserve respect.

Question 9: Animals should be treated . . .
Answer: With respect because they can suffer too.

This is a difficult one.  I chose the least wrong answer. I'm not happy with the "right" answer, though.  My own answer is too complicated to explain in a short paragraph here, so I'll leave it at that for now.

Question 10: The most important thing in life is . . .
Answer: To increase the general happiness and welfare of humanity.

It sounds like I'm an anthropocentric consequentialist, which ain't so.  Again I chose the least wrong answer.  In this case, I think the "right" answer is a decent, but ultimately unsatisfying answer.  I'm not sure what I really think is the most important thing in life, but aiming for maximal happiness and welfare isn't a bad idea as a general rule, even if it has problems and exceptions.