Fifty-Seven Difficult Questions


What is there about American society that makes baseball America's "national pastime"?
The actor John Gielgud believed that of all Shakespeare's characters Hamlet is probably the one most like Shakespeare himself–since, of all Shakespeare's characters, only Hamlet can be imagined to have written all the Shakespearean plays. How good an understanding of Hamlet's character does Gielgud's belief reflect?
Is it true that the U.S. needs to eliminate its national debt?

The question of altruism:

Can a person be motivated by desires that are not–ultimately–selfish?

Various impairments of the mind are commonly associated with old age. To what extent are these biological in origin? To what extent, social in origin?
Why does nodding of the head signify Yes and shaking of the head No?
Why does music written in a minor key sound "sad" or "downbeat," while music in a major key sounds "happy" or "upbeat"?
Discuss the belief that great literature of the twentieth century lacks protagonists who qualify as heroes. (Among the works you discuss, include at least two by the following authors: Anton Chekhov, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Amy Tan, Chinua Achebe.)
Your summer vacation–what was it really like?
Is our adversarial legal system–in which an attorney dwells just on the facts that support the side by which he or she is paid–the system likeliest to achieve justice?
The U.S. Constitution makes no mention of a right to privacy. Should it be amended to affirm such a right? If so, how should the amendment read?
In his Book of Questions, Gregory Stock asks, "If you could spend one year in perfect happiness but afterward would remember nothing of the experience, would you [spend a year that way]?" How would you answer Stock's question? Address either the psychological or philosophical issues raised by your response.
What is meant by the phrase "the rise of religious fundamentalism"? Is it an actual current phenomenon? If so, what accounts for its occurrence at this point in history?
What is time?
Some have claimed that no true democracies ever go to war with each other. In fact, does history bear that claim out? If so, try to explain how democracy exerts such an effect.
What accounts for changes in fashion in clothing?
Has the fact that divorce is much more common now than it was fifty years ago made divorce easier for adults or children to deal with?
What determines what dreams a person has when he or she sleeps?
Why do we need sleep?
The poet John Keats once wrote (in his poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn"),

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,---that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

By contrast, Plato (in The Republic) warns of poetry's power to make a falsehood seem true, by beautifying it.

What, then, is the relationship between beauty, as achieved by the artist, and truth?

How, exactly, does the status which society-at-large attaches to one's job affect one's job satisfaction?
Many admirers of Ronald Reagan credit him and his policies with the fall of Communism. Is that claim justified?
How does it affect one's personality to be the oldest of two or more children in a family? Alternatively, how does it affect one's personality to be the youngest child? The middle child? (Of these three questions address only one.)
Astronomers deal on a daily basis with distances like light-years, which are so great they are hard to imagine. Do astronomers therefore tend to feel "smaller" than other people do? (If so, in what sense? If not, why?)
Arm on the left, arm on the right.  Eye on the left, eye on the right. Nose in the middle. Mouth in the middle. –Why is the outward appearance of the human body so symmetrical?
Why, if two wrongs don't make a right, do two negatives make a positive in mathematics?
You are the CEO of a consumer products company. How would you determine the portion of your budget to devote to advertising?
Very few paintings by Norman Rockwell hang in the great museums. Would you rate his art as highly as you do the art of Rembrandt, Valazquez, and other old masters? Why or why not?
Evaluate the trend among states to legalize forms of gambling. Should this trend be encouraged? Stopped? Reversed?
What would be the ideal job for you personally?
Is success, as Thomas Edison claimed, 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, or the other way around?
Increasingly, HMO's (health maintenance organizations) find themselves wrestling with the moral implications of their allocation of resources. By what guideline–or guidelines–should they decide between investing in more preventive services and investing in more life-prolonging technology? Or ... How much of their money should they redirect from physical health to mental health?
Is there intelligent life elsewhere in the universe?
A problem that NASA has faced: Assuming that in one of our space probes we are to place a message to other intelligent beings in the universe–on the chance that such a being will find it someday–what should that message be, and how should it be expressed?
Would all major religions identify essentially the same state of mind as the highest spiritual level human beings attain?
What part should intent play in determining the punishment for crime? (For instance, if a man attempts to kill another man but fails to kill him and, instead, only wounds him, should he receive any lighter a sentence than the man who intends to kill another man and succeeds in doing so?)
What, exactly, is it about good jokes that makes people laugh?
Plays are stories presented through the words and actions of characters. How, in all that welter of word and deed, can a member of the audience discern what the author is trying to say?
How much of a person's income should go to charities?
Is it true that now it takes more than one full-time job for the average household to maintain the same standard of living enjoyed fifty years ago? If so, how has that situation come to be?
Why, in general, do women live longer than men do?
Is music a "universal language"–a language that works across all national and cultural divisions?
Would the cause of racial equality have progressed more slowly if, in 1861, Abraham Lincoln had simply let the Southern states secede?
How, if at all, does it affect a child to have two parents of the same sex?
World records in certain track events–such as the pole vault, javelin throw, and marathon run–have improved dramatically over the last hundred years. What accounts for that fact?
How, if at all, can we prevent the use of nuclear bombs, chemical weapons and biologocal weapons by small groups of terrorists?
Identify the likeliest actual effect of a voucher system on the quality of public schools.
Various countries–the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Israel, the Philippines–have already elected female chief executives. Why has the U.S., which is arguably the world's leading democracy, not yet done so?
Does thought require language?
Walter Kerr has argued that comedy, at bottom, is pessimistic, tragedy optimistic. Is he right?
Is the brain essentially nothing more than a very, very, very advanced computer?
Which has more power, love or fear?
According to Lord Acton, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Comment, taking a historical perspective.
How, if at all, does a person's way of deciding between right and wrong change from the age of two to your age?
Kate O'Leary writes, "Students need basic science courses if they are later to take intelligent positions on issues like nuclear power plants." Would you agree?
How does your generation differ from that of the 1960's?*
Do human beings have free will?
*A Question Adapted from an Assignment of Professor Yvonne Yaw at Bentley College

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