Concentration, Activism, Secrets, and More
Webcast Q&A: Sunday, 13 March 2011
I answered questions on concentration, obligation to engage in activism, keeping secrets from a spouse, 'that's so gay', overstating character, acting silly, and more on Philosophy in Action Radio on Sunday, 13 March 2011. Ari Armstrong of Free Colorado was my co-host. You can listen to or download the podcast below.Remember, Philosophy in Action Radio is available to anyone, free of charge. That's because our goal is to spread rational principles for real life far and wide, as we do every week to thousands of listeners. We love doing that, but each episode requires our time, effort, and money. So if you enjoy and value our work, please contribute to our tip jar. We suggest $5 per episode or $20 per month, but any amount is appreciated. You can send your contribution via Dwolla, PayPal, or US Mail.
- Duration: 56:18
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My first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, is available for purchase in paperback, as well as for Kindle and Nook.
Does the pervasive influence of luck in life mean that people cannot be held responsible for their choices? Do people lack the control required to justify moral praise and blame? In his famous article "Moral Luck," philosopher Thomas Nagel casts doubt on our ordinary moral judgments of persons. He claims that we intuitively accept that moral responsibility requires control, yet we praise and blame people for their actions, the outcomes of those actions, and their characters – even though shaped by forces beyond their control, i.e., by luck. This is the "problem of moral luck."
In Responsibility & Luck, I argue that this attack on moral judgment rests on a faulty view of control, as well as other errors. By developing Aristotle's theory of moral responsibility, I explain the sources and limits of a person's responsibility for what he does, what he produces, and who he is. Ultimately, I show that moral judgments are not undermined by luck. In addition, this book explores the nature of moral agency and free will, the purpose of moral judgment, causation in tort and criminal law, the process of character development, and more.
Responsibility & Luck is scholarly but accessible to active-minded people interested in philosophy. You can preview the book by reading Chapter One and Chapter Three as PDFs – or by listening to my reading of Chapter One.
Segments: 13 March 2011
Question 1: Concentration (1:53)
Question: What's the best way to mentally focus on one activity when I can't stop thinking about another? Sometimes I get overly focused on or worried about a problem I'm having at work, and then I have difficulty focusing in class. Similarly, sometimes I'll think about an issue I'm having with a close friend, and I know I should focus my energy elsewhere, but it's difficult to do so. I know that I should give my full attention to class during the actual class period, but it's difficult to stop thinking about the other issue I have. What kind of method can I used to stop worrying about work, and focus on class instead? What's a good way to switch my focus from one thing to another over the course of a day?
Answer, In Brief: You need to cultivate habits of concentration, largely via gentle but persistent reminders to focus on matters at hand.
Question: Is it morally obligatory to engage in activism? I want to fight for a better, more rational culture. But I know that I'm not a good writer or speaker. If I instead give my money to those who are, isn't that a good division of labor? Is it obligatory that I myself attempt to engage in such activism or can I pay others who are better at it (and would like to earn money doing so)?
Answer, In Brief: Activism is working to shape culture in image of own values, and it can take countless forms. It's not any kind of duty, but such should be part of your value hierarchy because your life and happiness depends on it.
Question: Should you tell someone else's secret to a spouse? I know a lot of times when I share personal information with my best friend, I assume that she will (and am okay with) her sharing some or all of that information with her significant other. I think she makes the same assumption, that I will share some of what she tells me with my husband. If (hypothetically) there was something I didn't want her significant other to know about, would I be right in asking that she keep a secret from him? On one hand, the information I'm sharing is personal and I might like to keep it between us. On the other, is it right to ask her to keep something from him?
Answer, In Brief: Spouses ought not keep secrets from each other, and others ought to respect that. However, people can and should exercise discretion in what they tell a spouse.
Question 4: "That's So Gay" (29:56)
Question: Is it wrong to jokingly use the term "that's so gay" among friends? I have many friends who are homosexual, and they and I and anyone I use this term with know there's nothing wrong with homosexuality. But sometimes this term does feel natural to use, even though I am not thinking about any negative association with actual homosexuals. Is it better to just avoid saying, "That's so gay", or even joking about how gay something appears, given that we ought not to see it as anything shameful?
Answer, In Brief: The phrase is potentially offensive, and people ought not use it without recognizing that. Personally, I would only use it in a clearly joking way, likely to refer to some obviously gay behavior among my gay friends.
Question: Do you think people overstate their character? My personal experience is that many, but not all, people seem to overstate their positive character traits. The most stressed character traits seems to be the weakest. For example, a person who stresses their integrity often turns out to be anywhere from slightly less than totally dependable to absolutely worthless (in regards to keeping commitments). A person proclaiming to be good at introspection may end up actually being an emotionalist. Have you noticed this in people and, if so, what do you think explains this phenomenon?
Answer, In Brief: I don't think that's common, but some people are truly oblivious to their own personality and character.
Question 6: Acting Silly (47:45)
Question: Is it rational to do silly things? A friend of mine (non-Objectivist) quoted Ludwig Wittgenstein: "If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done." So she thinks it's alright and rational to do silly things once in a while. ... Would it be rational to do silly things consciously (in lab, for instance) in the hope that you might end up discovering / inventing something new?
Answer, In Brief: It's wonderful to be silly, in the proper context, such as in a social outing with friends. Silliness, however, is not a means to knowledge, and silliness in a laboratory seems like an excellent way to waste time or create problems.
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Remember, Philosophy in Action Radio is available to anyone, free of charge. That's because our goal is to spread rational principles for real life far and wide, as we do every week to thousands of listeners. We love doing that, but each episode requires our time, effort, and money. So if you enjoy and value our work, please contribute to our tip jar. We suggest $5 per episode or $20 per month, but any amount is appreciated. You can send your contribution via Dwolla, PayPal, or US Mail.
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About Philosophy in Action Radio
I'm Dr. Diana Hsieh. I'm a philosopher specializing the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. I received my Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2009. My first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, is available for purchase in paperback, as well as for Kindle and Nook. The book defends the justice of moral praise and blame of persons using an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility, thereby refuting Thomas Nagel's "problem of moral luck."
My radio show, Philosophy in Action Radio, broadcasts live over the internet on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. On Sunday mornings, I answer four meaty questions applying rational principles to the challenges of real life in a live hour-long show. Greg Perkins of Objectivist Answers co-hosts the show. On Wednesday evenings, I interview an expert guest about a topic of practical importance.
If you join us for the live broadcasts, you can ask follow-up questions and make comments in the text-based chat. Otherwise, you can listen to the podcast by subscribing to our Podcast RSS Feed. You can also peruse the show archives, where episodes and questions are sorted by date and by topic.
I can be reached via e-mail to email@example.com.