Mar 052012

On Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, Greg Perkins and I answered questions on giving the benefit of the doubt, responding to requests for prayers, selling yourself into slavery, the depth of Ayn Rand’s fictional characters, and more. The podcast of that episode is now available for streaming or downloading.

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Whole Podcast: 4 March 2012

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Podcast Segments: 4 March 2012

You can download or listen to my answers to individual questions from this episode below.


My News of the Week: Happy Ten Year Blogiversary to NoodleFood today! On Tuesday, I’ll be speaking at CU Boulder on Should You Try to Be Morally Perfect?

Question 1: Giving the Benefit of the Doubt

Question: When should we give another person the benefit of the doubt? Often, people say that public figures facing some scandal should be given the benefit of the doubt? What does that mean in theory and in practice? When ought people give the benefit of the doubt? Is doing so a matter of generosity or justice?

My Answer, In Brief: To give someone the benefit of the doubt means that you’re not leaping to conclusions about wrongdoing, but considering their past actions and character, and hence, only condemning when the proof of wrongdoing is definitive. It’s proper to give someone the benefit of doubt when it’s likely that the person didn’t act wrongly, when you’re waiting for definitive evidence, or when your judgments are based on knowledge of character.

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Question 2: Responding to Requests for Prayers

Question: What is the proper response of an atheist to requests for prayers? A relative of mine recently had surgery to have his appendix removed. I was asked by another relative to pray for the first relative, even though everyone in my family knows that I don’t believe in God or the power of prayer. I tried to let it slide during the conversation, but she was insistent. How should I respond to such requests for prayers, particularly when I don’t want to offend anyone or seem unconcerned?

My Answer, In Brief: You should tailer your response to the context, but in most cases, you should be clear, firm, and kind in saying that you do not pray.

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Question 3: Selling Yourself into Slavery

Question: Why can’t a person sell himself into slavery? People often decry indentured servitude, whereby people paid for their travel to America with several years of service. But this seems like a perfectly sound trade given certain assumptions about the terms of that service, e.g. you can’t starve or abuse the servant. Is that right? If so, why can’t a person sell himself into slavery? For instance, suppose that my family is poor, so I arrange with someone to give my family money in exchange for me becoming their slave, i.e. literally becoming their property. Is that possible? Should the law forbid that?

My Answer, In Brief: It’s not merely wrong to sell yourself into slavery: it’s logically impossible.

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Question 4: The Depth of Ayn Rand’s Fictional Characters

Question: Are the characters in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged flat due to philosophic consistency? I’m reading the novel currently, and rather enjoying it. However, I’ve heard many people claim her characters are flat, one-dimensional, etc. I usually respond to this by saying that Ayn Rand’s characters are the incarnation of her ideas, the physical embodiment of her ideas: an individual is consumed with this philosophy, so much so that they are entirely logically consistent (or at least as much as humanly possible, they are human, and do make mistakes, e.g. Rearden’s marriage), thus, because of their abnormally extensive logical consistency within their philosophy, these characters merely appear to be ‘one-dimensional’. Is this an accurate understanding of Rand’s characters?

My Answer, In Brief: The criticism that Ayn Rand’s characters are flat is dead wrong, as is the response that they embody ideas.

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Rapid Fire Questions


  • Is everyone racially prejudiced, even just a little?
  • What should one do as an individual in case a war with Iran breaks out, as seems likely?
  • What’s the difference between the Jewish, Christian, or Muslim God and the “God of the Philosophers”?
  • Do you think Objectivism is ‘a’ philosophy or ‘the’ philosophy for living on earth?

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  • Start Time: 55:55
  • Duration: 7:08
  • Download: MP3 Segment

To comment on these questions or my answers, visit its comment thread.


Be sure to check out the topics scheduled for upcoming episodes! Don’t forget to submit and vote on questions for future episodes too!

  • Start Time: 1:03:03

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Philosophy in Action Radio focuses on the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. It broadcasts live on most Sunday mornings and many Thursday evenings over the internet. For information on upcoming shows, visit the Episodes on Tap. For podcasts of past shows, visit the Show Archives.

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