Dec 172012

On Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, Greg Perkins and I answered questions on right to work laws, deception in a crisis, philosophy versus psychology, the value of gift exchanges, and more. The podcast of that episode is now available for streaming or downloading.

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Whole Podcast: 16 December 2012

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Podcast Segments: 16 December 2012

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


My News of the Week: I’ve made good progress on preparing my book Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame (a.k.a. my dissertation) for publication, including getting a proper headshot done. Of course, I’m still dealing with the multiple leaks, mold, and rotting wood Chez Hsieh.

Question 1: Right to Work Laws

Question: Do right-to-work laws violate or protect rights? Some states are attempting to pass “right to work” laws, despite massive union opposition. Under such laws, employers cannot require employees to be a member of a union – as often happens due to federal law. These laws aim to empower employees against unwelcome unions. Are these laws legitimate – perhaps as defense against unjust federal law or a step toward freedom of contract? Or are they indefensible because they violate the rights of employers to dictate the terms of employment?

My Answer, In Brief: Right to Work Laws sound like an excellent way to combat the coercive powers granted to unions by federal law. Yet in fact, one rights violation cannot be fixed by another rights violation. Even worse, such laws will help entrench the dangerous principle that employment terms can be overridden by freedom of conscience.

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

Question 2: Deception in a Crisis

Question: Is it moral to deceive to someone to help him through a crisis? Imagine that a man is about to break up with his girlfriend (or divorce his wife), but then he discovers that she has a serious disease or she suffers a serious accident. Is it moral for him to help her through the crisis under the false pretense of a stable, loving relationship? (What if that would take months of deception?) Or should the man be frank with the woman as soon as possible about parting ways, perhaps only offering help as a friend, if that? Would that be cruel?

My Answer, In Brief: A person might reasonably delay a break-up for a week or two during a crisis, but to pretend to be the devoted boyfriend is destructive to him and her.

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

Question 3: Philosophy Versus Psychology

Question: What’s the proper distinction between philosophy and psychology? Given that psychology concerns the mind, I don’t see how to clearly distinguish it from philosophy. For example, when would emotions be a philosophic concern versus a psychological concern? In other words, where is the dividing line between philosophy and psychology? Can they be separated?

My Answer, In Brief: Philosophy differs from psychology in that philosophy is primarily concerned with the mind’s conscious mental processes, while psychology is more focused on subconscious processes and their effect on conscious processes.

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

Question 4: The Value of Gift Exchanges

Question: What is the purpose of exchanging gifts during the holidays? To me, gift exchanges seem meaningless: they’re a waste of time and money. What am I missing?

My Answer, In Brief: The practicing of gift exchange can be deeply meaningful, as a way of revealing your knowledge and affection for another person, as well as integrating your lives. If instead you’re feeling burdened and unseen, then it’s time to change your practices.

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

Rapid Fire Questions


  • What do you think about the debates about gun control spawned by Friday’s shooting about the Connecticut elementary school?
  • What do you think about Elf on the Shelf?

Listen or Download:

  • Start Time: 1:05:10
  • Duration: 4:03
  • 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: 1:09:14

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  • JP

    I keep wondering what people are talking about when they say this about RTW laws. In Florida, for example, our state constitution, Article 1 Section 6, reads:

    “Right to work.—The right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or non-membership in any labor union or labor organization. The right of employees, by and through a labor organization, to bargain collectively shall not be denied or abridged. Public employees shall not have the right to strike.”

    The only plausible rights-abrogating clause I see here is the last one; but I actually don’t agree with the notion that public-sector employees have the right to strike. That’s not why you pick government work. Nothing stops them from quitting, of course, if they are unhappy, but they shouldn’t be able to go on strike so long as their wages are paid by taxes as far as I’m concerned.

    I haven’t listened to this podcast yet, so maybe you answer this in it. And maybe you are referring to RTW laws in other states, not specifically Florida. But I really don’t see why this isn’t at least a good stopgap measure against closed-shop states, which are a far worse violation of rights (to the extent that RTW is a violation at all).

    • Diana Hsieh

      That provision does violate rights — because employers should be able to demand union membership (or anything else) as a condition of employment. I explain more in the podcast, so have a listen!

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