Criticism, Evolutionary Psychology, Taxes, and More
Webcast Q&A: 20 February 2011
I answered questions on helpful criticism of others, evolutionary psychology, cheating on work questionnaires, cheating on taxes, government secrets, bribing government officials, and more on 20 February 2011. Greg Perkins of Objectivist Answers was my co-host. Listen to or download this episode of Philosophy in Action Radio below.
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Segments: 20 February 2011
Question: How can I criticize someone's work without hurting their feelings? In student theater circles, I struggle to be honest when asked what I thought of an actor's performance, or a director's job, or the writer's work. The writing can be very bad and the performances pretty flat too. My first instinct is to latch onto anything positive I can in the play, and to just talk about that. However, then I seem to be someone afraid to offer criticism to someone's face, and I'd hate to criticize behind their back. So how can I be critical in a helpful and friendly way?
Answer, In Brief: Constructive criticism is a skill that can be developed and practiced. Toastmasters is a great way to do that.
Question: What is your opinion of evolutionary psychology? For example, a recent study claims that there is a gene for being a political liberal. Or another claim is that studies show that women are "hypergamous" in that they are "wired" to seek out the most "socially dominant" men that they can find in the "sexual market". What is your opinion on all this?
Answer, In Brief: Evolutionary Psychology seeks to explain human psychology and behavior as the product of evolutionary adaptation. It's just the latest fad in determinism, and often depends on very sloppy science.
Question: Is it wrong to cheat on a work-style questionnaire on a job application? I've been denied certain jobs because I've answered too selfishly on job questionnaires that gauge a person's work style. The questions often ask what you would do in certain situations, if you prefer working alone or with others, etc. Is it wrong to answer falsely on those tests for a job you want and know you can do well?
Answer, In Brief: Pretending to be something other than you are to prospective employers – whether in skills, experience, or personality – is neither moral nor practical. However, you can speak up when you think that you've been unfairly judged by such tests.
Question: Is it immoral to cheat on your taxes? It's essentially a lie to protect the products of your labor. So is it wrong just because it's illegal?
Answer, In Brief: While it's perfectly moral to evade taxes in today's system of massive governmental theft, the penalties are so harsh that it's surely unwise to do so.
Question: Should private citizens be legally obliged to keep government secrets? Should it be a crime for private citizens to divulge "top secret" information? That is, if I have no specific security agreement or contract with the government to keep information confidential if I come to possess it through no fault of my own? What if lives are at stake?
Answer, In Brief: Every person should care deeply about his government's capacity to effectively protect rights, including against foreign aggressors. Hence, the choice to publish government secrets should focus on whether doing so will help protect rights or undermine them.
Question: Is it immoral to bribe a government official? There are many approvals and licenses that are required to be taken by individual and/or companies for doing anything. But they are not granted unless you bribe the concerned government official. (They are not ashamed of asking you directly.) In that case, is it immoral on your part to bribe them as you have no way out?
Answer, In Brief: When faced with the double injustice of government licensing, then a demand for a bribe, it's perfectly moral to use the cheapest, easiest, and/or safest method of circumventing that rights violation.
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About Philosophy in Action
I'm Dr. Diana Brickell (formerly Diana Hsieh). I'm a philosopher, and I've long specialized in the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. I completed my Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2009. I retired from work as a public intellectual in 2015.
From September 2009 to September 2015, I produced a radio show and podcast, Philosophy in Action Radio. In the primary show, my co-host Greg Perkins and I answered questions applying rational principles to the challenges of real life. We broadcast live over the internet on Sunday mornings.
My first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. 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 second book (and online course), Explore Atlas Shrugged, is a fantastic resource for anyone wishing to study Ayn Rand's epic novel in depth.
I can be reached via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.