Spreading Germs, Birthdays, Compulsory Juries, and More
Webcast Q&A: 15 May 2011
I answered questions on the morality of spreading germs, celebrating birthdays, married couples separating for their careers, compulsory juries, growing out of Ayn Rand, optimism for the future, and more on 15 May 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: 15 May 2011
Question: If you have a mild to moderate contagious disease, is it immoral to go about your ordinary business knowing that this will expose other people to the disease? I'm not talking about life-threatening illness here, nor am I talking about intentionally trying to get someone sick (like spitting in their food). I'm just talking about going to work, school, entertainment events, or scheduled appointments while you have an ordinary disease like a cold, flu, or strep throat. Is that moral?
Answer, In Brief: Minor illnesses are a part of life; they're an ordinary and inherent risk of social interaction. People often have good reason to be out in society, even though sick, but the rationally selfish person doesn't want family, friends, co-workers, or even strangers sick, and so will take reasonable measures to prevent the spread of disease.
Question: How should a person celebrate his birthday, if at all? And if so, why? Would a rational egoist throw a party and invite people that he doesn't value much, like estranged family members?
Answer, In Brief: Your birthday – meaning the date marking the start of your life in the world – is a wonderful day for friends to show their appreciation of you – and for you do so something special with people that you love.
Question: Should a married couple ever separate temporarily for the sake of their respective careers? In your 1 May 2011 webcast, you said that long-distance relationships are inherently problematic because the people are living separate lives due to the physical distance between them. Does that mean that committed couples should never separate temporarily for career reasons? If they do, how can they manage that better so as to preserve the relationship?
Answer, In Brief: A couple might need to separate temporarily for careers, and that can work, despite the perils of living separate lives, if the couple recognizes the risks and acts to mitigate them.
Question: Are compulsory juries moral? Is it necessary and/or proper to compel citizens to serve on a jury? If not, what is the best way to ensure the right to a trial by a jury of your peers, rather than trial by government agents? Should a free society have professional volunteer juries like the military?
Answer, In Brief: The government of a free society cannot justly compel taxes or military service – or jury duty. It's a violation of rights – and hence, immoral and impractical.
Question: What do people mean when they say "I liked Ayn Rand's ideas, but then I grew up"? On several occasions, I have discussed Rand's ideas with others. They have admitted to reading Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead when a teenager. They claim that they liked or even agreed with her ideas back then. "But, now I've grown up." I guess that is supposed to embarrass me since I am in my mid-40's. It doesn't. But I am left wondering, what is going on in their heads? Are they just jaded? Do they think life naturally leads to pragmatism or an acceptance of evil?
Answer, In Brief: People who no longer agree with Ayn Rand could just say that, but this claim is a kind of argument from intimidation, perhaps from someone who was intimidated out of his own genuine interest in Ayn Rand.
Question: How can I be optimistic when society seems doomed? I am beginning to see the United States as the oak tree at the beginning of Atlas Shrugged, an empty shell whose heart rotted away long ago. Ayn Rand writes often of the failure of our age, of seeing corruption rewarded and honesty becoming self-sacrifice, and of seeing these as evidence of our society being doomed. Given the recent, and increased, interest in Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand, I should be hopeful for the future. But is it too little, too late? I have small children, and I never thought it would become generally accepted that America's best days are behind us. How do I cope with the destruction going on today? How can I be optimistic for my children's future? As an Objectivist it seems as though I must be missing the obvious answer.
Answer, In Brief: The key to keep fighting, even if one is pessimistic about the future, is to understand and live Ayn Rand's phrase "Anyone who fights for the future lives in it today."
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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.