Experts, Immanuel Kant, Insulting Terms, and More
Webcast Q&A: 12 June 2011
I answered questions on proper reliance on experts, the evil of immanuel kant, responding to expressions of hatred for work, the morality of exploiting flaws in government lotteries, appropriating insulting terms, dismissing arguments with pejorative language, and more on 12 June 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: 12 June 2011
Question: What role should experts play in our decision-making? Specifically, should a person defer to experts in fields where he's not well-informed? What if he's only partially knowledgeable? Should experts expect such deference? Does it matter whether the field is philosophy, plumbing, diet, or something else?
Answer, In Brief: We can and ought to make use of experts when our own knowledge is lacking. However, we shouldn't ever defer to them but rather keep an active mind, acting as traders in knowledge.
Question: Was Immanuel Kant evil rather than just wrong – and if so, why and how? I understand that Kant's ideas are very wrong, even evil. But couldn't he have been honestly mistaken, perhaps not taking his own work seriously? Given that he never advocated or did anything even remotely comparable to Hitler's genocide, why should he be regarded as evil, if at all?
Answer, In Brief: Kant's philosophy cannot be the result of honest errors, and he did know, or ought to have known, of its destructive power. Hence, he should be regarded as evil, not merely mistaken.
Question: How should I respond when people disparage their work? Often, people make comments about the great burden that work is – not in the sense that they're unhappy with some problem in their current job, but that they resent the need to work at all. These are the kinds of people who live for weekends and vacations. I don't feel that way about my work, and I think these people are missing so much in life. How can I respond to such casual remarks in a way that might make the person re-think their attitude?
Answer, In Brief: People often adopt such an attitude toward their work without thinking, and often just stating your own disagreement can shock people into rethinking what work might and ought to be.
Question: Is it moral to exploit a design flaw in a government or private lottery? An article in Wired describes how a statistician noticed a design flaw in the Ontario government lottery "scratchers" game which would allow people to consistently win money. He was described as being "ethical" because he alerted the authorities rather than taking advantage of it for personal gain, and they fixed the problem. Would it be moral to exploit a mathematical flaw in a government lottery without alerting anyone? Would it make a difference if the game was the work of a private casino rather than the government (e.g., exploiting a bias in a casino's roulette wheel)?
Answer, In Brief: So long as you're playing by the rules, you're not cheating. However, you don't want to adopt the mindset of a cheater, nor harm yourself in some other way by exploiting this weakness.
Question: What do you think of people using pejorative terms for themselves, such as gays referring to themselves as "faggots" or Objectivists calling themselves "Randroids"? The term "Randroid" is supposed to imply that Objectivists are unthinking, mindless drones. However, I happily use this term to describe myself – after first calling myself an Objectivist, of course – because I think it squashes a lot of the negativity behind the pejorative when I adopt it willingly. Do you think it's for good Objectivists to adopt this term – and more generally, for people to use insults as badges of honor?
Answer, In Brief: To use insults ironically among people who understand the joke is unproblematic, but to simply describe oneself in insulting terms does not combat the insult but sanctions it – or demands a double standard.
Question: Is pejorative rhetoric useful? When should you or when may you describe someone's argument or analysis in pejorative terms, because you don't consider them intellectually honest or educable, and you just want to make it clear to the wider audience that you don't accept them as a worthwhile opponent? Is it acceptable to just vent in such cases?
Answer, In Brief: A person should never just vent, and if you do, you're likely to look like the dishonest jerk unworthy of civilized discussion.
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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.