Friends and Fans — I have retired from my work as a public intellectual, so Philosophy in Action is on indefinite hiatus. Please check out the voluminous archive of free podcasts, as well as the premium audio content still available for sale. My two books — Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame and Explore Atlas Shrugged — are available for purchase too. Best wishes! — Diana Brickell (Hsieh)

Benefit of the Doubt, Prayers, Slavery, and More

Webcast Q&A: 4 March 2012

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 on 4 March 2012. Greg Perkins of Objectivist Answers was my co-host. Listen to or download this episode of Philosophy in Action Radio below.

The mission of Philosophy in Action is to spread rational principles for real life... far and wide. That's why the vast majority of my work is available to anyone, free of charge. I love doing the radio show, but each episode requires an investment of time, effort, and money to produce. So if you enjoy and value that work of mine, please contribute to the tip jar. I suggest $5 per episode or $20 per month, but any amount is appreciated. In return, contributors can request that I answer questions from the queue pronto, and regular contributors enjoy free access to premium content and other goodies.

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?


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Segments: 4 March 2012


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?

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.

Tags: Epistemology, Ethics, Judgment, Justice, Proof, Rationality

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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?

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.

Tags: Atheism, Communication, Conflict, Ethics, Family, Friendship, Honesty, Integrity, Relationships, Religion

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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?

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

Tags: Contracts, Law

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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?

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

Tags: Aesthetics, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, Literature, The Fountainhead

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Rapid Fire Questions (55:55)

In this segment, I answered questions chosen at random by Greg Perkins impromptu. The questions were:
  • 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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Conclusion (1:03:03)

Thank you for joining us for this episode of Philosophy in Action Radio! If you enjoyed this episode, please contribute to contribute to our tip jar.


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The vast majority of Philosophy in Action Radio – the live show and the podcast – is available to anyone, free of charge. That's because my mission is to spread rational principles for real life far and wide, as I do every week to thousands of listeners. I love producing the show, but each episode requires requires the investment of time, effort, and money. So if you enjoy and value my work, please contribute to the tip jar. I suggest $5 per episode or $20 per month, but any amount is appreciated. In return, regular contributors enjoy free access to my premium content.

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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.

You can listen to these 362 podcasts by subscribing to the Podcast RSS Feed. You can also peruse the podcast archive, where episodes and questions are sorted by date and by topic.

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.

You can also read my blog NoodleFood and subscribe to its Blog RSS Feed.

I can be reached via e-mail to diana@philosophyinaction.com.

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