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)

Breaking Laws, Vigilantism, Stealing Valor, and More

Webcast Q&A: 15 April 2012

I answered questions on the morality of breaking the law, the morality of vigilantism, stealing valor, selling sub-optimal products, and more on 15 April 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.

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Segments: 15 April 2012


Question 1: The Morality of Breaking the Law

Question: When is it moral to break the law? Laws should be written to protect individual rights. Unfortunately, many laws today violate rights. When should I abide by a rights-violating law, and when is it proper to break it?

Answer, In Brief: A person does not have any moral obligation to submit to violations of his rights. However, the proper course – whether complying with the law, breaking the law overtly, or breaking the law covertly – depends on the particulars of the situation. Mostly, get legal advice first!

Tags: Ethics, Free Society, Government, Law, Rights

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Question 2: The Morality of Vigilantism

Question: Where is the line between justice and vigilantism? When is it moral to take the law into your own hands – meaning pursuing, detaining, and/or punishing criminals as a private citizen? Suppose that you know – without a shadow of a doubt – that some person committed a serious crime against you or a loved one. If the justice system cannot punish the person due to some technicality, is it wrong for you to do so? If you're caught, should a judge or jury punish you, as if you'd committed a crime against an innocent person?

Answer, In Brief: The vigilante is not an agent of justice, but a threat to innocents and to the foundations of civilized society.

Tags: Anarchism, Crime, Ethics, Government, Law, Rights

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Question 3: Stealing Valor

Question: Should "stealing valor" be a crime? Rencently, a man was arrested by the FBI in Houston and charged with "stolen valor." This is the charge made against someone who falsely poses as a decorated soldier. Is it proper to make this a crime? Why or why not?

Answer, In Brief: Undoubtedly, "stealing valor" is reprehensible, but not everything reprehensible should be a crime. The legal response to "stealing valor" ought to be the same as for other kinds of credentials fraud, whether protect speech, civil fraud, or criminal fraud.

Tags: Constitution, Ethics, Fraud, Free Speech, Government, Law, Rights

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Question 4: Selling Sub-Optimal Products

Question: What should a businessman do if he decides that his product or service is not really good? More specifically, what should a businessman do if he's rises up in the business world on promoting a particular product or service, only to learn decades into the ventures that there are better alternatives? As a fictional example, let's take a mattress manufacturer CEO. He has spent decades of his life trying to make the most comfortable mattresses possible, but then read scientific studies that concludes that there is no healthier sleeping surface than the solid floor, and in using his honest judgment he agrees. Being so high up and so long involved in the mattress world, what are the moral range of options for him?

Answer, In Brief: Morality in business does not requires producing optimal products, but only good products for honest trade. In this case, the businessman has a range of options, including some moral pitfalls to avoid.

Tags: Business, Ethics, Perfectionism

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Rapid Fire Questions (58:52)

In this segment, I answered questions chosen at random by Greg Perkins impromptu. The questions were:
  • Why are vigilante movies so popular?
  • How is a citizen's arrest different from vigilantism?
  • Is there a lower threshold for when it's okay to break a regulation?
  • Given the lack of Antonin Scalia's "New Professionalism" in police action, is the exclusionary rule is an important safeguard?
  • If a government actor has ruined your life unjustly is vengeance a moral option?
  • Is moral perfection a habit and if so is it one of yours?
  • Must a political candidate be chosen by conflating him/her with the party they happen to be running under, or is it reasonable to select a candidate but not agree with the party they run under?
  • Where does Ayn Rand talk about a "central purpose" - and what does she mean by it?

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Conclusion (1:08:02)

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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