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)

Marginal Humans, Wanting Sex, Polite Homophobes, and More

Q&A Radio: 21 July 2013

I answered questions on the 'marginal humans' argument, sex when not in the mood, responding to polite homophobes, and more on 21 July 2013. 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: I've been working on some programming projects for Philosophy in Action. Yesterday, my horse Lila and I won two first place and one second place ribbon doing the three "training level" tests in a dressage schooling show.


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Segments: 21 July 2013


Question 1: The "Marginal Humans" Argument

Question: What's wrong with the "marginal humans" argument against uniquely human rights? Ayn Rand, following Aristotle, defined man as the rational animal – meaning that man's essential quality is that he possesses the faculty of reason, while other animals do not. Such is the basis for rights, in her view. Opponents of animal rights often appeal to this gap between humans and other animals to justify raising animals to be killed and eaten. They claim that animals can't have rights because they're not rational. Advocates of animal rights, however, often attempt to refute this claim via the "marginal humans" argument. They observe that human infants lack the faculty of reason, and hence, we should not use rationality as the moral criterion for rights. What is wrong with this argument? Do opponents of animal rights conflate potential with actual rationality, in that the infant seems potentially but not actually capable of reason?

Answer, In Brief: The "marginal humans" arguments helps clarify the nature and limits of rights, but it does not undermine the view that rights are limited to humans or based on the capacity to reason.

Tags: Animal Rights, Animals, Children, Disability, Human Nature, Politics, Rights

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Question 2: Sex When Not in the Mood

Question: Is it wrong to have sex when you're not in the mood? Assume that you're in a long-term romantic relationship with another person. You are not always going to feel the desire to have sex. If your lover wants sex, is it wrong to have sex? Might you have sex anyway, perhaps because you want to do something nice for your lover - perhaps in the hope that your lover might do the same for you later? Many people seem uncomfortable with sex under those circumstances, i.e. absent a strong physical desire. Some think that having sex even if not in the mood isn't right: it's degrading and might lead to resentment. Others claim that if you're truly in love, then your physical desires will fall into line. Hence, if you don't want to have sex, you might not really be in love - or you might have other philosophical or psychological problems. Which of these views is right?

Answer, In Brief: Sex should never be a sacrifice, but that doesn't mean that both people must be desperately wanting it to have great sex.

Tags: Ethics, Love, Relationships, Romance, Romance, Sacrifice, Self-Sacrifice, Sex

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Question 3: Responding to Polite Homophobes

Question: How should I respond to people who think that homosexuality is an immoral or neurotic choice? I'm straight, but I have many gay friends. From years of experience, I know that they're virtuous and rational people. Moreover, their romantic relationships are not fundamentally different from mine. Also, I'm a strong believer in gay rights, including gay marriage. So what should I do when confronted with seemingly decent people who think that homosexuality is an immoral choice, based in neurosis, or otherwise unhealthy? These people often present their ideas in polite and seemingly respectable ways; they're not just flaming bigots. Yet still I find them appalling, particularly when used to justify denying rights to gays. Should I be more tolerant of such views? How should I express my disagreement?

Answer, In Brief: Given today's cultural context, hatred of or bias against gays is not an excusable position for most people: it's too obviously wrong. A person deeply committed to that – meaning, a person who publicly condemns gays or treats them unjustly – deserves to be ostracized by decent people.

Tags: Bigotry, Communication, Epistemology, Ethics, GLBT, Love, Psychology, Romance, Sex, Sexism

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Rapid Fire Questions (59:02)

In this segment, I answered questions chosen at random by Greg Perkins impromptu. The questions were:
  • What are you thoughts on the outcome of the Zimmerman trial? Was justice served or not?
  • How much time do you spend each week preparing for this show? What are the perks and drawbacks of being a full-time philosopher?
  • Is there any point saying 'bless you' when someone sneezes?

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Conclusion (1:05:05)

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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