Certainty, Limits of Sympathy, Scolding Children, Panhandlers, and More
Q&A Radio: 18 August 2013
I answered questions on achieving practical certainty, the limits of sympathy for failures, scolding other people's children, responding to panhandlers, and more on 18 August 2013. 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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My News of the Week: My first three-phase event on Lila last Sunday went very well, as I blogged here, and I'm looking forward to my second (and last of 2013) in October. Since I can't broadcast this Sunday, Greg and I will host a "Rapid Fire Extravaganza" on Thursday evening. The podcast will be posted on Sunday.
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Segments: 18 August 2013
Question: What must I do to reach certainty about a course of action? Suppose that I'm being careful in my thinking about a practical matter – perhaps about how to solve a problem at work, whether to move to a new city, whether to marry my girlfriend, or whether to cut contact with a problem friend. When can I say that I'm certain – or at least justified in acting on my conclusions? Given my personality type (INTP), I tend to leave questions open for far too long, when really, at some point, I need to close them. Are there any general guidelines or principles around figuring out what that point of closure should be? Even then, when should I revisit my conclusions, if ever?
Answer, In Brief: Practical certainty is possible – as is changing course when you realize that you've made a mistake. Basically, a person must understand the costs of deliberating too much or too little, then aim for the right amount given the choice being made in the context of his other values.
Question: How much sympathy should I have for people failing in their obligations due to personal struggles? In the past two years, I've witnessed two businesses (both one-person operations) crash and burn due to the owners' inability to continue to operate while suffering from severe depression. I don't know the trigger in the first case, but in the second case, the depression was precipitated by a divorce, then the murder of a toddler in the family. The business is online, and unhappy customers have been airing their frustration with the fact that they never received goods already paid-for. Some friends are stepping in to help, but the owner's reputation has been ruined. How much slack should I – or others aware of the situation – cut the owner? How far should my sympathy go?
Answer, In Brief: Be sympathetic to this person facing personal tragedy, but you need to protect yourself by keeping your distance.
Question: Is it wrong to discipline other people's children when they refuse to do so? I was eating lunch at an outdoor market. A woman and her son stopped near me, and the boy (who was probably around 8 years old) leaned over my table and stuck his finger in my food. Then he started laughing and ran around in circles. The mom looked at me and dismissively said, "He's autistic." Then she walked away. How should I have responded? Is there a respectful way to tell a stranger that her son's behavior is unacceptable in a public setting? Would it be wrong to speak to the boy directly?
Answer, In Brief: The child's behavior was inappropriate, and you're entitled to assert your boundaries. You can do so kindly but firmly – and this encounter is an opportunity to practice that.
Question: How should I respond to panhandlers asking for money? I live and work in a downtown area, and I am often asked by strangers on the street for money. These requests vary in form from the brief but honest ("Spare some change?") to the manipulative and dishonest. My stock response is to say that I have no cash, which is almost always true, but somewhat dishonest in that my lack of cash is not my main reason for refusing to give. Explaining my real reasons – I don't know who this person is, I don't know how he will spend the money, and I don't think giving people money helps reduce their reliance on handouts in the future – seems overly harsh on someone who is obviously having a rough time of it already, and takes a long time to boot. I feel like I should acknowledge the request somehow, but I want to effectively disengage from the situation as quickly and safely as possible. Is my stock response inappropriate because it is dishonest? If I shouldn't be using my stock response, what can I say to quickly and safely disengage? Also, I get a lot of dubious stories about being stranded downtown without bus fare. I've often thought about carrying a few valid, single-use transit tickets with which to respond to such stories. It's something I can afford, and it would in theory limit how my charity gets used. Would this be a wise or safe course of action?
Answer, In Brief: Giving money to panhandlers likely feeds addicts and scammers, not people in genuine distress. If you don't want to give, decline promptly and civilly, then move on. If you want to give, then find a suitable charity or some non-saleable item.
Rapid Fire Questions (1:02:09)
- I've heard the phrase "Happy Sunday" frequently on the show. Is there some special meaning to this phrase? It reminds me too much of religion, but I'd like to warm up to it.
- What is your opinion of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement?
- Due to a Christian upbringing, I find that I often say things like, "Those good Samaritans helped me," or "that's a Goliath task!" Should I work to remove these from my repertoire, or are they okay?
- Did you experiment with other diets (e.g. low carb, raw, vegetarian, etc) to see how they made you feel before settling on paleo as the best diet for you?
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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 email@example.com.