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Competition, Risking Welfare, Trolley Problem, Infatuation, and More

Q&A Radio: 1 September 2013

I answered questions on the value of competition, risking welfare by having children, the trolley problem, romantic infatuation, and more for Philosophy in Action Radio on 1 September 2013. Greg Perkins of Objectivist Answers was my co-host. Listen to or download the podcast below.

Remember, Philosophy in Action Radio is available to anyone, free of charge. That's because our goal is to spread rational principles for real life far and wide, as we do every week to thousands of listeners. We love doing that, but each episode requires our time, effort, and money. So if you enjoy and value our work, please contribute to our tip jar. We suggest $5 per episode or $20 per month, but any amount is appreciated. You can send your contribution via Dwolla, PayPal, or US Mail.

My News of the Week: I've been busy with the final edit of my forthcoming book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.

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Segments: 1 September 2013


Question 1: The Value of Competition (3:40)

Question: What is the value of competition? You recently competed in your first three-phase event on your horse. Why did you bother to do that? How did that affect your mindset and training? What did you learn from the experience? More broadly, what is the value of such competition? Shouldn't people always do their best, even when not being tested against other people?

Answer, In Brief: Competition (and performance) can motivate a person to cultivate his skills more intensively, as well as teach him how to cope with mistakes, provided that the person focus on doing his reasonable best, not just besting others. It's well worth trying!

Tags: Competition, Ethics, Evasion, Habits, Hobbies, Independence, Mistakes, Perfectionism, Pride, Skills, Sports

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Question 2: Risking Welfare by Having Children (32:08)

Question: Should a person forgo having children to avoid the risk of needing welfare? I know that accepting government welfare is wrong: it's a kind of loot stolen from taxpayers. For a person to accept welfare is damaging to his life and happiness. However, I would like children, but in today's economy, particularly with my spouse's frequent job turnover, I'm not sure that's possible without ever relying on welfare. If I had children, I don't know if I would be able to resist becoming a looter to care for them. What if the only alternative is for the state to take charge of them? I couldn't allow that. Wouldn't accepting welfare be better than that?

Answer, In Brief: A person should be capable of honoring his financial obligations before he embarks on them – particularly children. So if you want children, work to make yourself more financially secure.

Tags: Children, Ethics, Parenting, Responsibility, Welfare

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Question 3: The Trolley Problem (38:23)

Question: Does the "trolley problem" have any validity or use? I often come across people who think ethical philosophy consists of asking others what they would do in hypothetical situations in which they are allowed only two options, both terrible. One I keep coming across is that of the Trolley Problem proposed by Philippa Foot and modified by Judith Thomson, in which one must choose whether to kill one person or let five others die. Is it valid for moral philosophers to pose the Trolley Problem to people and to insist that people's answers show that one can only either be a deontologist or a utilitarian?

Answer, In Brief: The trolley problem is neither a valid starting point to ethics, nor signals a divide between deontology and consequentialism. Instead, a person's response often suggests implicit views about responsibility for acts of omission versus commission.

Tags: Emergencies, Ethics, Philosophy

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Question 4: Romantic Infatuation (57:04)

Question: Is it wrong to indulge romantic infatuation? I am infatuated with a young woman for whom I am not a suitable match, including because I am 30 and she is 16. It is strictly a fantasy; I make no effort to pursue or to make my feelings known to her and have no intention to ever do so. However, in private, I am deeply in love with her and practically worship her like a celebrity and collect all her pictures. (I refrain from masturbating to her because doing so makes me feel guilty.) Due to deficiencies in my life that I consider unfixable, I have low self-esteem and have given up on dating for the foreseeable future, if not indefinitely. Do you think my behavior is creepy, immoral, or bad for my own well being?

Answer, In Brief: This infatuation is dangerous to yourself and the girl. You need to stop it, immediately. Please seek professional help.

Tags: Emotions, Ethics, Love, Mental Illness, Psychology, Romance

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Rapid Fire Questions (1:04:28)

In this segment, I answered questions chosen at random by Greg Perkins impromptu. The questions were:
  • Is it irrational to be upset when someone asks you your age? This seems to be most common among older women, but one's age is a fact of reality--what's the shame in acknowledging it? In "The Machinery of Freedom," David Friedman says: what if an asteroid is heading toward Earth and will kill everyone, unless you use a special machine to destroy it? There is only one unit of that machine in existence. And it's owned by a misanthrope who refuses to use it and wants everyone to die. So would you steal it from him and use it? If so, then property rights aren't absolute. What say you?

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Conclusion (1:09:04)

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About Philosophy in Action

I'm Dr. Diana Hsieh. I'm a philosopher specializing in the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. I received my Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2009. My book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, is available for purchase in paperback, as well as for Kindle and Nook. 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 radio show, Philosophy in Action Radio, broadcasts live over the internet on Sunday mornings and most Thursday evenings. On Sunday mornings, I answer questions applying rational principles to the challenges of real life in a live hour-long show. Greg Perkins of Objectivist Answers co-hosts the show. On Thursday evenings, I interview an expert guest or chat about a topic of interest.

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