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)

Keeping Secrets, Ultimate Ends, Studying History, and More

Q&A Radio: 29 September 2013

I answered questions on keeping secrets, choosing an ultimate end, studying history, moral blacks and whites, and more on 29 September 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 putting the finishing touches on my forthcoming book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame. Alas, my horse Lila is still slightly lame.


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Segments: 29 September 2013


Question 1: Keeping Secrets

Question: When should I respect a person's request to keep information secret? Often, people ask me to keep something they've told me (or will tell me) to myself. Or, they'll ask me not to share it with anyone other than my spouse. Such secrets might consist of happy news that will soon be known, such as future career plans or a pregnancy. That's no problem. However, when the matter is more serious – like psychological struggles, personal wrongdoings, marital troubles, and conflicts with mutual friends – I feel like I'm caught in a bind. Often, I have reason to fear that other people I care about might be hurt, and I feel an obligation to warn them. Is that right? Or am I obliged to keep secrets scrupulously?

Answer, In Brief: Discretion about private or sensitive information is important to functional and decent relationships. Iron-clad secrecy, however, is morally perilous for everyone.

Tags: Communication, Conflict, Discretion, Ethics, Relationships, Secrets

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Question 2: Choosing an Ultimate End

Question: Can a person choose an ultimate value other than his own life? Ayn Rand claims that each person's life is his own ultimate value. Similarly, Aristotle says that each person's final end is his own flourishing or well-being. Does that mean that a person cannot have a different ultimate value or final end? Or just that they should not?

Answer, In Brief: There is only one rational and justified ultimate end: a person's own life and happiness. Yet a person can pursue other values – whether genuine values or not – as his ultimate end. The results of that are not good for anyone, however.

Tags: Aristotle, Ethics, Life, Meta-Ethics, Objectivism, Values

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Question 3: Studying History

Question: How should a person approach the study of history? I've always prided myself on being a "student of history" – meaning that I read and think a great deal about the past and try to apply its lessons to the future. Is this a valid approach? Am I missing a bigger picture? Do you have any tips on being a better "student of history"?

Answer, In Brief: A person can choose from a variety of rational approaches to history, depending on his purpose. Beware of ideologically heavy and overbroad histories, as they'll be impoverished on facts.

Tags: Education, Epistemology, History, Philosophy

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Question 4: Moral Blacks and Whites

Question: Can life be morally black and white? People often say life is not "black and white," meaning that sometimes we must navigate morally gray zones, particularly when dealing with complex decisions involving other people. However, if we make decisions based on objective absolutes, doesn't that eliminate these so-called "morally gray zones"?

Answer, In Brief: Reality is black and white, but grasping that is often difficult – even when armed with clear and true principles.

Tags: Epistemology, Ethics, Honesty, Metaphysics, Moral Wrongs, Virtue

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Rapid Fire Questions (1:05:54)

In this segment, I answered questions chosen at random by Greg Perkins impromptu. The questions were:
  • What do you think of the looming government shutdown?

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Conclusion (1:09:41)

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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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