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)

Inequality, Genetic Engineering, Ten Commandments, and More

Q&A Radio: 20 October 2013

I answered questions on the social effects of economic inequality, favoritism for the genetically engineered, the value of the Ten Commandments, and more on 20 October 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: My new book Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame is now available in paperback, Kindle, Nook editions. I'll speak at Liberty on the Rocks - Flatirons on Monday, Oct 28th on "Why Personality Matters in Politics... But Not in the Way You Think."

Note: We had awful technical troubles in this episode: Greg and I were required to call into BlogTalkRadio on our phones, rather than using Skype. Alas, the result was a screeching in the background that I couldn't remove from the podcast. So sorry!


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Segments: 20 October 2013


Question 1: The Social Effects of Economic Inequality

Question: Is an egalitarian society a better society? In his 2009 book "The Spirit Level," Richard Wilkinson argues that income inequality has a broad range of negative effects on society. According to the summary on Wikipedia, "It claims that for each of eleven different health and social problems: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies, and child well-being, outcomes are significantly worse in more unequal rich countries." Are these egalitarian arguments wrong? If so, what's the best approach to refuting them?

Answer, In Brief: While Richard Wilkinson's statistics are intriguing, the fact is that mere inequality cannot be the root cause of social ills. Undoubtedly, the his collectivist proposal to compel greater equality for the good of society is neither a moral nor a practical solution to any social problems.

Tags: Causation, Collectivism, Culture, Egalitarianism, Equality, Ethics, John Rawls, Politics, Rights, Statistics

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Question 2: Favoritism for the Genetically Engineered

Question: Once some children are genetically engineered, wouldn't discrimination against natural children be inevitable? Assume that humanity has advanced to the technological capacities of the movie "Gattaca," where the best possible genes for each child could be (and mostly would be) chosen before implantation of the embryo. In that case, how could society prevent discrimination against people who were conceived naturally? Those chosen genes would include genes for determination, the desire to learn, motivation, and more, such that engineered people would always win out based on merit. The movie "Gattaca" shows a natural child rising above his engineered counterparts because of his great determination and spirit. The movie's tagline is even "there is no gene for the human spirit." But if there is such a thing as a human spirit, then there surely must be a gene for it. So would discrimination against natural children be inevitable? If so, would it be unjust?

Answer, In Brief: Due to free will, genes do not determine the course and character of a person's life. However, the genetically engineered would have advantages, but that doesn't mean that they'd always be preferred in a free market or that natural-born people wouldn't have an opportunity to work and live well.

Tags: Comparative Advantage, Discrimination, Economics, Freedom of Association, Free Society, Genetic Engineering, Rights

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Question 3: The Value of the Ten Commandments

Question: Are the Ten Commandments of value to an atheist? Are the Ten Commandments a useful guide to living a good life, even for people who are not Jewish or Christian? Should a rational person look to religious scriptures for ethical guidance?

Answer, In Brief: To an atheist, the Ten Commandments are a set of arbitrary dogmas without any value in themselves. Even those that are "correct" must be grasped as principles based on the facts of reality, not accepted from authority.

Tags: Bible, Christianity, Duty Ethics, Ethics, Law, Religion

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Rapid Fire Questions (1:02:02)

In this segment, I answered questions chosen at random by Greg Perkins impromptu. The questions were:
  • Do you think Kant's view of bastard children grew out of his religiosity?
  • You've said before that you don't think sexual orientation is innate, as this would require innate concepts of male and female. If so, how does sexual orientation work in non-human species?
  • John Aglialoro (the producer of the Atlas Shrugged movies) apparently plans to include a scene in Part 3 in which Dagny Taggart talks to a priest. The first two movies weren't anything to write home about, but is this enough reason to boycott Part 3 completely?

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Conclusion (1:08:05)

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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