Justifying Punishment, Passive Income, Price Gouging, and More
Q&A Radio: 12 January 2014
I answered questions on justifying punishment, living on passive income, the morality of price gouging, and more on 12 January 2014. 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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Segments: 12 January 2014
Question: What justifies punishing people for committing crimes? In your 2006 graduate paper, "The Scope Problem in Punishment," you criticize utilitarian theories of punishment that aim for deterrence of future crimes on the grounds that they don't punish all and only those who are guilty. Yet why is that a problem? Moreover, why should a criminal be punished if doing so won't have any future benefits, such as deterring future crimes? Doesn't self-interest require that actions have some future benefit – and if so, shouldn't all punishment have some positive future effect like deterrence?
Answer, In Brief: The justification for the practice of punishment must be a rights-based retributive theory, otherwise the theory of punishment will demand that some innocent people be punished and some guilty people not be punished. However, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation are legitimate values to be sought when considering how to punish criminals.
Question: Is it moral to live on passive income or just work a "four hour work week"? Would that be compatible with the idea that a person's productive work should be his central purpose? If a person is so productive that he is able to enjoy a great life by only working a few hours per week, would it be wrong for that person to spend the rest of his time on travel, relationships, hobbies, self-improvement, education, and other non-productive interests?
Answer, In Brief: Morality requires that you support your life by your own efforts, producing and trading for the material goods required for survival. It doesn't require you to put in a certain number of hours at work, and it shouldn't entail living for weekends and retirement.
Question: Is it morally wrong to profit from someone else's distress? People often decry "taking advantage" of other people as cruel and wrong. For example, suppose that a person desperately needs water after a hurricane or other natural disaster. I charge him $1000 for a gallon jug, knowing that he can pay that much if he's really that desperate. Is such price gouging immoral? Is it fundamentally different from other kinds of trade – or just different in degree? Is it morally wrong to profit so handsomely by the distress and scanty options of other people in this way?
Answer, In Brief: Price gouging is not immoral. So long as the transaction is voluntary, then each side regards himself as better off for having made the trade, and others benefit too. However, choosing not to price gouge is often a very self-interested choice for those interested in creating goodwill and reputation, as well as those who wish to be benevolent.
Rapid Fire Questions (1:00:31)
- What is the doctrine of double effect?
- People use words like 'dirty' in a playful way to describe sexual things (e.g. a 'dirty' movie). Should such terms be abandoned, since they originated in a time when sex was actually considered dirty?
- Is regifting moral?
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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.