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)

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.

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 visited Paul's family in Los Angeles this week, and I particularly enjoyed being the fun aunt to my niece and nephew! Now, I'm back to work. Also... Go Broncos!


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Segments: 12 January 2014


Question 1: Justifying Punishment

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.

Tags: Crime, Ethics, Justice, Law, Objectivity, Politics, Punishment, Retributivism, Utilitarianism

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Question 2: Living on Passive Income

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.

Tags: Business, Capitalism, Career, Central Purpose, Ethics, Hobbies, Passive Income, Productiveness, Productivity

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Question 3: The Morality of Price Gouging

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.

Tags: Benevolence, Capitalism, Economics, Ethics, Justice, Law, Price Gouging

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Rapid Fire Questions (1:00:31)

In this segment, I answered questions chosen at random by Greg Perkins impromptu. The questions were:
  • 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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Conclusion (1:07:25)

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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