Psychological Egoism, Atlas Shrugged, Generosity, and More
Q&A Radio: 6 July 2014
I answered questions on psychological egoism, take two, the purpose of Atlas Shrugged, limiting another's generosity, and more on 6 July 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: 6 July 2014
Question: Isn't everyone selfish? If you dig deep enough, everyone seems to act in their own interests. I work because that's easier than being a welfare queen. But a college student might cave to his parents about his choice of career because that's easier than standing up for himself. Even the nun who seems to sacrifice everything is doing what she enjoys most and thinks best by her own religious standards. So isn't true altruism impossible? Isn't everyone selfish?
Answer, In Brief: Psychological egoism conflates a person's motivations for action with his self-interest – and declares that all actions are self-interested because they're all motivated. That's false: actions are motivated, but they may be motivated by self-sacrifice.
Question: Was Atlas Shrugged written to save America? Recently, I ran across this comment on the internet: ""Saving America wasn't the point of Atlas Shrugged, that's not the happily ever after it proposes in the end. It chronicles the main characters getting over that misguided mission and why." Two questions come to mind: (1) What was Ayn Rand's purpose in writing Atlas Shrugged? And (2) Do you think that being inspired to "save America" after reading Atlas Shrugged is misguided?
Answer, In Brief: The heroes of Atlas Shrugged aim to save America via their strike. However, Ayn Rand's purpose in writing the novel was literary, not didactic.
Question: How much generosity is too much? Generosity seems like a trait that would fit well into your theory of moral amplifiers. But how does one best deal with someone who is being overly generous? I recently relocated to a new city and one of my coworkers with whom I am friendly has really gone above and beyond trying to help me get settled. She is constantly offering to help, lend me things, or even give me things to make life easier. I appreciate her offers and turn down many of them as politely as I can. But I struggle to find the right balance of accepting her generosity in due proportion to our friendship. She seems to be fairly wealthy, so I don't think her offers are sacrificial in any way, my issue is that we are friends, but not close enough friends to justify the incessant barrage of motherly offerings. Through consistent communication about what I am willing to accept and what I won't – and also owing to actually getting settled in the new city – she's backed off a bit. More broadly, how would you recommend dealing with this sort of problem? How can a person make sure not to make this mistake of being overly generous?
Answer, In Brief: The problem in this case isn't so much one of excess generosity, but rather boundary-crossing. Be cautious, and err on the side of refusing offered favors.
Rapid Fire Questions (40:20)
- Can an individual work for the government and retain their integrity?
- How should one respond to a sexual partner who is turned on by forceful situations?
- Apart from Rand and Nietzsche, what other philosophies have staunchly defended 'this-worldliness'?
- Is it possible to show deference to your superiors without being humble and submissive?
- What do you think about the TV series "Parks and Recreation" and particularly about the character of Ron Swanson? Isn't that a smart depiction of both government bureaucracy and libertarians?
- How should we view the American tourists held captive by North Korea?
- Do you think it's possible to permanently change your personality by acting in a certain way?
- Is it second handed that I refuse to tell people my favorite writer is Ayn Rand? I'm just fed up with having to explain to people that liking Ayn Rand doesn't automatically make me an awful person.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.