Defamation Laws, Pursuing Justice, Superhero Movies, and More
Q&A Radio: 27 July 2014
I answered questions on the justice of defamation laws, pursuing justice at great personal cost, the cultural effects of superhero movies, and more on 27 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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My News of the Week: Paul and I had a lovely anniversary vacation in Grand Lake. Also, I've been working on final edits to Explore Atlas Shrugged and preparing to raise money for a new version of Ari Armstrong's and my paper on abortion rights.
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Segments: 27 July 2014
Question: Do libel and slander laws violate or protect rights? Every few weeks, the media reports on some notable (or absurd) defamation case – meaning a claim of "false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another, as by slander or libel." While a person's reputation as a business or person is certainly important, do people really have a "right" to their reputation? Isn't reputation the reaction of others to your own actions and character? How can a person create or own their reputation? Do defamation laws violate the right to free speech by protecting a non-right?
Answer, In Brief: Although perhaps seeming to be just and proper, my strong provisional view is that defamation laws are unjustified in theory and chill free speech in practice.
Question: Should I pursue justice against a wrongdoer at great personal expense? I am trying to decide if I should file an ethics complaint against my former property manager for a rental property. Basically, she managed the property for me for several years until I visited the property and found it in a state of disrepair that annoyed and concerned me. So, I wanted to fire her. But before she would release me from our agreement, she charged me $1,200 for repairs and maintenance that she had done to the house between tenants. She never asked me if I wanted the work done and when pressed she told me it was a matter of routine and our contract granted her the power to make decisions like that. Upon inspection, I discovered that not only were some of the prices she paid were above market rate, it was her husband's company doing the work. I've reviewed some of the past records and she did this about 50% of the time. The Association of Realtors' code of ethics in my state specifically notes that she has to disclose relationships like that, but she didn't. So, I think whether she was in violation is pretty clear cut; however, some have argued that our contract supersedes the code of ethics. (If the board agrees with that argument, then this becomes a contract dispute and not an ethics concern.) If I file the complaint and the board decides to hear the case, I will have to hire a lawyer, make trips to the area, and basically shovel out even more money. The board could take her license or fine her, but in talking to a lawyer, and a couple of officers on the board it's more likely that they will push for some sort of education rather than taking her license. And none of that would do anything to get my money back. To get my money back, I'd probably have to go through an even more costly process of mediation, then arbitration, then suing her in small claims court where I would never recoup all of my costs. I think it's pretty obvious she's in the wrong and I think I can make the case strong enough to bring some measure of justice on her, but it would be expensive and stressful. On the other hand, she was very unpleasant to me and I hate to see her get away with being a horrible person and a corrupt professional. What should I do? How do I decide whether pursuing justice is worth my time and effort?
Answer, In Brief: You should not ever sacrifice yourself in the pursuit of justice – particularly not to an organization that's just protecting its members, not weeding out the dishonest and incompetent.
Question: Do good ideas in superhero movies and television change people's philosophy? I have really enjoyed the pro-freedom and pro-personal responsibility messages of some recent superhero movies. However, I wonder whether those messages do any good. Rationally, I believe that a person can enjoy these superhero characters and then relate their qualities to a normal human standard. However, for the average viewer, I wonder whether the gulf between their superpowers and ordinary human powers creates a moral gulf too, so that people see the moral ideals of the superheroes as beyond the reach of us mere mortals. Is that right? Can these movies really affect people's ideas?
Answer, In Brief: Like any other films, superhero movies and television shows can influence the culture, if people relate to the human qualities and struggles of the heros.
Rapid Fire Questions (58:54)
- Parrots have been shown to understand the concepts of 'bigger' and 'smaller'. Does this mean they a conceptual consciousness?
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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.