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)

The Objectivity of Manners

Q&A Radio: 30 November 2014, Question 1

I answered a question on the objectivity of manners on 30 November 2014. You can listen to or download the podcast of just this question below – or check out the whole episode of Philosophy in Action Radio.

Are manners objective? In a recent Rapid Fire Question, I think you rather too quickly dismissed the idea that manners or etiquette can be objective. You fairly quickly threw the whole lot of them over into the socially-subjective category. However, I think there's a lot that's not at all subjective, nor even optional, about manners. I happen to live in a country, China, which is much-renowned for its lack of basic human decency, and I would argue that this is a fair claim. For example, it's quite regular for a parent to pull his child's pants down and facilitate his or her urinating or defecating all over a vehicle of transportation, up to and including an international flight. It's also quite normal to hawk in such a way as to clear every cavity in one's upper torso, admire a particular piece of ground, and splat the results of one's personal nasal expiration for all to admire and tread upon. After a home-cooked meal, a guest is expected to belch massively. A small belch is a sign of dissatisfaction. To me, the latter seems quite a matter of optional cultural choice. What you said before about manners applies quite nicely to that issue: it's fairly arbitrary whether you should or you should not belch after your meal. At my in-laws' place, please do. At my mom's place, please don't. However, when I think about other ways in which Chinese people are "rude" to an American, I can think of a thousand examples where it's not just subjective. Pissing or shitting on a public bus is not just arbitrarily unacceptable to us silly overwrought Westerners. It's objectively rude. For another example, today when I was trying to get onto a bus, hale and hearty Chinese twenty-somethings were pushing in front of me in a giant triangle of evil. Nobody cared if I was there before them, nobody cared if the signs all said to line up respectfully, they just elbowed each other out of the way in order to get on the bus. So are manners objective, at least in part?

My Answer, In Brief: Manners are objective: good principles of manners are well-grounded in facts. Many are an application of proper moral principles to social interactions, and others are matters of efficiency. However, etiquette is often a matter of optional convention.

Tags: Benevolence, Convention, Efficiency, Emotions, Ethics, Etiquette, Justice, Manners, Moral Wrongs, Rights


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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.

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I can be reached via e-mail to diana@philosophyinaction.com.

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