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)

Objectivity of Manners, Fighting Words, Past Conversations, and More

Q&A Radio: 30 November 2014

I answered questions on the objectivity of manners, fighting words, obsessing over past conversations, and more on 30 November 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.

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Segments: 30 November 2014


Question 1: The Objectivity of Manners

Question: 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?

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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Question 2: Fighting Words

Question: Do verbal insults sometimes justify a response of physical violence? In a recent discussion of bullying, most people agreed that the child in question should not have hit the kids bullying him, given that those bullies were merely making awful remarks, as opposed to being violent or threatening. However, one person suggested that a physically violent response might be justified if all other avenues were exhausted – meaning that the bully was told to stop, efforts to enlist the help of the authorities failed, and a warning was given. Is that right? Is it ever right to respond to purely verbal insults with physical violence?

Answer, In Brief: Unless the words are implicitly threatening or inviting a fight, a person can and should walk away from merely verbal harassment. That applies to kids as much to adults, but in the case of kids, parents and teachers have a responsibility to protect kids from situations in which verbal bullying can only be stopped by physical violence.

Tags: Bullying, Children, Communication, Crime, Crime, Education, Ethics, Free Speech, Law, Parenting, Rights, Violence

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Question 3: Obsessing over Past Conversations

Question: How can I stop obsessing over past conversations? After having a conversation with someone, I often obsess about what I said to them and the way that I said it. I think about they ways they could have misinterpreted what I meant, and I worry that they thought I was being rude or disrespectful. Most of the time, of course, whatever nuances I thought would offend them were either non-existent or just went straight over their head. How can I overcome this obsessiveness, while still maintaining a healthy level of concern for how what I say may be interpreted?

Answer, In Brief: It's not healthy to obsess over past conversations, and you can help your brain overcome that tendency by noticing when you do it, seeking out objective feedback, and more. If you can't do it alone, seek therapy.

Tags: Character, Communication, Ethics, Friendship, Psychology, Reputation

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Rapid Fire Questions (52:30)

In this segment, I answered questions chosen at random by Greg Perkins impromptu. The questions were:
  • Could you ever be friends with an IRS agent?
  • Should 'cleanliness' be classed as a virtue? If so, is it minor or major?
  • Ayn Rand called the military-industrial complex 'a myth or worse'. Was she right? What is the military industrial complex? What would it look like in a free society?
  • What role do you think insurance plays in the ever-increasing regulatory environment in our culture?

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Conclusion (1:05:02)

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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