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)

Karma, Responsibility for Pets, Gift Exchanges, and More

Q&A Radio: 7 December 2014

I answered questions on the reality of karma, responsibility for pets, meaningless gift exchanges, and more on 7 December 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 resumed the chapter-by-chapter discussions of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, this week! Today, I'm testing out broadcasting on the way to foxhunting, where I have much faster internet.


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Segments: 7 December 2014


Question 1: The Reality of Karma

Question: Is karma real? Although the concept of "karma" has religious roots, it seems to contain a grain of truth, namely that people will, in the end, get what they deserve. So if a father is mean to his children, he will find them unwilling to help him when he suffers a health crisis in his old age. In contrast, children raised with love and kindness will be eager to help their ailing father. Is this understanding of karma true? Is this a concept that rational people might or should use in their moral thinking?

Answer, In Brief: Because the concept of "karma" lumps together moral causality and matters of luck, it's mysticism cannot ever be fully shed. Use it colloquially or tongue-in-cheek, but not for serious thinking about ethics.

Tags: Epistemology, Ethics, Justice, Luck, Metaphysics, Religion

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Question 2: Responsibility for Pets

Question: Should I put my cat down rather than leave him in a shelter? After listening to the podcast question about the person who lived in Philadelphia and wanted to get out of the ghetto, I got the motivation to land a great new job in Seattle. I am moving to a new city in a few weeks and will be traveling quite a bit. I will not be able to take care of my cat with all of the traveling. I don't have the money to hire people to watch my pet while I am gone. I have put the cat up on billboards and ebay classifieds with no responses. The cat isn't friendly to anyone but me, so I doubt a prospective adopter would choose to take him after meeting him. As my move date grows closer, I am wondering if it would be better to have my cat put down than to leave him with a shelter. What should I do?

Answer, In Brief: You have an obligation to this cat, and please explore some more options before you put him down. There are ways that you could find him a new home or enable him to stay with you.

Tags: Animals, Ethics, Pets, Responsibility, Values

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Question 3: Meaningless Gift Exchanges

Question: How can I stop exchanging meaningless holiday presents with my siblings? My siblings and I are friendly but not close, but we still exchange Christmas presents. Mostly, that means that we buy each other stuff that we really don't want. That seems like a waste of time and money. I'd like to stop exchanging gifts with them, but how can I do so without hurting their feelings?

Answer, In Brief: You have lots of options besides the traditional models of gift-giving. Broach the topic with your family in a spirit of benevolence and goodwill about how to improve the holidays for everyone.

Tags: Benevolence, Communication, Family, Family, Holidays, Relationships, Siblings

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Rapid Fire Questions (33:51)

In this segment, I answered questions chosen at random by Greg Perkins impromptu. The questions were:
  • Does the typical usage of Karma have an altruistic implication - that your good standing in the world is based on doing good for others?
  • What do people mean when they tell you you're being 'harsh'? Is it the same as being unjust?
  • What do you think of Interstellar?
  • What modern fiction writer would you recommend?
  • How can a person be objective in evaluating the people that he dates?
  • What's wrong with the nihilistic argument that life is meaningless because death is inevitable?
  • I've begun reading Dr. Leonard Peikoff's new book, "The DIM Hypothesis." If you've read it I'd be very interested to hear what you think of it. Might it represent a "new" philosophy or "turning point"?
  • Why have Objectivists (including Ayn Rand) tended to use deontic language ("right" and "wrong") to describe actions rather than virtue ethics language ("good and "bad")?
  • Should the independent creator of a technology be barred from using or producing it due to an existing patent? Should it matter if the independent inventor lives in a different state or country?
  • Is it moral to allow a young child extremely fascinated with the human body to watch simple surgery videos to learn what doctors do, provided the parent prescreens the video for gruesomeness?

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Conclusion (1:00:23)

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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