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)

Superstitious Rituals, Punishing Yourself, and More

Q&A Radio: 4 January 2015

I answered questions on participating in superstitious rituals, punishing yourself, and more on 4 January 2015. 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: After answering last week's question on overcoming lethargy, I got my own rear in gear! I spend about 15 hours in another round of updates to the Explore Atlas Shrugged Study Guide.


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Segments: 4 January 2015


Question 1: Participating in Superstitious Rituals

Question: Is it wrong to participate in superstitious rituals without taking them seriously? If I make some perfunctory observance or participation in some superstitious ritual, and do not believe the superstitious ritual is of any literal importance, am I still promoting irrationality? If I regularly read the horoscope in the newspaper, but do not believe astrology has any real impact on my life, does reading the horoscope promote irrationality? Likewise, in Hawaii, almost all retail establishments possess what are called "good-luck cats." A good-luck cat is a relatively inexpensive Asian figurine depicting a cat with one paw raised. Having this figurine is supposed to bring good luck to your business. You can commonly see such good-luck cat figurines in doctor's offices in Honolulu, and for your retail establishment not to have such a figurine would easily strike people as strange. If I spent just a little money on such a good-luck cat to decorate my business, and I didn't literally believe the figurine itself affected my fortunes, would the purchase be a concession to irrational thinking? Would such a gesture be "social proof" that would help other people rationalize more obviously pathological forms of irrationality, such as wasting hundreds of dollars on fortune tellers and psychic hotlines?

Answer, In Brief: Belief in horoscopes, superstitions, and the like is irrational and destructive. If you're tempted by that kind of thinking, perform some scientific experiments. If you live in a community where it's taken seriously, don't encourage it by seeming to endorse it.

Tags: Business, Communication, Ethics, Holidays, Humor, Rationality, Religion, Sanction, Science, Superstition

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Question 2: Punishing Yourself

Question: Should a person punish herself for wrongdoing by depriving herself of a value? A friend of mine destroyed her phone in a fit of anger over a difficult situation that wasn't her fault. Now my friend feels guilty about her outburst. She thinks that she doesn't deserve to properly replace her phone, as that would reward her irrational outburst. She wants to either buy a cheap phone or go without a phone for a while. That seems needlessly self-destructive. How can I explain to her that she really ought to replace her phone?

Answer, In Brief: Punishment is a deeply misguided way to teach children, and it's little better for adults. Instead, this friend should focus on the root problem of her temper, and work on solving that so as to avoiding future outbursts.

Tags: Ethics, Honesty, Independence, Integrity, Justice, Moral Character, Moral Wrongs, Pride, Punishment, Values

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Rapid Fire Questions (1:00:30)

In this segment, I answered questions chosen at random by Greg Perkins impromptu. The questions were:
  • Is it wrong for rival studios to encourage theaters to drop "The Interview"? Some rival studios are worried that the threat against "The Interview" (even if not terribly credible) will discourage holiday season movie goers from going to the theater. Cynics will point out, though, that this also eliminates some of their competition. Do you think it's wrong for other studios to encourage theater chains not to carry the film?
  • Given that the word 'voluntary' does not mean what most opponents of coercion think it means, what word should we use instead?

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Conclusion (1:14:49)

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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