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)

Rights to Things, Extreme Cases, Being Helpful, and More

Q&A Radio: 29 March 2015

I answered questions on claims of rights to food and shelter, extreme cases, being helpful to a disliked co-worker, and more on 29 March 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: I've been very productive since SnowCon, particularly in getting the book version of Explore Atlas Shrugged ready for publication.


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Segments: 29 March 2015


Question 1: Claims of Rights to Food and Shelter

Question: Do people have a right to food and shelter? I recently had a conversation with a Facebook friend who stated that food and shelter are more than necessities, they are rights. I posed the question, "How does one exercise their right to food and shelter?" No one answered the question, so I would like to pose it here. Most food in this country is grown by farmers and sold fresh, or processed in a factory for sale. If food is a "right," does anyone without the means to buy these products have an inherent right to take what they need without any remuneration to the farmer or the manufacturer? The same applies to shelter. How does one exercise their "right" to shelter without a means to earn it? We have a right to free speech, and a right to vote. One is exercised by speaking your mind on a subject without fear of government reprisal, and the other is exercised by voting during elections. We have the right to practice whatever religion we want or none at all. The press has the right to print or say whatever they want. Any "right" to food or shelter would have to operate differently. So are food and shelter a "right"? What would that mean in practice?

Answer, In Brief: The only “right to food and shelter” that people have is a right to pursue that, by their own efforts and voluntary trade with others. Government welfare programs violate those rights, and worse, do serious harm to the poor.

Tags: Economics, Ethics, Government, Law, Politics, Progressivism, Rights, Three Languages of Politics, Values, Welfare

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Question 2: Extreme Cases

Question: Do moral principles break down in extreme cases? When faced with bizarre hypotheticals, advocates of rational egoism often assert that such scenarios would never happen. This seems to be dodging the question. It's said that conventional understandings of physics break down at microscopic and extremely grand-scale levels. Does morality follow a similar pattern? For example, what if a small society of people stranded on an island faced a shortage of clean water, and a single individual who owned all access to clean water refused to sell it? Is that really impossible? Doesn't that show that the principle of individual rights breaks down in extreme cases?

Answer, In Brief: Lifeboat scenarios are not particularly relevant to the core of ethics, yet many of the basic principles of ethics still apply, even in desperate circumstances.

Tags: Benevolence, Emergencies, Ethics, Justice, Lifeboat Ethics, Rights

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Question 3: Being Helpful to a Disliked Co-Worker

Question: Should I do something nice for a coworker I dislike? There's a lady at work that I dislike. My conflict with her is primarily merely a conflict of personality. I find her defensive, passive-aggressive, and awkward to the point of rudeness. I am also not very impressed with her work products, but that rarely has a direct impact on me – except when I'm asked to review them – as is the fact that she only seems to work for about six hours every day. Indirectly, of course, her eccentricities and poor work quality cast our team in a very poor light and could eventually serve as a reason to dissolve or lay off our team. It's a mystery as to why she hasn't been fired. But I'm not her manager. In a meeting earlier today, she made a remark that she thought she was being excluded from important meetings that are relevant to her work. The truth is that she's not being actively excluded from these meetings, but rather everything is happening so fast and the meetings aren't always planned, so it's really just not possible to include her in those meetings. She would probably be heartened to understand better how these events take place in our company. (She's rather new, and I am very tenured.) She might feel better about her position and she might become less defensive about things if she had a better understanding of the organizational mechanics here. But I strongly dislike her and would prefer that she seek other employment. Should I be kind and explain those mechanics or not?

Answer, In Brief: While you have no duty to help this co-worker, you might err on the side of benevolence. Don’t speak to her directly, but instead speak to your manager (and hers, if necessary).

Tags: Benevolence, Business, Communication, Ethics, Relationships

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Rapid Fire Questions (59:42)

In this segment, I answered questions chosen at random by Greg Perkins impromptu. The questions were:
  • Is it ever the case that someone who's being really annoying just deserves to be socked in the face?

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Conclusion (1:02:46)

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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