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)

Needs Versus Wants, Medical Care for the Poor, and More

Q&A Radio: 7 June 2015

I answered questions on needs versus wants, medical care for the poor, and more on 7 June 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.

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Segments: 7 June 2015


Question 1: Needs Versus Wants

Question: Is the distinction between needs and wants valid? Anti-capitalist philosophers such as Giles Deleuze accuse the capitalist system of depending on blurring the distinction between needs and wants and tyrannizing over us by implanting artificial needs into our minds. In contrast, George Reisman justifies capitalist extravagance on the basis that human needs are technically infinite and that our needs expand as we become more affluent. Who is right? Is the distinction between needs and wants valid or not? Is it useful in thinking about ethics or politics?

Answer, In Brief: Needs are the universal requirements for sustaining human life — what every person requires to survive and flourish. Wants, I suggest, are the particular ways that a person desires to satisfy his needs based on his own context, preferences, and resources. Needs and wants do not merely differ in importance, and a person’s rational wants should not be regarded as unimportant.

Tags: Altruism, Desires, Economics, Ethics, Life, Needs, Politics, Values

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Question 2: Medical Care for the Poor

Question: How would the poor obtain medical care in a free society? In your May 12th, 2013 show, you discussed how EMTALA – the law that obliges emergency rooms and doctors to treat patients, regardless of ability to pay – violates the rights of doctors and results in worse care for the poor. But what is the alternative? How would the poor and indigent get medical care – if at all – in a society without government welfare programs? What if charity wasn't sufficient?

Answer, In Brief: The health care system in America is largely a creature of byzantine government regulations and controls. A robust system of charity would be possible with a genuine free market.

Tags: Business, Capitalism, Charity, Ethics, Law, Politics, Poverty, Rights, Taxation, Technology

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Rapid Fire Questions (40:15)

In this segment, I answered questions chosen at random by Greg Perkins impromptu. The questions were:
  • How can you maintain a close friendship with someone if you don't like their spouse? Is it possible?
  • What's the proper reaction of a girl who is being oogled and whistled at by guys in public? Is it a sign of lack of self-esteem if she enjoys it? Should the guys' behavior always be frowned upon?
  • In light of the evolving understand of healthy eating from a paleo perspective, do you have a position on potatoes? Do you eat them?
  • In answer to a chat-room question during a recent podcast, you said that there's no necessary connection between altruism and the concept of karma, because one will simply infuse karma with whatever basic ethical theory one holds. Isn't there more to it than that? Isn't karma an essential prop for altruism? In egoism, there's a clear bond between cause and effect: you enact certain virtues precisely because they lead to certain values. But in altruism you are expected to act regardless of whether or not the results of your actions are a value to you. It seems to me that karma comes in to fill-in the blank in order to answer all those pesky "why" questions. Why should I sacrifice my life by refusing to terminate a fetus with Down Syndrome? Because karma will reward me for doing so. On all levels, from life-altering choices down to giving a dollar to the panhandler, the concept of karma seems like a way of subverting careful, rational calculations of value. It's a thumb on the scale to tip any calculations in favor of whichever action would benefit others and away from whichever action would benefit myself.
  • In a free society, would government bonds be a good way of funding the state, or would that infringe on the separation of state and economy?

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Conclusion (1:00:02)

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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