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)


Academia

  • Q&A: Impartialism in Ethics: 30 Aug 2015, Question 1
  • Question: Does ethics require impartiality? Critics of egoism, particularly utilitarians, accuse egoists of being biased in favor of oneself without justification. They assert that a scientific ethics must be neutral and impartial: it must take a third-person viewpoint where the self isn't given any special consideration. Are the utilitarians wrong? If so, why should a scientific ethics bias the self over others?

    Tags: Academia, Altruism, Ethics, Impartialism, Meta-Ethics, Philosophy, Relationships, Self, Utilitarianism

  • Q&A: Deriving Self-Esteem from University Study: 16 Aug 2015, Question 3
  • Question: Can a person derive any self-esteem or happiness from university study? Study is not a productive activity: it is preparation for future productivity. In light of this, how can I draw any self-esteem from my studies, whether successful or not? Can I consider my learning as "productive achievement" even though I am not making any money from it or creating anything? Do I have to wait until later to start being happy or feeling self-esteem? Should I be working on the side while taking classes?

    Tags: Academia, Emotions, Ethics, Happiness, Objectivism, Productiveness, Rationalism, Self-Esteem, Work

  • Q&A: Morality Versus Prudence: 2 Aug 2015, Question 1
  • Question: In ethics, should moral actions be differentiated from prudential actions? I often hear academic philosophers say that a person should clearly distinguish prescriptive actions that are "prudential" from those that are "moral." For example, if I want to bake a cake properly, I have to follow a certain set of procedures. However, whether I bake the cake or not – or whether I follow the recipe competently or not – has no bearing on my moral standing. Generally, "prudential actions" are considered actions that would benefit me and not harm others. By contrast, I hear it said that whether my action is moral or immoral is determined by whether it harms others. In moral philosophy, is it valid to separate that which is prudential from that which is moral – and to do so in that way?

    Tags: Academia, Aristotle, Ethics, Philosophy, Practical Wisdom, Prudence, Rationality

  • Q&A: Trusting a Therapist: 12 Jul 2015, Question 3
  • Question: How can I trust a therapist to help me? I have psychological problems, and I probably need help. However, I have a negative view of the mental health profession in general due to bad experiences in the past. It bothers me that therapists are educated in modern universities where all forms of leftism and equally irrational psychological theories predominate. In my state, many licensed "counselors" are just social workers (the most leftist whackjob profession of all time) with government licenses to counsel people. I am afraid that they will have me involuntarily committed if I am honest about my thoughts of suicide, which I have ready plans to carry out if I decide to. How can I trust anybody in this [expletive deleted] profession?

    Tags: Academia, Philosophy, Progressivism, Psychology, Suicide, Therapy, Trust, Values

  • Q&A: Doctrine of Double Effect: 3 May 2015, Question 1
  • Question: Is the doctrine of double effect true? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says: "The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. It is claimed that sometimes it is permissible to cause such a harm as a side effect (or 'double effect') of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end." How is this principle used in analyzing real-world ethics? Is it true? Why or why not?

    Tags: Abortion, Academia, Catholicism, Crime, Duty, Ethics, Philosophy, Thomas Aquinas, War

  • Q&A: Major Branches of Philosophy: 15 Mar 2015, Question 1
  • Question: What are the major branches of philosophy? Ayn Rand claimed that philosophy consisted of five major branches – metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and esthetics. Is that right? If so, why are those the five major branches? Are they comprehensive in some way? Why not include philosophy of science, logic, philosophy of mind, and so on?

    Tags: Academia, Aesthetics, Epistemology, Ethics, Metaphysics, Objectivism, Philosophy, Politics

  • Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Six: 15 Jan 2015
  • Summary: Can an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility solve the problem of moral luck? In particular, how does the theory of responsibility for actions handle the proposed cases of "circumstantial moral luck"? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Six of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.

    Tags: Academia, Aristotle, Crime, Epistemology, Ethics, Justice, Law, Luck, Metaphysics, Moral Judgment, Moral Luck, Philosophy, Politics, Responsibility, Responsibility & Luck

  • Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Five: 4 Dec 2014
  • Summary: In Chapter Three of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle develops the outlines of a theory of moral responsibility. He argues that responsibility requires (1) control and (2) knowledge. What is the meaning of those conditions for moral responsibility? What do they require in practice? Are those conditions for moral responsibility sufficient? What gaps did Aristotle leave? What is required for a full and clear defense of moral responsibility for actions? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Five of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.

    Tags: Academia, Aristotle, Crime, Epistemology, Ethics, Justice, Law, Luck, Metaphysics, Moral Judgment, Moral Luck, Philosophy, Politics, Responsibility, Responsibility & Luck

  • Q&A: Hijacking Ayn Rand's Ideas: 21 Sep 2014, Question 3
  • Question: What can be done to prevent the hijacking of Ayn Rand's ideas? Ayn Rand has become more and more popular over the last decade, and her ideas have begun to spread into academia. There is more literature being written about Objectivism now than ever before. But there is one thing that worries me. There is a great risk that as Ayn Rand becomes "trendy," second handers will try to use her ideas, manipulate them, to gain respect, and to further their nefarious ends. This is exactly what happened to Friedrich Nietzsche – when his ideas became popular, his philosophy was hijacked by anarchists, Nazis, and postmodernists, completely destroying his reputation for a century. How do we prevent this from happening to Ayn Rand?

    Tags: Academia, Culture, Libertarianism, Objectivism, Objectivist Movement, Philosophy

  • Interview: Kelly Elmore on Why Growth Mindsets Matter: 28 Aug 2014
  • Summary: Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success offers a new perspective on learning. People with a "fixed mindsets" believe that traits like intelligence or social skills are fixed and cannot be changed much. People with "growth mindsets" believe that humans have the potential to change the traits they possess and constantly learn and improve. As a part of the research for her dissertation, Kelly Elmore has explored the psychological research conducted by Dweck and other cognitive psychologists that led to Dweck's development of the concept of "mindsets." In this interview, Kelly explained what mindsets are, how they impact our lives, and how we can develop growth mindsets in ourselves and encourage them in others.

    Tags: Academia, Education, Ethics, Hobbies, Mindsets, Moral Character, Moral Judgment, Parenting, Psycho-Epistemology, Psychology, Skills, Values

  • Q&A: Flunking a Student: 20 Jul 2014, Question 2
  • Question: Should a professor pass a student who deserved to flunk for fear of reprisals? Because you've taught at the university level, I want to ask you about integrity in grading as a professor. Suppose you flunked a student who never showed up to class and didn't complete the assigned work adequately. However, this student was well-connected to university donors and administrators. After you flunked this student, suppose that a high-ranking administrator threatened reprisals against you if you didn't give this student a passing grade. What should you do? Would it be corrupt to comply with the administrator's demand? What might you (or another professor) do instead?

    Tags: Academia, Ethics, Integrity

  • Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Four: 17 Jul 2014
  • Summary: The purpose of a theory of moral responsibility is to limit moral judgments of persons to their voluntary doings, products, and qualities. However, moral judgments are not the only – or even the most common – judgments of people we commonly make. So what are the various kinds of judgments we make of other people? What are the distinctive purposes and demands of those judgments? What is the relationship between those judgments and a person's voluntary actions, outcomes, and traits? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Four of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.

    Tags: Academia, Aristotle, Common Sense, Crime, Epistemology, Ethics, Justice, Law, Luck, Metaphysics, Moral Judgment, Moral Luck, Philosophy, Politics, Responsibility, Responsibility & Luck

  • Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Three: 19 Jun 2014
  • Summary: What does Thomas Nagel's control condition for moral responsibility really mean? Does it set an impossible standard? Have others noticed and capitalized on this problem? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Three of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.

    Tags: Academia, Aristotle, Common Sense, Crime, Egalitarianism, Epistemology, Ethics, Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, Justice, Law, Luck, Metaphysics, Moral Judgment, Moral Luck, Philosophy, Politics, Responsibility, Responsibility & Luck

  • Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Two: 5 Jun 2014
  • Summary: What are some of the common proposed solutions to the problem of moral luck? How and why do they fail? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Two of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.

    Tags: Academia, Compatibilism, Crime, Determinism, Egalitarianism, Ethics, Free Will, John Rawls, Justice, Law, Luck, Moral Judgment, Moral Luck, Philosophy, Politics, Responsibility, Responsibility & Luck

  • Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter One: 22 May 2014
  • Summary: What is the "problem of moral luck"? Why does it matter to ethics, law, and politics? What is its connection to John Rawls' egalitarianism? Why did I choose to write my doctoral dissertation on the topic? I answered these questions and more in this live discussion of Chapter One of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.

    Tags: Academia, Crime, Egalitarianism, Ethics, John Rawls, Justice, Law, Luck, Moral Judgment, Moral Luck, Philosophy, Politics, Responsibility, Responsibility & Luck

  • Q&A: Philosophy in Romance: 15 May 2014, Question 3
  • Question: Is sharing an interest in philosophy necessary for a good romance? I am extremely interested in philosophy. I'm studying it and planning to make it my career. My girlfriend is not. She wants nothing to do with philosophy, although she is perfectly happy with me doing it. However, I find that I am missing that intellectual engagement with her. I've asked a number of times if she would try to talk to me about any sort of philosophical issue – really just anything deeper than day to day happenings – and she just can't do it. She becomes uninterested or even begins to get overwhelmed and frustrated to the point of tears. Is it necessary for us to engage in this activity together to be happy? Is there any way that I can help her to engage in rational inquiry without it being forced on her, if at all?

    Tags: Academia, Philosophy, Romance, Values

  • Q&A: Education in a Free Society: 1 Dec 2013, Question 4
  • Question: What would a rational educational system look like in a free society? Everyone knows that government education is flawed in many ways. Many private schools aren't terribly different from public schools in their basic format and teachings. How might a school based on rational principles function? What would it teach - and by what style? Apart from questions of funding, how would it differ from current government schools?

    Tags: Academia, Business, Capitalism, Education, Free Society

  • Q&A: Objecting to a Professor's Views: 6 Oct 2013, Question 3
  • Question: How strongly should a student object to a professor's objectionable views? I am a senior undergraduate in a liberal arts major at a public university. I'm currently taking a class with the bleak subject matter of genocide. My blatantly socialist teacher presents her views in discussions of the Armenian genocide, the "genocide" in Soviet Russia, and the Holocaust. Often, she ignores the role of religion and flawed socialist policies. Also, she blames greed and capitalism to an unreasonable degree for the woes of the aforementioned countries. How should I respond to these objectionable claims of hers? How much should I try to undermine her wrongheaded views?

    Tags: Academia, Education, Ethics, Respect

  • Interview: Robert Garmong on Censorship in China: 18 Sep 2013
  • Summary: How does censorship work in China? What can ordinary people access or not? What is the Chinese government most concerned to conceal? What are the consequences of speaking out? What do ordinary people think of the censorship? Robert Garmong, an American living and working in China, answered these questions and more.

    Tags: Academia, Censorship, China, Culture, Education, Free Speech, Government, History, Rights, Technology

  • Q&A: Immanuel Kant on Sex: 15 Sep 2013, Question 2
  • Question: What are Immanuel Kant's views on sex? In your June 30th, 2013 discussion of studying philosophy in academia, you said that Immanuel Kant has some very distinctive and revealing views about marriage, sex, and masturbation. What are they? What do they reveal about this ethics? Have they been influential in academia or the culture?

    Tags: Academia, Ethics, Immanuel Kant, Love, Philosophy, Relationships, Romance, Sex

  • Interview: Scott Powell on History is Dead, Long Live History: 17 Jul 2013
  • Summary: Why is knowledge of history important? How have historians failed to teach it? What's the proper approach? How can adults educate themselves about history?

    Tags: Academia, America, American Revolution, Children, Economics, Education, Epistemology, Great Depression, Herodotus, History, Thucydides

  • Q&A: Studying Philosophy in Academia: 30 Jun 2013, Question 3
  • Question: Is studying philosophy in academia a waste? I have a strong interest in Objectivism, and I'd like to learn more about philosophy. However, my experience taking philosophy classes has been horrible. I'd like a class in which (1) I can trust the professor's objectivity enough to enjoy a lecture, (2) I can agree with the professor's analysis of a particular topic, and/or (3) the class is taught in an integrated, logical fashion. I've not found any of that. When I've mentioned my interest in Ayn Rand, I've gotten comments like "Well, I think she's someone to be outgrown." Do you know of any schools with good philosophy departments? How should I approach studying philosophy in academia? How could I make the best of what's offered?

    Tags: Academia, Education, Objectivism, Philosophy

  • Q&A: Abortion Rights and the Violinist Argument: 2 Jun 2013, Question 1
  • Question: Can abortion rights be justified based on Judith Thomson's "violinist" argument? Even if we accept that an embryo is a person with a right to life, can't abortion rights be justified on the basis of Judith Thomson's famous "violinist" thought experiment – meaning, on the grounds that one person does not have the right to use another person for life support?

    Tags: Abortion, Academia, Ethics, Intuitions, Judith Thomson, Law, Personhood, Philosophy, Politics, Trolley Problem

  • Q&A: Being an Atheist in a Religious School: 3 Mar 2013, Question 2
  • Question: How can an atheist teenager maintain his integrity in a religious school? A few years ago, I read Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" for the first time. After a year of struggling between faith and reason, I chose reason. Unfortunately, I am a teenager, and I am forced to attend church and a religious school. For a time, I was fine coexisting with religious people. However, in the next academic year, I will have to take a class entitled "Christian Apologetics" in which I will have to pretend to be a Christian theologian. Now my integrity is at stake. How should I confront my religious family about my atheism? How can I persuade them to enroll me a different school?

    Tags: Academia, Atheism, Children, Communication, Education, Ethics, Integrity, Parenting, Religion

  • Interview: Robert Garmong on Teaching in China: 19 Sep 2012
  • Summary: What can we learn about modern Chinese culture from the experience of an American teaching university students in China? A whole lot! Professor Robert Garmong has a unique perspective on China and Chinese education, as an American teaching English language and Western culture at the Dongbei University of Finance and Economics, in Dalian, China.

    Tags: Academia, Anthem, China, Communism, Culture, Education, Independence, Individualism, Parenting, Young Adults

  • Q&A: Intellectually Inferior Professors: 2 Sep 2012, Question 4
  • Question: What should a student do when he thinks his professors are intellectually inferior? The idea is i'm aiming at is how to learn from a teacher whom shows no genuine interest in the fundamental aspects of knowledge in terms of it's fundamentals. For instance, I had a teacher whom never asked us to question the merit of given theories to mass media ethics, the ideas were presented as ready-made packaged deals of how censorship was ideal in the communication model presented to us via textbook. Considering also when asked the verity of such concepts, the teacher will hide by claiming since the textbook says so, it is truth, and if that is not satisfactory then look it up online. [Note from DH: I did not edit this question.]

    Tags: Academia, College, Education, Ethics, Honesty

  • Q&A: Unpaid-For College Classes: 30 Jan 2011, Question 3
  • Question: Is it wrong to cheat a partly government funded institution? There are a couple of classes I would enjoy sitting in on at my university. They are large, and I would not be noticed. Would it be wrong to go without paying for them? I wouldn't do this with a private college, nor would I have qualms about a completely government funded school. But colleges are partly privately paid for. Would it be immoral for me to get some of that value without paying?

    Tags: Academia, Government, Taxes

  • Q&A: The Value of a PhD: 23 Jan 2011, Question 5
  • Question: Given your comments in a prior webcast about the pointlessness of much of modern college education, why did you get a PhD in philosophy? More generally, do you think that a Ph.D can be of value?

    Tags: Academia, Education

  • Q&A: The Value of College Degrees: 19 Dec 2010, Question 3
  • Question: Are college degrees worth the price paid for them? Do they offer a good value for the investment of time, effort, and money? Why or why not? And if not, how might a person obtain a solid education in the humanities instead?

    Tags: Academia, Education, Finances


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