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.
Summary: Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism upholds seven major virtues as indispensable to our lives. Yet what of other qualities of character – such as ambition, courage, spontaneity, liveliness, discretion, patience, empathy, and friendliness? Are these virtues, personality traits, or something else? In this 2013 talk at ATLOSCon, I argued that such qualities are best understood as "moral amplifiers," because their moral worth wholly depends how they're used. I explained why people should cultivate such qualities and why they must be put into practice selectively.
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
Question: Can a person choose an ultimate value other than his own life? Ayn Rand claims that each person's life is his own ultimate value. Similarly, Aristotle says that each person's final end is his own flourishing or well-being. Does that mean that a person cannot have a different ultimate value or final end? Or just that they should not?
Summary: What is rhetoric? Why does it matter? How can the basic concepts of rhetoric help us write more effectively, understand advertising better, or speak more persuasively?
Question: What must I do to reach certainty about a course of action? Suppose that I'm being careful in my thinking about a practical matter – perhaps about how to solve a problem at work, whether to move to a new city, whether to marry my girlfriend, or whether to cut contact with a problem friend. When can I say that I'm certain – or at least justified in acting on my conclusions? Given my personality type (INTP), I tend to leave questions open for far too long, when really, at some point, I need to close them. Are there any general guidelines or principles around figuring out what that point of closure should be? Even then, when should I revisit my conclusions, if ever?
Question: Is Aristotle's argument for flourishing as the final end valid? In the "Nicomachean Ethics," Aristotle argues that flourishing (or happiness) is the proper final end. What is that argument? Does it have merit? How does it differ from Ayn Rand's argument for life as the standard of value?
Question: Should a person cultivate his powers of self-control? What is self-control? Is strong capacity for self-control of value? Does self-control have a downside or limits? How can a person develop more self-control?
Question: What works of Aristotle do you recommend reading? As a layperson interested in philosophy, I'd like to educate myself on the philosophy of Aristotle. I'm particularly interested in developing a better understanding of epistemology and metaphysics. What works should I read, and where should I start? Do you recommend any secondary sources?
Question: What is happiness? When philosophers such as Aristotle, John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, and Ayn Rand speak of happiness, what do they mean? Is happiness just a fleeting sensation of pleasure? Or is it something more enduring and stable?
Question: How can I become more tenacious in pursuit of my goals? I find that I give up too easily on some of my goals, particularly when success is far away and much effort is required now. What can I do to make myself more tenacious?
Question: What's right or wrong about calls for "moderation"? Many things are black and white, but sometimes moderation seems like the right course. For example, you don't want to stuff yourself full of every food that strikes your fancy, nor deny yourself foods that you enjoy. So you should eat moderately. Similarly, you don't want to agree to or deny every favor asked by a friend, but rather do some moderate amount. Is moderation a good guide in some areas of life?
Question: Is Aristotle's concept of virtue as a mean between extremes of vices valid? In philosophy class my professor attributed the idea of the "Golden Mean" to Aristotle. I understand the concept, and I agree with the principle to some extent, but it still does not sit right with me somehow. (Perhaps the problem is the idea of moderation for moderation's sake.) Is this idea valid as is, or is the essence right with a sloppy framework?
Summary: I answer three questions on romantic relationships concerning (1) friendship after a failed romance, (2) romance between people of very different philosophies, and (3) managing finances in marriage.