Summary: What are some common confusions about Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism? In this talk, I briefly survey Ayn Rand's basic principles, then explore six common but false views about her, namely: (1) Ayn Rand was primarily concerned with politics. (2) Ayn Rand was an elitist: she despised everyone except super-high achievers. (3) Ayn Rand's ethics tells people to do whatever the heck they feel like doing. (4) Ayn Rand supported charity: she just thought it should be voluntary. (5) Ayn Rand's advocacy of reason and logic excludes any concern for emotions. (6) Ayn Rand's ideas are compatible with belief in God and Christianity. This talk was given to the Free Minds Film Festival on 8 October 2011.
Question: Is it wrong for an atheist to believe in some kind of afterlife? I don't believe in God, but I hate to think that this life is all that I have. I can't stand the thought of never again seeing my parents, my children, or my friends again. So is it wrong to think that some kind of afterlife might exist? What's the harm?
Question: Why is the Objectivist ethics superior to Christian ethics? I was recently invited to participate in a live student debate at a local church on the topic, "Who Was the Better Moral Philosopher: Ayn Rand or Jesus?". The audience will be mostly Christian or neutral: there will only be a handful of people familiar with Objectivism present. What points would you make if you were to speak to an audience of interested laypeople on this topic? What subjects might be best to avoid? What aspects of Jesus' ethics might be good to highlight as flaws? What resources – other than the primary sources – might you suggest on this topic?
Question: Can evil be requited with good? Christians claim that evil can and ought to be requited with good. So in "Les Miserables", the Bishop inspired Jean Valjean to reform by telling the police that he willingly gave Jean the silver plate (and added the candlesticks) even though Jean stole the silver. Does this strategy ever work to reform an evildoer? Or is it merely a license to further evil? In some cases, might it be useful to "heap burning coals on [an evildoer's] head"? If so, when and why?
Question: Are the promises of marriage binding when a spouse becomes self-destructive? When couples marry, they often promise to stay together "for better or for worse" and "in sickness and in health." But imagine that a wife chooses a self-destructive course of action – say, abusing drugs, profligate spending, or gambling. She refuses to listen to reason or change her behavior. Does the husband have an obligation to stay in the marriage or support her financially due to his past promise? Basically, what do the promises of marriage oblige a person to do?
Question: Should a person want to be a "moral saint"? In her classic article "Moral Saints," Susan Wolf argues that a person should not wish to be morally perfect, i.e. a moral saint. What is her basic argument? What's right or wrong about it? Does it apply to rational egoism?
Question: How can I convince myself, deep-down, that God does not exist? I was raised Catholic, although I was never deeply religious. Now, many years later, a friend is showing me Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. I can see its benefits, but my religious upbringing still lingers in the back of my head. So part of me still thinks that God exists, even though I don't really believe that any longer. It was just engrained in me from such a young age that I can't seem to let it go. Can I change that? If so, how?
Question: Can Islam change for the better? Many critics of Islam claim that the religion is inherently totalitarian, violent, and repressive – and hence, that change for the better is utterly impossible. An Islamic reformation or enlightenment will never happen, they say. Is that true? More generally, what are the limits of a religion's ties to its own scriptures?
Question: Are the Ten Commandments of value to an atheist? Are the Ten Commandments a useful guide to living a good life, even for people who are not Jewish or Christian? Should a rational person look to religious scriptures for ethical guidance?
Question: Is "gay marriage" a valid form of marriage? Many people oppose gay marriage on the grounds that marriage is essentially religious, that procreation is central to marriage, or "traditional marriage" should be respected. Should gay unions be considered a valid form of marriage, legally or socially? Might civil unions be an acceptable alternative?
Question: Is the Golden Rule a valid and useful principle of ethics? In past podcasts, you've mentioned that you consider the Golden Rule – meaning, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" – as flawed. What are some of the problems with this rule? Does it have any value?
Question: It is wrong to judge others when I'm still flawed? Given that I have various inconsistencies and unresolved contradictions, for me to morally judge others seems like self-righteousness. Does a person need to be morally good (or even perfect) to justly judge others?
Question: Does a person deserve extra moral praise for acting rightly despite strong contrary emotions? How does overcoming strong emotions in order to do the right thing (or refrain from doing the wrong thing) factor into morally judging a person? If person A has no emotional conflict and thus does the right thing more or less "effortlessly," while person B takes the same correct action despite strong emotional motivation to act otherwise, does person B deserve any extra moral credit for the amount of emotional or mental effort he made? Or is moral judgment to be made solely on the basis of actions, with internal mental effort being irrelevant?
Summary: Is objective morality possible or necessary without God? Can and should morality be based on observable facts?
Question: Is the United States a Christian nation? People often claim that the United States is "a Christian nation." What do people mean by that? Why does it matter? Is it true or not?
Summary: Do you struggle with the temptation of "guilty pleasures"? How can you overcome them – or should you indulge them?
Question: Are women subservient to men in Objectivism like in Christianity? The Bible and Christians teach that God made women to be subservient to men and not to be their leader. Ayn Rand seems to think that women are naturally subservient to men and should not be their leader. Aside from the appeal to God, what's the difference?
Question: Are some religions better than others? Do certain religions encourage rationality more than others? Do some promote better moral systems than others? I am curious both about different forms of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Unitarian, Mormon, etc.), as well as other religions (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha'i, etc.). Should rational atheists respect followers of certain religions more than others?
Question: Why do religious fanatics seek to impose their beliefs on others? Most religious fanatics aren't content to practice their religion for themselves: they seek to impose it on others by law. Why is that? Why is that wrong? What can be done to combat it?
Question: Is working for a minister giving religion moral sanction? As an atheist, I once worked for an ordained minster who was the owner of a gallery. I became his manager when I made it clear that I was an atheist, but that I was a good framing manager. I don't think I gave him a moral sanction for his irrationality by working for him under those terms. What do you think?
Question: Is it moral for atheists to perform religious music? I love to sing classical music, and that usually means performing with a group that does religious music, including Catholic mass and other religious songs. Some of these groups are secular and perform it for the artistic value alone, but other groups are explicitly religious, such as those affiliated with a church. Is it wrong for an atheist like me to join either of these types of groups?
Question: How can a conservative Christian also be a supporter of capitalism? Isn't the Christian philosophy diametrically opposed to the basic principles of egoism and reason necessary to fully support laissez-faire capitalism?
Question: Why does altruism measure virtue by the depth of a person's self-sacrifice, rather than the amount of good actually done for others? Altruism demands every person promote the welfare of others as his ultimate value. Despite that, however, altruistic virtue is not measured by the actual good done for others, but rather by the depth of the person's self-sacrifice. Why is that?
Question: Can an Objectivist believe in God? Can a person be a theist and an Objectivist? Or is that too fundamental a conflict? If so, why?
Summary: I discuss various Design Arguments for the existence of God, focusing on William Paley's Analogical Argument for Design.
Summary: I discuss Design Arguments for the existence of God, particularly objections to Aquinas' Teleological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument.
Summary: I discuss Design Arguments for the existence of God, focusing on the Aquinas' Teleological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument.
Summary: I explain the Ontological Argument for the existence of God, then consider three objections to it.
Summary: I discuss the major objections to the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God.
Summary: I interview Craig Biddle about egoism and altruism in American culture and politics, based on his new article "The Creed of Sacrifice vs. The Land of Liberty."
Summary: I present three variants of the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God.
Summary: With this episode, I begin a series of podcasts on philosophy of religion – particularly the arguments for the existence of God. Here, I introduce the topic by discussing its importance, the burden of proof principle, and the nature of God.