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)

Duty Ethics

  • Q&A: John Galt's Motor: 24 May 2015, Question 2
  • Question: Was John Galt evil, wrong, or a jerk for not commercializing his motor? In Atlas Shrugged, John Galt went on strike when the world seemed only a little worse off than today politically in America. Things got really bad so fast because Galt dismantled everything. If, instead of going on strike, he had quit the Twentieth Century Motor Company and started the Galt Motor Company, things seem like they would have gone a very different way. By my reading, Galt's motor was pretty much a free energy miracle – for the same price as a car engine a car could need no fuel and be nearly maintenance free. Electricity would be too cheap to meter and probably within a decade the Galt Motor Company would provide the engines for every plane, train, automobile, and power plant in America. The resulting economic boom from ultra-cheap energy would have probably improved conditions – there'd be fewer calls for controls because everything would be going so swimmingly. Galt could have gone into the other countries and demanded they liberalize their economies if they wanted him to electrify their countries. His wealth and influence would let him meet with titans of industry and convince them of his morality. He could invest in Hollywood and make movies and TV shows that showed his views. He could have met Dagny and fallen in love with her, and I'm sure over months of dating she would have come around to realize that his morality was right. Her resistance was, after all, to the strike, not really the idea that we should be selfish. People seem to get more panicky and politicians more lusting after power when the economy is doing poorly. In huge booms things seem to get better. People who are well off don't cry out for a savior and accept whatever anyone tells them will make things better, because things are going pretty well. If Galt probably could have gotten rich, liberalized the economies of the world, married Dagny, and sparked a moral revolution all without dismantling civilization, shouldn't he have? If his motor really could save everyone (and it seems like it could have), he is at least kind of a jerk to not commercialize it – and probably self-destructive too. So why go on strike at all?

    Tags: Activism, Altruism, Atlas Shrugged, Business, Death Premise, Duty Ethics, Economics, Ethics, Ethics, Law, Literature, Objectivism, Philosophy, Politics, Responsibility

  • Q&A: One Thought Too Many in Egoism: 22 Jun 2014, Question 1
  • Question: Does egoism suffer from "one thought too many"? Bernard Williams argues that utilitarianism suffers from a problem of inappropriate motivation in which a person has "one thought too many" before acting morally. So, for example, a good utilitarian must calculate whether the general welfare is served by saving a drowning child before jumping into the water. A truly good person, in contrast, simply jumps into the water to save the child without that calculation. Wouldn't this same objection apply to even rational, benevolent egoism? Or are those extra thoughts between situation and action actually rational?

    Tags: Benevolence, Duty Ethics, Egoism, Emotions, Ethics, Friendship, Impartialism, Meta-Ethics, Psycho-Epistemology, Psychology, Utilitarianism

  • Q&A: Overcoming an Abusive Childhood: 8 Jun 2014, Question 1
  • Question: How can a disabled person overcome a toxic childhood? I am a fifty-one-year-old woman with several neurological disabilities, and I would have liked to have been reared as a human being. Instead, I was frequently informed (usually by my mother) that I was a "retarded, subhuman spectacle" – a "vegetable," a "handicapped monstrosity," a "travesty of a human being." It was daily made plain to me that I was being reared purely out of my parents' sense of duty, so as not to burden other people with my existence. It was likewise continually made clear to me that, whenever anyone played with me or tried to become acquainted with me, they did this purely out of an imposed sense of a duty to do so: for instance, because they were following a parent's or teacher's commands in order to avoid being punished for avoiding me. My disabilities (dyspraxia, dysgraphia, and severe Asperger's among some others) are not physically visible. However, their effects on my behavior led to my being perceived as retarded despite a tested IQ above 150. (This tested overall IQ, in turn, was although scores on three of the subtests were in the 80-90 range.) By that standard, at least – the objective standard of lacking some reasoning power – I am a handicapped human being. As you know, Ayn Rand points out that no child ought to be exposed to "the tragic spectacle of a handicapped human being." How should this principle have been carried out with regard to me, as a child? Further, the consequences for me of growing up in this way include an immense fear of other people, and a feeling (which I have been unable to change or vanquish) that I am indeed subhuman and should be rejected by anyone I admire, anyone worth dealing with. This feeling persists despite what I rationally consider to be productive adult achievement in the personal and professional realms. So how can I best undo the damage that has been done to my sense of life by my situation itself (being a handicapped human being, and recognizing this) and by how I was reared (which was at least partly a consequence of what I was and am)?

    Tags: Children, Disability, Duty Ethics, Emotions, Ethics, Parenting, Psychology

  • Q&A: Responsibility for a Sibling: 4 May 2014, Question 3
  • Question: Is a person responsible for his incapable sibling? Imagine that your brother (or sister) is not capable of taking care of himself: he makes poor choices, he has poor work habits, and he is emotionally immature. Are you thereby responsible for him? Should you try to help as much as possible, so long as you don't drag yourself down? Or should you refuse to help on the principle of "tough love," even though that won't help him take care of himself? If you take the latter approach, doesn't that mean that you're foisting the care for your sibling on society? Wouldn't that be shirking your responsibilities as a sibling? Also, does your responsibility depend on whether your brother is incapable due to his own choices, as opposed to merely bad luck?

    Tags: Benevolence, Duty Ethics, Egoism, Ethics, Family, Finances, Obligation, Responsibility, Rights, Sacrifice, Self-Sacrifice, Siblings, Welfare

  • Q&A: Refusing Involvement in a Biological Child's Life: 27 Apr 2014, Question 3
  • Question: It is wrong to refuse any involvement in my biological child's life? Some years back I had a contraceptive malfunction, and a child was conceived as a result. I offered to pay for an abortion but the woman refused. The child was born, and the mother and child moved away. I voluntarily pay child support, but I have no desire to be part of the child's life. I never wanted to be a father nor do I want to now. Am I right – morally and legally – to take this stance?

    Tags: Abortion, Children, Child Support, Duty Ethics, Ethics, Fatherhood, Free Society, Law, Obligation, Parenting, Responsibility, Rights

  • Q&A: The Meaning of Marriage Vows: 13 Apr 2014, Question 1
  • 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?

    Tags: Authenticity, Christianity, Duty Ethics, Egoism, Ethics, Honesty, Integrity, Marriage, Promises, Relationships, Relationships, Sacrifice, Self-Sacrifice

  • Q&A: Moral Saints: 13 Feb 2014, Question 1
  • 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?

    Tags: Altruism, Christianity, Duty Ethics, Egoism, Ethics, Immanuel Kant, Moral Saints, Perfection, Philosophy, Pride, Sacrifice, Susan Wolf, Utilitarianism

  • Q&A: Thinking of Virtues as Duties: 28 Jan 2014, Question 1
  • Question: What's wrong with thinking about the virtues as duties? My parents taught me ethics in terms of "duties." So being honest and just was a duty, along with "sharing" and "selflessness." They were simply "the right way to be," period. Now, I tend to think of the Objectivist virtues – rationality, productiveness, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, and pride – as duties. I have a duty to myself to act in these ways. Is that right or is that a mistake?

    Tags: Context, Duty, Duty Ethics, Emotions, Ethics, Meta-Ethics, Motivation, Psychology, Purpose, Values, Virtue

  • Q&A: The Value of the Ten Commandments: 20 Oct 2013, Question 3
  • 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?

    Tags: Bible, Christianity, Duty Ethics, Ethics, Law, Religion

  • Q&A: Universalization as an Ethical Test: 10 Mar 2013, Question 1
  • Question: Are arguments of the form "what if everyone did that" valid or not? Often, people will claim that some action is wrong on the grounds that not everyone could or should act that way. For example: it’s wrong for a couple not to have children because if no one had children, civilization would collapse. Or: it’s wrong for you not to donate to charity for the poor because if no one donated, lots of innocent people would suffer. Or: it’s wrong for any doctor to limit his practice to concierge service because if every doctor did that, most people would not have access to medical care. What’s right or wrong with this kind of argument?

    Tags: Duty Ethics, Ethics, Immanuel Kant, Justice, Personal Values, Universality

  • Q&A: The Value of Happiness: 3 Mar 2013, Question 1
  • Question: Is happiness overrated? Recently, I had a conversation in which the other person told me that "happiness is overrated." Basically, the person claimed that people should spend less time thinking about their own personal happiness. Instead, people should focus on acting rightly, and then take whatever pleasure they can in that. Is that view right or wrong?

    Tags: Duty Ethics, Egoism, Ethics, Happiness, Life, Religion, Self-Interest, Values

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