Question: Is the United States finished as a free country? Lately, I have seen a lot of people in my circles claim that the United States as a free country is dead and done, that tyranny advances each day and it's not isolated, it's everywhere. These are mostly reactions to articles reporting seeming home invasions by police, the FBI's forensic hair match scandal, and other government abuses. The common claim is that the United States now has an inherently corrupt justice system where policemen can end the lives of citizens with impunity and get away with it. My inner skeptic makes me feel that, while this is evidence of a lot of bad things that shouldn't be tolerated, the reaction itself seems disproportionate. While there are systemic problems, I have the impression that it is not all-pervasive and not hopeless. Then again, that could be also my inner optimist trying to tell myself that things are not as bad as they first appear. What is your take on the current climate of the United States? Do you think it is as finished as others claim it is? What kind of tools could you recommend for someone to use in gauging the state of the country more accurately?
Question: What's the proper response to an accusation of date rape in the absence of hard evidence? When faced with this kind of serious accusation within a social group, what is the proper judgment and course of action? If the accuser seems believable, should the accused be shunned or banned from the group? Should private warnings be given to group members? Does refusing to engage in any public discussion of the matter constitute silent assent to the crime? Or should judgment and action be reserved until further evidence comes to light?
Question: How much confidence should a person express in her own opinions? I work with a woman who constantly makes declarative statements about things for which she lacks sufficient facts and knowledge. The result is that she is often contradicted and people have to tell her, "That's not true." She will argue with them and then they have to prove her wrong so that the conversation can move forward. By contrast, I've noticed that I often express uncertainty in ways that undermine confidence in my knowledge and experience. The default position I tend to take is that maybe I am missing something and the other people in the conversation can give me that information. How does one learn to strike the right balance between being open to new facts and information but also being confident in one's own knowledge and experience?
Question: Should sellers of homes be obliged to report the spiritual or criminal history of the property? Many state laws require that "stigmatized" properties, such as those with a history of paranormal activity or a past owner such as Jeffrey Dahmer, be reported by real estate agents. That leads to the home being devalued in price. Should such a law exist? Moreover, should potential buyers take advantage of any "stigmatized" property, thereby offering and paying less, even though belief in paranormal activity is irrational?
Question: Does ideological consistency lead to absurdities and wrongs? Under "zero tolerance" policies, children have been suspended or expelled from schools for innocuous actions like drawing a picture of a gun. Advocates of free markets claim that a business owner has the right to discriminate against customers for any trivial or irrational reason, including skin color or hair color. In both the cases, the problem seems to be taking some idea to its utmost extreme, to the point of absurdity. Shouldn't we be more moderate and flexible in our views?
Question: What is the value of "political correctness"? I used to be a fairly typical right-winger who would regularly cry out "political correctness has gone mad!" While I still come across politically correct ideas that I find ridiculous (e.g. the ban bossy campaign), I'm finding myself more sympathetic to these ideas as I become more informed on them. So I'm now in favor of using the right pronouns for transgender people, avoiding words that can be perceived as derogatory (e.g. fag), and even changing school event names like "parent day" or "Christmas party" to something that doesn't exclude those it doesn't apply to. Where should the line be drawn between "political correctness" and making valuable change in our language or practices to be more accommodating and inclusive of people outside the mainstream? Are there legitimate concerns about language becoming more politically correct?
Question: How can I help my father understand that I respect him, even when I disagree with him? I generally value experience for its ability to provide helpful insights, but I am suspicious of people who fall back on appeals to authority in an attempt to win arguments. My father often does that during our debates on various subjects, as we do not see eye-to-eye on many important issues. When I reject his appeals on the grounds that they are logically fallacious, he takes personal offense and accuses me of disrespecting him. I respect my father, and I try to convey my appreciation for his experience in other ways. But I want to have civil discourse with him that doesn't dead-end in this uncomfortable way someday. My father and I have been estranged for the last five years, in large part due to his tendency toward communicating in this and other manipulative ways, and my current attempt at reconciliation is failing again because of these communication issues. This is a shame because I truly feel that the makings of a good father-daughter relationship are in place, but my father cannot seem to stop predicating our ability to love and respect each other on my willingness to constantly agree with him simply because he is my father. What advice can you give on how best to halt this unhealthy pattern, so that I can save my relationship with my dad?
Question: How can I learn to act on principles that I know to be true? I believe in reality, rationality, individualism, self-interest, and self-esteem. Yet I don't act on these beliefs. Right now, I don't have any self-esteem. Once I act upon believing in reality, instead of merely believing in it, I will develop self-esteem. But I'm really lost as to how to apply reality in my life. I don't know what that would mean. How can I act on my beliefs?
Question: What are the philosophical underpinnings of growth versus fixed mindsets? At SnowCon, we discussed the negative impact of the doctrine of Original Sin on Western culture over breakfast one morning. We saw that this idea – which tells people that they are hopelessly flawed by nature – could encourage fixed mindsets. In contrast, an Aristotelian understanding of virtue and vice as dispositions cultivated by repeated action would seem to promote a growth mindset. What other philosophic ideas might tend to promote a fixed versus a growth mindset?
Question: Does intuition have any validity? Intuition is defined as "the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning." Assuming that we're not talking about mystical insight, is this possible? When, if ever, should a person rely on such intuitions? How should he check them?
Summary: Do reports of miracles prove the existence of God? Most people of faith appeal to the miracles of their faith as grounds for their belief. Here, I consider what miracles are, how they are supposed to prove God's existence, and raise some concerns about them.
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?
Question: Are egoism and altruism mutually exclusive? Most people have a common-sense view of ethics. They think that a person should spend lots of time pursuing his own goals and happiness. They also think that a person should sometimes set aside such pursuits to help others. Basically, on this view, a person can be an egoist and an altruist, and that he should be a little of both. Yet I've heard that egoism and altruism are two wholly incompatible moral theories too. So what's right or wrong about the common-sense view?
Question: Would the government of a free society issue bans or otherwise regulate activities dangerous to bystanders? At the turn of the 20th century it was common to use cyanide gas to fumigate buildings. Although it was well-known that cyanide gas was extremely poisonous and alternatives were available, its use continued and resulted in a number of accidental deaths due to the gas traveling through cracks in walls and even in plumbing. With the development of better toxicology practices, these deaths were more frequently recognized for what they were and at the end of summer in 1825 the NYC government banned its use. In this and other situations, it was recognized that the substance in question was extremely poisonous and could only be handled with the most extreme care – care that was rarely demonstrated. The question is this: Should the government step in and ban the substance from general use or should it simply stand by and wait for people to die and prosecute the users for manslaughter? Or is there another option?
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.
Question: Should a person's credibility matter in judging his empirical claims? Is it rational to use a person's track record – meaning the frequency or consistency of truth in his past statements – in judging the likely truth of his current statements? In Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics, Tara Smith explains that to believe something just because someone said it is a violation of the virtue of independence. Also, to judge an argument based on the speaker is known as the fallacy of "ad hominem." However, doesn't the character of the speaker matter when considering whether to believe his claims? For example, when Thomas Sowell makes an empirical claim, my knowledge that he vigorously tests his hypotheses against the facts makes me more likely to judge his claim as true, even before I've confirmed his statement. Likewise, if a person is frequently wrong in his factual claims, I'd be sure to require lots of evidence before believing him. Is that rational? Or should all factual claims be treated equally regardless of who makes them?
Question: What is the proper relationship between philosophy and science? People commonly assert that science proves that the traditional claims of philosophy are wrong. For example, they'll say that quantum mechanics proves that objective reality and causality are just myths and that psychology experiments disprove free will. In contrast, other people claim that philosophy is so fundamental that if any claims of science contradict philosophical principles, then the science must be discarded as false. Hence, for example, they say that homosexuality cannot possibly be genetic, whatever science says, since philosophy tells us that people are born "tabula rasa," including without any knowledge of "male" versus "female." So what is the proper view of the relationship between philosophy and the sciences? Does either have a veto power over the other? Is science based on philosophy or vice versa?
Question: Is karma real? Although the concept of "karma" has religious roots, it seems to contain a grain of truth, namely that people will, in the end, get what they deserve. So if a father is mean to his children, he will find them unwilling to help him when he suffers a health crisis in his old age. In contrast, children raised with love and kindness will be eager to help their ailing father. Is this understanding of karma true? Is this a concept that rational people might or should use in their moral thinking?
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.
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: How can a person make better hard choices? How to make hard choices was the subject of a recent TED talk from philosopher Ruth Chang. Her thesis is that hard choices are not about finding the better option between alternatives. Choices are hard when there is no better option. Hard choices require you to define the kind of person you want to be. You have to take a stand for your choice, and then you can find reasons for being the kind of person who makes that choice. Her views really speak to me. In your view, what makes a choice hard? How should a person make hard choices?
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?
Summary: As we live our lives, some people will harm us by their moral wrongs and honest errors, and we may commit such wrongs and errors ourselves. Objective moral judgment is an essential part of the rational response to such events. Yet circumstances often call for more than judgment: sometimes, forgiveness and redemption come into play. In this lecture given to ATLOSCon in 2012, I explored the nature, function, and limits of forgiveness and redemption in relation to the virtue of justice. Then we applied that understanding to common examples of wrongs and errors.
Question: How should I introduce my teenagers to Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism? I'd like to introduce my teenagers to Ayn Rand's novels, as well as to the principles of her philosophy of Objectivism. How should I do that? My concern is that I'll bungle it up and bore them to death or succeed too well and convert them into Objectivist jerks for the next ten years. What's a rational approach for parents?
Question: Can the non-existence of God be proven? I see how a person could believe – purely based on rational argument – that God's existence cannot be proven, thereby becoming an agnostic. On the one hand, many non-theists criticize theists for believing in a deity strictly on faith, claiming that there's no rational reason to believe in a deity. Most theists, however, would probably reject that, saying that they have rational reasons for their beliefs too. On the other hand, atheism seems just as unproveable as theism. Yet atheists claim that their beliefs are based on reason, rather than emotion or faith. As a result, aren't the atheists covertly relying on faith? Or can atheism be proven purely based on reason? Why not just admit that we don't know? Also, practically speaking, isn't the agnostic basically the same as an atheist?
Question: Do libel and slander laws violate or protect rights? Every few weeks, the media reports on some notable (or absurd) defamation case – meaning a claim of "false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another, as by slander or libel." While a person's reputation as a business or person is certainly important, do people really have a "right" to their reputation? Isn't reputation the reaction of others to your own actions and character? How can a person create or own their reputation? Do defamation laws violate the right to free speech by protecting a non-right?
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: 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
Question: What advice would you give to a new Objectivist? At ATLOSCon, you led a discussion on "What I Wish I'd Known as a New Objectivist." Personally, I wish I could tell younger self that the term "selfish" doesn't mean the "screw everyone else, I'm getting mine" behavior that most people think it means. Other people will use the term that way, and trying to correct them is an uphill battle not worth fighting. I'd tell my younger self to just use a long-winded circumlocution to get the point across. What other kinds of obstacles do people new to Objectivism commonly encounter? What advice would you give to new Objectivists to help them recognize and overcome those obstacles?
Question: Should juries be present at trials? In fictional portrayals of trials, the jury is often told to disregard certain statements. Also, interruptions in the form of objections are common. Wouldn't it be easier for the jury to be absent from the trial itself, then presented with all and only the admissible evidence and testimony afterward? In fact, the jury need not see the parties in question, nor even know their names. Wouldn't that eliminate the possibility of racial discrimination and other irrelevant judgments?
Question: Should a rational person's atheism be weak or strong? People often distinguish between "weak atheism" and "strong atheism." The weak atheist regards the arguments for the existence of God as invalid, so that God's existence has not been proven. The strong atheist positively asserts that God does not exist. Which of these views is correct?
Question: What's so bad about the philosophy of Immanuel Kant? In academic philosophy, Kant is often regarded as the culmination of the Enlightenment. According to this standard view, Kant sought to save reason from skeptics such as Hume, he aimed to ground ethics in reason, and he defended human autonomy and liberty. In contrast, Ayn Rand famously regarded Kant as "the most evil man in mankind's history." She rejected his metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, saying that "the philosophy of Kant is a systematic rationalization of every major psychological vice." Who is right here? What's right or wrong with his philosophy?
Question: Can a rational atheist extract any value from studying theology? Theology includes a mix of arguments for the existence of God, plus views on ethics, and more. It's the earliest form of philosophy. Can a person benefit by cherry picking ideas from theological teachings or does the mysticism and other faults outweigh any benefits?
Question: Should I care about future generations? People often claim that we should act for the sake of future generations, particularly regarding environmental concerns. Is that rational? Why should I care what happens to people after I am dead? Why should I work for the benefit of people who cannot possibly benefit my life and who aren't even known, let alone of value, to me?
Question: What does the term "inductive" mean? What is the distinction (if any) between some claim being "inductive" versus (1) ad hoc, (2) non-systematic, (3) disintegrated, (4) anecdotal, and (5) empirical? Basically, what is the proper meaning of the term "inductive"?
Question: Is memory trustworthy? Memory is often described as being highly fallible and even malleable. Is that true? If so, what are the implications of that for claims about the objectivity and reliability of knowledge? What are the implications for daily life? Should we trust our experiences when we can't be trusted to remember them?
Question: Does being rational mean having faith in reason? I'm a high school student in a religious school. Many of my classmates claim that my belief in a knowable reality, science, and reason is merely a form of faith. So how can a person validate his own reason and senses? How can a person know that they are reliable means of knowing reality – unless he uses them and thereby engages in circular reasoning? My classmates claim that God is the only way out of this puzzle: God checks our reasoning by verifying and opposing our various conclusions. How can I respond to their arguments effectively?
Question: What are the similarities and differences between Objectivism and secular humanism? Objectivism and secular humanism are two secular worldviews. What are their basic points? Are they hopelessly at odds? Or do they share some or even many attributes?
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: Is philosophy deduced from axioms? Often, I hear people claim that philosophy – particularly Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism – is deduced from axioms. Is that right? Personally, I don't see how that can be: How can anything be deduced from "existence exists"? But in that case, what's the purpose of the axioms?
Question: Can life be morally black and white? People often say life is not "black and white," meaning that sometimes we must navigate morally gray zones, particularly when dealing with complex decisions involving other people. However, if we make decisions based on objective absolutes, doesn't that eliminate these so-called "morally gray zones"?
Question: How should a person approach the study of history? I've always prided myself on being a "student of history" – meaning that I read and think a great deal about the past and try to apply its lessons to the future. Is this a valid approach? Am I missing a bigger picture? Do you have any tips on being a better "student of history"?
Question: Is it wrong to protect my competitive advantage in a sport by refusing to share information? I am an aspiring MMA fighter. I've done a lot of work studying personal fitness, how to prevent and fix personal injuries, and how to maximize force output. I recently signed up for an MMA gym to prepare for some amateur fights. I'm concerned that when I do non-conventional "stretches" before or after a workout I'll get questions from curious people. Then I'm in a dilemma. I would like to make friends, but I really don't want to give away for free my knowledge that I have worked hard to achieve – knowledge which gives me an edge over many competitors. I don't want to tell them where I got this information either. Perhaps if they ask what I'm doing, I could say "trade secret" or something else. Ultimately though, I don't want to give potential competitors the tools that will help them beat me. Is this legitimate? Is it immoral or unwise?
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: Does evolutionary theory contradict the principles of Objectivism? I am new to atheism and Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, and I embrace both wholeheartedly. However, I take issue with the theory of evolution. Atheism seems to imply evolution, but evolution seems to clash with Objectivism. Evolution holds that man is an insignificant piece of the larger, grander picture of the randomness that is life, that man is just one small insignificant step in the collective evolution of the earth, and that man is one with Mother Earth, not superior to it. In contrast, Objectivism holds that man has a purpose and that man is the most significant being, supreme over all other life. Also, Objectivism holds that "A is A" and that "Existence exists." Evolution, in contrast, claims that life came from non-life, fish came from non-fish, and man came from non-man – meaning that A came from non-A. Am I correct in my criticisms? Might some theory other than evolution be more compatible with Objectivism?
Summary: Is "big government" the fundamental problem of American politics? Historian Eric Daniels will explain why this common formulation is misleading, wrong, and even dangerous to liberty.
Question: How should I respond to people who think that homosexuality is an immoral or neurotic choice? I'm straight, but I have many gay friends. From years of experience, I know that they're virtuous and rational people. Moreover, their romantic relationships are not fundamentally different from mine. Also, I'm a strong believer in gay rights, including gay marriage. So what should I do when confronted with seemingly decent people who think that homosexuality is an immoral choice, based in neurosis, or otherwise unhealthy? These people often present their ideas in polite and seemingly respectable ways; they're not just flaming bigots. Yet still I find them appalling, particularly when used to justify denying rights to gays. Should I be more tolerant of such views? How should I express my disagreement?
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?
Question: Are concepts of color objective? Given that people from different cultures conceptualize colors differently, I don't see how concepts of color – or at least the demarcation of colors – can be objective. For example, in English, the colors "green" and "blue" have different names because they refer to different concepts. In Japanese, however, the word "aoi" can refer to either light green or blue: they don't draw a distinction between them. Similarly, English speakers refer to both the sky and a sapphire as "blue." But in Italian this is not the case: the word "blu" only refers to dark blue, and the sky is the distinct color of "azzuro." Do such cultural differences cast doubt on the claim that concepts of color are objective?
Question: Can the consistent practice of wrong ideas lead to mental illness? Often, the most consistent practitioners of an ideology – such as Naziism or Islam – seem to become increasingly unhinged over time. Does fully embracing a fantasy-based ideology entail or encourage mental illness, such as paranoia and delusions? If so, are such people then not responsible for what they say or do?
Question: Does individualism imply social isolation and atomism? Many critics of Ayn Rand argue that her individualism is hostile to love, concern, and respect for other people. They claim that her "atomistic individualism" doesn't permit, let alone support, groups or community. Are these criticisms true? What is the right view of human society and sociability?
Summary: Can a political party based on principles of individual rights win elections? Perhaps so – and Paul McKeever has a strategy for doing so with the Freedom Party of Ontario.
Question: Are high taxes comparable to slavery? On Facebook, some friends suggest that America is becoming more like Nazi Germany. Others share images comparing Americans workers to slaves picking cotton in the antebellum south due to our ever-higher taxes. I think these comparisons go way too far: Americans are still some of the freest people the world has ever known. No doubt, our freedom is being chipped away, but are we really like slaves?
Summary: How does cognition connect to physical movement, tone, and rhythm? Can moving to music help the development of cognitive skills and capacities, particularly in children?
Question: Should people define themselves using the negative term "atheist"? To me, a rational person sells himself short when he calls himself an "atheist": he's only saying what he doesn't stand for, not what he does stand for. Plus, to use the term "atheist" seems to be accepting the religious frame of reference. A rational person values individual healthy human life, and everything else he believes follows from that, such as respect for reality, reason, and rights. When a person defines himself in those positive terms, what he's against follows. So, can a person be more clear and persuasive when he focuses on what he's for rather than what he's against? If so, what terms might he use to describe himself?
Question: Can people with divergent political views enjoy a good romantic relationship? Some of my liberal friends won't date conservatives, and some of my conservative friends are horrified at the thought of dating a liberal. Is that reasonable? Since I'm in favor of free markets, should I only date other advocates of free markets? Can people with very different political views enjoy a good romantic relationship?
Question: Should a person allow his ideology to set his default positions? When people adopt a religion, philosophy, or politics as their own, they often don't think through every issue - or they've not done so yet. Does accepting the various positions of that ideology as a kind of default amount to accepting them on faith? What should a person do when he hasn't thought through the issue for himself?
Question: What is mysticism? Is mysticism distinct from religion, faith, and belief in the supernatural? Can a person be non-religious but mystical? Can a person be religious but non-mystical?
Question: How can I prevent information overload? What are some good ways to limit the amount of information I process in the age of the internet? Besides Philosophy in Action, I follow several other podcasts, blogs, and news feeds. What's the best way to prioritize and limit my inputs without feeling like I'm missing something important? How can I retain the information I process and not feel like I'm jumping from one feed to the next without remembering anything?
Question: Is it wrong for an atheist to pray? I used to be a Christian, but I've not believed in God for many years. However, I still pray when I'm under stress, even though I know that it doesn't accomplish anything. What's the harm in praying to a non-existent being?
Summary: Questions on any and all topics were welcome!
Question: What is the proper role of deductive reasoning? Is it proper, for example, to deduce the principles of intellectual property from the more general principles of individual rights? Or is that rationalism? More generally, when and how should a person use deduction as opposed to induction?
Question: Are psychic powers bunk? A friend convinced me to join him in visiting a psychic for a tarot card reading. Although I am opposed to mysticism, I didn't mind going and thought it would be funny. I was surprised to find this psychic knew things about me that (while vague) were very accurate descriptors, and could not have been known from my appearance (nor prior knowledge since it was an impromptu visit). It seems highly unlikely they could have guessed (and have guessed so accurately) correct character traits, issues and feelings. Is this evidence in favor of psychic powers? Or have I been misled?
Question: What does it mean to say that "man is a rational animal"? The fact that man is a rational animal distinguishes him from all other living entities and makes the whole of philosophy possible and necessary. But, taking a step back, what does it mean to say that man is a (or the) rational animal? What is rationality, not as a virtue, but as the essential characteristic of man?
Question: How can a person be certain of his own objectivity? It's often difficult to stick to the facts in reasoning, and it's even harder to make sure that you're focused on all and only the relevant facts. How can a person know that he's being objective – as opposed to relying on unwarranted assumptions, ignoring relevant facts, or rationalizing what he wants to be true?
Question: Should I use the term "selfish" in conversation without explanation? According to Ayn Rand, selfishness means acting for your own long-range life and happiness, and that's moral and proper. Yet most people think that selfishness means brutalizing other people, lying and cheating to satisfy your desires, or at least acting like an insensitive jerk. Should I avoid using the term unless I can explain what I mean by it? And how can I best explain its proper meaning?
Question: When should we give another person the benefit of the doubt? Often, people say that public figures facing some scandal should be given the benefit of the doubt? What does that mean in theory and in practice? When ought people give the benefit of the doubt? Is doing so a matter of generosity or justice?
Question: Is it wrong to use "faith" to mean "trust and confidence in a person"? Some people talk about having "faith" in their friends or in themselves – and by that, they mean that they trust and have confidence in those people. Is it wrong to use "faith" in that way? In other words, blind faith is wrong, but is all faith blind faith?
Question: What's wrong with being pragmatic? My dictionary defines being pragmatic as "dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations." What's wrong with that, if anything? Is that the same as "pragmatism"?
Question: Is the death penalty moral? I understand why people are opposed to the death penalty when there might be genuine doubt as to whether the accused person really committed the crime. Certainly, we've seen cases where DNA evidence has exonerated someone who was convicted several years ago for a crime they didn't actually commit. But if someone confesses to first degree murder and if there's incontrovertible physical evidence to confirm their guilt, is the death penalty then appropriate?
Question: How should a rational person evaluate unproven accusations of serious wrongdoing about people he deals with? I recently heard some information about a business associate's dealings with another of his associates that, if true, would make me reconsider doing business with him. However, his side of the story is that the other person is the one who acted wrongly. This is a serious matter, and it's clear that one or both of them acted very badly, but since I was not personally involved and the only information I have is of a "he said/she said" nature, I am not sure how to decide what I should do. Am I right to consider the information I heard at all, since I can't confirm it?
Question: What's wrong with the principle of sustainability? In the discussion of "sustainable agriculture" in your October 9th webcast, you didn't explain the problem with the basic principle of the "sustainability movement," namely "that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Doesn't that just mean respecting rights? If not, what does it mean and why is it wrong?
Question: How do I know that I'm reasoning based on facts, rather than just being driven by my emotions? Often, I feel strong emotions on some personal or political issue. How do I know that I'm not rationalizing what I want to be true?
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: How are evasion, rationalization, and context-dropping similar and different? When thinking over a problem I notice that these terms can often be applied simultaneously. So what do they mean – and how are they similar and different?
Question: Why do some people of faith survive and even flourish? If reason is required for life, and faith abdicates reason, then how can anyone who has faith live and prosper? In particular, how do some devoutly religious people manage to be so productive and creative in business?
Question: How should I respond to the urban legends forwarded by a family member? I've repeatedly pointed this family member to Snopes.com, in response to his forwarding of yet another urban legend. I keep hoping that he'll get the hint – and check for himself before hitting the "forward" button. Yet he never does so, and he's sending false, defamatory, and/or possibly dangerous information to everyone in his address book. This person is pretty smart – and he's kind and friendly. I'd hate to do anything that would mar our relationship. What should I do?
Question: Is pejorative rhetoric useful? When should you or when may you describe someone's argument or analysis in pejorative terms, because you don't consider them intellectually honest or educable, and you just want to make it clear to the wider audience that you don't accept them as a worthwhile opponent? Is it acceptable to just vent in such cases?
Question: What do you think of people using pejorative terms for themselves, such as gays referring to themselves as "faggots" or Objectivists calling themselves "Randroids"? The term "Randroid" is supposed to imply that Objectivists are unthinking, mindless drones. However, I happily use this term to describe myself – after first calling myself an Objectivist, of course – because I think it squashes a lot of the negativity behind the pejorative when I adopt it willingly. Do you think it's for good Objectivists to adopt this term – and more generally, for people to use insults as badges of honor?
Question: What role should experts play in our decision-making? Specifically, should a person defer to experts in fields where he's not well-informed? What if he's only partially knowledgeable? Should experts expect such deference? Does it matter whether the field is philosophy, plumbing, diet, or something else?
Question: Should pharmacies sell homeopathic remedies next to real medicines? For example, Cobroxin with Asian Cobra Venom 4x HPUS is sometimes sold next to acetaminophen (or Tylenol). Calms Forte's non-drowsy sleeping pills are often displayed next to diphenhydramine (the generic for Benadryl or Tylenol p.m.). James Randi, a magician in his 80's, took 30 of these sleeping pills with no effect. Basically, these homeopathic alternatives are nothing more than expensive water. So is it wrong for pharmacies to sell them as if they were effective medicine?
Question: When should a rational person be open-minded? Many people seem to have a mistaken idea of what it means to have an open mind. Where should a person draw the line between (a) listening to an opinion/idea and considering its value and (b) writing off the idea/opinion as hogwash?
Summary: On Wednesday, April 6th, 2011, I spoke at Liberty on the Rocks in Denver about the deeper themes of Atlas Shrugged, using the example of Robert Stadler. Also included is a summary of Objectivism from the Q&A, as well as a trivia contest.
Question: What's the best way to mentally focus on one activity when I can't stop thinking about another? Sometimes I get overly focused on or worried about a problem I'm having at work, and then I have difficulty focusing in class. Similarly, sometimes I'll think about an issue I'm having with a close friend, and I know I should focus my energy elsewhere, but it's difficult to do so. I know that I should give my full attention to class during the actual class period, but it's difficult to stop thinking about the other issue I have. What kind of method can I used to stop worrying about work, and focus on class instead? What's a good way to switch my focus from one thing to another over the course of a day?
Question: What is a proper view of gossip? Should a rationally egoistic person listen to and/or tell gossip about other people? Why or why not?
Question: Is it ever rational to rely on a "gut" feeling? More than once I have dismissed feelings that a person is not trustworthy, if I couldn't find a rational basis for them. Every time my initial instinct was proven to be accurate. Is it possible that I'm picking up on something that I can't consciously identify?
Question: How should we act towards others with poor conceptual habits? How should one act towards others who consistently refuse to use some concepts properly? For example, those who call margarine "butter" despite the drastic difference in their chemical makeup.
Question: Isn't it wrong to be a "black and white" thinker? To a lot of people that is not a good trait. Life isn't black and white. Black and white thinking limits you. It closes doors instead of opening them and it also closes minds. In the case of gray, you can give and take. Why is black and white thinking a necessary part of Objectivism? Shouldn't common contradicting viewpoints be welcome in a healthy discussion?
Question: Why is capitalism so misunderstood? I've noticed a huge backlash against capitalism in the media and on the internet for a while. Why? Why are people so resentful towards capitalism when it gave them all the prosperity?
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 the events, characters, and ideas in Part 3: Chapters 9 and 10 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 3: Chapter 8 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 3: Chapter 7 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 3: Chapters 5B and 6 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 3: Chapters 4 and 5A of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 3: Chapter 3 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 3: Chapter 2 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 3: Chapter 1 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 2: Chapters 9 and 10 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 2: Chapters 7 and 8 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 2: Chapters 5 and 6 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 2: Chapters 3B and 4 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 2: Chapters 2 and 3A of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 1: Chapter 10B and Part 2: Chapter 1 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 1: Chapters 9 and 10A of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 1: Chapters 7B and 8 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 1: Chapters 6 and 7A of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 1: Chapters 4 and 5 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 1: Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: Does God exist? Can that be proven? This episode begins a series of podcasts on philosophy of religion surveying the various arguments for the existence of God. Here, I introduce the topic by discussing the importance of those arguments, explain the burden of proof principle, and discuss the nature of God.
This podcast is part of ReligionCasts – my series of podcasts on the philosophy of religion.
This podcast is part of ReligionCasts – my series of podcasts on the philosophy of religion.