Podcast: Should You Try to Be Morally Perfect?: 2 Apr 2015
Q&A: The Relationship between Philosophy and Science: 21 Dec 2014, Question 1
Most people dismiss any ideal of moral perfection as beyond their reach. "I'm only human," they say. That view is a legacy of Christianity, which teaches that moral perfection is possible to God alone and that any attempt at moral perfection is the sin of pride. In sharp contrast, Ayn Rand argues that moral perfection is not only possible to ordinary people, but also necessary for anyone who wants to live a virtuous and happy life. Hence, pride, understood as moral ambitiousness, is one of her seven major virtues – as seen in the heroes of her novels The Fountainhead
and Atlas Shrugged
This talk explores Ayn Rand's views of moral perfection, ambition, and pride. What does she think that morality demands? How can people achieve that? How should people respond to their own moral wrongs and errors? Comparing Rand's answers to these questions to those of Aristotle, I show that despite some differences in each philosopher's conception of virtue, they share the compelling view that seeking moral perfection is crucially important to a person's life and happiness.
This lecture was given on 6 March 2012 at the University of Colorado at Boulder as part of the Philosophy Department's "Think!" series.
Tags: Ambition, Aristotle, Ayn Rand, Character, Ethics, Evasion, Expertise, Free Will, Moral Perfection, Moral Responsibility, Moral Saints, Moral Wrongs, Objectivism, Perfection, Perfectionism, Pride, Rationality, Skills, Susan Wolf, Virtue
Podcast: The Cultivation of Character: 19 Nov 2014
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?
Tags: Biology, Economics, Epistemology, Ethics, Free Will, Metaphysics, Perception, Personality, Philosophy, Physics, Physics, Psychology, Science
Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Two: 5 Jun 2014
Summary: In his Nicomachean Ethics
, Aristotle speaks of cultivating virtues by repeatedly doing certain actions in certain ways. However, he never clearly explains the relationship between a person's thoughts, emotions, actions, and character. So, we must ask: What is character? How is a person's character formed? And what is the role of character in a person's life? This lecture draws on my dissertation, now published as Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame
, to answer these criticial practical questions of ethics. This lecture was originally given at SnowCon in March 2011, then re-recorded in April 2011.
Tags: Aristotle, Character, Emotions, Ethics, Free Will, Moral Habits, Rationality, Virtue
Q&A: Free Will and Moral Responsibility: 17 Nov 2013, Question 1
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
Q&A: Innate Personality: 26 May 2013, Question 2
Question: What is the relationship between free will and moral responsibility? To me, the concept of free will found in debates about determinism seems different from the concept of free will relevant to questions of moral responsibility. The former is a metaphysical concept, and a person either has free will or not. The latter is a psychological concept, and it seems to be a matter of degree based on nature and nurture. However, psychological free will seems to presuppose metaphysical free will. Is that right? What is the relationship between free will and moral responsibility?
Tags: Ethics, Free Will, Moral Judgment, Moral Luck, Responsibility
Q&A: Free Will and Natural Law: 13 Jan 2013, Question 1
Question: Can personality be innate? In past shows, you've indicated that you think that some aspects of personality are innate, rather than acquired by experience. What does that mean? What is the evidence for that view? Moreover, wouldn't that be a form of determinism? Wouldn't that violate the principle that every person is born a "blank slate"?
Tags: Determinism, Free Will, Personality, Psychology, Tabula Rasa
Q&A: The Evidence for Free Will: 16 Oct 2011, Question 3
Question: Is free will merely an illusion? While I dislike the idea that we're just puppets of physics and natural law, I wonder whether our seemingly "free" decisions are actually determined by the combination of our biology and our environment. After all, if our brain is merely a physical and chemical system, how could any any decisions be made freely? Wouldn't that violate natural law? In essence, how can our knowledge that the physical universe is deterministic be reconciled with our subjective feeling that we choose our actions?
Tags: Causality, Free Will, Introspection, Materialism, Metaphysics, Science
Q&A: Genetic Influences on Thinking: 2 Oct 2011, Question 3
Question: Is there objective evidence for free will? After doing some research on free will and determinism, the existence of free will seems pretty unlikely to me – even though the thought of free will is comforting. An argument often used to refute determinism is that the determinist says that we should accept determinism, since on his view, he only advocates determinism because he's determined. That seems unsatisfying, however, since that doesn't prove the existence of free will. Also, even if each person can say of himself, "I have free will," how do you determine whether others have free will? How would you know whether a toddler, a teenager, a person with a brain tumor, or a person with dementia has free will or not?
Tags: Free Will, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Science
Q&A: Desires and Determinism: 17 Apr 2011, Question 6
Question: Do our genes affect our reasoning? Evolution makes fruit taste sweet and burning human flesh smell awful. Presumably, evolution can hard wire pleasures and pains because interaction with that thing has caused our ancestors to live longer or die earlier. Wouldn't this same process make certain actions easier or more difficult, such as sacrificing yourself to save your child versus watching your child die? Couldn't evolution affect that decision by making focus more difficult, so that a person is easier impelled by his immediate emotions?
Tags: Evolution, Free Will, Psychology, Rationality, Science, Values
Q&A: Evolutionary Psychology: 20 Feb 2011, Question 2
Question: How do you validate free will? For example, if a man is hungry and he values his life, then wouldn't his eating be predetermined?
Tags: Emotions, Free Will, Introspection, Metaphysics, Philosophy
Q&A: Causality and Free Will: 30 Jan 2011, Question 5
Question: What is your opinion of evolutionary psychology? For example, a recent study claims that there is a gene for being a political liberal. Or another claim is that studies show that women are "hypergamous" in that they are "wired" to seek out the most "socially dominant" men that they can find in the "sexual market". What is your opinion on all this?
Tags: Evolution, Free Will, Psychology, Science, Sex
Podcast: Cultivating Concentration: 14 Oct 2009
Question: How are causality and free will compatible? If my mind is an effect of my brain, and my brain is a complex physical system which operates in a deterministic way, doesn't that mean that my thoughts and actions are ultimately determined, too? What is wrong with the popular notions of causality and free will that make them appear incompatible?
Tags: Causality, Determinism, Free Will, Metaphysics, Physics, Science
Summary: The power to concentrate is not a natural talent: it's a skill that people need to cultivate. Here, I discuss methods for cultivating your power to concentrate.
Tags: Concentration, Focus, Free Will, Habits, Psycho-Epistemology