Question: Is the distinction between needs and wants valid? Anti-capitalist philosophers such as Giles Deleuze accuse the capitalist system of depending on blurring the distinction between needs and wants and tyrannizing over us by implanting artificial needs into our minds. In contrast, George Reisman justifies capitalist extravagance on the basis that human needs are technically infinite and that our needs expand as we become more affluent. Who is right? Is the distinction between needs and wants valid or not? Is it useful in thinking about ethics or politics?
Question: How can I overcome my fear of leading a value-less life? Ever since I was young, I've had an overwhelming fear of leading a valueless life. I saw my parent and other adult role models live this way. There was nothing in their life: they never strived for anything, never had dreams, and tended to discourage dreams from others. I always thought that I would be different. I always thought that I could live in a fulfilled way. But slowly I noticed that I was falling into their path. I didn't start college till 23 because of student aid issues. Until then I worked minimum wage, and I went without food some days. Now at 26, I have a 2 year degree. Even with my new job I still live in a drug and prostitution infested ghetto in Philadelphia because this is the only place I can afford. After calculating how long it will take me to get my career off the ground, I could graduate with a MS by 30 or 32. But noticing the patterns that I see in other people, I have this overwhelming fear that all attempts at achieving a value will slowly slip my grasp. I constantly needed to push values off till tomorrow until I get today straightened out. I am scared that tomorrow will never come. I have so many goals and dreams and values but I might never get to achieve them. I see it so clearly sometimes: 45, divorced, alone, with nothing to show for my hard work, debt, a giant mortgage or even worse perpetual renting, and my only outlet going to the pub with other Philly white trash middle-agers. How can rational philosophy help me gain perspective on this fear that I have had since a kid?
Question: Should a person seek to create a stylized life? In "The Romantic Manifesto," Ayn Rand said that "An artist does not fake reality – he stylizes it. He selects those aspects of existence which he regards as metaphysically significant – and by isolating and stressing them, by omitting the insignificant and accidental, he presents his view of existence." Should a person try to stylize his own life, such as by deliberately cultivating a consistent personal aesthetic? Should he aim to make every aspect of his life reflect his values, eliminating the rest? Would that make for a more integrated and meaningful life or might that be dangerous or undesirable in some way?
Question: How can I live more joyfully? I believe that the world is a wonderful place full of opportunity, great things, and lovely people. I also believe that I am an efficacious person, and therefore capable of flourishing and achieving happiness. So why do my emotions not match my convictions? I want to live more joyfully. I adhere to the cardinal virtues to the best of my ability. I've tried mental exercises, such as listing all my personal values and thinking about how important and good they are for me, but it still doesn't make me feel happy. What am I doing wrong? What can I do instead?
Question: Does the example set by Ayn Rand's heroes encourage overwork? The heroes of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead seem to have a nearly unlimited well of energy. They work long hours, and they don't have many interests outside work. However, isn't that dangerous? Does this approach to work risk exhaustion and burnout? More generally, what's the rational approach to balancing work and self-care?
Question: What should prospective parents do to ensure they won't regret having children? In your 10 March 2013 show, you discussed what parents should do if they regret having children. But what can potential parents do to ensure that won't happen? How can a person know what being a parent is like – for better or worse – before actually becoming a parent? Is a rational decision on this issue possible?
Question: How can I make better progress on my long-term goals? I have the curious affliction of stagnating, often for very long periods of time, on long term goals. That happens even when those goals pertain to pursuits I enjoy. This pattern has me confused and somewhat alarmed, because I know that these long term goals I have set for myself will be the most meaningful for me to accomplish. Although I see the great value in skill-building for a new career, learning to play the piano, learning a new language, and so on, I cannot seem to get myself to take the daily, repeated action required for more than a week or two. That happens, despite my applying GTD and breaking down the larger task into manageable pieces. My neophile personality simply takes interest in something else, and I miss a day (then two, then three) of taking action, preventing me from ever establishing an activity as a habit. How can I break this cycle of mediocrity, so that I can really start making progress on long term goals?
Question: When would suicide be rational? What conditions make suicide a proper choice? Are there situations other than a terminal illness or living in a dictatorship – such as the inability to achieve sufficient values to lead a happy life – that justify the act of suicide?
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?
Question: How can I identify my own central purpose? I understand the importance of a central purpose to organize my values and pursuits. However, I'm not sure how to identify what my central purpose is. What if I have a few major pursuits, but none dominates the others? What if my career is in flux – or not yet settled? Also, how concrete or abstract should my central purpose be?
Question: What is the meaning and value of a central purpose? In "The Objectivist Ethics," Ayn Rand says that "productive work is the central purpose of a rational man's life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values." I find that confusing. What constitutes a central purpose? How does it function in a person's life, particularly in relation to other values like a spouse, children, and hobbies? Should I be worried if I don't have a clearly identified central purpose?
Question: What does it mean to say that life is the standard of value? In "The Objectivist Ethics," Ayn Rand says that man's life is the standard of value. What does that mean? Does that mean mere physical survival? Is it mere quantity of years – or does the quality of those years matter too? Basically, what is the difference between living and not dying?
Question: Should a life-loving person always wish to live longer? Suppose that a person was offered some medical therapy that would extend his life by 10 or 20 years, while preserving or even improving health. Would a life-loving person always choose to do that, assuming that he could afford it? Would refusing that therapy constitute a kind of passive suicide, perhaps even on par with that of a drug addict? In other words, assuming good health and no personal tragedies, might a life-loving person not wish to live any longer?
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?
Question: Is it moral to choose to live in a socialist country? A person might move to England to study at a conservatory or move to China for a job. Would it be moral to do that – meaning, to move to a socialist country and make use their government institutions? Would there be some kind of obligation to "pay back" what the person gains from that country's taxpayers, such as by donating to organizations that promote capitalism in that country? Or would it be immoral altogether, such that a person should pursue whatever opportunities he can in America (or where he is)?
Question: Doesn't everyone need to be a part of something greater than themselves? Most people want to be involved with some cause greater than themselves – whether God, their community, the state, the environment. Doesn't everyone need that to help steer them in life? Or do you think that's unnecessary or even wrong?
Question: Does life have a purpose or meaning? Religious people say that God gives their lives meaning, purpose, and direction. Other people find meaning in doing good for others or society as a whole. As an atheist and egoist, what do you think the purpose of life is? Does it have any inherent meaning – or should a person arbitrarily decide its meaning? And shouldn't a person think that something is more important than himself and his own petty concerns?
Question: Should death be feared? Why or why not? Also, why do most people fear death? How can a person overcome that, if ever?
Question: What's the proper view of using cryonics as a means of extending one's life? Suppose there is at least a small chance that, if I am cryonically frozen in the coming years, doctors will be able to revive me at some point in the future. And suppose that the cost is not an impediment – meaning that I don't have to give up any other important values in order to pay. Would this then be morally required because life is the standard of value? Would it be morally optional? Or is there some reason why it would be irrational?
Question: What makes some action or choice of ethical concern? In your description of this webcast, you say that you answer questions on "practical ethics and the principles of living well." What's the line between those categories? When does a person acting unwisely cross the line into immorality? When does a person deserve moral praise for acting wisely? I'd appreciate a few examples, such as career choices, family relationships, eating habits, interacting with strangers, etc.
Question: What do people mean when they say "I liked Ayn Rand's ideas, but then I grew up"? On several occasions, I have discussed Rand's ideas with others. They have admitted to reading Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead when a teenager. They claim that they liked or even agreed with her ideas back then. "But, now I've grown up." I guess that is supposed to embarrass me since I am in my mid-40's. It doesn't. But I am left wondering, what is going on in their heads? Are they just jaded? Do they think life naturally leads to pragmatism or an acceptance of evil?
Question: Why do so many Objectivists persist in asking for concrete moral advice? I'm not knocking anybody for asking questions about moral choices, but after listening to Peikoff's and Diana's podcast, and browsing the questions on this forum, I'm struck by how often people ask "is it moral [insert action or life choice]?" I might be wrong, but it seems that the frequency these questions arise, and the eagerness to answer them feeds into the "cultish" accusers source of ammunition since, it smacks of someone seeking a religious authority's proscriptions, instead of using an individual's reason and principles applied in context?