Question: Does ethics require impartiality? Critics of egoism, particularly utilitarians, accuse egoists of being biased in favor of oneself without justification. They assert that a scientific ethics must be neutral and impartial: it must take a third-person viewpoint where the self isn't given any special consideration. Are the utilitarians wrong? If so, why should a scientific ethics bias the self over others?
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: Isn't everyone selfish? If you dig deep enough, everyone seems to act in their own interests. I work because that's easier than being a welfare queen. But a college student might cave to his parents about his choice of career because that's easier than standing up for himself. Even the nun who seems to sacrifice everything is doing what she enjoys most and thinks best by her own religious standards. So isn't true altruism impossible? Isn't everyone selfish?
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?
Question: Should an egoist be willing to torture millions to benefit himself? In your discussion of explaining egoistic benevolence on December 22, 2013, you indicated that you regarded such a scenario as absurd. Could you explain why that is? Why wouldn't such torture be not merely permitted but rather obligatory under an egoistic ethics? Why should an egoist even care about what happens to strangers?
Question: Should ethics begin with facts about evolution, including altruism? The ethical egoism advocated by Ayn Rand doesn't seem to incorporate genetics or evolution. Having evolved in tribal and family groups, we are creatures tuned to group behavior more than to individual behavior. Altruism wasn't invented by religion. In a tribe, helping those around you helps you survive too. Helping your kin helps your genes survive. The fact is that feeling good when you help others is built into the core of being human. The fact is that much status seeking and other seemingly irrational actions are techniques to ensure the propagation of our genes. Objectivism starts with "A is A." But, if reality is most important, shouldn't people base their ethics on the facts about humans as they actually are – altruism and all?
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?
Question: How can we better explain how helping others can be egoistic? In your October 7, 2013 radio show, you observed that people often don't understand how acting kindly and generously towards friends is self-interested. Instead, they think that being benevolent toward anyone is "other-regarding" and hence, altruistic. How can we egoists untangle this seeming conflict for people?
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: Is Aristotle's argument for flourishing as the final end valid? In the "Nicomachean Ethics," Aristotle argues that flourishing (or happiness) is the proper final end. What is that argument? Does it have merit? How does it differ from Ayn Rand's argument for life as the standard of value?
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: Is mental illness nothing more than a myth? It seems that many members of the free-market movement are enthused about the theory, promulgated by the likes of Thomas Szasz and Jeffrey A. Schaler, that there is no such thing as mental illness. They say that if one cannot pinpoint a direct physiological cause for behavior considered "mentally ill," there are no grounds for referring to that behavior as a symptom of some "illness." Furthermore, they argue that the concept of "mental illness" is simply a term that the social establishment uses to stigmatize nonconformist behavior of which it does not approve. Is there anything to these claims? If not, what's the proper understanding of the basic nature of mental illness?
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: What is the solution to the is-ought problem? David Hume famously claimed that statements about what ought to be cannot be derived from statements about what is the case. Does that mean that ethics is impossible? Can the gap be bridged, and if so, how?