Question: When should exceptions to established rules be granted? People often oppose some proposed exception to the rules on the grounds that doing so would set a dangerous precedent and engender abuse. For example, suppose that an honest and diligent student is in the hospital, and he wants to keep up with his school work as much as possible. His parents propose that he take his math exam from the hospital, and they'll monitor him during the exam. The school refuses on the grounds that if all students were allowed to do that, then cheating would be rampant because not all parents would be honest or diligent monitors. Is that a valid reason for refusing this proposed exception to the rules? When should exceptions be granted to established rules?
Summary: A virtuous person does not merely need to know the abstract principles of rational egoism: he needs to live them, day in and day out, in word and deed. When faced with the kinds of complex problems that arise in ordinary life, acting virtuously can be a major challenge. In this workshop, I lead a discussion on how to think about one such real-life problem, namely procrastination, in a principled way, while respecting differences in context and values. This talk was given at ATLOSCon 2012 on 27 May 2012.
Summary: Do you ever worry that you're just talking past people in your political advocacy? You might be! Happily, by understanding how your own personality differs from that of others, you can become more persuasive and effective in politics (and in life). In this interactive discussion, philosopher Diana Brickell explained some of the major personality differences between people, then explore how they function in political debate. She showed how minor shifts in emphasis or approach – not compromises on principle – can make others more receptive to your ideas. This talk was given at Liberty on the Rocks, Flatirons on October 28, 2013.
Question: How does personality theory affect ethics? In your December 21st, 2014 discussion of the relationship between philosophy and science, you stated that your grasp of personality theory has given you a fresh perspective on ethics and changed your understanding of the requirements of the virtues. How does personality theory inform the field of ethics, in general? How should personality theory inform our moral judgments? How does one avoid slipping into subjectivism when accounting for personality differences? (Presumably, it doesn't matter whether Hitler was a High-D or not before we judge him as evil.) How can we distinguish between making reasonable accommodations for personality differences and appeasing destructive behavior and people? Are virtues other than justice affected by an understanding of personality theory?
Question: What is the nature of character? What is meant by a person's "character"? Is that broader than moral character? What is the relationship between character (moral and otherwise) and personality? Are they distinct? Do they overlap?
Question: Should people who merely like and respect each other ever marry? Imagine that a person doesn't think that he'll ever find true and deep love – perhaps for good reason. In that case, is it wrong to marry someone you enjoy, value, like, and respect – even if you don't love that person? What factors might make a decision reasonable, if any? Should the other person know about the lack of depth in your feelings?
Question: How can I motivate myself to act to further my goals despite my overwhelming lethargy? I struggle with motivating myself to do what I know I should. I'm not inclined to do wrong, but I just find it hard to act to further my goals in life. I'm 26 and I live with my dad while I (slowly) finish my degree. I want to become financially independent and move out on my own, but I struggle with the normal, necessary daily habits required to get this done. For example, my dad wants me to do more house chores, and I can see how this is a fair thing to ask, given that he works two jobs to support both of us. However, when I think about all the things I should be doing a wave of lethargy overcomes me. It's the same story when I think about the homework I need to do, which isn't even very hard to do. Job searching and trying to build my resume are also on my mind, but I can't seem to get motivated to do that either. I have implemented GTD, but obviously once it comes to actually carrying out all of the plans, I can get a good burst of motivation for a short while, but then something doesn't go my way, and the lethargy hits me again. Both of my parents have clinical depression and anxiety problems, and I have seen first hand how it has affected their lives. I have spent most of my life combating depression and anxiety. I can always summon up a good mood for myself – sometimes by evading the pressure of my responsibilities, which is not good – and when I feel anxiety I am able to calm myself down by introspecting and thinking through it. So I know that I have the tools to solve problems in my life and achieve my goals, but self awareness has only gotten me so far. What can I do to raise my motivation and keep it up? How do I overcome the tendency to procrastinate and ignore my responsibilities? How do I put my philosophy into action?
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: How should a young adult manage persistent differences with his family? As I grew up, I turned out radically different from what my family expected. They think college is necessary for success in life. I didn't, and I dropped out. They eat the Standard American Diet and hate fat. I eat Paleo, and I glorify fat. And so on. Basically, we diverge on many points. I've never committed the mistake of attempting to preach to my family in order to persuade them, but many of them grew unduly concerned with these differences between us. They would argue with me on the subject for months, if not years, no matter what good results I had to show them. Assuming that the relationship is otherwise worth maintaining, how should an older child or young adult handle such contentious differences with his family? How can he best communicate his point of view to them – for example, on the question of college, after they've saved for two decades for his college education?
Question: Can I reclaim lost personality traits? When I was a kid (probably until the age of about 12 or 13), my personality had a strong 'I' element (as in the DISC model I). I was fun, energetic and confident. I was willing to express myself openly (and loudly) and do silly things for the sake of laughs. When I went to high school, I was bullied heavily. I became much more quiet and withdrawn. The C element of my personality took over, and the I element all but disappeared. Now as an adult, I would like to be able to "reclaim" my lost personality. I am generally a shy and withdrawn person, and I long for the energy and enthusiasm that I once had. Is it possible to reclaim my lost personality? If so, how?
Summary: Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism upholds seven major virtues as indispensable to our lives. Yet what of other qualities of character – such as ambition, courage, spontaneity, liveliness, discretion, patience, empathy, and friendliness? Are these virtues, personality traits, or something else? In this 2013 talk at ATLOSCon, I argued that such qualities are best understood as "moral amplifiers," because their moral worth wholly depends how they're used. I explained why people should cultivate such qualities and why they must be put into practice selectively.
Question: How can I convince myself that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence? Whatever subject I study, I think about all the other subjects I'm not studying. Whatever work I'm doing, I think about all the other work I'm not getting done. Whatever book I'm reading, I think about all the other books I could be reading. I want to do everything, and I want to do all of it right now. How can I convince myself to be happy with what I'm actually doing and able to do? How can I stop this perpetual cycle of boredom and longing for change?
Question: How much generosity is too much? Generosity seems like a trait that would fit well into your theory of moral amplifiers. But how does one best deal with someone who is being overly generous? I recently relocated to a new city and one of my coworkers with whom I am friendly has really gone above and beyond trying to help me get settled. She is constantly offering to help, lend me things, or even give me things to make life easier. I appreciate her offers and turn down many of them as politely as I can. But I struggle to find the right balance of accepting her generosity in due proportion to our friendship. She seems to be fairly wealthy, so I don't think her offers are sacrificial in any way, my issue is that we are friends, but not close enough friends to justify the incessant barrage of motherly offerings. Through consistent communication about what I am willing to accept and what I won't – and also owing to actually getting settled in the new city – she's backed off a bit. More broadly, how would you recommend dealing with this sort of problem? How can a person make sure not to make this mistake of being overly generous?
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: How can I maintain my sense of self when surrounded by people I don't relate to deeply? At places like work I have trouble relating to my coworkers on a significantly deep level. For the most part, we just don't share the deepest or most important aspects of life, such as a genuine interests in ideas, various nuances of the culinary arts, and so on. However, I enjoy interacting with these people, but I'm not likely to engage in frequent outings and whatnot. Yet, in other aspects of life – for the time – I don't have the ability to deal with people I share a "like soul" with, to use Aristotelian terms. Thus, how can I truthfully express my personality and values while maintaining, or even deepening, my friendship with these people? I feel like I'm "faking" myself too often.
Question: How can I overcome my paralyzing indecision? I am caught amid some difficult circumstances at present. To make matters worse, I suffer from almost paralyzing indecision about major life decisions, especially with respect to my career. As a result of my failure to act decisively, I have stagnated painfully for years, missing many opportunities. How can I break out of this horrible pattern?
Summary: In early October, I gathered a few close friends in Atlanta to discuss the ins and outs of personality theory. We focused on various theories of personality, as well as the effects of personality differences at work, in parenting, in personal relations, and in activism. In this episode, my then-husband Paul and I shared the highlights.
Question: How can a person gain the self-confidence required to ask for a promotion at work? I know some people who don't socialize much, and they really seem to struggle during interviews for promotions. They seem to lack confidence in themselves. How can they gain it? Does that kind of self-confidence depend on social acceptance and support?
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: How can I better identify dangerous or immoral people in my life? I don't like to be morally judgmental about personality and other optional differences. In fact, I like being friends with a variety of kinds of people: that expands my own horizon. Yet I've been prey to some really awful people in my life. Looking back, I'd have to say that I ignored some signs of trouble – dismissing them as mere optional matters, as opposed to moral failures. How can I better differentiate "interesting" and "quirky" from "crazy" and "dangerous" in people I know? How can I see "red flags" more clearly?
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"?
Question: How can I make my boss more communicative? My boss hardly ever tells me company news affecting my projects, even when critical. As a result, I've wasted days and weeks on useless work, and I've gotten into needless conflicts with co-workers. I'm always guessing at what I should be doing, and I just hate that. What can I do to make my boss to be more communicative with me?
Question: What is the relationship between personality and sense of life? What is the difference between them? How does a person's sense of life relate to his personality? Does understanding someone's sense of life help us to understand his personality and vice versa?
Question: How can I politely tell my co-workers that I'm not interested in socializing? I have always struggled with the pressure to form friendships at work. Personally, I don't want to hang out with my coworkers after work. I don't want to chit chat during work. I won't want to celebrate birthdays or other personal events. This is always interpreted as me being snobbish, aloof, and worst of all "not a team player." It's so annoying. I just want to do a good job and then leave, not join a social club. How can I communicate that without being offensive?
Question: Is yelling at and shaming an employee ever justifiable? Imagine that a product at work must be shipped by a certain deadline – and if it's late, the company will suffer a major loss. All the workers involved know that, yet as the deadline approaches, one worker works slowly, seemingly without concern for the deadline. When reminded, he acknowledges the deadline, yet his work continues to be as slow as ever. In such cases, might yelling at that worker – even shaming him in front of co-workers – be just what he needs to motivate him to get the project done? If not, what else should be done?
Question: What is the value of understanding personality differences? You've become increasingly interested in personality theory lately. What are the major practical benefits of better understanding personality? Is understanding personality differences as important – or perhaps more important – than knowing philosophy?
Question: Should friends initiate contact with each other roughly equally? Some of my friends never initiate contact with me. They are friendly, loyal, and otherwise great friends. But for any interaction or get-togethers, I must initiate conversation, suggest activities, and so on. Sometimes, I feel as if I value the friendship much, much more than the other person does. Is that an accurate assessment or is something else going on? Should I just seek other friends? Should I talk to these friends about this issue? (If so, what should I say?)
Question: Is it wrong to root for antiheroes in movies? I often root for characters like Daniel Ocean (of Ocean's 11, 12, etc.), Erik Draven (of The Crow), Harry Callahan (a.k.a. Dirty Harry), and "Mad" Max. Should I instead seek out movies with more consistently good heroes?
Question: Should I try to be more like Hank Rearden? After reading Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged," I've come to an important conclusion: I want to be more like Hank Rearden. What tips would you offer to someone desiring to be so awesome?
Question: What do you think of the "Five Love Languages"? The basic idea of the "Five Love Languages" is that every person has "a primary way of expressing and interpreting love," and that "we all identify primarily with one of the five love languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch." What do you think of this concept? Do you think that a person's "love language" might be connected to his personality traits?
Summary: Most couples know the joy of sharing loving "extras" with their partner. In fact, making those efforts to do something special isn't really "extra," it's part of a vibrant romantic relationship. The challenge is figuring out what actions to take in practice.
Question: What's the difference between acting on emotions and acting out emotions? Emotions sometimes cry out for bodily expression, such as hitting something when you're angry. Is "acting out emotions" in that way a form of emotionalism? How is it different, if at all, from acting on emotions?
Summary: DiSC is a personality profile system that uses four basic profiles: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Conscientiousness. A person can use DiSC to understand himself more deeply, capitalize on his strengths, compensate for his weaknesses, and communicate and collaborate with others better. How so?
Question: How can a person effectively manage office politics? In almost any job, the internal politics of the company can be overwhelming. If you speak out, you can be embroiled in conflict and drama. If you stay silent, the pushy people will have their way, often for the worse. What should a person do who wants to actually work?
Question: How should a person respond to another's irrational discussion tactics? What should one do when engaged in an intellectual conversation with someone where you're trying to advance your ideas, but the other person has irrational, or even outright dishonest conversation techniques? Such techniques include frequent interruption, talking over you, giving arbitrary time limits for answers before arbitrarily ending the conversation or moving on, and so forth. All of these tactics make it difficult to fully explicate your position or even get full sentences out. In a one-on-one, unobserved conversation, I know it's obvious that one should simply not deal with this person, for they're obviously not listening if they utilize these habits so regularly and frequently. So my main concern is in those cases when you happen to be talking to an irrational conversationalist where other people are observing, such as in a classroom or meeting where you might want to continue the conversation in hopes of reaching the audience instead. In such cases, what should one do?
Question: How much advance planning is optimal? Some people like to plan everything well in advance, while others prefer to allow events to unfold and make decisions on the fly. Is one approach better than the other? How much does it depend on the circumstances? How can people with different preferences coordinate comfortably?
Question: What's the difference between extroversion and second-handedness? According to Wikipedia, extroversion is "the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self." A key distinction between introverts and extroverts is that extroverts mentally "recharge" by interacting with other people, while introverts do that by being alone. Does being an extrovert mean that you're second-handed? Is it a moral failing of any kind?
Question: Are "introversion" and "extroversion" valid as psychological types? Sometimes people classify themselves and others as "introverts" and "extroverts." What does that mean? Is the distinction valid and useful? Why or why not?
Question: Why do you think most women typically have disdain for men who are 'too nice'?
Summary: Many people lament the difficulty of finding good prospects for a lasting, deep, and happy romance. Others have trouble finding worthwhile friends. Yet most people who bemoan the lack of prospects could be doing much more than they are to increase their odds of success. Too many people don't adopt a purposeful approach but instead wait passively... and complain.
This 90-minute podcast discusses how to make yourself a good prospect – and how to find good prospects – for romance and friendship.
This 90-minute podcast discusses how to make yourself a good prospect – and how to find good prospects – for romance and friendship.
Summary: I discuss the error of expecting a spouse or lover to notice some change about you – and the proper approach.
Summary: I answer three questions on romantic relationships concerning (1) friendship after a failed romance, (2) romance between people of very different philosophies, and (3) managing finances in marriage.
Summary: I answer question about whether an introvert should stop attempting to be more extroverted to meet new people. Then I discuss an example of a parent teaching a child to evade that I witnessed. Finally, I read a question on inheritance that I'll answer next week.