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
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?
Summary: What are some of the common proposed solutions to the problem of moral luck? How and why do they fail? I will answer these questions and more in this live discussion of Chapter Two of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.
Summary: What is the "problem of moral luck"? Why does it matter to ethics, law, and politics? What is its connection to John Rawls' egalitarianism? Why did I choose to write my doctoral dissertation on the topic? I answered these questions and more in this live discussion of Chapter One of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.
Question: Is sharing an interest in philosophy necessary for a good romance? I am extremely interested in philosophy. I'm studying it and planning to make it my career. My girlfriend is not. She wants nothing to do with philosophy, although she is perfectly happy with me doing it. However, I find that I am missing that intellectual engagement with her. I've asked a number of times if she would try to talk to me about any sort of philosophical issue – really just anything deeper than day to day happenings – and she just can't do it. She becomes uninterested or even begins to get overwhelmed and frustrated to the point of tears. Is it necessary for us to engage in this activity together to be happy? Is there any way that I can help her to engage in rational inquiry without it being forced on her, if at all?
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: What is "open Objectivism"? Recently, I checked out the website of "The Atlas Society," the organization run by David Kelley. It advocates for "open Objectivism," which I assume means that each person defines what Objectivism is. Am I interpreting that correctly? What's wrong with that approach? Does regarding Objectivism as "closed" lead to intolerance, insularity, and schisms?
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 a person want to be a "moral saint"? In her classic article "Moral Saints," Susan Wolf argues that a person should not wish to be morally perfect, i.e. a moral saint. What is her basic argument? What's right or wrong about it? Does it apply to rational egoism?
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: Can Islam change for the better? Many critics of Islam claim that the religion is inherently totalitarian, violent, and repressive – and hence, that change for the better is utterly impossible. An Islamic reformation or enlightenment will never happen, they say. Is that true? More generally, what are the limits of a religion's ties to its own scriptures?
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: What are Immanuel Kant's views on sex? In your June 30th, 2013 discussion of studying philosophy in academia, you said that Immanuel Kant has some very distinctive and revealing views about marriage, sex, and masturbation. What are they? What do they reveal about this ethics? Have they been influential in academia or the culture?
Question: Does the "trolley problem" have any validity or use? I often come across people who think ethical philosophy consists of asking others what they would do in hypothetical situations in which they are allowed only two options, both terrible. One I keep coming across is that of the Trolley Problem proposed by Philippa Foot and modified by Judith Thomson, in which one must choose whether to kill one person or let five others die. Is it valid for moral philosophers to pose the Trolley Problem to people and to insist that people's answers show that one can only either be a deontologist or a utilitarian?
Question: Can rational philosophic principles solve problems in philosophy and other disciplines? Many advocates of Ayn Rand's philosophy hope to see its principles applied to solve philosophy's tough problems, such as the mind-body relation and the validity of induction. Moreover, they hope to apply the philosophy to other disciplines, such as psychology and education, to advance those fields. Is that possible? If so, what might be a fruitful method of approach? What might be some likely pitfalls?
Question: Is studying philosophy in academia a waste? I have a strong interest in Objectivism, and I'd like to learn more about philosophy. However, my experience taking philosophy classes has been horrible. I'd like a class in which (1) I can trust the professor's objectivity enough to enjoy a lecture, (2) I can agree with the professor's analysis of a particular topic, and/or (3) the class is taught in an integrated, logical fashion. I've not found any of that. When I've mentioned my interest in Ayn Rand, I've gotten comments like "Well, I think she's someone to be outgrown." Do you know of any schools with good philosophy departments? How should I approach studying philosophy in academia? How could I make the best of what's offered?
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: 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: Are Objectivism and libertarianism allies in the struggle for liberty? Libertarians have long claimed that Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism (or just its politics) is a form of libertarianism, but Objectivists rejected that. More recently, however, notable Objectivist John Allison assumed the presidency of the thoroughly libertarian Cato Institute with the support of the Ayn Rand Institute, and he claimed that "all objectivists are libertarians, but not all libertarians are objectivists." Is that true? What is the essence of libertarianism? When, if ever, should Objectivists ally or collaborate with libertarians?
Question: Can abortion rights be justified based on Judith Thomson's "violinist" argument? Even if we accept that an embryo is a person with a right to life, can't abortion rights be justified on the basis of Judith Thomson's famous "violinist" thought experiment – meaning, on the grounds that one person does not have the right to use another person for life support?
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: 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: 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: 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: Can Objectivism save the culture? Advocates of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism often claim that the philosophy is necessary for substantially changing the culture for the better. That seems presumptuous to me. Is it true? Also, is the philosophy sufficient for saving the culture? Or is more needed?
Question: What works of Aristotle do you recommend reading? As a layperson interested in philosophy, I'd like to educate myself on the philosophy of Aristotle. I'm particularly interested in developing a better understanding of epistemology and metaphysics. What works should I read, and where should I start? Do you recommend any secondary sources?
Question: What's the proper distinction between philosophy and psychology? Given that psychology concerns the mind, I don't see how to clearly distinguish it from philosophy. For example, when would emotions be a philosophic concern versus a psychological concern? In other words, where is the dividing line between philosophy and psychology? Can they be separated?
Question: What is philosophic nihilism? Some people seem to be quick to apply the label "nihilistic" to a broad range of phenomena, particularly art and ideas. So how should the term be used? Can a philosophy be very harmful and destructive without it being nihilistic?
Question: Is 'moral luck' a self-contradictory term? What does it mean? Does it exist?
Question: Why isn't philosophy taught to young children? It seems that teaching philosophy to young children – as young as kindergarten – might result in much better reasoning skills, as well as greater willingness to think independently and question what they've been taught. So is philosophy not taught to the young just because some parents and politicians might not like those good results?
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?
Summary: Does the energy industry – particularly coal and oil – harm humans and destroy the environment? Are they necessary evils? Or are they positive goods?
Question: Why are older people less likely to change their core beliefs? Recently, I had a conversation with a long-time committed leftist who changed his views when confronted with the fact that collectivism always fails, and it fails because the underlying theory is wrong in principle. Many people, particularly older people, are unwilling to reconsider their core views, however. As to the reason why, my hypothesis is that older people have significant sunk costs in their philosophy, such that they could not psychologically survive the realization that they were so wrong for so many decades. Is that right? If so, what can be done to help them change for the better, if anything?
Question: What's wrong with utilitarianism? The basic principle of utilitarianism is "the greatest happiness for the greatest number." What's wrong with that as a moral standard? Shouldn't a person act for the good of society?
Question: What is the difference between obligation, responsibility, and duty? Often, people use these terms interchangeably. What's difference between them, if any?
Question: Are cynicism and sarcasm unhealthy? I know some very bright people who also frequently express cynicism and sarcasm towards world events, public figures, etc. Their remarks can often be quite witty and insightful. But is there something unhealthy about looking at the world in this way, or can that be an appropriate response to all the many real negative facts of reality?
Question: Is artificial intelligence possible? Can consciousness be created on a purely logical system such as a computer? Might consciousness and even free will somehow "emerge" out of a purely logical system? Also, what do you think of the "Turing Test" as a test of intelligence?
Question: Should you just keep quiet when a friend's bad philosophy works for him? If someone you know pretty well believes in something mystical, such as "The Law of Attraction" (from "The Secret"), or "The Power of Prayer," and this has helped them move their outlook on life toward a benevolent universe premise, and they are more productive and happier, is it better to leave them with their faulty metaphysics and avoid the topic, or should you try to show them the error? What do you say when they start trying to convince you of the truth of their view?
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: Which bathroom should a pre-operative transgendered person use? The brutal attack at McDonald's on a transgendered person in April 2011 was apparently started because that person used the ladies restroom, which was already occupied by a 14 year old. Was the transgendered person wrong to use that restroom?
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?
Question: Is "sustainable agriculture" a legitimate concept? Many advocates of a paleo diet also advocate "sustainable agriculture," including Robb Wolf and Mat Lelonde. Is sustainable agriculture a valid concept? What does (or should) it entail? Should consumers be concerned that their food producers practice "sustainable agriculture"?
Question: Did Ayn Rand draw inspiration from the serial-killer William Hickman? I ask due to this article by Mark Ames on Alternet: "Ayn Rand, Hugely Popular Author and Inspiration to Right-Wing Leaders, Was a Big Admirer of Serial Killer." According to the article, Rand idolized the serial killer William Hickman and used him as inspiration for the leads male characters in her books, notably Howard Roark. Also, Rand is said to seek an environment in which sociopaths like Hickman can thrive. Are these claims true or not? If so, would they affect the validity of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism?
Question: How can I maintain my integrity in friendships with people of opposite philosophic views? I struggle to keep good relations with family and friends who support our current political system in which some people are helped at the expense of others, which I regard as slavery. They support ObamaCare, EPA restrictions, and welfare programs. Through years of caring discussions, I realize that they do not hold the individual as sacred but instead focus on what's best for "the group." At this point, I often feel more pain than pleasure being with them, even though we have many other values in common, yet I hate to cut them off. How can I maintain good relationships with them – or should I stop trying?
Question: When a person adopts a life-changing set of beliefs, how should he present that to family and friends? The point would not be to try to convince them to follow, but to say "look... this is what I believe, these are the principles by which I now live my life now, and please respect my choice to do so."
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: Was Immanuel Kant evil rather than just wrong – and if so, why and how? I understand that Kant's ideas are very wrong, even evil. But couldn't he have been honestly mistaken, perhaps not taking his own work seriously? Given that he never advocated or did anything even remotely comparable to Hitler's genocide, why should he be regarded as evil, if at all?
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: Is Aristotle's concept of virtue as a mean between extremes of vices valid? In philosophy class my professor attributed the idea of the "Golden Mean" to Aristotle. I understand the concept, and I agree with the principle to some extent, but it still does not sit right with me somehow. (Perhaps the problem is the idea of moderation for moderation's sake.) Is this idea valid as is, or is the essence right with a sloppy framework?
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?
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?
Question: What were Ayn Rand's shortcomings in her understanding and/or practice of Objectivism? After having listened to a number of Rationally Selfish Webcast episodes, some passing statements make it sound like Ayn Rand had a complete understanding and perfect execution of Objectivism. I'm attracted to Objectivism as a rational approach to morality and philosophy but bothered by how untouchable Ayn Rand appears to be. To compare, Isaac Newton did wonders for the world of physics, but if we hadn't evolved his theories, our world would be far less advanced. Maybe a better question would be: What progress in understanding has been made by Objectivists since Ayn Rand's death?
Question: How should a person deal with ideological conflicts with a spouse? In particular, if a person discovers and embraces Objectivism while already in a serious relationship (perhaps marriage) with a non-Objectivist, what's the best way to deal with conflicts that arise due to divergent principles?
Question: What do you think about Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality: A Critique of Ayn Rand's Epistemology by Scott Ryan? I came across the book on Amazon, and I was wondering if it's worth reading. Would it change my view about Objectivism?
Question: Does the moral concept of 'supererogatory' have any place in an egoistic ethics? Recently, I stumbled on the concept of 'supererogatory' moral actions – i.e. actions that are morally praiseworthy but which, if one did not perform them, one would not be morally blameworthy. Any validity to this concept from the perspective of the Objectivist ethics?
Question: How can Diana and Greg 'co-exist' with their difference regarding the question of personhood at/before birth, as seen in the 19 December 2010 show? I ask this especially in light of the discussion in the 26 December 2010 discussion of reality being binary. One of you is wrong on the personhood issue and the issue is so fundamental, I could never tolerate a dispute at this level with a close friend.
Question: How do you judge people of mixed premises? Many people are of "mixed" premises. How does one develop close and personal friendships or pursue long-term, serious, romantic relationships when many people are not consistently rational or moral? How does one judge such people objectively as to their worthiness for friendship or as a potential romantic interest?
Question: What are your thoughts on using philosophy rather than psychology for therapy?
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 various Design Arguments for the existence of God, focusing on William Paley's Analogical Argument for Design.
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 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 discuss the events, characters, and ideas in Part 1: Chapters 6 and 7A of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Summary: I discuss Design Arguments for the existence of God, particularly objections to Aquinas' Teleological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument.
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 Design Arguments for the existence of God, focusing on the Aquinas' Teleological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument.
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: I explain the Ontological Argument for the existence of God, then consider three objections to it.
Summary: I discuss the major objections to the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God.
Summary: I present three variants of the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God.
Summary: With this episode, I begin a series of podcasts on philosophy of religion – particularly the arguments for the existence of God. Here, I introduce the topic by discussing its importance, the burden of proof principle, and the nature of God.