Morality Versus Prudence, Secrets from Parents, Death Notifications, and More
Q&A Radio: 2 August 2015
I answered questions on morality versus prudence, concealing a relationship from parents, death notifications via Facebook, and more on 2 August 2015. Greg Perkins of Objectivist Answers was my co-host. Listen to or download this episode of Philosophy in Action Radio below.
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Segments: 2 August 2015
Question: In ethics, should moral actions be differentiated from prudential actions? I often hear academic philosophers say that a person should clearly distinguish prescriptive actions that are "prudential" from those that are "moral." For example, if I want to bake a cake properly, I have to follow a certain set of procedures. However, whether I bake the cake or not – or whether I follow the recipe competently or not – has no bearing on my moral standing. Generally, "prudential actions" are considered actions that would benefit me and not harm others. By contrast, I hear it said that whether my action is moral or immoral is determined by whether it harms others. In moral philosophy, is it valid to separate that which is prudential from that which is moral – and to do so in that way?
Answer, In Brief: The way that moral actions are distinguished from prudential actions in contemporary academic philosophy is fraught with problems, particularly due to assumptions of altruism. However, we can learn much from Aristotle's concept of practical wisdom, and a distinction between moral and prudential principles is valid.
Question: Is it wrong to conceal information from my father while I live in his home? I am a 21 year old gay college student still living with my parents as I pay my own tuition and progress through college. Both of my parents know I'm gay. My mom is completely fine with it; it's a sore subject with my dad, and it's something we don't discuss. He threatened to kick me out of the house when I came out but then recanted because (I think) he's wrestling with the morality of the issue. Two months ago, I started dating a really wonderful guy. He comes over often and sometimes spends the night. My mom knows we are together; she is happy for me and approves of my relationship. I haven't told my dad for fear of being kicked out. My dad specifically told me that he "did not want that kind of activity in his home." I understand that it is his house (as well as my mom's, who doesn't have a problem with my sexuality), and I try to keep things low-key whenever my boyfriend comes over; I also try to spend as much time with him away from my home as possible. But sometimes I would just like to sit down in the comfort of my own room and watch a movie with him. I think my dad would kick me out if he ever thought there was anything going on between me and this guy he knows only as my friend. Am I obligated to tell him about our relationship? Doing so may result in me having to couch-hop until I find a suitable dwelling. It may also make it impossible for me to continue paying my own tuition, a thing I'm quite proud to be able to do. Living at home helps cut a lot of expenses to make that possible. But, is it immoral to lie to my dad about my relationship? I am planning to move out after my bills for the semester are paid and I can save up enough money to afford the down payment on an apartment or house. I will not be keeping my relationship a secret from anyone after that. But, until then, do you think it is immoral to continue lying? I do not understand or sympathize with my dad's aversion to my sexuality. He's told me once before that no one else can know, because it would bring embarrassment to him. I think that's second-handed and irrational. My sexuality has no bearing on anyone but me. Still, I feel like I have to lie to protect my own interests.
Answer, In Brief: You don't have any obligation to tell your father about the nature of your relationship with your boyfriend – you're entitled to your privacy – but while you're living there, you should respect the rules of the house.
Question: Am I wrong to be upset that I learned of my uncle's death via Facebook? My uncle recently died. We weren't close, but I would have expected a phone call from my parents about it. Instead, I learned about his death via a Facebook status update from one of my cousins (not his child, but his niece). I've been really angry that I learned such momentous news that way, but I'm having trouble explaining why to my family. Am I wrong to be upset? If I should be upset, what's wrong with what happened? What should I say to my parents now?
Answer, In Brief: You have every right to feel upset about the way that this news was communicated to you. You should have a calm and kind conversation with your parents to tell them how you feel, listen to what happened, and ask for better communication in future.
Rapid Fire Questions (38:17)
- I love listening to your podcast, but alas, it's only once a week. Are there any other podcasts that you enjoy or can recommend?
- If rights are freedom to pursue values, and a "want" can be proven to be a disvalue, why does one have the right to keep the product of the want, e.g. the purchase of a yacht solely for social status?
- If ideas are open-ended, and a philosophy is made of ideas, shouldn't every philosophy be open-ended?
- I feel an obligation to check out the original works of other philosophic schools but I'm not at all interested in them! Why would I feel that way - and should I do that?
- Is it a valid role of government to establish a national flag and a national anthem?
- Is elective plastic surgery moral?
- Is win-or-lose competition in sports and academics good for children?
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About Philosophy in Action
I'm Dr. Diana Brickell (formerly Diana Hsieh). I'm a philosopher, and I've long specialized in the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. I completed my Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2009. I retired from work as a public intellectual in 2015.
From September 2009 to September 2015, I produced a radio show and podcast, Philosophy in Action Radio. In the primary show, my co-host Greg Perkins and I answered questions applying rational principles to the challenges of real life. We broadcast live over the internet on Sunday mornings.
My first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. The book defends the justice of moral praise and blame of persons using an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility, thereby refuting Thomas Nagel's "problem of moral luck." My second book (and online course), Explore Atlas Shrugged, is a fantastic resource for anyone wishing to study Ayn Rand's epic novel in depth.
I can be reached via e-mail to [email protected].