- Q&A: Morality Versus Prudence: 2 Aug 2015, Question 1
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?
- Podcast: Should You Try to Be Morally Perfect?: 2 Apr 2015
Summary: Most people dismiss any ideal of moral perfection as beyond their reach. "I'm only human," they say. That view is a legacy of Christianity, which teaches that moral perfection is possible to God alone and that any attempt at moral perfection is the sin of pride. In sharp contrast, Ayn Rand argues that moral perfection is not only possible to ordinary people, but also necessary for anyone who wants to live a virtuous and happy life. Hence, pride, understood as moral ambitiousness, is one of her seven major virtues – as seen in the heroes of her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
This talk explores Ayn Rand's views of moral perfection, ambition, and pride. What does she think that morality demands? How can people achieve that? How should people respond to their own moral wrongs and errors? Comparing Rand's answers to these questions to those of Aristotle, I show that despite some differences in each philosopher's conception of virtue, they share the compelling view that seeking moral perfection is crucially important to a person's life and happiness.
This lecture was given on 6 March 2012 at the University of Colorado at Boulder as part of the Philosophy Department's "Think!" series.
Tags: Ambition, Aristotle, Ayn Rand, Character, Ethics, Evasion, Expertise, Free Will, Moral Perfection, Moral Responsibility, Moral Saints, Moral Wrongs, Objectivism, Perfection, Perfectionism, Pride, Rationality, Skills, Susan Wolf, Virtue
- Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Six: 15 Jan 2015
Summary: Can an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility solve the problem of moral luck? In particular, how does the theory of responsibility for actions handle the proposed cases of "circumstantial moral luck"? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Six of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.
- Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Five: 4 Dec 2014
Summary: In Chapter Three of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle develops the outlines of a theory of moral responsibility. He argues that responsibility requires (1) control and (2) knowledge. What is the meaning of those conditions for moral responsibility? What do they require in practice? Are those conditions for moral responsibility sufficient? What gaps did Aristotle leave? What is required for a full and clear defense of moral responsibility for actions? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Five of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.
- Podcast: The Cultivation of Character: 19 Nov 2014
Summary: In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle speaks of cultivating virtues by repeatedly doing certain actions in certain ways. However, he never clearly explains the relationship between a person's thoughts, emotions, actions, and character. So, we must ask: What is character? How is a person's character formed? And what is the role of character in a person's life? This lecture draws on my dissertation, now published as Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, to answer these criticial practical questions of ethics. This lecture was originally given at SnowCon in March 2011, then re-recorded in April 2011.
- Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Four: 17 Jul 2014
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.
- Podcast: Moral Amplifiers: 15 Jul 2014
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.
- Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Three: 19 Jun 2014
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, Responsibility & Luck
- Q&A: Choosing an Ultimate End: 29 Sep 2013, Question 2
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?
- Interview: Kelly Elmore on The Value of Rhetoric: 21 Aug 2013
- Q&A: Achieving Practical Certainty: 18 Aug 2013, Question 1
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?
- Q&A: Aristotle on the Final End: 30 Jun 2013, Question 1
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?
- Q&A: Cultivating Powers of Self-Control: 23 Jun 2013, Question 1
Question: Should a person cultivate his powers of self-control? What is self-control? Is strong capacity for self-control of value? Does self-control have a downside or limits? How can a person develop more self-control?
- Q&A: Recommended Works of Aristotle: 20 Jan 2013, Question 2
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?
- Q&A: The Nature of Happiness: 22 Jul 2012, Question 3
Question: What is happiness? When philosophers such as Aristotle, John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, and Ayn Rand speak of happiness, what do they mean? Is happiness just a fleeting sensation of pleasure? Or is it something more enduring and stable?
- Q&A: Tenacity in Pursuit of Goals: 8 Jan 2012, Question 1
Question: How can I become more tenacious in pursuit of my goals? I find that I give up too easily on some of my goals, particularly when success is far away and much effort is required now. What can I do to make myself more tenacious?
- Q&A: Calls for Moderation: 17 Jul 2011, Question 1
Question: What's right or wrong about calls for "moderation"? Many things are black and white, but sometimes moderation seems like the right course. For example, you don't want to stuff yourself full of every food that strikes your fancy, nor deny yourself foods that you enjoy. So you should eat moderately. Similarly, you don't want to agree to or deny every favor asked by a friend, but rather do some moderate amount. Is moderation a good guide in some areas of life?
- Q&A: Virtue as a Mean: 1 May 2011, Question 6
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?
- Podcast: Friendship after Romance, Philosophy in Romance, and Finances in Marriage: 21 Oct 2009
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.