Suicide, Atheism, Irrational People, Rational Education, and More
Q&A Radio: Sunday, 1 December 2013
I answered questions on rational suicide, deep-down atheism, responsibility for another's medical emergencies, education in a free society, and more on Philosophy in Action Radio on Sunday, 1 December 2013. Greg Perkins of Objectivist Answers was my co-host. You can listen to or download the podcast below.Remember, Philosophy in Action Radio is available to anyone, free of charge. That's because our goal is to spread rational principles for real life far and wide, as we do every week to thousands of listeners. We love doing that, but each episode requires our time, effort, and money. So if you enjoy and value our work, please contribute to our tip jar. We suggest $5 per episode or $20 per month, but any amount is appreciated. You can send your contribution via Dwolla, PayPal, or US Mail.
My News of the Week: Happy Thanksgiving! I've been busy updating the sessions of Explore Atlas Shrugged, fixing the authors on NoodleFood posts with regex magic, and adding Chase QuickPay and Square options for Tip Jar. I'll make a special announcement later today or tomorrow about special signed copies of my new book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, which will be available only in December.
- Duration: 1:12:29
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My first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, is available for purchase in paperback, as well as for Kindle and Nook.
Does the pervasive influence of luck in life mean that people cannot be held responsible for their choices? Do people lack the control required to justify moral praise and blame? In his famous article "Moral Luck," philosopher Thomas Nagel casts doubt on our ordinary moral judgments of persons. He claims that we intuitively accept that moral responsibility requires control, yet we praise and blame people for their actions, the outcomes of those actions, and their characters – even though shaped by forces beyond their control, i.e., by luck. This is the "problem of moral luck."
In Responsibility & Luck, I argue that this attack on moral judgment rests on a faulty view of control, as well as other errors. By developing Aristotle's theory of moral responsibility, I explain the sources and limits of a person's responsibility for what he does, what he produces, and who he is. Ultimately, I show that moral judgments are not undermined by luck. In addition, this book explores the nature of moral agency and free will, the purpose of moral judgment, causation in tort and criminal law, the process of character development, and more.
Responsibility & Luck is scholarly but accessible to active-minded people interested in philosophy. You can preview the book by reading Chapter One and Chapter Three as PDFs – or by listening to my reading of Chapter One.
Segments: 1 December 2013
Question 1: Rational Suicide (6:39)
Question: When would suicide be rational? What conditions make suicide a proper choice? Are there situations other than a terminal illness or living in a dictatorship – such as the inability to achieve sufficient values to lead a happy life – that justify the act of suicide?
Answer, In Brief: In some cases – when life has become intolerable suffering – suicide can be a rational choice. Evil and mistake is possible, however – and that's tragic for everyone, although in different ways.
Question 2: Deep-Down Atheism (21:12)
Question: How can I convince myself, deep-down, that God does not exist? I was raised Catholic, although I was never deeply religious. Now, many years later, a friend is showing me Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. I can see its benefits, but my religious upbringing still lingers in the back of my head. So part of me still thinks that God exists, even though I don't really believe that any longer. It was just engrained in me from such a young age that I can't seem to let it go. Can I change that? If so, how?
Answer, In Brief: As with any other leftover emotional or cognitive habit, you need to resolve any lingering doubts, remind yourself of the relevant facts, and never act in ways that you know to be wrong. With time, you'll find that your mind fully embraces your conscious convictions.
Question: Is it wrong to walk away from a person who suffers from repeated medical emergencies due to their own irresponsibility? Over a year ago, I was the tenant of a type-1 diabetic who refused to eat properly. As a result, I regularly had to call the ambulance for her, as she would allow her blood-sugar to drop to dangerous levels, such that she couldn't think or move for herself. She never learned anything from these experiences. She never put emergency food within reach, for example. So a few days or weeks later, I would have to call the ambulance again. I believe that I was being forced – literally – to take care of her. I feared that I'd face manslaughter or other criminal charges if I left her alone in that state. Would it have been morally proper for me to leave her in that state without any advance warning? Should that be legally permissible?
Answer, In Brief: Your roommate is absolutely wrong to be so irresponsible, yet while you are her roommate, you cannot simply ignore her medical emergencies. You might have a "duty to rescue" in criminal and/or tort law, and you do have a moral obligation to render basic assistance. You should do the minimum required – and find a new place to live, pronto!
Question: What would a rational educational system look like in a free society? Everyone knows that government education is flawed in many ways. Many private schools aren't terribly different from public schools in their basic format and teachings. How might a school based on rational principles function? What would it teach - and by what style? Apart from questions of funding, how would it differ from current government schools?
Answer, In Brief: Free-market education would result in far more options in format, curriculum, teaching methods, and price for education, far more concern for offering value to parents and students, and hopefully, more respect for the individuality of children.
Rapid Fire Questions (1:04:27)
- Do you think it's very backward that the Religious Right admires it when someone suffering who wants to die but instead struggles to live, whereas people who are happy and healthy are expected to sacrifice?
- Is it wrong to give copies of Ayn Rand's novels as gifts to my nephews and nieces, when their parents haven't read her books and would likely object to her anti-religious views?
- If you were in the Matrix, would you have taken the blue pill or the red pill?
- Are there any ethical problems with the Hippocratic Oath? Did Paul have any worries taking it?
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Remember, Philosophy in Action Radio is available to anyone, free of charge. That's because our goal is to spread rational principles for real life far and wide, as we do every week to thousands of listeners. We love doing that, but each episode requires our time, effort, and money. So if you enjoy and value our work, please contribute to our tip jar. We suggest $5 per episode or $20 per month, but any amount is appreciated. You can send your contribution via Dwolla, PayPal, or US Mail.
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About Philosophy in Action Radio
I'm Dr. Diana Hsieh. I'm a philosopher specializing the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. I received my Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2009. My first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, is available for purchase in paperback, as well as for Kindle and Nook. 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 radio show, Philosophy in Action Radio, broadcasts live over the internet on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. On Sunday mornings, I answer four meaty questions applying rational principles to the challenges of real life in a live hour-long show. Greg Perkins of Objectivist Answers co-hosts the show. On Wednesday evenings, I interview an expert guest about a topic of practical importance.
If you join us for the live broadcasts, you can ask follow-up questions and make comments in the text-based chat. Otherwise, you can listen to the podcast by subscribing to our Podcast RSS Feed. You can also peruse the show archives, where episodes and questions are sorted by date and by topic.
I can be reached via e-mail to [email protected].