On Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, Greg Perkins and I answered questions on the social effects of economic inequality, favoritism for the genetically engineered, the value of the Ten Commandments, and more. The podcast of that episode is now available for streaming or downloading.

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Whole Podcast: 20 October 2013

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Podcast Segments: 20 October 2013

You can download or listen to my answers to individual questions from this episode below.


My News of the Week: My new book Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame is now available in paperback, Kindle, Nook editions. I’ll speak at Liberty on the Rocks – Flatirons on Monday, Oct 28th on “Why Personality Matters in Politics… But Not in the Way You Think.”

Question 1: The Social Effects of Economic Inequality

Question: Is an egalitarian society a better society? In his 2009 book “The Spirit Level,” Richard Wilkinson argues that income inequality has a broad range of negative effects on society. According to the summary on Wikipedia, “It claims that for each of eleven different health and social problems: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies, and child well-being, outcomes are significantly worse in more unequal rich countries.” Are these egalitarian arguments wrong? If so, what’s the best approach to refuting them?

My Answer, In Brief: While Richard Wilkinson’s statistics are intriguing, the fact is that mere inequality cannot be the root cause of social ills. Undoubtedly, the his collectivist proposal to compel greater equality for the good of society is neither a moral nor a practical solution to any social problems.

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Question 2: Favoritism for the Genetically Engineered

Question: Once some children are genetically engineered, wouldn’t discrimination against natural children be inevitable? Assume that humanity has advanced to the technological capacities of the movie “Gattaca,” where the best possible genes for each child could be (and mostly would be) chosen before implantation of the embryo. In that case, how could society prevent discrimination against people who were conceived naturally? Those chosen genes would include genes for determination, the desire to learn, motivation, and more, such that engineered people would always win out based on merit. The movie “Gattaca” shows a natural child rising above his engineered counterparts because of his great determination and spirit. The movie’s tagline is even “there is no gene for the human spirit.” But if there is such a thing as a human spirit, then there surely must be a gene for it. So would discrimination against natural children be inevitable? If so, would it be unjust?

My Answer, In Brief: Due to free will, genes do not determine the course and character of a person’s life. However, the genetically engineered would have advantages, but that doesn’t mean that they’d always be preferred in a free market or that natural-born people wouldn’t have an opportunity to work and live well.

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Question 3: The Value of the Ten Commandments

Question: Are the Ten Commandments of value to an atheist? Are the Ten Commandments a useful guide to living a good life, even for people who are not Jewish or Christian? Should a rational person look to religious scriptures for ethical guidance?

My Answer, In Brief: To an atheist, the Ten Commandments are a set of arbitrary dogmas without any value in themselves. Even those that are “correct” must be grasped as principles based on the facts of reality, not accepted from authority.

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Rapid Fire Questions


  • Do you think Kant’s view of bastard children grew out of his religiosity?
  • You’ve said before that you don’t think sexual orientation is innate, as this would require innate concepts of male and female. If so, how does sexual orientation work in non-human species?
  • John Aglialoro (the producer of the Atlas Shrugged movies) apparently plans to include a scene in Part 3 in which Dagny Taggart talks to a priest. The first two movies weren’t anything to write home about, but is this enough reason to boycott Part 3 completely?

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  • Start Time: 1:02:02
  • Duration: 6:03
  • Download: MP3 Segment

To comment on these questions or my answers, visit its comment thread.


Be sure to check out the topics scheduled for upcoming episodes! Don’t forget to submit and vote on questions for future episodes too!

  • Start Time: 1:08:05

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Philosophy in Action Radio focuses on the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. It broadcasts live on most Sunday mornings and many Thursday evenings over the internet. For information on upcoming shows, visit the Episodes on Tap. For podcasts of past shows, visit the Show Archives.

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