On Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, Greg Perkins and I answered questions on justifying punishment, living on passive income, the morality of price gouging, and more. The podcast of that episode is now available for streaming or downloading.

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Whole Podcast: 12 January 2014

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Podcast Segments: 12 January 2014

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


My News of the Week: I visited Paul’s family in Los Angeles this week, and I particularly enjoyed being the fun aunt to my niece and nephew! Now, I’m back to work. Also… Go Broncos!

Question 1: Justifying Punishment

Question: What justifies punishing people for committing crimes? In your 2006 graduate paper, “The Scope Problem in Punishment,” you criticize utilitarian theories of punishment that aim for deterrence of future crimes on the grounds that they don’t punish all and only those who are guilty. Yet why is that a problem? Moreover, why should a criminal be punished if doing so won’t have any future benefits, such as deterring future crimes? Doesn’t self-interest require that actions have some future benefit – and if so, shouldn’t all punishment have some positive future effect like deterrence?

My Answer, In Brief: The justification for the practice of punishment must be a rights-based retributive theory, otherwise the theory of punishment will demand that some innocent people be punished and some guilty people not be punished. However, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation are legitimate values to be sought when considering how to punish criminals.

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

Question 2: Living on Passive Income

Question: Is it moral to live on passive income or just work a “four hour work week”? Would that be compatible with the idea that a person’s productive work should be his central purpose? If a person is so productive that he is able to enjoy a great life by only working a few hours per week, would it be wrong for that person to spend the rest of his time on travel, relationships, hobbies, self-improvement, education, and other non-productive interests?

My Answer, In Brief: Morality requires that you support your life by your own efforts, producing and trading for the material goods required for survival. It doesn’t require you to put in a certain number of hours at work, and it shouldn’t entail living for weekends and retirement.

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

Question 3: The Morality of Price Gouging

Question: Is it morally wrong to profit from someone else’s distress? People often decry “taking advantage” of other people as cruel and wrong. For example, suppose that a person desperately needs water after a hurricane or other natural disaster. I charge him $1000 for a gallon jug, knowing that he can pay that much if he’s really that desperate. Is such price gouging immoral? Is it fundamentally different from other kinds of trade – or just different in degree? Is it morally wrong to profit so handsomely by the distress and scanty options of other people in this way?

My Answer, In Brief: Price gouging is not immoral. So long as the transaction is voluntary, then each side regards himself as better off for having made the trade, and others benefit too. However, choosing not to price gouge is often a very self-interested choice for those interested in creating goodwill and reputation, as well as those who wish to be benevolent.

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

Rapid Fire Questions


  • What is the doctrine of double effect?
  • People use words like ‘dirty’ in a playful way to describe sexual things (e.g. a ‘dirty’ movie). Should such terms be abandoned, since they originated in a time when sex was actually considered dirty?
  • Is regifting moral?

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  • Start Time: 1:00:31
  • Duration: 6:54
  • 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: 1:07:25

About Philosophy in Action Radio

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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