On Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, Greg Perkins and I answered questions on the reality of karma, responsibility for pets, meaningless gift exchanges, and more. The podcast of that episode is now available for streaming or downloading.

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Whole Podcast: 7 December 2014

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Podcast Segments: 7 December 2014

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


My News of the Week: I resumed the chapter-by-chapter discussions of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, this week! Today, I’m testing out broadcasting on the way to foxhunting, where I have much faster internet.

Question 1: The Reality of Karma

Question: Is karma real? Although the concept of “karma” has religious roots, it seems to contain a grain of truth, namely that people will, in the end, get what they deserve. So if a father is mean to his children, he will find them unwilling to help him when he suffers a health crisis in his old age. In contrast, children raised with love and kindness will be eager to help their ailing father. Is this understanding of karma true? Is this a concept that rational people might or should use in their moral thinking?

My Answer, In Brief: Because the concept of “karma” lumps together moral causality and matters of luck, it’s mysticism cannot ever be fully shed. Use it colloquially or tongue-in-cheek, but not for serious thinking about ethics.

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

Question 2: Responsibility for Pets

Question: Should I put my cat down rather than leave him in a shelter? After listening to the podcast question about the person who lived in Philadelphia and wanted to get out of the ghetto, I got the motivation to land a great new job in Seattle. I am moving to a new city in a few weeks and will be traveling quite a bit. I will not be able to take care of my cat with all of the traveling. I don’t have the money to hire people to watch my pet while I am gone. I have put the cat up on billboards and ebay classifieds with no responses. The cat isn’t friendly to anyone but me, so I doubt a prospective adopter would choose to take him after meeting him. As my move date grows closer, I am wondering if it would be better to have my cat put down than to leave him with a shelter. What should I do?

My Answer, In Brief: You have an obligation to this cat, and please explore some more options before you put him down. There are ways that you could find him a new home or enable him to stay with you.

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

Question 3: Meaningless Gift Exchanges

Question: How can I stop exchanging meaningless holiday presents with my siblings? My siblings and I are friendly but not close, but we still exchange Christmas presents. Mostly, that means that we buy each other stuff that we really don’t want. That seems like a waste of time and money. I’d like to stop exchanging gifts with them, but how can I do so without hurting their feelings?

My Answer, In Brief: You have lots of options besides the traditional models of gift-giving. Broach the topic with your family in a spirit of benevolence and goodwill about how to improve the holidays for everyone.

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

Rapid Fire Questions


  • Does the typical usage of Karma have an altruistic implication – that your good standing in the world is based on doing good for others?
  • What do people mean when they tell you you’re being ‘harsh’? Is it the same as being unjust?
  • What do you think of Interstellar?
  • What modern fiction writer would you recommend?
  • How can a person be objective in evaluating the people that he dates?
  • What’s wrong with the nihilistic argument that life is meaningless because death is inevitable?
  • I’ve begun reading Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s new book, “The DIM Hypothesis.” If you’ve read it I’d be very interested to hear what you think of it. Might it represent a “new” philosophy or “turning point”?
  • Why have Objectivists (including Ayn Rand) tended to use deontic language (“right” and “wrong”) to describe actions rather than virtue ethics language (“good and “bad”)?
  • Should the independent creator of a technology be barred from using or producing it due to an existing patent? Should it matter if the independent inventor lives in a different state or country?
  • Is it moral to allow a young child extremely fascinated with the human body to watch simple surgery videos to learn what doctors do, provided the parent prescreens the video for gruesomeness?

Listen or Download:

  • Start Time: 33:51
  • Duration: 26:32
  • 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: 1:00:23

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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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