On Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, Greg Perkins and I answered questions on universalization as an ethical test, regretful parents, online privacy, disruptive kids in public school, and more. The podcast of that episode is now available for streaming or downloading.

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Whole Podcast: 10 March 2013

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Podcast Segments: 10 March 2013

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


My News of the Week: I’ve been planning the last-minute details of SnowCon, plus frantically putting the house in order by Thursday. Then we flew out to attend the wedding of Eric Daniels and Rachael Griffin. It was lovely! Also, this will be my 200th podcast!

Question 1: Universalization as an Ethical Test

Question: Are arguments of the form “what if everyone did that” valid or not? Often, people will claim that some action is wrong on the grounds that not everyone could or should act that way. For example: it’s wrong for a couple not to have children because if no one had children, civilization would collapse. Or: it’s wrong for you not to donate to charity for the poor because if no one donated, lots of innocent people would suffer. Or: it’s wrong for any doctor to limit his practice to concierge service because if every doctor did that, most people would not have access to medical care. What’s right or wrong with this kind of argument?

My Answer, In Brief: While proper ethical principles are universal, universalization is not a valid test of morality. Ethics should be based on the factual requirements of human life and happiness, including the virtues.

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  • Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals by Immanuel Kant: Kindle or Paperback

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

Question 2: Regretful Parents

Question: What should parents do if they regret ever having children? In 2008, Nebraska permitted parents to abandon children of any age without penalty. As a result, quite a few older children were abandoned before the state changed the law. That shows that some parents deeply regret ever having children, and surely many more parents have major regrets, even though they’d never abandon their children. What should a parent do if he or she realizes that having kids was a mistake? What should prospective parents do to ensure that they’ll not regret having kids?

My Answer, In Brief: Parents who regret having kids should not force those kids to pay for their mistakes. They are obliged to parent well – or, as a last resort, find a substitute.

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

Question 3: Online Privacy

Question: What kinds of privacy can people reasonably expect online? Online privacy is an increasing concern in the media and the culture. The FTC is working on redefining what companies are and are not allowed to do with data they collect online. But given that the internet functions by sending your data through lots and lots of different systems, what rights and/or reasonable expectations should people have concerning their privacy online?

My Answer, In Brief: Online privacy is partly protected by contractual provisions about privacy. However, a person needs to take responsibility for his own privacy online by not sharing private information on insecure networks and using robust passwords.

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

Question 4: Disruptive Kids in Public School

Question: How should a public school teacher discipline unruly students? Since school attendance is mandatory, what is the proper and moral way to handle discipline in class? I’m a Spanish teacher in public school, and I hate to threaten or punish the few unruly kids. But for the sake of students who are truly interested to learn Spanish, I have to resort to methods like assigning detention and taking away phones for students who are not interested in Spanish. They are in my class only because they are pressured by their counselors. How can I deal with disruptive students in a way that respects their rights?

My Answer, In Brief: In this case, the problem is not public school, but rather the more general problem of dealing with a bored student. The critical issue is that any disruptive student should not be permitted to slow down or halt the learning of students who do wish to learn.

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

Rapid Fire Questions


  • Do we see a little bit of the univeralization effect in the used car market? Everyone assumes that the used car salesperson is lying about the condition of the car, so everyone discounts the price.
  • Does the Institute for Justice advocate for any causes that you don’t support?
  • Why is belief often treated as a choice? If I’m not convinced by an argument isn’t that the end of that?
  • Do you have any advice for advocating gun rights outside the US?
  • What do you think of the Obama Administration’s policy of drone killings, including of other Americans?

Listen or Download:

  • Start Time: 50:40
  • Duration: 10:52
  • 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: 1:01:32

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  • Rasskazivats

    Huh! I published an article by Barbara Cornell about a “regretful parent” myself, recently:



    • https://philosophyinaction.com/ Diana Hsieh

      Playing (annoying) music automatically on opening a web page?!? AUGH. I can’t imagine any better way to drive people away from a web site.

      • Rasskazivats
      • Rasskazivats

        I would never say anything behind your back that I wouldn’t say to your face. Therefore, be advised that you are featured in my latest article, which can be found on the music-free RSS feed I have already provided.

        • https://philosophyinaction.com/ Diana Hsieh

          You wrote a whole article about how awful I am because I said that I was annoyed by the music auto-playing on your page?!? Wow, just wow.

          For those who don’t want to hunt for themselves: http://transegoism.us/an-unfortunate-encounter-with-objectivist-dr-diana-hsie/

          • Rasskazivats

            You don’t give me the time of day unless I lay out some unpleasant facts?

            I address you in an impeccably courteous manner, and you give me the virtual finger over…music?!

            I can understand not valuing friends over ideas, but why do you go out of your way to make enemies?

          • https://philosophyinaction.com/ Diana Hsieh

            I wasn’t trying to make an enemy… you’ve made a mountain of a molehill here.

            Here’s what happened: I was interested to read the article that you mentioned in the comments, but when I opened the tab (to read later) some really horrible (to my ears) music started playing unexpectedly from my computer. After figuring out that the music was from your article (which took some time), I had to close that browser tab in order to keep using my computer. In my comment, I was simply expressing my frustration at your violating a very basic tenet of web design which prevented me from actually reading your content. Then you make a huge stinking deal of that by writing a nasty article about me on your web site.

            Look, I could have been kinder in my initial comment, and I apologize for that. I was frustrated by the music, and I’m extremely busy this week putting on a conference. But you writing that nasty article to punish me for an exasperated comment, and then here suggesting that I value ideas more than friends… well, that’s just bizarre … and unfair.

          • Rasskazivats

            Fair enough.

            I am a big believer in being very polite until I perceive an insult — and then engaging in swift escalation.

            I know this about myself. Historically, it has what has gotten me results in every area of life.

            I am not going to take down my article (I don’t edit my content, as a matter of principle, except for the occasional grammatical/spelling error) — but I will post a tentative retraction to the beginning of the article.

          • Rasskazivats

            I’ve also changed the photo to something a little more flattering.

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