- Q&A: Displaying the Confederate Flag: 15 Mar 2015, Question 2
Question: Is displaying the Confederate flag racist? I've been told by southerners that displaying the flag of the Confederate States amounts to a display of "southern pride." I think it amounts to a display of racism, given the history of the south. That flag was used in a time when the agricultural economy of the southern states relied on slave labor. Many southern states seceded from the Union, largely because of their nefarious interests in preserving slavery. The Confederate flag represents these states and their ideology. Hence, I think it's morally questionable (at least) to display it. I don't think the south should take pride in or honor the Confederacy. Am I right or wrong in my thinking? What should I think of people who choose to display the Confederate flag?
- Q&A: Deception in a Business Partner: 8 Mar 2015, Question 3
Question: How can I decide whether a business associate has crossed the line? I am part of a very specialized marketing co-op group. Businesses provide samples to the marketer, who then sells them at his own profit, to the tune of thousands of dollars a month. The marketer also does many web promotions and a monthly set of videos to promote the makers of these samples. This business has worked well in sending customers my way in the past. However, a few months ago, the marketer threatened to call the whole thing off for a month, claiming there were not enough samples to sell. So all the businesses rallied and sent in more. Two weeks later the marketer posted publicly that his spouse's hours had been cut the month before, and he was strapped for cash. This apparent dishonesty turned me off from using the service for many months. When I finally sent in samples again, I found that the same thing is still happening: the marketer is threatening to call off the promotion for the month if more samples are not sent in. Does this kind of behavior warrant dropping this business tool from my arsenal? Or am I just reacting emotionally?
- Q&A: People Unworthy of the Truth: 8 Mar 2015, Question 2
Question: Are some people unworthy of the truth? "Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it," said Mark Twain in his Notebooks. Is that true? Does that justify lying or withholding information?
- Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Six: 15 Jan 2015
Summary: Can an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility solve the problem of moral luck? In particular, how does the theory of responsibility for actions handle the proposed cases of "circumstantial moral luck"? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Six of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.
- Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Five: 4 Dec 2014
Summary: In Chapter Three of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle develops the outlines of a theory of moral responsibility. He argues that responsibility requires (1) control and (2) knowledge. What is the meaning of those conditions for moral responsibility? What do they require in practice? Are those conditions for moral responsibility sufficient? What gaps did Aristotle leave? What is required for a full and clear defense of moral responsibility for actions? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Five of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.
- Q&A: Fear of Leading a Worthless Life: 5 Oct 2014, Question 2
Question: How can I overcome my fear of leading a value-less life? Ever since I was young, I've had an overwhelming fear of leading a valueless life. I saw my parent and other adult role models live this way. There was nothing in their life: they never strived for anything, never had dreams, and tended to discourage dreams from others. I always thought that I would be different. I always thought that I could live in a fulfilled way. But slowly I noticed that I was falling into their path. I didn't start college till 23 because of student aid issues. Until then I worked minimum wage, and I went without food some days. Now at 26, I have a 2 year degree. Even with my new job I still live in a drug and prostitution infested ghetto in Philadelphia because this is the only place I can afford. After calculating how long it will take me to get my career off the ground, I could graduate with a MS by 30 or 32. But noticing the patterns that I see in other people, I have this overwhelming fear that all attempts at achieving a value will slowly slip my grasp. I constantly needed to push values off till tomorrow until I get today straightened out. I am scared that tomorrow will never come. I have so many goals and dreams and values but I might never get to achieve them. I see it so clearly sometimes: 45, divorced, alone, with nothing to show for my hard work, debt, a giant mortgage or even worse perpetual renting, and my only outlet going to the pub with other Philly white trash middle-agers. How can rational philosophy help me gain perspective on this fear that I have had since a kid?
- Q&A: Blaming Crime Victims: 21 Sep 2014, Question 1
Question: Is it wrong to suggest that a crime victim should have taken greater precautions? My wife and I were discussing the recent iCloud data breach in which a hacker stole and published nude photos of hundreds of female celebrities. I made the comment that while the hacker's actions were despicable, at the same time I thought the celebrities were stupid to have trusted iCloud to protect the privacy of their photos in the first place. My wife balked at this, saying that this amounts to blaming the victim, and is no better than saying a woman who is raped was stupid for wearing a short skirt, or for drinking alcohol. But I see it as being more akin to saying a person whose bag was stolen from their car was stupid for leaving the door unlocked. Do comments of this sort really amount to 'blaming the victim'? Is it proper or improper to make such comments? Does my level of expertise or the victim's level of expertise make any difference? (As a computer engineer, I am very aware of the dangers of the cloud, whereas your average celebrity would probably be clueless about it.) Intuitively, I feel like the comments would be improper in my wife's example, proper in my example, and I'm unsure about the data breach itself. But I'm struggling to identify what the defining characteristics are for each case. What's the right approach here?
- Interview: Kelly Elmore on Why Growth Mindsets Matter: 28 Aug 2014
Summary: Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success offers a new perspective on learning. People with a "fixed mindsets" believe that traits like intelligence or social skills are fixed and cannot be changed much. People with "growth mindsets" believe that humans have the potential to change the traits they possess and constantly learn and improve. As a part of the research for her dissertation, Kelly Elmore has explored the psychological research conducted by Dweck and other cognitive psychologists that led to Dweck's development of the concept of "mindsets." In this interview, Kelly explained what mindsets are, how they impact our lives, and how we can develop growth mindsets in ourselves and encourage them in others.
- Podcast: Moral Conflicts and the Virtue of Justice: 20 Aug 2014
Summary: As we live our lives, some people will harm us by their moral wrongs and honest errors, and we may commit such wrongs and errors ourselves. Objective moral judgment is an essential part of the rational response to such events. Yet circumstances often call for more than judgment: sometimes, forgiveness and redemption come into play. In this lecture given to ATLOSCon in 2012, I explored the nature, function, and limits of forgiveness and redemption in relation to the virtue of justice. Then we applied that understanding to common examples of wrongs and errors.
- Q&A: Requiting Evil with Good: 3 Aug 2014, Question 2
Question: Can evil be requited with good? Christians claim that evil can and ought to be requited with good. So in "Les Miserables", the Bishop inspired Jean Valjean to reform by telling the police that he willingly gave Jean the silver plate (and added the candlesticks) even though Jean stole the silver. Does this strategy ever work to reform an evildoer? Or is it merely a license to further evil? In some cases, might it be useful to "heap burning coals on [an evildoer's] head"? If so, when and why?
- Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Four: 17 Jul 2014
Summary: The purpose of a theory of moral responsibility is to limit moral judgments of persons to their voluntary doings, products, and qualities. However, moral judgments are not the only – or even the most common – judgments of people we commonly make. So what are the various kinds of judgments we make of other people? What are the distinctive purposes and demands of those judgments? What is the relationship between those judgments and a person's voluntary actions, outcomes, and traits? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Four of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.
- Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Three: 19 Jun 2014
Summary: What does Thomas Nagel's control condition for moral responsibility really mean? Does it set an impossible standard? Have others noticed and capitalized on this problem? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Three of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.
Tags: Academia, Aristotle, Common Sense, Crime, Egalitarianism, Epistemology, Ethics, Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, Justice, Law, Luck, Metaphysics, Moral Judgment, Moral Luck, Philosophy, Politics, Responsibility, Responsibility & Luck
- Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Two: 5 Jun 2014
Summary: What are some of the common proposed solutions to the problem of moral luck? How and why do they fail? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Two of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.
Tags: Academia, Compatibilism, Crime, Determinism, Egalitarianism, Ethics, Free Will, John Rawls, Justice, Law, Luck, Moral Judgment, Moral Luck, Philosophy, Politics, Responsibility, Responsibility & Luck
- Chat: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter One: 22 May 2014
Summary: What is the "problem of moral luck"? Why does it matter to ethics, law, and politics? What is its connection to John Rawls' egalitarianism? Why did I choose to write my doctoral dissertation on the topic? I answered these questions and more in this live discussion of Chapter One of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.
- Q&A: Free Will and Moral Responsibility: 17 Nov 2013, Question 1
Question: What is the relationship between free will and moral responsibility? To me, the concept of free will found in debates about determinism seems different from the concept of free will relevant to questions of moral responsibility. The former is a metaphysical concept, and a person either has free will or not. The latter is a psychological concept, and it seems to be a matter of degree based on nature and nurture. However, psychological free will seems to presuppose metaphysical free will. Is that right? What is the relationship between free will and moral responsibility?
- Podcast: Reading of Responsibility & Luck, Chapter One: 15 Nov 2013
Summary: In this podcast, I read Chapter One of my new book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame. Chapter One introduces Thomas Nagel's problem of moral luck, then surveys the three major types of moral luck – resultant moral luck, circumstantial moral luck, and constitutive moral luck. The problem of moral luck is not merely some small problem in ethics. It threatens to undermine any and all moral praise and blame of persons. It also provides the foundation for John Rawls' arguments for an egalitarian political order. This chapter concludes by surveying the book as a whole, chapter by chapter. Chapter One is also freely available as a PDF.
- Q&A: Identifying Dangerous People: 4 Aug 2013, Question 1
Question: How can I better identify dangerous or immoral people in my life? I don't like to be morally judgmental about personality and other optional differences. In fact, I like being friends with a variety of kinds of people: that expands my own horizon. Yet I've been prey to some really awful people in my life. Looking back, I'd have to say that I ignored some signs of trouble – dismissing them as mere optional matters, as opposed to moral failures. How can I better differentiate "interesting" and "quirky" from "crazy" and "dangerous" in people I know? How can I see "red flags" more clearly?