Report on My Moral Perfection Lecture

Mar 082012

I’m pleased to report that Tuesday’s “Think!” lecture on moral perfection at CU Boulder went… more or less perfectly! I was able to cover the major elements of Ayn Rand’s views on moral perfection — meaning: what it is, why it’s necessary, and how to achieve it. The Q&A went well too: I found the questions meaty and challenging. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to discuss Christianity or Aristotle in any depth, but I’ll save that for another time. Also, it was darn cool to be back at CU Boulder to speak for the awesome “Think!” lecture series that I helped produce for three years as a graduate student.

I will be releasing audio, video, and slides from the lecture in a few weeks, i.e. after SnowCon 2012. But… I’m only making it available to those super-awesome people who’ve contributed to Philosophy In Action. (You’ll alerted by e-mail when it’s posted!)

I closed my lecture with a quote from Ayn Rand’s journals that seems to be mostly unknown, but that really resonates with people. I post it here for your chewing enjoyment:

Man may be justly proud of his natural endowments (if they are there objectively, i.e., rationally), such as physical beauty, physical strength, a great mind, good health. But all of these are merely his material or his tools; his self-respect must be based, not on these attributes, but on what he does with them. His self-respect must be based on his actions — on that which proceeds from him. …

If a man says: “But I realize that my natural endowments are mediocre — shall I then suffer, be ashamed, have an inferiority complex?” The answer is: “In the basic, crucial sphere, the sphere of morality and action, it is not your endowments that matter, but what you do with them.” It is here that all men are free and equal, regardless of natural gifts. You can be, in your own modest sphere, as good morally as the genius is in his — if you live by the same rules.

Find your goal within yourself, in whatever work you are honestly capable of performing. Never make others your prime goal. Demand nothing from others as an unearned gift and grant them nothing unearned. Live by your own rational judgments. Be independent in whatever judgments you hold or actions you undertake, and do not venture beyond your own capacity, into spheres where you’ll have to become a parasite and a second-hander. You’ll be surprised how decent and wonderful a human being you’ll become, and how much honest, legitimate human affection and appreciation you’ll get from others.”

That’s from The Journals of Ayn Rand, starting on page 291.

CU Boulder Think! Lecture: Should You Try to Be Morally Perfect?

Feb 172012

I’m super-excited to announce that I’ll be giving a lecture for CU Boulder’s Think! philosophy lecture series on March 6th. The lecture will be held in the theater of Old Main, from 7:30 to 9:00 pm. The title of my lecture is: “Should You Try to Be Morally Perfect?” Here’s the abstract and my bio:

Most people dismiss any ideal of moral perfection as beyond their reach. “I’m only human,” they say. That view is a legacy of Christianity, which teaches that moral perfection is possible to God alone and that any attempt at moral perfection is the sin of pride. In sharp contrast, Ayn Rand argues that moral perfection is not only possible to ordinary people, but also necessary for anyone who wants to live a virtuous and happy life. Hence, pride, understood as moral ambitiousness, is one of her seven major virtues — as seen in the heroes of her novels “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.”

This talk will explore Ayn Rand’s views of moral perfection, ambition, and pride. What does she think that morality demands? How can people achieve that? How should people respond to their own moral wrongs and errors? We will compare Rand’s answers to these questions to those of Aristotle. We will find that, despite some differences in each philosopher’s conception of virtue, they share the compelling view that seeking moral perfection is crucially important to a person’s life and happiness.

Diana Hsieh received her Ph.D in philosophy from the CU Boulder in 2009. Her dissertation argued that Thomas Nagel’s “problem of moral luck” can be solved by an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility. She is the author of the Explore Atlas Shrugged series of podcasts and discussion questions. Every Sunday morning, she answers questions on practical ethics in her live Philosophy in Action Webcast.

These questions about moral perfection have long been of interest to me, and I’m really enthused to explore them in greater depth — particularly because I think that the comparison between Ayn Rand and Aristotle will be really quite illuminating.

If you’re a local, please attend in person! Bring a friend! Spread the word! If you can’t attend, I might be able to post a recording of the lecture afterwards.

Video: Overcoming Perfectionism

Feb 082012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed overcoming perfectionism. The question was:

What is the problem with and solution to perfectionism? Lately, I’ve realized that I might have a problem with “perfectionism” – meaning that I hold myself to unrealistically high standards in some areas of my life. For example, I feel like I should be much more productive, to the point of being unrealistic about what I can do in a day. What’s the basic error of such perfectionism? And what can I do to overcome it?

My answer, in brief:

For a person to seek perfection, based on rational standards that take account of his particular context, is often good. Perfectionism, however, means doing so based on out-of-context or unrealistic standards of perfection. A person with perfectionist tendencies needs to identify them, then think and act consistently based on standards appropriate to his purpose – whether seeking perfection, good enough, or merely adequate.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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