On Sunday, 15 April 2012, I broadcast a new episode of my live Philosophy in Action Webcast, where I answer questions on the application of rational principles to the challenges of living a virtuous, happy, and free life in a live, hour-long webcast. The webcast is broadcast live every Sunday morning at 8 am PT / 9 am MT / 10 am CT / 11 am ET. In the webcast, I broadcast on video, Greg Perkins of Objectivist Answers is on audio, and the audience is in a text chat.

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The Podcast: Episode: 15 April 2012

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Duration: 1:09:00
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The Segments: Episode: 15 April 2012

The following segments are marked as chapters in the M4A version of the podcast. Thanks to Tammy Perkins for helping compile the show notes!

Introduction (0:00)

I’ve been busy working on transferring NoodleFood over to WordPress on Philosophy in Action. It’s still a work in progress!

Question 1: The Morality of Breaking the Law (3:44)

When is it moral to break the law? Laws should be written to protect individual rights. Unfortunately, many laws today violate rights. When should I abide by a rights-violating law, and when is it proper to break it?

My Answer, In Brief: A person does not have any moral obligation to submit to violations of his rights. However, the proper course – whether complying with the law, breaking the law overtly, or breaking the law covertly – depends on the particulars of the situation. Mostly, get legal advice first!


Question 2: The Morality of Vigilantism (20:48)

Where is the line between justice and vigilantism? When is it moral to take the law into your own hands – meaning pursuing, detaining, and/or punishing criminals as a private citizen? Suppose that you know – without a shadow of a doubt – that some person committed a serious crime against you or a loved one. If the justice system cannot punish the person due to some technicality, is it wrong for you to do so? If you’re caught, should a judge or jury punish you, as if you’d committed a crime against an innocent person?

My Answer, In Brief: The vigilante is not an agent of justice, but a threat to innocents and to the foundations of civilized society.


Question 3: Stealing Valor (36:37)

Should “stealing valor” be a crime? Rencently, a man was arrested by the FBI in Houston and charged with “stolen valor.” This is the charge made against someone who falsely poses as a decorated soldier. Is it proper to make this a crime? Why or why not?

My Answer, In Brief: Undoubtedly, “stealing valor” is reprehensible, but not everything reprehensible should be a crime. The legal response to “stealing valor” ought to be the same as for other kinds of credentials fraud, whether protect speech, civil fraud, or criminal fraud.


Question 4: Selling Sub-Optimal Products (48:50)

What should a businessman do if he decides that his product or service is not really good? More specifically, what should a businessman do if he’s rises up in the business world on promoting a particular product or service, only to learn decades into the ventures that there are better alternatives? As a fictional example, let’s take a mattress manufacturer CEO. He has spent decades of his life trying to make the most comfortable mattresses possible, but then read scientific studies that concludes that there is no healthier sleeping surface than the solid floor, and in using his honest judgment he agrees. Being so high up and so long involved in the mattress world, what are the moral range of options for him?

My Answer, In Brief: Morality in business does not requires producing optimal products, but only good products for honest trade. In this case, the businessman has a range of options, including some moral pitfalls to avoid.


Rapid Fire Questions (58:52)

In this segment, I answered a variety of questions off-the-cuff. The questions were:

  • Why are vigilante movies so popular?

  • How is a citizen’s arrest different from vigilantism?

  • Is there a lower threshold for when it’s okay to break a regulation?

  • Given the lack of Antonin Scalia’s “New Professionalism” in police action, is the exclusionary rule is an important safeguard?

  • If a government actor has ruined your life unjustly is vengeance a moral option?

  • Is moral perfection a habit and if so is it one of yours?

  • Must a political candidate be chosen by conflating him/her with the party they happen to be running under, or is it reasonable to select a candidate but not agree with the party they run under?

  • Where does Ayn Rand talk about a “central purpose” – and what does she mean by it?
Conclusion (1:08:02)

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  • James

    On the topic of breaking the law: Many corporations factor the price of fines into their estimates for work being done. For example, if you’re going to build a wind farm in an area that’s known for having a protected bird, the company will assume that a certain number of birds are going to be killed, figure out the price per bird, and simply plan on paying the government that amount of money. They can be surprsingly explicite in this–particularly out West, where the BLM will accept land donations in lue of monetary fines, they’ll often simply tell the regulators “We’re not going to try to protect these animals/plants, we’re simply going to pay you off” (though not in those words). It speaks to the ineffectiveness of environmental programs: they don’t protect the environment, they merely make it more expensive to do work.

    Of course, that’s assuming that the company is honest. The Endangered Species Act has created an informal method of dealing with sensitive species called “Shoot, Shovel, and Shut Up”. Shoot the thing, throw it in a hole deep enough that the regulators can’t find it, and never say anything about it again.

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