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RS84 - Stephen Asma On the Myth of Universal Love

Release date: April 7, 2013

Just like love, motherhood, and apple pie, no one could be against fairness. No one, that is, except philosopher Stephen Asma, the author of "Against Fairness." Massimo and Julia sit down with Stephen in this episode of Rationally Speaking, to talk about what he thinks is wrong with the concept of fairness -- and about certain traditional values he thinks are more important.

Stephen's pick: "Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions"

References: The Myth of Universal Love

Reader Comments (13)

It seems that group loyalty is good if the group is good.

That is, it's not good to be loyal to groups like Al Qaeda, the Nazis or the Mafia, etc.

Now in order to determine which groups are good, you need criteria which go back to fairness or to those good old consequentialist principles.

Julia points out that you can justify paying attention to those closer to you on consequentialist principles and that is true.

For example, to promote world peace, it may be that it is more efficacious to raise peaceful children in your own family and to help neighbors raise their own peaceful children than to campaign for peace in the Middle East.

But it's not paying more attention to your own children which is a good in itself, but paying more attention to your own children in order to promote world peace, etc.

It would not be good to pay more attention to your children in order that they grow up to be more murderous Nazis.

It's not so good to be loyal to your family if your family is the Corleone family or the Himmler family.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterswallerstein

Who was the philosopher with the name-calling comment?

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

Both links to his book and his pick at amazon on the podcast description above are broken, people.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeonardo C.

Great job to Julia on this. Twice when i was wanting to make a comment she made the comment or asked the question i wanted to ask. I am a utilitarian of sorts and i am guessing Julia is too. thanks for the great episode and would love if you had Peter Singer on at some point.

April 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpaul corrado

I don't think that this was a particularly good critique of utilitarianism or 'fairness' and it seems to me like the problem could be resolved by applying the right ethical system for the right scale. No utilitarian that I've heard of promotes the use of cost-benefit (or happiness-suffering) analysis to guide people in close relationships. On the other hand, the ideas of loyalty and special bonds have been misused in politics/policy making where citizens of a state are favored over non-citizens (both groups consist of strangers as far as I am concerned) when it comes to welfare, medical assistance, etc.

ps: On a related note, its probably worth watching Tyler Cowan's interview of Singer on bloggingheadstv.

April 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternegative robot

I'd just like to remind people that this is the author who said he would kill the entire population of the world to save the life of his son -- a horrible viewpoint in my opinion.

April 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertom dobrzeniecki

The flower that grows.
One day soon justice will evolve from the grey area of fairness, how we uncertainly see today,
Into the equitable light of absolute, the certainty of truth,
Equality, unity, or Oneness,
Is the just Way!


April 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMJA

An excellent episode of Rationally Speaking. Really enjoyed hearing Stephen Asma's take on this and feel that he raises some very good points. I also appreciated that Massimo raised the distinction between the role of the state and that of the individual as this was exactly what I would have liked to say. I will certainly read Asma's book following this podcast and, love it or hate it, I feel confident that his thinking will bring some much needed balance to this discussion.

April 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterM69att

You wouldn't want your children to be utilitarians.

April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMax

My first comment on this blog doesn't seem to have stuck.. Did the content or style break some comments policy, which I've failed to notice, or is it some technical issue?

April 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterName

I really can't see any good philosophy in the guests stance in this podcast. It is almost entirely arguments from personal incredulity, naturalistic fallacies and appeals to tradition. It legitimately lacks any rational argumentation, useful thought experiments or valuable insights. I generally love this podcast, but there was a distinct lack of useful questioning from Massimo, who I usually find probes guest's views quite well (and we all know why) and there were so many lacking arguments from the guest that it felt like I was listening to a religious person explaining why the fact that they have evolved to seek deeper meaning is evidence that such a meaning exists.

By the way I have to point out that I was really excited to listen to the episode because I have long thought that the concept of fairness is a fundamentally morally bankrupt concept as it confuses an equality in morally salient conscious states and an equality in other political, ethical and intellectual value.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames Kirkland
Love the talk, lots to think about ...

I feel the Tribes we belong to have a natural sway over us in these kinds of ethical dilemmas but there is also biological components here based on a Species level as Human Beings that can be just as strong & influential when facing these issues. The former is a consequence of WHERE we're raised/surroundings while the latter is more about WHAT Values-System is instilled in us. For example if one is more Politically /Economically inclined, they might base their decisions more on Tribalist grounds. And if one identifies more with say Egalitarian/Humanist values, they might lean towards more Universal reasons.
May 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto
If you have to choose between saving a chambermaid and a politician, you should generally save the chambermaid. Most chambermaids conduct themselves honestly and benefit society, but many many politicians engage in corruption.

Familiarity does have an impact on whom you choose to save, and well it should.
January 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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