From Christian College Student to Atheist Online Philosophy Teacher (An Interview With Me!)

On Sunday, August 10, 2014 I appeared on the radio show Atheists Talk on KTNF AM 950, the Progressive Voice of Minnesota. You can listen to the archived show entitled “Accessible Philosophy for Everyone” here or download it from iTunes at any time now or in the future here. Below is a transcription of the entire show (with minor edits for style and flow and links to further reading added), which should serve as a marvelous overview introduction to all things me—from my deconversion to what I get from Nietzsche to my online classes to my views on philosophy as it relates to science, morality, and free will. A million thanks once again to Josiah “Biblename” Mannion for doing transcription work for me.

Mike Haubrich: Hi. One of the reasons that I wanted to interview you, and we can touch on this, and then get into the more exciting topics of your own philosophical interests and your unique, new online philosophy courses. There have some dismissals [...] by prominent scientists of the importance of philosophy in the modern scientific age. And I disagree; I think that philosophy and science are mutually dependent. Where do you, as a philosopher, stand on the necessity of philosophy these days?

Dan Fincke: Well, the issue is that if every philosophical question were to be solved by science, then there would be no need for philosophy. But questions remain. And as long as the questions remain, we have to have the better answer rather than the worse answer. So, you know, we have to think through, as critically as possible. And there are issues that transfer over to becoming scientific, and that’s great. There’s a lot of philosophers who are working to help that process. That’s the point–to get as good a clarity on these issues as we can, and if we can empiricize an issue and make it better understood, that’s fantastic. But for as long as there’s, you know, a run-over, we have to be as critical and careful and logical in the meantime, and that’s what philosophy’s about. It’s not about competing with science. It’s about using the best tools we have, and the most critical way of thinking we have, where we can’t be yet scientific.

And there are certain issues where it may be in principle impossible to fully empiricize, and scientifically give an account which is satisfying. And so those issues will remain philosophical, and we’ll have to be as rigorous as possible. The only other alternative would be to, you know, stop thinking, or have less critically thought out, less consistent and coherent accounts of very important matters while we’re waiting for the science, and that seems to be not… not a good idea.

Brianne Bilyeu: Dan, for our audience, can you just give us a kind of a 101, what is philosophy? And you also mentioned not being in competition with science, so when you’re talking about philosophy, can you explain what you mean, and also do you think that philosophy qualifies as a science?

Dan Fincke: I think it’s wrong to think about philosophy as a science, mostly because I think that we have a lot of success in making the word ‘scientific’ into something very respected and with a level of rigor and empirical, not certitude, but a certain kind of justification, which is an honorific. And I don’t think philosophy should try to have that status. Because it’s like we… if we did that, then we would have to have the kind of grounded, ‘this is certainly the way it is’ sort of appeal of the scientific credibility. And that would just dilute science to mix that in, to mix in even good philosophy with that. And it would dilute… it would put too high a burden on philosophy to have scientific exactitude to what we’re doing. But what I would say is that there are always questions of conceptual clarification; there are always issues of making theoretical connections, or extrapolations beyond what is rigorously scientific. And so I look at philosophy as how we deal with those areas where we can’t be quite scientific, or where the science doesn’t go quite far enough.

So a very simple example of this is that it would be really wrong for scientists to say, We’ve proven, scientifically, that there is no God. That would be an overreach, and it’s clear to most scientists, it’s clear to most laypeople. But on the other hand, there are ways to say that philosophically speaking, “There’s tremendous reason to think there is no God, and here are those really good reasons. And here, look, [the arguments] extrapolate from the science, they build on what we’ve learned from science, they look at what we [think] about there being a naturalistic world, but they’re not science. It’s another sphere of critical thinking, and a critical clarity that’s not empirical in character, it’s theoretical, it’s conceptual, and that’s okay.”

You know, morality, [is] another one. Morality doesn’t come down to this experiment in this laboratory. Or, you know, we can look at what experiments tell us about psychology of morality, we can look empirically at experience and figure out what tends toward human flourishing, or against it. But there’s always going to be a dimension in which there’s not a laboratory experiment that settles a moral question. It’s going to be critical thinking, how do we have our concepts lined up, how are they most consistent, how are we… you know, having a coherent conceptual framework. That’s really beyond just empirics, that’s what philosophy would do. So I would say it’s conceptually getting our categories clear, making semantic distinctions, and kind of theoretically filling in the edges beyond what the strict data of science would be able to tell us.

Mike Haubrich: Okay, I just wanted to ask if you could touch back a little bit, briefly, on what your background in philosophy is, what was your education, your teaching experience, and so forth.

Dan Fincke: So, I went to… I started out at Grove City College, which is a very Evangelical Christian College. And I started out pursuing it as an apologetics interest. I was a Christian, and I was like the kid in the movie God’s Not Dead, wanting to show the evil, secular world that there really was a God, rationally. And I wound up studying and becoming much more skeptical. And I wound up having, eventually, a kind of skeptical theism, where I thought, Well, human knowledge is just impossible, and we have to rely on God.

And then I discovered Nietzsche. And he kind of gave me this picture of an alternative to Christianity, an emotional picture and a moral picture, and it was very compelling and it aligned with my skepticism and I wound up deconverting. And then I went to Fordham University for my graduate work, and I studied a lot of Continental Philosophy [and] I studied a lot of the History of Philosophy. My undergrad had been primarily what we call Analytic PhilosophyAnd so then for my dissertation, I wrote on Nietzsche.

And through my teaching, I had been teaching at Fordham University, I taught there for nine years, and I was also teaching at St. John’s in Hofstra, and William Patterson in Fairfield, and Hunter College, and City College. I wound up teaching at a bunch of schools. And a lot of my teaching involved Ethics. And in teaching Ethics, I fell in love with the subject, and it became a central point in my dissertation, so that my dissertation wound up being about Nietzsche’s philosophy and how his Ethics… originally it was always going to be about this, it was always going to be about how his theory of knowledge and truth connected to his views on morality. And by the end of the dissertation, I had become so interested in Ethics in its own right that I wound up making the focus Ethics, and trying to work out my own beginnings of an Ethical Theory that would build on what I thought was really valuable and underappreciated in Nietzsche, but also incorporate just an amazing amount of insights from the tradition and from the last, very productive last hundred years in Moral Philosophy.

Mike Haubrich: We’ve just got a couple minutes before the first break, but I just wanted to see if you’d introduce just a little bit about, um, you said you grew up as a Christian, first as a Catholic, then eventually [Evangelical] Christian, and obviously now you’re an atheist

Dan Fincke: Yeah.

Mike Haubrich: We can start now and come back later. How did philosophy lend itself to your transition to atheism?

Dan Fincke: Oh, well, you know… Philosophy was absolutely crucial in my case. I went a very much philosophical route to atheism rather than scientific. In my case it was that I started to… I had a real strong appreciation from when I was young, to the problem of how we know. You know, how can we know anything? And so, in my case, I was just deeply skeptical about the possibilities for knowledge. And that… early on in my philosophy training at least. So, I had been very philosophically inclined since I was young. When I was fourteen, my youth minister would start to meet with me, and disciple me, and teach me one-on-one. So by the time I was fourteen, I was getting very intensive, personalized theology training. So I showed up to college ready to do theology. Like, I was already… my brain was already wiring that way. And then I immediately took philosophy. My Dad was very wise, and he wasn’t a believer. He totally supported me going to this hard-core Evangelical school, but he encouraged me to take a couple Philosophy classes my first semester […] because he knew I was interested in theology and becoming a church historian. And so, it was getting exposed to two philosophy classes my first semester which was really transformative because I started to realize these were the questions that I was really interested in. I thought at first I would just get these philosophical questions out of the way so that I could do theology. But what was happening was, I was writing all of my theology papers focused on the philosophical questions. And it was just… those were the questions that were really important to me, and mattered to me, and I saw all of theology through that lens. And so it was really through reading the philosophical tradition that I started to just realize the complete untenability of believing on faith as a rational thing to do. And I started to realize all the flaws in the religious tradition I was in. And I wound up… then it was just an enormous avalanche of philosophy. You know, everybody chipped away at something, and so it was hard to pin it on any one person.

Mike Haubrich: And you were having trouble…

Dan Fincke: But then it was also Nietzsche who gave a, a kind of Anti-Christian whole perspective, that was very decisive for me in finally losing the faith.

Mike Haubrich: I was going to say, you were having a little bit of trouble kind of reconciling predestination and Calvinism with philosophy as well.

Dan Fincke: Yes, and you know, it’s funny, because I never really thought of it this way because a lot of people deal with the whole genocides in the Old Testament, and how God could be so evil, and that really bothers a lot of believers and atheists. And I was rather oblivious to that problem, but what happened to me was, I wound up at a Calvinist school where they brought up this issue of… where the people around me all believed in predestination, and they believed that God chose to send people to Hell before he ever created them. And I had thought that that was some weird 17th century brief opinion, you know, before I got to college. And I found out, no, there’s a lot of Christians who think this, and what was amazing to me was, they really have an incredible Scriptural case, right? The Bible has a strong element of God being sovereign and sending people to Hell, or just deciding who he’ll save or not, or hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

And I was very upset by that, and that really framed my journey, because I wrote papers obsessed with problem of how to reconcile the faith. And my extreme reaction, my extreme desperate attempt to salvage my faith, and the faith in what would be clearly an evil God was to say, Oh, well I guess… it kind of dovetailed with my skepticism about knowledge, and I said, Oh, well, you know what, maybe that’s just the problem, it’s that humans just can’t understand anything. And so that was the philosophical side of me, that the theologian sort of exploited. And I said, “Well, maybe God’s just so far beyond our understanding that this will work.

And that was just untenable, after a certain amount of time. The intellectual… Nietzsche appealed to my intellectual conscience, that it was inappropriate to believe in something that was absurd and immoral just for the sake of holding on to my faith. It became clear to me that I had to be much more rigorous about what I said I believed. Precisely because I didn’t think much knowledge was possible, that meant we had to be far more chastened, rather than leap to affirm belief in these whole, massive, counter-rational doctrines. And that was really the decisive thing, as a matter of conscience, that said, Look, my commitment to truth, my commitment to other people, my commitment to these things means that I have to more careful, and more restrained, and abandon this faith which is leading me to make these affirmations which could be very destructive. In the case of my… I had a friend who was gay, and my attempt to love him, but judge the sin was a disaster, and I realized that I couldn’t hold on to beliefs that I couldn’t rationally justify when they could hurt people. And that was it, I was out.

Mike Haubrich: You’ve mentioned Nietzsche a few times, and it seems like he’s the philosopher that has influenced your thinking the most. In three and a half minutes or less, can you explain to me a little about what you see in Nietzsche that really guides you the most.

Dan Fincke: What I see in Nietzsche is an attempt to reaffirm the natural and to question everything. I think Nietzsche sometimes goes way too far in his speculation; sometimes he’s a dark and somewhat dangerous thinker, and I wouldn’t recommend everyone take everything he says as Gospel. But what he does is, he asks every question. And in that, I’ve been able to develop better answers, even where I would disagree with Nietzsche, and it’s because I’ve spent time dealing with this hardest kind of challenge.

So Nietzsche’s goal was to really be strictly naturalistic about values, and to kind of re-conceive [and] reclaim values that Christianity teaches us to disparage, like power, or natural excellence, and these sorts of values that we kind of have demonized. Like “power is an inherently bad thing”, “pride is a bad thing”. And so to me, Nietzsche was very liberating in being affirmative of these sorts of things that are demonized. And so to me, the question was, Okay, how can we affirm the natural goodness of, value of… you know, these things like power and wealth and all these really good things, and yet also take into account the dangers and the evils of these things, without doing it in such a way that makes power itself evil, wealth itself evil.

So he kind of framed for me the goal being maximum empowerment of humanity rather than of groveling before some, you know, cosmic tyrant. And I think that was the core of it, even if his own views on power sometimes I don’t agree with, I think that was the core.

And the other thing is, he’s very good at helping you think through, psychologically, what you’re doing. Nietzsche’s not just a great philosopher, he’s one of the early psychologists on the way to modern psychology. And he was just 150… 120 years ahead of his time, psychologically. And I think in that way, he helped me look at psychological problems in a way that really paid attention to human bias, and to look at morality in a cross-cultural way, and getting away from the biases of our own psychology and our own culture, to think about ethics in terms of the many ways human beings can be empowered, and the many different structures. So what I wound up with, in short, was a pluralistic ethics with a goal of as maximum an empowerment of human beings, that can allow for some cultural diversity, the different rules and routes there do actually vary with different real world circumstances, but that there’s still an objective good, and that is this maximum empowerment. That’s the goal. The places where I wind up differing from Nietzsche, is Nietzsche doesn’t care about the ordinary person’s empowerment; he only cares about the greats and the geniuses thriving, and I’m just much more optimistic about the potential to… that we can all… that we all are empowered when we empower others.

Brianne Bilyeu: “Dan, would have any books that you would recommend as starter books for Nietzsche?” This is from John in Grand Rapids.

Dan Fincke: Yeah, there’s a wonderful book by a Nietzsche scholar named Lawrence Hatab, and it’s a commentary on Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals. And the genealogy of morality is one of Nietzsche’s most read works; it’s one of his more accessible ones. And if you read this introduction to that book, Lawrence does just a really good job of not only doing a commentary on that book, but he also has essays that do a wonderful job of boiling down Nietzsche’s moral philosophy, his political philosophy. And throughout the commentary on this particular work, he has wonderful little side sections about broader themes in Nietzsche’s work as supplementary material, and it actually works as a great intro. And if you want a more sophisticated version, I would recommend John Richardson’s book Nietzsche’s System.

Brianne Bilyeu: And what was that first one again, by Lawrence… ?

Dan Fincke: Yeah, it’s called Nietzsche’s ‘On the Genealogy of Morality’: An Introduction. And it’s by Lawrence J Hatab. 

Mike Haubrich: Great. Well, thanks a lot, Dan. I wanted to… The other reason I wanted to have you on the show today is, too, because you’ve also started up a unique sort of philosophy type of class that’s accessible to just about anybody in the world that’s interested in it. And I’d like to ask you a little bit about that. Why did you decide to start to do this? And what’s your focus for the class?

Dan Fincke: Great, thanks. So, I was… I’m very passionate about public education in philosophy. As I was finishing my dissertation, instead of preparing scholarly articles to get into journals, I was starting a blog to try and do philosophy in a context of the real world, and the atheist project. And so, to me it’s very important that philosophy be out there, that it be accessible. So I was very passionate about that, and I was very fortunate to develop a significant blog audience, and readers. And eventually people were coming to me and saying, You’ve inspired me to study philosophy, or saying that they wished they could sit in on one of my classes, and the seed was sort of starting to plant.

Once I had gotten to the point where the blog was… once I learned about Google Hangouts, and how easy it was to have a group of nine people together, I realized… One day, I was standing there, and…. I was also teaching at five universities at the same time, and I was pulled in every direction, going from Connecticut to Long Island to New Jersey to Manhattan, and it was taking me nine hours to get to one school, nine hour trip there and back, and I realized, I said, “Why can’t I just sit home, and just do this on the computer? Like, video with other people, and then I don’t have to travel as much.” And then the light bulb went off. “Why don’t I just offer that, you know?” And I realized, there’s a lot of people who know me through the blog; maybe they want to study with me. It was remarkable, within… I just put up a facebook message, Hey, does anyone want to do this? And I wound up with twelve, thirteen students right away. Then I realized, I could really make this my business, and it would allow me to have the flexibility and the autonomy to teach whatever I wanted, to give philosophy education to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. And to just get rid of the exploitative academic system that’s in place right now…

Mike Haubrich: Exploitative to the adjunct professors …

Dan Fincke: … which is reducing academics to part-time labor that’s vastly, grossly underpaid for our qualifications. I just wanted nothing to do with that anymore. I’d rather go do this for the love of it, and the purity of it, and be my own boss, and reach the people who are interested in it beyond the academic walls. 

Mike Haubrich: How do you divide the classes up? I mean, you’ve got several different classes and several different areas. How is it all divided up?

Dan Fincke: Yeah, thank you. So what I have is a… I have a Philosophy for Atheists class that I developed as a way of… because I see philosophy as very important for a lot of atheists, especially for ones that have just deconverted, because they have had their… because in our culture people are recommended to go to religion for the answers to philosophical questions. They’re really philosophical questions. “What is real? And what is knowledge? And what is morality? And how do we live a good life? And what about human nature?” These are fundamentally philosophy questions, and I think this is one of the disasters of our culture, is that we don’t teach philosophy. And that’s why people get their epistemology, and their metaphysics, and their ethics from religion. Because no one’s teaching these things as rigorous critical subjects, except if you go to university. But it’s not until university that you can even get exposed to that. So my view is that there’s a lot of atheists who, coming out of their faith want to build a constructive picture of the world again, and work through these critical thinking questions, now free to do so with reason. So I offer the Philosophy for Atheists class for them, and it also has as a component, for them and for all atheists, a strong dimension of philosophy of religion. So I introduce philosophy, I give the historical context, we go over the topics, we do it in its own right, but we also will have a lot of going over how this applies to our arguments with theists. So it’s a really tailored class for the interests of atheists. 

Then I have my Ethics class, which just deals with everything from, How do we known morality is real (or is it real?), all those sorts of questions, to the various normative frameworks, you know, deontology, consequentialism, duty ethics, results ethics, or virtue ethics, etc. We do all of that, and we do applied topics in that, so euthanasia, and abortion, we can talk about all those sorts of issues.

Then I also have the Nietzsche class. And in the Nietzsche class we read Nietzsche’s texts, and we explicate [them] together, and I explain the larger system of his thought. That’s a class that’s a reading, I mean, every week… you go you all year like a, I hate to say it, but like a Bible study… more like a book club, really, but we just come and we read, ‘cause we don’t treat Nietzsche like a Bible. We just come and we read, and we explicate the text together.

And I’m offering a new class this Fall, which I’m very excited about, called Philosophy of Mind and Language, and that class is going to be… The 20th Century was just drastically focused on Philosophy of Language issues, and it was really transformative. So, we’re just going to focus on that and use that as an entry point into the entire last century of contemporary philosophy. It’s going to be really great. Philosophy of Mind, and Consciousness, and all of these issues to deal with. How language structures our world…

And finally, there’s an intro class that I offer that’s more neutral now. It’s not going to be targeted only at atheists, and it’ll be more broad; it’ll be more about all the topics in philosophy. I’m going to offer a history class, where we take sixteen weeks, and I explain the whole history of philosophy to you.  And the other one will be Social and Political Philosophy. So, we’ll look at questions of justice, we’ll look at rights and democracy, and what these things really mean philosophically. We’ll look at the classics like Machiavelli, and Plato, and Rousseau, and Hobbes. And in that class, we’ll also deal with a lot of hot social issues. So whatever people want to talk about, if it’s Libertarianism, and drugs, and prostitution, and everything; we can talk about anything. Anything that falls under the banner of social and political philosophy, we’ll rigorously look at it. 

Mike Haubrich: That one sounds really interesting to me, because I’ve always been a little bit interested in Hobbes. But, you know, I think that a lot of people have misperceptions about Machiavelli and what he was really trying to say in The Prince, and so that’d be kind of fun to sit in on. In fact, I did sit in on one class a week and a half ago, and I really enjoyed it, because of the fact that you started out talking about Descartes, and then we moved through several different areas of philosophy very smoothly, just in a matter of discussion. I ended up with three pages of notes. I hadn’t even started at the beginning of the class, but I felt I got a lot out of it, right away.

Dan Fincke: Yeah, thank you very much. And that’s exactly… exactly the way you described it is the goal. The way I look at it is that the learning comes out of the conversation, and that’s why these classes aren’t some prepackaged, MOOC (you know, Massive Online Open Course) where you’re just basically listening to a show. What you’re doing here is… I am responding directly to the students’ interests, and it’s your own thought process. Because, when I was a student, when I would read something on my own–you know, you can have a prejudice, you can just say, “This is the way things are”; you can read an entire essay, and you’re just thinking, “Nope, because of this, Nope, because of this.” You think you know the one reason this whole thing is wrong, and you tune it out. That’s the way the brain can be very prejudicial and very dogmatic. That’s why what students really need is… okay, you need an expert there so you can say, “This is why this is all crap.” And the expert can go, “Ehhh, not really, here’s what you’re not understanding.” And then that process is what keeps the student moving. And then I can figure out as the teacher, “Aha, this is where in the material this student needs to go next.”

But sometimes it’s saying, “Yes, you’re right, this does seem problematic”, it’s not only saying the student’s wrong. But that, too… either way, the point is, I can listen to what the student has to say, and realize what aspect of the issue we need to talk about next. That process means that over the course of the whole semester, the student will go through their own thought process, and I’ll just keep giving them material as it’s interesting to the student.

Like, you mentioned Hobbes. I one day went into my class, years ago, and I just gave them Hobbes, you know: might makes right. And they were all just passively accepting that. And I was like, “Why doesn’t this bother you? I’m sitting here saying that the government can take away your rights for your own sake”, and they’re like, “Yeah, whatever.” But when I went in there and I said, Might makes right. That’s the why it is. You try and show me why that’s wrong. Once I forced them to think it through for themselves, they got very frustrated, they started to realize the problem. To me, what it is in philosophy is, that you don’t understand why the philosophers are saying what they’re saying until you have internalized the problem for yourself. And our interactive method of learning does that. I lay out the concept. I say, Okay, what bothers you about it? What’s your question about it? And that’ll [open] us up to cover all this material, because your own questions will make it relevant. That’s sort of the whole strategy, and that’s exactly what you saw.

Mike Haubrich: We’ve got about a minute left. Where can people go to sign up? Well, thirty seconds.

Dan Fincke: Yeah, so they can go to danielfincke.com, a brand new website, my last name is spelled F-I-N-C-K-E, and they can directly register at the website now. It’s very exciting. So it’s danielfincke.com, and they can register and the classes are going to start back up in September. 

Mike Haubrich: I wanted to ask you, because we do have a lot of parents that are listening that are kind of concerned about what they can do in order to inculcate an interest, or a curiosity in philosophy in their kids. Do you have any suggestions that you give to parents when they ask you that?

Dan Fincke: I would say, kids are naturally curious, and I think it’s just valuable to work with their questions, right? Let them have a process of asking those multiple why questions, rather than trying to give them simple answers, and work through their reasoning process. The other thing is to be willing to ask them the critical questions, and bring them through a dialectical process, by which I mean a process of just asking them questions and listening to their answers. I think what’s more important than anything is that kids are kind of free to go process things, rather than have things just given to them. And so when kids are ready to ask certain questions, they’ll come to you. And when a kid is resistant to going further, you can see them shut down, and that’s okay. Like, they’ve learned enough, they need to go process what was just said. If they get frustrated, you lay off. To me, it’s a matter of turning every opportunity to talk to a child… I mean, I’m not a parent, so when I come across kids, every situation, there’s some aspect to ask them about, and to see how they… and just walk them through how they’re thinking about each situation, and if they get in a habit of thinking about each situation, then when they’re older, that’s what pays off.

Mike Haubrich: It sounds like most parents can do that. Especially parents that have had to go through the questions about sex. You just give ‘em as much as you think they can handle at that time.

Dan Fincke: Yeah, that’s exactly it, because it’s the spirit of free inquiry that matters.

Make Haubrich: Mmhmm. Do we have enough time to talk a little bit about free will? I was kind of curious about where you stand on that, free will and morality.

Brianne Bilyeu: We do only have about four minutes, so…

Dan Fincke: That’s a four minute question. Well, very briefly, in the four minute version, is that I think of Ethics in terms of the objective good, which is flourishing; our ability to actually maximize our excellences. I don’t think it’s a subjective matter that as the beings we are, our powers, when we thrive in them, we thrive, right? And I think that that’s a… I can argue for that philosophically, but that’s the basic point is, our goals come from our very nature. We’re rational, we’re emotional, we’re sexual, we’re athletic, we’re technological, we’re artistic. To be able to develop those abilities is inherently good for us, because we are those abilities. When they’re gone, we’re gone. So when they thrive, we thrive. And that, to me, is an objective issue. And so, to me, morality is a means to that, it’s a means to creating the kind of cooperative conditions for that.

And in that context, to me, it’s less important whether or not we are free in some sense of able to control our own destiny, or able to be blamed as though we could have done a different thing. To me, the ethical question is how do we empower the most number of people to be flourishing in all their powers. So to me, the question of blaming isn’t, could this person have done otherwise in some other universe. To me, the question of blame is what sort of strategy of behavior modification will help this person empower themselves. Whether or not you are free in some “not determined by the laws of physics” sense becomes secondary. How we look at law shouldn’t be based on, “is this person guilty in a metaphysical sense?” But the view should be, what treatment of this person will lead to the maximum empowerment of the most number of people, and respect that person. That’s it. It shouldn’t have to hinge on these questions of free will.

And I don’t think… Finally, really quickly, I don’t think we’re free in the sense [that] we can do just anything, but I think because we can follow out our own brains, our own neurochemistry, that is us. And so even if it’s not free in the sense of being able to do otherwise, or free in the sense of determining ourselves without any other factors, to me, since I am my brain chemistry, if my actions come from my brain chemistry, as opposed to you imposing on me, then I’m free. I’m free in the relevant sense, even if my actions on the metaphysical and physical are beyond just being willy-nilly anything, if that helps.

Mike Haubrich: It surely does. And that kind of leads to the fact that at Camels With Hammers, I think you’ve got a lot of dispatches and a lot of blog posts about the Empowerment Ethics that you’ve been developing. Do you want to just, like, within a minute or two, or a minute and half, just talk about that?

Dan Fincke: Yes, very very briefly. Because I think we are our powers, I think most of our powers actually thrive when they function beyond ourselves. So being an excellent city planner is thriving through the city plan empowering other people, and you can take credit for their power. Or being a great writer is about affecting other people to be more powerful, and you can kind of take some credit in their power. So I think that when we empower other people, our power is powerful through them, and that’s great power. It’s not power to snuff out other people’s power. Because then the net function is minimal. Whereas when people do things that make functioning excellence beyond themselves, that’s how they become powerful beyond themselves. It’s through empowering others, not through dominating them. And I think that’s the core insight.

Mike Haubrich: Thanks again, Dan. I just wanted to thank you very much for being on the show. I’m going to give this over to Brianne, unless you got some final thoughts here. 

Dan Fincke: Thank you very much. I had a blast.

Brianne Bilyeu: Thank you so much for being our guest today, Dan. Remember to check out Dan’s classes at, Dan, what was that website one more time?

Dan Fincke: Danielfincke.com.

Brianne Bilyeu: Thank you very much. Thank you all for listening to Atheists Talk. We’d love for you to join us again next Sunday when I will be speaking with Ben Blanchard, who recently returned from a year of overseas service with the Pathfinders Project, which was an effort sponsored by the Humanist group, foundation beyond belief. I’m proud to be on the air with the Minnesota Atheists, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the show. This show depends upon the generous support of our members, our sponsors, and donors. Please do consider supporting us through the donation link at mnatheists.orgThis has been Atheists Talk on AM 950 KTNF, The Progressive Voice of Minnesota. The podcast for the show will be on our radio page later today. We hope you have a good Sunday.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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