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Kyle

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  1. David Odden: I can certainly understand being frustrated with the repetition, but, in fairness: Participation on the thread was voluntary – people who were interested could post while those who weren’t could have ignored me pretty easily. I’d already read the prudent-predator threads on the forum and decided that they didn’t answer my questions. My question was differed in substantial ways from earlier prudent predator threads – significantly, replies which are usually given on other prudent predator threads would be question begging on my thread. My uniqueness and non-circularity points hadn’t occurred in prudent-predator threads and (I think) were highly important points which deserved responses. Many responses given to the originators of prudent-predator threads were problematic and my responses to them (I think) show that. Included among these are the claims that stealing hurts you self esteem, the claim that thieves are dependent on producers in a way which hurts them, and the claim that thieving carries with it unique risks. Even if my thread had taken the exact same approach as every other prudent predator thread, then, it would have still covered new ground by providing new responses to old arguments. Now, perhaps you still think that the thread wasn’t worth engaging in. I understand that. But would you go so far as to say that people who are interested shouldn’t be allowed to participate? Because that’s what an explanation of shutting down the thread is going to involve – an explanation of why no one should be allowed to post on it. I would have understood if JMeganSnow had decided that she didn’t want to post – what I don’t understand is why she decided that no one should be able to post. It didn’t come out of nowhere – it was a counterexample to other claims. A number of people made claims like “you’re going to have to hold a principle like X” and (MP3) was an example of an alternative principle. I wasn’t advocating (MP3) directly – just showing that they hadn’t exhausted the list of possible principles. It’s like if I say “you’re going to have to spend your weekend on the lake or in Chicago” and you reply “why can’t I go hang-gliding?” It doesn’t mean that you actually want to go hang gliding – you’re just contesting the idea that I’ve exhausted all the possibilities. (If I then reply to you, “you can’t go hang gliding because X” then I would have given the same kind of response that people on the thread were examining before it was shut down). I’ll take a look at it, but another forum has been recommended to me and I imagine I’ll just go there next time. JMeaganSnow: Needlessly harping on typos is for tools and I don’t do it. My point about ungrammaticality was only made because there was some confusion about what it is you were saying with your ungrammatical sentence. If the poor syntax hadn’t been relevant, I wouldn’t have mentioned it. I will change my spelling of “Piekoff” to “Peikoff”, though.
  2. The last reply was terse enough that I didn’t think I would get a response if I PM’ed the mod who actually closed it. (also, I get the impression that she dislikes me personally.) I was hoping another mod would explain why. The last post doesn’t really explain why. It maybe hints at an explanation – because it contains an ungrammatical imperative telling me to listen to lectures – but that’s not necessarily an explanation. It could mean something like “I’m closing you post. Look at the lectures if you want answers from now on.” This would make a bit more than using the lectures to explain the closing of the thread because I made it clear in my posts on the thread that I had already listened to the lectures. So I’m still not really sure why it was closed. If you think you can explain why I’d really appreciate it. I looked over the forum rules and I wasn’t able to find anything which really explains why my thread was closed – perhaps there some unspoken protocol here that I’m unaware of?
  3. No answer? I wasn't just complaining. I actually did want to know. -Kyle
  4. Why was my thread closed? This is your web forum and I’m not contesting your right to close whatever threads you feel like closing, but I can’t help but feel that the decision to do so was somewhat arbitrary. The thread was still active, it hadn’t become redundant, and there weren’t any personal insults. Perhaps the thread seemed like a waste of time, but participation was always voluntary, I wasn’t hounding people to post, and the fact that people returned to post multiple times suggests rather strongly that at least some people were interested. If no one was interested then, presumably, the thread would have died on its own. Moreover, I only have one thread going so it’s not like I’m cluttering the forums with useless posts. The last thread I started was pursued for a long time and it turned out to be (at least for me) a satisfying and interesting discussion (I would hope it was for the other people who posted as well). My current thread seemed to be moving towards the same result before you closed it. Finally, I think it’s a bit unfair to act as if I haven’t done the reading that’s been suggested to me. I listened to the Piekoff lecture, I read the previous threads on this issue, and I read an additional essay by Rand (Man’s Rights). Those were the only readings recommended to me and it’s somewhat unfair to hold me accountable for not reading articles which I haven’t been referred to (and thus may not know of). Again, this is your forum and you’re free to take any actions you want – including banning me – but that doesn’t make the decision to close my thread seem less arbitrary. -Kyle
  5. miseleigh: A kid who downloads mp3s really isn’t very likely to spend much time in jail. At worst, and this is really unlikely, he’ll be sued (which means he’ll lose money, but that’s no different than the investor). That’s not to say you’ll never spend time in jail if you traffic music on the internet, but it’s just not a serious concern if you’re only downloading a few songs. The same also holds for a kid who shoplifts a CD – jail time is rarely given for first time shop lifters. Then why isn’t the only principle in ethics “do what’s in your self interest”? A person may, of course, realize that to do so he should usually respect property rights - unless doing so isn’t in his self interest. “Respect property rights”, then, is a concrete instantiation of a more abstract principle. We need some kind of standard for determining whether something is general or concrete because we’re obviously talking past each other here. I’m taking general to mean that I can apply a principle to a large number of concretes (which is how, I think, Piekoff defines it) – and I can do that with (MP3). The caveats don’t mean that you can’t apply (MP3) to situations in which the caveats don’t come into play. So how are you defining “general” – what I really want is a test along the lines of “A principle P is general if and only if…” If you’re correct that may be what I’m pushed to (at which point I’ll concede), but I don’t want to concede this claim just yet. I have this from the Objectivism wiki [it’s also in the first page of The Anatomy of Compromise which is in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal]: But this seems consisitent with both caveats and (MP3) – caveats don’t limit the number of concretes to which a principle can apply. If anything, they increase it. (Your post was very well written, btw)
  6. Ian: It fails to satisfy uniqueness to hold that a criminal needs perfect foreknowledge while ignoring the fact that other, non-criminal proposals also involve risk taking. Yes, some criminals will eventually screw up and won’t turn a profit – but the same thing happens with some stock investors. Unless you’re going to say that stock investing is also sometime immoral, then, you need to why it is that criminals will always mess up. Inspector: What do you mean by “contradiction” here? I imagine you don’t mean logical contradiction, because (MP3) isn’t anything close to a logical contradiction. You may not like (MP3) and you may think that its false, but not every false statement is a contradiction. It doesn’t matter because we don’t care about opaque stuff like “desert” here – we’re only concerned with what’s in Jones’ self interest. I’m not saying that Jones deserves a principle that gives him special rights – I’m saying that it’s in his self interest to follow one that does. And I’m having more than a little trouble seeing how it is that you could read this far into this thread without figuring this out. Everyone else has figured it out (or so it would seem). I listened to it last night. It doesn’t cover this. If you think it does, reference the spot (i.e. give me the time at which it occurs in the lecture) and I’ll go look at that spot again. Bold Standard: You’ll remember that I’m not advocating a principle-less pragmatic approach – I’m suggesting only that the principles that get used should contain caveats. Ethics, then, needn’t look at particular situations, but it should take into account features of situations which merit caveats. And if you think about it, principles outside of ethics – I think Piekoff mentions principles of agriculture – are caveat laden. For example, I might have principle like “don’t plant corn before June” but usually a principle like that is qualified with something like “unless you’ve gotten a lot of rain.” Caveats are a recognition of the fact that there are sometimes abnormal situations in the real world and that the general direction of a principle won’t always fit well with those abnormalities. So if it’s ok to recognize abnormalities in principles about agriculture, why isn’t it ok to recognize them in principles of ethics? I’m pretty sure that this will fail to satisfy non-circularity. If you say that principles which forbid stealing should be caveat free because principles about property rights are caveat free, then I’m simply going to ask you why principles about property rights should be caveat free. But its these benefits which just haven’t been demonstrated. (I’ve already responded to the self-esteem argument, btw) And you can’t insist here that benefits like these are situational because you’re insisting that they’re general benefits – so you need some justification for claiming that there’s no room for caveats here. It’s called On the Randian Argument and you can find it in Socratic Puzzles. Nozick’s one of my favorite authors of all time and the essay – like everything Nozick does, really – is hugely good. Nozick, I should note, isn’t as hostile to objectivism as a lot of other authors are, so the essay is actually pretty dispassionate and well reasoned. I have Man’s Rights with me at my house – I’ll take a look at it. The Piekoff lecture was interesting – even if it doesn’t decide the issue here – and so I’m willing to look at other stuff as well. -Kyle
  7. JMeganSnow: How does this not provide a prima fascia case for my claim that stealing might be profitable on occasion? If you can’t give me some reason that stealing will always be unprofitable, then the reasonable solution seems to be that you would look at a specific situation to find out whether stealing makes sense in it. It’s unreasonable to come to a general rule of thumb governing action (like don’t steal) unless you have some justification for claiming that the rule will always make sense. And this seems to be just what you’re claiming you don’t have. Hunterrose wrote: And (MP2) says nothing about emergencies. So the natural interpretation of what he wrote seems to be that Rand’s principles would be caveat laden – talk of emergencies on this reading would just be another example of caveats which Hunterrose would ascribe to Rand’s principles. But it’s not a big deal – we can just ask hunterrose what he meant. Even if you’re somehow correct about what he’s saying, it’s not like lifeboat situations would have to exhaust the list of caveats. (MP3) encompasses just as many concretes as (MP1) – it governs every situation in which you might consider stealing something. Yes, it makes reference to Jones, but that doesn’t make it about any specific concrete. The principle you’re trying to saddle me with – something like “Jones can steal this CD” may refer to concrete situations but it’s not a principle I ever advocated. Even if you had given an adequate response to (MP3) – and you haven’t even come close – it wouldn’t follow that Jones is actually following this principle. You still need to give justification here. This doesn’t satisfy uniqueness. So what if Jones incurs dependency on the actions of others by stealing? He would do the same thing if he became a computer programmer. The fact that we live in a society with a deeply ingrained division of labor means that most of us lack the requisite skills to survive without the efforts and products of those around us. You incur dependency in almost any trade you move into in an industrial society. And even if this did satisfy uniqueness, it wouldn’t constitute a real harm. So what if Jones needs everyone else to keep producing. As someone pointed out earlier, objectivism is a philosophy for the real world and in the real world there’s really no chance that the non-criminal part of society will quit producing. You’re going to keep producing even if someone steals from you – you know you are, I know you are, and Jones knows that you are. The idea that you somehow have Jones at your whim because he relies on you is little more than petty fantasy. It’s like when class projects get assigned in high school. There’s always some kid who slacks off but, at least in the AP classes, there’s no chance that he’ll get a bad grade because the other kids aren’t willing to hurts their grades to get back at him. So the other kids just fantasize that one day they’ll just stop working and really screw him over. But they know they won’t because they have to hurt themselves just as badly as they hurt him in order to get back at him. (this, by the way, is why I always hated class projects. I guess if your teacher is cool there are ways around this, but mine never were) You haven’t shown why the proposed caveats are incompatible with the rest of the principle. ian: Let’s reword the principle to “unless it seems to you like you’ll almost certainly get away with it.” That does away with the perfect knowledge requirement.
  8. A note to whomever renamed the thread: I can certainly see a need to rename the thread (“A Question” is a bit vague after all), but “why act on principle?” is a bit misleading. Could you rename it “why aren’t principles caveat-laden”? That might do away with some confusion. Thanks, -Kyle Everyone: A bunch of people have responded to me and if I try to address your posts individually my post will be really long and contain lots of repetition. In order to avoid that, I’ve tried to write a post which addresses all of the concerns that have been brought to my attention. If I’ve overlooked something you brought up, flag it and I’ll come back in my next post and address it directly. A Restatement of What I’m Asking: There still seems to be a bit of confusion about what I’m asking. In particular, there seem to be two big misconceptions: First, there are a lot of people who seem to think that I’m asking why Jones should act on principle generally. This is incorrect. I readily admit that once Jones has a principle, he should act on it. What I’m asking, then, is how he becomes committed to that principle in the first place. Second, some people seem to think that I’m unwilling to use principles to explain why Jones shouldn’t do something. Again, this is incorrect. Once we’ve accepted a principle, the principle is a perfectly good reason for Jones to act/not act. The only reason I’m unwilling to allow principles to act as explanations here is that I don’t think the principles have been justified yet (more on this in a second). Using the principles to justify the principles is question-begging. So then, in order to clarify, I’ll restate my question like this: My Question: Why aren’t principles caveat laden? By this I mean, why aren’t principles like “don’t steal” filled with qualifications like “unless you’ll get away with it” or “unless you’re sure you’ll profit”? Why does objectivism promote principles which look like (MP1) instead of principles which look like (MP2)? And this restatement, hopefully, makes clear why neither of the misconceptions above allows for a straightforward answer to my question. The first misconception is misleading because I’m not suggesting that Jones should act on any principle – only that he should act on caveat laden ones. The second misconception won’t work because in order to use caveat free principles to explain why caveat laden principles are bad, you have to assume ahead of time that principles shouldn’t be caveat laden. On to Responses: The claim that stealing is (always?) harmful: This was probably the most common response. If it’s successful, then I agree that you’ll have explained why there are no caveats in the principles which forbid stealing. However, if you’re going to take this line then you have to maintain that there are no circumstances in which stealing is ever profitable. If you don’t maintain this – that is, if we find a situation where stealing is profitable – then we’ll be able to pick out the features of that situation, f1 through fn, which make stealing profitable and we’ll add a caveat to the principle which forbids stealing “unless features f1 through fn obtain.” If you take this line, then, our argument will basically go like this: I’ll try to think of a situation in which it seems profitable for Jones to steal (don’t worry, I won’t keep going forever) and you’ll respond with something like “it’s not actually profitable because X will happen to Jones and X outweighs the benefits of stealing.” If you aren’t able to find some bad result of stealing in a situation then we’ve added a caveat to the principle which forbids stealing. Moreover, there are going to be restrictions on the harms you’re able to provide: Non-Circularity: Your harm can’t introduce circularity into your argument. Most importantly here, this means that you can’t say “it’s not profitable for Jones to steal because Jones would have to violate his principles.” Since it’s the principles which are in dispute, this assumes what it seeks to prove. In order to satisfy non-circularity, the harms of stealing you provide can’t rely on an appeal to principles. Uniqueness: Your harm needs to be unique to immoral actions. That is, if you say that “stealing is unprofitable because X will happen” and, at the same time, you don’t want to hold that some other action, A, is immoral, then X can’t be the kind of thing which results from A. Otherwise we’ll get the result that A is immoral. So for example, on the other threads you guys have linked to, people have maintained that stealing hurts you because it makes you reliant on those you’re stealing from for your sustenance. This, on its face, fails to satisfy uniqueness because lots of other actions – for example being a computer programmer for a living - will make someone reliant on other people. So unless you want to maintain that being a computer programmer is sometimes immoral, you can’t offer up this as a reason for condemning theft. In fact, and this is something of a tangent, I think people often times fail to appreciate the problems objectivism has with uniqueness. There are lots of actions which are irrational but which are still morally permissible – for example, if a slave runs away he’s putting his life in danger – and objectivism seems to entail that these actions are immoral. I don’t want to go off onto this here, but it’s a problem that objectivists will eventually have to address. Harms that people offered: The Epistemological Uncertainty Harms: (ian and mrocktor) This harm fails to satisfy the uniqueness requirement. There are lots of risky business ventures in which I lack perfect knowledge – many of them are riskier than stealing a CD. So if imperfect knowledge is enough make stealing immoral, then it’s enough to make entrepreneurial risk taking immoral. The Contradictory Principles Harm: This, under one reading, fails to satisfy non-circularity because it’s appealing to principles in order to justify them and, under another reading, straw-mans the potential caveats. It straw mans the potential caveats by assuming that Jones can’t act under a principle like: (MP3) Don’t steal unless your name is Jones and you would profit by stealing. Here (MP3) allows Jones to condemn other thieves. They aren’t Jones and so they’re violating the relevant principle. He’s applying the same principle in both cases. The self-esteem harm: (mrocktor) 2 points here. First, let’s eliminate the “couldn’t easily get the CD otherwise” because I agree that, on some readings, this can imply something which would hurt Jones. Let’s replace it with something like “it’s easy for Jones to steal the CD (he just puts it in his pocket – this Best Buy has lax security) and he can save the hour of work he would have to do to pay for it (he can still do that work and use the money to buy a second CD, thereby gaining 2 CDs). Second, if we change the conditions thus, then this response no longer satisfies uniqueness. Now Jones could get the CD by working but its just easier for him not to. It’s as if I randomly gave (as a gift) Jones 15 dollars and Jones used that money to buy the CD. I can’t imagine that (barring circularity) Jones would take a larger hit to his self esteem if he steals the CD than if he takes the 15 dollars I give him. Since taking 15 dollars from me isn’t wrong and since stealing has no unique harms relative to the gift, this isn’t going to work. Other Points: They’re just beliefs. They don’t need to be classified as anything. They don’t deserve to be classified as anything. Bold Standard: I’ll take a look at the Piekoff lecture, but it’s not really clear why you can’t just give me harms. Hunterrose: This makes sense to me. But how do you put a cap on where you add caveats? It is. I was just using Nozick to head off someone telling me to read the essay.
  9. I’ve seen a lot of replies to questions similar to my own, and they usually go something like “you shouldn’t steal because you’d be contradicting yourself/one of your principles.” But this reply isn’t going to work here because I’m asking why you should have those principles in the first place. Again, we have two competing principles: (MP1) You should never steal. (MP2) You should never steal unless conditions one through six from [sE] obtain. And I’m asking why you should favor (MP1) over (MP2). (along the same lines responses like “Jones will hurt his self esteem if he goes against his principles” aren’t going to work unless you justify those principles). I’m not denying that you have a position. I’m just denying that it’s philosophy. Like science, philosophy is a method for coming to positions. It’s not the only method, and so just having a position about something people apply philosophy to doesn’t mean you’ve done philosophy. That said, the method definition of philosophy is controversial. Rand and I most likely disagree because we’re just defining philosophy differently.
  10. Yea, but the marginal cost to Jones from higher prices is going to be exceeded by the marginal benefit to him from gaining the CD. In effect, when Jones steals from Best Buy he's stealing from all of the shoppers at Best Buy as well because Best Buy will (out of necessity) pass on their extra costs. And since Jones might be a future customer, the higher prices would be passed on to him as well. But that doesn’t mean that Jones is losing out because even with higher prices Jones is only paying a fraction of what he gets from the CD. He's thus subsidizing what he pays with the money of everyone else. So Jones still benefits. -Kyle
  11. Bold Standard I think the only problem with this is that it doesn’t bear in any way on what I said. I never claimed that (3) was a categorical imperative or that Ayn Rand specifically stated it (it was intended to be an example, not a quote [but I can see how it might have been misleading]). And I never questioned why someone should act on principle. I asked why a person would select the principle Rand claims that they would select instead of selecting some other, competing principle. So unless I’m just not seeing something in your post, you’ve missed the point entirely. The idea was to construct a situation in which, prior to any talk of principles, it seems to be in Jones’ self interest to steal. The idea, then, is that since you’re selecting principle which are in your self interest, you should select a principle which allows you to steal. So if you want to insist that, despite appearances, it’s not in Jones’ self to steal, then you need to give some kind of explanation of why it’s not. And you can’t appeal to principles in doing so because what I’m questioning just is whether the principles you’re appealing to are in fact justified by self interest. If you appeal to them then you’re begging the question. So, without appealing to any principles, why does it hurt Jones to steal the CD? I certainly wouldn’t agree with you or Rand here. You can go through life without philosophy just as easily as you can go through life without science. But this is a tangential issue and to avoid getting side tracked I’ll just reword my criterion. Bobsponge: I’m not forgetting any of this. I just don’t see how it bears on Jones. I readily admit that stealing hurts the people at Best Buy, but my question is how that hurts Jones. If it hurts Jones then that’s all you need to settle the issue. If it doesn’t hurt Jones, then what happens to everyone else is irrelevant.
  12. It’s been a while since I posted here, but a conversation Friday brought to mind a question I’ve had for a while concerning objectivism and, since my classes are over and I’m bored, I thought I’d bring it up here. My question has to do with the way in which Rand moves from the claim: (1) I want to live. to the further claim: (2) I should never steal from Best Buy. because I really don’t think her move works. Now, there are going to be some rather trite replies which I want to deal with right away. Yes, I realize that you won’t live long if you’re always breaking the law. Yes, I realize that if everyone violated the rights of others we would all dies young. These replies, however, aren’t going to work because I’m not claiming that Rand can’t explain why I shouldn’t always steal. I’m claiming that she can’t explain why I can’t sometimes steal when it’s not clear how I’ll be hurt by stealing. So in order to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s introduce an example: The Standard Counter Example [sE]: Let’s assume for the sake of argument that a person, Jones, has (and takes) an opportunity to steal a CD from Best Buy under all of the following conditions: 1) He wants the CD; 2) He can’t easily obtain the CD without stealing it; 3) He knows that he won’t be caught (and that there won’t be any legal ramifications of any other sort); 4) He knows no one will find out; 5) He knows he won’t be racked by guilt or worry; 6) Jones will never steal anything again. We can add more stipulations later on if we need them, but the effect I’m going for here is a situation in which a normal person (by which I mean a person who’s never been exposed to objectivism or any other kind of philosophy) would say that Jones has benefited by stealing the CD. The idea is to create a situation which 1) on its face doesn’t seem to hurt Jones but which 2) would be condemned by objectivism. Back to the Main Question: With [sE] introduced, we can state my question a bit more precisely – How, given the assumption that Jones wants to live, can Rand infer: (3) Jones should not steal the CD from Best Buy. ? Now, my suspicion is that Rand would try to show (3) by showing that Jones, through his desire to live, is committed to some kind of moral principle like: (MP1) You should never steal. For the sake of argument, I’m willing to grant that if Rand can get to (MP1) then she can get to (3). However, I doubt that Rand can make (MP1) fall out of Jones desire to live. It seems much more likely that we’d just get something like: (MP2) You should never steal unless conditions one through six from [sE] obtain. And (MP2) allows Jones to steal the CD. So then, why does wanting to live commit me to (MP1) rather than (MP2)? -Kyle (P.S. I've read Rand's Objectivist Ethics (or whatever the title of that essay is) and it’s still not very clear how she gets (MP1) rather than (MP2). So telling me to read her essay really won’t do very much to answer my questions. [Also, Robert Nozick has an interesting essay which shows that the argument isn’t valid (in the formal, logical sense), so it’s not like the essay could help anyways.])
  13. The traditional view is that you set some criterion - like "four legs, flat top" - and everthing with those properties fits in the extension. According to the traditional view that's just all there is to the word. Rand however, wants the word to extend beyond that. I think this is where Rand and the est of philosophy disagree about the analytic/synthetic distinction. When you think the word's meaning consits entirely in what definition you give it, the concept of analytic truths makes sense. When you don't think that it doesn't.
  14. Is the position that the concept is actually in a vauge state permanently? Or just that I don't know all of the boundaries at any given time? I had gotten the impression from Rand and from Piekoff that it was the latter.
  15. I address the point you bring up in my first point on full listing - you're right that the concept of tables is unbounded the referents of that concept right now will be fixed. So, instead of a list of all the referents ever, you can construct a list of the current referents. As long as you stick to either the past or the present the referents will be set and you can give a listing.
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