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David Kelley's Moral Theory Contra Objectivism

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So “suspending judgment when we lack sufficient evidence” means “stopping an action” of judging the available evidence “that is in progress” : stop think. But somehow, when we stop judging the available evidence, we are supposed to keep and use the resulting judgment, the product of stopping? In addition to Kelley’s definition of “tolerance … means … suspending judgment when we lack sufficient evidence” being wrong, the second part is logically invalid even under this interpretation.

I would express the thought as, "Forming the judgement to the degree possible." After that, one has stopped further judgement of the person/issue in question i.e. one has suspended the process. You are not using the product of stopping, you're using the product formed to that point. It is still a judgement. It may or may not be complete or accurate. If one were designing a car, one would at some point stop (i.e. suspend) the design and begin production of the car based on the work done to that point, if the essential elements were correct. Or, one might suspend the design and discard it. I fail to see how that is unclear.

It is not possible to judge evidence one does not have. Whether or not one pursues obtaining more evidence is a separate question, including based on one’s purpose and one's judgment based on the available evidence

I would agree with this. In fact, it is the point I have been trying to make.

Irrational beliefs are beliefs in contradiction to reality, and strength is strength to live in reality. Therefore, it is impossible to draw strength from an irrational belief. It is possible to lead a moral, productive life in spite of irrational beliefs. The degree of irrationality will determine the degree of unhappiness. Do you believe that Benjamin Franklin would have been a less efficacious individual had he been an atheist? I claim that his deism acted as an impediment, however small, to his achievements, which were nevertheless formidable.

I think Franklin might well have been an atheist. His achievements might have been greater had he clearly been an atheist, or he might have been shunned by a society unwilling to embrace that, as Thomas Paine ultimately was. The historical evidence has been that highly productive, creative people can be found in the ranks of atheists, deists and theists. A conclusion follows from that fact. However, my question was whether anyone who is not flawlessly rational i.e. who consciously holds views that are irrational can be moral at all. If, as has been argued on this post, they cannot be, then anyone who is not an Objectivist is fundamentally immoral. And, if it is possible to lead a moral, productive life in spite of irrational beliefs, than hasn't one just argued Kelley's point about being unable to judge definitively based solely or primarily on a person's beliefs?

I do not see how your second sentence can be squared with reality when there are clearly examples of people who do draw strength from irrational beliefs and who have said so. Your third sentence illustrates one of the basic areas in dispute i.e. the projection of another's intellectual and psychological state based on an assumption that doesn't match all elements of reality. In this case, the assumption is that everyone except the flawlessly rational are to some degree unhappy and the flawlessly rational are inherently happy. The evidence suggests that the issue is considerably more involved than that. Note that this isn't an argument against rationality (and certainly not intended as such).

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The question being debated is: to what extent can we judge a man by his ideas? In order to come to a valid conclusion, only relevant facts should be considered. Such facts do not include anyone's potential evaluation of the conclusion reached.

This is true. The position that I take, and that I think Kelley takes, to repeat it again, is that you cannot judge a man exclusively or comprehensively according to his ideas alone, in all contexts and in all situations. All relevant facts must be considered including the full context (i.e. the reasons why) within which the other person formed those views, to the extent that one can identify them.

Firstly, incitement to violence is properly considered a crime because it is not speech in the philosophical sense, but action. A mafia boss saying "go kill them" is not attempting to express any idea about reality. My point is that the difference between Kant and a mafia boss ordering an execution is one of kind, not of degree. The actions of the boss are illegal because rational men cannot function while he is free to kill. A rational man, on the other hand, is free to ignore Kant's ideas. Secondly, this is a legal distinction, and is not directly relevant to the task of judging either Kant or the mafia boss. Conversely, the judgement that Kant is the moral equivalent of Hitler does not imply that any legal action should be taken against him (which, of course, it shouldn't).

Kant, however irrational his ideas (and I acknowledge their irrationality) did not tell anyone to go and kill. So, I'd agree with you that there is a difference in kind, not degree, between Kant and a mafioso, Hitler or Stalin. The reason why they are not morally equivalent is because, whatever the degree of irrationality of Kant's views, he had no power to force anyone to accept them (i.e. to act against their judgement) or to even listen to them. His ideas had power and thus efficacy only to the extent that people chose to accept them. He could have spoken forever or written 10x what he did, but it would not have mattered if no one listened nor if anyone else acted. That is a very different condition than Hitler or Stalin.

I'm curious as to how one defines degrees of morality or even if one can do so. At what point does a person become immoral? How much irrationality are they allowed? This is meant as a genuine question. If it's either-or, then essentially anyone who isn't an Objectivist is immoral and thus the moral equivalent of Kant, Hitler, Stalin et al.

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Unlike Libertarianism, Republican and Democratic political organizations are not ideologies, they are just means to pool votes to elect particular individuals to office. Each organization is an inherently unprincipled "big tent" welcoming all who will vote for their candidates.

Just because they are ill-concieved, fuzzy, and often contradictory doesn't mean they aren't ideologies.

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Now, wait a minute. You came right out and said that Dr. Peikoff and Peter Schwartz were irrational. If one is going to take Objectivism seriously, then one has to take the Objectivist ethics seriously, and to call someone irrational under Objectivism means that you are saying that they are immoral. You are trying to say that it is possible to be irrational and yet not to be immoral, and that directly contradicts the Objectivist ethics.

No, I said that some of the positions that Peikoff and Schwartz hold are irrational, by which I mean their views do not logically integrate all of the evidence and related factors within their full context on those particular issues and that they therefore misapply or misuse Objectivist principles in that context. It is your equation of irrationality and immorality that forces you to the conclusion that you say I ought to reach. I am not persuaded that this is correct. I think the basic principles and the relationship of rationality and morality is more complicated than what you've outlined and that a series of alternative conditions are compatible with the Objectivist ethics, no matter what Peikoff might say. If you disagree, then what would actually constitute an honest or rational disagreement? Would not any person convinced of the rationality of their position have to view anyone with a different conclusion as fundamentally immoral?

You are not willing to say that Kant was irrational, but you are willing to say that Peikoff and Schwartz are irrational; yet you are not saying that Kant was not immoral and that Peikoff and Schwartz are not immoral.

I think that Kant's ideas are irrational. I think that some of the positions that Peikoff and Schwartz have taken are also irrational or at least poorly reasoned. I do not think Peikoff and Schwartz are therefore immoral. That is the conclusion to which you are forced by the way you interpret Objectivism, and that is why debate on this subject quickly becomes difficult: one cannot treat others' ideas respectfully if one considers them to personally be evil, especially if one wants to play gotcha.

Rationality is a virtue under the Objectivist ethics, and irrationality is a vice; if you conclude that someone is irrational and are not willing to call them immoral, then you have breached integrity, which is immoral.

A person can hold an irrational view (or what one considers as such) without being comprehensively irrational, which is the entire point of the debate. Rationality and irrationality are fundamentally intellectual states, methods by which we graps the nature of reality and deal with it.

And that is what Kelley's moral theory will lead to. According to you, you have enough evidence to say that Peikoff and Schwartz are irrational, and yet you are unwilling to call them immoral. That not only means that you don't take ideas seriously, but also that you don't take the Objectivist ethics seriously.

No. I have enough evidence to say that Peikoff and Schwartz's positions on certain issues are wrong. I have enough other evidence to say that they are generally rational and I do not think that the irrationality of their positions on a particular issue renders them immoral. I can disagree with them without the need to demonize them. One takes ideas seriously enough to debate them because one thinks they have value and that their correct definition and application matters. In this case, on this issue in particular, I think that the position Peikoff has taken and consequently the approach he has taken to promoting Objectivism is more likely to harm it rather than help it.

With that in mind, I have never understood why those following Kelley are so hard up on calling themselves Objectivists. Why in the world would you want to call yourselves Objectivists if you think the major proponents of Objectivism are irrational, and therefore immoral? But, of course, you don't want to call them immoral, which makes you a moral coward, which means that you don't want to follow through with a logical moral conclusion based upon the facts as you know them.

My view is that Objectivism is a philosophy, not a secular religion, and consequently that membership within its ranks is not determined by the authority of an organizing body. One who holds the basic principles outlined by Rand can call themselves an Objectivist. Since, unfortunately, Rand did not comprehensively address all of the relevant issues in a rigorous, non-ficition form, there is disagreement on the application (and in some cases the formulation) of some of those principles, in this case regarding the nature of moral judgement. Had Rand written as extensively and rigorously as Aristotle on all aspects of Objectivism, in non-fiction form, I think that none of these issues would never have arisen. Since she didn't do that, they have.

Speaking only for myself, I chose to support the Kelley position because, after consideration, I concluded that his was the more rational, logical and persuasive case. I value Objectivism and so I think the approach and understanding taken to it matters greatly. In this context, I think Kelley's approach will prove more persuasive and productive than that of Peikoff's. In this context, remember that Rand didn't present Objectivism just as her personal philosophy, but as a comprehensive, accurate, objective and complete philosophy that resolves definitively all of the major philosophical questions. As such, she established the standard by which every aspect of it must be judged, including her own conclusions. Otherwise, Randian not Objectivist would be the correct way to describe it and its adherents.

You can't have it both ways, and yet the Kelleyites have been trying to straddle that fence ever since "A Question of Sanction" came out in about 1989. Your moral uncertainty is the result of following David Kelley's moral theory. And you are repulsed by anyone making a moral pronouncement. You cannot come out and morally condemn the irrational, so how could you come out and morally condemn explicit actions based upon the irrational?

There is no moral uncertainty. You simply don't like or agree with my conclusion that Peikoff or anyone else can hold an irrational idea through error without being comprehensively or genuinely irrational and thus immoral. Since you think no one can be irrational at all without being immoral (i.e. by consciously evading facts or reality), your conclusion follows from your premises. I disagree with both the premise and conclusion as formulated. I am not repulsed by anyone making a moral pronouncement. I am repulsed by people making false, inaccurate or gratuitous moral pronouncements on superficial grounds, solely for the sake of having to satisfy an out-of-context blanket assertion that one must make such pronouncements in every context. I view those sort of things as the intellectual equivalent of a drive-by shooting and condemn them specifically because they are both irrational and immoral.

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[As a note to all posters on this thread, it may be helpful to read or re-read Chapter 7 "Doesn't Life Require Compromise?" and Chapter 8 "Rational Life in an Irrational Society?" from Virtue of Selfishness. It may or may not help clear up some issues.]

It is your equation of irrationality and immorality that forces you to the conclusion that you say I ought to reach. I am not persuaded that this is correct. I think the basic principles and the relationship of rationality and morality is more complicated than what you've outlined and that a series of alternative conditions are compatible with the Objectivist ethics, no matter what Peikoff might say.

How is the relationship between rationality and morality, in your view, more complicated? It seems to me that the relationship between what is rational and what is

moral is pretty clear cut.

I hold that an idea or action can either be rational or irrational. Do you think there is a third category? I hold that nothing irrational can lead to anything moral and vice-versa. Can any rational idea or action lead to something immoral? Can any irrational idea or action lead to something moral? The rational is moral and the irrational is immoral. Do you disagree?

I will grant you however, that just as there are varying degrees of rationality and irrationality, there are varying degrees of virtue and guilt (and this leads to some interesting ethical implications and considerations--but the underlying principles are the same)

Would not any person convinced of the rationality of their position have to view anyone with a different conclusion as fundamentally immoral?

What exactly do you mean by "fundamentally immoral"? If you mean "evil", then no. This brings up the issue of honest error. You have to determine why they hold that opposing view and determine if they are mistaken or evaders.

Edited by brandonk2009

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... If one were designing a car, one would at some point stop (i.e. suspend) the design and begin production of the car based on the work done to that point, if the essential elements were correct. Or, one might suspend the design and discard it. I fail to see how that is unclear.

...

Hello AMirvish,

It is unclear when one does not use the ordinarily-accepted meaning of words like "tolerance" and "suspend." If one expects to be clear in communication, one must use words properly.

"Suspend" means hold in abeyance, to make something ineffective for a period of time (only perhaps to be made effective in the future). "Suspend design" means to stop the design work and make the design work up until that point ineffective at least for a period of time, it does not mean proceed with using the design. Likewise, "suspend judgment" does not mean "judge," or "make a judgment," or "execute a judgment." "... suspending judgment when we lack sufficient evidence" means to suspend making judgment of the available evidence or to suspend taking action on a judgment of the available evidence. This is wrong.

-- Toad

Edited by Old Toad

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"... suspending judgment when we lack sufficient evidence" means to suspend making judgment of the available evidence or to suspend taking action on a judgment of the available evidence. This is wrong.
This is an extremely important point that many people, especially those unfamiliar with Objectivist epistemology, have a hard time grasping. I believe that the underlying source of this error is radical skepticism a.k.a. epistemological nihilism, where once can never be certain of any fact. If one cannot judge until one "has all of the facts", then one cannot judge because one cannot be omniscient -- there is always the imaginary "possibility" of error for which there is no evidence. The only proper form of "suspending judgment" is contradiction-elimination -- the logical process of integrating seemingly-contradictory aspects of knowledge. This can only be done by making a judgment, as to which evidence is more relevant or reliable. Refusing to judge, specifically evading awareness of reality, is really one of the worst intellectual errors that a person can make.

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The historical evidence has been that highly productive, creative people can be found in the ranks of atheists, deists and theists. A conclusion follows from that fact.

Please name your conclusion.

However, my question was whether anyone who is not flawlessly rational i.e. who consciously holds views that are irrational can be moral at all.

Yes indeed. The principle is that one is immoral to the extent that one is irrational. This follows from the fact that rationality is the primary virtue, and that all other virtues can be thought of as derivatives of rationality. People who hold irrational ideas and yet lead moral lives often do so by strictly dividing their lives into those areas in which they apply reason and those in which they do not. A good fictional example of this is Hank Rearden during most of Atlas Shrugged. In reality, many religious people would fall into this category. It is absurd, however, to conclude that these people are not harmed by their irrationality. One cannot be morally perfect without being completely rational, which means that one cannot achieve the highest possible degree of happiness in life. It follows from this that those such as Kant, who repudiate reason completely and systematically, are completely immoral.

If, as has been argued on this post, they cannot be, then anyone who is not an Objectivist is fundamentally immoral. And, if it is possible to lead a moral, productive life in spite of irrational beliefs, than hasn't one just argued Kelley's point about being unable to judge definitively based solely or primarily on a person's beliefs?

You seem to be advancing some sort of straw-man in which individuals are the moral equivalent of either John Galt or Ellsworth Toohey. No one is advocating that. It is possible to lead a moral and productive life while possessing some degree of irrationality. However, any degree of irrationality precludes moral heroism, and a sufficient degree of irrationality precludes even a basically moral and productive life. A Marxist intellectual, for example, would be incapable of such a life.

I do not see how your second sentence can be squared with reality when there are clearly examples of people who do draw strength from irrational beliefs and who have said so.

And a cannibal would no doubt proclaim that he draws strength from killing innocents and consuming their flesh.

Finally, to answer your final point, I would like to state that rationality is a necessary but insufficient condition for complete happiness. Apart from rationality, there is also the necessary psychological condition of having one's emotions in line with one's rationality (i.e. being emotionally convinced that one can succeed). I would say that such a condition will result from rationality only in the long-term.

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I will take just a fragment from T&T to illustrate some things.

From T&T pg.39 (chapter Error and Evil)

Objectivism thought is not an ivory tower doctrine, and exercise in pure contemplative thought.

Very true. We think so we can live. Thinking has a purpose. Ideas are not just cognitive entities existing in an epistemological realm for purely epistemological purpose and with purely epistemological significance. Ideas are a result of evaluations/identifications about reality for the purpose of guiding one's actions.

Volitional beings can not survive by the guidance of mere percepts that is without the process of thought. Living man will necessarily be a man who's physical actions (at least to some minimal level which is allowing him to survive) are guided by his thoughts/mental processes. There can not be (to it's full extend) and there is not as a norm among men a separation between person's beliefs and his actions. If a person does not act on what they believe, it is almost incoherent to even say that they really do believe it. Dr. Peikoff makes a point in his lecture series Understanding Objectivism that: Unless a man has integrated his ideas into the context of his values, their connection to reality won't be real for him - he has not actually understood them.

Rand wrote:

Tell yourself, in effect: "If I were to accept it as true, what would follow?" This is the best way of unmasking any philosophical fraud....To take ideas seriously means that you intend to live by, to practice, any idea you accept as true. Philosophy provides man with a comprehensive view of life. In order to evaluate it properly, ask yourself what a given theory, if accepted, would do to a human life, starting with your own.
bold mine

What links ideas to actions is values. Ideas imply and contain a set of values which are integral to it and values are THE motivating power for man’s actions. Ideas thus have a metaphysical significance - and not just purely epistemological significance.

Volitional beings chosen actions are the causal effects his values reflected in the sum total of his ideas which are are the causal effects of the sum total of his thinking.

On a surface Kelley would not disagree with the above:

Kelley later writes: It [Objectivism] holds that ideas - philosophical ideas above all - shape the lives of individuals and the fate of nations. When we observe the disasterous consequences of ideas of Kant and Hegel .... it is impossible to view such ideas with detachment, to divorce the issue of their truth or falsity from the evaluation of them as good or bad.

My comment to this is that the whole purpose of cognition is EVALUATION. The point of this should not be that it is impossible in this case (because those ideas are particularly bad) but that this illustrates the necessity of the principle that we should never stop evaluating ideas in terms how good or bad they are for us. That is how we gain true understanding of ideas.

Kelley's deviation becomes more clear in his next sentence:

Those who grasp this connection, however, face the occupational hazard of moralism: of treating every intellectual dispute as an occasion for moral condemnation, and finding the odor of depravity in every opponent.

This is a false dichotomy. Never failing to evaluate does not lead to treating every intellectual dispute as an occasion to moral condemnation and finding the odor of depravity in every opponent. Not when you are performing objective moral judgement correctly.

Now Kelley goes even more on a tangent from reality:

Whether an idea is true or false, and whether it is good or bad are related issues. But they are distinct, and the issue of truth is primary. The essential characteristic of an idea is its content, the claim it makes about reality. The first and essential question to ask about any idea, therefore, is whether the claim it makes is true of false.

Primary for what purpose? The purpose of ideas (and the purpose of moral judgment) is to guide man's actions - thus the primary which serves that purpose is a value evaluation (and as noted crucial to true understanding). Although truth and falsity play a role the essential question to ask yourself is about it's value. Should we keep it and act on it or dicard it (and maybe expose it for what it is)? That is the essential.

Just below he then says:

"...the concept of evil applies primarly to actions, and to the people who perform them. It applies only in a derivative way to the ideas themselves."

And this is where he gets to the heart of this issue (and the source of his disagrement with Objectivism). By using terms such as primarly and derivative he let's go of a principle of objective moral judgment of everything man-made (in recognition that it could have been otherwise) and enters the realm of pragmatism. The concept of evil is a moral concept thus that is how he views morality.

Consider for a moment what this would mean in practice (it always helps to tie things to reality). Life requires forethought and action well in advance of the time when our needs become the most pressing. Responding to requirements as they become urgent crises can not sustain human survival. Men must plan, must anticipate future requirements, identify probable effects of certain means of achieving them on his other necessary values, and derive a suitable non-conflict strategy. Life requires man must take precautions to avoid dangers or prepare to limit their damage. To identify sources of value in order to stir ourselves in the right direction.

Without moral evaluation of ideas (good or bad for us) we would not be able to avoid or mitigate, in many cases, the destruction of our values by others and we would not be able to identify in advance sources of those values which come from dealing with others. We would not be able to protect our interests, foresee man-made effects before they actually happen to us and we would be in such a state every time we encounter a new person.

When we make character judgments, we are depending on the fact that some metaphysically possible options would never occur to certain people, because they have automatized certain (correct) thinking habits (reason).

Moral evaluation of ideas held by others is crucial to life and so everyone does it even when one does not realize it. It is one of those rules which is, in fact, impossible to live by in principle - to it's full extend.

Inherit in this statement is Kelley's disconnection between ideas and actions.

Further, every single instance of believing an idea is an ethical matter. People are the ones who believe ideas and believing them is an action they perform (they are products of a volitional process and as such lie in the sphere of morality). Person's other actions are conditioned by his beliefs, so this primary mental action of accepting or rejecting an idea lies at the center of ethics and not at its periphery. There is no morally neutral belief in an idea. It is in the realm of ideas in which motives and consequences first meet. Successful action depends on having the right ideas, and this, in turn, depends on epistemological scrupulousness.

I am not surprised that some people have a hard time sorting throught this. When I read Kelley I often experience a pattern of thinking : Yes true.... then... no false... Yes... ahh but it does not folllow. He sounds like Objectivism and in some parts he is consistent with Objectivism. It is often about how he states things (like the primary or derivative example) and what he ommits to say which is a crucial aspect and should have not been ommited.

I have noticed that some have a false belief that what he says is somehow compatible with Rand and it is just in conflict with Dr. Peikoff. This is not the case. What I wrote above should help you see that.

Edited by ~Sophia~

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I'm curious as to how one defines degrees of morality or even if one can do so. At what point does a person become immoral? How much irrationality are they allowed? This is meant as a genuine question. If it's either-or, then essentially anyone who isn't an Objectivist is immoral and thus the moral equivalent of Kant, Hitler, Stalin et al.

NEWMAN: Is that like, you can't be a little bit pregnant? Which is that if you're a little bit immoral, you're immoral? Your...your character is rated as immoral?

RAND: In fact, yes. But the important thing here is the degree of knowledge a given person has. If you do not know exactly the nature of what you are doing, then you can't be considered immoral -- particularly if it's a young person and it's correctible.

A person can make a mistake and correct it. But it would have to be a major crime -- for instance, a person lying...

So you, in judging people of mixed premises, as most people are, you have to balance, in effect hierarchically, the seriousness of their virtues and of their vices, and see what you get in the net result.

It is possible that one can act immorally in an instance yet not be judged as immoral overall. Every act of immorality, however, must be judged as such.

Not everyone who is not an Objectivist will be immoral - the degree of knowledge is a significant factor.

I would like to stress something. The purpose of morality is to guide one's actions. So the kind of actions I would take as a result of encountering a murderer, for example, will be different from what I would do when dealing with an irrational but harmless, in terms of immediate physical danger, family member. Both are immoral (same category) but they do differ in the degree (and maybe kind) of harm to me and thus my actions will reflect that. Epistemologically, it is not different from recognizing two things as types of an existent bed then seeing that one being better made/more comfortable than the other. Same category does not mean exactly the same, same category does not mean equal - it means sharing the same characteristics. Same thing with the term immoral.

Edited by ~Sophia~

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Excellent post all around, Sophia. Thank you.

Now Kelley goes even more on a tangent from reality:Primary for what purpose? The purpose of ideas (and the purpose of moral judgment) is to guide man's actions - thus the primary which serves that purpose is a value evaluation (and as noted crucial to true understanding). Although truth and falsity play a role the essential question to ask yourself is about it's value. Should we keep it and act on it or dicard it (and maybe expose it for what it is)? That is the essential.

Absolutely. Truth is causally antecedent to value, but, as you said, in the context of morality, value is the essential, not truth. Were truth to be held as a primary in morality, man would go around collecting facts about anything at all, and only then decide which facts have value to him. Some life. That would be a disaster! There is a yellow car parked 50 feet from me. Fact. So what? That fact isn't a primary to me. I don't even have any business knowing it, unless knowing it is a value to me.

Man properly starts by asking what part of reality is in his rational self-interest to examine. Then he starts collecting and integrating the facts that are causally connected to that part of reality (that value). Man says first, "I want to know about X," and only then can, and does, he say, "What about X is true and what about it is worth retaining? What facts should I retain that serve my interest in knowing X?" By this quote, Kelley seems to regard facts as so much flotsam that drift thrugh man's consciousness. If he's going to argue that truth is a primary in this context, then he is equivocating between epistemology and morality. To expand on your statement above, the very purpose of truth is to equip man's mind with the material it needs to pursue his values -- to live

Just below he then says: And this is where he gets to the heart of this issue (and the source of his disagrement with Objectivism). By using terms such as primarly and derivative he let's go of a principle of objective moral judgment of everything man-made (in recognition that it could have been otherwise) and enters the realm of pragmatism. The concept of evil is a moral concept thus that is how he views morality.

Inherit in this statement is Kelley's disconnection between ideas and actions.

Further, every single instance of believing an idea is an ethical matter. People are the ones who believe ideas and believing them is an action they perform (they are products of a volitional process and as such lie in the sphere of morality). Person's other actions are conditioned by his beliefs, so this primary mental action of accepting or rejecting an idea lies at the center of ethics and not at its periphery. There is no morally neutral belief in an idea. It is in the realm of ideas in which motives and consequences first meet. Successful action depends on having the right ideas, and this, in turn, depends on epistemological scrupulousness.

Kelley's quote is one of stunning ignorance. The concept of evil applies to people in the context of their specific actions. In moral judgment, actions cannot be separated from the people who perform them. (Metaphysically, yes, but not ethically.) Only man can perform actions that can be morally judged. If the wind blows a tree onto a house, that action isn't good or evil, it just is. It is natural, i.e., necessary. If a man pushes a tree onto a house, that is evil, because that action is anti-life. The man has a choice, as opposed to nature, and his choice is the product of the ideas that he holds, however unidentified and unintegrated.

If Kelley expects that quote to be taken seriously, then he needs to explain what he means by "derivative", and really, he just needs another word altogether. Does he think that there is some factor other than ideas that is the cause of one's actions? (And no, I'm not including those whose mental defects cause involuntary action -- only volitional action is involved here.)

Kelley's position is a disgrace, and you've done a nice job of identifying the problems and the answers.

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I didn't want to read all this lengthy discussion, I hope what I'm about to say does not repeat it.

The problem that philosophers have wrestled with so long is the dichotomy of the mind and body (or motive and consequence) and moral judgment. Two irrational products of this dichotomy are the Utilitarian and Kantian criteria of immorality. Utilitarians focus only on the consequence. Kantians focus only on the motive.

Kelley is wrong when he says: "The Objectivist ethics, unfortunately, has yet to address this question in any depth." Rand completely rejected the mind-body dichotomy all-together, she rejected that there was even a question to begin with. I'll agree that nowhere did Rand explicitly write on how to morally judge another, she mostly wrote one why man needs to do it.

However, Rand wrote in multiple essays and in her books about the mind and body of man. She made no distinction between what a man thought and what a man did, and she rejected every attempt at such a distinction. Every action of a man has a root in his thoughts. The very instant a man makes his thought known he is performing an action. At every level of a man's life there is a complete integration of his mind and his body.

From "The New Intellectual":

This part is irrelevant to the question, alas.

Objectivism doesn't address the issue of the mind-body dichotomy because it already rejects it in its every form.

What's not exactly what Kelly was writing about. He was writing about judging action by its intended consequences as opposed to judging action by its actual consequences. There is obviously a difference the two, and you can't simply, hm, wish it away.

Kelley doesn't reject the mind-body dichotomy rather, he embraces the dichotomy by attempting to solve its "problem". One cannot create an Objectivist theory by embracing what Objectivism rejects. In order to discuss and create a properly Objectivist theory, one would have to reject the dichotomy and discuss the issue opposite of the way Kelley does.

Also irrelevant.

Kelley separates moral judgment into four parts: Evaluating actions, Interpreting motives, Inferring character traits, and Judging the person. Kelley attempts to make a distinction between the actions and the motives of a person. That is not Objectivist in any form.

While it might not be how Rand viewed it, if she did, you are yet to show why isn't it compatible with Objectivism.

Rand said in a 1971 issue of "The Objectivist":

Again irrelevant to the question, since intentions are usually quite conscious.

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lex_aver...

I wrote the post you replied to 5 months ago. I'll try to recap exactly what the purpose and nature of that post was and possibly make it relevant for you.

The title of the thread is "David Kelley's Moral Theory Contra Objectivism". The main reason why I think that DK's moral theory is in opposition to Objectivism mainly lies in the fact that he embraces a philosophical concept that Objectivism rejects (Mind-body dichotomy). I fail to see the irrelevancy.

The "question" I assume you are referring to, is whether or not, we should judge an action by its motive (the idea behind it) or the consequences of the action itself. Objectivism rejects the very notion of such a question because the question embodies the mind-body dichotomy.

This is a quote I used in the first post by David Kelley. I'll emphasize the relevant parts for you:

The distinctive feature of moral judgment is the attribution of moral responsibility, of blame or credit for an action, and this is appropriate only where choice is involved... Since the fundamental choice is whether to think or not, whether to use our capacity for reason, we must judge people by how they make this choice. In judging an action, therefore, we are concerned not only with its consequences, measured by the standard of life, but also with its source in the person’s motives, as measured by the standard of rationality. The question is how to integrate these two factors into a single judgment. Philosophers have long wrestled with this question; they have proposed various theories about the proper weight to assign to consequences on the one hand and motives on the other. The Objectivist ethics, unfortunately, has yet to address this question in any depth. But it’s clear that we cannot ignore either factor.

Kelley embraces the mind-body dichotomy by framing his discussion in the manner that he did. First he cuts the action from its motive and then attempts to integrate the two into a single judgment. By merely approaching a moral judgment in this manner, by trying to determine "the proper weight to assign to" the motive and to the consequence, he does not integrate the two, he keeps them separated--he keeps the mind-body dichotomy intact.

According to Objectivism, one morally judges another for what he is, in his entirety--both the mind and body, both the idea and action, both the motive and consequence. In Objectivist moral judgment, one does not determine "the proper weight to assign to" the mind and the body of a person, he judges the indivisible entirety of that person, the entire integration of his body and his consciousness, his actions and the ideas behind them.

Here is a link to a great essay by Diana Hsieh that deals with Kelley's Mind-Body Dichotomy in greater detail: David Kelley's Mind-Body Dichotomy in Moral Judgment

Edited by brandonk2009

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The title of the thread is "David Kelley's Moral Theory Contra Objectivism". The main reason why I think that DK's moral theory is in opposition to Objectivism mainly lies in the fact that he embraces a philosophical concept that Objectivism rejects (Mind-body dichotomy). I fail to see the irrelevancy.

It is irrelevant to the concrete issue Kelley raises: wether to judge action by it's intended consequence or by its actual consequence.

The "question" I assume you are referring to, is whether or not, we should judge an action by its motive (the idea behind it) or the consequences of the action itself. Objectivism rejects the very notion of such a question because the question embodies the mind-body dichotomy.

I fail to see how it does. And even if it's so, there is obvious difference between intended and actual consequence, so what should you question in that case is your rejection of the dichotomy.

You make good points later in your post, and I agree with them, but until you explain to me how does intended/actual translates to mind/body, I cannot accept them as relevant.

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It is irrelevant to the concrete issue Kelley raises: wether to judge action by it's intended consequence or by its actual consequence.

I fail to see how it does. And even if it's so, there is obvious difference between intended and actual consequence, so what should you question in that case is your rejection of the dichotomy.

You make good points later in your post, and I agree with them, but until you explain to me how does intended/actual translates to mind/body, I cannot accept them as relevant.

The issue is not between the intended consequence or the actual consequence... it is between the motive of an action and the action itself and its consequences.

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I fail to see the difference. Strictly speaking, the latter is generalization of the former, but in context of the discussion, it doesn't seem to matter.

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I fail to see the difference. Strictly speaking, the latter is generalization of the former, but in context of the discussion, it doesn't seem to matter.

You are right they are approximately the same. But what you are failing to see is how it is related to the matter at hand, and it is.

What Kelley is saying is that as long as a person's intentions are good we should tolerate their evil ideas no matter how much death and destruction they may actually wreak.

As long as their mind is good, their evil actions should be tolerated. As if the mind was seperate from the body.

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You are right they are approximately the same. But what you are failing to see is how it is related to the matter at hand, and it is.

What Kelley is saying is that as long as a person's intentions are good we should tolerate their evil ideas no matter how much death and destruction they may actually wreak.

As long as their mind is good, their evil actions should be tolerated. As if the mind was seperate from the body.

That is, in my opinion, an unfair summary of Kelley's theory. While his moral theory is not Objectivist in anyway, the difference is a lot more subtle than what you make it out to be.

Kelley concedes that ideas can be judged, but within his moral theory, ideological moral judgment is complicated and thus leads Kelley into a discussion on how, in most cases, one must not judge a person based on his ideas because there is too much room for error or arbitrary judgment. Kelley makes an attempt to morally judge a man's ideas and his actions (he places more emphasis on actions, since an idea that is not explicitly acted upon has less of an effect). The problem lies in the fact that once he cuts a man's ideas/motives (intentions)/mind) from his actions/consequences/body, he accepts a dichotomy between a mental cause and a physical effect--between an intention and a consequence--between the mind and body. Every action is united with an idea behind it, every effect has a cause.

What would be an action done without some sort of mental idea, motive or intention? It would be causeless--in direct violation of cause and effect. What would be an idea that is kept within one's self, without any sort of action promoting it? This is an impossibility. One's (explicit and implicit) philosophical principles and ideas impact and influence one's every action.

When one morally judges a person, one ought to judge him for his ideas and actions, his motives and his consequences, his mind and his body. He should not separate one's ideas/motives/mind into one category and his actions/consequences/body into another and then try to assign equal weight. This is the Objectivist moral theory and Kelley does not share it.

Edited by brandonk2009

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Does anyone have any good articles about Kelley and Kant? Is AMirvish really describing Kelley's position or just his own?

My comments used Kant as an example of how one could infer a different motivation for his writings than the one commonly held in Objectivism. It was not intended as a defense of Kant or his ideas. It is unrelated to anything that Kelley has written on Kant, of which I don't think there is too much. Kelley does not agree with Kant's system.

My comments, more generally, reflect my understanding of Kelley's position, based on my reading of TT and Peikoff's FV. I have attempted to represent them as honestly as possible, but if you'd prefer me to paste in lengthy excerpts from TT to support them, I will be happy to do so.

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Please name your conclusion.

That highly productive people can nevertheless consciously hold irrational ideas that they use and apply in significant parts of their life. John Templeton, who died recently, was the founder of the extremely successful Templeton investment fund was an extremely religious man. He was a Rhodes scholar and a generally accomplished individual. But, he made a conscious choice regarding the nature and source of morality, and spent lots of his own money to advance religious thinking (through a foundation that he helped establish).

Yes indeed. The principle is that one is immoral to the extent that one is irrational. This follows from the fact that rationality is the primary virtue, and that all other virtues can be thought of as derivatives of rationality. People who hold irrational ideas and yet lead moral lives often do so by strictly dividing their lives into those areas in which they apply reason and those in which they do not. A good fictional example of this is Hank Rearden during most of Atlas Shrugged. In reality, many religious people would fall into this category. It is absurd, however, to conclude that these people are not harmed by their irrationality. One cannot be morally perfect without being completely rational, which means that one cannot achieve the highest possible degree of happiness in life. It follows from this that those such as Kant, who repudiate reason completely and systematically, are completely immoral.

I agree with this in a general sense. As we've been discussing, claims, evaluations and judgement must be based on evidence, even if incomplete. I see no reason to conclude that a deist, like Ben Franklin (whom we spoke of earlier), suffered any harm from his irrational belief because there appears to be no evidence for concluding othewise. The effect of an irrational belief would depend on the nature and relevance of the irrational belief to your day-to-day life, the extent of its conflict with reality and one's nature.

You seem to be advancing some sort of straw-man in which individuals are the moral equivalent of either John Galt or Ellsworth Toohey. No one is advocating that. It is possible to lead a moral and productive life while possessing some degree of irrationality. However, any degree of irrationality precludes moral heroism, and a sufficient degree of irrationality precludes even a basically moral and productive life. A Marxist intellectual, for example, would be incapable of such a life.

The intention is not by any means to advance a straw man as suggested. I would agree with your third sentence. I would disagree with the first part of the fourth one although not the second part. I am unconvinced that any actual person, Rand included, has actually met the standard for unbreached rationality, and hence moral heroism, that you've laid down. Since people must develop and apply their reason as they mature, they may well act irrationally in certain circumstances. In fact, and without intent to offend or insult, I would suggest that due to the potential for error, complex errors in reasoning, the standard that you're advocating places man much in the same situation relative to an ideals as does Christianity.

And a cannibal would no doubt proclaim that he draws strength from killing innocents and consuming their flesh.

This misses the point. Your claim was that it was impossible for anyone to draw real strength from any irrational belief.

Finally, to answer your final point, I would like to state that rationality is a necessary but insufficient condition for complete happiness. Apart from rationality, there is also the necessary psychological condition of having one's emotions in line with one's rationality (i.e. being emotionally convinced that one can succeed). I would say that such a condition will result from rationality only in the long-term.

I'd agree with this, with one proviso. A person's sense-of-life is a significant part of his psychological make-up. It is inherently pre-rational. Relating one's emotional state to one's rationality requires that one apply the appropriate standards of rationality to one's context. That isn't always straightforward.

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Kelley concedes that ideas can be judged, but within his moral theory, ideological moral judgment is complicated and thus leads Kelley into a discussion on how, in most cases, one must not judge a person based on his ideas because there is too much room for error or arbitrary judgment.

This is like stating: this principle is true but it is so complicated to apply - we can err so easily - let's not use it most of the time. It is taking it out of existance through skepticism.

Knowledge is valid contexually. The only thing which is required is objectivity. One need not be omniscient or infallible. A judgment can be objective, as long as it is based on evidence, even if it is not certain. Even if people can act uncharacteristically (which is not the norm - people are guided by their beliefs) it doesn't follow that we can not or should not make judgments of probability about their character (and their value to us) and act on them. As I explained before, it is absolutely vital that we do. For example, when while interviewing a babysitter I discover that she or he holds some wacky ideas - how this person aquired them (whether by evasion or through an honest error) is irrelevant to my purpose. I will judge them as not good for me at this time and instead I will hire someone whom I will judge as being the best influence on my kid while providing the best care (I reward those who are in sync with reality - I don't benefit from those who are not). Similarly when evaluating politicians (just imagine not evaluating them based on their ideas!). Crazy.

To what degree someone's mental process becomes relevant is contextual, I think.

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I see no reason to conclude that a deist, like Ben Franklin (whom we spoke of earlier), suffered any harm from his irrational belief because there appears to be no evidence for concluding othewise.

In such cases, there is no need of concrete evidence, meaning specific details about the person's life. The reason is that this matter can and must be resolved philosophically (that is, on principle); any other approach would lead to pragmatism. Suppose I tell you of a man who is addicted to gambling, and is convinced that gambling is a proper career, and that he will make money in the long run (I am talking about games of pure chance here, not poker and the like). I then ask you to judge his character based on this information. You would then have to ask me "well, did he get away with it?", and if I tell you that he won the lottery, you would have to concede that his beliefs were irrational, but that they have been a benefit to his life. After all, he made millions legally, and the money will help him to survive. In other words, you would have to claim that this man drew strength from his irrational ideas. Please correct me if this would not be your position.

I absolutely reject the idea that a false belief, or worse, a denial of reason, can lead to actions which are good for man's life in the long run. I condemn the gambler in the example above, the marxist professor whose career consists in assaulting the minds of his students, the businessman who finances a religion whose goal is the destruction of man's happiness on Earth. I do so on principle, without any detailed examination of the lives of these people. What is the principle? That man can live only to the extent that he uses his reason, and that, in the end, reality will be avenged by causality.

The effect of an irrational belief would depend on the nature and relevance of the irrational belief to your day-to-day life, the extent of its conflict with reality and one's nature.

But irrationality implies a conflict with reality. Also, I would claim that Franklin's Deism was an honest mistake, and not a sign of irrationality (I don't know his arguments, but I am sure that he saw the need for arguments). In other words, the converse of my statement does not hold. An irrational belief is a belief which is not only false, but flies in the face of reason. Thus, Dagny Taggart was morally perfect even though she did not immediately grasp the validity of Galt's position. But look what her false belief cost her: she had to see her highest value being tortured by the villains she was unwittingly supporting. While man should forgive an honest error, reality exacts revenge for any error. However, just as irrationality will lead to destruction in the long run, despite possible transient delays (see the gambler example), rationality will lead to happiness in the long run, and the effect of an honest error will be transient. Thus, my argument in the previous paragraph is consistent with my condemnation of the gambler, and my admiration of Franklin.

I am unconvinced that any actual person, Rand included, has actually met the standard for unbreached rationality, and hence moral heroism, that you've laid down.

I don't think I presented the standard as exactly as I could have before, and I will try to clarify it here. If I am solving a mathematical equation on an exam and accidentally drop a negative sign, I do not say to myself: "well, now I am irrational, immoral, and doomed to unhappiness." I do accept any negative consequences of my false idea (such as a reduced grade), but I do not condemn myself. If I (knowingly) cheat on the exam, however, then not only are my ideas false, but they fly in the face of reality. Now I am guilty of irrationality, and am immoral. In this case, I may have to work for a long time in order to make up for my evasion. The younger I am at the time, the easier this will be. If I go on to fully embrace reason and repudiate my previous evasions and the action they led to, then I can still achieve moral perfection. An experienced adult who committed the same offense would probably never be able to achieve unbreached rationality. A cheater cannot be a hero, but a former cheater generally can (with the above qualifications). Character judgement is often easy in practice even if borderline cases cause problems in theory.

Since people must develop and apply their reason as they mature, they may well act irrationally in certain circumstances.

See my discussion of honest errors above. A false belief is not necessarily the product of irrationality.

In fact, and without intent to offend or insult, I would suggest that due to the potential for error, complex errors in reasoning, the standard that you're advocating places man much in the same situation relative to an ideals as does Christianity.

As I mentioned above, judgement is often quite easy in practice. If I see a student cheat on an exam, I can judge him instantly, knowing nothing else about him. Also, while an error in reasoning can be forgiven, the (implicit or explicit) rejection of reason is not an error in reasoning. A Marxist professor is guily of far more than errors in reasoning.

I do not understand your reference to Christianity, which preaches a horrendous brand of judgement-suspension and arbitrary forgiveness. Recently, I heard a Church member state proudly on television that Christ would forgive a mafia killer if only the man would "repent". My standard does not admit such perversion.

Or do you refer to that principle of Christianity which implies that happiness is impossible to man? As far as I know, Ayn Rand did meet the standard of perfection I outlined above, the hatred of her enemies notwithstanding. I could name other individuals who, in my opinion, probably meet this standard. Obviously, such a thing is difficult to determine conclusively and would require an intimate acquaintance with the person and/or extensive study to prove. I would say that "rational until proven irrational" would be a good standard because of this. In any case, the point is that heroism is possible to man. I think that Rand's novels prove this conclusively, while also making the point that honest errors do not preclude heroism.

I'd agree with this, with one proviso. A person's sense-of-life is a significant part of his psychological make-up. It is inherently pre-rational. Relating one's emotional state to one's rationality requires that one apply the appropriate standards of rationality to one's context. That isn't always straightforward.

I don't understand what you mean by this.

Edited by Tenzing_Shaw

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Primary for what purpose? The purpose of ideas (and the purpose of moral judgment) is to guide man's actions - thus the primary which serves that purpose is a value evaluation (and as noted crucial to true understanding). Although truth and falsity play a role the essential question to ask yourself is about it's value. Should we keep it and act on it or dicard it (and maybe expose it for what it is)? That is the essential.

The value of an idea, if ideas are to guide man's action, depends first on whether it is true or false i.e. corresponds to reality or not. The value judgement that follows depends on this. How can one determine the value of an idea without knowing or establishing first whether it is true?

Consider for a moment what this would mean in practice (it always helps to tie things to reality). Life requires forethought and action well in advance of the time when our needs become the most pressing. Responding to requirements as they become urgent crises can not sustain human survival. Men must plan, must anticipate future requirements, identify probable effects of certain means of achieving them on his other necessary values, and derive a suitable non-conflict strategy. Life requires man must take precautions to avoid dangers or prepare to limit their damage. To identify sources of value in order to stir ourselves in the right direction.

I agree with this statement.

Without moral evaluation of ideas (good or bad for us) we would not be able to avoid or mitigate, in many cases, the destruction of our values by others and we would not be able to identify in advance sources of those values which come from dealing with others. We would not be able to protect our interests, foresee man-made effects before they actually happen to us and we would be in such a state every time we encounter a new person.

Again, I agree. What I disagree with is that the moral evaluation of an idea (as good or bad for us) can precede the determination of its truth or falsehood. Only by establishing the relationship of an idea to the facts of reality is it possible to integrate it into the body of knowledge that we require for our survival i.e. with other values. Hence, the truth or falseness of idea is the critical element.

When we make character judgments, we are depending on the fact that some metaphysically possible options would never occur to certain people, because they have automatized certain (correct) thinking habits (reason).

Not sure what you're saying here.

Moral evaluation of ideas held by others is crucial to life and so everyone does it even when one does not realize it. It is one of those rules which is, in fact, impossible to live by in principle - to it's full extend.

Again, I agree. I repeat, however, that proper moral principles are based on the correct understanding of the facts of reality, specifically the nature of man and the requirements of his survival. However, he must discover and establish the truth of all of those things first. Moreover, such evaluation of someone else's ideas in no way requires that I concern myself with their character as such or pass judgement upon it before proceeding. Kant's character is a fact of reality, as is yours, mine, Rand's and everyone else's. It is a fact of absolutely no value significance to me because it in no way affects my evaluation of his ideas (and hence one reason why I think Peikoff is wrong to say that every fact has value signifiance and also why I do not hold that moral judgement of other people is a duty in all contexts). To say otherwise is to say that the basis for evaluating an idea is an evaluation of the character of its advocate i.e. Mr. Jones is known to be a rational decent guy and Mr. Smith is not, therefore what Jones is saying must be considered true and good, while Mr. Smith must be lying.

Further, every single instance of believing an idea is an ethical matter. People are the ones who believe ideas and believing them is an action they perform (they are products of a volitional process and as such lie in the sphere of morality). Person's other actions are conditioned by his beliefs, so this primary mental action of accepting or rejecting an idea lies at the center of ethics and not at its periphery. There is no morally neutral belief in an idea. It is in the realm of ideas in which motives and consequences first meet. Successful action depends on having the right ideas, and this, in turn, depends on epistemological scrupulousness.

I don't dispute this. I don't think Kelley is either. What he's saying, as I understand it, is that a person functioning exactly as you say can still reach wrong conclusions and that to evaluate that person's character accurately (assuming that an evaluation of his character matters), one must understand the process by which he reached his conclusions.

I have noticed that some have a false belief that what he says is somehow compatible with Rand and it is just in conflict with Dr. Peikoff. This is not the case. What I wrote above should help you see that.

If, upon careful, rational thought and consideration of the respective arguments, and those of the people who have posted here, Sophia, I reach a different conclusion, I will hold that it represents a moral and rational position, and thus the basis of a reasonable disagreement. Your arguments may or may not persuade me, but only to the extent that I can establish rationally, to my own satisfaction, that they are true. It would be absolutely immoral for me to act on any other basis. Objectivism holds that it is not just Rand's ideas, but objectively true ideas representing a true and comprehensive philosophy. Reason and reality is the standard that must apply when evaulating any claim made in connection with it, including those advanced by Rand herself.

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