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T-1000

Socratic dialogue: ethics of lying

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*** Mod's note: This "socratic dialog" between -- T-1000 and selected. The idea is to allow T-1000 to respond to each post. Nobody is in a hurry here.

If you wish to participate in this topic, please send a PM to Ropoctl2 .

Others, please do not post to this topic, even if the forum software allows you to do so.*** thanks. - sN ***

Lying in order to gain values can be in one's long term rational self interest.

Edited by softwareNerd
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This is an experiment in a different way to help answer newbies' questions about Objectivism and its application. Instead of telling someone in proof form why one should not lie, for instance, the more knowledgeable forum members will guide the newbie through the inductive thought process to arrive at the Objectivist principle. I posit that this will give the learner a better understanding of Objectivism if he has to think it though himself.

The format for these discussions is not set in stone yet, but here are my thoughts on the initial rules:

  • The student posts a claim in the first post, giving his premises as a starting point of the discussion.
  • Teachers and student will alternate posts; the teacher will ask the student a Socratic style question to penetrate to the fundamental principles, and the student will respond.
  • Teachers are allowed to state concretes if necessary, but not give any statement of principle, only asking questions.
  • Any teacher may jump in at any time to ask a question, as long as the last post in the thread is from the student -- Only one question on the stack at a time

I will start the questioning: Does deceiving someone to gain a value allow the deceived to act in his own self-interest?

Edited by ropoctl2

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I will start the questioning: Does deceiving someone to gain a value allow him to act in his own self-interest?

It allows him to act in a way that he believes will be in his own self interest. When one acts, one cannot be guaranteed to achieve one's self interest.

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I hope not since that would make it more difficult for me.

Also "act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law" is the Kantian categorical imperative and is the root of all "duties" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categorical_imperative I don't agree with the idea of duties. If I am to act in a certain way it should be in my interest to do so.

Edited by T-1000

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I'm going to take West's advice and slightly break the rules I gave earlier.

By accepting the principle that one ought to deceive others, you would advocate a society in which there could never be trust. Would you want to live in a society where you had to double-check that each stick of butter you bought is not adulterated by margarine? Think of the cost in your time that this would result in. You would basically have to become an expert in every industry to be able to verify every trade you take for granted in a trusting society.

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By accepting the principle that one ought to deceive others, you would advocate a society in which there could never be trust. Would you want to live in a society where you had to double-check that each stick of butter you bought is not adulterated by margarine? Think of the cost in your time that this would result in. You would basically have to become an expert in every industry to be able to verify every trade you take for granted in a trusting society.

The above is the categorical imperative par excellence "act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law". The liar is NOT acting such that his actions could become universal principles. Rather, he is acting to gain values that are in HIS long term rational self interest.

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I'm going to jump in here with permission from ropo to ask a two-part question. First, what characteristics in another person make it easiest to get what you want from them through deception and trickery? What kind of a person is most likely to be easily manipulated in this way? And the second part, what kind of people are most likely to have lots of values to offer you? I'm speaking of material values (wealth), but also spiritual values like friendship, support, understanding, love, etc. Just in general, what makes someone a good value producer?

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Characteristics in another person that make it easiest to get what you want from them through deception and trickery - gullibility, laziness, stupidity, inexperience, ineptitude, ignorance.

What kind of people are most likely to have lots of material values to offer you? - honest, productive, intelligent, experienced, people. Spiritual values - honest, generous, kind hearted, funny, intelligent, loving people.

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Would it be in my self-interest to pay you in tungsten rounds plated to look like gold ducats for the house you want to sell me that has a major flaw that you are concealing from me?

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Let's make it more realistic since I would never accept non cash payment (!). Let's say you have £5000 of bank notes which you acquired legitimately but which you subsequently come to find out are forged notes. Let's say I am selling a used car. It would be in your self interest to buy the used car from me with the forged notes, as long as I am a stranger to you (ie I don't have any other obligations towards you and am never likely to meet you again). There would be no repercussions for you from doing this, accept to your conscience (since you have ripped me off).

I guess what I am interested in learning is WHY should you feel guilty? In the case of £5000 your guilt may overcome the loss of £5k so you decide to take a hit and not pass on the forged notes. But what about a situation in which you stand to lose £50k by not lying? Or £500k?

These are amounts which if lost would definitely materially affect one's flourishing and happiness.

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It is not a categorical imperative to identify the consequence of the ethical standard that the objective morality for everyone is to cheat strangers when they can get away with. Saying "if everyone cheated, this would happen" is not in itself an imperative statement. It is only a categorical imperative if you use that naked principle to assert an arbitrary ought. Do you agree that an untrusting society would result from cheating being in everyone's self-interest? As you said before, this would make life difficult for you. If this difficulty costs you more than you gain from cheating people, then the principle that it is in everyone's self-interest to cheat strangers contradicts itself.

Edited by ropoctl2

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I agree. However I am not defending the principle that it is in everyone's self-interest to cheat strangers. I am arguing that it is in MY self interest to cheat strangers.

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I agree. However I am not defending the principle that it is in everyone's self-interest to cheat strangers. I am arguing that it is in MY self interest to cheat strangers.

Let's go back to the fundamentals. What makes something an objective value? Is something a value, like the religionist would argue, just because he blindly believes it? Is something a value, like the hedonist would argue, just because he feels it?

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Let's go back to the fundamentals. What makes something an objective value? Is something a value, like the religionist would argue, just because he blindly believes it? Is something a value, like the hedonist would argue, just because he feels it?

Something is a value if it objectively furthers one's life as man qua man.

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Something is a value if it objectively furthers one's life as man qua man.

This is true, but does not tell us very much in the context of this conversation.

"Material objects as such have neither value nor disvalue; they acquire value-significance only in regard to a living being—particularly, in regard to serving or hindering man’s goals." - Ayn Rand

Let's examine this quote, for example. Now, something you want to acquire by cheating does not have a value as such. It is only a value if it is pursued or acquired in a certain way, and in a certain context.

Another question: you said that something is a value if it objectively further's one's life. I assume you mean that the value you chose, then, was chosen by attending to the facts of reality. Would you agree with this?

And then, consider this: what is the relationship between cheating or lying, and facts of reality?

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This is true, but does not tell us very much in the context of this conversation.

"Material objects as such have neither value nor disvalue; they acquire value-significance only in regard to a living being—particularly, in regard to serving or hindering man’s goals." - Ayn Rand

Let's examine this quote, for example. Now, something you want to acquire by cheating does not have a value as such. It is only a value if it is pursued or acquired in a certain way, and in a certain context.

Another question: you said that something is a value if it objectively further's one's life. I assume you mean that the value you chose, then, was chosen by attending to the facts of reality. Would you agree with this?

And then, consider this: what is the relationship between cheating or lying, and facts of reality?

I agree that material values chosen must be accordance with the facts of reality. I'm not sure I agree that cheating to gain such values once chosen is against the facts of reality. The liar is acknowledging all facts of reality himself, but occasionally presents certain facts as otherwise to other people.

An example would be Mark Zuckerberg. The man is clearly a productive genius who has created billions of dollars of value for himself and his customers. However he is also a liar. If it wasn't for a few well chosen and well timed untruths, he would have forgone billions of dollars as other people beat him to setting up Facebook.

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An example would be Mark Zuckerberg. The man is clearly a productive genius who has created billions of dollars of value for himself and his customers. However he is also a liar. If it wasn't for a few well chosen and well timed untruths, he would have forgone billions of dollars as other people beat him to setting up Facebook.

That's all well and good, but this is focusing on material values. There is no mention of any spiritual value (non-physical like positive state of mind or a relation with a person), primarily long-term happiness. You cannot simply reduce honesty to matters of lying or not lying, and if you're only wondering about lying here, well, there is no real argument to make against you. It's true, a few lies can get you what you want. As a simple matter of means and ends, you aren't wrong. However, what spiritual values are being acquired and/or altered? How is being dishonest with some people in order to make lots of money better for enhancing values to the greatest degree than being honest and making less money?

Edited by Eiuol

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I agree that material values chosen must be accordance with the facts of reality. I'm not sure I agree that cheating to gain such values once chosen is against the facts of reality. The liar is acknowledging all facts of reality himself, but occasionally presents certain facts as otherwise to other people.

An example would be Mark Zuckerberg. The man is clearly a productive genius who has created billions of dollars of value for himself and his customers. However he is also a liar. If it wasn't for a few well chosen and well timed untruths, he would have forgone billions of dollars as other people beat him to setting up Facebook.

The liar is not acknowledging all facts of reality. Lying is a deliberate rearrangement of reality is an untruthful way in order to present it to other people. Deliberately rearranging one's view of reality like this is not conducive to living a rational, reality-oriented life. You might as well have said "the robber is acknowledging the principle of individual rights to himself, but he occasionally acts otherwise around other people."

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How is being dishonest with some people in order to make lots of money better for enhancing values to the greatest degree than being honest and making less money?

In the case of Zuckerberg (or any other lie that involves billions of dollars) is it really better to maintain one's self respect than lose out on the opportunity? Isn't it worth the cognitive dissonance and distaste of lying in order to gain a billion dollars?

You might as well have said "the robber is acknowledging the principle of individual rights to himself, but he occasionally acts otherwise around other people."

I think I'm beginning to see why lying is wrong. I think my problem is something to do with me having an abstract idea of ethics in my head that is separate from how I act in real life, ie not putting into practise my ideas. But I'm still not completely clear on this.

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In the case of Zuckerberg (or any other lie that involves billions of dollars) is it really better to maintain one's self respect than lose out on the opportunity? Isn't it worth the cognitive dissonance and distaste of lying in order to gain a billion dollars?

Why exactly is there any distaste of lying going on?

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