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How can one state that something is moral?

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DonAthos,

 

Similar to my response to 425, since your answer to the question asked in the original post is that we can say that something is moral or immoral by appealing to the evidence we have and logic and so forth, if I state that X is moral by appealing to the evidence I have and logic and so forth, then X is moral. And if you state that X is immoral by appealing to the evidence you have and logic and so forth, then X is immoral. And since we disagree, at best, we end up in a situation where I try to convince you that you are somehow in error and you try to convince me that I am somehow in error. And if we can’t convince each other, then I will claim that I am correct, claim that you are incorrect, and act accordingly and you will claim that you are correct, claim that I am incorrect, and act accordingly. Do you agree with my summary?

Per an application of Kahneman and Tversky, morality seems to have a reasoned dimension which might be argued out between consenting adults of good will , but also a heuristic one, as well.

 

This means that much of what we call 'moral' is how we instantly react to unforseen events (See 'trolly-ology for more!). This is also where Aristotle comes back in and says, 'Ethos pathein; moral transgressions give an emotive reaction.

 

So i suppose that part of the issue, in aristotelian terms, is that we expect a 'nomos oud-pathein' investigation--or that morality should stand up to the logical, dispassionate scrutiny of law!

 

We generally, then,  react to transgressions with emotion. All we can therfore say is that both first-principle reasoing and reflecttion upon past reactions can  offer us some hope of future adjustments...

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StrictlyLogical,

 

I cannot agree with what you have written in your post. By stating that action A is moral you are presupposing an answer to the question asked in the original post of, “How can we say that anything is moral or immoral?” Since I do not know the answer to that question, hence the asking, I cannot say that action A is moral (or immoral) under any circumstances.

 

My post does not require agreement or disagreement.

 

It is a question.

 

Which you have avoided/evaded.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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DonAthos,

 

Similar to my response to 425, since your answer to the question asked in the original post is that we can say that something is moral or immoral by appealing to the evidence we have and logic and so forth, if I state that X is moral by appealing to the evidence I have and logic and so forth, then X is moral.

I'd ask that you consider the context I gave you in my preceding post, when you'd made the same statement:

 

Insofar as you are correct in your use of evidence and logic, yes.

X is moral (or immoral) regardless of what you state, or come to realize. You may appeal to evidence and logic but still be wrong. You may claim that X is moral, and you may claim to have good reason for your belief, and yet you might be mistaken.

We do not make X moral by thinking it so, or claiming it to be so, or constructing a good argument for it. X is either moral or not (meaning: good for our lives or not), and we do our best (via evidence, logic, argument, etc.) to recognize the truth of the situation.

It might help you to understand my position to continue to extend the analogy of various theories about evolution. If we make an argument that "punctuated equilibrium is correct," and if we appeal to evidence and logic, does that make the theory of punctuated equilibrium correct? Not exactly. It is proper to base our theories on the evidence we have, according to our best use of logic, but we do not thereby make them correct. Rather, the theory is either right or wrong, and we strive to discover which through our investigation and our best use of reason.

 

And if you state that X is immoral by appealing to the evidence you have and logic and so forth, then X is immoral.

 

Again, insofar as I am correct.

I hope you understand why I insist on what might seem to you to be a subtle (or even unimportant) point. But if we were evolutionary biologists who disagreed on punctuated equilibrium -- one arguing that it explains the data and the other arguing that it does not -- we might both point to evidence and use logic in making our case. However, that would not mean that punctuated equilibrium was somehow "both true and not true," or "true for you but not for me" or anything like that. It remains either true or false, and it is our endeavor to decide which, to the best of our ability.

If we wished to resolve the disagreement between us, we would have to discuss the theory in terms of the arguments we make, the evidence upon which we rely and our particular rationales, to suss out where one (or both) of us has gone wrong.

 

And since we disagree, at best, we end up in a situation where I try to convince you that you are somehow in error and you try to convince me that I am somehow in error.

Yes, this is what reasonable people (ethicists and scientists and all other manners) do when they disagree on an issue. We attempt to convince one another of why one position is right or another is wrong, through logical argument, reference to examples, etc.

 

And if we can’t convince each other, then I will claim that I am correct, claim that you are incorrect, and act accordingly and you will claim that you are correct, claim that I am incorrect, and act accordingly.

Yes, that's right.

Given the context of the conversation, I'll add that beyond our claims, one of us may actually be correct, while one of us (at least) is certainly not.

 

Do you agree with my summary?

Taken together with my own amendments, yes.

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CriticalThinker2000,

 

I do not understand how your last post gets us any closer to answering the question in the original post. If I make a statement that X is moral and I determine that it is logical and integrates with the totality of my knowledge and therefore it is true and you make a statement that X is immoral and you determine that it is logical and integrates with the totality of your knowledge and therefore it is true, we have not made any progress. At best, we end up in a situation where I try to convince you that your knowledge or your logic or your integration is somehow in error and you try to convince me that my knowledge or my logic or my integration is somehow in error.

 

I'm just having a terribly hard time getting to the essence of your problem which I thought I'd already answered. Let's take a real world example: You think theft is moral and I think theft is immoral. We can try to convince each other of our respective positions but suppose we don't come to an agreement. Who is right? The determinant of who is right is reality- the facts- the way things are. Just like Newton believed in his laws of physics and his detractors did not. We look to the facts of reality to decide the winner of that argument as well. Just because Newton disagreed with others didn't mean that gravity both existed and didn't exist. Just because we disagree about the morality of theft doesn't mean it's immoral and moral. That would be a contradiction.

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Jaskn,

It is disappointing that you have not answered, nor even addressed, the questions that I asked in post #33 and #43 as I am curious about your answers, but it does not seem necessary in order to answer the question asked in the original post. Your answer to the question of how can we say that anything is moral or immoral is simply, as you stated, “‘Guess-and-check,’ as usual, forever.” Is this correct?

Neither of those posts were written by you, so I don't know which questions you think I missed.

Also, I explained a good deal more than simply "guess and check," and other posters explained more still. You are responding to every single post, so I can't even guess which parts you're missing and which you're acknowledging and understanding, since your questions have been very similar, repeatedly.

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StrictlyLogical,

 

In post #42, you asked (and it was the only question that you asked): “Do you agree (and you would if you understand Objectivism) that there exists Z, K, and A such that the following "Statement 2" is true regardless of the knowledge of the individual, anyone, and everyone:” (emphasis added)

 

I answered, “I cannot agree…” How have I avoided/evaded anything? Would you have rather I just wrote: “No”? Would you like me to provide a more detailed answer? If so, I will do so now:

 

StrictlyLogical,

 

I do not agree that there exists Z, K, and A such that the following "Statement 2" is true regardless of the knowledge of the individual, anyone, and everyone.

 

I do not agree because by stating that action A is moral, as you do in Statement 2 (and in Statement 1), you are presupposing an answer to the question asked in the original post of, “How can we say that anything is moral or immoral?” Since I do not know the answer to that question, hence the asking, I cannot say that action A is moral therefore I cannot agree that there exists Z, K, and A such that the following "Statement 2" is true regardless of the knowledge of the individual, anyone, and everyone.

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425,

 

Since your answer to the question asked in the original post is that one must gather all of the evidence available and ensure that his own logical methods are airtight, then if I gather all of the evidence available and ensure that my own logical methods are airtight and say X is moral, then X is moral.

So long as your logical methods actually are airtight. As DonAthos has pointed out, it is possible for someone to start from good premises, perhaps be an Objectivist, and still make an error in logic without knowing it. Odds are if you are a good philosopher and have good premises, you'll discover that error upon "checking your work," so to speak, but it is still possible for you to miss it. But you are correct in that if you gather all the evidence available and use airtight logic, then you can conclude that a certain action is moral.

 

 

And if you gather all of the evidence available and ensure that your own logical methods are airtight and say X is immoral, then X is immoral.

I would reiterate the same basic thing that I said above, but if my evidence is complete and my logic is airtight, then I could draw the conclusion that a certain action is immoral.

 

And since we disagree, like my response to CriticalThinker2000, at best, we end up in a situation where I try to convince you that your evidence or your logic methods are somehow in error and you try to convince me that my evidence or my logic methods are somehow in error.

Right. Since contradictions do not exist in reality, this means basically one of two things:

1. One of us is missing pertinent information (or, I suppose, has inaccurate information) regarding the particular action X or the context of that action.

2. One of us has made an error in our logic.

So yes, if the two of us were discussing this issue and came to opposite conclusions, ideally we would each evaluate our own and each other's arguments in search of either 1) incompleteness or inaccuracy of information or 2) logical errors.

 

And if we can’t convince each other, then I will claim that I am correct, claim that you are incorrect, and act accordingly and you will claim that you are correct, claim that I am incorrect, and act accordingly. Do you agree with my summary?

I agree with this part, and I agree with most aspects of your entire summary. I have noted my quibbles above, but yes, I think you've done well at outlining the process. I would just briefly add that realistically, if we were debating a relatively minor issue (like the morality of eating food from McDonald's or something, as opposed to the morality of breaking and entering), this would be type of scenario where we would probably agree to disagree.

Edit: I want to add that my quibbles with regard to the difference between the action of "ensuring that your logic is airtight" versus your logic actually being airtight is essentially the same as what DonAthos said in response to the very similar question you asked him. I also think he did better than I in accounting for the possibility of outside information unavailable to us. I agree entirely with his post #53.

Edited by 425

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DonAthos,

 

Your statements, “X is moral (or immoral) regardless of what you state, or come to realize” and “We do not make X moral by thinking it so, or claiming it to be so, or constructing a good argument for it. X is either moral or not (meaning: good for our lives or not), and we do our best (via evidence, logic, argument, etc.) to recognize the truth of the situation” are very interesting as they appear to differ from other posts on this tread.

 

It seems, and please correct me if I am wrong, that you are saying that there exists, completely independent of any human thought or idea, “Morality” and this morality applies to things and the morality of something is what it is regardless of what I think or you think, or anyone thinks it is or should be much like laws of nature. And while you or I may not know exactly what the morality of a specific something is, we can form an opinion about it, learn about it, discuss/debate it and hopefully come to discover it. Is this what you are saying?

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CriticalThinker2000,

 

Let’s continue the real world example of theft. The determinant, as you claim, of whether theft is moral or immoral is reality, the facts, the way things are. So, as I mentioned in another post, if I steal from you, nothing happens to me. My life does not end. My heart doesn’t stop beating nor am I stricken with disease. The laws of physics do not have any effect on me as a result of the theft.  These are some of the facts concerning theft. So can we determine if theft is moral or immoral at this point?

 

If you proceed to state, as other have done, that I will suffer some consequences as a result of the theft, such as being pursued by law enforcement officials or punished in some way by other humans, then I will state (again as I did in an earlier post) that if I steal from you, nothing happens to me unless you decide to act in some fashion. If you do nothing, either because you cannot do anything or choose not to do anything, then nothing happens to me. If you choose to do something, call law enforcement for example, then something may or may not happen to me. These are some more facts concerning theft. So can we determine if theft is moral or immoral at this point?

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425,

 

When you state that contradictions do not exist in reality and that if the two of us come to opposite conclusions then it means that one of us (maybe both of us?) is missing pertinent information or has inaccurate information and/or one of us (maybe both of us?) has made an error in logic, it suggests that you believe that there is only one correct answer concerning the morality of something and that answer is not dependent on what either you or I or anyone else thinks or believes. Is this correct? This is similar to what I asked DonAthos in post #58.

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Jaskn,

I write and post as FredAnyman. Both post #33 and post #43 were written and posted by FredAnyman.

There must be some difference between our post numbers, maybe related to our user groups. #33 shows as CriticalThinker's and #43 as StrictlyLogical's. You'll either have to use the quote function, or ask the question again. Edited by JASKN

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DonAthos,

 

Your statements, “X is moral (or immoral) regardless of what you state, or come to realize” and “We do not make X moral by thinking it so, or claiming it to be so, or constructing a good argument for it. X is either moral or not (meaning: good for our lives or not), and we do our best (via evidence, logic, argument, etc.) to recognize the truth of the situation” are very interesting as they appear to differ from other posts on this tread.

 

It seems, and please correct me if I am wrong, that you are saying that there exists, completely independent of any human thought or idea, “Morality” and this morality applies to things and the morality of something is what it is regardless of what I think or you think, or anyone thinks it is or should be much like laws of nature. And while you or I may not know exactly what the morality of a specific something is, we can form an opinion about it, learn about it, discuss/debate it and hopefully come to discover it. Is this what you are saying?

Yes, I think you understand me all right. We may have to continue to discuss this for a while longer yet before we're each satisfied that we're completely on the same page, but I'm willing to continue to work on it if you are. (Though I may not be able to reply very quickly throughout the rest of the day.)

As we proceed, I'd only ask that you try to keep in mind the specific meaning of "morality" that I intend, as that might help to anticipate certain common objections. By morality, I mean a guide to action for the purpose of living a good life.

If by Morality (with the requisite capital letter) we mean some set of inflexible laws such as "Don't Lie, No Matter What," then that's not what I intend.

But if by morality we mean that there is a certain path of action, given a particular context, that will allow a man to live better than otherwise -- and if we mean that this is the thing that we should hope to discover (via evidence, logic, and the rest) -- then yes, that path of action is what it is, regardless of what anyone thinks, and "while you or I may not know exactly what [it] is, we can form an opinion about it, learn about it, discuss/debate it and hopefully come to discover it."

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CriticalThinker2000,

 

Let’s continue the real world example of theft.

 

OK but wait a minute. Now you want to argue about whether theft is moral or immoral. Have you resolved your more general epistemological problem regarding disagreements? That is what your initial question in this thread was and I want to make sure that you've answered it before we start debating whether theft is moral or not (on which there are many threads I'm sure). In my previous posts, I explained the following chain of reasoning to you: there exist facts by which we can judge whether an action is moral or not. You wanted to know what these facts were, I stated that they pertain to the nature of man's consciousness and means of survival. Right after the post where I explained this, you restated your initial question about moral disagreements and didn't understand how my post answered that question. So we've come full circle here. Is your initial question answered? Because if we start debating theft that is not going to answer your more fundamental question of, how do we decide what is moral/immoral when people disagree?

 

 

The determinant, as you claim, of whether theft is moral or immoral is reality, the facts, the way things are. So, as I mentioned in another post, if I steal from you, nothing happens to me. My life does not end. My heart doesn’t stop beating nor am I stricken with disease. The laws of physics do not have any effect on me as a result of the theft.  These are some of the facts concerning theft. So can we determine if theft is moral or immoral at this point?

 

Even though I'm not sure you're clear regarding your initial question, I'll answer this too. When I say that the determinant is 'the facts of reality' that is an incredibly general statement that encompasses all facts and does not make clear which facts are important to consider. So, when I said facts, what I was specifically referring to is the nature of man (which is a metaphysical fact). Human values do not exist in nature. How does man create them? What is man's tool of survival? Ayn Rand correctly identified that the fundamental source of all values is the rational faculty- our ability to think. She also identified that physical coercion negates this faculty. To propose that you can use physical coercion to gain a value is to propose that you can gain a value by subverting the very faculty that gives rise to all values- a clear contradiction. This is why initiating physical force (and theft is on variant) is wrong in principle.

 

So take your example: you steal from me. Yes, of course you don't drop dead on the spot. This is why principles are an important tool of cognition. They allow you to see a whole range of consequences beyond what's immediately apparent. For example, it's often tempting to lie because it let's you get away with something in the near term. As a long-term strategy, however, it's disasterous. The same is true of theft. Yes, you get the money in your hand this instance but there are many negative consequences of your actions. Here are a few off the top of my head: you've undercut your self-esteem by implicity accepting the premise that you can't take care of your own life, you've denied yourself the chance of feeling the pride that comes along with earning something, you've provided all of the people in your life with a reason to not trust you, your business career will be destroyed, it's going to be difficult to find a job etc. Stealing is simply not a method for success any more than lying is a good tactic for dealing with your spouse.

 

When Rand says that man's life is the standard of value, she really means man's life with full consideration given to the fact that man has a specific identity.

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I will ask you a similar question to the one that I asked Jaskn. If the action of stealing from you does not end my life and allows me to prosper, then is stealing from you moral?

That depends on how you define "prosperity".

If we strictly limit our considerations to financial or material gains, and if you do not significantly depend on my productiveness (I am not your boss, etc), then yes; theft would be moral.  Then again, if we limit ourselves to the amount of stuff you own then it would also be moral to auction off your own vital organs; a fresh human heart could sell for outrageous sums of money.

The only flaw in that line of reasoning is that taken to its ultimate conclusion, if you sold your own internal organs, you would not be able to enjoy your profits.

 

When considering any action's effects on your own life, you must be careful to take the biggest possible picture into consideration; to leave nothing out of the equation.

 

Now, as to whether or not it's objectively good for you to steal is properly its own discussion, although I can elaborate if you would like.  But the short answer is that no; I do not believe it objectively is.

 

If it can be proved that if 51% of the human population will have more prosperity by enslaving the other 49% of the human population, then, since a majority of human life and prosperity is better, would it be moral?

If everyone else on the planet would objectively benefit from enslaving you, would you accept it as moral?

When we talk about "human life" I don't mean some abstract representation of the human species.  I mean the life of whomever is acting; that it is good for every person to improve themselves, that it is evil for any person to deliberately harm themselves and that most important person in this matter is always you.

 

If slavery could objectively benefit slave-owners, in the broad view of their entire lives, then it would be moral.  And if that were the case then Objectivist politics would suddenly require some serious revisions; individual rights are based on the idea that you can't help yourself by hurting a single innocent person, in any way.

 

However, once again, I think that the Objective concept of "prosperity" does not apply to slavery.

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And while you or I may not know exactly what the morality of a specific something is, we can form an opinion about it, learn about it, discuss/debate it and hopefully come to discover it. Is this what you are saying?

Just like any good scientist.  :thumbsup:

 

Building on the moral status of theft and selling your internal organs, let's discuss drug addiction, momentarily.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroin  Humor me; I have specific reasons for this.

 

The effects of Heroin function by stimulating the endorphin system.  Endorphins are chemicals which your brain releases when you have sex, engage in physical exercise or achieve something you consider meaningful.  Whenever you feel self-satisfaction and the thrill of accomplishment, what you feel are the effects of your brain's endorphin system on your own mind.

The euphoria which Heroin users derive from it is caused by the artificial 'overclocking' of their own pride* circuits.

 

*endorphins are also involved in many other emotions, but I have identified them as a key ingredient in pride*

 

This is also what makes it such an addictive substance.  Heroin stimulates the endorphin system more powerfully than your natural endorphins are capable of, by orders of magnitude.  This causes its users brains to become very quickly desensitized to such effects; soon they require such a massive neurological effect in order to experience any mental sensation of it, whatsoever.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity  Thank you for humoring me; here is the kicker.

---

 

Because the long-term use of Heroin literally makes people numb to their own pride [etc], it is objectively immoral for people to use it; they are destroying the physical basis of their own love of their own lives.

 

Now, in line with selling your internal organs, suppose someone was offered $1,000,000 to voluntarily get themselves hooked on Heroin; in the grand scheme of things, would that ultimately be good or bad for them?

What if instead of being offered $1,000,000 someone simply threatened to throw them in jail if they refused?  Would it be moral then?

 

I would say not.  I think that your primary moral concern, before any material or financial situation whatsoever, should be the health and well-being of your own mind.  And while theft and slavery may be financially profitable (although usually not), I think that they are mentally destructive- to the perpetrators.

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StrictlyLogical,

 

In post #42, you asked (and it was the only question that you asked): “Do you agree (and you would if you understand Objectivism) that there exists Z, K, and A such that the following "Statement 2" is true regardless of the knowledge of the individual, anyone, and everyone:” (emphasis added)

 

I answered, “I cannot agree…” How have I avoided/evaded anything? Would you have rather I just wrote: “No”? Would you like me to provide a more detailed answer? If so, I will do so now:

 

StrictlyLogical,

 

I do not agree that there exists Z, K, and A such that the following "Statement 2" is true regardless of the knowledge of the individual, anyone, and everyone.

 

I do not agree because by stating that action A is moral, as you do in Statement 2 (and in Statement 1), you are presupposing an answer to the question asked in the original post of, “How can we say that anything is moral or immoral?” Since I do not know the answer to that question, hence the asking, I cannot say that action A is moral therefore I cannot agree that there exists Z, K, and A such that the following "Statement 2" is true regardless of the knowledge of the individual, anyone, and everyone.

 

Your OP mislead me into believing you had accepted morality is objective and that the only challenge is for individuals to discover in a particular context what acts are moral.

 

Stating Z, K, and A exist while admitting we do not always know what they are given our knowledge means you accept Objective morality but are aware humans may not know what that morality is all the time.

 

 

Now I realize you are questioning whether Objective morality exists at all.

 

This leads me to step back and ask... what do you believe is the standard of morality? 

 

and given that standard, and the nature of reality, in what way do you disagree with the claim that there exists particular contexts for a particular individual for which certain actions are .. in fact... moral?

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425,

 

When you state that contradictions do not exist in reality and that if the two of us come to opposite conclusions then it means that one of us (maybe both of us?) is missing pertinent information or has inaccurate information and/or one of us (maybe both of us?) has made an error in logic, it suggests that you believe that there is only one correct answer concerning the morality of something and that answer is not dependent on what either you or I or anyone else thinks or believes. Is this correct? This is similar to what I asked DonAthos in post #58.

 

Yes, given a particular context (meaning that it's not a vague question where the answer is "well it's moral when x but immoral when y"), there is only one correct moral answer. The correct answer given a particular context is objective, and it will be either "moral," "immoral" or "not a question of morality" ("amoral," if you prefer; an example of this would be "chocolate ice cream vs. vanilla ice cream," which is not a dilemma to which ethics applies).

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Jaskn,

 

From posts #33 and #43

 

Jaskn,

 

Not exactly. My question, from the original post, is: how can we say that anything is moral or immoral, not whether objective morality can exist. But that aside, I did not acknowledge that I think that drowning yourself is immoral, I only stated that I understand your example but perhaps I should have been more clear. However, even if I was inclined to acknowledge that drowning yourself is immoral it does not completely answer the question from the original post.

 

At best, given your example, the response to the question from the original post would be: we can say that something is moral or immoral if it kills you. Seems simple enough, but as I asked earlier, how does this apply to something that does not kill you?

 

Additionally, even your example of drowning oneself could be open to question of morality. If I am suffering from some incurable disease that puts me in constant pain and agony and unable to do all of the activities that bring pleasure to my life and make me happy, would the act of drowning myself in order to end the agony be immoral? If so, why is it immoral? If not, then we are back to the original question of: how can we say that anything is moral or immoral? 

 

Jaskn,

 

You wrote, “You may benefit very narrowly from the theft, but considering the circumstances you will have made for yourself -- a life running from law enforcement -- no rational person is going to agree that stealing is in your interest.”

 

This is very interesting and I will search for the threads you mentioned by I would appreciate your answer. It appears that you are, to continue an example, claiming that stealing is immoral because it is not in my interest. You claim that it is not in my interest because of the circumstances that I will have made for myself like running from law enforcement. But as I pointed out in a previous post, the act of stealing from you (or stealing in general) does not end my life nor does the act of stealing in and of itself have any negative impact of my life. You stated, “…the circumstances you will have made for yourself…” but this is not correct. I did not make any circumstances for myself. If I steal from you, nothing happens to me unless you decide to act in some fashion. If you do nothing, either because you cannot do anything or choose not to do anything, then nothing happens to me. If you choose to do something, call law enforcement for example, then something may or may not happen to me. So, it could be in my interest to steal from you or it could not be in my interest to steal from you depending on what you choose to do and are capable of doing. If I steal from you and you cannot do anything about it, then stealing from you is moral because it is in my interest. Of course, you will most likely think that it is immoral because it is not in your interest. So we are back to a situation where I think something is moral and you think something is immoral, and therefore we are back to the question in the original post of how can we say anything is moral or immoral?

 

Additionally, with your “all aspects considered” approach to figuring out morality, it appears we are back to the fact that humans cannot know everything so how exactly can one consider all aspects when it is not possible to know all of the aspects to consider?

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DonAthos,

 

I will keep in mind that your meaning of “morality” is a guide to action for the purpose of living a good life.

 

However, it appears that your definition simply shifts the discussion from “how can we say something is moral” to “what does it mean to live a good life”. The same argument comes up: If I say X is living a good life by appealing to the evidence I have and logic and so forth, then X is living a good life. And if you say that X is not living a good life by appealing to the evidence you have and logic and so forth, then X is not living a good life. Which one is correct?

 

Again, like the earlier posts, you seem to suggest that there exists, completely independent of any human thought or idea, not morality now but a concept of “living a good life” that “is what it is” and applies to humans regardless of what I think or you think, or anyone thinks it is or should be much like laws of nature. This would, it appears to me, need to be correct otherwise, to what can we compare our lives in order to determine if we are living good lives or not?

 

If there is no concept of “living a good live” to which we can compare our lives, then entire discussion comes down to: I form an opinion about what it means for me to live a good life and then I form an opinion about the morality of things based on what it means to me to live a good life. And you form an opinion about what it means for you to live a good life and you then form an opinion about the morality of things based on what it means to you to live a good life. If there are any disagreements between us, we discuss/debate and I try to convince you that my opinions are somehow better than your opinions and you try to convince me that your opinions are somehow better than my opinions. Is this correct?

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You asked many questions, so I'll just go for the most basic: how can we know if something is moral?

From the Ayn Rand Lexicon:

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/morality.html

What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.

Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choice—and the alternative his nature offers him is: rational being or suicidal animal. Man has to be man—by choice; he has to hold his life as a value—by choice; he has to learn to sustain it—by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues—by choice. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality.”

The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics—the standard by which one judges what is good or evil—is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man.

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CriticalThinker2000,

 

I am using the example of theft because you used the example of theft in an attempt to explain your position. You stated: “The determinant of who is right is reality – the facts – the way things are” and you stated: “I explained the following chain of reasoning to you: there exist facts by which we can judge whether an action is moral or not. You wanted to know what these facts were, I stated that they pertain to the nature of man's consciousness and means of survival.”

 

It appears that you think the “chain of reasoning” you provided would answer my question from the original post. But I still do not understand hence the continued use of the example of theft in order to gain a better understanding. However, if you believe that the answer to the question from the original post of “How can we say that anything is moral or immoral?” is: ‘There exist facts that pertain to the nature of man's consciousness and means of survival, by which we can judge whether an action is moral or not’, and you do not want to continue the discussion then, while I do not understand your answer, we will leave it at that.

 

 

However, if you want to continue the discussion (and since you continued with your theft example, I will assume that you do) then I will explain, using the theft example as a reference, why I do not understand your answer.

 

With regard to theft you state: “Yes, you get the money in your hand this instance but there are many negative consequences of your actions. Here are a few off the top of my head: you've undercut your self-esteem by implicity [sic] accepting the premise that you can't take care of your own life, you've denied yourself the chance of feeling the pride that comes along with earning something, you've provided all of the people in your life with a reason to not trust you, your business career will be destroyed, it's going to be difficult to find a job etc. Stealing is simply not a method for success any more than lying is a good tactic for dealing with your spouse.”

 

Going by your posts, I assume that you have attempted to provide “facts by which we can judge whether an action is moral or not”. And that based on these “facts” (while there may be others that you did not list) you have come to the conclusion that theft is immoral. But I disagree; not with your logic, which appears sound, but with your premise. The “facts” you provided are not facts but rather your interpretations of what you perceive and subsequent opinions you formed based on those interpretations.

 

 

To illustrate (with the theft example): I am an agent of the government charged with collecting taxes. I take money away from you, by force if necessary, i.e. I steal for you. I have not undercut my self-esteem by implicitly accepting the premise that I can’t take care of my own life. On the contrary, my self-esteem is boosted because the more successful I am at stealing from you, the more successful I am at taking care of my own life (earning a living, providing for me and my family, etc.). I have not denied myself the chance of feeling the pride that comes along with earning something. On the contrary, the more successful I am at stealing from you, the longer I get to keep my job, the more increases in salary or bonuses I receive, the more opportunities for advancement I earn, etc, and the more pride I feel. I have not provided all of the people in my life with a reason to not trust me. On the contrary, the more successful I am at stealing from you, the more the people in my life can trust me to provide for them. My business career will not be destroyed and it is not going to be difficult to find a job. On the contrary, the more successful I am at stealing from you, as mention before, the more successful my career. Stealing from you has no negative consequences and is a method for success.

 

Given my perception of these “facts” I have come to the conclusion that stealing, at least in some cases, is not immoral. Of course, I could just as easily come up with some other interpretations and subsequent opinions based on the same information.

 

So I hope you can understand why I am having trouble grasping your answer to the question from the original post.

 

 

If it was a fact that the human heart stops beating resulting in death after a human commits an act of theft, it would be difficult or perhaps impossible to rationally argue that theft is a good course of action because, regardless of the perception of the fact, death is the result. But barring something like that, everything else is just an interpretation of what one perceives that one then uses to form an opinion about whether something is moral or immoral. Your opinion can be that theft is immoral based on your interpretation of what you perceive, and my opinion can be the theft is moral based on my interpretation of what I perceive. We can each then form the complete opposite opinion based on a different interpretation of what we perceive. We can discuss/debate the issue and I can try to convince you that my interpretations and opinions are somehow better than your interpretations and opinions and you try to convince me that your interpretations and opinions are somehow better than my interpretations and opinions but I do not think that we are any closer to answering the question of ‘How can we say that anything is moral or immoral?’.

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DonAthos,

 

I will keep in mind that your meaning of “morality” is a guide to action for the purpose of living a good life.

 

However, it appears that your definition simply shifts the discussion from “how can we say something is moral” to “what does it mean to live a good life”. The same argument comes up: If I say X is living a good life by appealing to the evidence I have and logic and so forth, then X is living a good life. And if you say that X is not living a good life by appealing to the evidence you have and logic and so forth, then X is not living a good life. Which one is correct?

If I say that the actions of human beings change the climate by appealing to the evidence I have and logic and so forth, then the actions of human beings change the climate. And if you say that the actions of human beings do not change the climate by appealing to the evidence you have and logic and so forth, then the actions of human beings do not change the climate. Which one is correct?

 

Again, like the earlier posts, you seem to suggest that there exists, completely independent of any human thought or idea, not morality now but a concept of “living a good life”...

Sorry to interrupt, but in describing my concept of morality to you -- a guide to action, etc. -- I'm not saying that it's "not morality." I'm saying that this is the concept of morality, properly understood. (As opposed to, say, a list of commandments like my example -- "You Shall Not Lie.")

If we're discussing "morality," after all, and how/where to find it, then it is important that you know what I mean by the term.

 

...that “is what it is” and applies to humans regardless of what I think or you think, or anyone thinks it is or should be much like laws of nature. This would, it appears to me, need to be correct otherwise, to what can we compare our lives in order to determine if we are living good lives or not?

 

If there is no concept of “living a good live” to which we can compare our lives, then entire discussion comes down to: I form an opinion about what it means for me to live a good life and then I form an opinion about the morality of things based on what it means to me to live a good life. And you form an opinion about what it means for you to live a good life and you then form an opinion about the morality of things based on what it means to you to live a good life. If there are any disagreements between us, we discuss/debate and I try to convince you that my opinions are somehow better than your opinions and you try to convince me that your opinions are somehow better than my opinions. Is this correct?

I think this describes the general process, yes. The answer to the question of "what must I do to live a good life?" is what it is and applies to humans regardless of what you or I or anyone thinks. Yet that answer is not revealed to us by any supernatural agency; like all other human knowledge, it is something that we must discover with the tools we have.

Thus in this way, yes, we each form opinions about the morality of things based on what it means to us to live a good life, discussion ensues, and etc. We may also have opinions on evolutionary theory, or what foods are nutritious, or climate change, or so on (we might even have varying opinions on whether the Holocaust occurred, or whether the Earth is round). If we find disagreement between our opinions on these matters, and if we are rational people, we have recourse to evidence and logic to establish that one of our opinions is correct and the other(s) are false.

But you do not seem to think that this process is a satisfactory solution. May I ask why not? Do you also dislike it for resolving conflicts in science, history, medicine, and every other area of human knowledge? Or do you only think it faulty for questions of morality? And if that's the case, why?

Also, I think it's time I asked whether or not you've read Ayn Rand's original writings on these subjects? In your OP, you'd said that you'd "discovered Objectivism" -- but what do you mean by that specifically?

Since I think it speaks most directly to your current questions, if you've not read it, I'd like to direct you to "The Objectivist Ethics" which is an essay collected in The Virtue of Selfishness, where Rand lays out her specific argument for morality as well as her evidence and reasoning for that argument. We can of course continue to discuss the subject as you'd like, but reading that essay (among other things) would probably be a shortcut for you in answering many of your questions. Or at least it would help you to frame more specific questions, should you continue to be dissatisfied.

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But barring something like that, everything else is just an interpretation of what one perceives that one then uses to form an opinion about whether something is moral or immoral. Your opinion can be that theft is immoral based on your interpretation of what you perceive, and my opinion can be the theft is moral based on my interpretation of what I perceive.

This is just another way of saying that existence can't be proven. Phrased another way, "My senses are not valid, but they are valid enough to prove that they aren't valid!"

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Harrison Danneskjold,

 

In your post talking about slavery you asked, “If everyone else on the planet would objectively benefit from enslaving you, would you accept it as moral?”

 

I would answer, ‘no it is immoral’. But this takes us back to the question in the original post. If you, or everyone else on the planet, say something is moral and I say the same thing is immoral, how can we say something is moral or immoral?

 

Since, as you say, the most important person is always me, then if I say X is immoral and you say X is moral, then X is immoral because the most important person is always me. But to you, I am not the most important person, you are always the most important person. So, if I say the X is immoral and you say that X is moral, then X is moral because you are always the most important person. So we are back to asking ‘How can we say something is moral or immoral?”.

 

You also stated: “I think that your primary moral concern, before any material or financial situation whatsoever, should be the health and well-being of your own mind.  And while theft and slavery may be financially profitable (although usually not), I think that they are mentally destructive- to the perpetrators.”

 

But this does not help me understand the answer to the question in the original post that I think you are trying to provide. Similar to my post to CriticalThinker2000, the answer you provide is your interpretations of what you perceive and your opinions based on those interpretations. I, and anyone else, can do the same thing. We can discuss/debate and try to convince each other that the other is in error or that one set of interpretations and opinions are somehow better than the other, but at the end of the day, whether we agree or not, we are just left with our interpretations and opinions. Is this how we say that something is moral or immoral?

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