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How can one state that something is moral?

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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.

 

Yes, I understand your issue with respect to theft. You can just keep coming up with scenarios where the negative consequences of stealing are not apparent and the positive consequences are. And each time I can attempt to show you why you're wrong. That's why you need to understand what principles are, how they function, and why they are valid. Stealing is wrong in principle for the reasons I stated earlier regarding man's means of creating values. Your problems all appear to me to be with Objectivist epistemology and not ethics.

 

 

The “facts” you provided are not facts but rather your interpretations of what you perceive and subsequent opinions you formed based on those interpretations.

 

What then would constitute a fact in your opinion? Perception of reality is the source of all knowledge. What you're saying, in essence, is that you can't obtain knowledge of reality because your consciousness has an identity (it needs to identify and integrate). According to your standards of knowledge, I could only say something was a fact if I didn't perceive it and didn't interpret it.

 

 

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?’.

 

Think of the implications of your view. You would have to ask: How can we say that the law of gravity is true if it requires perception and interpretation to validate? How could we say anything was true? The premise you're assuming is totally nonsensical.

Edited by CriticalThinker2000

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StrictlyLogical,

 

The original post asks the question, ‘How can we say that anything is moral or immoral?’ I do not know the answer to this question.

 

It would not be possible for me to accept that morality is objective, or question whether objective reality exists at all, because I do not know how we can say something is moral or immoral. If you answer the question with something like ‘Morality is objective (objective morality exists) and once you discover what the objective morality of something is then you can say that something is moral or immoral’, then I may question whether objective morality exists or I may not or I may accept that morality is objective or may not.

 

As for you question of what do I believe is the standard of morality; if I knew, or believed, that there was a standard of morality and I knew what that standard of morality was, I would not have to ask the question in the original post. Since I do not know if there is a standard of morality, I cannot answer the other question in you post.

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This is starting to go in circles, and you are starting to look like you're being purposefully obtuse. You were presented with at least one definition of morality. How about you reject or affirm that one, and if it's the former, either give your own definition or deny the existence of morality altogether. If your answer is, "I don't know," at minimum go and read what Rand said about it in the link I provided.

You can't expect people to do your thinking for you.

Edited by JASKN

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DonAthos,

 

You stated, “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?”

 

My answer is similar to my last post to CriticalThinker2000.  When it comes to subjects like science, history, medicine, etc., I agree that different people can come to different conclusions.

 

 

To continue your global warming example:

 

If I say that the actions of human beings change the climate by appealing to the evidence I have and logic and so forth, 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 we can attempt to settle this difference by performing experiments to test our respective evidence. If the experiments are designed and performed in such a way that you or me or anyone else who performed the exact same experiments gets the same conclusion, we can use the results of the experiments to conclude that one position is correct and the other is incorrect (I am grossly simplifying the process for brevity and I recognize that the process does not always work smoothly and there are many areas of debate and disagreement that can arise throughout the entire process, etc.).

 

For a simpler example: If I believe that when two objects of different weight are dropped from the same height at the same time, that, once eliminating wind resistance, the heavier object will hit the ground first and you believe that they will hit the ground at the same time, we (and anyone) can perform the experiment of dropping objects of different weight from the same height at the same time while eliminating wind resistance, observe the results and form a conclusion that one position is correct is and the other is incorrect. I could, of course, still claim that my belief is correct in spite of the evidence, but it would be difficult or perhaps impossible to rationally argue about my belief.

 

Now let’s consider a moral question (I will use the theft example).

 

If you say that theft is immoral by appealing to the evidence you have and logic and so forth and I say that theft is moral by appealing to the evidence I have and logic and so forth, how do we test our evidence to see which one of us is correct? If there was some standard that we could use for comparison or someway to design and perform experiments in such a way that you or me or anyone else who performed the exact same experiments gets the same conclusion?

 

You stated in an earlier post that morality is a guide to action for the purpose of living a good life. Is “living a good life” something like the laws of gravity that we can test? You seem to indicate that we can.

 

 

I contend that your definition of “living a good life” and the morals that you decide upon to guide your actions for the purpose of “living a good life” are nothing but your opinions based on what you perceive, and my definition of “living a good life” and the morals that I decide upon to guide my actions for the purpose of “living a good life” are nothing but my opinions based on what I perceive.

Barring some standard that we can use to test against or something like that, “living a good life” is just an interpretation of what one perceives and that one then uses to form an opinion about whether something is moral or immoral. 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, at the end of the day, whether we agree or not, we are just left with our interpretations and opinions.

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CriticalThinker2000,

 

I do not think that my premise is nonsensical. You seem to be under the impression that when I state that that morality is just an interpretation of what one perceives and that one then uses to form an opinion about whether something is moral or immoral that I am somehow applying this statement to all other areas of knowledge or stating that one cannot obtain knowledge of reality. This is not the case.

 

We can say that the law of gravity is true because we can test it against reality. I will restate the example I used earlier. If I believe that when two objects of different weight are dropped from the same height at the same time, that, once eliminating wind resistance, the heavier object will hit the ground first and you believe that they will hit the ground at the same time, we (and anyone) can perform the experiment of dropping objects of different weight from the same height at the same time while eliminating wind resistance, observe the results and form a conclusion that one position is correct is and the other is incorrect. I could, of course, still claim that my belief is correct in spite of the evidence, but it would be difficult or perhaps impossible to rationally argue about my belief.

 

The point here is that we can test and the results of the test are going to be the same regardless of how I feel about it, or what I think about it, or what I wish it would be. It will also be the same regardless of how you or anyone feels about it.

 

Now consider morality. You stated, “Stealing is wrong in principle…” How do we test this? You may say that we test it against reality. But how can we do this? Is there a law of morality, similar to the law of gravity, which states that stealing is wrong? Can we test this law? There is nothing to test against when it comes to morality. Any test that we devise for determining whether stealing is moral or immoral would provide different results depending on how you or I feel about it, or what you and I think about it, or what you and I wish it would be. Case in point: I already demonstrated that I can come up with scenarios where theft would be moral, and you demonstrated that you can come up with scenarios where theft would be immoral. So all we are left with is trying to convince each other that the other is in error.

 

Again, this does not apply to everything. There are many examples of how we can know things are true. I do not understand how we can know that morality is true.

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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?”.

X is either good or bad for you in reality, by the law of causality.

 

You appear to be wondering whether Objectivist morality boils down to "good for you" versus "good for me"; if so then I would say partially yes and partially no.  I believe that what is "good for me" is also what is "good for you", and so there cannot be an objective conflict of interests.  That is my partial 'no'.

However, if the things which are objectively "good for me" were also objectively "bad for you" then all other things being equal, Objectivist morality would end up as something similar to (but not the same as) subjectivism.  Each person's morality would be rationally determined by the facts of reality, but every individual's morality would be unique and all would be correct.  That is my partial 'yes'.

 

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?

Yes.  If that is your primary question then yes, it all amounts to interpretations and opinions; this does not mean that all interpretations are equally valid.

 

People are always capable of choosing whichever opinions they would prefer to be true.  Whether they are capable of making their preferences true, or acting on them in reality, I hold dubious opinions about.  B)

 

---  Edit:

 

 

Is “living a good life” something like the laws of gravity that we can test?

As a matter of fact, it is.  It is something slightly trickier to quantify than gravity or climate change, however, since it isn't something that can be weighed or measured in the usual sense.  Our evidence for the laws of "living a good life" comes primarily from introspection, and so each individual has to discover these laws by examining his own knowledge about himself.

 

However, since the human mind is part of reality and ultimately (as in my Heroin example) subject to reality's laws, this introspective evidence should ultimately support the same conclusions regardless of whose mind it exists in.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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DonAthos,

 

You stated, “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?”

 

My answer is similar to my last post to CriticalThinker2000.  When it comes to subjects like science, history, medicine, etc., I agree that different people can come to different conclusions.

Good. Hopefully what's more, we can agree that there are "correct answers" with respect to the questions we might ask about science, history, medicine, and so on. But to find and understand those answers is not necessarily easy and certainly not automatic; we must work to do it, sifting through evidence, applying logic and etc.

If we can agree on that process, then I'd say that we do have some experience with the phenomenon that I argue also applies to morality: there are correct answers, and yet we must discover those answers (just as we must discover the truth of science), and yet we might be mistaken (as we sometimes are with respect to science), and yet we might have different opinions or come to different conclusions (as happens in science as well).

Imagine, after all, if I were asking you: well, how can we say that there's any such thing as truth in science? People believe different things! So how can we say what's correct?

If you put yourself in that position and think it through, I believe you'll come closer to what I believe with respect to the questions you've been asking regarding morality.

 

To continue your global warming example:

 

If I say that the actions of human beings change the climate by appealing to the evidence I have and logic and so forth, 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 we can attempt to settle this difference by performing experiments to test our respective evidence. If the experiments are designed and performed in such a way that you or me or anyone else who performed the exact same experiments gets the same conclusion, we can use the results of the experiments to conclude that one position is correct and the other is incorrect...

Indeed.

Formal experiments are certainly one means to test out one's claims or hypotheses. We may also make predictions as to what we expect to observe, given our claims (in future events, or in past events reexamined, formally or informally). Of course, not every scientific claim/theory can be reproduced in a laboratory (such as the death of a star), but we can test for certain processes locally and then make logical connections between our results and what we observe more distantly. At heart, we compare our claims to evidence, don't we? The evidence we already have, or new evidence that we gather through collection or through specific experiments or tests.

This is the same general process for testing out moral claims.

 

(I am grossly simplifying the process for brevity and I recognize that the process does not always work smoothly and there are many areas of debate and disagreement that can arise throughout the entire process, etc.).

Yes, quite. And these same caveats apply to the ongoing discussion of morality.

 

For a simpler example: If I believe that when two objects of different weight are dropped from the same height at the same time, that, once eliminating wind resistance, the heavier object will hit the ground first and you believe that they will hit the ground at the same time, we (and anyone) can perform the experiment of dropping objects of different weight from the same height at the same time while eliminating wind resistance, observe the results and form a conclusion that one position is correct is and the other is incorrect. I could, of course, still claim that my belief is correct in spite of the evidence, but it would be difficult or perhaps impossible to rationally argue about my belief.

Agreed.

It might be worth noting that, despite having access to the same rough body of evidence, scientists sometimes persist in arguing for their professed beliefs in spite of that evidence. Whether they do so in reason or not, or whether there are other considerations (such as religious concerns, or funding issues, or so forth) is perhaps a case-by-case consideration.

 

Now let’s consider a moral question (I will use the theft example).

Yes, okay. But let's keep in mind as we proceed that the question before us has not been whether theft is moral or immoral, but how we can assess such a claim at all, or a difference of opinion on the matter. You and I could ultimately agree on the method for resolving such a debate (just as we do with respect to questions/controversies in science), yet still disagree on whether or not theft is immoral, just as you and I might not agree on every question of science, if we were to take a full inventory of our beliefs.

 

If you say that theft is immoral by appealing to the evidence you have and logic and so forth and I say that theft is moral by appealing to the evidence I have and logic and so forth, how do we test our evidence to see which one of us is correct?

This is a key question and a deep question. I'm glad you've asked it, and I expect that my initial attempt at an answer will provoke much further discussion.

Firstly, it's worth considering what "evidence" we have on questions of morality at all. To try to assess such a thing, it matters greatly what we mean by "morality," which is one of the reasons why I've insisted that we keep my meaning of that term in mind.

If the goal is to live a good life, and if morality is a guide to action to doing so, we might ask where we can find evidence of certain actions or kinds of actions leading to desirable outcomes (i.e. a "good life") or other actions or kinds of actions leading to undesirable outcomes.

I would think that one place to look would be at what people choose to do and what consequently happens to them. If we were looking at "theft," for instance, we might try to examine known thieves. We might try to learn about their lives, assess whether or not they were successful in living "good lives" (both on our terms and their own), and try to relate, insofar as we are able, the relationship of their acts of thievery to their subsequent experiences. Let us note that the record is bound to be complex, and this will not be an easy task.

Where else can we look? We can also look inside, to our own internal experiences of life. If I were trying to assess whether stealing was moral (i.e. was a proper action for the purpose of leading a good life), I might ask myself whether I've ever stolen, and if so, what my experience was like. What was my outcome? Did it contribute to my happiness? Did I suffer any kind of negative internal or external consequence? It is work to do this. Again complex, again not easy. Neither are we guaranteed to do it without making errors. Yet it is what we must do, if we'd like to understand what the consequences of our further actions are likely to be, and discriminate between them according to that which is good for us and that which is bad.

We can make predictions, of ourselves or others. We can perform experiments in the manner of taking action and then seeing what happens, or thought experiments, imagining what our experience might be like in a particular situation. We can access art (which can and often does function as a sort of "thought experiment" in this manner). For instance, Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, had a theory of morality. He put it to the test through his actions and subsequently had a very particular experience of life. We can treat this novel as "evidence" in the following way: we observe Raskolnikov's beliefs and subsequent actions, and we follow their effects on his life, whether they lead to him having a "good life" or not. We may draw some conclusion(s) on this basis, like "Raskolnikov's ideas were wrong, his actions immoral" and we may further compare his experiences to our own to see whether or not they "ring true."

In "short," we use human experience -- our own, that of others (whether "true story" or artistic expression), and as much as we can find and make sense of -- to assess claims like whether thievery is immoral. That is our body of evidence, our actions are our experiments, and the world is our laboratory.

I should also note that, just as with science, this kind of labor has certain requirements. A person must strive to be honest with himself, for instance, be observant, ask questions, and he must treat the evidence he finds fairly (e.g. not dismiss some detail simply because he finds it inconvenient to his theory).

 

If there was some standard that we could use for comparison or someway to design and perform experiments in such a way that you or me or anyone else who performed the exact same experiments gets the same conclusion?

I'm not certain that this is what you mean by "standard," but Ayn Rand observed that whatever else you may value, you must be alive to do so. There is no "good life" without life, after all, and so we may initially (and roughly) observe that those actions which would kill you are bad and those which promote your continued survival are good. That might serve us as an initial standard for comparison, though Rand expands on this at length, and doubtless I will have to as well as we continue. There are, for instance, considerations of "happiness" which matter greatly to one's experience of life, and what I would mean by "the good life."

As regards performing the "exact same experiments," the difficulty is that no two situations are the same. We must be able to isolate and abstract certain aspects of real life situations or experiences. But this is typical when analyzing complex systems, isn't it? For instance, I expect that climate scientists (who cannot reproduce the climate in toto in their laboratories) must do this, along with economists who cannot "replicate" precise market events, but who must be able to identify commonalities in historical experience and predict on that basis.

 

You stated in an earlier post that morality is a guide to action for the purpose of living a good life. Is “living a good life” something like the laws of gravity that we can test? You seem to indicate that we can.

Well... ask yourself. I think I noted that you're 25? That's old enough to have had a few experiences, I should imagine. Is there any such thing as "living a good life" in your estimation, and according to your observations in life? Are there some people who seem to achieve it, and others who do not? Is there any general difference between the two? Are there any rules or principles that seem to explain that difference, or any part of it? Any conclusions you believe you can draw?

If I were to say that being the kind of person who doesn't work hard, who doesn't strive to do better, who doesn't seek to know more, who doesn't much care what goes on around him, and so forth -- if I were to say that such a person is unlikely to live a good life -- what would you make of it? Do you know any people like that? Have you observed what their lives are like? Have you ever attempted to find any connection between who they are, what they do, and what results they incur? Or if I were to say that a person who works hard, tries to improve himself, makes effort to learn, cares about his surroundings, etc. -- if I were to say that such a person is likely to achieve good health, prosperity, friends, and that collection of things that perhaps we could agree constitutes a "good life" -- what would you make of that? Does it agree with what you've observed and experienced in your own life?

Do you think there is any reason to wish to be more like one of these kinds of people than the other? Any reason to work hard, or seek to improve, or seek knowledge, or take an interest in one's surroundings? If so, what is the reason?

 

I contend that your definition of “living a good life” and the morals that you decide upon to guide your actions for the purpose of “living a good life” are nothing but your opinions based on what you perceive, and my definition of “living a good life” and the morals that I decide upon to guide my actions for the purpose of “living a good life” are nothing but my opinions based on what I perceive.

Of course we're discussing our opinions based on what we perceive. If we were talking about any of the other subjects we've discussed, like climate change, we would also be discussing our opinions based on what we perceive. That's the stuff of knowledge: we perceive, we form opinions on that basis, we take action according to our opinions, we analyze the results (again via perception) and modify our opinions accordingly. There's no other way to do it.

Someone else here (I think CriticalThinker) said that your issues/disagreements are primarily epistemological, and I think I agree. I'd asked you before what you meant by having "discovered Objectivism," and whether or not you've read any of Ayn Rand's original writings. I don't think you responded to those questions, though I hope you will now. Well, in addition to "The Objectivist Ethics," I also highly recommend that you investigate Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

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CriticalThinker2000,

 

I do not think that my premise is nonsensical. You seem to be under the impression that when I state that that morality is just an interpretation of what one perceives and that one then uses to form an opinion about whether something is moral or immoral that I am somehow applying this statement to all other areas of knowledge or stating that one cannot obtain knowledge of reality. This is not the case.

 

Yes, it is. Your critique of moral knowledge applies to all knowledge.

 

 

We can say that the law of gravity is true because we can test it against reality. I will restate the example I used earlier. If I believe that when two objects of different weight are dropped from the same height at the same time, that, once eliminating wind resistance, the heavier object will hit the ground first and you believe that they will hit the ground at the same time, we (and anyone) can perform the experiment of dropping objects of different weight from the same height at the same time while eliminating wind resistance, observe the results and form a conclusion that one position is correct is and the other is incorrect. I could, of course, still claim that my belief is correct in spite of the evidence, but it would be difficult or perhaps impossible to rationally argue about my belief.

 

People had been dropping objects for thousands of years prior to Galileo. Galileo didn't just drop two objects and suddenly basic laws of physics started to crystalize or were suddenly obvious to everyone. The results of experimentation must be perceived and interpreted just like the facts that give rise to morality. I understand that given our advanced state of knowledge gravity is very easily understood and verified but back then it was the opposite. In fact, Newton had to come along to finish Galileo's work. The 'problem' you keep referencing, the fact that man must perceive and interpret facts to arrive at knowledge, is not specific to morality.

 

 

The point here is that we can test and the results of the test are going to be the same regardless of how I feel about it, or what I think about it, or what I wish it would be. It will also be the same regardless of how you or anyone feels about it.

 

Experimentation is an extremely useful technique for finding causal connections because it allows you to isolate variables. However, direct manipulation of variables is not the only way to determine causal relationships and arrive at knowledge of reality.

 

 

How do we test this? You may say that we test it against reality. But how can we do this? Is there a law of morality, similar to the law of gravity, which states that stealing is wrong? Can we test this law? There is nothing to test against when it comes to morality. Any test that we devise for determining whether stealing is moral or immoral would provide different results depending on how you or I feel about it, or what you and I think about it, or what you and I wish it would be. Case in point: I already demonstrated that I can come up with scenarios where theft would be moral, and you demonstrated that you can come up with scenarios where theft would be immoral. So all we are left with is trying to convince each other that the other is in error.

 

Again, experimentation is not the only way to figure out causal relationships. We can observe thousands of instances of people stealing- does it appear to be a tactic for success and happiness? No. Rand identified the cause: you're contradicting your own capacity to value. You did not demonstrate scenarios where theft was moral. You described scenarios where you left out any downside and did not address the fact that you're contradicting the nature of human beings and the way we create values.

 

If you want a theory of induction, I can't give you one. Thankfully you don't need one because the validity of induction is self-evident in that it is the source of all of the concepts you'd have to use to disprove it.

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I'm just going to say again what I've said before and what DonAthos also just said:

FredAnyman, have you read Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology? The fact of the matter is, I think we're going to have a hard time continuing this discussion until you've read or re-read it, because there seems to be a fundamental disconnect in that you don't seem to have a strong grasp on the Objectivist epistemology.

And realistically, it is not possible to understand a theory of ethics until you understand the epistemology that serves as its framework. Think of a philosophical system as the Statue of Liberty. Before you can start constructing the outer copper layer in the form of the statue, you have to first build the pedestal and the frame, which are like the metaphysics and epistemology. Then you can construct the outer layer, which is like the ethical system, and then you can add the crown of politics and the torch of aesthetics. But if you try to just construct the outer layer without first building the frame, the statue will crumble the first time its structural integrity is even slightly tested. You have to have a good grasp on epistemology first. And I think most of your problems in this conversation are in dealing with topics that are epistemological, not ethical.

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Think of a philosophical system as the Statue of Liberty. Before you can start constructing the outer copper layer in the form of the statue, you have to first build the pedestal and the frame, which are like the metaphysics and epistemology. Then you can construct the outer layer, which is like the ethical system, and then you can add the crown of politics and the torch of aesthetics.

Just to say that I quite like this. :)

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Thank you! I can't be quite sure that I came up with that, but I've long used architectural metaphors in thinking about philosophical systems.

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DonAthos,

 

It appears that you continue to insist that we can come to an answer to the question asked in the original post by changing the premise of the question. You stated, “If the goal is to live a good life, and morality is a guide to action to doing so…” I agree with what you are doing in so far as it allows one to determine if something is moral or not. We can do this with anything. For example:

 

I can say, ‘If the goal is to accumulate widgets, and morality is a guide to action to doing so, then I can find evidence of certain actions or kinds of actions leading to desirable outcomes (i.e. accumulating widgets) or actions or kinds of action leading to undesirable outcomes.’

 

I can say, ‘If the goal is to enslave people that meet a certain criteria, and morality is a guide to action to doing so, then I can find evidence of certain actions or kinds of actions leading to desirable outcomes (i.e. enslaving people) or actions or kinds of action leading to undesirable outcomes.’

 

Both of my statements, and your statement using ‘live a good life’, give us a means of determining morality. But by doing this, all we have done is to kick the can down the road so that we now have to answer the question of how we know that the ‘goal’ we are pursuing is the correct goal or not. While I initially thought that these question were related, this may be, as you and others suggest, a different question and I should just accept the answers that I have been given as the final answer to question asked in the original post.

 

In that vein, I will attempt restate and summarize your answer to the question in the original post as: ‘Morality is a guide to action for achieving a certain goal, and one can determine the morality of an action because one can find evidence that certain actions or kinds of actions lead to either achieving or not achieving the goal.’ Do you agree?

 

You asked if I have read Ayn Rand’s original writings. I have read Ayn Rand but I still have questions and since I cannot ask Ms. Rand I ask other people. I do find it interesting that there are those who seem to think that if I would only read Ayn Rand’s work, I would somehow understand everything and I would not have any questions to ask. Have you experienced anything similar?

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I do find it interesting that there are those who seem to think that if I would only read Ayn Rand’s work, I would somehow understand everything and I would not have any questions to ask. Have you experienced anything similar?

If you joined a gossip forum and started posts with, "How do you know what Kim Karsdashian was doing last Tuesday?! I have seen one episode of her show on the E! channel, and I think I could guess what she might have done last Tuesday. But how do you *know*?" And they replied, "We saw her online." To which you replied, "But how do you *know*?" which you repeated again after they said, "Look, dude, Google it." If you then said, "I find it odd that my questions have all been answered with more or less, 'Go and look for yourself.'" what do you think they would say?

Yes, this forum is for discussing Rand's ideas. But, no member is going to explain her *entire philosophy* to you, and I doubt any of us could do it as well, anyway. So, it is politely suggested that you go and figure some basic things out for yourself, and then come back asking questions on more common ground.

Like I said before, no one can do this thinking for you.

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CriticalThinker2000,

 

Can you please further explain how “Your critique of moral knowledge applies to all knowledge”?

 

As for Galileo, I agree with you that he didn’t just suddenly come to understand the basic laws of physics after dropping objects. Galileo’s discoveries, along with Newton’s, and Einstein’s and everyone else’s, was based on much simpler discoveries, each of which was perceived and interpreted, tested, revised, and retested and found to be correct despite anyone’s contradictory perception, interpretation, thoughts or theories, by many others who then made more discoveries over the years.

 

I agree with you that, “…experimentation is not the only way to figure out causal relationships.” I contend, however, that experimentation is the only way to determine if the causal relationships are the result of something, like the laws of physics, that exist separate from and independent of human thoughts, hopes, wishes, or dreams, or if the relationships are the result of something that people think, or hope or wish or dream, should exist.

 

You stated, “We can observe thousands of instances of people stealing- does it appear to be a tactic for success and happiness?” You made this statement in what appears to be an attempt to show that experimentation is not the only way to figure out causal relationships.

 

I agree with the statement portion of your quote that we can observe thousands of instances of people stealing. However, the answer portion of your quote does not and cannot allow us to determine morality. What is “success”? What is “happiness”? Is success and happiness the same for you and me and anyone else as are the effects of gravity? Is success and happiness the same for me in the year 2014 as it was for someone living in the year 1514, or living in the year 414?

 

You answered your question with, “No. Rand identified the cause: you're contradicting your own capacity to value. You did not demonstrate scenarios where theft was moral. You described scenarios where you left out any downside and did not address the fact that you're contradicting the nature of human beings and the way we create values.”

 

But this does not demonstrate that you are correct. All I need to do is provide my own interpretation of the nature of human beings and how human beings create values and your answer no longer answers the question.

 

I will simply rewrite your statement as: ‘Yes. FredAnyman identified the cause: you’re not contradicting your own capacity to value. You did not demonstrate scenarios where theft was immoral. You described scenarios where you left out any upside and did not address the fact that you're not contradicting the nature of human beings and the way we create values’.

 

So it appears that we are no closer to answering the question. I can define happiness and success anyway that I want, and so can you or anyone else. Unlike the laws of gravity, we cannot experiment or conduct tests to determine if there is a definition of happiness and success that is separate from and independent of human thoughts, hopes, wishes, or dreams, so whichever definition you choose to advocate is simply the definition you choose to advocate for whatever reasons you choose.

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425,

 

Yes, I have read Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. As I stated to DonAthos, I have read Ayn Rand but I still have questions and since I cannot ask Ms. Rand I ask other people.

 

If you think that I do not have a strong grasp of Objectivist epistemology and that I need read and re-read Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology then so be it. However, I am curious about your statement, “And I think most of your problems in this conversation are in dealing with topics that are epistemological, not ethical.” Can you elaborate on what ‘problems’ I have in this conversation so that I may grasp them?

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  1. The moral is what furthers your life, the immoral is what hinders your life
  2. Life in this context is life as a human, which means surviving beyond the state of an animal.  Life means to thrive.  This is important as thriving identifes more facts than simple doing enough to exist.  It explains what is wrong with a lot of people I might add. 
  3. Just like Certinty is the purpose of Epistomology, Happiness is the purpose of Ethics.  This doesn’t asnwer the OP but it does play a role in the context of it and should help you point to the total context of ethics. 
  4. Speaking of Context, Ethics start with recognizing the practical necceccity of Reason and the fact that Principles are the only way Man and live (thrive). 
  5. Principles reduce vast quantities of information to useful sentinces that allows humans to predict the probable outcome of their actions.
  6. In other words, Principles prevent you from spending hours going through case examples every time you try to do something.  If man lived that way he’d starve while trying to perform the simpleist tasks.
  7. Principles comes from integrating observable data into high level abstract concepts. I.E. There are vast consequences easily identifiable that result from faking reality to others to gain a value, therefore Honesty is the Principle that reduces all that data to containable knowledge you can readily use as needed when you need to make a decision. 
  8. If you want to live then you need Reason to make the decisions necessary to accomplish that, use Principles to put vast amounst of data to work as part of the decision process, then act on your decision to achieve the values to bring those decisions into reality.
  9. If you do not want to live, then carry on as you are.

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DonAthos,

 

It appears that you continue to insist that we can come to an answer to the question asked in the original post by changing the premise of the question. You stated, “If the goal is to live a good life, and morality is a guide to action to doing so…” I agree with what you are doing in so far as it allows one to determine if something is moral or not.

Well if you agree that this process allows one to determine whether something is moral, then isn't that your original question answered? (I understand you may have further questions on morality and epistemology, but let's make sure we take things one at a time, and recognize when we've taken some small step.)

 

We can do this with anything. For example:

 

I can say, ‘If the goal is to accumulate widgets, and morality is a guide to action to doing so, then I can find evidence of certain actions or kinds of actions leading to desirable outcomes (i.e. accumulating widgets) or actions or kinds of action leading to undesirable outcomes.’

 

I can say, ‘If the goal is to enslave people that meet a certain criteria, and morality is a guide to action to doing so, then I can find evidence of certain actions or kinds of actions leading to desirable outcomes (i.e. enslaving people) or actions or kinds of action leading to undesirable outcomes.’

Quite. We adopt some standard and then evaluate according to that standard. Rand herself used (and I have often adopted) the analogy of travel from Los Angeles to New York. Once we've adopted that goal, we may evaluate our subsequent decisions as to making a left or a right turn accordingly.

If the goal is to accumulate widgets, certain actions become right or wrong with respect to that goal. If the goal is to live a good life, likewise.

I don't hold morality or moral reasoning to be different in kind from any other. It doesn't come from the heavens; it is not revealed or arbitrated by some Great Sky Daddy. It is a matter of choosing one's values and then taking action to achieve them. Rand argues for life as the standard of value, and her conclusions on what is virtuous follow suit.

 

Both of my statements, and your statement using ‘live a good life’, give us a means of determining morality. But by doing this, all we have done is to kick the can down the road so that we now have to answer the question of how we know that the ‘goal’ we are pursuing is the correct goal or not. While I initially thought that these question were related, this may be, as you and others suggest, a different question and I should just accept the answers that I have been given as the final answer to question asked in the original post.

I agree that your original question has been answered (though obviously you must decide if it has been answered to your own satisfaction... though I don't know that I can do a better job of presenting my own case).

I also agree that the question of determining the "goal" is very important. Rand's essay "The Objectivist Ethics" makes her case as to why life is the standard, or goal, and she elaborates on that in detail. Do you mean to take issue with whether or not her arguments there are correct? What precisely do you question or disagree with? (I'm now taking for granted that you're familiar with her arguments in that essay, given the discussion below...)

 

In that vein, I will attempt restate and summarize your answer to the question in the original post as: ‘Morality is a guide to action for achieving a certain goal, and one can determine the morality of an action because one can find evidence that certain actions or kinds of actions lead to either achieving or not achieving the goal.’ Do you agree?

I agree, taken with this addendum: that I believe that the "certain goal" in question, where morality is concerned, is living a good life. I believe that this is the specific question that ethics are meant to address (as opposed to, say, accumulating widgets).

 

You asked if I have read Ayn Rand’s original writings. I have read Ayn Rand but I still have questions and since I cannot ask Ms. Rand I ask other people. I do find it interesting that there are those who seem to think that if I would only read Ayn Rand’s work, I would somehow understand everything and I would not have any questions to ask. Have you experienced anything similar?

I think we've all experienced what you're referring to (whether concerning Rand or something/someone else), but I don't expect you to understand everything necessarily, even if you've read Rand, let alone agree with it. Frankly, I would find the person who *didn't* have any questions, but just "swallowed it whole" to be far more worrisome (and less apt to understand).

At the same time, I honestly don't find your questions and discussion in this thread to reflect an understanding (or sometimes even awareness) of Rand's specific arguments. It almost seems to me as though you've perhaps read some summary of some of her conclusions, but not thoughtfully examined her arguments and reasoning for yourself.

Now, maybe that's not the case; I could easily be mistaken on this point, which is why I'd asked. But if it were the case, I thought it might help you to understand the matters we're discussing to read those specific items. After all, Rand made her case for epistemology and ethics over several hundred (incredibly well-written) pages. And while I'm happy to discuss these matters and subsequent questions and disagreements, I'm not well-equipped to teach the subject entire.

But all right, I see elsewhere that you've read ITOE, and perhaps (/hopefully) you've read The Virtue of Selfishness as well? If so, and if you have specific questions or points of contention on Rand's arguments for why life is the standard of value, or what that entails, please feel free to ask.

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Spiral Architect,

 

You start with the statement that the moral is what furthers your life and the immoral is what hinders your life. If this is your answer to the question asked in the original post then I would agree with you that the question has been answered. All that we need to do in order to say X is moral or immoral is to determine if X furthers your life or hinders your life. However, I will point out we need to answer the question of what ‘furthers’ and ‘hinders’ mean if we are going to determine if something is moral or immoral. If I say ‘furthers’ means “A” and you say ‘furthers’ means “B”, then you and I can each determine if X is moral or immoral but we will have different conclusions and we are right back where we started.

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Spiral Architect,

 

You start with the statement that the moral is what furthers your life and the immoral is what hinders your life. If this is your answer to the question asked in the original post then I would agree with you that the question has been answered. All that we need to do in order to say X is moral or immoral is to determine if X furthers your life or hinders your life. However, I will point out we need to answer the question of what ‘furthers’ and ‘hinders’ mean if we are going to determine if something is moral or immoral. If I say ‘furthers’ means “A” and you say ‘furthers’ means “B”, then you and I can each determine if X is moral or immoral but we will have different conclusions and we are right back where we started.

 

That is very true.  That is also the purpose of the entire feild of ethics!

 

The only thing I can add is that reality dictates some values that are required, Honesty was mentioned for example.  Productivity is another since we have to sustain our life . Others are subjective to the individual.  My wife, for example, is a critical part of my life and is a value I hold dear that greatly furthers my life.  Obviously, Mrs. Architect has no such baring on your life. 

 

As for "furthers" or "hinders" there really is no debate.  Something either promotes you life or it does not.  The only question is if it is subjective to the individual.

 

From here - Wll that is where the ethical debates begin!

 

For example there is little debate that Honesty is a virtue on this board, but if I asked if it is moral to lie on a form to get an apartment in New York due to the unholy mess costs and supply due to regulations we may have a lively debate. 

 

Thus, the joys of not being omnipotent :)

Edited by Spiral Architect

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DonAthos,

 

At this point in our discussion, I am trying to get the answer to the question in the original post, which you have provided. At some point, I will attempt to put everyone’s answers together in a final post.

 

For you, the answer would look like:

Morality is a guide to action for living a good life, and one can determine the morality of an action because one can find evidence that certain actions or kinds of actions lead to either achieving or not achieving living a good life. Reference: http://forum.objectivismonline.com/index.php?showtopic=27428&page=4#entry325572

 

For Harrison Danneskjold, the answer would look like:

The same way we say anything else; an educated guess. Reference: http://forum.objectivismonline.com/index.php?showtopic=27428#entry325261

 

For Jaskn, the answer would look like: Go read Ayn Rand. Reference: http://forum.objectivismonline.com/index.php?showtopic=27428&page=3#entry325390

 

I will work on the others and make requested revisions as I go along.

 

You stated, “At the same time, I honestly don't find your questions and discussion in this thread to reflect an understanding (or sometimes even awareness) of Rand's specific arguments. It almost seems to me as though you've perhaps read some summary of some of her conclusions, but not thoughtfully examined her arguments and reasoning for yourself.”

 

To be clear, I never asked you or anyone else for Rand’s arguments. If I wanted Rand’s arguments and conclusions I would have asked: ‘What does Rand argue and conclude about how one can say something is moral or immoral?’ I wanted your answer; you arguments and conclusions. 

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Jaskn,

 

If not the answer provided in the post you wrote, how would you like your answer to read. I will put anything in there you want,

 

For Jaskn, the answer would look like: [Please fill in the blank]

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DonAthos,

 

At this point in our discussion, I am trying to get the answer to the question in the original post, which you have provided. At some point, I will attempt to put everyone’s answers together in a final post.

 

For you, the answer would look like:

Morality is a guide to action for living a good life, and one can determine the morality of an action because one can find evidence that certain actions or kinds of actions lead to either achieving or not achieving living a good life. Reference: http://forum.objectivismonline.com/index.php?showtopic=27428&page=4#entry325572

I'm satisfied with this summary of my position.

 

You stated, “At the same time, I honestly don't find your questions and discussion in this thread to reflect an understanding (or sometimes even awareness) of Rand's specific arguments. It almost seems to me as though you've perhaps read some summary of some of her conclusions, but not thoughtfully examined her arguments and reasoning for yourself.”

 

To be clear, I never asked you or anyone else for Rand’s arguments. If I wanted Rand’s arguments and conclusions I would have asked: ‘What does Rand argue and conclude about how one can say something is moral or immoral?’ I wanted your answer; you arguments and conclusions.

I don't think I've balked from providing my own arguments and conclusions. But I have directed you to reading Rand's original writings if you had not done so (and will continue to do so) in large part due to how you framed your OP:

 

I have considered myself very fortunate to have discovered Objectivism...

So I took it from the beginning that we were discussing questions that you have regarding Objectivism (which usually relates to something Ayn Rand has written) and that you had some relevant context of information, accordingly. Now, I realize that "discovering Objectivism" could mean a wide variety of things, and what's more, there's a good deal of misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the philosophy out there. I think that the quickest and best way to understand Objectivism is to read Ayn Rand's original writings on the subject, so when I began to suspect you hadn't done so, I figured that it was best to direct you there.

I'll add that this isn't particular in my mind to Ayn Rand or Objectivism. If you had questions for me about Marxism, I'd be happy to answer them as I could, but I'd also recommend that you seek out Marx. And if I were more knowledgeable about Marxism, I might want to know what you'd read in particular so that we could discuss specifics, and also so that I could know what I could expect you might already understand. If you had questions for me about Shakespeare, I'd hope that you'd read or seen a few of his plays... and if you hadn't, that would be my suggestion.

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425,

 

Yes, I have read Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. As I stated to DonAthos, I have read Ayn Rand but I still have questions and since I cannot ask Ms. Rand I ask other people.

 

If you think that I do not have a strong grasp of Objectivist epistemology and that I need read and re-read Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology then so be it. However, I am curious about your statement, “And I think most of your problems in this conversation are in dealing with topics that are epistemological, not ethical.” Can you elaborate on what ‘problems’ I have in this conversation so that I may grasp them?

 

Well, the central idea of the question in your original post is "how can we know _________ if _________?" That question is in itself an epistemological one. When we talk about what we know in the field of morality, then, yes, that is a question in the field of ethics, but when we're talking about how we know certain things about morality, then we're discussing epistemology.

 

The main reason I raised the question of whether you had read ITOE was because you were making a few errors in your arguments that I would probably not have made after reading ITOE and Rand's other work on epistemology. For one thing, the relationship between human knowledge and reality. This manifested itself when we talked about being certain, when I kept emphasizing that and explaining how being certain and being right are two different things. I remember explaining this several times, so it did seem to me that you were not understanding this (if you were I apologize). This has everything to do with the relationship between ideas and reality, because a correct idea corresponds perfectly to the facts of reality, and a person who holds an idea with certainty is merely someone who can think of no facts that contradict his idea.

 

Another thing I noticed you apparently not understanding entirely is the idea of objectivity with regard to concepts. This was clear when you were suggesting to me that I might arbitrarily declare every moment of my life to be an "emergency" or when you argued that "nonsense" was an arbitrarily label. The thing you were missing here was that these words, like all words that are correctly understood and clearly defined concepts, have objective meaning. Once a word has been assigned to a concept like "emergency," that word has an objective meaning for all those who speak the same language, and it is an improper mode of thought if one person arbitrarily assigns the word a different meaning. This error becomes more egregious in the field of philosophy, especially when the word whose definition you are changing describes a particular context in which a certain action may be taken. That was the biggest red flag to me that you had an epistemological problem: when you tried to suggest to me that a )  an emergency could be "declared" by an individual without regard to its definitions (i.e. as a permanent state of affairs) and b )  the label "nonsense" is arbitrary.

Edited by 425

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