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William O

Evaluating Non-Objectivists Morally

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I've arrived at a conclusion that I wanted to share and discuss with the Objectivists here.

 

I am often in the following situation, as I think many other people here are as well. I come to know some person very well, and this person turns out to hold beliefs or values diametrically opposed to Objectivism - usually, this involves their having some sort of religious belief. However, I enjoy and benefit from interacting with the person, and they are a productive member of society, pleasant to talk to, and exhibit a number of virtues of character.

 

I think most Objectivists find themselves in this situation eventually. The question is: How should an Objectivist evaluate a person like this morally?

 

In my view, the way a person actually acts should be the primary deciding factor. They can be a devout Christian, but if they do their job well, try to improve themselves as a person, and provide valuable companionship, then the overall evaluation should rationally be positive. The fact that someone acts virtuously should outweigh the irrational beliefs they hold provided that those beliefs do not have too much control over them.

 

I think there are other factors to take into consideration as well. For example, if a person is Christian, defends Christianity publicly, and displays evasiveness when confronted with arguments against Christianity, then my overall evaluation of him will be significantly more negative, even if he is a productive and valuable member of society in other ways. The damage he does by promoting Christianity weighs against his overall evaluation in my mind.

 

Are there any thoughts anyone would like to add?

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You'd have to evaluate what they say and do, less so than a specific belief. Many beliefs are subject to change, even your own, yet why belieifs are different may be an utter lack of virtue. Other times, it's only a different set of information, so a belief isn't always a matter of negative moral evaluation if they are able and willing to be rational. Even if their method is bad, they may be totally fine about thinking. In a way, I'm talking about "tolerance" in terms of errors - this is not tolerance if the person is plainly irrational. For these people, and even people who share your values, beliefs alone don't warrant a positive or negative evaluation.

Take the example you gave. A devout Christian may have erroneous beliefs, so since they act virtuously, those Christian beliefs aren't necessarily morally bad for you or them. I'd question if they "really" are devout, although it is moot if they're honest. On your end, the view is irrational, but that isn't to say they're acting irrationally, acting on faith, or acting on emotional reactions. In a way, I'm saying a person's normative reasoning beliefs take precedence and is the main measure for judging another person's moral character, a baseline perhaps.

Of course, some people compartmentalize. Some people are wholly irrational in one area, but fine elsewhere. In that case, evaluate how they integrate that irrational belief into their life. Is it a driving part of their career? Or is it just a topic they are opinionated about but their career is elsewhere? A friend of mine has obvious socialist beliefs and is opinionated about it, and I think irrational about it. But they're mainly into music and aesthetic values, and very positive views of music. Their political beliefs are a conflict to be sure, but their actions, not just words, are good.

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I am often in the following situation, as I think many other people here are as well. I come to know some person very well, and this person turns out to hold beliefs or values diametrically opposed to Objectivism....

This should be edited as follows:

 

"....and this person turns out to hold beliefs or values diametrically opposed to MY UNDERSTANDING of Objectivism...."

 

You will find significant disagreement on many issues by those that frequent this site -- all of which can be said to have a fairly thorough understanding of Objectivism.

 

Objectivism does not posit that everyone will agree with everyone else on everything.  I only states that it is possible for an INDIVIDUAL to obtain objective knowledge from the evidence of his senses (this alone is radical enough in the history of philosophy).

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William O:

I agree with you, in that, it is proper to judge a person by their actions and deeds. When your friends and associates have helpful and productive manners, they are of higher value than those without such qualities. As for their claim to moral standards, or a claim to a higher moral standard, I accept my Christian friends based on my values, rather than judging them by their own values of Christian morality. Many reveal themselves as hypocrites. Hypocrisy is not the worst human trait. (I take exception to persons whose profession is as an advocate,i.e. a minister, or some sort of politician. Such people should be censored when exposed.)

 

Generally, I find most people adapt to the social norms of their ambient community, regardless of their beliefs. And if their beliefs are a means of coping with our often-difficult world, tolerance is a virtue, as Eiuol suggests. On the other hand, people do act on irrational impulses occasionally. In the case of Christians, I find they usually accept the fact that utter devotion to the "true Christian life" is impossible, and chose a life of harmless and rational actions. If your friend is trustworthy and likewise tolerant, you may offer him/her a discussion on Objectivist morality, so as to clear up any misunderstandings.

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Generally, I find most people adapt to the social norms of their ambient community, regardless of their beliefs. And if their beliefs are a means of coping with our often-difficult world, tolerance is a virtue, as Eiuol suggests. On the other hand, people do act on irrational impulses occasionally. In the case of Christians, I find they usually accept the fact that utter devotion to the "true Christian life" is impossible, and chose a life of harmless and rational actions. If your friend is trustworthy and likewise tolerant, you may offer him/her a discussion on Objectivist morality, so as to clear up any misunderstandings.

Careful about the word virtue. To call it a virtue is to say it is a type of action that is necessary to attain or maintain values, a requirement even. Tolerance in the sense I described is a lot more variable than honesty for instance. Tolerance is like kindness - sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad, and most of all, even non-emergency situations may not require it. On the other hand, honesty is always required, except for some emergency situations. By tolerance, I don't mean needing to cope or social peace. I'm referring to fallibility, where you can't assume the other person being wrong is evasive - you yourself may be wrong, so sometimes it's worth tolerating differences. I wouldn't excuse irrationality as an 'impulse' though, I wouldn't tolerate that one bit. You have to judge the whole person, including accepting that the other person is immoral to some degree.

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Noted Eiuol; I didn't mean to imply any misinterpretation. In the context of this discussion, tolerance toward others who hold harmless beliefs is preferable to intolerance. Agreed?

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It's not that those beliefs are harmless as much as it is wrong to judge a person morally bad just for making an error. But if the belief is harmful in light of what you know and the information you have, you should give the other person that information so they don't inadvertently do things that harm your values more.

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Blindness forms no part of moral judgement... to morally judge someone in accordance with justice requires that nothing be ignored about them.

 

When you focus only on a Christian's thinking and believing X and doing Y, further emphasize the doing Y, you are ignoring

 

a ) why they are doing Y

b )  why they think or believe X

 

 

b )  Independent of the Christian religion specifically, a religious person thinks and believes X primarily BECAUSE someone told them so, and because upon hearing it they WISH it so.

 

a )  What they do is not simply because they think or believe something, the way a person does not cross the road because a truck is coming, they do the things they do AND refuse to do the things they do not do because of an intrinsic DUTY they believe in.  In a religious person's view this is a supernatural thing, whereas an intrisicist mysticism is more elusive... Note DUTY also is external to a person and in some sense "independent" (in their minds) of what they really would want to do if there were no duty... 

 

 

Either a person chooses to think or to wish, to trust what he thinks or what "they say", and to act for rational reasons for himself by his own guidance or because of some force TELLS him he must act.  These are far reaching indications of character beyond the "particular" things the person happens to do.

 

So, I would argue it matters less, WHAT a religious person does, because it says nothing about their real character, only about what they have been told to think, and what they believe they must dutifully do.

 

 

Judge a person by their rationality, honesty, independence, productiveness, pride, etc. insofar as it originates with that person, and not by "what they do". 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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I agree with what's been said (i.e. that such people can be good companions etc.). I'd go further, to stress that such people can be better companions/co-workers than some who consider themselves life-long Objectivists.

But, here's another take on the question. You posted this:

They can be a devout Christian, but if they do their job well, try to improve themselves as a person, and provide valuable companionship, then the overall evaluation should rationally be positive.

My question is: what is this "overall evaluation"? How does one hold this in mind? I presume it's not a single number. I presume it is not even an ordinal number -- like a leader-board on which you rank everyone you know. It's more nuanced because you might judge person A as ranking higher in some aspects but person B higher in others.

If it is such a ranking, I'd be interested to hear. If it isn't, then what is it? What is the most concise form to express this "overall evaluation"? Would it be distilled back down into something like what you said: i.e. believes in some amount of hocus-pocus, but also works well, tries to improve and provides valuable companionship ?

I suppose that one could come up with a more formal multi-dimensional classification.

thoughts?

Edited by softwareNerd

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Either a person chooses to think or to wish, to trust what he thinks or what "they say", and to act for rational reasons for himself by his own guidance or because of some force TELLS him he must act.  These are far reaching indications of character beyond the "particular" things the person happens to do.

If a person can act well WITHOUT thinking well, then you're saying it's possible to divorce thought from action. You'd be saying that you could lead a good life and act on faith. I've been saying that it's only possible to judge what people do. How would you propose getting into someone's head to know a person's rationality without focusing on their actions? Isn't a person honest to the extent that their beliefs result in honest actions?

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As one appreciates Objectivism and religious philosophy, I will only observe that Christains tend to promote the 10 Commandments, if they tend to promote anything; the bottom 5 being the most relevant to their interactions with others.  So unless an Objectivist takes exception to having neighbors who are morally opposed to murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, or envy, there isn't much in the way of damage control to address.

 

If you would improve their lives, offer them something more productive to pray for.

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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As one appreciates Objectivism and religious philosophy, I will only observe that Christains tend to promote the 10 Commandments, if they tend to promote anything; the bottom 5 being the most relevant to their interactions with others.  So unless an Objectivist takes exception to having neighbors who are morally opposed to murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, or envy, there isn't much in the way of damage control to address.

You said nothing useful. Most people, period, are opposed to all those same things... It's a morally empty world if you only care that people aren't murderers. Even most irrational people don't murder. Basically this is leads to the bad form of tolerance, normative moral relativism: nobody's beliefs are "better" as long as we don't kill each other, so I should tolerate all ideas that don't advocate murder.

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I was attempting to evaluate if there was any substance to your rebuttal.  You implied some aspects of murder are tolerable in order to dismiss the Christian view as being insufficient to an objective appreciation for life.  You can also imply that some aspects of adultery, theft, dishonesty, or envy are tolerable to dismiss the Christian view as being insufficient to an objective appreciation for property.  But unless you can provide some example to support the distinction you imply, your rebuttal is evasive.


If, as you claim, "most people, period, are opposed to all those same things", and most people are consistent in their practice of those beliefs, then what exactly are you objecting to?

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I've arrived at a conclusion that I wanted to share and discuss with the Objectivists here.

 

I am often in the following situation, as I think many other people here are as well. I come to know some person very well, and this person turns out to hold beliefs or values diametrically opposed to Objectivism - usually, this involves their having some sort of religious belief. However, I enjoy and benefit from interacting with the person, and they are a productive member of society, pleasant to talk to, and exhibit a number of virtues of character.

 

I think most Objectivists find themselves in this situation eventually. The question is: How should an Objectivist evaluate a person like this morally?

 

In my view, the way a person actually acts should be the primary deciding factor. They can be a devout Christian, but if they do their job well, try to improve themselves as a person, and provide valuable companionship, then the overall evaluation should rationally be positive. The fact that someone acts virtuously should outweigh the irrational beliefs they hold provided that those beliefs do not have too much control over them.

 

I think there are other factors to take into consideration as well. For example, if a person is Christian, defends Christianity publicly, and displays evasiveness when confronted with arguments against Christianity, then my overall evaluation of him will be significantly more negative, even if he is a productive and valuable member of society in other ways. The damage he does by promoting Christianity weighs against his overall evaluation in my mind.

 

Are there any thoughts anyone would like to add?

If you evaluate the 'non-objectivist- yet- curious' (such as me) as immoral, all you'll do is cut off dialogue, and invite retaliation. Then you'll become a cult, because no one will speak to you. 

 

This posture, btw, is evident in the little philosophy that I've read of Rand--that Kant was somehow 'evil'. Now, please tell me,  how can you engage the philosophical community on those terms? Or do you care?

 

Andie

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I was attempting to evaluate if there was any substance to your rebuttal.  You implied some aspects of murder are tolerable in order to dismiss the Christian view as being insufficient to an objective appreciation for life.  You can also imply that some aspects of adultery, theft, dishonesty, or envy are tolerable to dismiss the Christian view as being insufficient to an objective appreciation for property.  But unless you can provide some example to support the distinction you imply, your rebuttal is evasive.

If, as you claim, "most people, period, are opposed to all those same things", and most people are consistent in their practice of those beliefs, then what exactly are you objecting to?

I'm only saying you said nothing interesting. If refraining from murder is sufficient to make you moral, then most moral philosophies are perfectly fine. Again, like that other thread, you're saying you don't care or mind what others do. I don't have time or interest right now to go over why there is more to morality than social harmony - it really does matter to your life to choose who warrants being part of your life.

 

Your question was loaded because any answer implies that there was an implication I never advocated. You didn't explain how I made an implication that "murder is tolerable in some aspects". I literally said most people don't advocate murder, meaning that it would be frankly bizarre to say -anyone- advocates murder as though it is unique moral similarity to say Objectivists and Christians don't support murder... I'm objecting to your moral relativism. I'm objecting that you didn't help the OP who never asked about tolerating murderers and thieves, or evaluating a murderer.

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Welcome to the forum, Andie Holland:

 

If you evaluate the 'non-objectivist- yet- curious' (such as me) as immoral, all you'll do is cut off dialogue, and invite retaliation. Then you'll become a cult, because no one will speak to you. 

 

This posture, btw, is evident in the little philosophy that I've read of Rand--that Kant was somehow 'evil'. Now, please tell me,  how can you engage the philosophical community on those terms? Or do you care?

 

Andie

Referring to my previous comment, (post #4), my outlook is that most Christians I've known in my life are not all that bad. In fact, some have been damn nice people. In contrast to StrictlyLogic, (post #8), I do judge people both by their actions, as well as by their claimed motivations. But actions speak louder than words. And while tolerance is not always a virtue, it can be helpful to accept the fact that not everyone acts out of pure objective reason. I've known a few self-proclaimed Buddhists, a few Muslims, some self-proclaimed Wiccans, as well as multitudes of Christians, and I really don't care what they believe, as long as they are not trying to rob me, or as some of the others are belaboring, not trying to bring bodily harm to me. I don't care what motivates them. While it is true that I would not agree with their beliefs, I would discuss the basis of their beliefs if both parties were comfortable with such a discussion. Obviously, if you have an opportunity to engage a philosophical community, I encourage you to do so. But in the course of my life, and the lives of many working people, we engage a wide variety of other working people who don't care to discuss anything other than the task at hand. Objectivism is not all about chatting up the greatness of Ayn Rand, and/or persuading others to join our "cult." It is getting on with the affairs of making for one's self the best possible life. And if that requires interacting with Christians, Muslims, Jews, pagans, or Satanists, I truly do not give a rat's ass.

 

On the other hand, if someone should choose to be my close associate, perhaps even to befriend me, our conversations may develop into an exchange of philosophic or religious views. I can tolerate a productive and considerate mystic more than an annoying Objectivist. (So far, I have not met any annoying Objectivists.)

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Welcome to the Lion's Den Andie.  What don't kill ya, makes ya stronger here; which is why I return so often.  I discovered Ayn Rand by reading the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in that order. Being curious, I then read Philosophy, Who Needs It, and was interested enough to find and listen to her recordings.  I wasn't disappointed.

 

My advice is to read more before forming any sweeping generalizations about what Objectivism is.  I've been researching it for years and still struggle with many aspects of what it appears to share with other philosophies.

 

A cult?  LOL, isn't that the point of a cult, to become isolated?  This is an open membership forum, and the folks who administer and moderate it are generous with the time they volunteer to respond to questions here.  They usually only get grumpy with katz like me who question everything, and then question the answers.  Ayn Rand actually encouraged this kind of participation, but it does lead to some pretty intense discussions at times.

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Dear Repairman and Devil, 

 

Many thanks for your responses. What seems to pass on this forum is a politeness that isn't evident on the other three or four--hence my non-involvement over there. 

 

What's also true is that Rand herself seemed to exhibit all the manners of a barracuda--as the recent book, "The passion of Ayn Rand makes clear.

 

So as a newbie, i'm happy to say that the forum is mannered, intellectually stimulating, and altogether interesting. It's my welcome anodyne from crunching through medieval texts going back to AD 800; and yes, I've been obliged to learn both Arabic and Farsi from the period. Also, lot's of speedy trains to Cordoba.

 

In any case, your advice to read more Rand is well-taken. Perhaps, as well, i need to read up as to how she's understood by different 'schools', yours (this) ostensibly being far more liberal and open to outsiders.

 

So again, my sincere thanks, Andie

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Judge a person by their rationality, honesty, independence, productiveness, pride, etc. insofar as it originates with that person, and not by "what they do". 

This is an important qualification to the claim in the OP, although I would add that a significant proportion of religious people do not seem to act solely out of duty. You don't have to be an Objectivist to realize that you like one career more than another or get more out of being around one person than another.

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@ Eiuol,

 

You said my response to the OP, about having Christian neighbors who valued life and property (because they are morally opposed to murder, theft, etc.), was neither useful, interesting or helpful to a discussion about evaluating the morality of non-Objectivists (BTW, ouch). This is apparently because most people, even irrational ones, are opposed murder, theft, etc. You said my observation leads to a bad form of tolerance, normative moral relativism, where nobody's beliefs are better regarding murder.

 

 

Puzzled by your response, I questioned you if there were some beliefs about murder that are better, which you claim is a loaded question that removes us further from a discussion about evaluating the morality of non-Objectivists. Your repeated claim about moral relativism appears to be based a judgment that I don't care or mind what others do, so long as they are free to choose actions that don't involve murder, theft, etc.

 

 

So my question to you now is, why should I care? Isn't that the moral good of having the liberty to pursue happiness so long as you allow others to do the same?? I really don't understand how the world is "morally empty" (amoral) where a diversity of belief leads to a respect for life and property, and that somehow leads to a "bad form" of (immoral) tolerance.

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...

My question is: what is this "overall evaluation"? How does one hold this in mind? I presume it's not a single number. I presume it is not even an ordinal number -- like a leader-board on which you rank everyone you know. It's more nuanced because you might judge person A as ranking higher in some aspects but person B higher in others.

...

thoughts?

 

I think a fundamental part of this "overall evaluation" is aggression.  Where aggression is absent, i.e., where individuals are free to pursue personal happiness while maintaining respect for the life and property of others, moral offense is also absent, or at least delimited to the observation of actions that may be personally morally offensive but not personally coercive.

 

I value the company of moral misfits who are only a danger to themselves.  They provide a perspective on life that either validates my own choices, or gives me something else to consider.

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If a person can act well WITHOUT thinking well, then you're saying it's possible to divorce thought from action. You'd be saying that you could lead a good life and act on faith. I've been saying that it's only possible to judge what people do. How would you propose getting into someone's head to know a person's rationality without focusing on their actions? Isn't a person honest to the extent that their beliefs result in honest actions?

 

People DO act without thinking.  They DO divorce action from thought... its called whim, evasion, acting on impulse, irrationality... you speak as though I have said something surprising?

 

I am NOT saying you could lead a "good life" or do "good" by acting on faith.  Morality in the Objectivist context has a different standard from that of religious or intrinsicist ethics.  Acting with a standard OTHER than ones self-interest but which HAPPENS to lead to the same particular ACTIONS being taken... i.e. actions which lead accidentally to a person's self-interest and flourishing, are NOT moral actions any more than a parrot squaking "2+2=4" is an example of conceptualization and performing mathematical reasoning.

 

That is why the REASON for the actions, the "why" are important for MORAL judgement of that person.

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People DO act without thinking.  They DO divorce action from thought... its called whim, evasion, acting on impulse, irrationality... you speak as though I have said something surprising?

 

I am NOT saying you could lead a "good life" or do "good" by acting on faith.  Morality in the Objectivist context has a different standard from that of religious or intrinsicist ethics.  Acting with a standard OTHER than ones self-interest but which HAPPENS to lead to the same particular ACTIONS being taken... i.e. actions which lead accidentally to a person's self-interest and flourishing, are NOT moral actions any more than a parrot squaking "2+2=4" is an example of conceptualization and performing mathematical reasoning.

The reasons, yeah, but actions, too! "Accidental" flourishing is impossible. If you could act on faith and accidentally act on self-interest, then there really no reason to say faith is bad. It would be intrinsicist to say one must act in self-interest even if faith can result in "accidental" self-interest. Part of Objectivist morality is that the only way to flourish is to be rational, and you'd never just "happen" to flourish by faith - accidental self-interest is a contradiction. Your grammar was a bit awkward, I see that you agree  with me. The problem I have and had is that you said:

 

"So, I would argue it matters less, WHAT a religious person does, because it says nothing about their real character, only about what they have been told to think, and what they believe they must dutifully do."

 

But since you can't accidentally flourish, isn't it sufficient to identify actions that lead to flourishing?

 

DA:

Consider that there are degrees that a person is moral or immoral. It isn't new or interesting to say Christians are against murder. Almost all people are. I think saying "murder is bad" is simple on the level of saying "winter is cold". We can ask why these statements are true, but that's not our  purpose right now. In this way, murder is "very immoral", and I conceptualize these acts as "rights violations". Rights violators are the most immoral people, and harm values the most. It is easy enough to see this, so most people are against egregious rights violations. Clearly, a pro-murderer is still immoral, but it's an easy evaluation.

There is a lot more to consider, especially since most people are pro-murder. Morality matters more than just who is a rights violator. This where rationality comes into play even stronger, and why I suggested "normative reasoning beliefs" as a baseline. Does the person care about contradiction, for instance? Is faith a valid tool of cognition? Perhaps a person doesn't violate rights, but if they're irrational, they'll be a harm to your values. If a person ALSO has normative reasoning principles, that's better!

Past that, we can factor in more details of virtue. Is the person able to -do- good and promote their values and your values? Maybe there are honest errors about what virtue is, but if they are in fact just, honest, and productive, they're that much better than armchair academics who sit around tauting their beliefs but do nothing about it.

By morally empty, I meant boring, where there is nothing more to morality than refraining from murder - that moral action is easy, and heroic people aren't so special. It ends up with excessive moral toleration since so many people pass your baseline, even those who harm your values. Adding more dimensions to morality makes it that much more important.

Now, a rights respecting society is crucial to maintain a flourishing life, but it's important to make choices in your life of who will promote your values even more. Seek those people, encourage their growth.

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