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Szalapski

Does contradiction with my flourishing life really make a value immoral?

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4 hours ago, Szalapski said:

So it seems like there is a high degree of subjectivity, taste, and opinions of various forms that play into that judgment.  One person says that two donuts a day is excessively unhealthy for him, damaging to his life, and therefore immoral; another person identical in most ways but with different preferences and cravings enjoys the donuts, values them, and thus consciously decides to risk poorer health and eat two donuts a day.  It sounds like we would not try to consider either judgment wrong--and that sounds to me like subjectivity.

Rather than "subjectivity," which carries with it a lot of meaning/baggage that I may not intend, I would say that we are discussing "individuality."

People are different, with different tastes, experiences, inclinations, and so forth. There are people who take great pleasure in what they consume (gourmands, "foodies," etc.) and I have known others to whom what they eat is no great matter. For the former, a somewhat shorter life filled with donuts (and associated foods) may be greatly preferable to a longer, abstemious existence, and vice-versa for the latter.

This is not contra one's recognition of reality, or disassociated from it such that A and not-A may be simultaneously regarded as true (which is where we would run into the kind of philosophical subjectivism Rand protests), but in strict adherence to it. It is not that one of us believes that "donuts are good to eat" and one of us believes "donuts are bad," and we're somehow both right, and there's no truth; rather, "it is good for you to eat donuts and bad for me to eat them," in some hypothetical situation, because of the reality of that situation in that we are unique individuals, and should act accordingly.

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10 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

 It is not that one of us believes that "donuts are good to eat" and one of us believes "donuts are bad," and we're somehow both right, and there's no truth; rather, "it is good for you to eat donuts and bad for me to eat them," in some hypothetical situation, because of the reality of that situation in that we are unique individuals, and should act accordingly.

There, I get that.  I agree that seems to be Objectivism.  But my problem comes up in that, in matters of morality that are more obvious such as stealing from the vulnerable, the above approach is not used.  Now I know Objectivists would say that is because a thief violates the victim's rights (life, existence, identity) and therefore it is a violation of objective values--an irrational act of self-interest.

I just don't see a difference between the two scenarios: if I can rightly choose an unhealthy eating habit because my subjective (individual?) desire for enjoyment can override the small but significant health drawback, why can't I likewise choose to steal donuts so that my individual desire for free donuts can override the individual rights of another?  Both are causing a degree of harm to a life in order to get enjoyment for myself.  Can you help explain how these scenarios are different?

Edited by Szalapski

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2 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Which is better, chocolate or vanilla ice-cream? Within each category of values there is a high degree of optionality. When two choices are interchangeable, you need an objective criteria to pick a winner - and that criteria is precisely your personal taste.

Unlike most food preferences, some tastes stem from subconscious convictions or automatized emotional associations. As long as you identify their source, tastes play an important role in choosing values.

Right, that's why I chose a scenario that is beyond personal taste: a potentially unhealthy decision.  At some point unhealthy actions harm my life and therefore immoral under Objectivism.

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1 hour ago, Szalapski said:

There, I get that.  I agree that seems to be Objectivism.  But my problem comes up in that, in matters of morality that are more obvious such as stealing from the vulnerable, the above approach is not used.

Why are you convinced that the approach I've described isn't used "in matters of morality"? Suppose, just for a moment, that the approach I've described is compatible with scenarios such as theft (and that deciding whether or not to eat a donut is equally a "matter of morality"). Where would that leave us?

1 hour ago, Szalapski said:

Now I know Objectivists would say that is because a thief violates the victim's rights (life, existence, identity) and therefore it is a violation of objective values--an irrational act of self-interest.

Let's leave "rights" out of it at present, which leads us towards politics; let's stick with ethics for the moment. In terms of ethics, in terms of morality, why should an Objectivist say that a person ought not be a thief? Why say that a person ought not eat a donut, or a dozen in a sitting, or say contrarily that a person can morally eat a donut from time to time? Beyond the specific answer we reach, what's the purpose of asking and answering such questions at all? What's the point?

Though there is disagreement among Objectivists about certain matters with regards to the core of the Objectivist Ethics (and you can find copious discussion of the same on this board), broadly speaking the purpose of morality -- and the reason why we should have an ethical code at all -- is so that we can enjoy our lives. So that we can "flourish." Accordingly, when we describe something as being "immoral," it is something like a shorthand for saying that it works against an individual's efforts to flourish.

This is important to understand, especially for discussions like the one we're engaged in, and it's sometimes tricky to apply because it runs contrary to what I would say is the world's pervasive understanding of morality. I find that even many Objectivists often have an askew understanding on this point.

Sitting and devoting all of one's time to eating donuts is immoral, not because it arbitrarily runs afoul of certain dogma, not because Ayn Rand wouldn't agree, not because some remote or personal deity has pronounced it so, but because there is a reality to the situation: the person who acts in this fashion will not flourish. He will not enjoy his life, but rather will suffer and die.

Now perhaps you could posit a person who believes (even sincerely) that devoting all of his time to eating donuts will be for the best. And that's fine. I've no reason to tell such a person not to do so, except for all of the reasons why I would not act likewise: the host of potential health complications, opportunity costs, etc., etc., etc. But ultimately the individual has to assess these matters for himself, weighing evidence, reasoning and so on, and at the end of such a process, if a person truly believes that eating donuts is his path to a flourishing life (or if he rejects a flourishing life as a thing of value, though that's a separate but interesting discussion in its own right), well, then, there's nothing left to say to stop him.

Of course, he may be mistaken. He may dive deep into his donut obsession only to find his health failing, his loved ones abandoning him, his bank account depleted, his face covered in maple glaze, and he might regret any number of his choices. But this is always the risk inherent in pursing our ends.

Thievery, qua morality, is not different. It is immoral (to the extent that we can agree that it is), not because it violates some strictures or social norms, but because it is destructive to the individual who pursues it. What wealth the thief pursues through his actions is minor, and fleeting, compared to the wealth of fundamental harms he does to himself, in reality.

And you might disagree with that: you might believe that a thief can steal and get away with it, not just in terms of avoiding criminal justice, but in a much more profound sense. Yet that's the case Rand made. Objectivists believe that those who survive by preying on others do inestimable harm to themselves, psychologically and otherwise, and that if you want to enjoy your life and flourish you should not steal values, but produce and trade them.

Objectivists therefore would not say that such thievery is "an irrational act of self-interest." Rather, we would say that in order to act in one's self-interest, one must first commit himself to reason -- for how else may he reliably determine that which is in his interest? And in reason, actions such as theft (very generally speaking) are not in one's self-interest, but are self-destructive. That's why we call them "immoral."

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Ah then, so you agree that the donut scenario might be immoral.  Now we're getting somewhere.  If so, and if I were really in this situation, then we could take the next step and identify under what context--which particular scenarios might be immoral.  Currently, I am content to leave that as details that could be argued in a different thread.  For the rest of this, let us assume I "cross the threshold" and I make the decision to engage in donut-eating to the extent it is immoral, as it harms my life overall.  This is, to a degree, an "irrational self-interest" decision on my part.

So back to my original question.  It is immoral because I am choosing to act in accordance with a lower value over a higher one?  This is how Rand defined "sacrifice" and labeled it evil.  So, why is it immoral to choose a lower value over a higher one?  I think I understand that one shouldn't, that it is unwise, that it is choosing to live with something of a contradiction--but that makes it an immoral act?  Why?

Edited by Szalapski

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5 minutes ago, Szalapski said:

Ah then, so you agree that the donut scenario might be immoral.  Now we're getting somewhere.  If so, and if I were really in this situation, then we could take the next step and identify under what context--which particular scenarios might be immoral.

I don't think that what we're discussing is much different than how most of us proceed normally through our lives -- and actually, donuts are a fine way of approaching this in at least a basic sense. I don't know about you, but I do eat donuts occasionally. Yet when I do, I don't eat large amounts... and I don't eat them regularly in any event.

When I have donuts, why do I stop at one (or perhaps two)? Why not eat the box clean? Well, it has to do with understanding myself, and knowing how I would feel after the initial pleasure of consumption passes. Though I may not always consider them directly and consciously, I'm also aware of potential long-term consequences. In short, I know that if I eat too many donuts, I will suffer for it -- and this suffering will greatly outweigh whatever pleasures the donuts provide. Yet if I were to refrain from eating donuts altogether in the name of "healthy living" or some such, well, that would be a kind of suffering, too.

Now, normally I wouldn't think in terms of "morality" when I'm deciding whether to have a donut or not... yet what I'm describing is a process of ethical reasoning, and it depends upon one's value system. This is not fundamentally different from other choices, up to and including theft.

5 minutes ago, Szalapski said:

Currently, I am content to leave that as details that could be argued in a different thread.  For the rest of this, let us assume I "cross the threshold" and I make the decision to engage in donut-eating to the extent it is immoral, as it harms my life overall.  This is, to a degree, an "irrational self-interest" decision on my part.

As I have said, it is not "irrational self-interest," which -- from an Objectivist point-of-view -- is a contradiction in terms. If you do something that harms your life overall, you have not acted in your self-interest.

5 minutes ago, Szalapski said:

So back to my original question.  It is immoral because I am choosing to act in accordance with a lower value over a higher one?  This is how Rand defined "sacrifice" and labeled it evil.  So, why is it immoral to choose a lower value over a higher one?  I think I understand that one shouldn't, that it is unwise, that it is choosing to live with something of a contradiction--but that makes it an immoral act?  Why?

Because it will lead to your personal suffering. And that's what we (each, with respect to ourselves) should look to avoid. Again: you might need to look past conventional understandings of morality a bit to be able to see what I'm saying. In Objectivism, saying that something is "immoral" is akin to saying that it is self-destructive. The reason why we would say that an action is "unwise" is because it will hurt you in the long run; that is also why we would say that you "should not" do it -- because it will hurt you; and it is accounting to this self-destructive harm that we would describe such a thing as "immoral."

When Objectivists discuss morality, what we're looking for is a code of conduct (in very broad strokes, and then also in specific, context-dependent application) that will allow us to live lives that are characterized by health, pleasure, happiness, etc. (i.e. "flourishing") and not sickness, pain and sorrow. That's what we mean when we say that something is moral (it leads to such flourishing) or immoral (it leads away from it).

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So self-destructive actions are by definition immoral, not because of some other philosophical principle?  I will ponder that; not sure if I can buy it. 

Edited by Szalapski

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2 hours ago, Szalapski said:

So self-destructive actions are by definition immoral, not because of some other philosophical principle?  I will ponder that; not sure if I can buy it. 

"By definition" is not quite how I would phrase what I'm trying to convey... but continued pondering can only be for the good. I look forward to your further questions and arguments.

While you ponder, I would suggest/request that you look seriously at the roots of our discussion. When we're discussing morality, what are we talking about? What is morality or ethics? I would argue that it is a guide to action. We are attempting to discern what choices we should make, what actions we should perform, in a variety of circumstances. (Or abstracted principles such that we can determine what choice to make, what action to perform, in some fresh circumstance via application.)

Well, okay (if you agree). But why? To what possible end? Why should you or I or anyone else care what choices we make? What's the point to it all?

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4 hours ago, Szalapski said:

So self-destructive actions are by definition immoral, not because of some other philosophical principle?  I will ponder that; not sure if I can buy it. 

Well now there is nothing to buy... here. 

Morality according to any philosophy has some standard (even if its irrational or subjective) which one uses within that philosophy to determine whether an action is moral or not.  If your question is about "the good", "right" and "wrong", "ethics", i.e. morality according to Objectivism, then you must remember that according to that philosophy, "life" (in a full robust flourishing sense) of the individual actor is the standard of morality.  The moral actor is the proper beneficiary of his adopted code.  

IF you reject that standard, that would be one thing, that would be asserting Objectivist ethics is simply wrong.

IF you are talking about what is "immoral" according to Objectivism, it is not possible for you not to "buy" that according to Objectivism self-DESCTRUCTIVE actions are "by definition" immoral.

Unless, that is, you have a different meaning for "self" and/or "destructive".

This is absolutely central to Objectivist ethics.

As you can gauge from the discussion so far determining just what IS self-destructive in the context of the particular person and situation can be complicated and nuanced.  Do not be tempted to make ethical judgment without a lot of thought, over simplification leads to error.  e.g. it is morally good to take water into your system when you are thirsty, it would be morally wrong for you to do so, if you are in the process of drowning in a lake reaching for a life preserver... "drinking water" as such is neither universally "good" nor universally "bad" 

I get a nice psychological reward, mental and spiritual (pertaining to the mind) fuel when I eat a donut one in a while, in my context it IS morally good to my flourishing, which is why I do it.  Eating 1000 donuts a week... in my context would surely be disastrous.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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Look Szalapski, I get that you might be in that quite awkward stage, one in which you have grasped and KNOW something, can see the truth of something and yet some part of you rejects it, and you feel like you cannot accept it... it is very difficult, and I acknowledge that. 

Believe me, given the cultural, societal, and religious norms children are subjected to in our society over the past century, almost EVERYONE on this board was there at one point in time. (Sons and daughters of Objectivists excluded...)

Using your reason, you will see and understand some things for quite a long time before you will fully accept it emotionally.  Keep an open mind.  It happened to most of us.

 

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Hi Szalapski:) First off,  I am Mike.  Howdee:) To get to your thought,  I have this fantasy of eating a thousand dönuts, my stomach expanding, but with a deep feeling of content.  Ah,  joy! 

Friend,  do you see the difference between my joyous fantasy and the reality of how I would feel in that situation? 

This is not an issue of morality,  Szalapski. Morality is about being as conscious as you can be at any moment. With respect to eating,  your conundrum is that you have been listening way töö much to  the "words" of others,  and way töö little to the wisdom of your own body. Instead of worrying about eating töö many dönuts, try closing  your eyes and focusing on the sensation of the donut as it goes down your throat and how your hunger changes as it enters your stomach. Your body has a natural regulatory mechanism that will prevent serious overeating most of the time--if you choose to focus on it! If you do overeat, most of the time you will undereat in the future!  Mike

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