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DMR

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  1. Marc K: A robber says to you, "Your money or your life." You respond that rights are a unified whole and cannot be separated. You bleed out in the gutter and die. I am not going to try and define the concept of rights at this time. Maybe sometime later I'll come back and say "OMG, Marc K., you were right and I was wrong!" For now, I will say that if your own conception of rights leads you into danger and absurdity for the sake of what you call a perfect, logical, objective deduction of morality, then, I don't know, maybe you did it wrong. It's been known to happen. Once we have finished our conceptual analysis of rights, if you want to say that for some person to demand a small share of your wealth for some purpose which is objectively in your interest is to viciously profane your sacred right to life, I am not terribly interested. My question is: can you do better? Can you build a society which violates your rights less egregiously that will survive in this world against those who would threaten it? If so, I'm interested. But I am not willing to rule out a priori that (though we're obviously nowhere near it) there is a best of all possible states, and it's going to violate your rights. I have heard Objectivists, perfectly nice people I love and respect, take up this question, and their analysis could be summarized as: "That thought is evil. Period." If this claim is wrong, there's got to be a better reason.
  2. Marc K: Your complaint might be more accurately phrased as that I am saying: in order to protect the rights most dear to you, the government must violate those less dear to you. You might find this objectionable, but I do not see how it is inconsistent. Jake_Ellison: My point here is that you seem fundamentally to be saying the government would not have to violate anybody's rights in order to do what is objectively necessary secure and protect a proper (or best-of-all-possible-worlds) society if that entire society was so rational that they voluntarily obeyed the commands of the government. I agree. I also think having a society this rational (let alone getting from here to there) is so unlikely that it isn't worth considering. Thus the government finds itself torn between violating its citizen's rights to some extent or abandoning the best possible approximation of a proper society it can achieve, given the available means. Maybe there's a false premise in here somewhere, but if you're going to claim that the downfall of Western civilization is preferable to a modest tax, I have to disagree. I kind of like Western civilization. avgleandt: If by "standing between you and the source" you mean where she is physically standing, then I cannot understand why this is a justification for use (not sure it would count as initiation) of force against her, but my example is not. In both cases, she is not the source of force, and we ask whether the fact that she has NOT done something (move, lend you the gun) means you may use force to alter what she is doing. On the other hand, we could read "standing" in the metaphorical sense, and say that by not lending you the gun, she is standing between you and resolving your situation favorably, in which case again her actions seem no different from obscuring your line of sight to the target. In any case, you say that you would take the gun because it was an emergency. Me too. Why is it wrong for the government to take a bunch of guns in response to an even bigger emergency? To clarify: Keanu's Law says simply: "Shoot the hostage." Or rather, "You may shoot the hostage in the situation described, and the moral responsibility falls on he who initiated force."
  3. Jake: So are you saying that if your only chance of survival is to shoot the hostage, you are somehow duty-bound not to? Why is that? Jake_Ellison: Would you agree then that unless the entire population (or at least X%) positively supports Objectivism, no written constitution, no matter how proper, is sufficient to guarantee a proper Objectivist government? Thales: Certainly at least one of us is giving the government an identity it does not have. And I am aware that there have been successful revolutions, although they often involve the dominant power being unwilling to engage in total war, for one reason or another. RationalBiker: Is VOS online? I cannot find it, so I'm going off of the Lexicon. That we were in a perpetual emergency would not, by itself, demonstrate that no distinction between emergency and non-emergency exists. A shipwreck (one of Rand's examples) is a perpetual emergency until you find your way home. That you have not yet done this does not demonstrate that there is no such thing as getting home again. Likewise, if we destroyed all hostile powers, our perpetual emergency would be over. If hostile powers remain, we are in an emergency. If we cannot destroy or subjugate them, we have to establish a power equilibrium. This is sort of like being shipwrecked, but having enough coconuts to survive while you try to figure out how to get off the island. It's still sort of an emergency, but certainly better than before you found the coconuts. In any case, it would be kind of silly to blame the coconuts for your predicament.
  4. Jake: Every Objectivist I have ever known accepts Keanu's Law. Some of these people now work for ARI. It is possible that they or I have misunderstood something, but not that this Law is foreign to Objectivism. I grant, in principle, that the human shield could rightly shoot you (I was assuming that he did not have a gun, or could not draw it in his position). I do not see what your short-sightedness has to do with whether your use of force is the responsibility of the initiator, yourself, or somehow split between you. In such situations, perhaps you should have known better than to not have a gun. But I should have known better than to try and shoot you. Why are you to blame for doing what is necessary to preserve yourself from my depredations? At the risk of sounding cheeky, who is Ted Logan? RationalBiker: What is the extent of an emergency? For example, in the case of me trying to shoot you, the emergency began when I decided to shoot you, not when I squeezed off the first round. I am suggesting that governments by their nature deal with the perpetual emergency that is a bunch of heavily armed warlords facing off against each other with no sovereign authority they can appeal to. Like all emergency situations, this is not likely to turn out well. All things considered, taxation for defense is not too bad. Jake_Ellison: You are quite right about post-emergency considerations. Therefore, as soon as the government conquers the world (or eliminates all opposition), it should liquidate a good deal of its defense holdings and use the proceeds to compensate those it has taxed. You're also right in how you delimit the problem. I agree that I am treating the government like a human being, and I am taking a specific position on the ethics of emergencies, namely that emergency expropriation is acceptable. I also do not think that the notion of government existing for the people is any more sensible than that of GM existing for the people. GM exists for its own benefit, which is divided among its shareholders. I say the same is true of government, except that we don't like to talk about it and it's not clear who the shareholders are. DavidOdden: I don't understand. I'm guessing that you're basically saying that I would need to posit the perpetual emergency, which I had not done when I made my first post. Now you would dispute it. FrolicsomeQuipster: Or you could shoot the hostage so that his body sags, causing the hostage-taker to drop him and become an easier target. AllMenAreIslands: I considered splitting hairs on this point, but decided against it. Marc K: Well, I suppose I could say that Rand was using "Government" as a floating abstraction, but the board rules demand I be respectful... Thales: The tax collector is assumed to be better armed than you. You are saying that the logical thing to do is to commit suicide. A novel approach, to be sure.
  5. Objectivists typically hold that taxation should be voluntary. And yet, they also typically accept that it is not wrong to use force against a third party if necessary to protect yourself against a prior initiation of force, your use of force being understood as the responsibility of the initiator. For example, If I am shooting at you, and I have taken a hostage who I am using as a human shield, you may shoot the hostage as part of your attempt to defend yourself (I call this "Keanu's Law"). And Objectivists typically accept that to use force preemptively is not wrong if one has sufficient justification that another will initiate force. Certainly, to kill another is a greater injury to him than to simply take his property. So if I am coming to kill you, and your friend Alice has a gun, but she refuses to let you use it ("It has new gun smell, you'll ruin it!"), you may steal it from her and use it to protect yourself, and the theft is not your responsibility, but mine, since I am the initiator of force. On these grounds, I submit that not only may a government expropriate its citizens for national defense, it may expropriate them solely for its own defense, with no regard to their survival. However, it is probably in the government's interest to provide complete national defense, if only to ensure that the citizens are around to expropriate next time. The blame for this expropriation rests not on the government, but on those foreign enemies of the nation who make the world dangerous. Did I screw up? Did Rand?
  6. These are not Paul's views. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Paul#.22R...ter_controversy
  7. DMR

    Prayer

    Wait, religion doesn't make sense? When did this happen?
  8. This is possible. John McVey's point about your communicating valuable information to the market is correct, although it may or may not be true that you actually do this. I would have to know a lot more about trading in general and your job in particular to know whether or not this is the case. Our government and laws are sufficiently irrational that it is quite possible to make a great deal of money via unproductive or even evil behavior. To be clear, I am not saying that this is the case, but that it is something you might want to look into. I would not want to get rich any way besides providing something that was genuinely good for humans. The virtue of a rational society is to effectively automate the solution of this question. That is, in a rational society, you do not need to ask whether or not a particular way of making money is ethical. You only need to know whether it is a safe and reliable way to make money, and, metaphorically speaking, society will ensure that a pursuit is financially rewarding to the degree that it is ethical.
  9. I disagree. I think the future is unobtrusive, precisely targeted text ads. I work for Google, and one of the things that the advertising department here is very concerned with is what is known as "Ad Blindness." The ad folks recognize that if you bombard the user with "Zap the mosquito and win a free iPod," they will stop paying attention, install ad blockers, and so forth. However, if ads are unobtrusive, but carefully tuned to the desires of the users, people are more likely to actually see the ads and buy the stuff. For example, I was recently reading a mailing list on the Haskell programming language in gmail. The system noticed this, and displayed a small text ad indicating that a company near me was looking for OCaml (a similar language) programmers. This is the sort of ad I wanted to see. In principle, a sufficiently sophisticated ad serving system could show you only those ads which you would want to see. Advertisers do not want to spam and annoy you, they just want everybody who would buy their product to do so. If they can do this more effectively and/or cheaper without annoying you, they will. And if an ad serving system can be made to show you only those ads you want to see (or to approximate this situation sufficiently well), nobody will bother to design or install ad blockers. Everybody wins. Paul Graham wrote, in the context of spam filtering, that spam is an unsolvable problem, and I think that so far as his argument goes, he's right. The only thing that will ever make spam, annoying ads, and the rest disappear is for intelligent advertising solutions to become so good and so cheap that nobody will pay spammers for their service. Sufficiently good AI could identify everyone who wanted to buy penis enlargement pills from sketchy websites and offer them this opportunity, and spamming everyone else would just be a waste of money.
  10. Hey, unlike Kelly et al, these people at least had the decency to change the name. You may not think the name is sufficiently descriptive of what they believe, and I agree, but since they are not going to call their beliefs "Christian ZOMGFAILZ0rZ!!!111," or "How do I shot Primacy of Consciousness?"* that is basically a lost cause. *If you don't get it, don't ask.
  11. I've actually read it, and that's not completely off the mark. The problem is that Swartz expects libertarianism to be like Objectivism: a well-defined, closed system such that if I say I am a libertarian, you know what I believe and what I don't. This is not the case. The term "libertarian" is fuzzy. Some use it to refer to the umbrella political position that liberty is good, and thus the term has nothing to do with what their philosophical justification for this position is (if they have any at all), or what their position is on competing philosophical justifications is. For such users, Objectivists are libertarians who believe that the only proper justification of libertarianism is Rand's (and her contemporaries') foundational philosophy. Others use the term "libertarian" to refer to their particular composite consisting of politics and philosophical foundations, and thus that other systems are "false libertarianism" or at least "less-well-founded libertarianism" (the degree of censure towards competing justifications varies from thinker to thinker). Still others may, following postmodern terminology, use the term to refer to particular composites not necessarily their own, and speak of various "libertarianisms." The point is that libertarianism has few well-specified positions, so just because a particular libertarian thinker says X does not mean that the majority of libertarians believes X, in the same way that if Leonard Peikoff says X, you either believe X or you are not an Objectivist. What I think he means is that a state that always and forevermore protects individual rights is a pipe dream, and so if we want individual rights protected, we need to get rid of the state. When he says "It would be morally okay with me, but I don't think it would work," he means it in the same sense as "If things fell up instead of down, we could build an airplane without engines or wings." When I want an airplane, I want something that will fly, not something which (necessarily) has engines or wings. It happens that given the nature of the world and the state of our technology, we need engines and wings to make working planes. Insofar as I want something which actually flies in the real world, I want something with engines and wings. Likewise, if we had the sort of natures and lived in the sort of world in which it was possible to have a state which was a genuine protector of individual rights, libertarian answers would support a state which did just that. But he believes that we either do not live in such a world or do not have such natures, or both.
  12. "So?" Apart from the fact that the argument does not, as presented here, explain why an eternal past is inconsistent with atheism, but consistent with theism, the real problem is that it doesn't do the work the theist thinks it does. If your argument that God exists is that we must postulate a God to get around the problem of an eternal past, then the only "God" this has purchased you is "Some sort of thing which, for whatever reason, gets around the problem of an eternal past." Good luck showing that anything which has these properties must necessarily have all the properties a theist would like to attribute to God. But all this is premature. We do not yet know enough about how the universe originated to determine whether an eternal past is a problem we actually have to explain, or whether this just does not accurately describe how the universe came to be.
  13. Yes, but there is a difference between "Unrealistic in that the model is the result of careful abstractions to preserve the relevance of what it says while making it conceptually or computationally tractible" and "Unrealistic in that the model is nonsense." My point is that the PD is a lot closer to the second than the first. And are we sure that the "Nobel Prize" in economics is uniformally awarded to good work? Amartya Sen got it. And I'm sure you heard that Al Gore just got the Nobel Peace Prize. I assume you mean "total utility maximization." But even for the criteria of maximization of an individual's utility, the individuals are best served if they act to maximize the opponent's utility.
  14. I was being brief in order not to have to go into points that I did not think were relevant. In the context of this conversation, the statement you quote should be interpreted as "I hold that people value money not because they recognize it to represent something, but because they recognize it to be something." No, I'm not. What is unclear about "there is nothing wrong with a stolen tennis ball AS tennis ball"? I capitalized "as" in order to draw attention to it, in the hopes that you would not make the error that you did. What I meant is that the qualities of a tennis ball which make it valuable to a tennis player--its particular size, weight, elasticity, etc. which make it ideal for the game of tennis--are present in a stolen tennis ball as well as an honestly obtained tennis ball. Therefore, if I would rather have an honestly obtained tennis ball than a stolen tennis ball, it cannot be because I wish to have something which is better for playing tennis. Instead, I must have a more general desire for honesty. Whether or not my view is consistent with or contrary to the Objectivist viewpoint is not a major concern of mine. If the moderators wish to move this discussion to the debate forum, I'm fine with that. If you think they should, tell them. As I explained when asked about my own subjective experience of dishonesty, I should perhaps have said "scientific" rather than "empirical." Basically, I am willing to entertain the idea because it is consistent with my own experience, and I know of no scientific study confirming or refuting it. What I would not do would be to count on it applying to everyone. I see no distinction. However, Objectivists often seem to act as though their motto on this matter is "We must reject the pragmatic in favor of the moral." This is as incoherent as the motto "We must reject the moral in favor of the pragmatic." In order to explicate this, I am emphasizing the practical side of principles, which never seems to get enough discussion. Does this refer to the coherency of having no principles, or whether a success in a principled life is in part a matter of chance? No. What I meant was that ignoring context was the mistake I always see in such analyses. Perhaps one could come up with a flawed argument which does not ignore context but makes some other mistake whose conclusion is that it is rational to violate rights. No. I was thinking of something along the following lines: Me: "Capitalism is moral. Additionally, capitalism will most likely lead to an unequal distribution of material wealth." A socialist: "Aha! You have made a contradiction!" Me: "No, I haven't. Had I drawn the conclusion 'Therefore, capitalism is immoral' from my second statement, I would have, but I didn't." Socialist: "Just because you didn't draw the conclusion doesn't mean it doesn't follow." Me: "Of course. It doesn't follow because it doesn't follow, not because I didn't draw the conclusion." Socialist "ZOMG i r pwned!"
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