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Rand's dismissal of the hypothetical from The Mike Wallace Intervi

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brian0918
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Sealand is not imaginary, nor is the Maldives.

And Galt's Gulch isn't imaginary, either. It's fictiona. My bad.

Irrationally tyrannical countries that want to invade other countries for no particular reason except control are possible, have existed, and probably exist now.

Not really. Even the most irratioal tyrants have a purpose in mind. The nazis wanted to exterminate those they deemed subhuman, and establish aryan supremacy. the communists wanted to expand their empire, subjugate more people into communism and help the dialectic along to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. Both goals are irrational, but they are goals.

It's not evading. That's the reality of the hypothetical, and has been from the beginning. The country is unable to get the uranium from any other source but the private owner's property. That has always been the hypothetical.

And that's impossible. There are numerous sources of uranium, including the black amrket. You're ignoring facts in order to make the hypothetical work. That's evasion.

So it is possible. Now please address the situation and explain what would or should happen.

Apparently you do not recognize sarcasm laid generously with a trowel.

Suppose an Objectivist country lacks only the nuclear material necessary to deter a tyrannical invading nuke-bearing power, and is unable to pay what other countries are asking for the material;

Why would it be unable to pay? have you any odea how big a country is and how many financial resources it has, even small countries? And have you any idea what the price of uranium is?

within this country, this material is only available on one private property, and the property owner is also asking a price the government could not afford. Should the government forcibly take the property? Would it be morally justified in doing so?

See the question above. Besides, we've already established any country larger than the Vatican ought to have multiple sources of uranium.

So I'll say it again: find a plausible hypothetical.

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A small country is possible. A nuclear missile is possible. A country wanting to invade another country is possible. A country wanting to defend itself is possible. A missile lacking the nuclear material necessary to make it dangerous is possible. Placing all of these things together is possible. Unlikely, but not impossible. Do you disagree with any of this? If not, then how is the hypothetical not possible?

Jeez, then what's the point of even remaining alive, much less acting in a moral manner? If every day is subject to hypothetical catastrophe, why should I care for anything at all?

Edited by adrock3215
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Let's try a plausible scenario. The police needs your apartment to set up an observation post for a stakeout accross the street. They ask your permission and offer a token payment. You refuse. The people they're staking out are dangerous (escaped convicts, psychotic killers, terrorists, whatever). Shoudl the cops simply burst into your apartment and take over the room they need?

Of coruse not. They should come back with a court order giving them the right to occupy the room they need for a limited, if indeterminate, lenght of time and for a specific purpose, paying a just compensation for such use. You retain the right to sue the cops, too, for violating your rights, even if it was an emergency and even if a court sided with the police.

The cops, for their part, must be as little a nuissance as they can manage, be respectful of your privacy, take care not to damage your property, etc etc.

That's worlds removed from the simple-minded "Ah, so the government can violate your rights!"

So you would say to Mike Wallace, no, government doesn’t need to steal someone’s uranium in order to defend itself; however, there are emergency cases in which government may violate a citizen’s rights.

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Can you list them again?
I said. That's not exhaustive. The worst offender in my opinion is the hostile universe assumption coupled with the impotent-America asumption. The US would not even exist, given your presumptions; we would be in the Mongol Horde days; there would be no nuclear bombs in this uncivilized hell that you prescribe. Nuclear bombs imply (logically depend on) science, reason, and civilization; force and reason are contradictory.
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Does Objectivism break down in these situations, or is it that you are simply avoiding the issue by ignoring it unless and until it becomes a reality.

I think that this is the key problem here: you (and Mr. Wallace) are attempting to construct some type of situation where Objectivist ethics would fail you. There are many such hypothetical, extremely unlikely or impossible, situations. A good example is the Prisoner's Dillema, which is what is used to "disprove" rational egoism and "prove" altruism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The dillema is discussed elsewhere on this board, but basically it just shows that if you are a prisoner in a dictatorship being interrogated you can live slightly longer by confessing to your captors, but the Encyclopedia uses falicious inductive reasoning to say that this rare circumstance somehow disproves egoism. The falacy takes the form of:

1. Hypothetical situation A is possible

2. Objectivism fails to give guidance under A

3. Therefore, Objectivism fails to give guidance under any circumstance and is false

While really, the fact is that no system can tell you what course of action to follow in a dictatorship, or in a lifeboat. No one can tell you if you should murder your friend in the lifeboat to survive or let him murder you so he can survive. Objectivism will probably keep you out of the lifeboat in the first place. What should be of a greater concern is that systems like altruism fail in normal circumstances, eg. "should I take this job?", "should I sleep with this person?", "should I vote for Hitler?"

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I think that this is the key problem here: you (and Mr. Wallace) are attempting to construct some type of situation where Objectivist ethics would fail you.

I don’t think it is necessary to impute such a motive to Mike Wallace or brian0918.

After all, earlier in the thread you wrote, “I can't capitalize this enough. WE TAKE THE FRICKIN' UNOBTANIUM.” Yet I doubt that you think that resorting to a seizure of the unobtanium is an admission of Objectivism’s failure. In the same way, anyone studying Objectivism can in good faith inquire about the limits of individual property rights in a free society.

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I don’t think it is necessary to impute such a motive to Mike Wallace or brian0918.

After all, earlier in the thread you wrote, “I can't capitalize this enough. WE TAKE THE FRICKIN' UNOBTANIUM.” Yet I doubt that you think that resorting to a seizure of the unobtanium is an admission of Objectivism’s failure. In the same way, anyone studying Objectivism can in good faith inquire about the limits of individual property rights in a free society.

Negative, you are misattributing the posts of others to me. Generally when I use explitaves I use the more colorful counterpart to "frikin."

I agree that I may have read too much into the question. So, Brian, why do you ask?

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So you would say to Mike Wallace, no, government doesn’t need to steal someone’s uranium in order to defend itself; however, there are emergency cases in which government may violate a citizen’s rights.

I'm saying in an emergency the government may violate some rights for a limited time adn a specific purpose, to prevent a greater violation by someone else, as long as there's due process and just compensation. In extreme cases, when the urgency is too great, I'd forego due process because there's no time for it.

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I'm saying in an emergency the government may violate some rights for a limited time adn a specific purpose, to prevent a greater violation by someone else, as long as there's due process and just compensation. In extreme cases, when the urgency is too great, I'd forego due process because there's no time for it.

I think this is the answer we were looking for all along. Thanks

Edited by Publius
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I'm saying in an emergency the government may violate some rights for a limited time adn a specific purpose, to prevent a greater violation by someone else, as long as there's due process and just compensation. In extreme cases, when the urgency is too great, I'd forego due process because there's no time for it.

Thanks for answering my question. It's an honest response and does not attempt to stifle inquiry by ruling out the possibility of exceptions to the non-initiation of force.

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I'm saying in an emergency the government may violate some rights for a limited time adn a specific purpose, to prevent a greater violation by someone else, as long as there's due process and just compensation. In extreme cases, when the urgency is too great, I'd forego due process because there's no time for it.

Thank you for explaining it. I still don't understand why everyone else felt to need to dismiss it as quickly as possible.

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Thank you for explaining it. I still don't understand why everyone else felt to need to dismiss it as quickly as possible.

Because you came up with an impossible scenario requiring the evasion of many known facts, which aimed to sanction legalized theft. See how loaded the original question is. I still dismiss it, along with most hypotheticals, as a cheap rhetorical trick.

That's why.

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Because you came up with an impossible scenario requiring the evasion of many known facts, which aimed to sanction legalized theft. See how loaded the original question is. I still dismiss it, along with most hypotheticals, as a cheap rhetorical trick.

It is still not impossible. Every complaint that has been raised can be addressed by adding a statement to the hypothetical. Each additional statement makes the hypothetical less and less likely, but still not impossible.

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Because you came up with an impossible scenario requiring the evasion of many known facts, which aimed to sanction legalized theft. See how loaded the original question is. I still dismiss it, along with most hypotheticals, as a cheap rhetorical trick.

That's why.

I was getting the impression that you and others would undermine any proffered hypothetical by playing a semantic game, offering any imaginable reason why the hypothetical couldn't occur, and then forcing the one offering the hypothetical to essentially prove that your strained objections were not plausible. And it is impossible to prove a negative, so essentially the argument goes in circles and the evasion is successful. We could argue ad infinitum as to the plausibility of this hypothetical, but in the end an answer still must be furnished.

Hypotheticals are used by the Bush Administration to justify the use of waterboarding in interrogation, such as in the hypothetical case of the Ticking Time Bomb scenario: a captured terrorist knows the precise location of a bomb in a populated area and refuses to reveal the location. I could undermine this hypothetical as being impossible all day (e.g. you couldn't capture a terrorist before he could kill himself, he would never reveal the bomb source, terrorists use mobile explosives so there wouldn't be a price location to reveal, etc., etc.), but I would still have to answer as to whether I thought waterboarding was a legal means of interrogation.

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It is still not impossible. Every complaint that has been raised can be addressed by adding a statement to the hypothetical. Each additional statement makes the hypothetical less and less likely, but still not impossible.

I won't argue anymore. I'll just quote Asimov by way of Trevize "It's impossible. Worse yet, it's ridiculous!"

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So rights may vary according to circumstances, specifically the needs of some versus others? In the context of Objectivsylvania’s not needing Farmer Bob’s Unobtanium, Bob has an absolute right to it. But once Objectivsylvania’s vital need arises, Bob’s right suddenly vanishes?

Sorry, I didn't explain that well. Too much caffeine maybe.

It's not exactly an issue of needs determining rights - at least, not in the sense in which I think you mean it. According to Objectivism, rights are principles which apply rationality to social interactions by defining the sphere within which a person's autonomy of decision-making should be respected by others. Rights aren't appendages, and they aren't commandments - they're principles. To say that "x has a right to y" is to say, roughly, that "in reason, we should sanction x's freedom of action with respect to y." I can't detail the entire Objectivist theory of rights here, so I'll refer you to Rand's writings if you need more clarification on that point.

This is what Objectivists mean when they say that rights are contextual. It's not that rights are fuzzy, or that they're non-absolute: it's that one recognizes another's rights because it is rational to do so. The whole need for rights comes up because, in dealing with others, we need to define what sorts of actions we can take with regard to others. Essentially, in order to live a proper life, we need to be able to pursue values, i.e. we need to be able to be virtuous. So in creating a political system, we should seek to create one which does not impede virtue. One pursues values fundamentally through the use of one's mind. Force is the antithesis of the mind - force stops thinking. So we need to prohibit the use of force.

Now, you might notice that one assumption here is that we're capable of taking long-term action. When we are, we survive and prosper by trading with others, rather than by taking from them by force. But imagine we were trying to come up with philosophical principles for dealing with others when we are *not* capable of long-term action. What might we possibly come up with? It certainly wouldn't be anything like the last paragraph. In fact - and I'll have to think this through a bit more to be sure - I suspect that the whole notion of principles pretty much breaks down when you're looking at imminent doom, since the whole argument for principles per se rests largely on long-term action.

So I think it's because the justification of rights presupposes long-term action that they do not apply in cases where no long-term action is possible due to a threat like the one I posted about before. If someone has a gun to your head, you do not try to argue with him if you can stop him through retaliatory force. If someone is shooting at you while holding an innocent in front of him, you are perfectly justified in shooting back, even knowing that you might hit the wrong person. That person, in this case (perhaps as in the case of Farmer Bob), *even* through no fault of his own, has no right against your right to self-defense.

Rights are easy to get confused about. It's fairly natural in our culture to slide into viewing them either as intrinsic (the "appendage" view of rights, where they're a feature of a person rather than a principle applied to a person) or as subjective (the view that rights are whatever society says they are). They're neither. As an application of rationality to social interactions, they apply where and only where rationality in fact prescribes respecting another person's freedom of action in a particular respect. Rationality never demands self-immolation; there can be no right against another person's self-defense in an emergency situation.

--SpiralTheorist--

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Every complaint that has been raised can be addressed by adding a statement to the hypothetical.
All you're doing is proving that you aren't talking about the possible, you're talking about the arbitrary and the imaginary. Here's why that kind of detachment from reality is of no validity whatsoever. Going back to the original question, if we join with you in considering the sayable to be the same as the possible, then we don't ever need any uranium. All we need to do is go for massively more powerful laser-initiated direct fusion bombs without plutonium triggers. Therefore it is absolutely unnecessary to ever violate a man's rights in the defense of the nation. The entire hypothetical is gone, just like that.
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It is still not impossible. Every complaint that has been raised can be addressed by adding a statement to the hypothetical. Each additional statement makes the hypothetical less and less likely, but still not impossible.
Brian, Personally, I think: if you insist that the hypothetical happened, then it's fine to take the vital supplies, as SpiralTheorist says right above this post.

However, on the issue of the possibility of the hypothetical, I would suggest you do the following. Try to construct a scenario that is based on concretes, not concepts. Imagine it happening sometime in the future. Also, imagine the series of imaginary historical developments from today that reach that point. Finally, make it plausible.

Here's a somewhat poor example, but one that illustrates the process: suppose Turkey went more secular and became a rights-respecting country, while Iran took over Iraq (with the U.S. gone), now threatening Turkey; suppose Iran had nukes and Turkey wanted them; suppose the U.S. government wanted them not to have nukes and convinced other nations to join in an embargo of some type of mineral that Turkey needs; now, there is this one guy in Turkey who has this mineral on his farm. What does this new, secular, Turkey do?

I admit this is a poor example, because it is hardly plausible:

  • that the U.S. and other countries would go along with such an embargo, without providing some other assurance (e.g. by adding some extra NATO protection for Turkey)
  • that all sorts of arms and material is available on the black-market, even to countries like N.Korea, Iran and Iraq, yet somehow even the shadiest of arms-dealers are going to be prevented from providing Turkey what it wants
  • that some Turkish guy will actually hold out for the family farm over annihilation (let's assume the Turks promise to move him temporarily, take the mineral they need and then restore the farm to the condition it was in, with experts from the Constantinople museum ensuring that he will scarely know the difference :D )

Again, I'm fine with saying that if all that falls into place, Turkey should take what it needs for survival. However, I'm curious if you can come up with a more plausible concrete example.

Another approach could be to point to some historical example where a situation similar to this happened. Either way, a philosopher can probably give some answer to all sorts of hypotheticals, but sometimes it is best to point out that the question is beyond the realm of that which one needs to consider.

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Sorry, I didn't explain that well. Too much caffeine maybe.

It's not exactly an issue of needs determining rights - at least, not in the sense in which I think you mean it. According to Objectivism, rights are principles which apply rationality to social interactions by defining the sphere within which a person's autonomy of decision-making should be respected by others. Rights aren't appendages, and they aren't commandments - they're principles. To say that "x has a right to y" is to say, roughly, that "in reason, we should sanction x's freedom of action with respect to y." I can't detail the entire Objectivist theory of rights here, so I'll refer you to Rand's writings if you need more clarification on that point.

This is what Objectivists mean when they say that rights are contextual. It's not that rights are fuzzy, or that they're non-absolute: it's that one recognizes another's rights because it is rational to do so. The whole need for rights comes up because, in dealing with others, we need to define what sorts of actions we can take with regard to others. Essentially, in order to live a proper life, we need to be able to pursue values, i.e. we need to be able to be virtuous. So in creating a political system, we should seek to create one which does not impede virtue. One pursues values fundamentally through the use of one's mind. Force is the antithesis of the mind - force stops thinking. So we need to prohibit the use of force.

Now, you might notice that one assumption here is that we're capable of taking long-term action. When we are, we survive and prosper by trading with others, rather than by taking from them by force. But imagine we were trying to come up with philosophical principles for dealing with others when we are *not* capable of long-term action. What might we possibly come up with? It certainly wouldn't be anything like the last paragraph. In fact - and I'll have to think this through a bit more to be sure - I suspect that the whole notion of principles pretty much breaks down when you're looking at imminent doom, since the whole argument for principles per se rests largely on long-term action.

So I think it's because the justification of rights presupposes long-term action that they do not apply in cases where no long-term action is possible due to a threat like the one I posted about before. If someone has a gun to your head, you do not try to argue with him if you can stop him through retaliatory force. If someone is shooting at you while holding an innocent in front of him, you are perfectly justified in shooting back, even knowing that you might hit the wrong person. That person, in this case (perhaps as in the case of Farmer Bob), *even* through no fault of his own, has no right against your right to self-defense.

Rights are easy to get confused about. It's fairly natural in our culture to slide into viewing them either as intrinsic (the "appendage" view of rights, where they're a feature of a person rather than a principle applied to a person) or as subjective (the view that rights are whatever society says they are). They're neither. As an application of rationality to social interactions, they apply where and only where rationality in fact prescribes respecting another person's freedom of action in a particular respect. Rationality never demands self-immolation; there can be no right against another person's self-defense in an emergency situation.

--SpiralTheorist--

In addressing this topic, Dk’ian has argued that “the government may violate some rights for a limited time and a specific purpose” provided that procedures are followed and compensation made.

In contrast, your position is that rights “do not apply in cases where no long-term action is possible due to a threat like the one I posted about before.” In effect, someone may lose the rights that he previously enjoyed due to the arrival of a particular threat.

Let’s consider the hypothetical you offer:

“If someone is shooting at you while holding an innocent in front of him, you are perfectly justified in shooting back, even knowing that you might hit the wrong person. That person, in this case (perhaps as in the case of Farmer Bob), *even* through no fault of his own, has no right against your right to self-defense.”

I take this to mean that at some point an innocent man (A) did possess the right not to be shot. However, once he became a hostage of (B) to be used against another person ( C ), who also might become a victim, then A no longer enjoys the right not to be shot.

I’ve heard this example used before. I find it troubling in this respect: why should C’s self-defense right supercede A’s? I understand C’s need for and right of self-defense. But what I’m not clear about is precisely how A’s right disappears in the presence of C’s emergency.

In fact, I would argue that if A somehow had the ability to prevent C from shooting him (even though A lacked any way to free himself from B or kill B), A would be justified in doing so. I would argue that even if it meant taking C’s life.

But I would not argue that any person’s rights, particularly a self-defense right, can disappear or be subordinated to someone else’s.

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I was getting the impression that you and others would undermine any proffered hypothetical by playing a semantic game, offering any imaginable reason why the hypothetical couldn't occur, and then forcing the one offering the hypothetical to essentially prove that your strained objections were not plausible.

There's no semantic game in saying an impossible scenario is impossible. The original question was why ayn Rand dismissed such a scenario, and most of us answered just that. I plan to answer the same way any other suh impossibilities in the futrue, unless I choose to ignore them.

Hypotheticals are used by the Bush Administration to justify the use of waterboarding in interrogation, such as in the hypothetical case of the Ticking Time Bomb scenario: a captured terrorist knows the precise location of a bomb in a populated area and refuses to reveal the location. I could undermine this hypothetical as being impossible all day (e.g. you couldn't capture a terrorist before he could kill himself, he would never reveal the bomb source, terrorists use mobile explosives so there wouldn't be a price location to reveal, etc., etc.), but I would still have to answer as to whether I thought waterboarding was a legal means of interrogation.

But unlike the impossible uranium scenario, this one has actually happened. Maybe not with Islamist terrorists, but with other kinds. it happens all the time with criminals, mostly those who've kidnapped someone. So there :D

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I hope I understand you correctly. Are you suggesting that property rights can in some instances be limited to those who use them rationally? If Farmer Bob behaves irrationally by not selling Unobtanium to Objectivsylvania, does the government become the rightful owner of Bob’s property?

Could we not also say that in time of war, while the primary blame belongs to the aggressor nation, citizens in the defender nation who do not volunteer their needed wealth and labor are “abbetting evil - and inviting [their] own destruction”? Would they lose their rights to those who are acting rationally?

I note that you have not explicitly endorsed a policy of seizing needed goods from the irrational. But would you?

Other individuals, not "the government", become the rightful owners of that property. It's just like the case of the Native "Americans". They lost their "right" to North America because they failed to use their property in a sufficiently rational manner. They refused to recognize the need for an objective system of law, complete with clearly defined property rights. The irrational, uranium-owning holding is guilty of a similar refusal: the need of a non-nuclear fallout saturated area of the world in which he, and his government, can operate.

So yes, the irrational, uranium-owning holdout would lose his rights - it's simply a matter of by whom. By the immoral, irrational foreign aggressors or by the moral (ie: desiring to live), rational individuals working for (and supporting) his government.

Of course, from the outset this discussion has been centered around an exceptional situation. There will always be some people who oppose the legitimate activities of their government which serve to protect their very right to oppose it. But in the vast majority of contexts their opposition has no effect on the outcome of those activities.

I have to take issue with that particular statement. Rights in Objectivist philosophy are emphatically NOT secondary to a government that secures them. They exist regardless, as a function of man's nature, and are secured by a proper government.

I do agree that the hypothetical holdout land owner is irrational if he doesn't recognize his interest in upholding and preserving the system that secures his rights.

Justice exists in the world also; independent of the government's ability to implement it. Does that mean that when some injustice is perpetrated and the government - because the victim refuses to cooperate with it as best he can - fails to correct it that justice hasn't been achieved? Absolutely not. A "victim" who, irrationally, refuses to recognize that government is the best means of protecting his rights gets exactly what he deserves - the victim status he chose. That's reality's justice.

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All you're doing is proving that you aren't talking about the possible, you're talking about the arbitrary and the imaginary. Here's why that kind of detachment from reality is of no validity whatsoever. Going back to the original question, if we join with you in considering the sayable to be the same as the possible, then we don't ever need any uranium. All we need to do is go for massively more powerful laser-initiated direct fusion bombs without plutonium triggers. Therefore it is absolutely unnecessary to ever violate a man's rights in the defense of the nation. The entire hypothetical is gone, just like that.

Again, like I said in my reply that you quote, this is just another escape route that can be corrected with another sentence that does not make the situation impossible but less likely. Try all you want, you won't make it impossible. Rand said it was impossible without even explaining why.

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Rand said it was impossible without even explaining why.
Actually, she offered some level of explanation. Also, notice that she ended that explanation with the following (to her mind) clincher: "history will bear me out".

To my mind, that underscores a key different epistemological approach between typical ethics and Rand's ethics. Conventionally, religious people see ethics as universal rules handed down by some authority, not as rules derived from the study of the nature of man and of history. Regardless of the content of such rules, these two different ideas about the genesis of ethical rules leads to a further difference. The god handing down rules is handing down universals that will apply to all areas -- after all, he's omniscient, his context is the universe and everything ever imaginable. On the other hand, an Objectivist philosopher has to discover rules by looking at history: this is how people acted in this case, and in this other similar case, and in this third similar case... and so on....what general rule of action should we devise in order to handle such cases in the future?

Somewhat of an analogy would be to say: if Newton comes up with his rules, that does not mean they will work at an Einsteinian scale. Why? Because the context is not just slightly different, but different enough to invalidate the assumptions upon which the Newtonian principle was based.

So, the emergency situation question, put generally would sound like this: "suppose I invalidate the assumptions upon which your theory is based... then how would your rule apply". For instance, suppose I assume that all humanity have the mental abilities of retards, or suppose I assume a situation where you are in a lifeboat and must kill the other guy to live, and so on. The accurate answer would be: "my rules do not apply". Or, "I have not studied those type of situations because they have never happened". This is no different from Newton saying: if you change these underlying assumptions, that I have observed as being true in all my experiments, then my rules do not apply. [Or, more accurately, one cannot claim that they would apply.]

From pp 113-114 of the "Answers" book (impromptu answers she gave to questions after speeches), has some relevant material. It has been discussed in this topic.

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