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Selflessness Scenario

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All the same, there is an example of moral action that I find interesting. Magda Trocme began the rescue of Jewish refugee children at Le Chambon. As I understand it, it began when a child knocked on the door of the presbytery asking for refuge and Trocme unquestioningly [unthinkingly?] answered "Naturally, come in, and come in."

This is basically a variation of the lifeboat ethics. Under normal circumstances, it would be moral to take in a wandering child and then call the police to have him be taken back to his parents. In this situation, however, the implication is that one is immoral if one does not put one's own life in danger to save a stranger's child. In a sense, you are damned if you do and damned if you don't, according to the implications. Damned if you do, because the Nazis will come after you; damned if you don't because the child was completely innocent, and we are obligated to defend the innocent even at the cost of our own life.

It might be best to ask the professor why he thinks this is a good example of an ethical dilemma, since it is not something one would have to deal with on a daily basis. That is, how is one supposed to live one's life using a proper morality as a guide? If you answer, yes, take the child in, are you endorsing altruism? If you say, no, are you endorsing every man for himself in an emergency situation?

Objectivism takes a far different approach to ethics -- what is it that is good for man the individual in normal circumstances when one still needs to act ethically? Did she just do it because she was a nun? Would the professor expect everyone to act "selfishly" and the more the danger to oneself them more unselfish one ought to become?

If you can get away with it without being graded down, tell him you are against selfless slavery -- and that the nun was immoral for being a nun :D

Edited by Thomas M. Miovas Jr.
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It might be best to ask the professor why he thinks this is a good example of an ethical dilemma, since it is not something one would have to deal with on a daily basis. That is, how is one supposed to live one's life using a proper morality as a guide? If you answer, yes, take the child in, are you endorsing altruism? If you say, no, are you endorsing every man for himself in an emergency situation?

It's a test case. It's not used as a guide to building a code of ethics--it's a question you ask about an ethical code that has already been built.

As for the question of altruism, I do plan on pressing the case that taking the child in is a selfish act. It's one that pursues justice in society at large.

Objectivism takes a far different approach to ethics

As I outlined earler.

If you can get away with it without being graded down, tell him you are against selfless slavery -- and that the nun was immoral for being a nun :D

I do plan on explaining that I'm against self-imposed slavery every bit as much as other-imposed slavery. But why pick on a nun? She already ruined her own life.

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I do plan on explaining that I'm against self-imposed slavery every bit as much as other-imposed slavery. But why pick on a nun? She already ruined her own life.

Actually, I'm assuming she is a nun or the equivalent, don't really know about presbyteries. But the point is that she is living a life of selflessness, and I think it would be good to point out that -- contrary to your professor's scenario -- she is not being moral by a rational code of ethics (giving up everything for the sake of helping others). I mean, it is an ethics class, correct? Why agree with his implied assertion that someone who follows mysticism is moral? or does that matter to him?

The further point is that this is not a good ethical test, because it does not deal with real-life scenarios, aside from a real case of an emergency -- and morality is not about emergencies. What if there is no emergency, how should one act? What if you just have to decide if you are going to watch Star Trek or CSI or Alfred Hitchcock on the television? In other words, we need ethics to live our lives, not just to handle emergencies; and your teacher is implying that ethical dilemmas only come up in emergencies and those are the only considerations of morality. I'm saying question his fundamentals. As others have pointed out, going by one's "intuition" or one's culturally accepted views is not being rational, and therefore is not moral. So, his whole approach is wrong, both on how to make an ethical judgment and the focus of what constitutes a morally necessitated choice.

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I don't deny that free will exists.

Yes you have, in another thread. When I asked you what you had in mind instead of free will this is what you said:

Not necessarily. Perhaps indeterminism. Or perhaps, since your arguments about determinism hinge on the capacity to determine the future, some alternative for which I have no name. Whatever name you choose, it would involve the thesis that future events can only be one thing and only that thing, rather than one of several possibilities. The future will not be subject to the choice of a will. Call that thesis what you want, though it says nothing about a determining process. [emphasis added]

So here you deny the existence of choice and yet in this thread you want us to consider the morality of some action involving choice:

Was her action moral?

Was it more or less moral, or neither, in virtue of having been a choice made without deliberation? [emphasis added]

You contradict yourself.

If it doesn't, you can see this topic to understand how the investigation of ethics is still worth-while: http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.p...mp;#entry186589

OK, so here is one paragraph of your opening post from that thread:

However, for a person who denies free will, a criticism may simply be an expression which he hopes will change the behavior of the person to whom he speaks, even if genuine choice is not involved. Moreover, many people express criticisms when they do not expect their expressions to produce anything positive—they merely express criticism because it feels good to “let it out”. Likewise, one might utter a command, “Please bring me a drink,” with the expectation that the person will bring a drink, regardless of the assumption that he did so by means of volition. [emphasis added]

This is a game to you so you should be honest with those that are replying to you and tell them what the rules of the game are. Everyone here should know that you are commanding them to bring you a drink because it feels good and that you didn't have a choice in the matter because the future has been set.

You are implying that what they say can be of value to you when you say that you will consider it. But this can't be true if you don't believe in the existence of choice. Without choice morality doesn't exist. So I guess you are tipping your hand a bit when you say:

It's a neat idea, and a somewhat interesting topic as well as format. All the same, I find his ethics rather confused. He relies heavily, it seems, on intuitions of morality. And his intuitions paint a relatively selfless picture, which I will probably soon argue is just a cultural bias.

Because to you, the one who denies free will, the only avenues open to explore our deterministic behavior would be "intuitions" or "cultural bias" -- though you really should leave room for: instinct, revelation from god, random occurrence, other mystic revelations, genetic determinism, social mind-meld based on cultural bias, blah, blah, blah.

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Would the professor expect everyone to act "selfishly" and the more the danger to oneself them more unselfish one ought to become?

This was a typo that I only discovered a few minutes ago. What I meant to say is that your professor seems to take it as a fact that everyone ought to act selflessly; that is, altruism is implied in the way the question was set up, without questioning in the least whether altruism is the correct view of ethics or not.

I wasn't going to get into the free will issue in this thread, at least not yet, but since Mark K. brought it up, I agree with him that the whole question of ethics is moot if we don't have free will. But free will and ethics involves all of our explicit choices, not just the more difficult ones. Deciding to reply to this thread or not involves ethics; deciding to correct my errors or leave them up there involves ethics; when to use a comma or a semi-colon involves ethics. In short, every choice we make involves ethics -- and if we do not have the capability of making choices, then there is no ethics.

So, the choice of the nun deciding to become a nun (or its equivalent) involved ethics, which is why I suggest bringing it up as part of the topic when discussing this example of ethics.

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Actually, I'm assuming she is a nun or the equivalent, don't really know about presbyteries.

The point is not religion, and the professor seems to distinctly be an atheist or agnostic, so raising issues about the nunnery are really beside the point.

The further point is that this is not a good ethical test, because it does not deal with real-life scenarios, aside from a real case of an emergency -- and morality is not about emergencies.

I can pose questions to science that are not every-day questions science must face, but these questions can still test the theory of science. For instance, I could ask about the rate of light radiation in a star that is 10^10 times larger than our sun. To my knowledge, no such star does or could exist--but science can still answer the question. And the answer can be informative.

By asking this life-boat question, you find out exactly what moral theory you're working with based on the answer. Like I said, it's a test, not a method of construction. If the ethical theorist answers one way, then you now have a better understanding of exactly what ethical theory he is proposing.

Yes you have, in another thread. When I asked you what you had in mind instead of free will this is what you said:

It's clear from what I've said that I was not denying free will, but rather supposing one possible way in which free will might not be real, and then describing what it would be like.

Without choice morality doesn't exist.

I think you can still preserve a modified language of "choice" and "morality" even without volition. If you're a linguistic purist, I can go with "choice*" and "morality*".

Because to you, the one who denies free will, the only avenues open to explore our deterministic behavior would be "intuitions" or "cultural bias"

Actually, you should know well enough that I deny determinism is the only alternative to volition.

Now don't get all sassy because we disagree on volition--at the very least, because it will get us nowhere.

This was a typo that I only discovered a few minutes ago. What I meant to say is that your professor seems to take it as a fact that everyone ought to act selflessly; that is, altruism is implied in the way the question was set up, without questioning in the least whether altruism is the correct view of ethics or not.

It does seem to be an assumption, which I find surprising. Like I said, I plan on objecting to the assumption.

So, the choice of the nun deciding to become a nun (or its equivalent) involved ethics, which is why I suggest bringing it up as part of the topic when discussing this example of ethics.

I could likewise bring up epistemology and metaphysics, but that's going pretty far afield, even though the conversation is predicated upon results from these topics.

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By asking this life-boat question, you find out exactly what moral theory you're working with based on the answer.

You can discover nothing about morality by asking an amoral question.

It's clear from what I've said that I was not denying free will, [...]

Here is another thread in which you deny free will:

No, actions--not even actions that I think about and then do--demonstrate my will.

You avoid using certain words but it is clear from your descriptions that you are, in fact, denying free will and that one of the things you propose instead is determinism.

I think you can still preserve a modified language of "choice" and "morality" even without volition.

Impossible. There is something called the hierarchy of concepts -- you violate it when you suggest that morality exists without volition. You suggest that dogs are moral creatures. You steal the concept.

If you're a linguistic purist, I can go with "choice*" and "morality*".

I don't know what you mean by "purist" but words do have meanings. Perhaps you could define "choice*" and "morality*".

Actually, you should know well enough that I deny determinism is the only alternative to volition.

Yes, I listed some variants in my last post. In quoting you last you do specifically mention indeterminism. So your position is that everything that occurs happens at random, that gravity at any moment may switch off and we'll going flying into space. And you propose this while denying something that is available directly to your perception. You may as well deny that the computer in front of you doesn't exist, same thing.

Now don't get all sassy because we disagree on volition--at the very least, because it will get us nowhere.

You can deny volition all you want, you just need to be consistent. Additionally I wanted to warn those that are trying to have a discussion with you that rational discussion is not possible since rationality depends upon volition -- (There's that darned hierarchy thing again.)

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You can discover nothing about morality by asking an amoral question.

Agreed.

Here is another thread in which you deny free will:

The quote you provide doesn't show me denying free will or affirming determinism. You can't provide such a quote, because it doesn't exist. In case you're unclear about where I stand, though I've said it at least ten times now, here is a definitive statement: I do not know whether there is free will. As far as I can understand, it is possible but not proven. And as a matter of fact, I deny determinism.

You avoid using certain words but it is clear from your descriptions that you are, in fact, denying free will and that one of the things you propose instead is determinism.

Impossible. There is something called the hierarchy of concepts -- you violate it when you suggest that morality exists without volition. You suggest that dogs are moral creatures. You steal the concept.

I don't know what you mean by "purist" but words do have meanings. Perhaps you could define "choice*" and "morality*".

I didn't suggest that morality, as you mean it, exists without volition. That's why I mentioned a reinterpretation of the words, or the creation of new words like "morality*" and "choice*". And no, I don't care to define them because they're not what I'm talking about, as the whole conversation is beside the point. I merely was throwing out one option, but it doesn't interest me terribly and I'm fine with dropping the whole line of conversation. We can instead just operate on the assumption that there is volition. If it turns out that there is not, then I'll engage the issue of a "choice*" and "morality*".

So your position is that everything that occurs happens at random, that gravity at any moment may switch off and we'll going flying into space.

Nope. Indeterminism isn't such a blanket claim. There may be many determinate natural laws, but a select number of indeterminate ones. Gravity, as far as I can tell, is determinate.

You can deny volition all you want, you just need to be consistent.

You can claim that I deny volition all you want... wait. No you can't. Because I don't.

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The quote you provide doesn't show me denying free will or affirming determinism. You can't provide such a quote, because it doesn't exist.

Here you go:

Whatever name you choose, it would involve the thesis that future events can only be one thing and only that thing, rather than one of several possibilities.

Since you don't seem to know the name for it, it is called: determinism; or predeterminism if you like. Or, if you are of the mystic persuasion: destiny or fate. And they all are a denial of free will.

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Again, the context shows that I am not purporting that view, but rather am describing it.

And some people would call that determinism, but apparently Objectivists insist that determinism is the belief that one can determine (as a mental act) what will be the future--which is not what I describe in your quote.

And here I thought Objectivists cared about context...

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And here I thought Objectivists cared about context...

I'll let others decide for themselves what they think you are saying. But if you really think you are being taken out of context then perhaps you would like to clear things up by telling us whether you accept as true, the fact, that you possess free will. If not, then what do you propose instead.

Fair warning: saying "I don't know if I possess free will" and then proposing something that entails a denial of free will is a denial of free will. Saying "I don't know if I possess free will" and proposing nothing instead is arbitrary and a denial of the validity of your senses. If you don't know what free will is, then just say so and then maybe you want to start a new thread, or, maybe not.

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Nice job hijacking the conversation,

Sorry, but I had no choice in the matter.

I suppose it has been determined that any time you want to discuss morality or choice I will be forced to reply in the same exact manner. (Though to preserve the illusion of free will I will have to use different words.)

Let's see ... yup, the magic 8 ball says: "it is decidedly so".

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  • 2 weeks later...
He thinks that there is an appropriate, normative morality based on objective conditions, but those objective conditions are the conditions of the society.

An individual's moral stance is made of that person's logical conclusions to the events and scenarios in life, molded by their own prefences and beliefs.

To say that there is a "collective moral stance" would be comparable to depriving someone of their unique individuality. By assuming rights or laws, you're depriving yourself of those rights by depriving a logical conclusion to them.

Human beings are the only animals that posess the logic to pursue their own resources of happiness and make decisions on what makes them happy by using a process of logic and reasoning. Taking this logic away is to reduce a man to the level of any other animal.

:pimp: makes sense to me at least...

I don't believe in any moral universalism with the exception of a mankind altruism which provides that it is hypocritical and illogical to recognize your own basic rights while ignoring the basic rights of others (such as life or property).

The only selfless act is an act in which you despise yourself for afterwards. Otherwise, you are (in some form) benefitting yourself.

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