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This is how my friend justify stealing.

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The Individual
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My friend comes from a middle-income family. He doesn't receive much allowance.

He has a high regard for knowledge. Therefore he justify his stealing of music, movies, documentaries, etc (by downloading them illegally) on the basis that he shouldn't allow his financial situation hinder his pursuit of knowledge. He is willing, he said, to forgo morality for knowledge.

This is an absolutely ridiculous justification for stealing. There is no justification for stealing in the first place.

He knows it is immoral. But he isn't going to allow his morality to stand in the way of knowledge. He values knowledge more than his morality and hence he feels fine about it.

I asked him then: What has knowledge taught you? To be immoral?

He had no reply.

What does an Objectivist say to such a person?

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Music and movies do not qualify as knowledge. They perhaps qualify as "culture", but not knowledge. Documentaries may involve knowledge, but the knowledge issue is rather irrelevant anyway. The point is that he is trying to gain a value without paying for it. I think your question is hilarious.

I would be inclined to say that neither knowledge nor morality exists in a vacuum. The purpose of both is to help man's existence on Earth. Without knowledge, we can produce nothing; without morality, we cannot keep what we produce (nor understand even why we produce). If knowledge is to come at the expense of morality, rather than complimenting it, he really hasn't come out ahead at all.

We pay for things for a number of reasons. One is justice - the producer of a value should benefit from it. I suppose I would point out to him that his "expediency" can be used against him; the next time someone mugs him, taxes him, or steals from him, he cannot object, without contradiction, since he clearly does not identify the principle that producers should be paid for their work. Also, his stance that his money shouldn't limit his satisfaction of his desires could just as well rationalize anything else he wanted to do. Want to drive a car? Your inability to pay shouldn't prevent you from driving, so stealing your neighbors' keys and going joyriding is ok, right? Ask him where his reasoning goes. Does he want to live in a society that does not recognize anyone's right to exist, to benefit from their labor, to own property? The purpose of rights is facilitation of human social existence, and the society you get is the one you earn by your actions.

I have a friend who justifies stealing on the grounds that it's just convenient. Why buy, when you can bittorrent? I've argued with him quite a bit, but some people just won't accept any argument that doesn't conform to their rather limited and myopic view of their self interest. If that happens to be the case with your friend, I'd have to ask whether you value the friend more than you value his righteousness. If you do, I wouldn't press the issue terribly hard. Don't try to teach a pig to sing, you'll just waste your time and annoy the pig.

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What does an Objectivist say to such a person?

Well, the bigger issue with your friend is that he does not have an income, or any means to buy things he needs, in the first place. What would be truly beneficial for him, if he feels powerless to the point where he engages in rationalizations such as that his misery is inescapable, so morality shouldn't apply to him, is a part-time job. (I'm assuming he's in school) Then, he would be able to afford to earn those movies, instead of stealing them. (or maybe he will afford to leave the house, and have a better life, not just watch movies) That would help him, and his self esteem, in ways that far outweigh the so called "knowledge" he gains from stealing.

I'm assuming his parents feels the same way, why else would they refuse to give him money, if they have it?

Other than that, you should tell him about the consequences of his actions. Stealing is not a victim-less sport, he is hurting everyone involved in making those movies, down to the last janitor making minimum wage on the set. He isn't just being a leach off of Tom Cruise or Steven Spielberg's work, he's also hurting people who are struggling to make a living, precisely because of this wide spread practice of pirating movies. As Allotrope said, by violating another man's rights, you contribute to a culture that is anti man, and anti reason, and you shouldn't expect anything better back: when (if ever) he decides to build a life for himself, another parasite will come along and claim 50 % (or maybe by that time it will be 100%) of his life, on the same principle--morality doesn't apply to me, I can only get the unearned, because I'm poor.

I think what needs to change though is the culture, so that we have better laws, to deter movie piracy. It would be a silly goal to try to convince every idiot that it's not in their best interest to steal. Theft needs to be prevented, by the government, you can't talk any type of criminals out of commiting crimes.

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Are there no Libraries or museums in Singapore? Sounds to me like your friend wants to be fed his "knowledge" passively instead of seeking it out for himself actively.

I also like the idea of a job, like Jake mentioned

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I know people like that. This :D is how I usually feel explaining things to them. I work with someone who, in response to my 'no stealing' policy, she asked, "Well what if its from a big corporation?" Lol. Gee, where do you even start? I simply asked, "what makes the big companies the exception?" And, the answer to the million dollar question, "because theyre corrupt!" I didn't bother asking what qualified as corrupt, already sensing the liberal passion imbedded in the statement, I knew that corrupt reffered to stealing and force based objections. I asked her what the difference was when she acts in corruption by participating in the same kind of actions and mentality. Why is it okay to be corrupt because others are also?

But to your friend. He cannot say that he is an advocate of the mind while at the same time stealing the results of the mind. Moreover, morals are a kind of fact, morality therefore is a kind of knowledge. He can not claim to be an advocate of immorality and knowledge. To hold truth and knowledge as values on the one hand, and immorality and deception on the other hand as practical is nonsense. What good is the former in light of the latter? And as another person has already stated, what kind of knowledge is he getting from stolen music or movies? I might grant that documentaries are informative, but aren't these types of things readily available at local libraries and movie rental companies? If he can't fork over a few bucks to get a library card or rent movies of his interest, how much exactly is knowledge worth to him?

Also, keep in mind that his 'retorts' could very well be secondary in nature. In other words, they are apologetic after thoughts which he uses to justify his actions. He starts from emotive impulse, acts, and seeks justification after the fact.

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My friend and I, we're students.

I raised the idea of part-time employment. His reply was that he will still be limited to whatever income he receives. He wants unlimited access to his "knowledge", to his music, movies, films and documentaries. And only through illegally downloading is he able to acquire all the music and movies that he want to satisfy his insatiable thirst of knowledge.

Our polytechnic has a library. My friend borrows Music CDs from the library and rip the songs out. I've tried explaining it to him such an action constitutes stealing as well. He knows it is stealing, he knows he is violating the rights of another person(s) but he justifies his actions by saying he values Knowledge higher than Morality. He says he is going to live only once and therefore isn't going to allow a moral issue to hinder his pursuit of Knowledge.

He claims to support individual rights - rights for free speech, rights for homosexuals, etc - but says sometimes such rights can be over-ride for a higher purpose - to him, that higher purpose is Knowledge. Apparently, he has a "standard" by which he decides when individual rights can be over-ride. His standard would be: Benefit to oneself must be greater than harm to another."

He also attempts to justify illegal downloading by claiming that it actually helps the artistes. He gives an example of Camera Obscura. Because no albums of Camera Obscura was sold in Singapore, illegal downloading, he says, helped Camera Obscura by increasing their fan base and when Camera Obscura arrived in Singapore for their concert some time later, many many fans attended it thereby benefiting the band. This would not have happened, he says, if no one in Singapore hadn't illegally acquired their album.

Ultimately he thinks that, whatever form of Means is okay, as long as the End is noble.

Edited by The Individual
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His standard would be: Benefit to oneself must be greater than harm to another."

That's not a standard as he has no way to objectively determine "how much gain" vs. "how much harm". He's just a rationalistic thief.

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That's not a standard as he has no way to objectively determine "how much gain" vs. "how much harm". He's just a rationalistic thief.

Yes, he's trying to rationalize immorality.

He doesn't believe Morality and Individual Rights should be absolute; he believes it is subjective, differing from person to person.

When I attempt to explain to him why Morality and IR should be absolute, he retorts by saying "It's only your opinion." or "That's what you think."

He said to me (and I quote verbatim):

"We have different criterion for what is valid. This is what pisses me off. Who are you to say that yours is anymore right than mine. You proclaim your ideas as absolute truth. That is your opinion - that individual rights has to be upheld absolutely" and that I'm "operating on a dogmatic principle."

How do I respond to that? I believe in Absolute Individual Rights and Morality and that is my point of view. He disagrees and he has his own point of view. I have my philosophy and he has his. Is it right of me to claim that my philosophy is the best way to live and that his is not?

Edited by The Individual
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How do I respond to that? I believe in Absolute Individual Rights and Morality and that is my point of view. He disagrees and he has his own point of view. I have my philosophy and he has his. Is it right of me to claim that my philosophy is the best way to live and that his is not?

Well, depending on how well you have evaluated and integrated what you have learned from Objectivism, you can probably lay down the foundation for what rights are and how they are derived. I'd venture to say your friend has no actual foundation for his beliefs other than his own declaration. Many people who do not engage in critical thinking or who do not respond to reason make claims that facts are just opinions. You are trying to convince someone who does not want to be convinced... for all his claim to valuing knowledge, he ignores it when presented.

But then maybe if he was my "friend", I'd start stealing his stuff to see if his "standard" applies to me as well. :)

Edited by RationalBiker
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Yes, he's trying to rationalize immorality.

How do I respond to that? I believe in Absolute Individual Rights and Morality and that is my point of view. He disagrees and he has his own point of view. I have my philosophy and he has his. Is it right of me to claim that my philosophy is the best way to live and that his is not?

Well, it's not absolute morality, it's objective morality, in the sense that you used logic to arrive at your point of view, while his is arbitrary, and later rationalized. (which is an error, in his epistemology: if he didn't believe in logic, then he wouldn't try to rationalize, he would accept the arbitrary, and likely end up in some cult).

You'd have to explain to him what the source of your opinion is, why it is rational and his is not. That's a pretty complex issue, but you can at least present him with a short summary: explain how Reason ends where a gun begins, how Reason is our only means of survival, and the source of all the values he is stealing, and how we cannot interact with other rational beings through means other than peaceful, rational trade.

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Again, I quote my friend verbatim: "Sometimes morality can be compromised. You accept that as long as the purpose of that compromise is valid - and the validity is subjective - I feel it is valid for my pursuit of knowledge to trump "stealing." You can't say I'm immoral. You can't. People have different views on when it is valid for morality to be compromised. Harm does not have to be one of them. For me pursuit of knowledge is one of the valid reasons - limitless pursuit of knowledge. So morality is not absolute."

Individual rights should be applied universally and absolutely, and there should be no compromise. That is a fact isn't it? Same goes to the fact that Morality should be Absolute as well.

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Well, it's not absolute morality, it's objective morality, in the sense that you used logic to arrive at your point of view, while his is arbitrary, and later rationalized. (which is an error, in his epistemology: if he didn't believe in logic, then he wouldn't try to rationalize, he would accept the arbitrary, and likely end up in some cult).

You'd have to explain to him what the source of your opinion is, why it is rational and his is not. That's a pretty complex issue, but you can at least present him with a short summary: explain how Reason ends where a gun begins, how Reason is our only means of survival, and the source of all the values he is stealing, and how we cannot interact with other rational beings through means other than peaceful, rational trade.

Objective Morality, I get it. But should its application be Absolute and Uncompromising?

Edited by The Individual
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Your friend hasn't thought it through enough. He is actually anti-knowledge, in my opinion. Theft of any good serves to reduce the future supply, by way of reducing the incentive for future production. Everything he steals was produced by someone else's mind, using a portion of their limited lifespan. Even making the media available for purchase involves time and resources. Elimination of that person's profit eliminates their incentive to continue to expand knowledge and share it. This friend claims to be operating on a principle of love of knowledge, but is acting to destroy its production and distribution at the source, as far as he is able to. "I love apples so much I rip the tree up by its roots to reach them easier." would be a different way to illustrate the principle involved. Everything this friend says he "loves" is the product of another mind, and within the limits of his ability, he acts on the premise that that other mind should wither, starve for lack of resources, should die if it continued to provide that which he "loves".

Also, by your friends argument, the producer of the stolen items should search him out and cripple or kill him if he finds that the profit he would have gained to be more valuable than the thief's life, as long as he finds that assessment "subjectively valid" and therefore overrules morality. Your friend is a fool who operates on principles that would culminate in his own deprivation and destruction if they were allowed to be truly implemented on a large scale. I would seriously rethink this friendship, especially if he says he values it. Anyone who operates on the premise that "subjectively valid" assessments trump morality is capable of anything.

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Again, I quote my friend verbatim: "Sometimes morality can be compromised. You accept that as long as the purpose of that compromise is valid - and the validity is subjective - I feel it is valid for my pursuit of knowledge to trump "stealing." You can't say I'm immoral. You can't. People have different views on when it is valid for morality to be compromised. Harm does not have to be one of them. For me pursuit of knowledge is one of the valid reasons - limitless pursuit of knowledge. So morality is not absolute."

You should dig deeper, and find out what his view of reality and reason is. Does he consider reality an absolute, independent of people's "views and feelings" of it, and reason our means of understanding it (in a way that is an absolute, not any approximation)?

If he does, then objective moral principles are the consequence of an absolute reality, and they aren't subject to feelings, or people's views. He can disagree with your moral principles, and present his own in a logical manner (without resorting to "feelings"), but he is wrong to claim that there's no such thing as valid moral principles. If he is a pragmatist, he is one because of cultural pressure, not by choice, and he should rethink his views, until he understands where they come from.

If he doesn't believe in absolute reality and reason, then what kind of knowledge is he pursuing? Knowledge of what, and by what means?

Individual rights should be applied universally and absolutely, and there should be no compromise. That is a fact isn't it? Same goes to the fact that Morality should be Absolute as well.

Ethics definitely shouldn't be an approximation of what one "ought" to do, and morality should not be compromised. Claiming that morality is an estimate, inexact, subject to opinion, is a denial of morality, in favor of Pragmatism.

What you should explain to your friend is that Pragmatism is the denial of principles in general: moral principles, in Ethics, but also of knowledge as an absolute, and of reason, in Epistemology. Here's the AR Lexicon entry for Pragmatism:

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/pragmatism.html

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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Your friend hasn't thought it through enough. He is actually anti-knowledge, in my opinion. Theft of any good serves to reduce the future supply, by way of reducing the incentive for future production. Everything he steals was produced by someone else's mind, using a portion of their limited lifespan. Even making the media available for purchase involves time and resources. Elimination of that person's profit eliminates their incentive to continue to expand knowledge and share it. This friend claims to be operating on a principle of love of knowledge, but is acting to destroy its production and distribution at the source, as far as he is able to. "I love apples so much I rip the tree up by its roots to reach them easier." would be a different way to illustrate the principle involved. Everything this friend says he "loves" is the product of another mind, and within the limits of his ability, he acts on the premise that that other mind should wither, starve for lack of resources, should die if it continued to provide that which he "loves".

Also, by your friends argument, the producer of the stolen items should search him out and cripple or kill him if he finds that the profit he would have gained to be more valuable than the thief's life, as long as he finds that assessment "subjectively valid" and therefore overrules morality. Your friend is a fool who operates on principles that would culminate in his own deprivation and destruction if they were allowed to be truly implemented on a large scale. I would seriously rethink this friendship, especially if he says he values it. Anyone who operates on the premise that "subjectively valid" assessments trump morality is capable of anything.

My friend and I have been friends for more than 3 years and have been idiots longer.

But recently, after poring through many different kinds of philosophies, I discovered Objectivism. The first I read about Objectivism was that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or rational self-interest. My first thought was "It's bloody excellent. It's been what I was searching for." Before I discovered Ayn Rand or Objectivism, I intended to live my life selfishly. But I knew it was lacking something (because pure selfishness without regard to anyone else but oneself, selfishness at the expense of everyone else is insane) and after I read about Objectivism, I found what it was I lacked - rationality. I didn't jump onto the Objectivist's bandwagon immediately. I read on and the more I read the more I agreed - full respect for individual rights which can only mean one economic system (you guys know what it is), Reason as our way of perceiving reality, etc. I thought for weeks about Objectivism and I've come to fully embrace it.

But my friend hasn't. But I do not want to dismiss him just like that. Like him, I used to steal music and movies by downloading them illegally but I deleted everything of it since. I've bought more music CDs in the past month than I had the past 5 years. I'm trying to appeal to my friend's Reason, to explain to him why his actions are morally wrong, to change him.

He says "Knowledge should be free (in the monetary sense)" and that "Paying is an obstacle." I'm trying to explain to him that Paying for Knowledge is a mean of earning it. Otherwise, if he doesn't want to pay, he should get out, do his own research and get his own Knowledge.

It's very tough to convince him. To him, what I'm asking is too overwhelming. I'm quite sure of you people experienced the same when you attempted to Reason with your friends. I do not want to cease this friendship - Oh! My friend just contacted me through MSN to tell me I'm right about Morality. Ah, I shall continue later.

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Well, thats a good development. I can understand the attachment to someone due to shared history, my stock answer for "How do I make this person see?" type questions is close to what I wrote above. It just doesn't pay to get too emotionally invested in it, as people make their own choices. I also happen to have a very deeply rooted wariness of anyone claiming to have a subjective moral compass. Seen too much of the result. That being said, I don't know your friend. Your values are, of course, your guide. Not some internet advice. That goes without saying, but I'll say it in case I came across as authoritative.

You're right, Objectivism is a difficult philosophy to practice.

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I'm afraid we've gone back to square 1 or even further back.

The good news is he deleted those songs; the bad news is it's not based on Objective morality but his Christian religious morality ("Thou shall not steal" of the Ten Commandments).

I tried explaining Objective reality and the sorts to him. But he said "I can't ever be in a position where I do not believe in God."

Well, I think that's that. I won't end our friendship but we're definitely not philosophical friends.

Edited by The Individual
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Honestly, it might be a move for the better. Not that religion isn't destructive and wrong, but a moral compass pointing in the wrong direction is slghtly better than one spinning wildly. At least he's thinking in terms of absolutes. Perhaps you can work from there if you want to. At minimum you have a basis by which to at least partially anticipate his behavior. I'll take "I can't be a thieving, murdering cheat because Zeus tells me I must never do those things." over "I don't have a subjectively valid reason to be a thieving, murdering cheat today. We'll see what tommorrow brings." that isn't an assessment of your friend btw, just a joking paraphrasing of the views. Religion is a primitive attempt at philosophy so maybe this decision is just a waypoint on his journey, it was for me. At least the friction caused by the stealing won't be in your relationship.

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Honestly, it might be a move for the better. Not that religion isn't destructive and wrong, but a moral compass pointing in the wrong direction is slghtly better than one spinning wildly. At least he's thinking in terms of absolutes. Perhaps you can work from there if you want to. At minimum you have a basis by which to at least partially anticipate his behavior. I'll take "I can't be a thieving, murdering cheat because Zeus tells me I must never do those things." over "I don't have a subjectively valid reason to be a thieving, murdering cheat today. We'll see what tommorrow brings." that isn't an assessment of your friend btw, just a joking paraphrasing of the views. Religion is a primitive attempt at philosophy so maybe this decision is just a waypoint on his journey, it was for me. At least the friction caused by the stealing won't be in your relationship.

Yeah, Castle, at least he stopped stealing. It's a start.

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I wouldn't say his moral compass is necessarily pointing in the wrong direction, since after all he is coming to the same conclusion. But like his take on the legitimacy of theft for "knowledge" he's trying to divorce the ends from the means, coming to the same conclusion without a proper, objective basis for doing so. I'll take a bible-thumping moralist over a secular amoralist any day, but it's still far from ideal. Maybe your friend ought to look into some epistemology? Heck, I think St. Thomas Aquinas said something about "eternal and natural law" (metaphysics and I believe ethics) that would help him identify some principles without demanding he chuck his religion, if he's that set on believing in something divine.

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I probably didn't provide enough detail in my statement about the moral compass. It seems that you took me to mean it is pointing in the opposite direction of proper. The mental image I had when I said it was a compass that is a bit off the mark, but close. Say 5-10 degrees. The effect would be that in the short range you'd get pretty close results to the guy with a compass thats dead on. Just like Objectivists and most Religionists follow the no theft principle. However, at distance you get significant divergence. Similar to how theft and killing suddenly become just fine in the situation that the right "prophet" declares that its ok to steal and kill a certain group. The off compass might get you close enough for a time, but over the long run or in certain situations it will lead you wrong. I totally agree with your statement about the religious moralist vs. the amoralist. I said the same thing in a different fashion. At least you partially know what you're dealing with with the religious guy.

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I'm not sure what the reason for this sudden agreement (of two:) ) that a religionist is better than someone who is philosophically opposed to moral principles (like a pragmatist).

First off, out of the two, the one with the moral compass pointing in the opposite direction is the altruist (the religionist).

Second, a friend should be judged by his virtues first, not by philosophical views he expressed, or what your best guess is as far as his short term actions are concerned:

Not stealing because God says so is not a virtue. Making it the purpose of your life to obey God is not a virtue. Self-esteem gained from how well you listened to God's commandments is also not a virtue.

Refraining from shoplifting, or stealing cars, because you're rational enough to realize the likely consequences, is a virtue, even if you don't have an understanding of morality, and you do steal stuff that isn't punished, like pirated movies. Having the purpose to do everything you can, to further your life, is a virtue, even if your mistakenly think that pirated DVD's help you with that. (assuming that's not all you do, of course) Drawing self-esteem out of things you learn is a virtue, even if the source of your knowledge included stolen software, books, etc..

In the end, I'm sorry, but the fact that this guy found God and gave up watching movies on the Piratebay is not good news. Not for him, and not for his friends.

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Having the purpose to do everything you can, to further your life, is a virtue, even if your mistakenly think that pirated DVD's help you with that. (assuming that's not all you do, of course)

Unless of course someone is pointing out to that person why they are morally wrong and they are evading the issue. That is not virtuous.

I have to go with the idea that it is better (though not good) that he stop stealing even if he's philosophically going in the wrong direction. If he's going to be self-destructive, I'd rather it it have a reduced impact on other people.

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We are not talking about someone refraining from shoplifting because he's rational. We're talking about someone stealing because he is an amoralist, and someone not stealing because he has a religious code of morality rather than a secular one. No one said "making it the purpose of your life to obey God" is a virtue - in fact, everyone said the opposite. It also occurred to me this guy is not even amoralist, because he recognizes that theft is wrong but won't let it stand in his way. If we consider as virtuous pride, rationality, justice, and integrity, how on Earth can anyone consider this inconsistency in any way virtue? And from the description, it sounds like he believed in God and only just acted consistently with that belief. It's still better to be a religious moralist than a religious amoralist.

And of all the things to disagree with, why make religion the single biggest issue? Religion has done a lot of harm, but it has also done a lot of good. I think there are bigger problems in this world than to pick religion as the one thing that is always and everywhere absolute evil.

Going back to the person who has religion, if you want to change someone's opinion on a firmly held religious doctrine, I think the most effective approach would be to start by teaching his proper epistemology. Once he develops a more solid understanding, he may be willing to reconsider his beliefs. Flat out telling him the biggest thing in his life is wrong won't be effective, if he doesn't have the means to understand why it's wrong. Telling someone they're wrong without them understanding why is just asking them to accept your judgment on faith - the same faith that makes you disagree with religion. So try to get him to channel some of his lust for knowledge to epistemology.

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