Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Evasion, Honest Errors, And Justice

Rate this topic


AndrewSternberg
 Share

Recommended Posts

1) What is the fundamental difference between evasion and honest error? Is it that an evasion is chosen, whereas an honest error is not.

2) (For this question assume that honest error is unchosen). Where there is no choice, morality doesn't apply. Justice is a moral concept. A false judgement and consequent action aimed at others can be either the product of evasion or an honest error. When it is the product of an honest error, is this an injustice or simply an unfortunate accident? Is it possible for the action to be unjust, yet the person morally clean when the error that caused the harm was an honest one?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would suggest that the fundamental difference is not that of choice so much as the knowledge and/or intent involved which preceeds the choice. By knowledge I mean an understanding of the principle and context involved in the choice. Let's try this as an example, as I think it leads into your second question. For the sake of argument assume these are the facts in each scenario.

A police officer responds to a report of a robbery. The officer sees a person matching the description of the suspect, who is also reported to be armed. The officer confronts the suspect who produces a handgun and starts to raise it in the officers direction. The officer shoots the suspect and THEN finds out the gun was a toy gun and presented no real threat to the officer. Honest error. (Yes, this has happened where I work, but I was not involved in it) Yes, it's a terrible tragedy, but one should not hold the officer accountable for the death as every reasonably known fact available to the officer at the time justifiably lead him to protect his life.

Now, same situation but the officer recognizes and KNOWS that the suspects gun is a toy, tells the suspect you shouldn't point toy guns at policemen and then shoots the suspect anyway. This is evasion, and this officer should be held accountable for his actions.

(Arguably, either scenario may be difficult to prove clearly establish but that isn't the point)

Does this address what you are asking?

VES

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Where there is no choice, morality doesn't apply."

Freedom of choice to use one's reason.

Freedom of choice to act on one's reason.

If someone makes an honest error, then the error was not chosen, but the use of one's reason was freely chosen.

The man who makes an honest error and acts on that error still has free choice and morality therefore does apply but it depends on the context as RationalCop pointed out.

So for the first example of the policeman, morality does apply and the policeman was moral, not amoral.

I made a distinction between freedom to use one's reason and freedom to act on one's reason for the purpose of explanation, but the second is a corollary of the first. If one is not free to reason he is not free to act.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

RationalCop,

The first police officer chose to take all the available facts into account, the seccond, didn't. You still havn't shown me that choice is not the fundamental distinction.

would suggest that the fundamental difference is not that of choice so much as the knowledge and/or intent involved which preceeds the choice.

The intent involved IS the choice I'm talking about. It is the choice to use Reason, to take all the available facts into account all the time, to the full extent that their mind is able.

As Stephen Speicher pointed out to me in another related thread, it is the method that one chooses. If you choose to use reason, and then meet its demands, when your knowledge falls short due to a missed fact, then it was out of your control; you did everything in your power to grasp reality but failed. Thus you can't be morally blamed for any negative consequences that follow from that missed fact.

Follow-up Question (Anyone is still free to answer the first two as well) :

3) Responsiblity is a moral concept, right? Are you responsible for all of your actions even those which follow from a failure of knowledge due to honest error?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What is the fundamental difference between evasion and honest error?  Is it that an evasion is chosen, whereas an honest error is not.

That is an interesting way of putting it. But, yes, from that perspective evasion is a volitional choice to reduce or eliminate a required awareness, whereas an honest error can occur because man is neither omniscient nor omnipotent, not because of a choice to misuse one's consciousness.

Justice is a moral concept.  A false judgement and consequent action aimed at others can be either the product of evasion or an honest error.  When it is the product of an honest error, is this an injustice or simply an unfortunate accident?  Is it possible for the action to be unjust, yet the person morally clean when the error that caused the harm was an honest one?

Strictly speaking, you cannot separate morally the nature of a man's action from the consequences of the act. If a man acts morally, then no injustice has been done. To claim so would make justice pertain to metaphysical reality, rather than directly to the acts of man. A hurricane is neither just nor injust; any accidental consequences to man from that hurricane cannot attribute an injustice to reality.

Now, with that said, I think there is a sense in which we can extend our moral terminology to apply to accidental harm, but that is only in a very loose and extended manner. We might bemoan, emotionally, the injustice of a great life struck down too early, but strictly and properly speaking we cannot attribute injustice to metaphysical reality.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Responsiblity is a moral concept, right?

In a derivative sense, yes, but I think that the primary moral sense lies in whether or not we accept and act upon our responsibilities.

Are you responsible for all of your actions even those which follow from a failure of knowledge due to honest error?

Absolutely!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Strictly speaking, you cannot separate morally the nature of a man's action from the consequences of the act. If a man acts morally, then no injustice has been done. To claim so would make justice pertain to metaphysical reality, rather than directly to the acts of man. A hurricane is neither just nor unjust; any accidental consequences to man from that hurricane cannot attribute an injustice to reality.

I definitely agree with this. But I prefer to keep Justice as a moral term, and use terms such as 'beneficial' and 'non-beneficial' to describe the effects of a hurricane or finding a winning lottery ticket on the ground.

Now, with that said, I think there is a sense in which we can extend our moral terminology to apply to accidental harm, but that is only in a very loose and extended manner.  We might bemoan, emotionally, the injustice of a great life struck down too early, but strictly and properly speaking we cannot attribute injustice to metaphysical reality.
I will personally shy away from this type of usage, while keeping in mind that others might mean it this way when they use it.

In a derivative sense, yes, but I think that the primary moral sense lies in whether or not we accept and act upon our responsibilities.

Absolutely!

Can you, or anyone else, elaborate on these two points.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

AndrewSternberg

"If you choose to use reason, and then meet its demands, when your knowledge falls short due to a missed fact, then it was out of your control; you did everything in your power to grasp reality but failed. Thus you can't be morally blamed for any negative consequences that follow from that missed fact."

Yes that is right.

In Rational Cop's first example of the policeman, remembering the context of the situation then the policeman's action can be determined as moral, his life was in danger and he acted in self defense to preserve his life.

The man holding the toy gun up to the policeman is responsible for his own death, he is the one who is immoral and at fault for the negative consequence, raising a gun up to someone is an initiation of force, whether he intends to use it or not is irrelevant as the policeman is not to know and cannot know, he must act to preserve his life, and that requires him to fire back. If he was to somehow believe that a man holding a gun at him would not shoot, then he wouldn't be acting to preserve his life.

"Are you responsible for all of your actions even those which follow from a failure of knowledge due to honest error?"

Didn't you already answer this question before you even asked the question?

If you can't be morally blamed for any negative consequences due to an honest error, then you can't be morally responsible for that negative consequence, but you are responsible for all your actions.

That may seem like it doesn't make sense, but using the policeman example again, the policeman is responsible for his actions, in the fact that he was in danger of his life and acted in self defense, he did kill a man but only to preserve his own life, but he wasn't responsible for the negative consequence, the man with the toy gun was.

Man is not omniscient, so although the policeman acted from an honest error and failure of knowledge (he was not to know the man had a toy gun, and could not know, it was out of his control) he is not responsible for the negative consequence.

This is best understood by looking at cause and effect.

Gunman---------Policeman

Responsibility---Responsibility

Cause-----------------------------------Effect

(raised gun aimed at policeman)-----(gun shot)

Initiation of force----------------------Retaliation of force

Immoral-------------------------------Moral

So the gunman is responsible for the cause of his own death, the policeman responsible for the effect.

Edited by GreedyCapitalist
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Can you, or anyone else, elaborate on these two points.

Regarding morality and responsibility for our actions, both points I made are tied to the fact that we choose our own actions. So the primary aspect of morality here is that we exercise the virtue of rationality and honesty in making our choices to act, and responsibility is derivative in the sense of first having accepted and acted upon these primary virtues.

As to your question of whether or not you are "responsible for all of your actions even those which follow from a failure of knowledge due to honest error," how could it be otherwise? We choose our own actions -- a volitional choice -- and to remove responsibility for our actions is to disconnect the mind from the physical world. Our actions have consequences, and as long as those actions are freely chosen we are responsible for those consequences.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 months later...

[Mod's note: Merged with an earlier thread. - sN]

I read recently that many Objectivists believe that when someone's beliefs reach a certain point of falsity they can no longer be ignorant or mistaken but intellectually dishonest and immoral. Has anyone else heard this sort of thing, and if so what were your thoughts on it?

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The article can be found here-

http://www.jeffcomp.com/faq/wrong.html#dishonest

A relevant qoute from said article -

"

Concerning the question of judging the intellectual honesty of others, Peikoff and Kelley give two very different answers. Peikoff puts forth his position in his essay, "Fact and Value". According to Peikoff:

"Just as every 'is' implies an 'ought,' so every identification of an idea's truth or falsehood implies a moral evaluation of the idea and of its advocates."

In other words, according to Peikoff, as soon as we identify an idea as true or false, this immediately implies a moral judgment of the person who is advocating the idea. In this context, 'moral judgment' means we are trying to determine if this person is being honest, or dishonest. If the idea is true, we assume that he has sought the truth. However if the idea is false, then we must decide if he has committed an honest error, or has engaged in evasion. In other words, we must determine the person's state of mind. Peikoff offers a simple test to make this determination:

"The general principle here is: truth implies as its cause a virtuous mental process; falsehood, beyond a certain point, implies a process of vice."

In other words, if your idea is false, and the falsehood goes beyond a 'certain point,' then you cannot simply be guilty of an honest error in your thinking. Rather, you must have engaged in evasion, which is the root of all evil."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I read recently that many Objectivists beleive that when someone's beleifs reach a certain point of falsity they can no longer be ignorant or mistaken but intellectually dishonest and immoral. Has anyone else heard this sort of thing, and if so what were your thoughts on it?

Any "evasion" is immoral, and therefore an evil. End of story. If one's "belief"

(note the spelling of belief) is known to be an evasion, then it is immoral.

Evasion implies volition to "evade", and therefore can not be said to be "honest"

(as in "an honest mistake") in any way.

It would be helpful (to me at least) if you would actually state your question as

YOUR question, and not as some thirdhand hearsay about characters we don't know and aren't specified.

In other words: "When someone's beliefs reach a certain point of falsity, is their

continued holding of that belief 'intellectually dishonest and immoral", or merely

ignorant or mistaken?"

This ALMOST answers itself.

-Iakeo

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I read recently that many Objectivists beleive that when someone's beleifs reach a certain point of falsity they can no longer be ignorant or mistaken but intellectually dishonest and immoral.

I think this "certain point" language is a rather unfortunate way of phrasing it. It is true that the more egregious the falsehood of a person's ideas, the more likely it is that he is dishonest, but of course a likelihood is no grounds for a conviction. The essential distinction to make has to do not with the quantity of false ideas but the way they were reached.

"Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience. But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought. That which you do not know, is not a moral charge against you; but that which you refuse to know, is an account of infamy growing in your soul."
Link to comment
Share on other sites

My reaction to this article is to ignore it

I would ignore that article

Bad philosophy shouldn't be ignored; it should be refuted. So here is what's REALLY wrong with it:

  • For someone who claims to be in full agreement with "the fundamental principles of Objectivism," the author seems to be mighty enthusiastic about seizing every opportunity to denigrate it: "What's REALLY Wrong With Objectivism?" "The victims of such attacks frequently conclude that Objectivism is simply another nutty cult" "the in-fighting, warring factions, and schisms would rival those of any religious cult" "It would be difficult to find a modern day religion that tosses off the word 'evil' as frequently as Objectivism uses it" "This propensity to engage in unjust moral condemnation is also what keeps Objectivism a tiny, insignificant intellectual movement that has all the appearance of a religious cult, and is seldom taken seriously in the academic world" "The unjust moralizing, which has become a virtual trademark of Objectivism" "Ayn Rand has unleashed a reign of intellectual terrorism" &c &c ad nauseam.
  • The author is lying when he calls Objectivism "a movement where a single mistake can result in having one's character, morality, and honesty attacked." This is not how we do things on this forum at all.
  • The author is proposing to rewrite Objectivist epistemology and to simply discard its ethics--"The psychological concepts of 'evil,' 'evasion,' and 'inherently dishonest ideas' can be discarded"--and has the audacity to say that these alterations will have "no significant effect on the structure of the philosophy." What would Objectivist epistemology look like if we were forbidden from discussing evasion? And if we can see no evil and do no evil, what do we need an ethics for?
  • The author either fails to understand or evades the fact that people are responsible for their ideas, and that their ideas determine their actions: "They cannot understand how their character and honesty can be judged solely by the ideas they have proposed or defended." A bad character leads to bad ideas and a good character leads to good ideas, that is how.
  • The author either fails to understand or evades the fact that honesty vs. dishonesty IS the way a person exercises his volition: "Because human beings have free will, and can make enormous mistakes on the conceptual level, there is always the possibility that a particular academic Marxist is holding his ideas honestly."--If a man can willfully make a "mistake" and still qualify as honest, what then, pray tell, qualifies as dishonest?
  • The author claims that you can never know for sure when another person is evading. The other day, two colleagues of mine were having a discussion about American foreign policy. When the anti-American one ran out of arguments, he countered the pro-American arguments by saying, "But I still feel that it is wrong." Having been presented with a logical line of reasoning for why he should change his mind, he refused to change his mind and snuggled up to his warm and fuzzy feelings instead. If you say we cannot know from this that he was evading, then I know you are evading.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bad philosophy shouldn't be ignored; it should be refuted. So here is what's REALLY wrong with it:
  • For someone who claims to be in full agreement with "the fundamental principles of Objectivism," the author seems to be mighty enthusiastic about seizing every opportunity to denigrate it: "What's REALLY Wrong With Objectivism?"...

Hear hear...!

..and it's just silly to avoid such a fruitful (and fun) conversation..!

-Iakeo

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I could be COMPLETELY wrong in this, but I believe the basic question to be a matter of someone saying,

Honest "mistake"

Person 1- I believe in god because I was raised to do so.

Person 2 - There is no god because these reasons (proceeds to use reason/logic to explain to person 1)

Person 1- You may be right, I need to think more about this

Evasion/evil/immorality

Person 1- I believe in god because I was raised to do so.

Person 2 - There is no god because these reasons (proceeds to use reason/logic to explain to person 1)

Person 1- No! You're wrong, YOu're going to burn in Hell!

At least, that's my interpretation of the question.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I could be COMPLETELY wrong in this, but I believe the basic question to be a matter of someone saying,

Honest "mistake"

Person 1- I believe in god because I was raised to do so.

Person 2 - There is no god because these reasons (proceeds to use reason/logic to explain to person 1)

Person 1- You may be right, I need to think more about this

Evasion/evil/immorality

Person 1- I believe in god because I was raised to do so.

Person 2 - There is no god because these reasons (proceeds to use reason/logic to explain to person 1)

Person 1- No!  You're wrong, YOu're going to burn in Hell!

At least, that's my interpretation of the question.

You're almost completely wrong. Either situation could be an honest mistake.

What makes it evil is if a person agrees that fact A is true, and at the same time denies that fact A is true (often, by means of skirting around fact A and avoiding it completely).

Like, for example: AqAd who has stated explicitly that God is supernatural, but then asserts that God is knowable through reason (which is only a property of something that is natural -- supernatural means "unknowable through reason") -- clearly evading the contradiction in the two statements, despite having it pointed out to him in every way imaginable.

Unless the person has stated two contradictory facts as being true and then proceeds to ignore the contradiction, they can say "No! You're wrong and will burn in hell!" and still be making an honest mistake.

Note that agnostics understand this implicitly and refuse to take a stand on pretty much ANY fact of reality so they always have a way out without stating a contradiction.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You're almost completely wrong. Either situation could be an honest mistake.

What makes it evil is if a person agrees that fact A is true, and at the same time denies that fact A is true (often, by means of skirting around fact A and avoiding it completely).

Like, for example: AqAd who has stated explicitly that God is supernatural, but then asserts that God is knowable through reason (which is only a property of something that is natural -- supernatural means "unknowable through reason") -- clearly evading the contradiction in the two statements, despite having it pointed out to him in every way imaginable.

This assumes that the "evader" understands the contradiction. If the evader isn't

convinced of the logic of the "explainer", then he's still "innocent" (stupid perhaps,

but innocent of actual evil).

The "unconvinced innocent" is usually bewildered and confused after an encounter

like this.

The "evil doer" is usually VERY hostile..! :P

Unless the person has stated two contradictory facts as being true and then proceeds to ignore the contradiction, they can say "No! You're wrong and will burn in hell!" and still be making an honest mistake.

Note that agnostics understand this implicitly and refuse to take a stand on pretty much ANY fact of reality so they always have a way out without stating a contradiction.

Agnostics are defacto evil, as they knowingly evade ANY and every

contradiction.

See an agnostic, shoot an agnostic. That's my policy.

(( "Shoot" is a metaphor, for the satiricaly challenged amongst you. ;) ))

-Iakeo

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, stupidly enough, that was what I meant.  I apologize for my poor use of language to convey what I meant.

Nah,.. I was just agreeing with you. :)

Your usage was fine. I'm the moron that had to reiterate the obvious that you stated so well.

Just my ego, I suppose.

But then,.. we LIKE egos here, don't we..!!?

I love this place more every day..!! :)

-Iakeo

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...