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Are trivial optional choices open to moral evaluation

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DavidOdden
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Are you agreeing that not all choices are moral choices?

In one sense, yes; in another sense, no. I don't think you'll be successful in squeezing my opinion on this into a one-word answer to this question, despite your evident desire to do so. Here is my opinion, in more than one word (again).

All choices must be evaluated as to what effect they might have on promoting your life. In that sense, all choices must be morally evaluated (this is not moral evaluation in the conventional definition of morality, but then Objectivist morality isn't exactly conventional). However, if after some evaluation, you cannot decide which option would be more beneficial, then it's not immoral to go for either option (if you can't decide whether you want vanilla or chocolate after thinking about it, you can just pick one). In that sense, some choices have multiple moral options or zero immoral options.

I like vanilla better, but I like chocolate, too. The last five times I had vanilla. Now I think I want to have chocolate because I'm a little burned out on vanilla. However, I'm not completely sure that halfway through the ice cream I won't decide I should have gotten the vanilla!

OR:

I like vanilla best, but I have always enjoyed trying new flavors of ice cream. The last five times I had vanilla. Now I think I want to have the new Magic Pickleberry everyone has been talking about! However, I'm not completely sure that halfway through the ice cream I won't decide I should have gotten the vanilla!

My philisophical and emotional well being could be at risk for Pickleberry?

Saying that when faced with a choice, one path is usually (marginally) better than the other is not saying that your "philosophical and emotional well being" are significantly at risk with every decision you make.

Making the claim that, on average, I prefer one flavor to another is not the same as making the claim that people gain nothing from variety or "switching it up," or that I should always choose that flavor regardless of context.

Every time you're faced with a choice, you at least try evaluate the alternatives to some extent, yes? Its entirely possible that faced with the same choice several times, your preferred path could change; repetition is boring. However, once you size up the choices facing you at this particular moment, and definitively determine which path would make you happier, going on to purposefully deny yourself that path by placing something else above your happiness (adherence to a morality which values asceticism, or sacrificing your happiness for the sake of others, or w/e) is going against the path Objectivist morality would tell you to take.

I don't really understand the concern with that statement. I'm not saying anything about how people make decisions, or making any empirical claim about preferences. All I'm saying is that once all that determination judgment stuff is done with, and you have an option which you think (at that moment) will maximize your happiness, morality tells you to go with that choice. Going with any other option goes against the dictates of that morality, and that's usually what we refer to as immoral. Of course, your judgment could be wrong (you could be more sick of vanilla than you thought, you could get food poisoning, etc). Nothing that I'm saying contradicts the fact that the path to greatest happiness is very difficult for people to determine. Once you have a reasonable guess as to the right path, though, morality tells you to follow it. I don't know of too many other ways to say this.

Edited by Dante
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In one sense, yes; in another sense, no. I don't think you'll be successful in squeezing my opinion on this into a one-word answer to this question, despite your evident desire to do so. Here is my opinion, in more than one word (again).

All choices must be evaluated as to what effect they might have on promoting your life. In that sense, all choices must be morally evaluated (this is not moral evaluation in the conventional definition of morality, but then Objectivist morality isn't exactly conventional). However, if after some evaluation, you cannot decide which option would be more beneficial, then it's not immoral to go for either option (if you can't decide whether you want vanilla or chocolate after thinking about it, you can just pick one). In that sense, some choices have multiple moral options or zero immoral options.

Saying that when faced with a choice, one path is usually (marginally) better than the other is not saying that your "philosophical and emotional well being" are significantly at risk with every decision you make.

Making the claim that, on average, I prefer one flavor to another is not the same as making the claim that people gain nothing from variety or "switching it up," or that I should always choose that flavor regardless of context.

Every time you're faced with a choice, you at least try evaluate the alternatives to some extent, yes? Its entirely possible that faced with the same choice several times, your preferred path could change; repetition is boring. However, once you size up the choices facing you at this particular moment, and definitively determine which path would make you happier, going on to purposefully deny yourself that path by placing something else above your happiness (adherence to a morality which values asceticism, or sacrificing your happiness for the sake of others, or w/e) is going against the path Objectivist morality would tell you to take.

I don't really understand the concern with that statement. I'm not saying anything about how people make decisions, or making any empirical claim about preferences. All I'm saying is that once all that determination judgment stuff is done with, and you have an option which you think (at that moment) will maximize your happiness, morality tells you to go with that choice. Going with any other option goes against the dictates of that morality, and that's usually what we refer to as immoral. Of course, your judgment could be wrong (you could be more sick of vanilla than you thought, you could get food poisoning, etc). Nothing that I'm saying contradicts the fact that the path to greatest happiness is very difficult for people to determine. Once you have a reasonable guess as to the right path, though, morality tells you to follow it. I don't know of too many other ways to say this.

I undestand what you're saying and I think we are in agreement. Why you won't say what I want to hear in one word escapes me, though. You already said "some choices have...zero immoral options". That is the only point I have been trying to make. Others told me quite emphatically that every decision I make, including chocolate or vanilla, requires moral evaluation. That is a false statement, so I engaged to try to clear that up. Everyone else, including David who was the strongest on this, disappeared from the forum. That's when you jumped in, and I'm glad you did.

I wonder where the others went...perhaps I offended them?

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I undestand what you're saying and I think we are in agreement. Why you won't say what I want to hear in one word escapes me, though. You already said "some choices have...zero immoral options". That is the only point I have been trying to make. Others told me quite emphatically that every decision I make, including chocolate or vanilla, requires moral evaluation.

No one told you that. The Objectivist position (as I hopefully proved already with all the Rand quotes clearly stating that fact) is that every actual action men choose must be the result of rational evaluation in the context of ethics, not that every hypothetical choice you can make up, while pretending that men are mice in a maze, can be rationally evaluated.

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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No one told you that. The Objectivist position (as I hopefully proved already with all the Rand quotes clearly stating that fact) is that every actual action men choose must be the result of rational evaluation in the context of ethics, not that every hypothetical choice you can make up, while pretending that men are mice in a maze, can be rationally evaluated.

I WAS told that, and furthermore was given irrational reasons why it was so. That is a fact. Re-read the Forum.

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Sorry, I misunderstood. I thought you were talking about the choice you were going to make.

No apology necessary, I'm sure. I actually went back and forth from one choice to the other! You just happened to respond to the post where I had just made the jump. Perhaps I was not articulate enough...

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Saying that when faced with a choice, one path is usually (marginally) better than the other is not saying that your "philosophical and emotional well being" are significantly at risk with every decision you make.

Isn't it at risk if you consciously make an irrational, and therefore immoral, choice?

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You can't pretend that "subjective" means "optional choice".

Isn't this a common usage of the word?

sub·jec·tive   /səbˈdʒɛktɪv/ Show Spelled[suhb-jek-tiv] Show IPA

–adjective

1.existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective).

2.pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation.

3.placing excessive emphasis on one's own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric.

4.Philosophy. relating to or of the nature of an object as it is known in the mind as distinct from a thing in itself.

5.relating to properties or specific conditions of the mind as distinguished from general or universal experience.

6.pertaining to the subject or substance in which attributes inhere; essential.

7.Grammar.

a.pertaining to or constituting the subject of a sentence.

b.(in English and certain other languages) noting a case specialized for that use, as He in He hit the ball.

c.similar to such a case in meaning. Compare nominative.

8.Obsolete. characteristic of a political subject; submissive.

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If I prefer to kill people and drink their blood for dinner rather than play games in my spare time, that may be a fact - a man-made fact, but it is certainly an immoral act if I act on it

Exactly. The fact itself is not moral or immoral, how you choose to act regarding it, is.

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Exactly. The fact itself is not moral or immoral, how you choose to act regarding it, is.

I agree, though I would point out that the actions leading to that man-made fact may be immoral (e.g., even if you never kill anyone, planning or fanasizing about murder is immoral.)

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Isn't this a common usage of the word?

sub·jec·tive   /səbˈdʒɛktɪv/ Show Spelled[suhb-jek-tiv] Show IPA

–adjective

1.existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective).

2.pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation.

3.placing excessive emphasis on one's own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric.

4.Philosophy. relating to or of the nature of an object as it is known in the mind as distinct from a thing in itself.

5.relating to properties or specific conditions of the mind as distinguished from general or universal experience.

6.pertaining to the subject or substance in which attributes inhere; essential.

7.Grammar.

a.pertaining to or constituting the subject of a sentence.

b.(in English and certain other languages) noting a case specialized for that use, as He in He hit the ball.

c.similar to such a case in meaning. Compare nominative.

8.Obsolete. characteristic of a political subject; submissive.

Totally legitimate, but be wary of yourself or others switching meanings mid-argument because that would be the fallacy of equivocation. For example, this example does not support philosophical subjectivism as invoked by definition 4.

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I would point out that the actions leading to that man-made fact may be immoral

Definitely. However in the issue of trivial preferences (topic of this thread), the causes of the fact are typically in the realm of sense perception (i.e. a matter of taste) and thus outside the realm of moral evaluation.

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Isn't it at risk if you consciously make an irrational, and therefore immoral, choice?

Every little rational choice helps, and every little irrational choice hurts, but obviously some are very significant and some are relatively unimportant. That's all I meant when I said that not everyone puts your well-being significantly at risk.

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I undestand what you're saying and I think we are in agreement. Why you won't say what I want to hear in one word escapes me, though. You already said "some choices have...zero immoral options". That is the only point I have been trying to make. Others told me quite emphatically that every decision I make, including chocolate or vanilla, requires moral evaluation. That is a false statement, so I engaged to try to clear that up. Everyone else, including David who was the strongest on this, disappeared from the forum. That's when you jumped in, and I'm glad you did.

I wonder where the others went...perhaps I offended them?

Yes, I definitely agree that it's theoretically possible to come up with a choice limited to only moral options. I think that's a clearer way of stating it than simply trying to say "Not all choices are moral choices," because when talking about Objectivism, that can be taken to mean that sometimes you shouldn't try to figure out which option is better for you. That's pretty much what I mean when I say "moral evaluation" in the context of Objectivism, because Objectivist morality gives guidance in any choice that affects the actor's life, rather than just what are onventionally thought of as "moral" choices, such as how to treat others, etc.

Edited by Dante
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Can you afford the expense? Can you afford the calories? Do you have the time to spend agonizing over a choice or should you just flip a coin and get on with it?

Assume both choices are equally affordable and accessible. Assume both choices have the same number of calories. Assume neither produces an allergic reaction or ill health. Assume no one is injured (even one's self) by either choice. Is the issue an ethical issue?

Bob Kolker

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Assume both choices are equally affordable and accessible. Assume both choices have the same number of calories. Assume neither produces an allergic reaction or ill health. Assume no one is injured (even one's self) by either choice. Is the issue an ethical issue?

Bob Kolker

Leaving out one all important assumption - is one choice a flavor you like and one choice a flavor you do not?

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Leaving out one all important assumption - is one choice a flavor you like and one choice a flavor you do not?

In short, it is a preference. I was attempting to eliminate all factors except the only one that counts, to wit, what does one prefer? Now I ask, is there a moral (or ethical) import to such a preference? Some would say yes and others no. I say no. The reason I say no, is because there is no downside. By assumption, no harm flows from the preference whatever it is.

Bob Kolker

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In short, it is a preference. I was attempting to eliminate all factors except the only one that counts, to wit, what does one prefer? Now I ask, is there a moral (or ethical) import to such a preference? Some would say yes and others no. I say no. The reason I say no, is because there is no downside. By assumption, no harm flows from the preference whatever it is.

Bob Kolker

Why would a person who values his own happiness settle for second-best in satisfying his rational preferences? It seems like a failure of moral ambitiousness to me.

There is no absolute downside, but you are not as well off as you could be; there is an opportunity cost that the chooser is bearing unnecessarily, by choice.

Edited by Dante
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Now I ask, is there a moral (or ethical) import to such a preference?

A mater that is strictly about taste (which you are calling "preference" here) is not a choice. The fact that one flavor is more physically pleasurable to you than another is not a choice, it is a fact of nature. Facts of nature are not subject to moral evaluation.

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Assume both choices are equally affordable and accessible. Assume both choices have the same number of calories. Assume neither produces an allergic reaction or ill health. Assume no one is injured (even one's self) by either choice. Is the issue an ethical issue?

Bob Kolker

After you omit the context which makes the choice ethical, no. But why are you insisting on omitting the context? Consider the opportunity cost of everything else you are foregoing for the opportunity to have ice cream. When is it ever valid to omit that context? Never.

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After you omit the context which makes the choice ethical, no. But why are you insisting on omitting the context? Consider the opportunity cost of everything else you are foregoing for the opportunity to have ice cream. When is it ever valid to omit that context? Never.

I think I understand where you are coming from. Now please consider this:

1. Each person is the owner of his life and his well being.

2. Since he is the owner, he has the right to destroy his life on diminish his well being.

3. The exercise of a right cannot be immoral.

4. Therefore if a person injures himself by choice, he has not committed an immoral act.

Also, please consider this:

1. A person injures himself through an error (say slipping on an unseen patch of ice).

2. Such an error has the same import as an error in arithmetic (for example).

3. An arithmetical error has no moral import qua error, although it may have consequences. There was no intent to make the error (by assumption).

When Franscisco slipped while hurling clay at a furnace, did he do anything immoral? (reference to a scene in -Atlas Shrugged-).

When a person injures himself he does so either intentionally or by error. We have established that intentional self injury is an exercise of a right therefore cannot be immoral. We have established that an unintentional error, as such, is not immoral. What might be immoral is the refusal to admit an error is an error (i.e. evasion of fact), but the error, per se, is not immoral. Refusal to remedy the consequences of an unintentional error could be immoral. That would be the evasion of responsibility. I think we can both agree that a person bears the responsibility for the consequences of his actions. be they deliberate or inadvertent.

So I have concluded that deliberate self injury, as such, is not immoral, since it is an exercise of a right. And injury to one's self through error and inadvertence is not immoral.

Foregoing a pleasure (with intent) is at most a deliberate injury or inconvenience. Since one has the right to injure himself or inconvenience himself, doing so is not immoral.

Q.E.D.

Please criticize the argument for logic and if you would be so kind, point out any error in it.

Bob Kolker

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So I have concluded that deliberate self injury, as such, is not immoral, since it is an exercise of a right. And injury to one's self through error and inadvertence is not immoral.

You are in error because morality is more fundamental than rights. It is a specific code of morality -- one based on reason and reality -- that leads to the proper conception of rights. Rights are the exercise of morality in a social context, and just tells others to keep your hands off my life and property. However, it is certainly possible to not break anyone else's rights and still be immoral. There are all kinds of things one can do against oneself, such as being irrational overall, that would be immoral, without violating the rights of others. To say that rights violations is the standard of morality is to invert the philosophical hierarchy, rending morality as useless without there being a society, which is the exact opposite to the Objectivist approach. Under Objectivism, morality is between you and reality, not you and others; and it is precisely because it is between you and reality that other people must be forbidden to forcibly interfere with your decisions of how to live your life.

Let's say that taking mind altering drugs was legal, as it ought to be in a free society, someone sitting around and getting high all the time while neglecting his own life would be immoral even though he was acting legally (not breaking the law). Life is the standard of a proper morality, not others, and not one's relationship to others. So, you've got it backwards.

It's not up to the law to tell you how to live your life, it is only up to the law to protect you from force and fraud. It is not there to provide moral guidance.

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In short, this is the step I would disagree with.

...

3. The exercise of a right cannot be immoral.

...

First of all, I would certainly agree that accidental self-injury is not necessarily immoral, although there is room for issues like self-negligence to enter into the argument.

However, deliberate self-injury, while not rights-violating, is very much immoral (in the context of a morality in which each man should hold his own rational self-interest as paramount). A normative conception of rights is certainly part of an overall moral code, but it is not equivalent to morality. Rights are normative statements about which actions towards others should be permitted and which should not be. Certainly any conception of rights has to derive from morality, and a defense of natural rights which is not based on a definite morality cannot succeed. However, this does not mean that rights cover the entire extent of morality.

Objectivist morality is, to quote Rand, "a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life." Morality assists man in every action open to his choice, by giving him a standard by which to compare alternatives. That standard in Objectivism is the life proper to man.

Now, how people should treat others is certainly part of morality, and what they absolutely cannot do to others (rights) follows from the premises of morality. However, Objectivist morality is not limited to social interaction. This is expressed most clearly when Rand contrasts her own view of morality against those who think that morality only governs interpersonal actions, and that man would not need morality if he were alone on a desert island: "You who prattle that morality is social and that man would need no morality on a desert island—it is on a desert island that he would need it most." Even by himself, he needs to be rational and purposeful in sustaining his life, and this is the essence of morality.

While self-injury is outside the scope of many proffered moralities, it is certainly covered in Objectivism, which tells man to refer every choice he makes to his own long-term self-interest. If injuring oneself is not in one's long-term self interest, then taking that action works against one's standard of values (one's own life), and is opposite to the dictates of morality. Thus, it is immoral.

Now certainly not all self-injuries are poor long-term decisions. Breaking one's wrist to escape a kidnappers handcuffs can certainly turn out to be a self-injury with very positive long-term results. However, disregarding one's self-interest and doing harm to oneself works against one's life, whether or not he has the right to do it.

In short, there is a difference between saying that you should not interfere with others' governance of their own lives (rights) and saying that there is no wrong way to govern one's own life (morality only extends as far as rights). Objectivism maintains the former, but strongly disagrees with the latter.

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A very interesting point you make. Is moral ambition a requirement?

Bob Kolker

When discussing Objectivism, it certainly is. Pride is among the seven key virtues of Objectivism, and pride is considered to be concordant with moral ambitiousness. I feel that the best way to illustrate the Objectivist view on moral ambitiousness is simply to quote Rand, and then elaborate a bit.

When discussing pride in Galt's speech, Rand speaks of, "that radiant selfishness of soul which desires the best in all things, in values of matter and spirit, a soul that seeks above all else to achieve its own moral perfection..." as the beginning of self-esteem, and of pride being essential to achieving self-esteem.

In The Objectivist Ethics, Rand says, "The virtue of Pride can best be described by the term: “moral ambitiousness.” It means that one must earn the right to hold oneself as one’s own highest value by achieving one’s own moral perfection—which one achieves by never accepting any code of irrational virtues impossible to practice and by never failing to practice the virtues one knows to be rational—by never accepting an unearned guilt and never earning any, or, if one has earned it, never leaving it uncorrected—by never resigning oneself passively to any flaws in one’s character—by never placing any concern, wish, fear or mood of the moment above the reality of one’s own self-esteem."

So that's what Rand said about it. I personally agree strongly with the sentiment that having high self-esteem and a high sense of self-value automatically leads to searching for and selecting the very best for oneself. Most people have spheres of their life where they place their happiness very high among their concerns (when choosing friends, for instance) and other spheres where they tend to sacrifice their own happiness to other concerns (when dealing with relatives and family members, for example). Moral ambition in Objectivism is simply the desire to hold oneself as a supreme value in all spheres of life, rather than just some or most.

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