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How can one state that something is moral?

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I have considered myself very fortunate to have discovered Objectivism because it is to me very comforting to believe that morality is not something that comes “as a thunderbolt from the sky” or from divine revelation or anything else that like that, but rather, morality is, as Objectivism teaches, objective.  I like the concept that man can be objective by recognizing the fact that reality exists independent of anyone’s consciousness and that man must acquire knowledge of reality by reason in accordance with logic and that I can therefore be objective.

 

I have, I think, grasped the concept that as a human, I am an entity of a specific nature who must act accordingly if I want to stay alive and prosper. I have, I hope, grasped the concept that I do not create reality, rather that I observe reality to gain knowledge about reality, and that I must choose what to do to achieve my values according to what I have learned about reality. I try very hard to not let my thinking be determined by my emotions or anything arbitrary and I try to form my concepts using objective criteria. I also understand from my personal experience that I do not know everything.

 

However, since I do not know, and cannot know, everything, it seems to me that my concept of morality may change over time as I gain new knowledge – that what I consider as moral today, I may consider immoral tomorrow due to some new knowledge. Additionally, as I have gotten older I have noticed that my values have changed – that what I valued at age 16 is not what I value at age 25 and what I value now may not be what I value ten, twenty, thirty years from now. Further, through personal experience and through reading, I have realized that different people have different concepts of morality and a wide range of different values. I must admit that this all makes me somewhat uncomfortable. If different people have different concepts of morality and my values and concept of morality can change what does this mean? What is moral?

 

If I think that a concept is immoral and you think that the concept is moral, are we both correct? If we are both rational people and we both use our knowledge of reality, which was acquired by reason in accordance with logic, then are we both correct and the concept is both moral and immoral? It appears that this would be a contradiction. According to what I have read, Objectivism teaches that contradictions do not exist and that if one comes across an apparent contradiction one must check his or her premises and that, inevitably, one will find that one or more of the premises is in error. But how does this work? Is one of us using an erroneous premise and we just have to discover which one of us is in error and then we will both agree on the morality of the concept? What if I think that your premises are in error and you think that my premises are in error, how do we overcome that impasse? Since I, as a human, and you, as a human, do not know everything, how do we come to a conclusion? And if you and I do come to a conclusion, what is to say that either you or I will not come to a different conclusion at some point in the future if new knowledge about reality is learned?

 

Given this, how can we say that anything is moral or immoral?

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Hi, and welcome to the forum.

You start out by saying that you agree that reality is what it is, and that we can figure the truth of reality out. To me, there is then no conflict with the fact that people have disagreements, nor the fact that values change, nor the fact that humans have a limited and contextual knowledge. I see no conflict because humans aren't omniscient. In essence, our entire existence is a long guess-and-check.

Still, that doesn't throw reality or reality-based morality out the window. All of our knowledge is based on some type of understanding of the universe. So, for example, just because we know a bunch of scientific characteristics about light these days doesn't mean that "red" or "green" is now false.

Human judgement about other humans (and other human ideas about morality) falls under the same guess-and-check. At the end of the day, you have to go on your own assessment. If you see no reason to doubt yourself, don't. If there is some question, leave room for some questioning of your judgement at a later time, when you have more information.

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An important thing to recall is that morality, in addition to being objective, is contextual. Unlike religious moralities, Objectivism doesn't tend to make blanket statements about morality. Certainly there are acts that are immoral regardless of the context (leaving aside for a minute ethics of emergencies, since that's an entirely different conversation), such as initiation of force. But many other actions are not always moral or always immoral—it's contextual, depending on the situation or event. That can be the cause for disagreements among individuals on the morality of a particular action: each of them is imagining a different context. Remember that the standard of value in the Objectivist ethics is man's life. With this as a guide, it's easy to imagine certain actions as being moral sometimes and immoral other times. As an exaggerated example, drinking alcohol is immoral when one is about to operate heavy machinery since it puts one's life in danger, but it may be perfectly moral in the privacy of one's house when one has no intention of doing anything risky. So one cannot universally state "drinking is moral" or "drinking is immoral"—the answer depends on the context. Another big example: it's perfectly moral to obscure information about one's personal life from a prying acquaintance, but not from one's own lover or spouse, because the former merely entails the establishment of a personal barrier of privacy while the latter involves deceit. So this can be one cause of confusion and apparent contradiction between the moral claims of different individuals. If you already knew all this, I apologize for condescending to you, but the way you stated "If I think that a concept is moral and you think the concept is moral, are we both correct?" suggested to me that you may have been trying to prescribe more wide-ranging, a-contextual moral rules than it is rational to do.

 

In other situations, where people are dealing with the same context for a moral question and they disagree, yes, one of them is wrong and holds mistaken premises. You are right in suggesting that the solution to this is to search for erroneous premises and let reality determine who is right. If neither individual can determine that one of their premises is mistaken, it may be necessary to let the question rest and agree to disagree. This does not mean that they are both right. One of them is in fact wrong, and hopefully they'll soon find out which so they know the correct answer, but for the time being it may not be possible.

 

It is certainly possible that you hold ideas that are incorrect (that don't properly correlate with the facts of reality). As you noted, no one is omniscient. All you can do is do your very best to make sure that there are no mistaken premises or contradictions in your reasoning and that all your ideas are grounded in the facts of reality. While this does not guarantee that you won't find that you've been in error later on, it's the best you can do to make that as unlikely as possible (and since most people do not do this, you'll be in a much better position in this respect than the majority).

 

As to your final question: Any time anyone makes a claim of knowledge, one is to assume that they are speaking from the present context of their knowledge. Of course, they should make every attempt to find all relevant information available to them before making such a claim (in order to avoid a situation such as one where a foreigner comes to the United States and, after buying something and receiving a dime, a nickel and a quarter in change, makes the claim that all American coins are silver in color), but the assumption remains that they are making that claim only given their context of knowledge. The same standard applies to claims about morality. What this allows for is errors of knowledge—where you make an incorrect claim on the basis of incomplete information. Errors of knowledge are not moral errors, though there are situations where it is a moral error to fail to admit to an error of knowledge after discovering one.

 

In summary: When someone says that something is moral or immoral, yes, there is a possibility that they are wrong. However, a claim can be made with certainty if there are no relevant facts that could have possibly been left out. So when we state that in all situations where morality applies (again this puts to the side the question of ethics of emergencies), it is immoral to murder someone, it is possible to make that claim with certainty because we have all the relevant facts on that one. In less certain situations, moral claims may be wrong due to errors of knowledge, but we can minimize that by being rigorous in our evaluation of the facts and premises that constitute these claims.

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Given this, how can we say that anything is moral or immoral?

The same way we say anything else; an educated guess.

 

However, since I do not know, and cannot know, everything, it seems to me that my concept of morality may change over time as I gain new knowledge – that what I consider as moral today, I may consider immoral tomorrow due to some new knowledge.

Yes, but this is unlikely to happen often.  Objectivist morality depends on certain facts, like your desire to live and your nature as a rational animal; these facts dictate a standard against to weigh one's options.  So while your concept of morality may change as you learn new information, this information must directly concern things like your desire to live and the nature of a rational animal; things which do not lend themselves to much revision.

 

If I think that a concept is immoral and you think that the concept is moral, are we both correct?

Only if we are using the word "moral" to mean two different things.  Under Objectivism, "greed" (as it's popularly used) is moral.  Most people consider it immoral.  This means only that Objectivist morality is different from most people's morality.  Selfishness is a pursuit of value; selflessness is an escape from pain.

I've found it helpful to read Objectivist "good" as 'what makes me empowered and fulfilled' and altruistic "good" as 'what makes me comfortable'.  That's the reason for most cases of a moral disagreement.

 

Then again, your companion could be an Objectivist who has come to a flawed conclusion, in which case their assertions are simply wrong.

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Jaskn,

 

Your post sounds great if you and I are sitting at a table discussing morality over coffee but morality becomes a basis for more than discussion. The concepts that people hold about morality are often translated into laws that are enforced at a point of a gun.

 

 

 

You state that you see no conflict with the fact that people have disagreements over what is moral, yet I learn of conflict often, both historically and present day, as people with different concepts of morality seek to force others to comply with their particular concept.

 

 

 

If morality is simply “guess-and-check” is one justified saying that one concept is immoral and another is moral and then making laws to enforce that concept of morality? To me, it seems hard to justify imprisoning someone, confiscating his or her property, or even (in some cases) executing someone on the moral basis of “guess-and-check” but maybe that is all that there on which to base a decision.

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I can't speak for JASKN, but here's my response to your post addressed to him:

 

Keep in mind that Objectivism is very particular and very certain about which laws should exist. The data exists to claim with (near-?)certainty that man has rights and that the purpose of government is to protect (through retaliatory force) these rights and not to violate them. In the Objectivist view, though there are certainly moral principles beyond "don't initiate force," none of these principles are to become laws. The principles governing initiation of force are principles about which we are fairly certain. I personally could not imagine a piece of information existing that would require us to reconsider the principles of man's rights, and I'm therefore pretty confident that none exists. The principles that are based more on "guess-and-check" are principles governing behavior in your personal life, when rights are not a consideration, and the main question is "does this benefit a man's life qua man or does it detract from it." That's because these principles vary a lot more depending on context than the principles of man's rights. So the principles on which we can be said to be mostly "guessing and checking" with a relatively low degree of certainty aren't ones on the basis of which we're imprisoning people.

Edited by 425
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425,

 

In post #3, you state that, “Certainly there are acts that are immoral regardless of the context (leaving aside for a minute ethics of emergencies, since that's an entirely different conversation), such as initiation of force.” And then you state, “When someone says that something is moral or immoral, yes, there is a possibility that they are wrong. However, a claim can be made with certainty if there are no relevant facts that could have possibly been left out.”

 

But you also state, “It is certainly possible that you hold ideas that are incorrect (that don't properly correlate with the facts of reality). As you noted, no one is omniscient. All you can do is do your very best to make sure that there are no mistaken premises or contradictions in your reasoning and that all your ideas are grounded in the facts of reality. While this does not guarantee that you won't find that you've been in error later on, it's the best you can do to make that as unlikely as possible (and since most people do not do this, you'll be in a much better position in this respect than the majority).”

 

I am confused by these statements. You claim that the initiation of force is immoral regardless of the context. Since this claim is made without any qualifying statements, it appears to be a claim that is made with certainty. Therefore, by your explanation, there are no relevant fact that you could possibly have left out which allows you to make this certain claim. But you are human and, by your nature, are not omniscient, so how can you know that there are no relevant facts that could have been left out if you cannot know everything? Is it not possible that you will find that you have been in error later on and the initiation of force is moral, or at least moral in certain contexts?

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Well, I am not omniscient, but I think it's noteworthy that I am incapable of projecting the existence of information that would overturn the non-initiation of force principle. By that I mean that I can't even imagine what that information would be. With other moral claims, there could easily be information about the context or about the effects of the actions that I had not known when making the claim that would render it false. In those types of situations, I could easily project what that information would be. In saying that, I mean that I could easily imagine "if I found out x, then principle y would be wrong." I can't project something like that regarding the initiation of force, which is why I afford that principle a higher level of certainty than I would to one that depends more on context.

 

I think there is a relevant conversation to be had about the use of the word "certainty." Leonard Peikoff argued that certainty also applies within a given context of knowledge, saying: "Idea X is “certain” if, in a given context of knowledge, the evidence for X is conclusive. In such a context, all the evidence supports X and there is no evidence to support any alternative..." I think this can be a valid use of the term, and certainly (ha!) my statements on the principle barring initiation of force could fall into this realm.

 

Also, though this is tangential, it is relevant that the principle of non-initiation of force is contextual: It applies to the context of social interactions among human beings. The existence of ethics of emergencies is also somewhat relevant in that in these types of extreme situations, morality does not apply. It is a different topic entirely, but an example of such an application might be a scenario where one is swimming away from a shark and crawls up onto the nearest available dry land, even if that land is private property.

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Your post sounds great if you and I are sitting at a table discussing morality over coffee but morality becomes a basis for more than discussion. The concepts that people hold about morality are often translated into laws that are enforced at a point of a gun.

You state that you see no conflict with the fact that people have disagreements over what is moral, yet I learn of conflict often, both historically and present day, as people with different concepts of morality seek to force others to comply with their particular concept.

If morality is simply “guess-and-check” is one justified saying that one concept is immoral and another is moral and then making laws to enforce that concept of morality?

I was talking "conflict" as in, "conflict with reality." If you believe that there is one singular reality, then a conflict, aka. disagreement, between men isn't bending the facts of existence -- that is, it doesn't conflict with reality as such -- it is simply a different judgement of reality by different consciousnesses.

Guess-and-check is the human method of navigating reality, but as I said, that doesn't mean we don't learn -- that's the "check" part. Over time, we have gained a decent enough grasp of reality, and adhere to it enough, to have been able to form societies. Clearly, people have learned. But, knowing how large is the universe, there is much more to learn. As I said before, lacking omniscience doesn't mean we haven't, or can't have, learned things up to this point.

As 425 wrote, some life principles don't need checked any longer, because they have proven true for so long -- although they do need checked by each person in order for him to know they are true. We don't, for example, expect to walk on water after the first instance of sinking through it. We might, however, reconsider our blanket judgement of a rough-looking man with many tattoos, after learning new information.

In the case of morality, great thinkers have identified and explained excellent principles to follow in the quest for a great life. We only know they are excellent or not based on our independent judgement of how well the principles match up with what we know about reality. Given the complicated nature of human consciousness, it is no surprise that there are disagreements about observations and facts. Maybe some disagreements will never be resolved in some lifetimes. But, we know that there was, and is, a reality-based morality, with a set of principles that are true, even if it hasn't been completely identified yet. We know it because we know facts are facts, and reality doesn't "bend." Things are what they are, and so somewhere in the disagreement, is the truth.

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Harrison Danneskjold,

 

If, as you state, humans determine morality with an “educated guess” how can one make a statement like someone has “come to a flawed conclusion” and “their assertions are simply wrong” when talking about morality? Isn’t it all a guess? Are all guesses about morality equal or are some guesses better than others?

 

Consider the morality of murder, since it is a common topic. I personally know a highly educated and well read individual who has spent many years in school and outside of school studying theology and religion. He believes, based on religious teaching, that murder is immoral. He has made an “educated guess” concerning the morality of murder. I am willing to bet that you have made an “educated guess” and consider murder to be immoral as well. If so, we have two identical conclusions about the morality of a concept (murder is immoral) that were derived, presumably, from different sources. Are these conclusions both valid? Are both of these educated guesses equal?

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425,

 

So even though I am not omniscient and I cannot know everything, as long as I can’t think of or imagine what information about the context or about the effects of the actions that would render a context false, then I can claim moral certainty? So, for example, I claim that taking a part of your wealth away from you in order to give it to someone else is moral and I can be certain that it is moral because in the given context of knowledge (that is my knowledge), the evidence is conclusive and in the given context of knowledge (again that is my knowledge), there is no evidence to support any alternative. Would this be a valid statement?

 

What if I cannot imagine something that would render the context false but someone else can imagine something that would render the context false and they tell me about it, would I have to accept their information and concede that my moral certainty is not certain or I am free to ignore or reject this information and still claim moral certainty?

 

But is it even necessary to concern myself with certainty and morality when all I have to do is state that there is an emergency and therefore “morality does not apply”?

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Jaskn,

 

You state, “But, we know that there was, and is, a reality-based morality, with a set of principles that are true, even if it hasn't been completely identified yet. We know it because we know facts are facts, and reality doesn't "bend." Things are what they are, and so somewhere in the disagreement, is the truth.

 

What is this “reality-based morality”? Is it similar to the laws of physics that are discovered by man? Are there facts of reality that tells humans for example what murder is and that it is immoral or what stealing is and that it is immoral? Is this part of an unbending reality that we can guess-and-check our way to discovering? 

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A reality-based morality starts with simple things that are very obvious: eat so that you can live this week, run from the forest fire, hide from the tiger, etc. Later, new ideas are tried -- stick together so we can help each other if we need to, don't attack your tribesmen or they will attack back, etc. Much later, the practicality of new ideas leads some men to devote much of their waking hours to thinking up ideas exclusively, which greatly accelerates the pace of guessing and checking new approaches to everything, not be least of which is morality.

Eventually, after a very long succession of different actions by different people, more complex and derivative principles are thought up, tried, and proven to be true over time. A language is even created to test the validity of truths completely inside one's head, if the variables are known and correct

In essence, as Rand wrote about extensively, morality starts with human life, and builds from there through ideas and discoveries.

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Jaskn,

 

You stated, “…don't attack your tribesmen or they will attack back…” as an example of reality based morality. So to continue on simple terms, the statement could be rewritten to be: it is immoral (I am assuming) to attack your tribesmen because they will attack you back. But if your tribesmen cannot attack you back then would it be moral if I choose to attack them? There is no fact of reality, as far as my knowledge goes, that states, or dictates that, my tribesmen will definitely and in all cases attack me back if I attack them, therefore I am not bending the facts of existence to say that it is moral to attack my tribesmen if they cannot or will not attack me back. It would just then be a matter of guessing-and-checking to determine if my moral claim is correct. And if I can attack my tribesmen and not get attacked back for a long enough period of time then the principal could be considered true and moral and doesn’t need to be checked any longer. Is this correct?

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In the narrow sense that you've gone along with this hypothetical, then yes, that principle would be true and moral. But, we know much more than that now, and can form concepts such as rationality, individualism, and rights. These concepts are true and can be proven, but they were arrived at through a lengthy process of guessing and checking. Even now, once they are "proved" to someone who was previously ignorant, he must do the necessary mental work of checking the information against what he already knows, in order to verify as true or false the new, derivative concepts of reality, and morality.

It's a long way from Neanderthal to rights-respecting citizen, but the path is traceable, provable, and founded on a reality-based morality.

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425,

So even though I am not omniscient and I cannot know everything, as long as I can’t think of or imagine what information about the context or about the effects of the actions that would render a context false, then I can claim moral certainty? So, for example, I claim that taking a part of your wealth away from you in order to give it to someone else is moral and I can be certain that it is moral because in the given context of knowledge (that is my knowledge), the evidence is conclusive and in the given context of knowledge (again that is my knowledge), there is no evidence to support any alternative. Would this be a valid statement?

If the context of your knowledge is so minute that you are unable to conceive of the idea of individual rights, then in making that statement you are certain in the context of your knowledge, but that does not mean you are right.

I've been thinking about this over the last day or so, and I've come to the following realization: certainty is an epistemological rather than a metaphysical state. When you are certain of something, you are completely of the conviction that that thing is true. There is no doubt in your head; you've gathered all the relevant evidence that is available to you and all of it points to that conclusion. This does not at all mean you are correct; it is entirely possible that there is data that contradicts your claim. The idea is that when you ask someone if they are certain, you're not asking them if there is evidence contradicting their claim, you're asking them: "in the context of your knowledge, is this claim conclusively true, i.e. do you think there is any possibility that the knowledge you have points you to a different conclusion?"

Men are not omniscient, so no one can claim certainty in the Platonic sense, where there is no possibility of being wrong. When you say "I'm certain," what you're saying is "I've examined the evidence and this is the only conclusion that can be drawn from it. None of the evidence supports any other conclusion."

Try reading this; it's what I've been using as a resource in trying to understand the meaning of "certainty": http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/certainty.html

What if I cannot imagine something that would render the context false but someone else can imagine something that would render the context false and they tell me about it, would I have to accept their information and concede that my moral certainty is not certain or I am free to ignore or reject this information and still claim moral certainty?

The ability to imagine something that would make your conclusion false does not render it false. Again, the answer to this is context. Imagine the following situation:

Imagine I have just come out of a bathroom and closed the door behind me. When I was in the bathroom, I was the only one in there. You ask me, "is anyone in there?" I reply that there is no one in there. You ask if I am certain, and I say that yes, I am certain. Then, a third person points out that there is another door used to access that bathroom from a different room that I had not noticed when I was in there, and it's possible that someone has just entered the bathroom without my knowledge. Then, the proper thing for me to do is to amend my claim. "Given that new context of knowledge, no, I am no longer certain. I think that it is probable that no one is in there, but I am not certain since, in my current context of knowledge, I now know that there is a possibility that someone has entered there without my knowing."

That's a situation where, given knowledge of a new possibility, I have to amend a claim to where I am no longer certain. However, consider the following, where I wouldn't:

Imagine the same situation, except the door I have just exited is now the only door to that bathroom (imagine also that the bathroom lacks windows or air-conditioning vents large enough for a person to pass through). I tell you that I am certain that there is no one in the bathroom. This time, another person comes up tells me, "No, you aren't! It's possible that a person's molecules could arrange in such a way that he could pass through a wall like it was not even there!" I would tell this person: "That's absurd! No one has ever been known to do that before! You've suggested an entirely implausible alternative! I am certain that no one is in there." While the claim that the other person suggested is a possible one, it is so absurd that I remain certain in my conclusion. The addition of that possibility does not alter the context of my knowledge because it is such an unlikely possibility that it has actually never before been observed.

The same idea applies to moral claims. If I claim that it is immoral to drink bacon grease everyday because it will give you a heart attack, and then someone shows me evidence that drinking bacon grease everyday improves coronary health, then I'll amend my claim. If someone tells me that it is possible that there is a God of Bacon Grease who is appeased by daily drinkers of such grease and will grant them eternal life, then I'm not amending my claim just because someone suggested some slightly possible but completely nonsense alternative.

But is it even necessary to concern myself with certainty and morality when all I have to do is state that there is an emergency and therefore “morality does not apply”?

No. Emergency ethics is not something you can just declare arbitrarily. There are specific situations that qualify as an emergency and to which normal ethics do not apply (there are still guiding principles for these emergencies, keep in mind, all I mean is that normal ethical rules don't apply in their usual form). An emergency is, by definition, a temporary and abnormally dangerous situation. "Daily life in the suburbs" is not an emergency, even if you are a character in third-rate postmodern fiction. "Trapped in a flaming building" is. And in saying that normal moral rules don't apply in such a situation, I do not mean that it is acceptable to kill your family and order a bank heist over the phone. I mean that if it is necessary for you to travel onto your neighbor's property to survive, you should do it, instead of dying because you don't want to commit a minor and temporary violation of his property rights. If you have not already and you are interested in this topic, you should read Ayn Rand's essay "The Ethics of Emergencies" in The Virtue of Selfishness. Edited by 425
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Jaskn,

 

You say that we can form concepts such as rationality, individualism, and rights now that we know more.  You also stated that “A reality-based morality starts with simple things that are very obvious…” If one begins to form concepts, as you say, by doing the “necessary mental work of checking the information against what he already knows,” and what he already knows starts with simple things guessed-and-checked to be moral or immoral (a premise), then every concept formed will be based on that premise.

 

To continue the hypothetical, if I conclude through the process of checking that it is moral to attack my tribesmen and a long enough period of time of checking has occurred so that the principal doesn’t need to be checked any longer, then all future concepts that I form, such as rationality, individualism and rights, will be based on this premise. All information that I use to form concepts will be checked against the information that I already know (the starting premise) in order to verify as true or false. I will reject the information determine to be false compared to what I already know and accept the information determined to be true compared to what I already know. My concepts of rationality, individualism and rights would then be different from those of someone who begins with a different starting premise. My concept of morality will be different from the concept of morality of someone who begins with a different starting premise.

 

So it is back to the original question, how can one state that something is moral?  

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Answering your last question first: you know that something is moral when you are certain that it is good for your life. Asking the question, "How can we know that a moral principle is true?" and then answering, "We can't." is the same thing as saying, "We can't know anything for certain." But, of course that is false -- the statement, "we can't know anything" is itself being presented as knowledge.

You mentioned above that you believe in one reality -- "what is, is." Do you still believe that?

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425,

 

You wrote, “The same idea applies to moral claims. If I claim that it is immoral to drink bacon grease everyday because it will give you a heart attack, and then someone shows me evidence that drinking bacon grease everyday improves coronary health, then I'll amend my claim. If someone tells me that it is possible that there is a God of Bacon Grease who is appeased by daily drinkers of such grease and will grant them eternal life, then I'm not amending my claim just because someone suggested some slightly possible but completely nonsense alternative.”

 

It appears that you are saying that when you make a claim that you are certain that something is moral or immoral that “you are completely of the conviction that that thing is true. There is no doubt in your head; you've gathered all the relevant evidence that is available to you and all of it points to that conclusion.” You may choose to amend your claim if someone presents you with “evidence” that your claim is wrong and you choose to accept that “evidence” but if you choose to determine that the “evidence” is “nonsense” then you will choose not to accept it and you will choose not to amend your claim.

 

This goes back to an earlier question. If you claim that something is immoral and I claim that the same thing is moral, and you are certain of your claim and I am certain of my claim, and you consider all of my (or anyone’s) “evidence” to be “nonsense” and will not amend your claim and  I consider all of your (or anyone’s) “evidence” to be “nonsense” and will not amend my claim, is the something in question moral or immoral and how do we make a determination?

 

As for your response about emergencies, I am still not clear (even though I have read Ayn Rand’s essay). You defined an emergency as “a temporary and abnormally dangerous situation.” Where does this definition come from and why is it correct? What does “temporary” mean? What does “abnormally dangerous” mean? Similar to question above, what if you think a situation is an emergency and I do not think that the same situation is an emergency, which is it and how do we know? Additionally, I am still unclear as to why, as you stated earlier, morality does not apply in emergencies or, as you have amended it, “normal ethical rules don't apply in their usual form.” How does this work? If I am trapped in a flaming building and if this counts as an emergency situation, other rules, like gravity, still apply in their usual form so why do moral or ethical rules change?

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Jaskn,

 

When you state, “you know that something is moral when you are certain that it is good for your life” how does that answer my question? We are back where we started: If I am certain that something is good for my life and therefore moral and you are certain that the same something is not good for my life and therefore immoral, which one is it and why?

 

I do think that “what is, is.” But I do not understand how it relates to morality. 

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You're right, I wasn't clear. I should have said, "...when you are certain that it is good for your life, and when that certainty can also be backed up by facts."

"What is, is" is another way of saying that all things have identity, including living things, and including human consciousness. Even if you honestly couldn't think up a single life principle that you could rely on with conviction and certainty in your own mind, you could still accept that human life has real requirements which are based on whatever is subsumed under the identity "human." You could then say, "Something is keeping humans alive, and so, whatever it is, at least that is part of objective human morality." You know that whatever it is, it's concrete -- because humans are concrete -- and that it's objective, because "human" is a specific, objective identity.

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Jaskn,

 

You state, “Even if you honestly couldn't think up a single life principle that you could rely on with conviction and certainty in your own mind, you could still accept that human life has real requirements which are based on whatever is subsumed under the identity "human." You could then say, "Something is keeping humans alive, and so, whatever it is, at least that is part of objective human morality."”

 

This is where you lose me. How do you make the jump from: human life has real requirements, to: it is part of objective human morality?  For example, a requirement of human life is oxygen. Are you saying that this requirement is somehow moral or immoral? If so, how?

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Are all guesses about morality equal or are some guesses better than others?

Now we're getting somewhere!  All scientific theories also amount to educated guesses, so let's consider one.

The claim that human beings and chimpanzees share a common ancestor is an educated guess.  It is 'educated' by fossil and genetic evidence which appears to support it; it is a guess because there are multiple things which it assumes as true, but which are presently unknown to be true or false.

If someone discovered fossil evidence tomorrow, of some new species of hominid, we might have to reevaluate that claim; perhaps (for example) we would actually appear more closely related to Gorillas, in light of this new evidence.  Such discoveries are always being made.

 

However, while this educated guess is subject to precisely such amendments, does that make it just as valid as the Creationists' claim that God made Adam out of clay?  What sort of evidence could support that theory?  What would you have to see, before you could consider it a rational claim, and how does that scenario compare to the actual evidence available?

 

No; not all guesses are equally educated!  Once you have a clearly explicit grasp of this principle, with regard to scientific facts, ask yourself how it applies to moral facts (specifically regarding Objectivist morality).

 

He believes, based on religious teaching, that murder is immoral. He has made an “educated guess” concerning the morality of murder. I am willing to bet that you have made an “educated guess” and consider murder to be immoral as well. If so, we have two identical conclusions about the morality of a concept (murder is immoral) that were derived, presumably, from different sources. Are these conclusions both valid? Are both of these educated guesses equal?

No.  Although they reach the same conclusion, since we are delving into epistemology (and that is what we are discussing), it is not the conclusion that counts; it's the method by which you reach it.

 

My aversion to murder is based on my own deliberately-grasped philosophy; my knowledge of rational egoism and of the nature of murder.  My principle is based on my own grasp of reality. 

His conclusion, by contrast, is not; no matter how well-educated, he has explicitly based it on God's commandments.  This means in essence:  "murder is wrong because He says it is," which further means:  "blind obedience is my greatest virtue"  which means  "thinking is evil".

 

I do not murder out of my own respect (and more) for any being capable of reason; it is a simple extension of my own pride in the virtue of reason.  He does not murder because those are the rules.

 

And this distinction is not some floating evaluation.  If the rules were to murder then he would willingly murder (as the Bible repeatedly depicts); that is why the reasons for his ethics matter.

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Harrison Danneskjold,

 

You wrote, “No; not all guesses are equally educated!  Once you have a clearly explicit grasp of this principle, with regard to scientific facts, ask yourself how it applies to moral facts (specifically regarding Objectivist morality).”

 

I grasp the concept that not all guesses are equally educated with regard to scientific facts. For example, I guess that when two objects of different weight are dropped from the same height at the same time, that, once eliminating wind resistance, the heavier object will hit the ground first.  I perform many experiments of dropping objects of different weight from the same height at the same time while eliminating wind resistance to test my guess. I discover that my guess incorrect and I change my guess.

 

But how does this apply to “moral facts”? If you say something is immoral and I say that the same thing is moral how do we test it? In your example, we can both look at the new fossil evidence that exists. In my example we can both drop objects at observe the results. For moral issues, what do we look it as a “moral fact” that will allow our guesses to be equally educated?

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But how does this apply to “moral facts”? If you say something is immoral and I say that the same thing is moral how do we test it? In your example, we can both look at the new fossil evidence that exists. In my example we can both drop objects at observe the results. For moral issues, what do we look it as a “moral fact” that will allow our guesses to be equally educated?

Morallity exists as principles that, if followed, support the continuance and enjoyment of your life. If you exercise, do you feel better? If so, then exercise is the moral thing to do. If you overdo it, then your body will tell you. If you drink that bottle of vodka each week, how does that affect you? Is that moral? The moral facts are written on our bodies and in our minds, for their health is the purpose of morality.

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