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How can one state that something is moral?

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Aleph_1,

 

It seems to me that there needs to be more to morality than the “continuance and enjoyment of your life.” I have witnessed, and history has witnessed, people following immoral principals (at least some people would claim that they are immoral principals) and their lives continue and they appear (as I cannot know for sure) to enjoy their lives. So what does it mean? Additionally, if stealing a flat screen television from the electronics store supports the continuance and enjoyment of my life, then is stealing a flat screen television moral?  

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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?

I get the feeling that we may not be talking about the same thing when we each write "morality." Morality is the actions we choose to do in order to stay alive happily. So, since breathing is involuntary, it is amoral -- no choice. However, if you chose to tie yourself to a cement block and jump into the river, stopping your breathing by your own choice, in any normal life circumstance that would be immoral because you are going to die. Doing such a thing would be objectively immoral because it is very clearly ending your own existence. If you were to say, "Jumping to the bottom of the river is an objectively moral thing for me to do," you would be wrong, and we could easily show it by pointing to your death.

Just based on this example, you couldn't say with certainty that morality is *all* objective. But, using many examples of human action over time, coupled with a knowledge of metaphysical facts -- such as "what is, is" -- over time we can say, "Humans have a distinct identity, which correlates to distinct actions needed to sustain its life." Those actions need to be objectively identified and backed up with real life examples and facts, but after it's all done, we can say, "Morality is objective."

And, just because identity is a universal principle and morality is objective, doesn't mean that we know everything about everything. Human interaction is complicated. But, knowing that "what is, is," you know that there is a truth buried in the middle of every human interaction, even if you can't know it right now because of your limited knowledge or understanding.

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For moral issues, what do we look it as a “moral fact” that will allow our guesses to be equally educated?

Human prosperity.

In the course of any moral dispute, if I can prove that actions X will make human life and prosperity either better or worse (specifically yours and mine) then the Objectivist code of morality dictates that we recognize it as correspondingly good or evil, to the degree that it does impact our lives.

 

For example, morphine makes an excellent anesthetic; its medicinal uses are profoundly moral.  Heroine, which is a closely related chemical, is clearly and scientifically known to destroy those who use it; its recreational uses are profoundly immoral because they amount to suicide.  To outlaw recreational heroine politically, however, makes the situation worse (for both law-breakers and law-enforcement), which makes it an additional immorality.

The standard is human life and prosperity.

 

The standard of human prosperity, however, is not the only possible basis of ethics.  Whenever you hear someone idolizing the dark ages or fantasizing about the extinction of our entire species, you are listening to the alternative.

It does not matter what an anti-moral (so to speak) person thinks of you or your ideas.  Their standard of morality is the motive of death, and as such it contradicts every single breath they take.

For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors—between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it. . .

Whatever else they fought about, it was against man's mind that all your moralists have stood united. It was man's mind that all their schemes and systems were intended to despoil and destroy.  Now choose to perish or to learn that the anti-mind is the anti-life. . . .

 

Fight with the radiant certainty and the absolute rectitude of knowing that yours is the Morality of Life and that yours is the battle for any achievement, any value, any grandeur, any goodness, any joy that has ever existed on this earth.

-Galt's Speech, from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

 

Most people who say that self-destruction and self-abasement are good, do not fully grasp what they're saying.  If they don't make a serious attempt to grasp it then explaining it to them is pointless; just know which moral standard they're speaking from.

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Jaskn,

 

I understand your example of tying myself to cement block and jumping into a river. The water will prevent me from getting oxygen and, since my body needs oxygen to live, I will die. And, since that action will lead to my death and I will not stay alive happily, it is immoral.

 

But that example seems easy. Let’s take the example of stealing. If I steal some of your money, unlike the cement block example, the act of stealing does not prevent me from getting oxygen and I do not die. My heart doesn’t stop beating nor does anything happen to me at all. After stealing your money, I continue to live and I can now use the money I have to live happily or more happily. So, is this moral?

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Harrison Danneskjold,

 

I will ask you a similar question to the one that I asked Jaskn. If the action of stealing from you does not end my life and allows me to prosper, then is stealing from you moral? If it can be proved that if 51% of the human population will have more prosperity by enslaving the other 49% of the human population, then, since a majority of human life and prosperity is better, would it be moral?

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That question deals with a separate topic that has been discussed on the forum several times. If you search for "prudent predator," you should find some threads.

Since it looks like you've moved on, acknowledging the objectivity of drowning yourself as immoral, have you now satisfied your question as to whether objective morality can exist, as such?

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Just to answer your original question:

 

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.

 

You should re-read The Objectivist Ethics to get a better understanding of what Objectivism actually says about morality. First of all, morality properly defined is a code of values to guide your choices. The fact that we are volitional beings is what gives rise to our need for a morality. Our range of choices is wide open and since we lack instincts and automatic means of making choices; morality is there to provide guideposts for our decisions. Accordingly, you need to make a distinction here between an error in knowledge and an immoral action. Suppose you find out that a course of action you previously took was not actually in your own interest- that does not mean you acted immorally. Omniscience is not the standard of judgement!

 

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?

 

I don't see how the fact that other people have accepted different codes of morality is rellevant. It's just proof that morality is a code of values and is something that needs to be chosen. Now, what do you mean people's concepts of morality can change? Yes, a person can change their explicitly (and implicitly) held moral views but they cannot change the fact that they need a morality. The ethical principles of Objectivism are a result of man's nature. They are metaphysical facts and they are absolute within the context under which they were formed. They will always be true so long as man is man.

 

 

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.

 

No, Objectivism holds that reality is the final arbiter of who is correct. There is no contradiction here. One of you may be wrong, one of you may be right, or maybe neither of you are right. Again, morality only applies to the realm of choice. So long as you are open to correcting errors of knowledge, there is nothing immoral about making a mistake.

 

 

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?

 

This is really an epistemological question, not a moral one. There are many reasons people disagree about all sorts of things- not just morality. False premises, errors in reasoning (both deductively and inductively), etc. Stated in the widest formulation, the standard by which you judge whether someone is right or wrong is by asking, does this correspond with reality? So if two people disagree, so what? The standard is objective reality.

 

 

Since I, as a human, and you, as a human, do not know everything, how do we come to a conclusion?

 

OK, now you're getting to the root of your question. Do you see why your issue is not really about morality but about all knowledge in general? This would be an example of Ayn Rand's point about checking your premises. We can discuss morality all day but the root cause with your question is a deeper epistemologic premise. Your question, in essence, seems to me to be: Isn't omniscience necessary for certainty? No, certainty is contextual. It is a result of being able to define the relevant context under which the evidence in favor of something is conclusive.

 

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?

 

There are two separate issues here. The first is concerning your idea that new knowledge will contradict previous knowledge of which we were certain. New knowledge cannot contradict old knowledge provided you did not make an error and you properly defined the context under which you're certain about your conclusion.

 

The second issue is an argument often offered by skeptics: How do you know you won't find an undiscovered fact that disproves your knowledge? Or how do you know you haven't made an error? Once again, these questions assume a standard of omniscience for all knowledge. You need to reject this. The fallacy they're committing is called the assertion of the arbitrary. The fallacy occurs when someone makes a claim with no connection to facts of reality and expects the claim to maintain the same epistemological status as a claim based upon facts.

 

If I haven't answered your question, I'd really suggest that you explore Rand's theory of epistemology and more specifically the application of it to questions of certainty and arbitrary assertions.

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Jaskn,

 

Not exactly. My question, from the original post, is: how can we say that anything is moral or immoral, not whether objective morality can exist. But that aside, I did not acknowledge that I think that drowning yourself is immoral, I only stated that I understand your example but perhaps I should have been more clear. However, even if I was inclined to acknowledge that drowning yourself is immoral it does not completely answer the question from the original post.

 

At best, given your example, the response to the question from the original post would be: we can say that something is moral or immoral if it kills you. Seems simple enough, but as I asked earlier, how does this apply to something that does not kill you?

 

Additionally, even your example of drowning oneself could be open to question of morality. If I am suffering from some incurable disease that puts me in constant pain and agony and unable to do all of the activities that bring pleasure to my life and make me happy, would the act of drowning myself in order to end the agony be immoral? If so, why is it immoral? If not, then we are back to the original question of: how can we say that anything is moral or immoral? 

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As just a friendly note, could you consider using the quote feature in the future instead of putting my remarks in quotation marks? It would make your posts far easier to read.

425,

 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.

Okay, you're missing that one can objectively determine something to be nonsense. That isn't an arbitrary declaration. A claim makes sense if it refers to real, properly understood concepts and follows the laws of identity and causality as they apply to the concepts it uses. "A giraffe is able to eat leaves from the tops of trees because of its long neck" is a claim that makes sense. It refers to a number of concepts, all of which are well understood, and it makes a claim that is consistent with the laws of identity and causality as they apply to all of those concepts (for example, the identity of a giraffe as having a long neck and the causal connection between a long neck and being able to eat things that are high off the ground).

A nonsensical claim would refer to concepts that are misunderstood or to anticoncepts (intentionally vague words that are meant to mimic real concepts but are never clearly defined; usually used maliciously in political debates) or violate the laws of identity or causality. To use an extreme example of a nonsensical claim: "The giraffe turned into a strawberry and flew over the color purple." This claim can be OBJECTIVELY stated to be nonsensical; it is not an arbitrary declaration that I am making. The statement contradicts the identity of color purple, since that is not an entity but an attribute, and one cannot fly over an attribute. It also contradicts the law of causality as it pertains to giraffes, because there is no mechanism by which a giraffe can turn into a strawberry. It also contradicts the identity of strawberries, because they are unable to fly.

One of the issues in your thinking that I'm noticing is that you seem to consider the act of labeling particular claims or situations to be arbitrary. You stated before that you could just arbitrarily declare an emergency, and now you're talking about me arbitrarily claiming things to be nonsensical. I would recommend looking more into epistemology, which serves as the building blocks for the rest of philosophy. I would strongly recommend reading the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology by Ayn Rand. That book explains how concepts are formed, which would help in understanding why concepts like "emergency" or "nonsense" have objective meanings and cannot be applied at whim.

 

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?

I will repeat yet again that "certain" and "correct" have very different meanings. I can say that something is nonsense all day, but that does not mean that I am correct. I can be certain of a claim, but that does not make the claim true. You may not like this answer, but all you can do is make sure that you are checking all of your premises and every step of your logical process. There's just no convincing some people, and in those situations you'll have to either agree to disagree or make a moral judgement depending on the situation.

For example, Muslim terrorists are certain they are right. They are not right, but however much you teach them Objectivism, they're almost certainly not going to change their thinking. In this case, you have to think to yourself, "is my time better spent trying to change the minds of Muslim terrorists, or is it better spent putting them in prison?"

For a less extreme example, we could talk about a hypothetical friend of yours who is a devout Christian. Is your time better spent causing antagonism by trying to change the mind of a friend whose mind will not change, or is it better spent enjoying your friend's company and talking about things that you do have in common?

 

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?

Well, it's the definition of the word! It comes from the fact that people needed a term to describe temporary and abnormally dangerous situations, so they assigned to that definition the word "emergency." So that's what the word means.

"Temporary" refers to something that lasts only for a limited time. This distinguishes an emergency from a long-term bad state of affairs. So life in North Korea is not an emergency because it is not temporary. Ayn Rand clarified, in "Ethics of Emergencies," further on the "abnormally dangerous" label, saying that an emergency "creates conditions under which human survival is impossible" and that one of the main goals in combating such a situation is to "restore normal conditions." She further clarifies: "By 'normal' conditions I mean metaphysically normal, normal in the nature of things and appropriate to human existence. Men can live on land, but not in water or in a raging fire."

And I'll reiterate what I've said before, as to your question about disagreement over what constitutes an emergency. Two people may disagree, but since the word emergency has an objective meaning, one of them is wrong. I don't really understand why you're so hung up on this point. But to give an example, "trapped in a burning building" is an emergency. A burning building is a temporary event that certainly entails conditions in which humans cannot survive. If someone says "trapped in a burning building" is not an emergency situation, that person is simply incorrect. "Daily life in the suburbs" is not an emergency. It is not a temporary situation, and it does not involve conditions that prevent human survival. If some especially non-objective person were to claim that "daily life in the suburbs" is an emergency, that person would, quite plainly, be wrong.

Morality is different in an emergency scenario simply because morality is contextual. An emergency situation is a distinct context with vastly different conditions than other contexts, so morality changes far more significantly in that context. In such a situation, the primary moral objective is to "restore normal conditions," as Ayn Rand put it. This may mean that it is permissible for shipwreck victims to temporarily intrude on private property if it is the only dry land available and if they strive to cause no harm and to end the intrusion as quickly as possible. Again, however, this is a discussion for a whole different thread. My purpose in bringing up ethics of emergencies in the first place was to show how morality is contextual, not to enter a discussion about what constitutes an emergency or to detail the rules for one. If you are interested in further discussion on this topic, may I suggest opening another thread?

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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.

Hi Fred.

I know you've already had a bit of discussion, but I hope you won't mind if I attempt to answer your OP?

In the first place, I'm glad that, although you may find Objectivism "comforting," you have not stopped there. Is Objectivism right? That's the question! :)

 

I also understand from my personal experience that I do not know everything.

There are, I believe, two senses in which we may discuss "moral action," and its relationship with knowledge.

In the first sense, I would say that "not knowing everything" is no bar to moral action. No one knows everything, and if that were required for moral action, then morality wouldn't be very helpful as a concept. But what morality does require is that you make use of what you do know, to the best of your ability.

Morality, per Objectivism, is not something to be followed for its own sake. It is a guide to action for a particular purpose. That purpose is your own life -- your survival and flourishing. Objectivism holds that you should do what you can to live the best life that you can.

Thus, when you are confronted with choices, when you make decisions, when you take actions, you need to be able to evaluate those choices/decisions/actions in terms of the effects that they are likely to have on your life, to the best of your knowledge and ability.

To do so is to do the very best that a human being can do.

There is a secondary sense of "moral action" that does rely upon omniscience, perhaps, or at least hindsight. We recognize that things are what they are, and that despite a man's best effort, he may come to some conclusion that is false. A man may decide that X is the best thing to do for himself and for his life, and yet be mistaken. It may turn out that Y was actually the moral course of action, despite this man's original conclusion.

In such a case, we would not fault this man morally for either his conclusion or his action. (Again assuming that he is operating to the best of his knowledge and ability.) But neither can we discount the role that knowledge plays in achieving the outcomes we desire.

 

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.

Absolutely. I expect that (if your experience of life has been like mine) your concept of morality has changed over time, according to both new knowledge and new approaches in thinking (or deeper thinking, or etc.).

 

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.

Absolutely right.

 

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.

Very much so. If this were not the case -- if we all already agreed on morality, both in concept and application -- I guess there wouldn't be much here for us to discuss.

 

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?

We know that people disagree, granted. We know that one's concept of morality can change, granted. What does that mean? It means that people reach different conclusions, and the same man may reach different conclusions over time.

The question of "what is moral?" can only be answered with respect to specific scenarios, or with respect to those general principles that we might try to draw from such scenarios.

To try to put this in terms of an analogy, consider competing theories of evolution. People may (and do) disagree about such things. Any individual's theory of evolution may change over time, depending on what he knows and what he learns (and the time he allows himself to think about things, and his skill).

How do we decide "what is right (with respect to evolution)?" To answer that question, we must turn our attention to fossils and the factual record. Generally we can observe that the fact of "differing opinions" is no challenge to any particular theory of evolution; it only means that we must each individually do his best to assess the facts, and come to the best conclusions that we can.

The same is true with morality.

 

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

No.

 

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?

While in all cases I would counsel gaining knowledge, using logic to the best of one's ability, and so forth -- while we recognize that these are the means by which we have the best opportunity to reach the right answers, and thereby lead good lives -- it is also the case that being a rational person, using knowledge, logic and the rest, does not guarantee that a man will arrive at a correct answer in any specific scenario.

You and I may disagree at any point as to whether something is moral. It doesn't mean that we are somehow "both correct" (though we may both be "correct" in the sense of being correct to act upon our differing conclusions, having arrived at those conclusions through the proper methodology). It just means that we disagree.

 

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?

In a given disagreement, it may be the question of an "erroneous premise," or it may be something else (like a misapprehension of the facts, or not yet having made some connection between facts, or so on).

But yes, the strategy for resolving such disagreements is that we make efforts to discover who is in error.

 

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?

By the same manner in which we currently endeavor, in part. With recourse to logic, providing evidence, and so on. Discussion can help, as can making a sincere effort to reflect on claims, one's own experiences, gaining new experiences, etc.

We strive to resolve contradictions, both between us and also within our own thinking, by appealing to reason.

 

Since I, as a human, and you, as a human, do not know everything, how do we come to a conclusion?

By the best use we can make of our minds, given what we know.

 

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?

Absolutely nothing.

We must be ready, willing, and able to revise our conclusions based upon what we learn. Our conclusions, if they are held in reason, are always contingent. They are contingent upon what we know, and the sense that we are able to make of what we know.

 

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

I feel like this formulation does not quite capture the actual spirit of your question.

"How can we say that anything is moral or immoral?" By appealing to the evidence we have and logic and so forth, that's how.

But if the question is really "How can we say that anything is moral or immoral with absolutely no potential for error?" then the answer is "we cannot." There is no level above "the best that we can do," and there is no authority who can rule on whether or not we have come to some correct conclusion.

You can say that something is moral or immoral according to your best use of reason. There is no higher standard than that.

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CriticalThinker2000,

 

I do not fully understand your answer. Since you say that morality is a code of values to guide my choices and it “is something that needs to be chosen”, I can choose what I consider to be moral and immoral. And, by the same principal, you choose what you consider to be moral and immoral. Maybe you and I will agree and maybe you and I will not agree about what is moral and immoral.

 

So you state that, “…the standard by which you judge whether someone is right or wrong is by asking, does this correspond with reality?” and  “…Objectivism holds that reality is the final arbiter of who is correct” and “The standard is objective reality.”

 

But how does this work? If I say that action X is moral and you say that action X is immoral how do we determine who’s position corresponds with reality and who’s position does not?

 

Now, given some of the answers provided in previous posts, if I were to state that creationism explains where we came from and you state that evolution is where we came from, you could provide physical evidence for us to examine and I could not so you have reality on your side. But how does this work for moral issues?

 

 Again from previous posts, if I say that stealing is moral and you say that stealing is immoral, how does this correspond with reality?

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425,

 

I still do not understand your answer or how it answers the question from the original post.

 

To continue your example, Muslim terrorists are certain they are right. You state that they are not right and you seem very certain about your claim that they are not right. At this point, according to your post, both sides will have to either agree to disagree or make a moral judgment depending on the situation. I would assume in this situation the Muslim terrorists’ judgment would be that they are moral and you are immoral and your judgment would be that you are moral and that they are immoral.

 

So we are right back where we started. Muslim terrorists say that they are right, you state that they are not right, so both sides make a moral judgment based on their beliefs (of which both sides are certain). How can we say that anything is moral or immoral?

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"…Objectivism holds that reality is the final arbiter of who is correct” and “The standard is objective reality.”

But how does this work?

[...]

Again from previous posts, if I say that stealing is moral and you say that stealing is immoral, how does this correspond with reality?

Again, search for threads about the "prudent predator." In essence, when you violate someone's rights by stealing from them, you are trying to have your cake -- a rights respecting society, from which your life benefits immeasurably -- and eat it, too. You may benefit very narrowly from the theft, but considering the circumstances you will have made for yourself -- a life running from law enforcement -- no rational person is going to agree that stealing is in your interest. That is, it's immoral, all aspects considered.

And "all aspects considered" is exactly how the rest of morality is figured out, too, in answer to your "how can morality be judged?" This is all in the abstract, but it might help to use a specific, real-life example to illustrate it, which is the only way to show the "how" in a step-by-step.

Taking your Muslim example, a rough argument would look something like:

Muslims follow a religious, mystical creed. Any relation it has to reality is more-or-less by chance. Part of their creed involves physically attacking those who do not live by it, simply because they do not live by it. For these reasons alone, to be a Muslim is to be immoral.

But to truly, fully understand the depths a Muslim's immorality reaches, you would need a full philosophical argument, considering all aspects of human living. It's a bit much for a single thread, but it is available in Rand's writings.

How much of Rand have you read so far? Would you say you have a basic idea of the barebones of her philosophy?

Edited by JASKN
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But how does this work? If I say that action X is moral and you say that action X is immoral how do we determine who’s position corresponds with reality and who’s position does not?

 

The same way we determine the truth of everything. Determine if it is logical and integrates with the totality of your knowledge.

 

 

But how does this work? If I say that action X is moral and you say that action X is immoral how do we determine who’s position corresponds with reality and who’s position does not?

 

Now, given some of the answers provided in previous posts, if I were to state that creationism explains where we came from and you state that evolution is where we came from, you could provide physical evidence for us to examine and I could not so you have reality on your side. But how does this work for moral issues?

 

?? I don't understand the source of your confusion. Apply the relevant principles which are logically derived from facts of reality. For example, it is a fact that pride and self esteem are pre-requisites for happiness. This is derived from looking out at reality (the nature of man's consciousness and the means by which we create values) just as evolution is proven by observing reality.

 

 

Again from previous posts, if I say that stealing is moral and you say that stealing is immoral, how does this correspond with reality?

 

Man creates values by the use of his rational mind. Initiating physical force to obtain a so called value not only contradicts what we know about how man creates values but it is a rejection of the mind- the very faculty that gives rise to his ability to value at all. This subject is discussed extensively in other threads because it is a popular point of confusion. But again, the facts that you would point to are facts about man's nature and his relationship to reality.

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DonAthos,

 

You state that we can say that something is moral or immoral by appealing to the evidence we have and logic and so forth. So if I state that X is moral by appealing to the evidence I have and logic and so forth, X is moral. But if you state that X is immoral by appealing to the evidence you have and logic and so forth, then X is immoral. You claim we are not both correct and therefore we need to discover who is in error. However, you also claim that there is no authority who can rule on whether or not one or both of us has come to the correct conclusion and there is nothing we can do but to do the best we can do.  So where are we? Do I just say that I am correct and act accordingly and you say that you are correct and act accordingly? How do this work when the differences moves beyond coffee table discussions and start to affect our lives?

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425,

 

I still do not understand your answer or how it answers the question from the original post.

My answer to the original post is the same as that of the other posters. When making decisions about morality, one must gather all of the evidence available and ensure that his own logical methods are airtight. It is always going to be, as one of them put it, a "guess-and-check" method. I believe our current conversation is a result of diversions taken by both of us onto tangential but related topics.

 

To continue your example, Muslim terrorists are certain they are right. You state that they are not right and you seem very certain about your claim that they are not right. At this point, according to your post, both sides will have to either agree to disagree or make a moral judgment depending on the situation. I would assume in this situation the Muslim terrorists’ judgment would be that they are moral and you are immoral and your judgment would be that you are moral and that they are immoral.

I'm quite certain that Muslim terrorists are not right. When I talk about agreeing to disagree or prescribing moral judgements, I'm referring to my conduct according to the Objectivist morality, not their conduct according to Islamic morality. I imagine that their position in this situation would be that I am an infidel who has insulted Allah and the prophet Mohammad and therefore deserve death.

My position is that I should choose between a few actions: a) agree to disagree and choose another topic of conversation; b ) agree to disagree, but determine that my opponents are dishonest and therefore not worth any more of my time; or c) determine that my opponents intend to initiate the use of force and inform the proper authorities for my safety and that of other innocents. Each of these three scenarios requires first the conclusion of my moral judgement. In the first, I conclude that my opponent is mistaken but not dishonest, immoral or a force user. In the second, I conclude that my opponent is dishonest but not a force user, at least not in the immediate sense. In the third, I conclude that my opponent intends to initiate force. In the Muslim terrorist example, I'm probably choosing the third option. So I am passing moral judgement on them, saying that they are immoral, and I'm also calling the authorities because I believe it is likely that they will initiate force.

 

So we are right back where we started. Muslim terrorists say that they are right, you state that they are not right, so both sides make a moral judgment based on their beliefs (of which both sides are certain). How can we say that anything is moral or immoral?

This is correct. However, I must again reiterate that being certain and being correct are two very different things. To provide a stronger illustration: Imagine a schizophrenic person who believes that you have hidden cameras in his house. You know well that you have not done this. He's absolutely certain that you have, because he's, you know, neurotic. You're absolutely certain that you haven't. Even though both of you are certain, it is clear who is correct. His thought method is not a rational one. He's listening to his paranoid neuroses and jumping to completely unreasonable conclusions. No matter how certain he is in his belief that you hid cameras in his house, he is still wrong, because you did not.

That was a dramatization, but it illustrates the difference between being certain and being right. In a slightly less crazy example, look at our Muslim terrorists. They're certain they are right. But what is their thought process? They're taking the word of clerics and an old book that there is a supreme being who wants them to follow a whole set of rules, including the murder of infidels. This is not at all a rational thought process, this is the use of blind faith to replace reason. Since reason is the only method by which man can learn about reality, this process for determining moral principles is flawed as well.

Then, as DonAthos so wisely pointed out, there's the matter of Objectivists disagreeing because one made an honest mistake. In this case, the mode of thought for the party that is incorrect is still a good mode of thought, but with a slight error in the process or a gap in knowledge. But still, in this case, it is clear that it is possible to be certain but wrong, even if the way in which you are wrong is a minor logical error instead of a completely incorrect mode of thought.

Follow the pattern here. Of course the certain schizophrenic in my example is wrong, that's as clear as day. So why can't the certain Muslim terrorist also be wrong? Or the mistaken but certain Objectivist? Just because the way in which these people are wrong isn't as obvious as it is for the schizophrenic, this does not mean that we can't identify where they go wrong and thus label their ideas as wrong ones?

Edited by 425
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FredAnyman:

 

 

Aside from whether or not one could state with certainty "Statement 1":

 

Statement 1:  "In particular context Z, given my particular identity K, my particular action A is moral."

 

 

Do you agree (and you would if you understand Objectivism) that there exists Z, K, and A such that the following "Statement 2" is true regardless of the knowledge of the individual, anyone, and everyone:

 

 

Statement 2:  "In a particular context Z, given the individual's particular identity K, the particular action A IS MORAL."

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Jaskn,

 

You wrote, “You may benefit very narrowly from the theft, but considering the circumstances you will have made for yourself -- a life running from law enforcement -- no rational person is going to agree that stealing is in your interest.”

 

This is very interesting and I will search for the threads you mentioned by I would appreciate your answer. It appears that you are, to continue an example, claiming that stealing is immoral because it is not in my interest. You claim that it is not in my interest because of the circumstances that I will have made for myself like running from law enforcement. But as I pointed out in a previous post, the act of stealing from you (or stealing in general) does not end my life nor does the act of stealing in and of itself have any negative impact of my life. You stated, “…the circumstances you will have made for yourself…” but this is not correct. I did not make any circumstances for myself. If I steal from you, nothing happens to me unless you decide to act in some fashion. If you do nothing, either because you cannot do anything or choose not to do anything, then nothing happens to me. If you choose to do something, call law enforcement for example, then something may or may not happen to me. So, it could be in my interest to steal from you or it could not be in my interest to steal from you depending on what you choose to do and are capable of doing. If I steal from you and you cannot do anything about it, then stealing from you is moral because it is in my interest. Of course, you will most likely think that it is immoral because it is not in your interest. So we are back to a situation where I think something is moral and you think something is immoral, and therefore we are back to the question in the original post of how can we say anything is moral or immoral?

 

Additionally, with your “all aspects considered” approach to figuring out morality, it appears we are back to the fact that humans cannot know everything so how exactly can one consider all aspects when it is not possible to know all of the aspects to consider?

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DonAthos,

You state that we can say that something is moral or immoral by appealing to the evidence we have and logic and so forth.

Yes -- those are the means we have to decide whether something is moral or immoral (just as we would assess any other claim to truth).

 

So if I state that X is moral by appealing to the evidence I have and logic and so forth, X is moral.

Insofar as you are correct in your use of evidence and logic, yes.

 

But if you state that X is immoral by appealing to the evidence you have and logic and so forth, then X is immoral.

Again, insofar as I am correct.

 

You claim we are not both correct and therefore we need to discover who is in error.

That's right. Where one of us claims 'A' and the other claims 'not-A', I would hold one of us to be right and the other wrong.

 

However, you also claim that there is no authority who can rule on whether or not one or both of us has come to the correct conclusion and there is nothing we can do but to do the best we can do.

Right on both counts. This also speaks to other claims to truth. There's no final authority in science, either, and there is nothing we can do but to do the best we can do.

 

So where are we? Do I just say that I am correct and act accordingly and you say that you are correct and act accordingly?

Ultimately, if you believe that you are correct on an issue, then yes -- you act accordingly. (Regardless of whether or not I, or Objectivism, or Ayn Rand, or anyone else agrees.)

But I would argue to you that it is in your general interest to make an effort to determine whether or not you are correct (which is, presumably, the very motive which animates our present conversation, for instance). In the case where we recognize that we disagree on a specific point, it might justly provoke us both to reexamine the basis for our conclusions, consider the others' rationale, and adjust our position if we deem it warranted.

 

How do this work when the differences moves beyond coffee table discussions and start to affect our lives?

None of this is a coffee table discussion; it is all about our lives and the effects that our ideas and actions have upon them.

Remember that morality, per Objectivism, is a guide to action for the purpose of living the best life we can live. We want such a "guide to action" because we must make choices, all the time. The choices we make matter to our lives, to their duration and their quality.

I've seen examples discussed in this thread regarding a thief or a terrorist, and this is not to weigh in on either of those specific topics, but just to say that a person has to decide things like, "Ought I steal that thing I desire?" or "Should I blow up that bus full of teenagers in Allah's name?" Our choices are also routinely far more mundane, like whether or not we'll hit the gym after work, but in every case the choices we make will have some impact on our lives.

If we wish to live, and to live well, then we want to try to understand the relationship our choices have with potential outcomes. For instance, if I become a terrorist, how will that impact my life (again: to the best of my knowledge)? Will it help me achieve a long life of happiness? Or is it likely to work otherwise? By which mechanisms? (And again I can ask the same thing about whether or not I should skip out on my gym session.) These kinds of questions form the basis for moral reasoning. We ask them because they are important to ask, and we answer them as well as we can, because whether we are right or wrong, we will enjoy/suffer the consequences. This isn't about establishing one's self at the coffee table as a "deep thinker," or "winning points" in the current discussion, or anything; it's about the very real question of, "If I want to be happy, what do I do?" It's about trying to answer that question, and get it right, with the one life we have.

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CriticalThinker2000,

 

I do not understand how your last post gets us any closer to answering the question in the original post. If I make a statement that X is moral and I determine that it is logical and integrates with the totality of my knowledge and therefore it is true and you make a statement that X is immoral and you determine that it is logical and integrates with the totality of your knowledge and therefore it is true, we have not made any progress. At best, we end up in a situation where I try to convince you that your knowledge or your logic or your integration is somehow in error and you try to convince me that my knowledge or my logic or my integration is somehow in error.

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It is true that humans can't know *everything,* but that's not actually necessary. All we need to know is "enough." I don't know much of anything about physics. Yet, I have no problem putting my foot on the floor every morning when I get out of bed. I know that the floor will be there, even if I don't know why.

You have acknowledged that some morality is obvious. But, you have a problem figuring out the less-obvious. It's not just you, it's everyone, and it's not just morality, it's all knowledge. That's the entire human deal -- using a mixture of our senses and our reasoning ability to find out more and more about existence, and how we should live in it.

But, as I mentioned before, just because we don't know everything, doesn't mean we know nothing -- just as with putting my foot on the floor every morning. If we knew nothing, we could never move from one spot. Similarly, although not everything is known about human motives or whether they're telling the truth in any given moment or who deserves what, or how justice would be served, we do know a lot about the morality of human interaction. Since we can't just go around acting like we don't know that, and since we must find some way to interact, we make the best judgement call we can, and call it "moral" within our context. Some interactions will be as certain as riding the cement block to the bottom of the river. Other interactions, we may have to say, "I'm torn and don't know everything I'd like, but I have to make a decision. Based on what I know, I'll decide what I think is the moral thing to do."

You seem to be uncomfortable with competing moralities between individuals. But, that's just the nature of many individual minds figuring reality out independently. In the abstract, I can say, "The person closest to the truth is right, and will likely come out on top in the long run." In practice, you can see how it's played out in history through human conflict after conflict. Or a best case scenario, it's as you wrote, "...we end up in a situation where I try to convince you that your knowledge or your logic or your integration is somehow in error and you try to convince me that my knowledge or my logic or my integration is somehow in error." Looking "beyond the coffee table," it's messier than just debating. But the final decider is the same: reality. For example, it's a pretty solid guess at this point that the communists were doing it "wronger," and that Western cultures do it "righter." As you said, "what is, is," with everything including morality, even when we are still ignorant and in the dark. In that case, we use our best judgement and move forward. "Guess and check," as usual, forever.

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425,

 

Since your answer to the question asked in the original post is that one must gather all of the evidence available and ensure that his own logical methods are airtight, then if I gather all of the evidence available and ensure that my own logical methods are airtight and say X is moral, then X is moral. And if you gather all of the evidence available and ensure that your own logical methods are airtight and say X is immoral, then X is immoral. And since we disagree, like my response to CriticalThinker2000, at best, we end up in a situation where I try to convince you that your evidence or your logic methods are somehow in error and you try to convince me that my evidence or my logic methods are somehow in error. And if we can’t convince each other, then I will claim that I am correct, claim that you are incorrect, and act accordingly and you will claim that you are correct, claim that I am incorrect, and act accordingly. Do you agree with my summary?

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StrictlyLogical,

 

I cannot agree with what you have written in your post. By stating that action A is moral you are presupposing an answer to the question asked in the original post of, “How can we say that anything is moral or immoral?” Since I do not know the answer to that question, hence the asking, I cannot say that action A is moral (or immoral) under any circumstances.

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DonAthos,

 

Similar to my response to 425, since your answer to the question asked in the original post is that we can say that something is moral or immoral by appealing to the evidence we have and logic and so forth, if I state that X is moral by appealing to the evidence I have and logic and so forth, then X is moral. And if you state that X is immoral by appealing to the evidence you have and logic and so forth, then X is immoral. And since we disagree, at best, we end up in a situation where I try to convince you that you are somehow in error and you try to convince me that I am somehow in error. And if we can’t convince each other, then I will claim that I am correct, claim that you are incorrect, and act accordingly and you will claim that you are correct, claim that I am incorrect, and act accordingly. Do you agree with my summary?

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Jaskn,

 

It is disappointing that you have not answered, nor even addressed, the questions that I asked in post #33 and #43 as I am curious about your answers, but it does not seem necessary in order to answer the question asked in the original post. Your answer to the question of how can we say that anything is moral or immoral is simply, as you stated, “‘Guess-and-check,’ as usual, forever.” Is this correct?

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