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Is Stealing to live Justified According to Objectivists

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2 hours ago, Eiuol said:

What DA means, I think, is that when placed in a lifeboat situation, people will act according to habits they develop, the sort of person they are...

Yes, that is what I'm saying.
 

3 hours ago, TLD said:

... If you refrain from aggression, you would sacrifice yourself.

But if you hold subjectivist principles where feelings trump reason, then anything goes...

 

No, that isn't what I'm saying.

My point is that stealing doesn't become justified by imagining morality doesn't apply to lives under duress.

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11 hours ago, TLD said:

We don't act on habits, we act on principles - whether conscious of them or not. No, morality still applies to those who are dying. It is just that in "lifeboats", those principles do not apply. We are simply in survival mode.

If you aren't conscious of them, then acting on habits you are.  The trick is to be morally consistent so that habitually good behavior pays off during survival mode.  It's not about life at all costs when the cost is one you can't live with afterwards.

There's nothing simple about survival mode.

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A Habit is a "regular tendency or practice." You are certainly conscious of them - or should be. But they are not necessarily a result of integrated factual data. They result from automatizing certain processes - which, if done objectively, would be rational subconscious responses.

But even the good "habits" or rational responses don't apply in the "lifeboat" ex. E.g. you don't have a "habit" of harming others but in the lifeboat you may have to.

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1 hour ago, Devil's Advocate said:

The trick is to be morally consistent so that habitually good behavior pays off during survival mode.

Well, this part here, that morality can provide any possible answer in a lifeboat situation, needs to be addressed. How would you be able to say "what pays off" in the OP example? Even your answer is -only- based on making it back into a normal context.

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On 1/11/2016 at 4:18 PM, Eiuol said:

It's an interesting discussion, to talk about what you would do in an emergency situation. Why would you see it was continual punishment to see survival through murder (emphasizing again the lifeboat situation)? Life, after all, is adaptable after the fact, and can be made just as glorious before.

I have a vision of what life ought to be -- what I am working towards, and to which I have dedicated myself. This vision of mine is not infinitely malleable; it has identity, and it is not conceivably "adaptable" to the circumstance that I have murdered my wife in order to prolong my own survival. There is no future that I can reasonably expect, given such a scenario, which I could describe as "glorious." Rather I would expect a permanent state of suffering.

On 1/11/2016 at 4:18 PM, Eiuol said:

I'm saying there is literally no valid moral judgment in an emergency situation. There is no valid way to ask "what is in my rational self-interest" after obliterating the context used for establishing moral concepts in the first place!

In "The Objectivist Ethics," Rand says:

Quote

Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man—in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life.

Just so.

While dying would (obviously) leave me unable "to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy" my own life, so, too, would the choice to murder my wife. It is thus a dilemma, perhaps, but I can picture the state of life (and my own consciousness) having made such a choice, and I would honestly prefer nothingness to that.

It is something akin to the prospect of life with a painfully crippling disease, knowing that every day would entail utter misery with only consciousness-destroying medication to offer some (incomplete) relief. In such a case, I would opt for euthanasia.

In sum, I know what life is, what it ought to be, what it can be, and I'm not willing to settle for some mockery of it. This self-knowledge would guide me, even in emergencies, and I account that a kind of ethics.

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47 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

Well, this part here, that morality can provide any possible answer in a lifeboat situation, needs to be addressed. How would you be able to say "what pays off" in the OP example? Even your answer is -only- based on making it back into a normal context.

My response to the OP example is, theft is theft.  Being under duress doesn't make theft a virtue, therefore stealing under any circumstance isn't justified.  You said (and I agree), "Of course, how someone finds themselves in a lifeboat situation is still up for moral evaluation."  Moral judgement isn't suspended just because you find yourself in a lifeboat or in a desert.

The first move of an Objectivist in the OP would be to attempt to contract with the tent owner; not to steal from him.  And I think dream_weaver responds adequately to this.  I would only add that if the tent were abandoned, the goods are up for grabs.  If not, the law only requires one to act as a reasonable man would under the circumstances.  Remaining to work out an agreement to repay the tent owner would offset the charge of theft while remaining consistent to ones moral principles.

 

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53 minutes ago, TLD said:

A Habit is a "regular tendency or practice." You are certainly conscious of them - or should be. But they are not necessarily a result of integrated factual data. They result from automatizing certain processes - which, if done objectively, would be rational subconscious responses.

But even the good "habits" or rational responses don't apply in the "lifeboat" ex. E.g. you don't have a "habit" of harming others but in the lifeboat you may have to.

You are presumably in the habit of defending yourself against aggression.  Whatever harm occurs to others by your hand under those circumstances remains a good habit on your part.  No harm = no foul, so under other circumstances it would be as immoral to initiate aggression against fellow victims in a lifeboat as it would be to initiate it under normal circumstances.

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From the above it seems the context of "emergency" excuses a man from moral judgment because he cannot be rational. 

What about a "better" man, for which the context becomes, [and this is by reason of the "better" man's rationality, emotional control, heightened crow epistemology, optimal virtues, and ability to rationally play out more scenarios of causation as well as introspection and projection of himself, his values, and reality into the future ...etc] a non-emergency, merely an exceptional situation, but one which the man can nonetheless choose to act in accordance with principle, rationality, i.e. morally?

Is there any point analyzing a scenario which most men would find an emergency, from the view of one of the "better men" who would not?  We all encounter varyingly different stressful situations, ones which vary in danger and the need of rapid decision etc.  Where do we draw the lines and IF it is contextual (which I think it is) can we hypothesize in the context of the better man?

I am here thinking of a level-headed war hardened Marine who is a rational egoist with a healthy amount of self-esteem and is exceptionally virtuous in Rand's sense... can we look at him with a shifted line of "emergency"?

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No, it does not excuse him; moral principles simply don't apply. A "better" man cannot simply make an emergency become a non-emergency (if that is what you were implying). If a rational man is forced to do something in emergency that he would not do otherwise, then there is no one better who can create a rational choice of actions.

You are too uncomfortable with the ideas being presented here. Understand the principle and don't attempt to create a false scenario.

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22 minutes ago, TLD said:

No, it does not excuse him; moral principles simply don't apply.

In "The Ethics of Emergencies," Ayn Rand writes:

Quote

It is important to differentiate between the rules of conduct in an emergency situation and the rules of conduct in the normal conditions of human existence. This does not mean a double standard of morality: the standard and the basic principles remain the same, but their application to either case requires precise definitions.

When she says "the standard and the basic principles [of morality] remain the same" in an emergency situation, do you believe it has the same essential meaning as "moral principles simply don't apply"?

_____________________________________

Edited to Add: It is kind of curious, upon reflection, that there should be an essay entitled "The Ethics of Emergencies," when emergencies place men beyond ethical considerations...

Edited by DonAthos
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But it does mean that he does not subordinate his life to the welfare of others, that he does not sacrifice himself to their needs, that the relief of their suffering is not his primary concern, that any help he gives is an exception, not a rule, an act of generosity, not of moral duty, that it is marginal and incidental—as disasters are marginal and incidental in the course of human existence—and that values, not disasters, are the goal, the first concern and the motive power of his life. — Closing line of "The Ethics of Emergencies"

It's not that an emergencies place men beyond ethical consideration, it is that an emergency is not a moral claim check on his life..

 

Edited by dream_weaver
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21 minutes ago, dream_weaver said:

...

It's not that an emergencies place men beyond ethical consideration, it is that an emergency is not a moral claim check on his life..

Yes, I notice a certain reserve for becoming too enthusiastic about helping out your fellow man once the flood waters have receded...

Her other point, "... 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. Since men are not omnipotent, it is metaphysically possible for unforeseeable disasters to strike them..." is a bit misleading (IMO) and may account for some of the readiness to leap into a morality free zone.

While it is true that men aren't omnipotent (or omniscient), they certainly can foresee possible consequences of placing themselves in harms way, e.g. living in flood zones, or in areas prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc, and prepare for worse case scenarios; actual lifeboats are man made after all.

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3 hours ago, DonAthos said:

When she says "the standard and the basic principles [of morality] remain the same" in an emergency situation, do you believe it has the same essential meaning as "moral principles simply don't apply"?

To me, it looks like the point in that quote is that morality doesn't -disappear- or -transform-. That doesn't mean morality as you understand it applies. I don't think Rand''s position is worked out in full, so I don't think her quotes here will get us too close to a good answer. It's a good start, though.

Edited by Eiuol
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Moral content is posited by the availability of choice in lieu of force.  So unless the occupants of a lifeboat were thrown in against their will and every action they did afterwards was forced, they all remain exposed to moral judgement.

In Ayn Rand's essay she speaks of the necessity of returning from a life threatening situation to a normal state of affairs, if that is possible...

"It is only in emergency situations that one should volunteer to help strangers, if it is in one’s power." (my italics)

... one should help, if one has the choice...

There is your moral gateway, and the context that establishes the ethics of emergencies.  That is why actual lifeboats and storm shelter are designed and built; to extend the opportunity to choose to survive emergencies when they occur; to extend moral options.

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If a man chooses to live, then he must act in order to live.  In order to do so in a way which is rational he chooses to follow a principled guide to action, a morality. The standard of morality is objective but contextual. 

Justice requires that we judge others rationally with the full context in mind etc. It is understandable why we hesitate to judge a man in an emergency situation if he literally cannot act according to principles because of the mind killing effects of the emergency.  Such third person post-facto moral judgment is complex.  Even a person who judges himself (possibly too harshly?) after having gone through an emergency might find such "first person retro-intro-spective moral judgment" to be complex.

None of this, none of the considerations of moral responsibility remove the FACT of reality that a man who chooses to live must still act somehow in an emergency.  Ignoring whether or not he individually can act in accordance with moral principles, he does face the choice to act, he has his past, his values, the context of situation and the possibility of the various outcomes.  Those choices he faces may be more or less in accordance with rationality, the standard of morality, with himself as beneficiary... the choices exist and as such they are not unanalyzable.  In an emergency a man faces better and worse choices... particularly in consequence to his life and values...only a nihilist or a skeptic would say the choices are ALL EXACTLY EQUAL.  The sticking point in this thread is whether a particular individual CAN make those choices rationally.

Given an emergency context while abstracting away the individual, I think Rand says the same principles apply, but I also believe that contextually, an individual cannot be judged as moral or immoral when the very rational faculty has been negated by the sheer danger, fear, force, pain etc. of an emergency.  Morality in the context of the situation is still applicable but due to the mental state of the actor third person (or retrospective first person) moral judgment must be adjusted.  Contextually a person who literally cannot act according to rationality or morality, cannot be held morally responsible for the acts chosen.  Equally, a person who can and DID have the ability to act rationally and morally in the emergency situation SHOULD be held responsible for their actions, as we would hold accountable a highly trained and capable police officers and soldiers, for example.

Something as simple as the ability to think under different pain thresholds or intense emotional stress levels, compel us to contextually judge (from the outside) different people's actions differently.  I do think "emergency" as a concept useful for moral considerations is not a simple application of the same context equally applicable to all people.  Different individuals in the same context may or may not be subject to emergency status.

In the end there still is an objective morality, there still ARE choices that should have been made independent of the ability of the person to make them. If a hypothetical emergency ignores the last proviso "and you are still capable of rational judgment, OR and you are not capable of rational judgment" then it is perfectly valid to analyze the possible actions and outcomes against the standard of morality - rational self-interest.  Judging morality in an emergency context in the abstract is valid, but only if one is mindful of the fact that a crucial element is, for the moment, is being omitted.

One cannot ignore in the final analysis, if judgment is about a REAL specific INDIVIDUAL person, what that context actually did to their mind and ability to think rationally. 

I think this distinction between external situation and full context taking into account the mental status of the individual is the basis for the above disagreement.

 

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SL, by reading your post, I found myself disagreeing about details but some general agreement about how to get a good answer. Let me address a few points briefly where my thinking is going:

"In the end there still is an objective morality, there still ARE choices that should have been made independent of the ability of the person to make them."

This sounds like you're saying morality is objective because it omits measurements of a person's variations in ability to think well. I don't think that makes sense, at least not for egoism. The idea should be that morality applies to man's nature, and a nature which all people share. That is, morality is exactly -dependent- upon the abilities of people. That's why we don't judge errors as moral flaws, it's also why morality is based on epistemology, how man is able to figure out what flourishing demands.

"Judging morality in an emergency context in the abstract is valid, but only if one is mindful of the fact that a crucial element is, for the moment, is being omitted."

If you omit a crucial element, aren't you omitting the very thing that makes a situation open to moral judgment? If you judge the morality of a situation where a crucial element of morality is removed, you are judging by a contextless absolute. Morality isn't a matter of being alive, -then- going for flourishing; it's a matter of choosing life as a first step. If life, flourishing, or growth of life is not present, then there is no standard for a rational answer, leaving you just with "better or not better".

"Equally, a person who can and DID have the ability to act rationally and morally in the emergency situation SHOULD be held responsible for their actions, as we would hold accountable a highly trained and capable police officers and soldiers, for example."

Actually, this is pretty close to a Nietzschean sense of strength and ability. Some people, by their nature partly caused by how they were raised, or trained, are more able to act with regard to their will and life. Nietzsche appreciated a sort of warrior spirit, whether intellectual or literally as a warrior. Rand's position, which I agree with, is more that morality (when applicable) is always attainable, and any strength and ability would be equally demanded of anyone. There are not "warrior-unique" moral contexts where another person would not be in an equal situation. Otherwise, the logical end is that heroes in AS were all a special breed of people specially suited for being rational. All heroes would be that way.

Altogether, I think there are two different kinds of "lifeboat" scenarios. One is the kind I'm focusing on: the context of life has been obliterated, like my nuked-by-Russia scenario where soldiers are suddenly all over. Another would be a situation of duress, like a gun being pulled on you, where the context isn't obliterated. It's more momentary, so morality is judged more narrowly as normalizing duress.

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6 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

If a man chooses to live, then he must act in order to live.  In order to do so in a way which is rational he chooses to follow a principled guide to action, a morality. The standard of morality is objective but contextual...

"A person is in a desert and is dying. His only option to survive is to steal food or water from a camp owned by a man. The amount stolen would not kill the tent owner but would only be sufficient for the man to live." ~ OP, Aziz 2 Al-Jabir 2 (classic lifeboat scenario)

In this scenario the dying man has a choice (he can accept the consequence of not stealing), thus a moral judgement can be derived.  Since the amount stolen wouldn't kill the tent owner, the crime is limited to a theft of property so the fundamental moral question is, does a right to life allow the theft of property?

I say no.  What say you?

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Eiuol, I think your point that people act according to their habits in lifeboat situations is probably correct with respect to lifeboat situations that occur unexpectedly and require rapid action. However, what would you say about lifeboat situations that are sustained over a long period of time, like living in a dictatorship?

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On ‎1‎/‎17‎/‎2016 at 9:31 PM, Devil's Advocate said:

"A person is in a desert and is dying. His only option to survive is to steal food or water from a camp owned by a man. The amount stolen would not kill the tent owner but would only be sufficient for the man to live." ~ OP, Aziz 2 Al-Jabir 2 (classic lifeboat scenario)

In this scenario the dying man has a choice (he can accept the consequence of not stealing), thus a moral judgement can be derived.  Since the amount stolen wouldn't kill the tent owner, the crime is limited to a theft of property so the fundamental moral question is, does a right to life allow the theft of property?

I say no.  What say you?

Preface:

People often find moral "hypotheticals" interesting because they are questioning moral standards (which are often quite flawed and or baseless).  The idea is that the principles of morality can be scrutinized by subjecting them to particular situations, and gauging them by way of "feeling", "intuition", or some other implicit or explicit moral standard (I.e. a completely different morality).

In a case where one analyses something in respect of a certain and specific morality, such as for example Objectivist morality, the question becomes rather uninteresting as it is the application of known principles in a particular context.  For Objectivism in particular, even the sensationalist rewards of analysis against "intuition" are removed, as Objectivist morality has nothing to do with intuition.

 

Answer:

In the case of Objectivism, the moral standard is simple, it is life of the individual whose actions, which must be voluntarily chosen, and hopefully in accordance with that morality, whose sole beneficiary is that individual.  All moral questions reduce to the self-interest, long term, considering the entire context, of the individual who is faced with the choice.

Morality is NOT DUTY, it is not obedience to something HIGHER, it IS rational selfishness.

Death is almost never in the long term interests  of an individual, unless (to cite an example of saving one's own child) the last few seconds in life knowing your child will live because you saved him, are worth more than an entire empty lifetime full of anguish without the child and knowing that you let him die.

In this context, if you believe that after having tried literally everything to avoid theft, including persuasion, promises to repay the owner, etc. that no action other than theft will save your life you have a choice to make with life as the standard.

Will the last few minutes, you lived be worth more to you because you did not steal, than the entire rest of your life and dealing with all the consequences of your theft including the voluntary ability to make reparations?  Keeping the context in reality requires that you understand how much time you may spend in jail, what kind of fines you may have to pay, what mistrust you may suffer from others, what damage to your self-esteem you might suffer.  It also requires that you understand that you can, at your option decide to make reparations for your theft, including but not limited to apologizing and repaying the owner many times over, which you would do FOR YOURSELF and your sense of justince and not for the arbitrary state of mind of the owner.  You must also keep in mind your self-esteem will be affected but that the effect on your self- esteem MUST take into account, when you recall the entire story of events, that you were GOING TO DIE, when you made the decision to steal.

You know/feel/intuit your answer of what is right according to your morality.  I get that.

 

My question to you now is what do you THINK, an Objectivist should do according to the morality of RATIONAL SELF-INTEREST?

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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To clarify my answer, StrictlyLogical, I stated he could accept the consequences of not stealing (not that he should accept dying).  Even in a scenario limited to stealing = life, not stealing = death, a choice exists that provides the context for moral judgement.  Ayn Rand speaks of using precise definitions in emergency scenarios.  Would an Objectivist in an emergency scenario define theft as non-theft?
An Objectivist like TLD appears to dismiss that definition altogether by claiming it's not really theft because morality is excluded from actions in an emergency situation.  If I'm not representing your position correctly TLD, please correct me... again.

 

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I certainly would not mis-define such terms.

Some in this blog have confused "emergency" with "lifeboat" situations; i.e. emergencies where choices are still available and others where one's life depends on acting irrationally according to obj. principles. And we need to distinguish between - in the latter case - situations one has put himself into via wrong choices and not.

When in a situation without choice and providing no choice, a rational person may need to steal from another while not liking to do so. He would be aware of doing so and would not need to evade or re-define "theft."

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