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When can you say a person is X (quality of character, e.g., evil)

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I find this type of question keeps coming up for me in different contexts and I'm looking for better ways to frame it and find answers. It almost always comes in the form that is in the title. E.g., at what point do I say a person is truly evil? and how do I know where to draw that line? For example, if they stole once? If they lied? If they murdered? I can understand that it is possible to say a specific act is evil, but not how you can then jump to describe an entire character.

This applies to other qualities of character too. For example, at what point do you say "that person is unreasonable," or "that person is charming," or "that person is intelligent" or at what point do you cross from saying "I've done a bad act" to "I'm a bad person."

Obviously in all these cases we don't mean that a person is evil or charming or intelligent in every instance of their life past and present. 

And if someone was consistently evil, according to my understanding of the Objectivist definition, they wouldn't be alive anyway. 

What are some helpful concepts to think about this complexity?

The way I think about it now is simply to look at specific acts and try not to make big generalizations about a person, but wanting to see if it can be thought about a bit better.

So is there any epistemological concept for describing this thing that I'm thinking about?

Edited by Jonathan Weissberg
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At first glance, one should hold to the separation of bad idea/ideology from the individual who espouses such. The ideas may be wrong-to-evil but the person not necessarily so, and little more than wrongheaded. That's quite standard Objectivist fare. Innocence or evasion? One doesn't have insight into a mind, nor usually know of their past record of his/her qualities or vices, or indeed that he may correct himself in future. The deciding point is action. The bad-evil ideas carried out into action by the individual, who has no excuse any longer for being unknowing - unseeing - of the concrete consequences, make him bad-evil in one's objective assessment.

Reading character is difficult, many people being of mixed virtues/weaknesses and inconsistent over time in their practice. But of course one can and should declare to him that ¬this¬ instance in word or deed is dishonest, ¬that¬ is irrational, etc. (Or at very least sum up for oneself over a period his general character for the sake of further interactions with them; we haven't any duty to try to correct everybody's perceived failings and behavior, as well as a waste of energy and often fruitless, and at times not have full knowledge of their circumstances to judge fairly).

 

Edited by whYNOT
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This is an application of the concept “proof” or “certain”, so more generally the question is “When do I conclude that…”. As you know (OPAR Ch. 5), X is certain when all of the evidence points to conclusion X, and there is no surviving evidence to the effect that alternative Y is viable. However, actions are often necessary based on incomplete knowledge. As a scientist, I can delay making a final decision on a theory pending the outcome of some experiment, but when I’m hanging from a cliff, I have to make a choice of actions now. What urgency contributes is that the conceptual possibility of alternatives cannot veto the knowledge available, that is, there is a point at which “check your assumptions” has been done and now you have to choose.

What drives the process is actual urgency, which is about the alternatives that you can recognize, the apparent consequence of the choices, and (since you’re asking about a character-judgment about a person) the extent to which an incorrect assumption about the person’s character will lead in the direction of your death. The character of the gent with the döner cart is minimally relevant to my choice whether to buy from him: I only care whether he has polluted my lunch. Even though BLM is an evil organization, I don’t take the presence of a BLM sticker on the cart to mean that he will poison me. I don’t need to invent rationalizations (“He insincerely displays the sticker to drum up business”), I simply do not care.

Evaluation of a person’s character is based on summing up his actions. A person who is otherwise rational and good may nevertheless be convicted of murder, so in deciding whether to ever deal with him, or only deal with him once from a distance, you have to check your assumptions about his evil act. Perhaps he went off his meds, perhaps he was extraordinarily provoked, or perhaps he is truly evil and only slipped up once in covering up his evilness. It comes down to integrating everything you know about the person.

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6 hours ago, whYNOT said:

One doesn't have insight into a mind, nor usually know of their past record of his/her qualities or vices, or indeed that he may correct himself in future. The deciding point is action. The bad-evil ideas carried out into action by the individual, who has no excuse any longer for being unknowing - unseeing - of the concrete consequences, make him bad-evil in one's objective assessment.

This is more advanced than I intended. I'm even not sure about myself and how one properly evaluates oneself. To judge others is way beyond that.

How do you determine what kind of action makes you evil? For example, according to Objectivist literature, evading is 'evil.' So if you evade some work you need to do for the day, are you now evil? I can see how I could say, 'OK, I did a bad act', but are you now an evil person? And if not, then why should anyone else be evil after doing some 'bad' acts? All you can say is X person did bad acts and I should probably stay away from him. 

What if you were a bank robber and got arrested but then after spending 10 years in prison read lots of books and vowed to turn your life around to one of independence and productivity? Are you still evil? 

Or what if you were say a decent, productive person in Nazi Germany but then got caught up in a war and then shot an innocent person? have you now definitely crossed into the threshold of 'evil'? 

I could say the same for any label really. For example, at what point is someone (or are you) "smart"? Is it one act, or two acts of smartness being displayed? 

Or "charismatic"? If you get up on stage twice and completely captivate the crowd, are you then "charismatic"? Or was it just that your two performances were "charismatic"?

Hope it's clearer where I'm trying to go with this & what I'm confused about. I'm sure there's some concept for this in epistemology. 

 

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6 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

This is an application of the concept “proof” or “certain”, so more generally the question is “When do I conclude that…”. As you know (OPAR Ch. 5), X is certain when all of the evidence points to conclusion X, and there is no surviving evidence to the effect that alternative Y is viable. However, actions are often necessary based on incomplete knowledge. As a scientist, I can delay making a final decision on a theory pending the outcome of some experiment, but when I’m hanging from a cliff, I have to make a choice of actions now. What urgency contributes is that the conceptual possibility of alternatives cannot veto the knowledge available, that is, there is a point at which “check your assumptions” has been done and now you have to choose.

After reading through this chapter I was left with dozens of questions, so I'm going to explore this in further detail soon on other threads covering statistics for decision making, certainty, proof, unknowns, etc.

6 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

What drives the process is actual urgency, which is about the alternatives that you can recognize, the apparent consequence of the choices, and (since you’re asking about a character-judgment about a person) the extent to which an incorrect assumption about the person’s character will lead in the direction of your death. The character of the gent with the döner cart is minimally relevant to my choice whether to buy from him: I only care whether he has polluted my lunch. Even though BLM is an evil organization, I don’t take the presence of a BLM sticker on the cart to mean that he will poison me. I don’t need to invent rationalizations (“He insincerely displays the sticker to drum up business”), I simply do not care.

Side tangent, but have managed to integrate explicit epistemological ideas into your automated thinking into these kind of day-to-day scenarios?

6 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

Evaluation of a person’s character is based on summing up his actions. A person who is otherwise rational and good may nevertheless be convicted of murder, so in deciding whether to ever deal with him, or only deal with him once from a distance, you have to check your assumptions about his evil act. Perhaps he went off his meds, perhaps he was extraordinarily provoked, or perhaps he is truly evil and only slipped up once in covering up his evilness. It comes down to integrating everything you know about the person.

OK, this is what interests me:

"A person who is otherwise rational and good may nevertheless be convicted of murder" and "perhaps he is truly evil"...

This thread wasn't so much about judging evil in others, but at what point you label a whole character as something (in this case evil). 

So if you are "otherwise rational and good" but murder, you now cross the line and become "truly evil"?

Or in the examples I gave above, if I perform on stage twice and captivate the audience, am I now a "charismatic" person? or was I simply "charismatic" twice on stage?

Hopefully this makes more sense & I'm a bit clearer on the problem I'm trying to work out.

I have a feeling this thing I'm thinking about has something to do with me holding some kind of mistaken premise about omniscience and absolute knowledge. 

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Thinking of things as on a spectrum, at least for concepts where approximate measurements are used (ordinal, as in more than, less than, things like that), is a good idea. The evidential continuum is similar, where lower down you have highly unlikely, then likely, then probable, then nearly certain. There is no precise point, and the precision necessary might be determined by the context. Are you trying to determine who took cookies from the cookie jar, or are you trying to determine who this serial killer is? For morality, are you trying to determine who you want to make you a sandwich at the deli, or are you trying to determine whether someone has the moral character to be president? Maybe you're trying to determine if they set a good example for your students at a commencement speech?

Generally though, we can figure out where the lines are. Imagine this is a morality continuum, with evil (1) on the left, and heroic (9) on the right.

<- 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. ->

Let's say that 3 is "bad" and 7 is "good", 5 is "mixed". Maybe for a particular person, you can think of a lot of bad things, more than the good, so you could say that they lean to the left side. But what if for whatever reason, you know that they have some especially bad actions. Maybe they assaulted someone unprovoked. Are they evil? What if they are just at 2, is it better to call them evil, or just very bad? Well, there is no precise point, and there isn't one to be found. What we should and can do is look at the context, consider that maybe there is an additional concept between "evil" and "bad" that you could use, or maybe that these approximations really are fine for what you're doing. The important point is that you can rate their evil as more or less compared to something else. 

I'm aware that this doesn't completely answer your question, but I think it should help. Changing the continuum to "weight of moral actions", the reasoning would be the same. Or you could rate individual actions from evil to heroic in the same way, things like that.
 

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4 hours ago, Jonathan Weissberg said:

This is more advanced than I intended. I'm even not sure about myself and how one properly evaluates oneself. To judge others is way beyond that.

How do you determine what kind of action makes you evil? For example, according to Objectivist literature, evading is 'evil.' So if you evade some work you need to do for the day, are you now evil? I can see how I could say, 'OK, I did a bad act', but are you now an evil person? And if not, then why should anyone else be evil after doing some 'bad' acts? All you can say is X person did bad acts and I should probably stay away from him. 

What if you were a bank robber and got arrested but then after spending 10 years in prison read lots of books and vowed to turn your life around to one of independence and productivity? Are you still evil? 

Or what if you were say a decent, productive person in Nazi Germany but then got caught up in a war and then shot an innocent person? have you now definitely crossed into the threshold of 'evil'? 

I could say the same for any label really. For example, at what point is someone (or are you) "smart"? Is it one act, or two acts of smartness being displayed? 

Or "charismatic"? If you get up on stage twice and completely captivate the crowd, are you then "charismatic"? Or was it just that your two performances were "charismatic"?

Hope it's clearer where I'm trying to go with this & what I'm confused about. I'm sure there's some concept for this in epistemology. 

 

Two things. I had meant to convey the type of spectrum of wrongs which Eiuol has. To stress, that very little or not everything a person thinks and does is evil, in fact to preserve the currency of the extreme concept I think "evil" should be used most discriminately, where it matters. I believe I did mention consistency. Once or twice is not indicative of being a good moral actor or bad, but probably of an inconsistent actor. When one caters to free will, one accepts that the "being of volitional consciousness" is in charge of his character and acts - and that means everyone - so one individual of previously poor moral character can self-correct, a good one might renege on his usual standards.

So too with evasion, equally as extreme as "evil". One would have to escape matters and responsibilities many times, regularly, to self-qualify for being evasive, while a single act might be sufficient if extreme.

I think you are pointing to the error of intrinsic knowledge - revealed, quasi-mystical insight - here, about people, by which I might take as representative of a person's character or talents, only one or two narrow exposures to them. E.g. that she smiles sympathetically (she must be compassionate) or he said something original (sounds smart), or when others' judgement of a person is taken to be Gospel, say, about his charisma and intelligence, or lacks of (dubious, as the collective opinion usually is). Given that nearly all people like to be seen and present themselves in a good light to others, and that's fine, but there will also be plenty of dissembling occurring, and fakery of attributes or the concealment of not very nice qualities. Whereas the initially rude or unlikeable-seeming person might be found to have great character on longer acquaintance. (Also an assumption to be wary of since there are some who understand this mis-perception full well and play to it. He talks and behaves like a jerk to allay the fact that he actually is one. Your assessment was right first time). 

Entering is also "personality", far more the 'sense of life' product of early experience and development, than of one's willed character.

My belief backed by observations is that personality passes for character and has replaced it in this rather superficial/skeptical/determinist time. I mean where does one hear "character" spoken of now?

Edited by whYNOT
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  • 2 weeks later...

OK. I'm revisiting this after a long re-read.

On 12/21/2020 at 3:10 PM, whYNOT said:

At first glance, one should hold to the separation of bad idea/ideology from the individual who espouses such. The ideas may be wrong-to-evil but the person not necessarily so, and little more than wrongheaded. That's quite standard Objectivist fare. Innocence or evasion? One doesn't have insight into a mind, nor usually know of their past record of his/her qualities or vices, or indeed that he may correct himself in future. The deciding point is action. 

 

What weight do you give words then? If someone espouses "good idea/ideology" do you also conclude the person "may" be good? 

On a related note, how should you classify people's words? If someone gives you some psychological explanation for what they did, e.g., "I avoided confronting her because I don't like letting people down", you won't really ever know what their motivation was: did he not confront her because he doesn't like letting people down? or was he afraid of the consequences? or was he afraid of a confrontation? or was there some other motivation he failed to identify? You cannot directly peer into someone's heart to validate their claim of motivation ever. So do you just treat their explanations of motivation as "hypotheses" and continue collecting evidence (observations of actions) until you climb slightly higher up the evidential continuum, never ever truly reaching "certainty"?

On 12/21/2020 at 3:10 PM, whYNOT said:

The bad-evil ideas carried out into action by the individual, who has no excuse any longer for being unknowing - unseeing - of the concrete consequences, make him bad-evil in one's objective assessment.

So to conclude a person is "evil" you must (1) Know he espouses bad ideas & (2) See him put them into action? If conditions (1) isn't met, then where do we stand?

On 12/21/2020 at 3:10 PM, whYNOT said:

Reading character is difficult, many people being of mixed virtues/weaknesses and inconsistent over time in their practice. 

So measurement over some amount of time is important. But is anyone every consistently evil? Wouldn't that mean literal death or suicide, since to survive you have to exercise some rationality? Therefore can I not legitimately say that even the worst dictator is "inconsistent"?

On 12/21/2020 at 3:10 PM, whYNOT said:

But of course one can and should declare to him that ¬this¬ instance in word or deed is dishonest, ¬that¬ is irrational, etc. (Or at very least sum up for oneself over a period his general character for the sake of further interactions with them; we haven't any duty to try to correct everybody's perceived failings and behavior, as well as a waste of energy and often fruitless, and at times not have full knowledge of their circumstances to judge fairly).

 

This gets to the question: how do you "sum up" .. "over a period his general character"? what is the appropriate period? e.g., if you know someone once committed murder 20 years ago, do you say he was once evil and is no longer evil now? (assuming he was released from prison 5 years ago and has been an Aristotelian philosophy tutor and sushi chef ever since?

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On 12/21/2020 at 4:10 PM, DavidOdden said:

This is an application of the concept “proof” or “certain”, so more generally the question is “When do I conclude that…”. As you know (OPAR Ch. 5), X is certain when all of the evidence points to conclusion X, and there is no surviving evidence to the effect that alternative Y is viable. However, actions are often necessary based on incomplete knowledge. As a scientist, I can delay making a final decision on a theory pending the outcome of some experiment, but when I’m hanging from a cliff, I have to make a choice of actions now. What urgency contributes is that the conceptual possibility of alternatives cannot veto the knowledge available, that is, there is a point at which “check your assumptions” has been done and now you have to choose.

What drives the process is actual urgency, which is about the alternatives that you can recognize, the apparent consequence of the choices, and (since you’re asking about a character-judgment about a person) the extent to which an incorrect assumption about the person’s character will lead in the direction of your death. The character of the gent with the döner cart is minimally relevant to my choice whether to buy from him: I only care whether he has polluted my lunch. Even though BLM is an evil organization, I don’t take the presence of a BLM sticker on the cart to mean that he will poison me. I don’t need to invent rationalizations (“He insincerely displays the sticker to drum up business”), I simply do not care.

Evaluation of a person’s character is based on summing up his actions. A person who is otherwise rational and good may nevertheless be convicted of murder, so in deciding whether to ever deal with him, or only deal with him once from a distance, you have to check your assumptions about his evil act. Perhaps he went off his meds, perhaps he was extraordinarily provoked, or perhaps he is truly evil and only slipped up once in covering up his evilness. It comes down to integrating everything you know about the person.

Re-reading this, I can see you're talking about a framework for decision making under time constraints and uncertainty (which I'll certainly post more about soon).

On 12/21/2020 at 4:10 PM, DavidOdden said:

Evaluation of a person’s character is based on summing up his actions. A person who is otherwise rational and good may nevertheless be convicted of murder, so in deciding whether to ever deal with him, or only deal with him once from a distance, you have to check your assumptions about his evil act. Perhaps he went off his meds, perhaps he was extraordinarily provoked, or perhaps he is truly evil and only slipped up once in covering up his evilness. It comes down to integrating everything you know about the person.

That's where I'm stuck, what motivated the post: what does it mean to sum up a person's actions? to integrate everything I know about a person means to sum up their actions and everything else I know about them to form some final "judgement"? how does one chose how to weight different qualities and actions, whether positive or negative?

 

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On 12/21/2020 at 10:46 PM, Eiuol said:

Thinking of things as on a spectrum, at least for concepts where approximate measurements are used (ordinal, as in more than, less than, things like that), is a good idea. The evidential continuum is similar, where lower down you have highly unlikely, then likely, then probable, then nearly certain. There is no precise point, and the precision necessary might be determined by the context. Are you trying to determine who took cookies from the cookie jar, or are you trying to determine who this serial killer is? For morality, are you trying to determine who you want to make you a sandwich at the deli, or are you trying to determine whether someone has the moral character to be president?
 

Reading this I think I realized just now where I'm getting stuck. There is a "precise point", but it is determined by context. That's part of it. Every proposition is contextual and means different things. "He's a great cook" analyzed acontextually doesn't work. I think my error here in this thread is not kicking this whole discussion off with a detailed real-world example. What's implicit in the evaluation of the statement "he's a great cook" is: (1) my own standards for cooking (the standards can vary depending on the purpose & context, e.g., the standards in a cooking competition will be different); (2) personal taste of whether I enjoyed the meal; (3) many other dishes I've tried in relation to this one; (4) knowledge of him preparing the meal by himself, etc. But all of that context is usually dropped when you make the statement day-to-day.

On 12/21/2020 at 10:46 PM, Eiuol said:

Are you trying to determine who took cookies from the cookie jar, or are you trying to determine who this serial killer is? For morality, are you trying to determine who you want to make you a sandwich at the deli, or are you trying to determine whether someone has the moral character to be president? Maybe you're trying to determine if they set a good example for your students at a commencement speech?

Generally though, we can figure out where the lines are. Imagine this is a morality continuum, with evil (1) on the left, and heroic (9) on the right.

<- 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. ->

Let's say that 3 is "bad" and 7 is "good", 5 is "mixed". Maybe for a particular person, you can think of a lot of bad things, more than the good, so you could say that they lean to the left side. But what if for whatever reason, you know that they have some especially bad actions. Maybe they assaulted someone unprovoked. Are they evil? What if they are just at 2, is it better to call them evil, or just very bad?

To get more specific this is one thing I find difficult. According to Oism force is evil. Any initiation force is evil on principle. According to that, every country on earth is evil. Something about that doesn't sit right with me. Same for irrationality. According to Oism irrationality of any kind in any  quantity is evil and evil wins in any compromise. Therefore since I checked my phone to distract myself on impulse an hour ago, I'm evil. Clearly there's a difference between me & a dictator, but then I can't reconcile that with what I've understood of the philosophy so far.

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On 12/22/2020 at 1:41 AM, whYNOT said:

I think you are pointing to the error of intrinsic knowledge - revealed, quasi-mystical insight - here, about people, by which I might take as representative of a person's character or talents, only one or two narrow exposures to them. 

Not that exactly. I think it's what I just said to Eiuol. I wasn't thinking properly about context, e.g., to call someone a "good cook" has completely different meanings in different real world contexts because in real world conversation we always omit so much context that's assumed and given. I came into this without a good, detailed real-world example. The thought process could've been improved with that.

On 12/22/2020 at 1:41 AM, whYNOT said:

Entering is also "personality", far more the 'sense of life' product of early experience and development, than of one's willed character.

My belief backed by observations is that personality passes for character and has replaced it in this rather superficial/skeptical/determinist time. I mean where does one hear "character" spoken of now?

Bonus questions only if you want to answer:

What's the difference between sense of life and personality? Personality I've understood to be much broader and includes temperament, but I cannot pinpoint in actual real life what sense of life is and what the others are.

How do you see character fitting in with personality, sense of life and temperament? From my understanding character denotes something to do with morals. But since it's ANY morals, what morals are not specified. So would character simply gauge "idealism?"

 

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6 hours ago, Jonathan Weissberg said:

There is a "precise point", but it is determined by context. That's part of it. Every proposition is contextual and means different things.

I think this sounds right. We don't calculate the exact "evil rating" for someone, rather, we take a look at relevant information to figure out how evil someone is (or whatever characteristic you want to figure out). 

Like you said about the real world example, of a great cook, relevant information would be everything you said about 1-4. I would add though is that 2 might not be a very good standard or measurement of cooking skill. Personal taste, as in literally what the food tastes like to your tongue, might be a subjective standard for judging cooking skill that we might not want to use. That I don't enjoy curry can easily have nothing to do with how good the chef is. But anyway, you have the right idea.

Just as a point of precision in your wording, I wouldn't say that the context is normally dropped in a day-to-day statement. More precisely, it's put aside and taken as an assumption because it doesn't need to be said. Most people already understand that when you say that someone is a good chef, you mean things like 1-4. One day, if we were talking about food, and you said that Anne Cheferson is a great chef, but then I said she is at best a mediocre chef, we might want to go over these assumptions. We might find something like we disagree about 2, so of course we would disagree that she is a good chef. So the point is that context is preserved, but we don't usually need to mention it when we talk to others unless we have reason to suspect they wouldn't understand or if we want to object to something they said. 

6 hours ago, Jonathan Weissberg said:

According to Oism irrationality of any kind in any  quantity is evil and evil wins in any compromise.

I think it would be fair to say that evil *eventually* wins out. A lesser degree of evil might mean that it takes longer to win out, or the damage is easier to correct, or whatever else you can imagine. What I'm trying to convey is that, as you pointed out, you aren't as bad as a dictator for checking your phone once out of impulse. It will still be a matter of degree. In some sense, yeah, you could check your phone and the consequences of that will never need to be corrected because nothing happened except maybe 15 minutes wasted time. But it isn't benefiting your life, and if you did do it repeatedly like an addiction, that would be an example of the evil winning out. You might need to change your frame of mind about spending your time wisely - fortunately, that's not hard to do early on before it becomes a habit. We aren't concerned here only of the measurable consequences. We also care about the frame of mind required to take the action, especially if we want to judge if a person is good or bad.

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17 hours ago, Jonathan Weissberg said:

Not that exactly. I think it's what I just said to Eiuol. I wasn't thinking properly about context, e.g., to call someone a "good cook" has completely different meanings in different real world contexts because in real world conversation we always omit so much context that's assumed and given. I came into this without a good, detailed real-world example. The thought process could've been improved with that.

Bonus questions only if you want to answer:

What's the difference between sense of life and personality? Personality I've understood to be much broader and includes temperament, but I cannot pinpoint in actual real life what sense of life is and what the others are.

How do you see character fitting in with personality, sense of life and temperament? From my understanding character denotes something to do with morals. But since it's ANY morals, what morals are not specified. So would character simply gauge "idealism?"

 

Personality together with temperament strike me as the ~expression~ of a sense of life. The pre-conceptual subconscious manifesting itself in form. Which may be actions and responses and subconscious-held values into certain emotional responses. So pretty much, personality is a given (from one's early development).

Clearly one calls someone "good" at something from one's experience with their output. Once or a few times might be sufficient to pronounce him/her a good cook while not a perfect or objective assessment. Looked at as a kind of 'induction' applied to individuals from many interactions, the system is most reliable. There's too, subsequent deduction (when invited for a further meal by that chef, one anticipates eating another good meal). You induced someone's character from prior instances- e.g. honest behavior- and deduce/expect that standard to be repeated in future dealings.

Edited by whYNOT
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On 1/5/2021 at 3:21 PM, Jonathan Weissberg said:

what does it mean to sum up a person's actions? to integrate everything I know about a person means to sum up their actions and everything else I know about them to form some final "judgement"? how does one chose how to weight different qualities and actions, whether positive or negative?

The goal is to reach a conclusion about a person (then use it in future dealings: just as you reach a conclusion about a particular adhesive and use that conclusion in deciding what to use on future projects). You should focus on facts about the person that are relevant, for example hair color and skin color are irrelevant for a moral evaluation, but they could be relevant if you are casting an acting role. Since human actions are chosen, you must focus on what causes a person to person to act the way they do. You may consider the possibility that a person is self-destructive, or you may think that he believes that other people exist as sacrificial animals to support his whims; or, you may think that he is confused about what constitutes good versus evil. If you only know that Smith took an apple without paying for it, you don’t know enough to evaluate his moral code (a standard problem with single-instance hypotheticals is that they trick you into making unwarranted factual assumptions: how do you know that he didn’t pay? Did the owner give it to him?).

It’s impossible to provide a rational moral evaluation if you don’t have a moral theory. (Too) many people simply emote an answer, that it angers them when X or it makes them happy what X. We have that part figured out (the moral theory). The theory that allows reasoning from observed actions to moral code is IMO much less developed, because it’s not easily testable. What causes a colleague to “seem a bit cranky at staff meetings”? Is he a death-worshipping hater? Has he chosen not to gush semantically-empty ebullient noises every couple of minutes, and why has he made that choice (especially when others around him make a very different choice)? Should you even give consideration to the fact that he recently arrived from The Old Country, where standards of public behavior are different?

Weighting evidence (in the statistical-model sense) is about how reliable a fact is as proof of a proposition, which in turn is about reasonable alternatives. It is guided by the law of non-contradiction, therefore there is something wrong with thinking “Smith chooses to live 60% of the time and chooses to die 40% of the time, thus Smith is somewhat good”. An alternative theory is that Smith chooses to live more often, but he suffers from errors in reasoning in some domains, for example he may not have properly integrated “intellectual property” into his moral code and probably does not know how to apply that code to specific instances.

Certain forms of immoral behavior, the transparent initiation of force against a victim, are only minimally susceptible to alternative theories. A man can be coerced into killing an innocent person; he can kill a person in self defense, including desparation killings where the government refuses to protect his rights or he thinks the government won’t protect him; or it could be an unintended consequence of a bad action (intending to scare a person and unintentionally shooting them). Killing once is not an absolute evil, but it is hard to explain a repeated pattern of killings.

This is abstract theory: not to suggest that it’s actually easy to make these decisions

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On 1/6/2021 at 5:57 AM, Eiuol said:

I think it would be fair to say that evil *eventually* wins out. A lesser degree of evil might mean that it takes longer to win out, or the damage is easier to correct, or whatever else you can imagine. What I'm trying to convey is that, as you pointed out, you aren't as bad as a dictator for checking your phone once out of impulse. It will still be a matter of degree. In some sense, yeah, you could check your phone and the consequences of that will never need to be corrected because nothing happened except maybe 15 minutes wasted time. But it isn't benefiting your life, and if you did do it repeatedly like an addiction, that would be an example of the evil winning out. You might need to change your frame of mind about spending your time wisely - fortunately, that's not hard to do early on before it becomes a habit. We aren't concerned here only of the measurable consequences. We also care about the frame of mind required to take the action, especially if we want to judge if a person is good or bad.

Since this is unrelated, but still an interest: where can I find more arguments made and concretizations on this principle of 'evil' winning out and what this means? I assume evil means an irrational principle. 

Now more related: when you say 'frame of mind' is that referring to the operating principle, whether implicit or explicit, that caused the decision, and if yes, is there anything else?

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On 1/6/2021 at 4:58 PM, whYNOT said:

Personality together with temperament strike me as the ~expression~ of a sense of life. The pre-conceptual subconscious manifesting itself in form. Which may be actions and responses and subconscious-held values into certain emotional responses. So pretty much, personality is a given (from one's early development).

Would you say if personality & temperament are expressions of sense of life then it doesn't make sense to try and categorize either personality or temperament since sense of life is unique? And if it does make sense to classify personality types and temperaments, then what might that say about sense of life? (Maybe we can take this to another thread, if you'd like to answer?)

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On 1/7/2021 at 4:57 PM, DavidOdden said:

The goal is to reach a conclusion about a person (then use it in future dealings: just as you reach a conclusion about a particular adhesive and use that conclusion in deciding what to use on future projects). You should focus on facts about the person that are relevant, for example hair color and skin color are irrelevant for a moral evaluation, but they could be relevant if you are casting an acting role. Since human actions are chosen, you must focus on what causes a person to person to act the way they do. You may consider the possibility that a person is self-destructive, or you may think that he believes that other people exist as sacrificial animals to support his whims; or, you may think that he is confused about what constitutes good versus evil. If you only know that Smith took an apple without paying for it, you don’t know enough to evaluate his moral code (a standard problem with single-instance hypotheticals is that they trick you into making unwarranted factual assumptions: how do you know that he didn’t pay? Did the owner give it to him?).

It’s impossible to provide a rational moral evaluation if you don’t have a moral theory. (Too) many people simply emote an answer, that it angers them when X or it makes them happy what X. We have that part figured out (the moral theory). The theory that allows reasoning from observed actions to moral code is IMO much less developed, because it’s not easily testable. What causes a colleague to “seem a bit cranky at staff meetings”? Is he a death-worshipping hater? Has he chosen not to gush semantically-empty ebullient noises every couple of minutes, and why has he made that choice (especially when others around him make a very different choice)? Should you even give consideration to the fact that he recently arrived from The Old Country, where standards of public behavior are different?

Ok, a multi-instance hypothetical open to anyone still reading now: let's say your co-worker Alex (whom you deal with only remotely) is known to (1) talk behind people's backs, (2) share information that is private & confidential in an attempt to trade it for other information, (3) has stolen before in his past, (4) is often evasive and dishonest when confronted over a conflict and does not admit fault or recognize guilt. Judged against independence, integrity, honesty, justice we can say he is definitely not virtuous. But is he evil? Let's say he has one thing in his favor: he works hard (sometimes) and so can sometimes provide you with valuable updates. Could you say that for you he is not evil because when dealt with at enough of a distance and carefully, e.g., via phone only, he still offers some value? but that for anyone else judged against a rational code of ethics, he is evil? 

On 1/7/2021 at 4:57 PM, DavidOdden said:

Weighting evidence (in the statistical-model sense) is about how reliable a fact is as proof of a proposition, which in turn is about reasonable alternatives. It is guided by the law of non-contradiction, therefore there is something wrong with thinking “Smith chooses to live 60% of the time and chooses to die 40% of the time, thus Smith is somewhat good”. An alternative theory is that Smith chooses to live more often, but he suffers from errors in reasoning in some domains, for example he may not have properly integrated “intellectual property” into his moral code and probably does not know how to apply that code to specific instances.

OK, I follow. The more reasonable alternatives (alternatives based on your own validated knowledge of human behavior or observations of it) the less weight. The less reasonable alternatives, the more weight. And percentages don't make sense because frequency is not what is important in evaluating action in relation to a moral code. 

 

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32 minutes ago, Jonathan Weissberg said:

The less reasonable alternatives, the more weight. And percentages don't make sense because frequency is not what is important in evaluating action in relation to a moral code. 

Depends on frequency of what?

Yes, if it is wrong, it is wrong no matter what the frequency.

But if frequency refers to likelihood or probability of harm, that's going to have some relevance in determining "friend or foe". If there are two choices with equal benefit and one has a more likely hood of producing a benefit, it is "better".

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7 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

Depends on frequency of what?

Yes, if it is wrong, it is wrong no matter what the frequency.

But if frequency refers to likelihood or probability of harm, that's going to have some relevance in determining "friend or foe". If there are two choices with equal benefit and one has a more likely hood of producing a benefit, it is "better".

I understood David to be saying that it doesn't make sense to speak of moral actions in terms of statistical frequencies, e.g., Borris is good 80% of the time, but bad 20%. The thought that came to mind is murder: he can be good most of the time, 99%, but then the 1% is what should be weighted more significantly when judging if to interact with him. I think this is what you're referring to when you say "likelihood or probability of harm"? Although, I find making the jump form 'this is bad' to 'there's a high probability of harm' difficult, even in the example of a murderer. I can more easily say if the person does bad against me, there's a high probability of harm, but not 'there's a high probability of harm,' if that makes sense.

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1 hour ago, Jonathan Weissberg said:

I can more easily say if the person does bad against me, there's a high probability of harm, but not 'there's a high probability of harm,' if that makes sense.

I agree, I just don't know if you can completely separate it from how it effects you. This idea of evil separated from ... to whom.

Sort of like value. A value has to have a valuer. Evil has to have a recipient.

Otherwise you're talking in term of intrinsic evil.

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17 hours ago, Jonathan Weissberg said:

Would you say if personality & temperament are expressions of sense of life then it doesn't make sense to try and categorize either personality or temperament since sense of life is unique? And if it does make sense to classify personality types and temperaments, then what might that say about sense of life?

Actually Ayn Rand did do some categorizing of senses of life. 

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Maybe you could do some general categorization of apparent sense of life, such as negative or positive or pessimistic or cynical. But I doubt you could categorize a complete sense of life, because so much of it can only be understood from your own perspective. Only you can categorize your habitual ways of thinking, and that might even be essential to sense of life. 

Personality and temperament can help identify aspects of a sense of life though. I can talk about someone's tendency towards defensiveness. I can talk about someone's inclination towards introversion. But sense of life is even more complex than that. As I understand it, it's a totality of memories, experiences, and events, integrated psychologically. In a way, a sense of life is always a proper noun. Doug Morris is one sense of life, and can't really be generalized except to say that other people also have a sense of life.

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