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Principles are about fulfillment, not avoiding negative consequences

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Jonathan Weissberg

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Principles are about fulfillment, not specific negative consequence for their violation?

I understand the Objectivist conception of morality to be that choices and actions guided from rationally self-interested moral principle are good for living a happy, fulfilled, flourishing life; and I understand that choices and actions which violate those same moral principles are bad, i.e., self-destructive or inching oneself closer to death. But when I look out into the world, I’m not able to clearly perceive this in a concrete way. I perceive some cases where someone is unprincipled and incurs a penalty, but I also perceive plenty where the opposite appears to true, at least when you expand the time horizon by which you judge it. I’m looking for some different angles to think about this and for feedback on my thought process. There are some questions at the bottom.

Consider these examples:
(1) A man who spent his 20’s robbing banks. He violated principles of independence, productivity, rights, etc. In one of his attempted robberies was shot & was killed by the police;
(2) A man who spent his 20’s robbing banks. He violated everything: honesty, integrity, independence, rights, etc. He was arrested but then managed to escape to India where he lived out so great an adventure that he became a famous novelist and had great commercial success. He made amends for his crimes by serving out his remaining sentence and lived an incredible life thereafter. 

In the example above you can see that both men have violated moral principles. One incurred a penalty: his life. The other incurred some penalties, e.g., the paranoia about being caught, the beatings from police, subsequent involvement in the underworld, etc., but judged on the whole and looking back at his life from the vantage point of his making amends and his current success, all his errors, stupidity, evils, have provided him with so many exciting and fascinating tales and a kind of ‘character’ that he would’ve otherwise not have had. From the vantage point of his current position, having made amends, it’s like the bad choices contributed to a good whole. If he never robbed banks and escaped to India, would he have become a famous novelist? Would he have had the commercial success he has now?

Obviously, alternatives are difficult to project. So, I couldn’t actually tell you what man two would’ve become had he been rationally self-interested and principled on that basis. 

Am I right to say that the only thing one can draw from a validated principle is that his life would’ve been more fulfilling had he been principled? But the concrete details we just can never project? 

Am I right to say that when thinking about principles the consideration is the kind of life lived rather than the perceived penalties or rewards? 

Am I also right to say that the appeal of the ‘irrational’ (some instances of it, like the one above) in our culture are usually due to a conventional morality that often packages good and actual evil? E.g., a strong, ambitious, dangerous, sexually appealing character who engages in multiple love affairs might be viewed as made up of a lot of conventionally morally bad elements but on a rational morality might actually be principled and good?

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  • 3 months later...

Hi Jonathan,

The one thing that is missing from the man in example 2 is pride.

The man may have made amends and might feel good about that,

but he will never be proud of the wrong that he did.

A man who always lives according to rational principles will always be able to

take the sum of his choices and actions and experience the virtue of pride.

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