Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Honesty

Rate this topic


Boydstun
 Share

Recommended Posts

21 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

Identifying friend from foe is the key skill.

Absolutely.  I think Rand even mentioned this in The Cult of Moral Grayness.

5 hours ago, whYNOT said:

"The only real moral crime that one man can commit against another is the attempt to create, by his words or actions, an impression of the contradictory, the impossible, the irrational, and thus shake the concept of rationality in his victim".

Gaslighting.  The only real moral crime one man can commit against another is gaslighting.

That's interesting, though.  Is it ever morally justified, not only to lie to an evil person, but to try to make them believe a lie which couldn't possibly be true?  For them to believe such a lie certainly would shake their concept of rationality (at the very least); the source of all potential goodness and usefulness in them - and yet, in an evil person, it's that very remnant of rationality which is turned from a potential value into a danger.  Would the looters in Atlas Shrugged have been capable of building Project X if Doctor Robert Stadler's grasp of semi-rationality had been fully shaken loose?

 

This is yet another related aspect which deserves some attention.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)
On 12/29/2022 at 10:21 PM, Harrison Danneskjold said:

. . . .

Still, I think an egoistic argument certainly can be made against lying to good people.  It's not just that lying harms the person who believes your lies; lying primarily harms the liar.  Lying feels awful and forces you to fill your own head with nonsense trivia which YOU KNOW to be false.  That, alone, is a good reason not to do it unless it's absolutely necessary.

Harrison, I'd think that whether harm brought to the liar or harm brought to the victim of the lie is greater would vary in different cases.

Then too, how awful telling a lie to innocent people feels to the liar varies greatly among such liars. However badly it makes the liar feel, what is the source of the feeling bad? Isn't it firstly because the liar knows and feels it is wrong to treat a good person or a presumptively good person in such a way?

You mentioned the liar filling his or her own head with nonsense trivia which they know to be false. That is correct, and one aged and sound egoistic strategic reason for not lying to presumptively good people in a generally good social setting has always been that you have to keep track of what lies you've told to keep up the social appearance of a consistent set of what all you have reported. Whereas, making it a general policy to simply tell the truth to the presumedly innocent means you don't have that burden, but can simply center on what you have thought true and by good habit would have reported truly.

My claim has been that that is not the most basic reason that one does not lie to the innocent. I've had egoist friends who have spooled out that sort of reason, but that is only because they want to keep their official reason for not lying in harmony with pure ethical egoism. I don't believe it is in fact their first reason for not lying to people, but a rationalization for their practice of not lying to people.

The basic reason they don't lie to people is because their human nature at the deepest level stands in a relation to other humans in a way such that to lie is to try to buck that nature. The human is far and away the most social species among the great apes. In evolutionary history as well as in individual child development, the capacity for joint intentions on joint goals is what fundamentally is the distinction between the human species and contemporary great apes and between humans and the apes our species had been before the divergence into the human. Our contemporaries, the chimps and bonobos, lack those social capacities; their behaviors first seeming to show such abilities with their kind have by now been shown to be not the human capacity at all (joint intentions to joint goals), but purely Machiavellian and still locked in only individual purposes. It was with the growing human capacity for authentically joint intentions to truly joint goals, that the human line was able to develop linguistic communication, routine truth-telling in it, rationality (thence its offsprings), and objectivity. And as it happens this trajectory is repeated in individual child development. I'll try to write much more about this in a few months more.

This new understanding has come from empirical observation and experiments and reflections on them, as reported in the books by Michael Tomasello, especially in the last decade. Philosophers' ethical theories are necessarily based on what they take to be human nature at most basic level. There are certain sciences that can help get right what is that nature pertinent to ethics. I know there are Objectivist-types who do not think science can inform philosophy; that it can only be the other way around. And I've known a few successful philosophers not Objectivist who also talk as if that were their own outlook as well, even into recent times. But overwhelmingly today, thank goodness, the successful philosophers have come around to engaging in philosophy informed by pertinent results of modern science, which is to say, come around to being fully serious.

Edited by Boydstun
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 11/18/2022 at 6:08 AM, StrictlyLogical said:

We do not need another false dichotomy here.

I don't believe it is a false dichotomy.  Lying is obviously bad for both the liar and their victim, and both aspects are likely to factor into the reasons why it's usually bad.  The question of which reason is primary, though, is important; there are derivative implications which will differ between the different possible answers.

Can you elaborate on why you think otherwise?

 

16 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Philosophers' ethical theories are necessarily based on what they take to be human nature at most basic level.

Sometimes.  Egoism certainly does because it claims that there is a necessary relation between morality and human flourishing, which in turn would depend on human nature.  There are, however, other ethical systems (deontological ones come to mind) which really have nothing to do with human nature at all.  Whether human beings are good or bad at following a list of concrete rules, or how this affects their mental health; none of that really enters into it.

But I'm pretty sure both of our moral codes depend on human nature, at least, so that's fair enough.

16 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Then too, how awful telling a lie to innocent people feels to the liar varies greatly among such liars. However badly it makes the liar feel, what is the source of the feeling bad? Isn't it firstly because the liar knows and feels it is wrong to treat a good person or a presumptively good person in such a way?

That's true.  And in those times where I believed it genuinely served my own self-interest to lie (since I was talking to an evil person) I didn't feel any guilt over it.

It took me a long time to puzzle out that my own sincerity was being used to hurt me and that I was in a situation where that was no longer a virtue.  On a gut level it still seemed wrong to lie, even though I conceptually knew that I'd be punished for telling the truth.  But once I arrived at the conclusion that under those conditions it was morally right for me to lie I didn't feel any guilt for it - although even then I was irritated and a little bit resentful about the necessity of having to do so.

17 hours ago, Boydstun said:

It was with the growing human capacity for authentically joint intentions to truly joint goals, that the human line was able to develop linguistic communication, routine truth-telling in it, rationality (thence its offsprings), and objectivity. And as it happens this trajectory is repeated in individual child development. I'll try to write much more about this in a few months more.

Well, I'm not a Chimpanzee expert.  I do think they engage in highly coordinated behaviors, such as wars and hunting.  If a group of Chimpanzees track down an individual from another troop and several of them hold them down while another one rips his genitals off, I'm not sure what it'd mean to say that they didn't share any goals; did some of them have the burning personal desire to do nothing more than hold him down while the other wanted nothing more than to rip his balls off, and they just happened to accomplish these separate and individual goals simultaneously?

Anyway.  I'm not a Chimpanzee expert, but as a dad I'm really not sure how well that tracks with child development, either.

 

Doesn't the most infamously antisocial period of a child's development (the Great and Terrible Two's) occur roughly just after they learn how to properly communicate?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 12/29/2022 at 9:13 PM, Harrison Danneskjold said:

Is it a false dichotomy?

It think it tends to encourage a false dichotomy to claim that honestly (in the context of communication and not introspection) is something you either do for yourself or for the sake of others.  This has been a sort of cultural and social undercurrent when pondering truth telling to others.

It's very similar to the false dichotomy introduced in economics which asserts every transaction has a winner and a loser... that commerce is predation.  We already know this is an incorrect assessment of commerce, and that wealth can be created (for both) according to a trader principle.

Applying a transactional trader principle view to honesty in communicative contexts, helps to dissolve the false dichotomy.  Mutual benefit can be built on voluntary intercourse.  No one has to lose, and in fact you can choose when to transact and with whom. 

Edited by StrictlyLogical
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 1/2/2023 at 9:56 PM, Boydstun said:

This new understanding has come from empirical observation and experiments and reflections on them, as reported in the books by Michael Tomasello, especially in the last decade. Philosophers' ethical theories are necessarily based on what they take to be human nature at most basic level. There are certain sciences that can help get right what is that nature pertinent to ethics. I know there are Objectivist-types who do not think science can inform philosophy; that it can only be the other way around. And I've known a few successful philosophers not Objectivist who also talk as if that were their own outlook as well, even into recent times. But overwhelmingly today, thank goodness, the successful philosophers have come around to engaging in philosophy informed by pertinent results of modern science, which is to say, come around to being fully serious.

Wrong philosophy of science will create junk science but I will not go on that tangent for now.

The issue of visiblility or the pleasure of visisiblity is for "you to see who I am".
The invisible are alone. Lying all their life. Never being seen. And in some sense never seeing.
Certainly not being able to see what could have been.

The pleasure or maybe the necessity of "being loved" is "who I really am" being accepted and appreciated, rather
the made up person or projection that others see.

In this case, honesty is the only path to ultimate fulfillment.

It is also a great risk because "some" will see who you a really and reject or try to harm you. In many situations being an Objectivist is seen as being evil. But that is who I am. (By Objectivist I mean Rand's over all ideas are the closest to what I see as true)

A major pleasure in life is in fact "playing" with others, i.e. having fun interacting. Add to it productive work
emanating from that activity, and it becomes very fulfilling activity.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

7 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

. . .

A major pleasure in life is in fact "playing" with others, i.e. having fun interacting. Add to it productive work
emanating from that activity, and it becomes very fulfilling activity.

One more strand in that vein is sharing the world and experience of the world with other humans. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One take on lying is dramatized by Rand in her script for the film LOVE LETTERS – 1945.

 

Aunt Beatrice to Singleton:

“A lie never works . . .

No matter what our motives.”

 

Alan to Singleton:

“Nobody can build happiness on a lie,

Beatrice learned that.

And Roger Moreland and I."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 10/28/2022 at 10:05 AM, Boydstun said:

. . . I want to examine the book Honesty: The Philosophy and Psychology of a Neglected Virtue (2021) by Christian B. Miller.

. . .

I had not made the connection until now, but Christian Miller was the Commentator, at a session of the Ayn Rand Society a few years ago, on Carrie-Ann Biondi's paper "Being Integrated: A Labor of Self-Love." At the Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association currently underway in Montreal, Tara Smith is one of the Critics at an Author-Meets-Critics session for Miller's 2021 book. The subject at the Ayn Rand Society in Montreal is here. I am unable to attend this year.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Exodus 20:16

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” (King James)

“Thou shall not give false evidence against your neighbor.” (New Jerusalem)

“You shall not give false evidence against your neighbor.” (New English Bible)

Those sound like requirements concerning legal proceedings, with the god of the tribe being invoked for authority stamping their validity.

The early Christians had it that one should love their neighbor as oneself. From this it might be inferred today that loving oneself entails not deceiving oneself, and that therefore, one should not deceive one’s neighbor. Regarding Jesus as a divinity, the authority stamping the validity would still be God. Perhaps the conception of deceiving oneself was not yet a conception in hand in that era of Christian subculture. Plato, preceding them, had at least the conception that it is lamentable to have falsehood and ignorance in one’s head, although so far as I see, he had no notion of deceiving oneself.

By the time of Luther, the scope of Exodus 20:16 seems to have expanded to protecting the civil peace. For his short exposition of this Commandment, Luther still staked its validity on God. And he took love of God and fear of God as the motive for obedience to the commandment, concerning which, he set out: “We should fear and love God such that we may not belie, betray, slander, nor defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” (Further.) In addition to the role of God in the motivation for compliance and Luther’s aim of civil peace and good will among people, this explication of the Commandment seems to be starting to let in the idea that good will towards others (right believers anyway) and responsiveness to an inherent value in others are right aims.

In Republic, Plato wrote:

“No one is willing to tell falsehoods to the most important part of himself about the most important things . . . . To be false to one’s soul about the things that are, to be ignorant and to have and hold falsehood there, is what everyone would least of all accept, for everyone hates a falsehood in that place most of all.” That passage is sincerely about keeping good reason, but is, by parallel between ideal soul and ideal city, a disarmament for collectivism as in the following passages.

“For a private citizen to lie to a ruler is just as bad a mistake as for a sick person or athlete not to tell the truth to his doctor or trainer about his physical condition or for a sailor not to tell the captain the facts about his own condition or that of the ship and the rest of the crew.”

“Our rulers will have to make considerable use of falsehood and deception for the benefit of those they rule.”

Aristotle praises the inherent excellence of a person routinely truthful in all matters, and he notes that such a person is then trustworthy for truthfulness in financial dealings. And beware anyone boasting of their truthfulness (NE 1127a33–1127b33).

(The book by Bernard Williams Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Geneology (2002) looks quite interesting. But I don’t have it and haven’t read it.)

The most famous philosophy writings on the virtue of honesty are those of Kant, which I’ll examine and relate shortly.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785). Immanuel Kant maintained that “thou shalt not lie” is an absolute commandment. It is a moral law, not simply a practical rule, however universally applicable a practical rule might be. Its absoluteness is not due to it being handed down to and for humans by God, in Kant’s more Enlightenment sort of standpoint. Then too, It is not a moral law based at all on the life-nature of human beings and their circumstances in the world. Moral law is not empirically sourced, in Kant’s mature view, but is sourced in concepts of pure reason. Moral law, like Kant’s conception of laws of “pure physics,” is a priori. Moral law is a law for any rational beings, and when we human rational beings apply it, it is sharpened by judgments informed by experience, by relations of ends and the means to them in the world, and informed by cognizance of the many inclinations of human beings (4:389–90).

“The metaphysics of morals has to examine the idea and the principles of a possible pure will and not the actions and conditions of human volition generally {principles of practical reason –SB} which for the most part are drawn from psychology” (4:390–91). His ensuing discussion of lying framed within principles of a possible pure will seems to have in view only lies told to presumptively innocent people. He considers specifically the lie that is told in making a promise that one does not intend to keep (think of borrowing money one does not intend to repay). Leaving the question to decision by practical reason, Kant observes, requires all the calculations of whether the gains from telling the lie outweigh the uncertain future troubles of reputation that may be consequent on the lie. Sticking to the practical maxim of not lying and making that a habit may be safer for oneself than to lie. Yet the practical, prudential maxim leaves uncensured, in Kant’s estimate, an occasional deviation from the maxim. Whereas, if acting purely from moral principle, purely, deliberately in dutiful conformance to reason concerned only with goodness of one’s will, one’s policy with respect to lying would be able to pass a certain test: an act can be truly moral only if one would allow that the act should become a universal law, meaning a law everyone follows, not only a law one follows oneself. This gives Kant’s notion of moral law a patina of objectivity.

If one is truthful only from fear of being found out in a lie, one’s policy is not a distinctively moral one, only a prudential one, according to Kant. It looks to me, however, that Kant’s test certifying, or anyway indicating moral character in one’s honesty is shaky on three counts. Firstly, its is a test by existential life considerations, and Kant has told us that for principles of a good will there must be no such considerations, else the absoluteness is lost, he thought. Such considerations are only allowed to enter into applications of the a priori principles according to his announced program. Secondly, one who has reached a policy of uniform honesty for merely strategic reasons, calculating expected consequences of dishonesty, could pass the universal-law test just fine, and it’s hard to see how that success alters at all the status of the policy as wholly strategic, that is, how passage of the test converts the policy from strategic to moral in Kant’s sense. It looks like Kant really assumes one could not come to such perfect uniformity for a policy. Rather, from mere considerations of expected social consequences of lying, one would come to the conclusion, he might allege, that although one could hope it were a general law that people were uniformly honest, the best arrangement resting on such grounds would be that everyone else is constantly honest, but that secretly, oneself is not. Such a person could not sensibly hope that that policy were a universal law (see also Critique of Practical Reason 5:27–28, 44). True, but I say that that argument would be prejudging the eligibility of strategic, consequentialist policy for being moral. Were Kant thinking along that line, his universal-law sorting mechanism is stacked and provides no traction for sorting the prudent from the moral in the sense Kant aims to have the distinctively moral.

I think Kant’s system in which honesty is to be a virtue and dishonesty a vice without consideration of how dishonesty (say, making a loan you don’t intend to repay) affects others or affects yourself (beyond effects on goodness of one’s will) is absurd and stays outside the arena from which moral principles can seriously be drawn. Kant’s idea that the purpose of morality is to make a good will is wrong-headed and without a good supporting argument. Knowing what is a good will is in truth dependent on experience of good behaviors (contrast with 4:441). (Similarly, knowing what makes one worthy of happiness, a job of morality in Kant’s view, e.g., at 6:482, is in truth dependent on empirical experience in specific causal relations.) Moreover, his replacement of God as the source of the absoluteness of the virtue of honesty by human reason is a joke. He fails to show that a good human will and the nature of human reason are the source of any such virtue of honesty. He assumes they are, and he can’t keep from again and again presuming what needs to be shown throughout his rumination on moral theory in his mature period.

Kant fails in the enterprise of identifying what it is that is the arena of distinctively moral qualities, though he hovers around the correct arena. I was and remain persuaded by Nozick 1981 that that arena is value-seeking selves and responsiveness thereto, which comes to a portion of what Rand took for the arena: choices and actions determining the purpose and course of a human life (1962 – “The Objectivist Ethics”). I hold, with Nozick (and uncontroversially), that value-seeking selves are the fountainheads of the lives they are making. Unlike Nozick 1981, PHILOSOPHICAL EXPLANATIONS, I do not take organic unity as a free-floating basic of reality on which value lies. Rather, organic unity, in making a life or a work of art is a simulacrum of the character of life.

Kant was hovering in the vicinity of the arena sourcing moral aspect in the world in his idea that persons—which is to say rational beings—and persons alone, are ends in themselves. They are ends in themselves, in Kant’s picture, because they are able to pursue ends given to themselves purely by their reason independently of their inclinations tugging them this way and that.Though given to themselves from themselves, principles of objective moral conduct are received as obdurate, given law. Such principles are valid and necessary for all rational beings and for every volition. They are absolute, not conditional, necessities, and they arise from the one thing with absolute worth, and that is: that which is an end in itself. “I say that the human being and in general every rational being exists as an end in itself, not merely as a means to be used by this or that will at its discretion; instead he must in all his actions, whether directed to himself or also to other rational beings, always be regarded at the same time as an end” (4:428).

“Who has it in mind to make a false promise to others . . . wants to make use of another human being merely as a means, without the other at the same containing in himself the end. For, he whom I want to use for my purposes by such a promise cannot possibly agree to my way of behaving toward him, and so himself contain the end of this action” (4:429–30). Excellent point. And it has nothing a priori about it, contrary Kant’s refrain to that effect. The absoluteness is from the circumstance that facts are the ultimate source of all necessities, the fact that selves, lives, and their functioning union are an end in itself (the only one), from the absoluteness of life and death, and from the fact that necessities for purposes are subsidiaries of the absolute necessities of facts. Rand put it this way: “By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man—every man—is an end in himself” (AS ). Further, in rationality one should treat things according to the kind of thing they are; for things human being, that is justice. And the human kind is originative and far-sighted end-in-itself kind of being. Of course in her mature system Objectivism, the end-in-itself character in the world belongs (unlike with Kant) not only to rational beings, but to any organismic life, with the caveat that in rational being, life reaches the highest autonomy.

I’ll not delve into it, but Kant had a notion of lying to oneself, which he analyzed within his moral framework in The Metaphysics of Morals (6:429–30) under the heading “The Human Being’s Duty to Himself Merely as a Moral Being.”

In my next post in this thread, I hope to examine the book Honesty – The Philosophy and Psychology of a Neglected Virtue (2021) by Christian B. Miller.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

23 hours ago, Boydstun said:

In his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785). Immanuel Kant maintained that “thou shalt not lie” is an absolute commandment. It is a moral law, not simply a practical rule, however universally applicable a practical rule might be. Its absoluteness is not due to it being handed down to and for humans by God, in Kant’s more Enlightenment sort of standpoint. Then too, It is not a moral law based at all on the life-nature of human beings and their circumstances in the world. Moral law is not empirically sourced, in Kant’s mature view, but is sourced in concepts of pure reason. Moral law, like Kant’s conception of laws of “pure physics,” is a priori. Moral law is a law for any rational beings, and when we human rational beings apply it, it is sharpened by judgments informed by experience, by relations of ends and the means to them in the world, and informed by cognizance of the many inclinations of human beings (4:389–90).

“The metaphysics of morals has to examine the idea and the principles of a possible pure will and not the actions and conditions of human volition generally {principles of practical reason –SB} which for the most part are drawn from psychology” (4:390–91). His ensuing discussion of lying framed within principles of a possible pure will seems to have in view only lies told to presumptively innocent people. He considers specifically the lie that is told in making a promise that one does not intend to keep (think of borrowing money one does not intend to repay). Leaving the question to decision by practical reason, Kant observes, requires all the calculations of whether the gains from telling the lie outweigh the uncertain future troubles of reputation that may be consequent on the lie. Sticking to the practical maxim of not lying and making that a habit may be safer for oneself than to lie. Yet the practical, prudential maxim leaves uncensured, in Kant’s estimate, an occasional deviation from the maxim. Whereas, if acting purely from moral principle, purely, deliberately in dutiful conformance to reason concerned only with goodness of one’s will, one’s policy with respect to lying would be able to pass a certain test: an act can be truly moral only if one would allow that the act should become a universal law, meaning a law everyone follows, not only a law one follows oneself. This gives Kant’s notion of moral law a patina of objectivity.

If one is truthful only from fear of being found out in a lie, one’s policy is not a distinctively moral one, only a prudential one, according to Kant. It looks to me, however, that Kant’s test certifying, or anyway indicating moral character in one’s honesty is shaky on three counts. Firstly, its is a test by existential life considerations, and Kant has told us that for principles of a good will there must be no such considerations, else the absoluteness is lost, he thought. Such considerations are only allowed to enter into applications of the a priori principles according to his announced program. Secondly, one who has reached a policy of uniform honesty for merely strategic reasons, calculating expected consequences of dishonesty, could pass the universal-law test just fine, and it’s hard to see how that success alters at all the status of the policy as wholly strategic, that is, how passage of the test converts the policy from strategic to moral in Kant’s sense. It looks like Kant really assumes one could not come to such perfect uniformity for a policy. Rather, from mere considerations of expected social consequences of lying, one would come to the conclusion, he might allege, that although one could hope it were a general law that people were uniformly honest, the best arrangement resting on such grounds would be that everyone else is constantly honest, but that secretly, oneself is not. Such a person could not sensibly hope that that policy were a universal law (see also Critique of Practical Reason 5:27–28, 44). True, but I say that that argument would be prejudging the eligibility of strategic, consequentialist policy for being moral. Were Kant thinking along that line, his universal-law sorting mechanism is stacked and provides no traction for sorting the prudent from the moral in the sense Kant aims to have the distinctively moral.

I think Kant’s system in which honesty is to be a virtue and dishonesty a vice without consideration of how dishonesty (say, making a loan you don’t intend to repay) affects others or affects yourself (beyond effects on goodness of one’s will) is absurd and stays outside the arena from which moral principles can seriously be drawn. Kant’s idea that the purpose of morality is to make a good will is wrong-headed and without a good supporting argument. Knowing what is a good will is in truth dependent on experience of good behaviors (contrast with 4:441). (Similarly, knowing what makes one worthy of happiness, a job of morality in Kant’s view, e.g., at 6:482, is in truth dependent on empirical experience in specific causal relations.) Moreover, his replacement of God as the source of the absoluteness of the virtue of honesty by human reason is a joke. He fails to show that a good human will and the nature of human reason are the source of any such virtue of honesty. He assumes they are, and he can’t keep from again and again presuming what needs to be shown throughout his rumination on moral theory in his mature period.

Kant fails in the enterprise of identifying what it is that is the arena of distinctively moral qualities, though he hovers around the correct arena. I was and remain persuaded by Nozick 1981 that that arena is value-seeking selves and responsiveness thereto, which comes to a portion of what Rand took for the arena: choices and actions determining the purpose and course of a human life (1962 – “The Objectivist Ethics”). I hold, with Nozick (and uncontroversially), that value-seeking selves are the fountainheads of the lives they are making. Unlike Nozick 1981, PHILOSOPHICAL EXPLANATIONS, I do not take organic unity as a free-floating basic of reality on which value lies. Rather, organic unity, in making a life or a work of art is a simulacrum of the character of life.

Kant was hovering in the vicinity of the arena sourcing moral aspect in the world in his idea that persons—which is to say rational beings—and persons alone, are ends in themselves. They are ends in themselves, in Kant’s picture, because they are able to pursue ends given to themselves purely by their reason independently of their inclinations tugging them this way and that.Though given to themselves from themselves, principles of objective moral conduct are received as obdurate, given law. Such principles are valid and necessary for all rational beings and for every volition. They are absolute, not conditional, necessities, and they arise from the one thing with absolute worth, and that is: that which is an end in itself. “I say that the human being and in general every rational being exists as an end in itself, not merely as a means to be used by this or that will at its discretion; instead he must in all his actions, whether directed to himself or also to other rational beings, always be regarded at the same time as an end” (4:428).

“Who has it in mind to make a false promise to others . . . wants to make use of another human being merely as a means, without the other at the same containing in himself the end. For, he whom I want to use for my purposes by such a promise cannot possibly agree to my way of behaving toward him, and so himself contain the end of this action” (4:429–30). Excellent point. And it has nothing a priori about it, contrary Kant’s refrain to that effect. The absoluteness is from the circumstance that facts are the ultimate source of all necessities, the fact that selves, lives, and their functioning union are an end in itself (the only one), from the absoluteness of life and death, and from the fact that necessities for purposes are subsidiaries of the absolute necessities of facts. Rand put it this way: “By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man—every man—is an end in himself” (AS ). Further, in rationality one should treat things according to the kind of thing they are; for things human being, that is justice. And the human kind is originative and far-sighted end-in-itself kind of being. Of course in her mature system Objectivism, the end-in-itself character in the world belongs (unlike with Kant) not only to rational beings, but to any organismic life, with the caveat that in rational being, life reaches the highest autonomy.

I’ll not delve into it, but Kant had a notion of lying to oneself, which he analyzed within his moral framework in The Metaphysics of Morals (6:429–30) under the heading “The Human Being’s Duty to Himself Merely as a Moral Being.”

In my next post in this thread, I hope to examine the book Honesty – The Philosophy and Psychology of a Neglected Virtue (2021) by Christian B. Miller.

I wonder did Kant ever address the scope or context or breadth of a maxim's starting point?  More specifically, how and where to choose on the ladder of abstraction a maxim to be tested and why did he insist on holding onto such a conceptually broad maxim re. "lying" as such instead of, for example, "stating falsehoods to innocent persons for unjust gain to self or harm to others"? This scope of application (due to where the maxim lies on the ladder of abstractions) is truly independent of the moral force with which one brings to the chosen maxim, only the metes and bounds of the domain of its absolute authority is defined by the scope (i.e. the context of specifics with which it is defined). Once those metes and bounds are understood the test for whether it is a valid maxim could presumably be applied.  

The scope of a maxim such as "do not move your arm towards another" clearly is conceptually too broad to require it or to forbid it... why did he not see this is also true for "lying" simpliciter?  The entire exercise seems doomed unless one is careful with precisely defining a clearly delimited maxim.

Edited by StrictlyLogical
Link to comment
Share on other sites

SL,

By the time of Atlas Shrugged, Rand had for the structure of her ethics that there was the overarching virtue of rationality (recognition that existence exists and that perception and thinking are our only access to existence) and the overarching correct value for each person their own life as human being. There are no contexts of concrete decision or action to which that virtue and that value do not apply. I’d say that their generality in applicability does not make them any more abstract in their relations to concretes than the normative divisions of rationality: independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride. Only one’s own mind can perform the responsibility (the rationality) of judgment and therewith live one’s life. Recognition of that is Independence. Only action as integral with own’s own consciousness (one’s own rational convictions), which can entail courage and confidence, is rational action. Recognition of that is Integrity. Only under absence of delusions is the attainment of real values possible. Recognition of that is Honesty. Only under objective judgment of the character of others, followed with treatment of them according with that character, is one’s mind and action rationally aligned with the Morality of Life. Recognition of that is Justice. Reshaping the earth is the human way of survival. Recognition of that is embrace of Productive Work. Self-made character tuned to ideal Human is crucial to all achievement, happiness, and worthiness of happiness. That is the virtue of Pride. These virtues have outstanding unity among them. They are based on a particular conception of human nature and human successful life. They are all facets of rationality in the Morality of Life. If we start with the arena of a particular virtue, with a situation in which the virtue is salient we see why it is the right way to go by the setting of the virtue within the general ethics and by recognizing that the setting at hand is one for which that virtue’s realm is at hand.

In Kant’s outlook, all issues of morality arise where there is a stake over goodness of one’s will in one’s choices. They only arise there, but that arena is pervasive. The goodness of one’s will is the only moral aspect of each choice situation. Esteem for and conscious motivation by keeping a good will is the thing of human moral goodness. That would be one’s own will that he is talking about, no one else’s. His doctrine includes that one cannot make another human being moral. That is a task possible only for each individual for himself. (Schopenhauer criticized Kant’s ethics as egoism, and that has some sense to it, however much at odds with the egoism of Hobbes, Spinoza, or Rand is the goodness-of-one’s-will ethics of Kant.)

Kant gives plenty of examples eventually for applications of his ethics, but the moral criterion for any situation, which would be human situations, from solitary life (issue of suicide) to social life (treatment of others, including issues of rights). The biblical Commandment against bearing false witness may well have had its origins in tribal proceedings adjudicating conflicts within the tribe, but it gets generalized greatly over time by the moral elucidators such as the contemporary summary here.

For all his effort at secularizing the rationale for truthfulness, Kant never deviates, I gather, from treating bone fide moral principles as completely general commands eliciting action from a sense of duty and respect. Where there is not duty, there is no morality at work. Emerson: “When duty whispers low ‘thou must’, the youth replies ‘I will’.” (That was English grammar as I still learned it in elementary school: simple future for first-person singular would be “I shall” whereas to express a promise, it is “I will”. [Likewise for first-person plural “we”]) (That line is from a poem written in 1863, in connection with the Civil War; that late period of Emerson’s life is called his Hegelian phase, but it fits as well with his earlier Kantian phase.) Duty was not a concept invented by Kant and it was not only he who stressed it. Cicero stressed it. If you visit St. Paul’s in London and go downstairs there is a monument to Admiral Nelson. On its base is inscribed: “England expects that every man will do his duty” which were the last words he had signaled from his ship to the British fleet as they were about to engage the French-Spanish Armada at Trafalgar. That had transpired in 1805, a year after Kant’s death; I doubt the salience of duty for Nelson or his sailors was from Kant.

At Collegium Fredericianum, Kant had excelled in Latin. Among the Latin works he read there was Cicero’s On Duties (De Officiis). Cicero saw virtue in terms of duty. It is no controversy to say, as anyone should, that moral virtue is a performance of or disposition towards what one ought to do. But when a philosopher such as Cicero or Kant undertakes to cast all occasions of doing the morally right thing as performances of duties, he is giving a systematic and controversial slant to the entire moral plane.

Duties are various things owed, usually in various social relationships. In all things, Cicero is on the lookout for bearings on duties. “No part of life, neither public affairs nor private, neither in the forum nor at home, neither when acting on your own nor in dealings with another, can be free from duty. Everything that is honorable in a life depends upon its cultivation, and everything dishonorable upon its neglect” (O 1.4). Frankly, he’d have landed squarely on the truth if in that quotation the word “duty” were replaced by “responsibility.” 

Duties are things owed. I think that to reduce the idea of what ought to be done to what is owed is an impoverishment of the idea of what should be done. A truer way of moral life is to perceive and nurture value. Let value and valuation bring forth virtues and things owed.

Kant’s ethics, like Cicero’s, is an ethics of duty. For Cicero the source of duties is honorableness, which is in contrast to personal advantage. “There are some teachings that undermine all duty by the ends of good and evil things that they propound. The man who defines the highest good in such a way that it has no connection with virtue, measuring it by his own advantages rather than by honorableness, cannot . . . cultivate either friendship or justice or liberality. There can certainly be no brave man who judges that pain is the greatest evil, nor a man of restraint who defines pleasure as the highest good” (O 1.5).

As the source of duties, Kant will replace honorableness with the nature of pure reason and a good will. That replacement understood, the following formula of Cicero will agree with Kant. Ethical systems in which the highest good is personal advantage “say nothing about duty; nor can any advice on duty that is steady, stable, and joined to nature be handed down except by those who believe that what is sought for its own sake is honorableness alone . . .” (O 1.6).

Ayn Rand, writing in Atlas Shrugged and later in an essay “Causality versus Duty” rejected the whole idea of tilting morality in the direction of commands and duties, whether they are from God or from the sources of Cicero or Kant. In her vista, the point of morality is help one live and be happy. That is the proper aim. 

I see in my American Heritage Dictionary that  HONEST is from the Latin HONŌS, i.e., HONOR. One could nearly identify honesty with virtue tout court, and in older usage of the term honest, that was one of its meanings. As we use the term today, the scope of honesty is still pretty wide. Miller 2021 lists as central types of dishonesty: Lying, Misleading, Stealing, Cheating, and Promise-Breaking. Kant eventually addresses all of those areas, applying his general principles to them. I’d like to mention a Misleading communication of Kant’s that suggests he regarded making a misleading promise as all right if it concerns an improper demand made of one. 

“Kant pledged to King Friedrich Wilhelm II to ‘declare solemnly, as Your Majesty’s most loyal subject, that I shall hereafter refrain altogether from discoursing publicly, in lectures or writings, on religion’. Later Kant admitted that his [equivocal] words were chosen very carefully to apply truthfully only during the King’s lifetime (which was quickly coming to an end).” (Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life [1978]). By the way, I’d like to mention that Ayn Rand lied about why she was breaking off her business and intellectual connection to Nathaniel Branden in 1968. That is, she did not tell the whole truth. In 1976 in Leonard Peikoff’s lecture series The Philosophy of Objectivism, he mentioned that deception to protect one’s own values was consistent with not gaining values by deception. In a follow-on Q&A, he remarked that not volunteering the entire truth is not a lie. If someone asks “How do you like my suit?” one need not reply “It’s ugly” even if that is one’s perception. Rand interjected that in a situation where one agrees to discuss something fully, but then does not tell the whole truth, it is vicious. I think it is a deviation from usual meaning of “lie” for Peikoff to say that a deception to protect one’s own values is not a lie. (Such as telling a bank robber that the safe cannot be opened until some future hour, when really it can be opened right now.) Rather, we should say it is not a wrongful lie.

The scope and context for the general maxims for Kant are any and all decision points in which humans need to figure out what to do and in a moral way. The order of presentation of a philosophical theory would not generally reflect the order in which its elements were discovered. Kant’s presentations can be said to reveal the logical conceptual dependencies in his theory, but in his overall presentation, he starts with a reflection on what is the character of ethical precepts per se, and how they could have that character in purely secular terms. For Kant those are terms purely a priori and purely formal (he wishes!). He then takes on discussing such areas as truthfulness in various particular settings, and the general principles of ethics he already has in hand are used to sort what is distinctively the moral way to go in each case. He arrived at his mature system of ethics, we do know, from long reflection on ethical theory prior to his Critical period. I have written about his early thought in the area and the challenge he inclined to undertake, which he attempted to fulfill in the Critical-period system for which he is famous in ethical theory.*  ("To 1781")

Edited by Boydstun
Link to comment
Share on other sites

One reason why I am concerned with proper scope of a maxim, or formulation of a principle, or definition of a virtue, is because it is so easy to undermine the propriety of the maxim, principle, or virtue when so called exceptions are required.  Better to have it more properly defined, than defined overbroadly so as to exceed its proper scope.

Such comes up in a conceptually similar manner in the realm of Free Speech... how it is to be defined and conceived of... and Tara Smith does an excellent job arguing for Free Speech being absolute and with no exceptions when conceived of in its proper "domain".  I would say then "Free Speech" is just label for something which has as an essential of its definition a prescription of that proper domain, in which it is absolute and for which there are no exceptions.  The problem with the idea of "exceptions" is that it implies or allows erosion of the boundary of the proper domain, and works to subvert the absolute into the subjective.

So similarly, with virtues, maxims, or principles... if one overly inflates the definition of applicability, misdefines their proper domain, they become open to the attack (quite valid ones) of "exceptions", when in fact, when properly defined, they would be much more stronger as virtues, maxims, or principles.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

SL,

I should think that in law, such as law of free speech or press, the concept is always being made more determinate as cases arise and are reasoned and decided and opinions produced. On the concept of free press, it can mean something new when it is reasoned over in a new case. And that seems not a problem, rather, just the way it is to have a live legal system in service to present and upcoming people living their lives together in social coordination and conflicts. Coming out of New York Times v. Sullivan, free press was more than it had been before because it meant that henceforth damages could not be awarded a public official who had been falsely defamed in relation to their official conduct unless it is proven the false statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.

In morals everyone who comes to think about ethical theory or focus on particular virtues or biblical Commandments will have had prior no-no training from adults, meaning some simple rules and some ability to apply them on one’s own to situations encountered. Indeed most will have internalized the rules and identify with them. Situations in which one is possibly violating an elementary rule such as not telling the truth or of being proud can be recognized and with further question of the impact on wrongness by further conditions that are in the full, actual situation. One might approach life with the attitude that strictly speaking all of the moral rules are only correct to a first approximation and have an unknown bushel of possible if, buts, and maybes and that it is unreasonable to try to formulate in advance maxims that are so detailed in spelling out how the virtue or vice may be correctly applied to every possible circumstance. 

If one is writing the engineering specifications for making a locomotive that a customer has elected to buy, all the specifications can be made with only a little left to the judgment and know-how of the workers building the locomotive. But living a life and making a life for oneself seems much more organic than that in how it can (and should) proceed. The received maxims are rough specifications in comparison to the full-bodied identity of the situations encountered in one’s actual life. Moral judgment is an “online” process, in contrast to writing up specifications by the moralists. Indeed, I tend to look with suspicion on philosophers whose illustrations or thinking-stimulants on ethical issues are imagined situations, rather than looking at case law and absorbing not only where the law came down in a case or should have come down in a case, but what are the aspects of the case that are moral issues, and then reasoning and judging what is the morally right thing for the parties in the situation. We know and can do life more than we can set down in guidebooks, even taking decades to write such books. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...