Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Judging Other People

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

And I don't understand why a long-term advocate of Objectivism would be claiming that we can't be morally certain of someone's character based on the available evidence.

Do you think that a "long-term advocate of Objectivism" like Ayn Rand, in the years prior to her break with Branden, could be certain of his character based on the available evidence? Her journal entries, included in The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, show otherwise.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 292
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Do you think that a "long-term advocate of Objectivism" like Ayn Rand,

I guess then that we can't say for certain that Ayn Rand was even a "long term advocate of Objectivism" since we can't truly know what her motivations were for the work that she put so much time into. It's possible that she didn't even really believe in or fully adhere to the philosophy she wrote about. Her motivations may well have been something else, like just making a few bucks along the way.

Can we know for certain Betsy that you are a "long term advocate for Objectivism"? Can we know with certainty that you won't turn into a socialist or a communist before you die?

At this point in time, I would say that all the evidence available points to the contrary, and no evidence supports such deception. However, that you can point out one case where there where judgment turned out to be in error doesn't mean that every judgement of someone's character is necessarily wrong. Short of the mindreading we know we can't do (at least I think we can't do), was Ayn Rand's judgment infallible? Do we know with certainty that she did not indeed evade some knowledge she had of Branden that should have otherwise impacted her judgment of his character? Her journal entries probably do not relate every single thought had of Branden or experience she had with Branden.

Link to post
Share on other sites
For all of those arguing against Betsy:

Do you acknowledge any epistemological difference between the certainty associated with an axiomatic statement and the certainty associated with the judgement of another person's character?

The answer is no. I really wish we would stop saying "the difference between certainty A versus certainty B" when what we mean is "certain versus not certain". Certainty is not a shade of grey to be contrasted with other shades of certainty; it is solid white, with no variations. Please - certainty is too important an epistemological concept to misuse in this way.

Certainty is contextual. If we must compare, let's compare knowledge contexts, or compare the types of conclusions about which one may be certain in those contexts. Let's not muddy the waters by introducing certainty in multiple hues.

If you are not certain of someone's character, then you are not certain of it and should not be using that word.

Link to post
Share on other sites
The fantasy of mindreading has absolutely nothing to do with the human context of my scenario. If absolute knowledge of my friend's every thought and action is required for certainty about his honesty, then such a standard is necessarily beyond my reach. It cannot possibly apply to me. So why raise the issue?

The idea of mindreading was raised by you in the very first post on this thread. And, as far as I can tell, you were the first person to mention mindreading in the thread from which that post was split. When I asked you how we can be certain of someone's honesty, you replied with some irrelevant talk about mindreading. Then, when I pointed this out to you, instead of explaining how it is relevant, you claimed that you did not raise the issue of mindreading, an assertion for which I can only find evidence against.

If a fact is inherent in human consciousness, then that fact is not an obstacle to cognition, but a precondition of it ...

The context of certainty includes the fact that human beings are not mindreaders, they are not infallible, and they have free will. These facts are inherent in human nature and cannot be used as evidence for doubting a conclusion. When the proper context is maintained, there is no reason whatsoever to deny certainty where judging another's honesty is concerned.

All the main attacks on certainty depend on evading its contextual character.

If we cannot be certain that someone is honest, then we cannot rationally conclude that someone is honest, because to be certain is to have conclusive evidence. According to this view, it would be irrational of me to conclude that my longtime girlfriend is an honest person, because conclusive evidence here is impossible to achieve. Such a position places a mind hopelessly in doubt with regard to such matters of moral evaluation.

Today it's uncertainty with regard to another's honesty, because they might be lying without our knowledge; tomorrow it's uncertainty with regard to Ayn Rand's philosophical beliefs, because maybe she spied for the communists when nobody was looking. There is not a shred of evidence for either case, but does that really matter? After all, people can be honest or dishonest, Objectivist or communist.

Link to post
Share on other sites
For all of those arguing against Betsy:

Do you acknowledge any epistemological difference between the certainty associated with an axiomatic statement and the certainty associated with the judgement of another person's character?

Mark,

No, I do not make epistemological distinctions regarding analytic vs. synthetic forms certainty. Do you see that this is the question you are asking implicitly?

I am absolutely, 100% certain that your conscious motivation in posting on this thread is not to arbitrarily create confusion, so I won't hold it against you.

--Dan Edge

Link to post
Share on other sites
Do you acknowledge any epistemological difference between the certainty associated with an axiomatic statement and the certainty associated with the judgement of another person's character?
That question is irrelevant. The issue is whether there is a difference between "100% certainty", whatever that would mean, and "certainty, beyond a reaonable doubt". Expecially in scrutinizing OPAR ch 5, I cannot imagine what that difference could be. My unanswered question about freezing points is really central to this debate, IMOO. Were the debate over whether in some particular instance one can actually be certain beyond a reasonable doubt about something about a person's character, then that is when laws of physics and moral judgments might possibly part company. But there is no reason to distinguish conclusions about human actions from conclusions about human perceptions or conclusions about physical phenomena. The issue as Betsy has framed it goes beyond that: even if you are certain (as Peikoff characterizes it) about a conclusion, she is distinguishing certainty based on reason and whatever "100% certain" would mean (analytic, axiomatic, etc). I have yet to see any explanation from her what could be the basis for having no doubt that is based in reason and yet still not being 100% certain. In the context of a discussion with a skeptic (like Gordon Sollars), I would know exactly what it means, but in this context, it is completely incomprehensible, and it really bothers me that there is no explanation of how one can have used all resources of reason to dispell doubt and yet not be 100% certain.
Link to post
Share on other sites
For all of those arguing against Betsy:

Do you acknowledge any epistemological difference between the certainty associated with an axiomatic statement and the certainty associated with the judgement of another person's character?

My certainty about my girlfriend's honesty fundamentally depends upon my certainty about the Law of Identity. In that context, I can acknowledge that I am more certain about the Law of Identity than I am about my girlfriend's honesty. But I should stress that this is only because I recognize the hierarchy of knowledge. I am not presenting the arbitrary as evidence for doubting a conclusion. I am not, for example, saying that I'm 100% certain of the Law of Identity, but less than 100% certain of my girlfriend's honesty, because maybe she tells lies of which I'm unaware. No, I am absolutely certain of both the Law of Identity and my girlfriend's honesty.

If you wonder how I can be certain of my girlfriend's honesty, then you have forgotten the contextual nature of certainty.

Certainty, like possibility and probability, is contextual. It is a verdict reached within a definite framework of evidence, and it stands or falls with the evidence.
Link to post
Share on other sites
Do you think that a "long-term advocate of Objectivism" like Ayn Rand, in the years prior to her break with Branden, could be certain of his character based on the available evidence? Her journal entries, included in The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, show otherwise.

Basically, you are taking the stance that it is possible to not be certain of someone's character; and that is certainly true. I don't think it is possible to be certain about everyone's character based on scant knowledge about them. She was certain enough about his essays to include them in her periodicals (at least for a while), but she may have had some doubt about his character.

It is possible for an intelligent person to be certain, only to find out later that he was mistaken. And it is possible for an intelligent person to be deceived. It is also possible for someone to be very enthusiastic about Objectivism, and others can be certain about that observation, and then later he either turns against Objectivism or just fades away from it. That's why I said that one has to make the moral judgement of someone on a continuous basis, taking all of the facts one knows about him and in the proper context to be certain.

In a way, this reminds me of the people who say there are two types of causality -- that applying to matter and that applying to a volitional consciousness. One conception of causality applies to both matter and a volitional consciousness -- that it is what it is and acts accordingly.

One has to be moral by choice; and it never becomes automatic. It can become automatized that one takes the facts into account in a rational manner, but even that requires a continuous effort. But the rational does not include throwing in all sorts of "possibilities" -- i.e. maybe he was color blind, maybe he was temporarily psychotic, maybe he was harassed to the point of violence, maybe they hypnotized him into doing it, maybe they confused him to the point that he could no longer tell friends from enemies, maybe he is just set-off by seeing The Emblem, maybe he forgot to put in a word that would make it all clear, etc. -- without specific evidence for those.

The epistemological scale is possible, probable, and certain; and one needs evidence for each one of these, otherwise it's an arbitrary assertion.

Of course, it is possible that one observer can have evidence that another observer does not have; thus leading to two different conclusions, each being rational within each observer's context. And they can both be certain of their conclusion.

It is also possible that one can let one's hopes color one's expectations based on the possibilities of a potential; which can lead to errors of judgement regarding someone's character.

No one is trying to say moral judgement is easy, especially if one doesn't know the individual personally. Things can be taken out of context positively or negatively; and one might not realize one has done this until after the fact. When that happens, you change your judgement.

For example, one may get involved in something that seems like a fun game for a while, but then realize that evil is afoot. Rather like that story (can't remember the name) whereby two women are on a train talking to each other and voice how wonderful it would be if their no good husbands were dead, then one of them takes it seriously and commits murder, expecting the other to follow suite. I think that story moves along the possible, probably, certain axis when it comes to judging the character of the woman who committed the murder. What starts off as idle conversation and wishing turns into certainty that she is evil by the end of the story.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Can we know for certain Betsy that you are a "long term advocate for Objectivism"?

As far as the past is concerned, you can. All you have to do is look at what I have been doing for the past 45 years.

Can we know with certainty that you won't turn into a socialist or a communist before you die?

Not as much as I can -- and that's my point.

We can be certain of what we see people do but, because we can't read minds, we cannot be equally certain as to the motives that caused them to do it.

We can be certain of what people have done but, because men have free will, we cannot be equally certain about what they will do.

And that my position in essentials.

Link to post
Share on other sites
The idea of mindreading was raised by you in the very first post on this thread. And, as far as I can tell, you were the first person to mention mindreading in the thread from which that post was split.

That's true that I was the first person to use the term "mindreading." I did it to name, explicitly, an assumption implicit in arguments that we could be 100% certain about another person's honesty.

The context of certainty includes the fact that human beings are not mindreaders, they are not infallible, and they have free will. These facts are inherent in human nature and cannot be used as evidence for doubting a conclusion. When the proper context is maintained, there is no reason whatsoever to deny certainty where judging another's honesty is concerned.

Then I have two questions for you:

1. Can you be as certain about someone else's honesty as you can be about your own? Why or why not?

2. Can you be as certain about whether someone's statement was or was not made honestly as you can be about the fact that the statement was actually made? Why or why not?

If we cannot be certain that someone is honest, then we cannot rationally conclude that someone is honest, because to be certain is to have conclusive evidence.

By that standard, can you be certain of things that are not true?

According to this view, it would be irrational of me to conclude that my longtime girlfriend is an honest person, because conclusive evidence here is impossible to achieve. Such a position places a mind hopelessly in doubt with regard to such matters of moral evaluation.

My view is that you can have conclusive (i.e., sufficient to form a valid conclusion) evidence without having 100% certain knowledge -- NOT that you can throw all kinds of arbitrary doubts in.

Today it's uncertainty with regard to another's honesty, because they might be lying without our knowledge;

Other people not only can be dishonest without us knowing it, they sometimes are. As evidence, I can point to Branden deceiving Ayn Rand or anyone who ever lied to anyone and got away with it for a while.

tomorrow it's uncertainty with regard to Ayn Rand's philosophical beliefs, because maybe she spied for the communists when nobody was looking.

Now that is arbitrary. Where's the evidence?

The possibility that any of the above might be true requires some evidence. Without it, this is arbitrary speculation.

I agree.

Edited by Betsy
Link to post
Share on other sites
Do you think that a "long-term advocate of Objectivism" like Ayn Rand, in the years prior to her break with Branden, could be certain of his character based on the available evidence? Her journal entries, included in The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, show otherwise.

Is it your position, then, that Ayn Rand fell in love with and worshipped a man whose moral character was uncertain to her? And that, later, she then publicly condemned and disassociated herself from the same man, whose moral character was still uncertain to her?

If you have some evidence you'd like to present from PARC, then present it. But, having read PARC, I can't see how you could possibly defend such a position.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Is it your position, then, that Ayn Rand fell in love with and worshipped a man whose moral character was uncertain to her? And that, later, she then publicly condemned and disassociated herself from the same man, whose moral character was still uncertain to her?

I guess that depends on what you mean by "certain" and whether your use of "certainty" allows for being certain and wrong.

I think that what probably happened with Ayn Rand was that she had sufficient evidence to conclude, with a high degree of probability, that Branden was a man of high moral character -- but she was wrong. Also he may have once been moral and become immoral or been slightly immoral and become much more immoral. There is evidence for that as well.

Link to post
Share on other sites
As far as the past is concerned, you can. All you have to do is look at what I have been doing for the past 45 years.

I don't think you can by the standard of certainty you present. There is nothing about the criteria you have established that says it can deliver true results when you evaluate someone's past character, but is unreliable for evaluating their future character. Your criteria excludes certainty about someone's character, motives and honesty period. Evidence of what you have done is only evidence of what you have done, not of why you did it. And even if I knew all of the things you had done to advocate Objectivism, I don't know ALL the other things you may have done in the last 45 years to counter it. I couldn't read your mind for all of those 45 years to reveal what your true intent was. You may actually be a sleeper-communist waiting until you are activated so that you can divide Objectivists once you have established yourself as an apparent "long term advocate of Objectivism".

We can be certain of what we see people do but, because we can't read minds, we cannot be equally certain as to the motives that caused them to do it.

We can be certain of what people have done but, because men have free will, we cannot be equally certain about what they will do.

I think it might be more accurate to reference yourself rather than "we". Since you cannot read anyone else's mind, you cannot be certain of what they can or cannot conclude with certainty. You may disagree that they have met your criteria for certainty (which seems to be the case), but that does not mean that they are not certain in their minds. You may have doubts in your mind when judging a person's honesty or character, but that doesn't mean everyone else does.

For example;

If every day for five years I have seen a bum standing on a street corner holding a sign which says "Why lie, need money for beer", I can be certain of his future actions if I walk up and offer to give him a twenty dollar bill. I'd be certain he would take it. There would be absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would take the money. I may end up being wrong, but "certainty" existed in my mind before I offered to give him the money. I didn't need to be able to read his mind to know that he would take the money in the future (even if it was only a scant few seconds into the future).

Link to post
Share on other sites
Not as much as I can -- and that's my point.

We can be certain of what we see people do but, because we can't read minds, we cannot be equally certain as to the motives that caused them to do it.

We can be certain of what people have done but, because men have free will, we cannot be equally certain about what they will do.

Betsy, first of all thanks for clarifying your position several times now. I appreciate that.

I continue to take issue with your statement above, underlined. I think that free will is not the basis for your conclusion of uncertainty, but rather the lack of introspective evidence. That is, the only difference between you and others is that you have introspective evidence of your own will and not of others. Both you and others have free will, but yet you are certain of your future actions.

Free will is causal, not a randomizer. The fact that people in general can change their path, has little relevance to the analysis of a particular person (such as yourself). It is enough to introduce the necessity of obtaining further information, but not enough to cause doubt of certainty. If it were, you would have to be uncertain of yourself, which you are not (based upon your past clarification to me).

So wouldn't a statement that said, "because we do not have the necessary information" be more appropriately stated in essentials, rather than "because man has free will"?

I liken this to a discussion by Peikoff on certainty (don't remember which course) and statistics. Saying that planes crash in general, is not enough information to conclude that this plane, could crash. It is a statement of ignorance, that we don't know enough information about this plane to conclude whether it is capable of crashing or not. It is very possible that even though planes crash, this one cannot (that is, all the causal elements that could cause a crash have been removed). It is only if you think of freewill as a randomizer, (which I believe you don't) that would lead one to say that "it is entirely possible that this plane could crash, because some planes do.

Link to post
Share on other sites
The answer is no. I really wish we would stop saying "the difference between certainty A versus certainty B" when what we mean is "certain versus not certain". Certainty is not a shade of grey to be contrasted with other shades of certainty; it is solid white, with no variations. Please - certainty is too important an epistemological concept to misuse in this way.

Agreed. If certainty needs to be used one way, as Betsy claims, then using it 2 different ways, because others want to do that, as she claims in the "2 certainty" thread is a bogus reason. I don't recall Rand ever saying she had two different versions of selfishness because others used selfishness differently. She simply defined what she meant by the word, and used it correctly by that definition every time, and distinguished everytime someone used it another way as not being what she was talking about.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I guess that depends on what you mean by "certain" and whether your use of "certainty" allows for being certain and wrong.

I don't know why you put "certain" in quotes, since it is possible to be certain and yet be wrong, without degrading the concept of certainty. One has to make a moral judgement based on the facts that one knows, but one may not have all of the relevant facts and yet think that one has enough evidence to come to a conclusion.

For example, a customer may write one a check for a purchase that doesn't clear. One tries to contact that customer repeatedly by phone but gets no reply. A little later one finds out that the customer has moved out of state. Given this evidence, one has to conclude that the customer intentionally wrote a bad check in an effort to get something for nothing, so one concludes that they are immoral -- with certainty.

A few weeks go by and one gets a phone call from the customer apologizing for the bad check, and explains that what happened was that their bank had closed the account earlier than expected. The customer sends or brings in enough cash to cover the transaction plus the check bouncing fee. Then one can conclude that it was only a mistaken and neither criminal nor immoral intention.

Similarly, one can have evidence that Sally was involved in a scam against oneself. One becomes certain that Sally was involved and one voices that conclusion with righteous anger. Someone overhears this outcry without knowing about the scam and concludes that you are out to harm Sally with no cause. You conclude that Sally was involved with certainty and the eaves dropper concludes that you are initiating force with certainty.

Later, you scrupulously go back over all of the evidence and still conclude that Sally was involved, but you don't know how or if she was the primary perpetrator of the scam. In the mean time, you are having to fend off accusations that you threatened someone without cause. You are justifiably angry at the scammers, knowing that they are evil without a shred of doubt, and you want your vengeance. In the mean time, the eavesdropper has called the police on you, and you explain to them that you had been scammed and manipulated. You were the only consistent witness to the events, but you don't have any evidence to present to the police for your side of the claim, so now they are suspecting you for threats without cause. Later, Sally shows up out of the blue, looking all innocent like nothing had happened, but you know better. You have tried to contact her repeatedly, but she hasn't replied, so you are becoming more and more convinced that she was knowingly involved in the scam. You decide that it would be better for you not to have anything to do with Sally, since you are not getting any straight answers. She was involved, and unless she can come up with a very good explanation of her involvement, you have to conclude that she is immoral.

Now, like the check story, there may be facts to the case that would change your mind about Sally's intent and actions, but until you hear otherwise from her, one has to conclude with certainty that she is immoral.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Perhaps you wouldn't mind concisely elaborating on this?

Marc,

Sure. Your original question from post #123 was:

Do you acknowledge any epistemological difference between the certainty associated with an axiomatic statement and the certainty associated with the judgement of another person's character?

I interpret this question as meaning: Can one be more certain of axioms than ethical judgments? Or, to generalize: Can one be more certain about metaphysical statements than non-metaphysical statements? For instance, can one be more certain about the Law of Identity than the Laws of Motion? Plato, Descartes, and Kant all answered "yes" to this question. Kant, in particular, made a sharp distinction between 1) statements which are true in themselves, the alternative of which would entail a contradiction, and 2) statements which are true based on experience, but which could be otherwise. This is the analytic-synthetic distinction. Kant thought that one could be 100% certain of analytic or tautological truths, but not synthetic truths.

This is why I challenged your question. There is no such thing as "different levels of certainty." Part of the genius of Objectivism is doing away with this false distinction. Otherwise, how could I be so certain about even axioms? It's not inconceivable that I made a mistake in formulating the axiom in my own mind, or that I misunderstood something, or that an alien is controlling my brain. All truth is contextual. One can say that axiomatic statements must be true for "truth" or "certainty" or "proof" to have any meaning, but this is not the same thing as saying that one can be “more certain” about axioms. That would be question begging. It would be claiming, in effect, “I can be more certain about ‘X’ because ‘X’ is the foundation for my conception of certainty.”

The distinction implied in your question leads down the wrong road.

--Dan Edge

Link to post
Share on other sites
Absolutely not. Having free will means that someone can be dishonest and that's all.

Well then, in that case it's no evidentiary support for doubts as to someone's character, is it? Free will means that someone must choose, but it doesn't evidence a choice of a particular alternative, and that is what one would need to have rational doubt. Free will is no barrier to having certainty about someone's character.

Edited by Seeker
Link to post
Share on other sites
Can you be as certain about someone else's honesty as you can be about your own? Why or why not?

I'm less interested in how certain we can be of another's honesty. I'm more interested in whether we can be certain. But I'll answer your question anyway.

I acknowledge the concept of "degrees of certainty." Ayn Rand used this concept a couple times (see "Thought Control" in The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. 2, No. 26), and, based on my understanding of Objectivist epistemology, I think I understand what she meant by it. I don't think she differentiated between degrees of certainty on account of arbitrary doubts about her conclusions. I think she did so because of the nature of knowledge itself. It is possible, for example, to gather just enough knowledge (evidence) to conclude with certainty that your friend is an honest person. And then, as time goes on, and you gather more and more knowledge of his moral character, you can achieve higher and higher degrees of certainty about his honesty, simply because the amount of evidence in his favor keeps increasing with your knowledge of him. Basically, if your context of knowledge about his honesty increases, then the degree and strength of your certainty about his honesty will also increase.

I present this as my personal view, not as Ayn Rand's, though I think it must be what she meant by her usage of "degrees of certainty." I also want to be clear that this view does not mean that there are two different kinds of certainty. It means only that the degree of one's certainty can increase in proportion to the weight of the evidence in favor of one's conclusion.

I think it is helpful to think of degrees of certainty, but not percentages of certainty, because applying a percentage implies that anything less than 100% is not fully certain. With degrees you are not putting in doubt the existence of your certainty. You are simply acknowledging the relative strength of it.

With that context in mind, I can say that I am more certain about my own honesty than the honesty of another, but only when I bother to gather the introspective evidence (of my own honesty) which is available to me, in which case my context of knowledge about my own honesty will be much greater than my context of knowledge about another's. Given this greater context of knowledge, I can achieve a higher degree of certainty about myself versus someone else. But this is not to say that I cannot achieve certainty with regard to another person's honesty, because I can. It might be more difficult and take more time, because I only have his statements and actions to work with, but it is certainly not impossible.

Edited by MisterSwig
Link to post
Share on other sites

Bear in mind that certainty is also a feeling, and to that extent one may feel more strongly certain with greater evidence. But that is not a cognitive evaluation, and is not the same as saying that a conclusion becomes more certain with greater evidence, which it cannot. A conclusion that is already free of doubt cannot become more free of doubt with greater evidence.

However, I am not able at present to inspect the essay you cite, so I cannot say whether that was Rand's view, and offer it as a possible alternative only in that context.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Today it's uncertainty with regard to another's honesty, because they might be lying without our knowledge;

I can say the exact same thing with regard to the communist example that you did with regard to the liar example: Other people not only can be communists without us knowing it, they sometimes are. So why is my example arbitrary, but yours is not? Both are arbitrary, because there is no evidence whatsoever to support them.

It is true that some people lie, and some people are communist spies. But not every person is a liar, and not every person is a communist spy. Therefore, you need some actual evidence against a particular person before you can say that it is possible that he is a liar or a communist. Without any evidence to back up your claim, asserting such a possibility is totally arbitrary with regard to that particular individual.

Link to post
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...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...