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Moral vs Moral *worth*

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Tsuru
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The gore-movie thread made me realize an issue I've had with the Objectivist way of evaluating things from a moral/ethical perspective.

I think it's extremely important for Objectivists to make a clear distinction between questions of whether something is moral or not, and questions of whether something has positive moral worth or not.

So many discussions of sex, work, interests, hobbies, aesthetic tastes, ect (ie, personal issues) seem to revolve around questions of whether taking pleasure in certain aspects of these is moral or not - while the proper question should really be whether they have positive moral worth or not.

Ie, it makes more sense to say that (mutually honest) casual sex, being a professional gambler, enjoying trashy romance novels, playing too many video games, and enjoying movies with mixed themes/messages don't necessarily have positive moral worth (ie, they don't particularly hold much weight relative to the more important things in life, and they don't particularly further your life in the fundamental way) - but you're certainly still a moral person if you choose to engage in these things - if you maintain the right philosophical premises in the fundamental sense and direct/live your life as such.

When you say someone doing a particular action is not being moral - it's a direct condemnation of that person. If you say that someone doing a particular action has no positive moral worth, it simply means the action is neutral and not particularly worth comment. It's a major difference.

In my opinion, it detracts from the importance and seriousness of the philosophy (that has a lot to offer) to be ridiculing the morality of someone for listening to heavy metal and other such things. It's hard to take advocates of a philosophy seriously when they do that - particularly if it's a philosophy of self-interest.

Thoughts?

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Thoughts?

The distinction you're looking for, and the escape from moral judgment you're looking for, does not exist. That is why such discussions often get heated. (whether anyone is correct in declaring something immoral is another matter entirely)

If someone here says something is immoral, it is a direct condemnation of that action. Where did you get the idea it could be otherwise?!?

Edited by Inspector
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In my opinion, it detracts from the importance and seriousness of the philosophy (that has a lot to offer) to be ridiculing the morality of someone for listening to heavy metal and other such things. It's hard to take advocates of a philosophy seriously when they do that - particularly if it's a philosophy of self-interest.

My first thought is that this paragraph suggests an ethical version of de minimis non curat lex ("the law takes no account of trifles"), i.e. a choice is essentially amoral because its impact, for better or worse, is trivial. I would judge that to be a reasonable proposition, though open to attack in its manner of application. But the examples you give are not insubstantial.

You could say "I enjoy heavy metal music, it's a value to me" and assuming that were true (I'll leave it to others to debate the value of heavy metal music), at that point it would no longer be amoral in an ethical context but rather would represent a positive value to you for some reason.

Therefore, I'm afraid that the distinction doesn't hold water. Theoretically, every choice open to an individual can be judged according to an objective code of values; given an activity that seems value-less, there is the opportunity cost (in wasted time that could have been spent doing something better). It would be a substantial setback from a value perspective, and as such, choosing it would be unethical.

Edited by Seeker
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"Moral worth" is kind of sloppy speak. A person's actions are moral or immoral (or amoral, but leave that aside); that evaluation is in terms of whether the actions advance or hinder one's ultimate goal. Given what you seem to be trying to say, I think you should dump the concept of "moral worth" and get on board with the concept of "moral action". What you're really saying it that some actions are moral, some are immoral, and some are morally neutral. I suggest you reconsider the concept of moral neutrality. And I suggest you look to epistemology and metaphysics. Metaphysically there are facts: X is, or it isn't. Epistemologically, our grasp of facts is on a continuous evidentiary scale, so that a proposition can be certain, or very probable, or possible. Sometimes there is no basis for a proposition, in which case it is arbitrary. I think what you mean by "morally neutral" is that a person is incapable of deciding / grasping the effect of an action on the achievement of their ultimate goal. The difference between what "moral neutrality" indicates to me, and what I'm proposing, is that I think you can in fact know whether heavy metal is good for you or bad for you, even if right know you are incapable of using reason to reach that conclusion. Your "neutrality" approach suggests that in principle this is something unknowable, i.e. that there are some things which simply could never matter, and thus no further integration of your knowledge will help.

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I have often thought of this subject, and I agree that some things are completely morally irrelevant. Some of the conversations (specifically the one about horror movies) are utterly ridiculous. Whether a person enjoys horror movies, or anything to that extent, regardless of their reasons, is unimportant. Its simply a matter of preference, like whether hot dogs or hamburgers are better, with no definition as to what "better" means. If the nature of something is pleasure, I say sure its moral, even if it has no worth. To quote Ayn Rand: "The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live." Whatever floats your boat...

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Whatever floats your boat...

The problem with your position is that it implies that things are either moral for everyone, immoral for everyone, or amoral for everyone. The fact is that everything is contextually moral/immoral/amoral for everyone. If someone enjoys watching horror movies because they like seeing torture, then that is immoral (and so are they, to whatever extent that makes a person so). If they enjoy watching them to see mysteries solved (a stretch, with the quality of horrors these days), then it's an entirely different story.

It's not like you can just declare, "a person's taste in movies is frivolous compared to political philosophy, therefore it is exempt from moral judgment." Horse-hockey. It may be harder to judge, or impossible without context, but to blanket-exempt it in the way you call for is not correct.

Whatever people may do wrong here or elsewhere in judging people, your "whatever floats your boat" attitude is not right. If bad things float someone's boat, then they are a bad person.

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If bad things float someone's boat, then they are a bad person.

I completely agree with you on that last quote. I just don't particularly care if a person is bad so long as their actions don't affect me.

When I said "whatever floats your boat," I should have emphasized the your. I meant that as long as it doesn't hamper with somebody elses boat(particularly mine), I don't really care how a person chooses to float their own. Objectivism states (im paraphrasing) that man must place his own happiness as his highest moral value. I recognize that makes a person happy may be wrong, but if it effects only that person, I don't see what harm there is in allowing them to continue such behaviors. If somebody were to force them away from the torture path, that person wouldn't have the slightest right to do so, nor the reason, if it affects only the liker of the movies. It would violate the basic right to life.

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I completely agree with you on that last quote. I just don't particularly care if a person is bad so long as their actions don't affect me.
Or, to put it more obviously, if something doesn't matter to you, then it doesn't matter to you. So for example if Exxon raises prices for gas, it affects me, but that is their right -- sometimes having an affect on me is their right. If a loved one commits suicide, it has an affect on me, but it's still their right to kill themselves -- so I will care in this case. If a stranger commits suicide, I probably won't care since it proabably won't have an effect on me. Although, it might, for example my son might witness the event and be upset, which would have an effect on me, so then I would care (but still, it the guy's right to kill himself). As far as drug use goes, I think drug use always has an affect on me so I would always care, though the affect would not be as large as it would be if a friend killed himself. This is because there are objective values, and suicide (in quick or short form) isn't one of them; and I prefer to live in a world where people chose to exist and act rationally towards that end. Although I limit the extent to which I would ask the government to give me what I want.
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kufa,

I think David nailed it. You're still not quite there; if something only hurts the person doing it, it is still immoral. How much you need to care about it depends on how much it will affect you.

In the second part of your post, you argued against forcing someone out of an activity because it is immoral. Why did you feel the need to make that argument? Do you think anyone here was arguing for that? Because I don't see any such argument here.

Did you think that "immoral" is the same thing as "illegal," or perhaps the same thing as "that which should be illegal?" If so, I could see why you would be concerned with judging trivial immoralities, but that concern is in error. The fact is that those two things are not the same, and trivial immoralities are still immoralities.

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My thoughts are a matter of the irony of your position. You are making a moral judgement about other people and how they make their own moral judgements even though those moral judgements may not even be affecting you at all. You are condemning them for using their own judgement for their own self-interest.

This is apparently because you don't seem to see a connection between how other people's seemingly minor actions can have an impact on the person making the judgement which is precisely why they make such judgements in the first place. Additionally, you do several members an injustice by characterizing their posts on these matters as "ridiculing". For example, regardless of whether you agree with his conclusions or not, Dismuke has (in other threads) laid out a pretty thorough and reasonable argument regarding his disdain for certain forms of music. His critique is not some phantom complaint that has had no impact on his life, done solely for the sake of belittling someone. Rather, he sees it as a negative and very pervasive impact on the whole society in which he lives, something that affects him very much. His complaint is very much in line with a consideration of his self-interest.

In my opinion, it detracts from the importance and seriousness of the philosophy (that has a lot to offer) to be ridiculing the morality of someone for listening to heavy metal and other such things. It's hard to take advocates of a philosophy seriously when they do that - particularly if it's a philosophy of self-interest.

Aside from the aforementioned injustice, you set up a strawman here. Even if a person were merely "ridiculing" (and by ridiculing I assume you mean belittling someone undeservedly and/or without sound reasoning) someone for certain activities, the philosophy still has a lot to offer and they do not undermine that value to rational people. However, I have pointed out that "ridiculing" is typically not the proper characterization anyway. The second sentence on the other hand reinforces what I said before. You don't appear to see the causal relationship between one person's actions and their impact (or potential impact) on other people. The vast majority of folks on here aren't simply castigating the morality of others for no reason, they are doing it because of the impact that such actions have or may have on their life, and they are adjusting their relationships accordingly.

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It seems to me that the difference here is similiar to the difference between objectivists and libertarians. For libertarians, morality essentially starts at the political level. That is their axiom, in fact. The non-initiation of force principle. So long as you don't interfere with someone elses rights, you are not acting immorally. When an objectivist labels someone or something as immoral, they are saying that it is is not in the subjects best, rational, longterm self-interest. So while an objectivist might say that something is immoral, they would not equate that with the idea that it should therefore be illegal, because of the realization of context in personal matters. If the immoral action did interfere with the individuals right to life, then they would believe that it was immoral and should be illegal as well.

An objectivist would say doing "meth" is immoral, but feel free to do it.

A libertarian would say, Feel free to do "meth", it doesn't hurt me so it's not immoral.

Their base is essentially subjectivist in this way and what you are advocating is the same. Because something is contextual, it is not beholden to morality. It is difficult to understand those issues and would should certainly be very cautious in stating that something context based is not moral, but that is not to say that morality is not involved.

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I have a simple solution to this: I don't call people who act against their self-interest immoral. I call them stupid. It's the same thing (stupidity in this sense is not defined as lack of intelligence, but avoidance of known facts). I don't condemn them or even think too much about them. I think all this moral bashing doesn't help anyone. It has its roots in religious belief and that's where it should stay. It leads nowhere. Know the principles and live by them.

I'm hesitant in calling people stupid, too. The problem of false positives is an easy trap. And I've found that most people are open to reasonable discussion if you actually give it a try and listen to them first. But then there are those who don't even listen, know what you're saying before you say it and refuse to take a look at the world because it could threaten their current model of it. These people are usually hopeless. They are also the ones that resort to force where reason doesn't suffice.

So I think a mental split between taking immoral actions and being an immoral person is justified. A person may be wrong in his judgement while believing he's right and do things that hinder his well-being and therefore commit immoral actions. But as long as he is open to reason and willing to consider arguments, I refrain from calling them immoral or stupid. They're just wrong. It's -at its very basis - an epistemological error. The moral problem (the stupidity) begins when they stop thinking.

It's also understandable to me that someone who has spent a big part of his life believing in an idea is usually unwilling to even consider it to be wrong, especially, because it's become such a part of his identity that attacking the idea is perceived as an attack on himself and his life. I wouldn't do it and I hope I will never do this out of error. You can't talk people into thinking about something they consider immoral to start with. I think that it's easier for most people to condemn something than to learn something. They start to "know" stuff they don't really know and confuse their assumptions for facts. I'm still not sure why it happens, but that it does is a sad fact.

Edited by Felix
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I don't call people who act against their self-interest immoral. I call them stupid. It's the same thing (stupidity in this sense is not defined as lack of intelligence, but avoidance of known facts). I don't condemn them or even think too much about them.
What about loved ones? When/if a loved one acts immorally, do you automatically write them off? In the middle, there are people who do not violate rights but nevertheless act in a disgusting way. I feel compelled to link to a colleague's column. He condemns them, and rightly so. If somebody draws to your attention the fact that you are essentially committing suicide, do you really think that is "pointless"? I hereby condemn people who are unwilling to give an honest evaluation of another person's acts.
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I have a simple solution to this: I don't call people who act against their self-interest immoral. I call them stupid. It's the same thing (stupidity in this sense is not defined as lack of intelligence, but avoidance of known facts). I don't condemn them or even think too much about them. I think all this moral bashing doesn't help anyone. It has its roots in religious belief and that's where it should stay. It leads nowhere. Know the principles and live by them.

Do you find that telling someone that you think they are stupid is more effective then telling them their actions seem immoral in that they are not beneficial to their life?

What I understand you to be saying here is that the only way someone can be immoral is if they evade the truth. Is that correct? If so, then I agree with you to this extent; I would consider someone who actively evades the truth to be more immoral then an individual who acts against their self-interest through a lack of knowledge or comprehension. But I do not agree that this differentiation makes their actions moral, just more forgivable because it implies that they are less likely to commit the same error in the future. An evader can make the same mistake over and over.

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Interesting.

Wolf-For-Icon-Person: "Amoral" is a better term for the concept than "lacking in moral worth." Thanks. :D

It's a valid point in the difference between libertarian and Objectivist philosophies - but I don't think it necessarily invalidates the notion of a large number of actions simply being "amoral" under an objective moral code.

I suppose this is where I differ from Objectivism. I think that beyond basic rules of conduct (ie, non initiation of force, ect), an individual's pursuit of happiness and morality borderline on subjective.

If someone wants to play with toy trains in their basement all day until they die of old age, or wants to smoke 12 doobies a day and eat nothing but pie and french fries for every meal whilst watching "Earnest Saves Christmas," that's entirely fine so long as they achieve their personal ends through entirely honest means. Because we live in human bodies - and live in an objective reality - there obviously is an objective personal moral code to some degree: but if happiness is the end result to be achieved... well - show me what "happiness" is objectively.

I've noticed that a lot of Objectivist discussions take on a subtle form of altruism at this point - in which they use "productive capacity"/"productive work"/"productivity"/ect as the standard of happiness and the standard of moral evaluation on a personal level. But productive to whom?

I've just always found it weird that proponents of the philosophy of rational self interest seem quite keen on fixating and ruminating over the behavior of others, in rather narrow areas such as petty aesthetic choices and such. *shrug*

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I suppose this is where I differ from Objectivism. I think that beyond basic rules of conduct (ie, non initiation of force, ect), an individual's pursuit of happiness and morality borderline on subjective.

There's no argument that that some people's individual pursuit of (un)happiness and (im)morality is beyond borderline subjective, it is totally subjective for some people. At the heart of the matter, according to Objectivist Ethics, is why it shouldn't be. No one here will force you to accept Objectivist Ethics, nor anyone else for that matter. But for those who choose to live life by subjective whim, the judgement from Objectivists should be the least of their concerns. To mangle Heinlein somewhat, "reality is a harsh mistress."

The only curiosity I have is, how much have you actually read about Objectivist Ethics beyond what you see on this or any other forum because you would typically not get a full explanation as to why Objectivist Ethic are as they are. Note that I'm not trying to imply that if you had read it, you would agree with it, but my first thought is that you still don't understand why judgement is important, which leads me to think you probably haven't actually read much of Rand's own material. It doesn't appear that you reject her ideas so much as it appears you don't know fully understand what they are, like you simply have an impression based on forum conversations. If that is the case, you do not do yourself (or the philosophy) any justice by not fully understanding what it is you are rejecting. The rest I've already said in previous posts.

That said, any argument you care to make for subjective ethics beyond this point should be taken to the Debate Forum.

I've noticed that a lot of Objectivist discussions take on a subtle form of altruism at this point - in which they use "productive capacity"/"productive work"/"productivity"/ect as the standard of happiness and the standard of moral evaluation on a personal level. But productive to whom?

Obviously, productive for themselves. What's altruistic about that? I would give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you understand concepts like accomplishment and achievement (and how these two things are good for man's life), as well as the ability to materially provide for one's self, but to question "productive to whom" would suggest otherwise.

Edited by RationalBiker
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What about loved ones? When/if a loved one acts immorally, do you automatically write them off? In the middle, there are people who do not violate rights but nevertheless act in a disgusting way. I feel compelled to link to a colleague's column. He condemns them, and rightly so. If somebody draws to your attention the fact that you are essentially committing suicide, do you really think that is "pointless"? I hereby condemn people who are unwilling to give an honest evaluation of another person's acts.

Not loved ones. I think I put this one wrong. I explained later in my post to which degree I actually try to convince these people of a different viewpoint. I judge their viewpoint as stupid and if I care about them I try to change their point of view and try to do so very carefully. I see condemning as writing them off. You say: "They're evil." and that's it. End of case. Stupidity, on the other hand, can and should be fought, but this doesn't happen by just shouting "evil", but by pointing out the underlying error and showing how to fix it. The article you linked to is an example of that.

I think we have a different understanding of what condemnation is. If condemnation is seeing a behavior as immoral or intellectually attacking on an idea, I'm all for it. But I see condemnation as a statement like "You did something bad and deserve the worst." without explaination or help. It's that which I refrain from doing and which I consider remnants of religious nonsense. I'm not against criticism, I just think it should be reasonable.

Do you find that telling someone that you think they are stupid is more effective then telling them their actions seem immoral in that they are not beneficial to their life?

What I understand you to be saying here is that the only way someone can be immoral is if they evade the truth. Is that correct? If so, then I agree with you to this extent; I would consider someone who actively evades the truth to be more immoral then an individual who acts against their self-interest through a lack of knowledge or comprehension. But I do not agree that this differentiation makes their actions moral, just more forgivable because it implies that they are less likely to commit the same error in the future. An evader can make the same mistake over and over.

It doesn't make the actions any better, that's right. My point was that just standing by and shouting "You're evil" doesn't really help because very often it doesn't even reach the person for the reasons I have stated. The judgement itself doesn't have any effect if you don't help the other person to understand that judgement, too.

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My point was that just standing by and shouting "You're evil" doesn't really help because very often it doesn't even reach the person for the reasons I have stated. The judgement itself doesn't have any effect if you don't help the other person to understand that judgement, too.

Felix, if you want to see why someone might just end a conversation by declaring "you're evil" and then walking away, go to a communist forum and see the kind of "arguments" that they offer. Some people are simply closed to any form of reasoning and the only thing to do with them is simply declare your disgust with their evil and then leave.

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The only curiosity I have is, how much have you actually read about Objectivist Ethics beyond what you see on this or any other forum because you would typically not get a full explanation as to why Objectivist Ethic are as they are. Note that I'm not trying to imply that if you had read it, you would agree with it, but my first thought is that you still don't understand why judgement is important, which leads me to think you probably haven't actually read much of Rand's own material. It doesn't appear that you reject her ideas so much as it appears you don't know fully understand what they are, like you simply have an impression based on forum conversations. If that is the case, you do not do yourself (or the philosophy) any justice by not fully understanding what it is you are rejecting.

Tsuru,

I agree with RationalBiker on this, and will only add that I think his inquiry applies to your view of the virtue of productivity as well. I fully agree with the moral judgments you're condeming, and don't think you have grounds to condemn them. (i.e. against people who "[want] to smoke 12 doobies a day and eat nothing but pie and french fries for every meal whilst watching 'Earnest Saves Christmas,'" ... hey good image there, btw; really concretizes the idea of someone who is immoral in the Objectivist view but harms nobody) I can only speculate, like RB, that perhaps you should learn more about the Objectivist ethics to see why we condemn this kind of thing.

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I see condemning as writing them off. You say: "They're evil." and that's it. End of case.....

But I see condemnation as a statement like "You did something bad and deserve the worst." without explaination or help....

My point was that just standing by and shouting "You're evil" doesn't really help because very often it doesn't even reach the person for the reasons I have stated.

There are three basic issues here. First, should you shout? If you're in the middle of a frozen lake and the ice breaks, shouting may be necessary to get people's attention. Otherwise, shouting is not good. I condemn shouting (though not by shouting at those who shout). Then the question is, if you have a negative moral evaluation of a person, should you express that evaluation or should you keep your yap shut? Maybe if your boss is evil and yet you really like the job, you can hold your chin; whereas if your wife is kind of evil, you might consider mentioning her evilness to her in private. But still, not all expressed negative moral evaluation needs to be expressed softly in the hopes of persuading a person who you care about to change their ways. If a member or parliament or an influential neighbor is evil, you should consider denunciation (not just emotional flaming, but reasoned yet strongly worded denunciation) so that others see the error of their way and do not follow suite.
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Felix, if you want to see why someone might just end a conversation by declaring "you're evil" and then walking away, go to a communist forum and see the kind of "arguments" that they offer. Some people are simply closed to any form of reasoning and the only thing to do with them is simply declare your disgust with their evil and then leave.

Then the judgement doesn't have any effect just as I stated.

There are three basic issues here. First, should you shout? If you're in the middle of a frozen lake and the ice breaks, shouting may be necessary to get people's attention. Otherwise, shouting is not good. I condemn shouting (though not by shouting at those who shout). Then the question is, if you have a negative moral evaluation of a person, should you express that evaluation or should you keep your yap shut? Maybe if your boss is evil and yet you really like the job, you can hold your chin; whereas if your wife is kind of evil, you might consider mentioning her evilness to her in private. But still, not all expressed negative moral evaluation needs to be expressed softly in the hopes of persuading a person who you care about to change their ways. If a member or parliament or an influential neighbor is evil, you should consider denunciation (not just emotional flaming, but reasoned yet strongly worded denunciation) so that others see the error of their way and do not follow suite.

Condemnation to me was always emotional flaming. I see what you mean now. :worry:

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Then the judgement doesn't have any effect just as I stated.

It has an effect: you've called a spade a spade. It's not about having an effect on them at that point. Except for planting that little doubt ("perhaps my inner fears are right; I am evil, and that guy knows it!").

In any case I resent your implication that it has something to do with the vestiges of religion. Good and evil very much exist and that has nothing to do with mystic fantasies. Evil's entire power comes from the sanction of the good. Telling someone in no uncertain terms that you think he and his ideas are the scum of the earth has its place. If only all evil were told that by everyone, it would have no power.

Edited by Inspector
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