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Mike Wallace Interview with Ayn Rand

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Can someone please argue against the statement "It doesnt harm anyone by downloading this, I wasn't going to buy it anyway."
Argument 1 is, it doesn't matter since it's not your right to take something from another person without their permission. Argument 2 is that if your interest in seeing the video is so minimal that you wouldn't even pay, then you shouldn't even watch. From a legal POV, a claim that "I would have" or "I wouldn't have" has no cash value, for example "I would have returned the painting undetected". Morally, the argument is not based on you doing harm to another person, it is violating a basic moral principle by claiming to have the right to do something that you do not have the right to so, and that's not about harm, it's about another person's property.
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Argument 1 is, it doesn't matter since it's not your right to take something from another person without their permission.

For this to hold water, we'd have to establish that it's in one's self-interest to act virtuously when the only consequence of chosing to act virtuously or not is simply on one's own virtuosity. This is a hard one for me. I want to try to establish a music collection I've paid for, as I feel bad about "stealing" music, and I don't want to be un-virtuous like that. But I have to admit, in this case, wanting to be virtuous wasn't enough to keep me from watching the videos (since I judged they would be really interesting).

Someone might try to argue that there is another consequence of watching the video besides effecting one's own virtuosity, like on someone's property rights, but that would be conflating cause and effect. I'm saying that the only effect of breaking property rights (the cause) in this instance, from one individual's viewpoint, who would not otherwise buy the video, is on that person's virtuosity. (I hope people don't mind that term.)

Basically, the question is--why act virtuously/morally/on principle when there would appear to be no reason to except to act virtuously/morally/on principle? (I've listened to the Peikoff lecture about acting on principle, but if he covered this question, I didn't pick up on it.)

Again, anticipating answers, someone might say that I am just an immoral person for caring about watching an Ayn Rand interview (which I am not willing to pay $23 for) more than acting morally. I just might accept that argument, too... :huh:

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Basically, the question is--why act virtuously/morally/on principle when there would appear to be no reason to except to act virtuously/morally/on principle? (I've listened to the Peikoff lecture about acting on principle, but if he covered this question, I didn't pick up on it.)

But of course, there is no such thing as virtue for the sake of virtue. The appearance is mistaken. Virtue is action to achieve values, so you have to ask what values give rise to the virtue at hand to see what value you are losing. Stealing property has undesirable consequences for you in the long term even though your immediate desire might be satisfied. It negatively affects your character, making you worse off. It contributes to a loss of value for the property holder, rendering future profitable action by them (that could benefit you) less likely.

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BrassDragon: If you're referring to Peikoff's Ford Hall Forum lecture (the free one at the ARI website), I don't think he addresses that issue directly, although he does discuss it in his Understanding Objectivism course. There are basically only two ways to judge the proper course of action in any given case - by emotion or by principle. Even if you were to sit down and analyze all the detailed complexity of a given concrete situation, putting all the percieved positives on one side and the perceived negatives on the other, the choice of which side to choose would eventually boil down to one of those two categories: either you feel that the positives outweigh the negatives (or vice versa) or you decide based on your earlier formed principles. Even the categorization of the consequences of a situation into "positives" and "negatives" must be made either by feeling or by principle. We know that emotions are not a source of knowledge - whatever we feel about a certain choice has no bearing on whether that choice is right or wrong (unless it's an optional choice, where one could rationally go either way). Therefore we have to commit to always acting on principle, because principles (if properly formed) are an identification of the root requirements for our long-term survival. Any time we violate a basic moral principle, however small the violation is, we not only are tossing out our sole rational means of decision-making, we are also undercutting our long-term survival in favor of perceived short-term gains.

Taking the example of watching a copyrighted video, the principle violated would be: every man should be the beneficiary of his own actions, and he alone should be the one to decide how to dispose of the product of said actions (his property). By ignoring the principle even in this one case because we feel that we aren't really hurting him monetarily (which is debatable at best), we are throwing out the principle of egoism, as well as our commitment to living by principle as such. In effect, we are saying: "Men should be the beneficiaries of their own actions... usually... unless others feel that they should be the beneficiary," while simultaneously saying, "Men should act on principle... usually... unless they feel like doing otherwise." It's a rejection on principle of principles as a guide to action.

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Any time we violate a basic moral principle, however small the violation is, we not only are tossing out our sole rational means of decision-making, we are also undercutting our long-term survival in favor of perceived short-term gains.

I'm curious as to how you concluded that such moral departures undercut our long-term survival. Also, are you speaking man qua man on a wider scale, or the impact of such acts on one's personal life?

Some would call this 'karma'--if we steal, then we are putting ourselves on a path to a vicious cycle of stealing and being stolen from. What philosophical reasons would determine long-term harm to one's survival if one watches an illegal video?

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That's a standard counter-reply to any free posting. Given a choice of paying $23 for the video, or watching it for free, what would you do? What would most people do? I think most people would take the free copy, and would see no reason to pay money for something that they can get for free -- wouldn't that be altruism?
There are several significant differences between owning a VHS copy of an interview and watching it on an online sight on which it is posted. For instance, you can watch the VHS on your TV, whereas you can only watch the online video on your computer (unless you have your computer linked to your TV, or have the Internet on your TV, which most people don't). Also, you know that you'll have the VHS forever or until it brakes, whereas the Youtube video could disappear at any time. Besides that, some people get selfish pleasure from owning an official copy of a commercially released, professionally mastered video, with a professionally designed case to display on their movie shelf; which is a significant reason why people buy VHS movies and DVD movies, rather than simply recording them on a blank tape or disk when they come on TV.

We're looking at default assumptions, not universal rules. Are you claiming that it is reasonable to assume that at least 50% of the commercially produced online content at YouTube is legal?
Hmm, I haven't honestly researched this or seen real evidence one way or the other.. My working assumption is that at least *some* of it is legal, rather than none. Frequently, when I've seen material that is clearly illegal show up (although I don't actively seek it out), it is gone and the user who posted it has his entire account suspended or deleted pretty quickly.

Am I the only one who is annoyed by the fact that she can't keep her eyes still?
Hmm, no.. Her eyes didn't annoy me at all. Actually, I really enjoyed watching her facial expressions. She revealed a lot of things one might not expect in a philosophical conversation of that sort--humor, kindness, and an almost childlike enthusiasm, for instance. She definitely seemed in a better mood than in the Donahue interview which was previously posted.
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I'm curious as to how you concluded that such moral departures undercut our long-term survival.

Because you can't know ahead of time how much "moral departure" you can get away with before you die as a result, you have to always choose the life-promoting course. The lost value might be the tipping point between surviving long-term and not. Since you don't know for sure, you cannot ever afford to choose death. You've got to always choose what's moral, i.e. choose life.

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Because you can't know ahead of time how much "moral departure" you can get away with before you die as a result, you have to always choose the life-promoting course. The lost value might be the tipping point between surviving long-term and not. Since you don't know for sure, you cannot ever afford to choose death. You've got to always choose what's moral, i.e. choose life.

That sounds a little predeterministic when you state that you can't know ahead of time how much moral departure you can get away with before it causes your death. If one limits their 'moral departures' to watching illegal videos, how can that be extrapolated to possibly leading to the person's death? That seems a bit of a stretch and seems to make the assumption, implicitly, that because one watches illegal videos, one's life is out of control in other areas, say, drunk driving (citing this because it is a life-threatening activity).

If someone could lay out a logical set of reasons why watching illegal videos would really preclude one's ability to reason in other areas involving his survival, I would be very interested to see this logical argument.

Also, in the lesser case of involving one's self in enjoying the "benefits" of theft, how would this lead to a life of financial misfortune (assuming there is no such thing as diety, mystical powers getting even for one's wrongdoings, etc.) I find it hard to imagine that an Objectivist would allow one's self to drift out of control because of a few purloined videos. But if someone can cite a solid argument for it, I'm interested in reading it.

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I already gave two such arguments: one, it harms your moral character making you a less integrated, weaker person, and two, it makes the person from whom you are stealing materially worse off, reducing their ability to act in ways that might benefit you later. So how much value can you give up before your life is forfeit? You don't know. It might not take much. By not choosing to consistently build your strength of character, for instance, you might find it impossible to take the personally difficult action necessary to, say, get out of property tax hell. There is no way for you to safely chance it. You've got to make the moral choice, every time.

Edited by Seeker
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So...Say I buy a cd. This cd gets broken in some freak accident. Would it be immoral to illegaly download that same cd to replace the broken one?

On the no side: I already paid for it, so why should I have to pay twice?

On the yes side: It is taking profits from whatever band or company who produces it. If I want the music so badly, I shoudl have to buy another cd.

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So...Say I buy a cd. This cd gets broken in some freak accident. Would it be immoral to illegaly download that same cd to replace the broken one?

On the no side: I already paid for it, so why should I have to pay twice?

On the yes side: It is taking profits from whatever band or company who produces it. If I want the music so badly, I shoudl have to buy another cd.

I think the case you have to make is why the music seller, or anyone other than your insurer, ought to be obligated to pay the price for your accidents. If your car were destroyed in an accident, you wouldn't go to the dealer and just take another one, you would file an insurance claim. When you bought the CD with its content, you weren't buying the right to the content per se, you were buying one particular copy, which was destroyed. So would you be entitled to go to the music store and steal another copy of the CD? Of course not - and you're not entitled to another copy of the content from the Internet, either.

Edited by Seeker
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I'm curious as to how you concluded that such moral departures undercut our long-term survival. Also, are you speaking man qua man on a wider scale, or the impact of such acts on one's personal life?

I'm not sure what you mean by "on a wider scale" - in my opinion (and by my understanding of Objectivism) there is no proper distinction between the life of "man qua man" and one's personal life. The term "man qua man" just picks out the essential attributes common to all men which determine our basic means of survival - namely reason. If by "on a wider scale" you mean "the survival of the species," then no, that is not a proper standard for ethics. The purpose of morality is to identify the basic principles which apply to all men (to "man qua man") in order to enable each individual man to live a long, happy personal life.

If someone could lay out a logical set of reasons why watching illegal videos would really preclude one's ability to reason in other areas involving his survival, I would be very interested to see this logical argument.

I'm sure you don't mean this (explicitly), but the implication I read from this question is that it's proper to follow reason in some areas, namely those which are supposedly essential to your survival, but in other areas it's okay to discard reason and go by your feelings. I think the fundamental point to grasp is that ignoring reason in any area is damaging to your ability to survive - reason, for a human being, is everything - it's your method for determining what in reality is harmful to you and what is beneficial, it's your method for choosing values, it's your method for pursuing those values, it's your method for bringing new values into the world, etc, etc... Reason is your means of dealing with reality, and if you lose contact with reality at all, especially if you do so on purpose, you're damaging your life on the most fundamental level. All other values are subsidiary to the maintenance of a proper tie to reality, so any act which promises some subsidiary value (no matter how large you feel it to be) at the expense of cutting you off from some part of reality (no matter how small you feel it to be), is anti-life at the root, and thus should be removed from consideration. Period.

For example, I recall a story (I think from Peikoff's "30 Years with Ayn Rand" talk) of some businessman who offered Rand a large sum of money if she would renounce atheism. She, obviously, refused, because the integrity of her philosophy and her ability to act according to her rational judgments was far more important to her than any sum of money. The principle is exactly the same on the smaller scale of watching a copyrighted video without its owner's permission. If you understand the principles of egoism and of private property - if you see that these principles applies to every man and that they flow directly from the facts of reality, then ignoring them to follow your emotional desires is a renunciation of rationality. And there is no middle ground: either you hold reason as your guide to action or you hold emotions as your guide to action. As I stated in my previous post, a policy of acting on reason "most of the time" really just places emotion at the root of your actions, although in some cases maybe you feel you ought to follow your rational judgments, so you do so.

Of course, there are other derivative reasons why watching a copyrighted video is immoral - you can just run down the Objectivist virtues and look at the conflicts, some of which Seeker and others have already mentioned. In my opinion the most notable is that you're punishing "the good for being good", to use Rand's terminology. You see something which is a value to you, and instead of praising and supporting the creator you say essentially "screw you, you put in a load of effort to create this value and in reward I'm just going to take it from you." You're discouraging, rather than encouraging the creation of future works in the same vein.

From my experience, I think the vast majority of commercial material put up on sites like YouTube is placed there illegally and without permission. My personal policy on such cases is to assume that the poster put it up illegally unless he explicitly states otherwise or there is direct evidence to the contrary.

Edited by entripon
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What would you say that your moral responsibility as a moderator or David V's moral responsibility as a forum owner is vis a vis this sort of thing? Shouldn't you delete the link or edit the post to put a warning in?
I won't edit a post on my own except to delete clearly offensive content, close tags, or reduce massive quotation, in light of my understanding of the purpose of moderation. Whether the presence of those links damages the forum is hard to say -- I don't see that it does. I have personally decided that it would be immoral for me to view the videos, which I have never seen, and will have to wait until I can acquire a legal copy of my own to view. With respect to the forum, I have done what I think I should do, in raising the moral question, encouraging people to think in principles about ethical action. There's no denying that I am saddened by the existence of even one response that suggests that it's right to view the videos, but my sadness does not sanction a runaway delete button at least for me.
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I already gave two such arguments: one, it harms your moral character making you a less integrated, weaker person, and two, it makes the person from whom you are stealing materially worse off, reducing their ability to act in ways that might benefit you later. So how much value can you give up before your life is forfeit? You don't know. It might not take much. By not choosing to consistently build your strength of character, for instance, you might find it impossible to take the personally difficult action necessary to, say, get out of property tax hell. There is no way for you to safely chance it. You've got to make the moral choice, every time.

I'm getting a vague, extremely general 'feel' of what I think you mean, but nothing I can call rational facts just yet. If you can tie in, say, how watching purloined videos would, for instance, change something about one's personality that makes them unable to sell their services to prospective clients, or unable to gain employment, perhaps some concrete examples to tie the abstract concepts to reality, I might understand better.

It is still too easy to fall into the mystical notion that if one steals, God is going to make life miserable for the thief and one will never attain money. But if one is to believe in a rational world, then there have to be rational reasons. Character traits I migtht understand, if I could understand how they tie in with earning a good living. (I'm really curious about this because I AM finding the attainment of wealth to be illusory and am wondering if it ties into some unethical things I did 30 years ago.)

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If you can tie in, say, how watching purloined videos would, for instance, change something about one's personality that makes them unable to sell their services to prospective clients, or unable to gain employment, perhaps some concrete examples to tie the abstract concepts to reality, I might understand better.
It's not the actual photons on the eyes that makes the difference. What matters is the mind that makes this choice. In choosing to watch a stolen video, you must say "It does not matter that this video is stolen". A mind which can say "I accept theft in this instance" then does not have a consistent moral concept of right and wrong. Thus there is no principle that guides you to an action when you see a shiny bauble on the table (which you know you do not own), and you could as easily say "That is pretty, I will claim it" as you could say "That is not mine, I will leave it". Or an apple pie cooling in the neighbor's window --delicious, so why not take it?

I know of three ways to approach the problem of theft. One is to identify the correct principle and apply it consistently, in which case you reject the assumption that you can, by right, receive stolen goods. The second is to ignore the problem -- to evade the contradiction, and disregard the fact that your ostensive moral principle is being violated by you. The third is to cook up a new principle, for example "I can do anything I want as long as my action does not immediately terminate the life of another person". I have come to understand that evasion may superficially seem to be more innocent that following a wrong principle, but it's actually the greater evil, because it comes down to a fundamental repudiation of man's nature, living by means of reason. I am now of the opinion that evasion is a more up-front repudiation of reality than identifying the wrong principle (not that it matters which is worse).

To be really concrete, if it's okay to watch stolen videos then it should be okay to download any pirated online content, and it's okay to take home a pack of pens from work, or print your vacation printers on the fancy office printer, or ship your Christmas presents through the office mail, or add an extra half an hour of time to a client's bill, or... The mindset that sees one kind of theft as acceptable will have a hard time identifying which thefts are okay and which are not okay. Now let me point out that if I got you to the point of adding time to the client's bill, they you presumably know that if you get caught going that, it probably will end your career and get you sued or even imprisoned. Usually, such a consequence is sufficient to stop most people from going that far.

The claim is not (or should not) that your lifespan on earth will be shortened by some number of minutes for each evil act, it is that you will not be living as a man, to the fullest extent possible. To some extent, you will be living as an animal, even if you're not always barking and eating your food from a bowl on the floor.

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I have personally decided that it would be immoral for me to view the videos, which I have never seen, and will have to wait until I can acquire a legal copy of my own to view.

Shouldnt it also be immoral for a person very much concerned with copyrights to quote excerpts from say, Ayn Rand books? If someone shares direct quotes from her books - which are obviously for sale and copyrighted - are they also immoral to you? If not, would it be moral if the user only posted a few excerpts of this video interview instead of the whole thing?

*All these acts without permission, I should add.

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Shouldnt it also be immoral for a person very much concerned with copyrights to quote excerpts from say, Ayn Rand books? If someone shares direct quotes from her books - which are obviously for sale and copyrighted - are they also immoral to you? If not, would it be moral if the user only posted a few excerpts of this video interview instead of the whole thing?
No, because the right to do so is (and always has been) guaranteed by law (17 USC 107). Any author who publically disseminates their work, as Rand did, knows or should know that their work may rightfully be quoted for the purpose of comment, reporting, teaching or research. An author who does not wish to abide by the law can do something else besides publishing their book ("publish" means "make public"), that is, they can keep it private, and from a moral perspective, the fact of publishing constitutes implicit permission.

If you had reason to believe that an author's manuscript was stolen from them and published against their will, I would not consider it proper to quote them publically. Thus is you were having a torrid love affair by email and somebody hacked into your mail server and stole a copy of your bawdy emails and gave me a copy, I would not consider it proper to quote your words (perhaps as a way of either criticizing or praising you), because you did not give implicit permission by making your emails public. That is one way in which the moral thing to do is stronger than the legal thing that you could do.

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Any author who publically disseminates their work, as Rand did, knows or should know that their work may rightfully be quoted for the purpose of comment, reporting, teaching or research.

Regarding this video interview, do the same principles apply? Would it be legal and moral to share brief clips with others? How would that be any different than quoting a book?

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Regarding this video interview, do the same principles apply? Would it be legal and moral to share brief clips with others?
Regarding some piece of video, the same principles apply, so it's not medium-dependent. Sharing is not the correct consideration, in fact, sharing is evil, so do not do it. Copying is what's at issue. Phil Oliver has software-implemented what seems to me like a suitable version of fair-use copying in his CD (I don't know exactly what the limit is, but it's about 500 words). It is proper to copy limited amounts of another person's works for discussion and research type purposes (as the law says). In the case at hand, this is plainly not fair-use copying, it is wholesale theft. But suppose I were creating a video that documents the personalities of particular positions of major modern philosophical forces, a minute taken from the interview would be proper. (Bear in mind that Rand or her estate is probably not the copyright owner for this video).
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Why? Why couldn't I publish and sell my book under the condition that fair use doesn't apply?
That wouldn't be enforceable. If you had such a contract with the buyer and could prove that he copied from that licensed copy in breach of contract, you would have grounds for a suit, but not otherwise.
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