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The Benevolent People Premise

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a. I need to know what you mean by irrationality. Are you including both moral errors and errors of knowledge? If only the former, then I'm not so sure I would agree that "most" people are irrational, as per Sophia.

I would think the former. I'm trying to think of an example of the latter but can't come up with one. Then again, I am pretty tired right now. I know that if I am annoyed with someone and discover they had made an error of knowledge that my anger completely dissolves. So tentatively, I'd say exclusively the former. As for Sophia's response to that, I have already replied to it.

b. The connection I asked you to make was not a rehash of what Rand meant by man-made vs. metaphysically given.

Well I used it because you have stated that you consider the choices of others to be treated as metaphysically given; not-to-be-judged. That was the first point of our disagreement so that is what I was responding to.

What I would like is a perspective on dealing with other people that supports your position. That is, given we know little about a person, what should be my emotional and psychological perspective on them? If you can find support for "I should be polite to them, while finding their expected irrationality completely tiresome" position, why then you would have connected the dots.

I'm not sure what you're asking. I don't know what dots you're looking for.

One, this is begging the question. This is exactly what is up for debate.

Excuse me; I didn't know it was.

I think you and Dan have both made a mistake, you the negative version, and he the positive version.

Interesting. I'll look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Well, no. Formal parallelism isn't required. He simply must integrate the concept into the rest of the truth. I reread both Dan and your post. He is not making the case you claim, that is that "most people are rationally and morally good."

I draw that conclusion from the fact that he was responding to my post, which was speaking strictly from a statistical perspective and not of inherent human nature.

I am contesting your desire to be annoyed with irrationality, as such, intrinsically, before you understand it's form.

Well, remember that some of that is annoyance at the inconvenience caused to me.

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Thinking that this thread needs some grounding, and having just received my Objectivism CD-ROM (danger, he's got a new toy), I thought I'd try it out to see what I could find that would shed some light on this topic.

Frankly, I"m not yet convinced either Dan or Inspector has the basic concepts chewed, but that's what we're here to look at right?

First of all, Inspector has made the rational/irrational distinction and seems to be using that as the litmus test for his emotional response to other people. Irrationality is tiresome, and irritating, but only with people he is dealing directly with, and only when their irrationality directly impinges on their dealings. Yet, politeness seems to be his order of the day until one knows better.

I don't think Rand made this distinction in this way when working with dealing iwth other people. Instead, she seems to have used the errors of knowledge / breaches of morality distinction as a guiding principle.

Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience. But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought. That which you do not know, is not a moral charge against you; but that which you refuse to know, is an account of infamy growing in your soul. Make every allowance for errors of knowledge; do not forgive or accept any breach of morality. Give the benefit of the doubt to those who seek to know; but treat as potential killers those specimens of insolent depravity who make demands upon you, announcing that they have and seek no reasons, proclaiming, as a license, that they 'just feel it'—or those who reject an irrefutable argument by saying: 'It's only logic,' which means: 'It's only reality.' The only realm opposed to reality is the realm and premise of death.

I don't equate "make every allowance for" with tolerate the tiresomeness of the irrational. It's clear to me that it is moral breaches that one should not tolerate, but other than making every allowance for, I'm still not sure what my emotional state should be.

I then found an interesting passage from her journals. Here she is talking about the corruption of the concept of charity, and contrasting what the proper concepts should have been to what they now mean.

There is the same kind of vicious intellectual sloppiness in the idea of "charity" as there is in the idea of brother-love. From the idea that you must love your brother men as a reward or recognition of merit or of lovable qualities (therefore you should love the men who exhibit these qualities, [because that] is only just)—it has become the idea that you must love, period, without cause or reason, just love everybody and anybody because he is born in human shape—and from that, it has gone "below zero," into "love a man for his vices, love a man precisely because he shouldn't be loved."

From the idea of: "When in doubt about the evidence, be merciful, lean toward giving a man the benefit of the doubt, be a little kinder rather than a little harsher when you are not sure of the exact justice"—it has become: "Be kind, no matter what the evidence, do not even dare to look at the evidence, just be kind"—and then: "Look at the evidence and be kind only to those who deserve the worst punishment; their evil is their claim upon your kindness.

This one is a little more interesting. Here she specifically addresses when there is doubt about the evidence, and this seems like a clear principle. Lean toward kindness, and giving the benefit of the doubt, until there is no doubt about the evidence (which no one here disputes).

Then I found a very interesting topic which may highlight an error on both of their parts. That is, is an emotional or psychological perspective on those who you just meet important at all? The passage discusses Dagny's error so it is not quite the same context, but the concepts specifically about optimism to be granted to a collective "mankind" highlight a concern with both Dan's Benevolent People, and Inspector's "irrational culture". I don't know that there is clear guidance in this passage, but it certainly addresses the unimportance of statistically assessing man in general.

The [Dagny's] error is this: it is proper for a creator to be optimistic, in the deepest, most basic sense, since the creator believes in a benevolent universe and functions on that premise. But it is an error to extend that optimism to other specific men. First, it's not necessary, the creator's life and the nature of the universe do not require it, his life does not depend on others. Second, man is a being with free will; therefore, each man is potentially good or evil, and it's up to him to decide by his own reasoning mind which he wants to be; the decision will affect only him; it is not (and should not be) the primary concern of any other human being. Therefore, while a creator does and must worship Man (which is reverence for his own highest potentiality), he must not make the mistake of thinking that this means the necessity to worship Mankind (as a collective); these are two entirely different conceptions with diametrically opposed consequences. Man, at his highest potentiality, is realized and fulfilled with each creator himself, and within such other men as he finds around him who live up to that idea. This is all that's necessary.

Whether the creator is alone, or finds only a handful of others like him, or is among the majority of mankind, is of no importance or consequence whatever; numbers have nothing to do with it; he alone or he and a few others like him are mankind, in the proper sense of being the proof of what man actually is, man at his best, the essential man, man at his highest possibility. (The rational being who acts according to his nature.)

It should not matter to a creator whether anyone or a million or all the men around him fall short of the ideal of Man; let him live up to that ideal himself; this is all the "optimism" about Man that he needs. But this is a hard and subtle thing to realize—and it would be natural for Dagny always to make the mistake of believing others are better than they really are (or will become better, or she will teach them to become better) and to be tied to the world by that hope.

I do note, that Inspector's characterization of volition enters in here, but more importantly is Rand's comment on the unnecessariness of general optimism, or optimism extended to specific men. I think either general pessimism or optimism per Inspector and Dan's characterizations respetively might hint at an extension of this concept from Man to Mankind, which is why any statistical arguments (most people are generally good, or society is generally irrational) seem unimportant.

That said, my particular take is that I normally only let moral breaches that stand to impact me let negatively emotional, and this along with a healthy dose of moral judgement is proper. However, I find most people to either be making errors of knowledge, and / or their moral breaches don't affect me, and I maintain a benevolent tone with most people on a daily basis. I think that makes sense. I'm not sure that Inspector is advocating something else, so I don't clearly see the difference between Dan and Inspectors' position.

Anyway, food for thought.

Edited by KendallJ
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Kendall, Inspector, and Others,

You guys have given me some very good food for thought. I didn't intend this blog post to be a formal essay, but more of an idea on which to chew, as Kendall said. So let's chew.

I agree with Inspector that a distinction should be made between the metaphysical expectation and the statistical expectation that other men are worthy of benevolence. The Benevolent People Premise (BPP) I envision includes the former, but not necessarily the latter. Though I think it would be very difficult to develop a BPP growing up in the Soviet Union, or Somalia, or some other country where everyone else is a potential threat.

Please keep in mind that most of my articles are written from a psychological or psycho-epistemological perspective, not a philosophical perspective. In my view, The Benevolent Universe Premise (BUP) - and my proposed species of it, The BPP - are psychological dispositions, not standards of judgment. A BUP or BPP is a psychological derivative of one's metaphysical value judgments. One does not judge a particular aspect of reality based on the BUP. And one does not judge individual men based on the BPP. Statistical elements only come into play when considering how these psychological dispositions are formed. Someone who has experienced only hardship from childhood on, for instance, would not likely have developed a BUP.

So, how are these psychological dispositions formed? As in the case of metaphysical value judgments, they are usually formed in childhood. This is why one with a terrible childhood has a much more difficult time attaining a BUP or BPP. And its not as though one can snap his fingers and change his entire psychological make-up the minute he discovers a rational philosophy. It often takes years of living virtuously and experiencing the emotional rewards of such a life.

As Kendall noted, some concretizing is in order. In my experience, there are several positive psychological elements that go along with and compliment a BPP: a healthy self-esteem, a reverence of Man (in the sense Rand used it), a knowledge of the great potential values offered by individual men, and a positive sense of one's own efficacy in judging and communicating with others. These positive psychological elements are not gained from merely studying a rational philosophy. In order to earn self-esteem, one must have evidence of his own efficacy in dealing with reality. He must have a list of accomplishments to which he can refer that prove his value to himself. Similarly, one does not develop a reverence for Man outside the context of actual men and their potential. One develops this reverence by seeing men who actually embody the greatness of Man. We all have heroes, whether it be Rand, or Aristotle, or Washington, or Galt, or one's father, or whatever. In identifying his heroes, one also begins to discover the great potential value that can be derived from dealing with other men. As one grows, he actually begins to pursue and attain these values, whether they be material (eg, money), mental (eg, knowledge), or spiritual (eg, love). Through experience, one can learn how to judge and deal with other men effectively. He learns how to make the most out of his interactions with them. Over time, this leads to a sense of efficacy in his ability to derive value from others.

I offer that the psychological sum of all these elements is a BPP. Each time I meet someone new, these psychological elements are at work: The person could embody the greatness of Man; I know through experience that men can offer great potential value to my life; I believe that I have significant values to offer them in return; and I am very confident in my ability to judge and communicate with them. Since I judge others honestly and rigorously, the potential that a new person could be a great disvalue to me is relatively low. So at worst, the new person is not a threat to me. At best, they could be a source of great value. If that's not a reason to be enthusiastic, friendly, and respectful, then I don't know what is! I believe this also justifies my optimism, Kendall.

These same elements apply to the BUP as well -- I could easily replace the examples I used to apply to dealing with the universe instead of dealing with other men. In order to form a BUP, one must have good self-esteem, a knowledge of the great potential values in the universe, experience actually deriving values fro the world, and a positive sense of his own efficacy in dealing with reality.

As it stands, I think my classification of the BPP as a species of the BUP is valid, though it will take some more chewing.

Thanks for reading,

--Dan Edge

Edited by dan_edge
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Please keep in mind that most of my articles are written from a psychological or psycho-epistemological perspective, not a philosophical perspective. In my view, The Benevolent Universe Premise (BUP) - and my proposed species of it, The BPP - are psychological dispositions, not standards of judgment. A BUP or BPP is a psychological derivative of one's metaphysical value judgments.

Nice, Dan. This is probably the most important context setter in the discussion. The concept of metaphysical value judgements, which set starting psychology, before one has a chance to obtain enough data to judge a particular. So the starting psychology has nothing to do with the specific new individual involved (or even for that fact a statistical aggregate), only with the starting frame of reference of oneself?

So is there realy a "should" as regards the proper behavior, or are we just trying to divine what Objectivist metaphysical value judgements would lead to in the psychological approach to meeting new people. This woudl integrate the 3rd Rand quote discussing Dagny's error. That is, there is no ethical requirement for optimism, only the thought that one living a healthy Objectivist life will reflect their optimism in these particular instances. Similar to the way a response to art is a reflection of those value judgements.

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Great discussion.

So, BPP is a psychological attitude (whether predisposed, fact-based, consciously-chosen, or a mix of those).

To chew it further: I assume that Dan does not apply this only to meeting new people. It also applies to people who one has met and evaluated and know to be mixed (people whom one has not judged as being evil, but who have some bad elements.) With a "mixed" person, the BPP consists of a sense of confidence that you can gain "net" value from this person, in your relationship with him, and that his bad aspects are such that you have the confidence that they will not impact you measurably, or that you have the ability to minimize their impact or to turn them around.

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Yes, good questions Kendall and SoftwareNerd. I am interested in hearing Dan's answers as well.

Especially, I would put it this way: If my view is not in fact so different from Dan's, then in which way is his view required? How is it superior or beneficial to have, especially if one is clearly in a disgusting culture such as ours today (or even, a worse culture such as exists in foreign countries)? And how is Dan not just an extrovert that is telling everyone else they must be extroverts, and there is something psychologically wrong with us if we are not? If, Dan, you are not speaking of a morally required disposition, then pray tell could you expound on the benefits of my viewpoint? :)

I get the sense that because I do not share Dan's enthusiasm in regards to strangers, he is accusing me of not having, in his words, "good self-esteem, a knowledge of the great potential values in the universe, experience actually deriving values fro the world, and a positive sense of his own efficacy in dealing with reality."

Edited by Inspector
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Extroversion: I don't think extroversion is implied by Dan's BPP; but I won't explore that further in this post.

The benefits: As to the benefit of having such a view: people usually respond in kind. (Again, we're not speaking of clearly evil people, but ones who are "averagely mixed"). However, that's more of a secondary benefit. The primary benefit is that an expectation of value aids one (psychologically) to a better realization of value.

I see it as (different from but) analogous to the psychological role played by self-esteem. A strong (and reality-based) self-esteem acts as a psychological catalyst enabling one to achieve more from oneself. Someone with self-esteem will -- ceteris paribus -- expect more of himself, and will "deliver" more, in principle. Analogously, someone with a BPP has an expectation of value from others and will seek that value out.

I wouldn't call the 21st century culture "disgusting" in a relative sense. Still, let's assume it is. Let's assume the culture is disgusting and people are swine. To me, a BPP attitude says, "don't cover your nose and turn away in disgust... see that little pearl there... reach out and take it." Of course, it cannot quite work that way: one cannot have an attitude that most people are basically disgusting, while still trying to squeeze some value from their fractured souls. That's psychologically impossible, unless one is of a "prudent predator" mindset. Even if one thinks that a majority of people are disgusting, one has to have concluded that a large number of them are not so, and are actually of value to oneself. That, I think, is a precondition; in a sense, that is the BPP.

Of course, BPP cannot be adopted arbitrarily. Like self-esteem, it has to have a factual basis. One cannot fool oneself into thinking there is a lot og good in a lot of folk out there; one has to arrive at this conclusion from experience of reality.

Now I should shut up before I start to replace Dan's concept of BPP with my own!

Edited by softwareNerd
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Love the Dogbert quote, SN!

To be clear, I don't think that most people are so far gone that you won't gain value from interacting with them on a cursory level. Whatever preversions most of them are holding, they are sane enough to tie their shoes, hold down jobs, and not jam hot dogs in their eyes. (But in many cases just barely so) I don't mind buying gasoline from them; I just don't think 99.9999% of them are "friend" material. So I would have to have a screw loose to go around acting like, "Ah, here's a new potential friend! I will now get really excited." Besides, I've found that rational people are easily detectable. They stand out from the crowd, big time.

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in which way is his view required? How is it superior or beneficial to have,

I consider it beneficial and yes I also treat this way people whom I consider "mixed". Here is my reasoning:

Flourishing, a good life, meeting life's demands well, requires more than just being equipped with the right philosophy. Correct ethics is an ally as it accurately identifies a life-promoting course but alone, in itself, it is not enough.

For example, before one can make a choice about various optional values one must first be aware of all the relevant possibilities/opportunities. Other people, even if they are a philosophical mix, are a great source of information. Most are partially rational (doing the compartmentalization thing) and often quiet knowledgeable about some, and different aspects of reality. This is especially relevant when it comes to the part of my reality which is man-made. So, in recognition of this potential to learn and perhaps new opportunities, I consider it in my best interest to approach others in such a way that they will want to continue interacting with me.

Aside from being able to discover all the life's possibilities (and that maybe an idea for a business, or better utilization of my skills into a more suitable career, or better way of investing my money, or learning a great new recipe, or becoming aware of a new job opening - ...you get the idea) there are also many practical life skills which one must acquire. This is another area in which those "mixed" people can be of great benefit. Even though they are irrational about some things they can still positively contribute to my life.

By limiting myself to positive (value expecting) interactions only with those who are Objectivists or close I would have been limiting my life opportunities (of various kind) and that in not in my best interest.

P.S

I am rather on the introverted side myself so I don't think it is relevant when it comes to your attitude toward others.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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Especially, I would put it this way: If my view is not in fact so different from Dan's, then in which way is his view required?

From what I understand of Dan's position, it's not morally imperative that you strive to develop a BPP. In fact, given your personal situation and psychology, it may be of such incredible difficulty that it's not worth it at all. I tend to experience social anxiety, but the difficulty of eradicating every last vestige of this anxiety from my psyche is so incredible that I don't think it's worth it even if I had some reasonable estimate for my chances of doing so.

Rather, he is saying that a BPP is a naturally arising result of certain psychological conditions . . . it is a personality trait. I also think that you can have degrees of BPP. I get irritated with people that have a lot more BPP than I do: they seem overly optimistic and even naive. They are also usually more cheerful than I am and have more friends.

I suppose, though, that you could say there are benefits to being a cranky old fart: people won't be calling you all the time and interrupting you with requests that you hang out with them. Your crazier family members may eventually stop bothering you entirely, although you should never underrate the persistence of crazy family members. I personally seem best suited to a sort of middle condition. Not super-benevolent, not super-cranky. Not super-friendly, not super-aloof. It reminds me of something one of my uncles told me: "There are three kinds of drivers. People that drive faster than me, they're maniacs. People that drive slower than me, they're road hazards."

That's my personality, anyway.

Edit: When I say "your personal situation and psychology" in the first paragraph, I meant a general, collective "your", not Inspector specifically, sorry. I'd say "given one's personal situation and psychology" but unfortunately I think that's stuffy and it's hard to get away with it unless one is actually an academic.

Edited by JMeganSnow
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Rather, he is saying that a BPP is a naturally arising result of certain psychological conditions . . . it is a personality trait.

In my third paragraph, I quoted him where he listed those conditions. I do not lack any of those. All I lack is being surrounded by the kind of people I am interested in being friends with. Given their mixed natures, I would prefer that most of them remain strangers or acquaintances. On that level, I can benefit from them. If I meet a friend or potential friend, I am as cheerful as anyone, including Dan. To strangers, I am polite, cordial, friendly, cool... even humorous, since I just do that naturally; everything Dan is, except excited. (and probably, I am more wary)

As I said, my position is not so different from Dan's; it's just that I believe he has package-dealed excited extrovertedness into it. He has included things which do not necessarily arise from the traits he listed.

I get irritated with people that have a lot more BPP than I do: they seem overly optimistic and even naive. They are also usually more cheerful than I am and have more friends.

Be honest: does Dan irritate you?

Not super-benevolent, not super-cranky. Not super-friendly, not super-aloof.

I'm not really cranky at all. I am, however, aloof. (that is something I am told, more than I notice consciously) As I said, I believe I have earned the right to be.

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Be honest: does Dan irritate you?

No, but he's my boss so our relationship is professional. I suspect that if we spent a lot of time hanging out I'd run out of oomph a lot faster than he would and I'd get mildly irritated. It's a personality trait, and as with most personality traits pretty much all you can say is: it'd be a funny world if we were all alike.

When I was a kid I used to wish I was more like other people so that I had a herd to hide in. Occasionally I wonder whether there actually is something seriously wrong with me, but I also take pride in being unusual in a lot of ways. I suspect in a few years I'll be comfortable enough with my own personality that you won't even be able to rebuke me for my various "negative" traits because I'll like them. :lol:

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Nice, Dan. This is probably the most important context setter in the discussion. The concept of metaphysical value judgements, which set starting psychology, before one has a chance to obtain enough data to judge a particular. So the starting psychology has nothing to do with the specific new individual involved (or even for that fact a statistical aggregate), only with the starting frame of reference of oneself?

So is there realy a "should" as regards the proper behavior, or are we just trying to divine what Objectivist metaphysical value judgements would lead to in the psychological approach to meeting new people. This woudl integrate the 3rd Rand quote discussing Dagny's error. That is, there is no ethical requirement for optimism, only the thought that one living a healthy Objectivist life will reflect their optimism in these particular instances. Similar to the way a response to art is a reflection of those value judgements.

Greetings all,

I have a little time this morning, so I would like to offer my thoughts on some of the excellent questions that have been asked in this thread.

Kendall Writes:

So is there realy a "should" as regards the proper behavior, or are we just trying to divine what Objectivist metaphysical value judgements would lead to in the psychological approach to meeting new people.

Inspector echoes this question:

If my view is not in fact so different from Dan's, then in which way is his view required?

Again, I present the BPP as a description of a psychological disposition resulting from one's automatized, positive self-evaluation of his efficacy in deriving values from other men. This is more a matter of optimization (or a description of an optimization) than a matter of ethics. No specific degree of enthusiasm, politeness, etc., when meeting new people is morally required. There is a range of acceptable behavior, however, outside of which one could be charged with failing to take advantage of the immense value offered by interacting with other men. What is that range? I would be hard pressed to define its limits, but I think that's where a theory of BPP and MPP could be useful. If one notes through introspection that he has automatized certain attitudes or reactions that are MPP-ish (pronounced "Impish" :P ), that could be a signal that his psycho-epistemology is suboptimal.

Inspector, I don't think I have package-dealed extroverted-ness into my theory, except in one sense: These kinds of integrations -- inductions of psychological dispositions based on introspective evidence -- are inherently colored by one's own experiences. When I introspect, what I see is me. So, I start off by identifying a principle as it applies to me specifically, then trim to non-essential fat later.

--Dan Edge

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Inspector, I don't think I have package-dealed extroverted-ness into my theory, except in one sense: These kinds of integrations -- inductions of psychological dispositions based on introspective evidence -- are inherently colored by one's own experiences. When I introspect, what I see is me. So, I start off by identifying a principle as it applies to me specifically, then trim to non-essential fat later.

Well, that's like saying that you haven't packaged extrovertedness into it, except in the sense that you have. :worry:

Trim that fat, then you'll be set.

I'll write a follow up, which may help you identify which areas are part of the principle, and which are just you in particular.

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I think the problem is what you should do upon consideration that most men are not rational. How should you choose to approach each stranger?
Indeed. As I understand things, a person holding the BPP would not base his initial evaluation of a stranger on the statistic that "most" men are not benevolent.

On the other hand, a person of the Malevolent People Premise would base his initial evaluation of a stranger on the statistic that most men are not benevolent. She may be polite to strangers... but she still mentally equates individual strangers with their collective statistics until they prove to be benevolent.

I read Dan's "expectation" as the Benevolent Universe premise is part of giving someone the benefit of the doubt, until they give you reason to think otherwise.
Do you mean the Benevolent People premise?

At any rate, I think that hits the nail on the head. And someone with the Malevolent People premise instead gives someone the detriment of statistical expectations, until they give you reason to think otherwise?

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