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Ayn Rand Society 2007 - Khawaja Paper


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#1 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 09:12 AM

The Ayn Rand Society will have two sessions at the meetings of the American Philosophical Association
during the 2007-08 academic year.

The first will be at the APA Eastern Division Meeting in Baltimore.
The ARS session will be on December 28, 2007, and the program is:

The Foundations of Ethics: Objectivism and Analytic Philosophy
Speaker: Irfan Khawaja
Commentator: Paul Bloomfield
Chair: Allan Gotthelf

Irfan Khawaja is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. His dissertation, Foundationalism and the Foundations of Ethics, is an exploration, from an Objectivist perspective and with attention to the analytic literature, of the concept of the foundations of ethics in metaethics and in moral epistemology. He is the author of an important essay in Objectivity titled “A Perfectionist-Egoist Theory of the Good” (V2N5).

Paul Bloomfield is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut. He has broad research interests which range across analytic philosophy, specializing in metaphysics and moral philosophy (both ancient and contemporary). His publications include: Moral Reality (OUP 2001); "Let's Be Realistic about Serious Metaphysics" Synthese (2005); and, as editor, Morality and Self Interest (OUP 2008).

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Boydstun Comment on Khawaja’s Paper for ARS 2007

The title of Irfan Khawaja’s paper is “The Foundations of Ethics: Objectivism and Analytic Philosophy” (hereafter FE). This paper has areas of contact with his doctoral dissertation Foundationalism and the Foundations of Ethics.

Readers here know that Ayn Rand set out an account of the foundations of ethics in Atlas Shrugged (1957 [hb], 991–95, 1012–18, 1021, 1029–31, 1036–38, 1052–54, 1056–59, 1069), in “The Objectivist Ethics”(1961), in “For the New Intellectual” (1961), in “Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics?” (1965), in “What Is Capitalism?” (1965, 20–23 in CUI [pb]), and in “Causality versus Duty” (1974). In his paper, Khawaja first gives an overview of approaches to the foundations of ethics in modern, analytic philosophy. He then turns to Rand’s account.

Khawaja is very much interested in foundationalism in epistemology and the interconnections of foundationalism there with foundationalism in ethics (cf. OPAR 207–13, 242–43). This is natural, and concern with these interconnections is occasionally touched in discussions of foundationalism in ethics.

Robert Audi writes in his Introduction for The Architecture of Reason (OUP 2001):

Philosophers have written a great deal on theoretical reason; it is roughly the topic of epistemology. There is also a large philosophical literature on practical reason, though it is small by comparison with the more voluminous works in epistemology, and it is often focused on practical reason in relation to morality rather than . . . in its full generality as concerning reasons for action and desire. There is only a much more limited literature on rationality conceived as encompassing both the theoretical and the practical domains. (4–5)

Foundationalism with respect to theoretical reason is commonly termed epistemic foundationalism. Theoretical reason consists of the most general processes yielding justified beliefs and justified beliefs that are true. The latter are commonly termed knowledge.

Rand defined knowledge as “a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation.” This is a variant of the concept of knowledge as justified true belief, and it is an example of epistemic foundationalism (FE 21–23).

Epistemic foundationalism “is a solution to the canonical regress problem first articulated in Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics I.3 and is a rival, in contemporary terminology, of skepticism, infinitism, coherentism, and contextualism” (FE 4). Aristotle remarks that “some think that because one must understand the primitives there is no understanding at all [= skepticism]; others that there is [understanding], but that there are demonstrations of everything [= infinitism]” (Post An 72b5–6). Aristotle argues that both these positions are false. The skeptic is right to maintain that we cannot understand items of putative knowledge that derive from prior understood items if the understood priors just go on and on without an ending (set of) prior(s). Rather, if there are derivative items of knowledge, there must be priors that have no further priors. These are the primitives, the base. The skeptic will insist that these primitives will not be understandable because they are indemonstrable. Aristotle rejoins that not all understanding is demonstrative, inferential understanding. Rand’s epistemological primitives are perceptual observations that are occasions of noninferential understanding.

One foundationalist approach in modern, analytic ethics is to take justified moral beliefs to be straight applications of epistemic foundationalism. It is proposed that there are justified noninferential moral beliefs and that other justified moral beliefs derive from these moral primitives. The noninferential moral beliefs are usually called intuitions, and these are taken to “give us direct access to moral facts, states of affairs, and propositions” (FE 5). This is the ethical theory of intuitionism.

Khawaja maintains that ethical intuitionism is at bottom dogmatic ethical assertion. One can do better than to stop the regress of justified ethical beliefs at some collection of fundamental ethical beliefs on which all others depend (FE 9–12). In Khawaja’s view, one can go on to rationally justify one’s most fundamental ethical beliefs themselves, by comprehension of certain nonethical facts. This comprehension is by the usual powers of perception and thought (FE 23) and requires no special cognitive power of intuition giving us “direct access to moral facts” (FE 5).

Rand poses a “first question” for ethics, and, beyond her epistemology and general metaphysics, her answer to that question is her foundation for ethics (FE 19). Recall how Rand opens the exposition of her theory in “The Objectivist Ethics.”

What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.

The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge, or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values?

Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all—and why? (OE 13)

Rand’s ethics is a foundationalist one, but not of the intuitionist stripe (FE 17–27). As in any foundationalist ethics, the following are excluded in Rand’s theory: Skepticism about the idea that reason is able to define ethics and guide action is excluded by counterexample (OE 15–22). Contextualist ethics (defeasibility throughout) is excluded by the absolutism of the context of life (and death) for value (OE 15–16). Coherentist ethics is excluded by Rand’s general conception of truth as the recognition of reality (the correspondence theory of truth, not the coherence theory) and by the specificity of values required by specific life forms (OE 16). Infinitism in ethical justification is excluded by identification of an end in itself “that makes the existence of values possible” (OE 17).

There are foundationalist approaches to rational ethics in modern, analytic philosophy that are not intuitionist. Unlike intuitionism these are not straight applications of epistemic foundationalism. One form would be coherentism with respect to epistemology, yet foundationalism for ethics by pruning and reforming a starter set of our least dubious moral beliefs in accordance with various canons of rationality. Khawaja and Rand reject that approach for reasons not too difficult to surmise (FE 7–9, 14–17).

Another foundationalist approach that is not intuitionist is described by Khawaja. “One inspiration for this view is Aristotle’s discussion of practical truth and the practical syllogism at Nicomachean Ethics VI. The idea is that there is a sui generis brand of ‘practical truth’ which differs from theoretical truth and thus involves a different conception of justification than operates in nonpractical (i.e., epistemic) contexts. Further, since the conclusion of a practical syllogism is an action rather than a belief, practical justification concerns itself with a different justification than operates in nonpractical contexts” (FE 6–7).

Khawaja does not directly assess this Aristotle-inspired approach. Among the problems that might be raised for such an approach, raised from a Randian perspective, I notice three: (i) Theoretical knowledge for we moderns is not so narrow as it was for Aristotle. For us it includes knowledge of contingent matters, of things that could be otherwise; it is not only of things that could not be otherwise. (ii) The Randian should stand ground with Socrates against Aristotle’s exaggerations of the difference between taking good actions and making a good life. (iii) The Randian foundation of theoretical knowledge—and of all knowledge—is perceptual observation. The Randian should stand pretty much with the ecological psychologists (and near the American Pragmatists) concerning perception; he should argue that there is no perceptual observation without some norms of action at work. Theoretical knowledge is based in action-oriented perception.

Rand’s ethical theory is foundationalist in two ways. Firstly, as with any knowledge, ethical knowledge is epistemically foundationalist. Justified true beliefs can be traced “to the perceptual level via the concepts that constitute those beliefs” (FE 33). Secondly, Rand’s ethics is foundationalist in that it has a specific rational ground in the answer that Rand gives to her “first question” for ethics (FE 33). That answer is given in “The Objectivist Ethics” (14–22) and in Atlas Shrugged.

Rand’s first question is: “Why does man need a code of values?” Again: “Does man need values at all—and why?” I want to comment on this “first question,” which Khawaja champions. Then I want to make one criticism of Khawaja’s representation of the foundationalist ethics that lies in Rand’s answer to her “first question.”

In his final book Invariances (HUP 2001), Robert Nozick observes that “ethics does not exist in order for behavior to be justified,” and if not for that function, then “why does it exist? What is ethics for? What is the function of ethics?” (238). Putting Nozick’s “first question” in a form parallel Rand’s, it comes to: “Do ethical norms have functions for humans—and what are they?”

Where Rand would have value, Nozick would have norm. Where Rand would have need, Nozick would have function.

Is Rand’s “first question” more basic than Nozick’s? Vice versa? It seems that we have here two different formulations of what should be the “first question” for ethical theory, not just the same question in two ways of putting it. They invite and receive rather different answers. The two answers are not miles apart, for both questions concern human life. Still, the answers are different. Rand’s answer to her question is well-known here. Nozick arrives at the following answer to his question:

The function of ethics, of ethical norms and ethical beliefs, is to coordinate our actions with those of others to mutual benefit in a way that goes beyond the coordination achieved through evolutionarily installed desires and patterns of behavior (including self-sacrificing behavior toward biological relatives). This coordination that ethics achieves is more extensive and better adapted to new and changing circumstances and opportunities. (2001, 240)

That Rand’s “first question” is the right “first question,” as against Nozick’s, is a new field for analysis. I expect both “first questions” (and their answers) would be enriched by such a comparative study.

Lastly, I would like to draw attention to an essential component of Rand’s foundationalist ethics that Khawaja does not mention in his paper. Khawaja rightly portrays Rand’s epistemic foundationalism as enveloping her ethical foundationalism (FE 23, 26–27, 33–35). He rightly points to perception as the bases for all knowledge, including moral knowledge, according to Rand’s epistemology. Perception provides the bases for all abstract concepts and for beliefs (FE 21–27). He mentions that in her epistemology, Rand offers an analysis of the measurement-form of evaluative concepts, which are needed for thought about ethical action (FE 27, 36; IOE 32–37). To this portrait of Rand’s foundationalist ethics, there is a further component that I would add.

In a 1966 essay “Art and Sense of Life,” Rand writes:

There are many special or “cross-filed” chains of abstractions (of interconnected concepts) in man’s mind. Cognitive abstractions are the fundamental chain, on which all the others depend. Such chains are mental integrations, serving a special purpose and formed according to a special criterion.

Cognitive abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is essential? (epistemologically essential to distinguish one class of existents from all others). Normative abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is good? (36 in RM [pb])

In her 1965 “The Psycho-Epistemology of Art,” she had written that for

evaluating the facts of reality, choosing his goals and guiding his actions accordingly, . . . man needs another chain of concepts, derived from and dependent on the first [i.e., on the [i]cognitive[/i] abstractions], yet separate and, in a sense, more complex: a chain of normative abstractions.

While cognitive abstractions identify the facts of reality, normative abstractions evaluate the facts, thus prescribing a choice of values and a course of action. Cognitive abstractions deal with that which is; normative abstractions deal with that which ought to be (in the realms open to man’s choice). (RM 18)

Also in 1965, in “Art and Moral Treason,” Rand had written:

The process of a child’s development consists of acquiring knowledge, which requires the development of his capacity to grasp and deal with an ever-widening range of abstractions. This involves the growth of two interrelated but different chains of abstractions, two hierarchical structures of concepts, which should be integrated, but seldom are: the cognitive and the normative. The first deals with knowledge of the facts of reality—the second, with the evaluation of these facts. The first forms the epistemological foundation of science—the second, of morality and art. (RM 145)

Stepping back to 1961, to “The Objectivist Ethics,” we find Rand writing:

Now in what manner does a human being discover the concept of ‘value’? By what means does he first become aware of the issue of ‘good or evil’ in its simplest form? By means of the physical sensations of pleasure or pain. Just as sensations are the first step of the development of a human consciousness in the realm of cognition, so they are its first step in the realm of evaluation. (17)

The fact of the pleasure and pain mechanisms of the human body is essential to valuation on Rand’s understanding of the human being. Pleasure and pain are mechanisms necessary for human survival, and the experience of them is epistemologically foundational for moral concepts.

Edited by Stephen Boydstun, 20 December 2007 - 09:23 AM.


#2 Bob_Mac

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 11:42 AM

"Rand’s ethical theory is foundationalist in two ways. Firstly, as with any knowledge, ethical knowledge is epistemically foundationalist. Justified true beliefs can be traced “to the perceptual level via the concepts that constitute those beliefs” (FE 33). "

I'm not clear on current thoughts on this topic, but hasn't this idea/definition of knowledge been largely dismissed?


"That Rand’s “first question” is the right “first question,” as against Nozick’s, is a new field for analysis. I expect both “first questions” (and their answers) would be enriched by such a comparative study."

Agreed. To me it seems that Nozick's idea is most certainly, in a coherent way :-), the one more rooted in reality. I don't know exactly what he means when he says 'beyond' evolutionary installed desires or whatever. We ARE evolution. Can we ever be SUPERhuman? Supernatural?

Anyway, interesting stuff. Gotta find time to read more....


Bob

Edited by Bob_Mac, 20 December 2007 - 11:54 AM.


#3 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 01:13 AM

"That Rand’s “first question” is the right “first question,” as against Nozick’s, is a new field for analysis. I expect both “first questions” (and their answers) would be enriched by such a comparative study."

Agreed. To me it seems that Nozick's idea is most certainly, in a coherent way :-), the one more rooted in reality. I don't know exactly what he means when he says 'beyond' evolutionary installed desires or whatever. We ARE evolution. Can we ever be SUPERhuman? Supernatural?

Anyway, interesting stuff. Gotta find time to read more....


I expect Nozick meant, e.g., that just because sexual drives evolved because of their resulting in replication, this doesn't mean that humans can't and that some humans don't use contraception.

I, too, found the article interesting. I just sent Stephen a little note about it, which said in part:

"Well done analysis, discussion, question-raising. Although I don't think that Rand's foundationalism (and I doubt that any foundationalism) works, I greatly appreciate the clarity with which you described the pattern of connections."

Ellen

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#4 william.scherk

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 01:28 PM

Stepping back to 1961, to “The Objectivist Ethics,” we find Rand writing:

Now in what manner does a human being discover the concept of ‘value’? By what means does he first become aware of the issue of ‘good or evil’ in its simplest form? By means of the physical sensations of pleasure or pain. Just as sensations are the first step of the development of a human consciousness in the realm of cognition, so they are its first step in the realm of evaluation. (17)

Marvelous, Stephen. I am struck by a suspicion that this quote could be taken from Antonio Damasio's "Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain," though Damasio finds that evaluation = cognition (in the sense that mind = brain).

The fact of the pleasure and pain mechanisms of the human body is essential to valuation on Rand’s understanding of the human being. Pleasure and pain are mechanisms necessary for human survival

The joy of Damasio is that he teases out the neurology of the pleasure and pain mechanisms without losing the sense of a whole being constantly evaluating itself and its sensations.

My philosophical education is as mealy-worm to your eagle, but have recently discovered Mindpapers. I am encouraged to think that neuroscience/cognitive science/philosophy have set up breeding relations over the past generation, and I believe cross-breeding 'the special sciences' with the Queen Science promises non-sterile offspring.

and the experience of them is epistemologically foundational for moral concepts.

Once the hybrid forms solve mind/brain/consciousness, they can move on to test this entailment against the great beast reality. I will be 453 years old by then.

-- as an aside, I note your cross-posting to SOLO has been met with that board's customary glazed stupefaction at such scholarship.

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#5 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 10:38 AM

Bob,

You asked “hasn’t this idea/definition of knowledge been largely dismissed?” The idea that knowledge is justified true belief is a pretty big umbrella. My impression is that this remains the standard general definition of knowledge among contemporary philosophers. Perhaps your question was aimed, rather, at the idea that knowledge is foundational. My understanding is that epistemic foundationalism is a minority view today. Be that as it may, foundationalism is a live view of knowledge in contemporary epistemology.

Robert Audi writes in the Preface to The Architecture of Reason (2001):

The second respect in which my approach differs from most others in accounting for rationality is in its unabashed use of (moderate) foundationalist assumptions. As I have argued in detail elsewhere (for instance in The Structure of Justification and Epistemology), foundationalism is not widely understood and is often simplistically stereotyped; and although such well-known versions as Descartes’ are certainly too strong, in some forms the position is highly plausible. We are perhaps seeing increasing recognition of this, in part because of contributions to the contemporary literature but perhaps also in part because philosophers as different as Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, Reid, Kant, Moore, and (in my judgment) Wittgenstein and Quine hold plausible and in some cases, enduringly resilient versions of the view. (viii-ix)


There are various kinds of epistemological foundationalism. Audi embraces a moderate sort of foundationalism.

In a generic form, it is roughly the view that if (at a given time) one has any justified beliefs at all, then one has a least one non-inferentially justified belief; any other justified belief one has is adequately justified by, and would not be justified apart from its (positive) dependence on, at least one non-inferentially justified belief. This is a moderate foundationalism, and it is a structural thesis rather than a substantive one with commitments to any particular beliefs, or even kinds of beliefs, as appropriate foundations. . . . It posits only movable foundations. It allows not only the defeat of non-inferentially justified beliefs but also permits something else, such as coherence, to play a significant role in justification, so long as non-inferentially justified belief is a necessary element in it. (30)


I think that epistemological foundationalism is correct. Everyday knowledge and scientific knowledge have foundational bases, and these are perceptions (including bodily sensations and memory of experiences). The “kinds of beliefs” founding derivative beliefs in these realms are firmly set. The collection of observational and experimental phenomena accounted for by special relativity grows and gets precised, but the kind of beliefs at the base remains: perceptual beliefs. Knowledge in the formal disciplines—logic, set theory, mathematics—have foundational bases, and I expect those lie in various correct thought processes themselves. (Whatever constituents of the formal-discipline foundations lie in perceptual experience must base the formal disciplines differently than in science; the perceptual bases must relate to the formal discipline in such a way that the distinctive method by which truth is established in the formal discipline is accounted for.)

I do not hold with universal defeasibility of knowledge. It seems idle, “in-principle” talk to me. I’m with Peirce contra Cartesian doubt. As then with universal doubt, so now with universal defeasibility.

Like Audi’s, Rand’s epistemological foundationalism is not Cartesian. Hers is a moderate foundationalism, but not in the aforementioned ways that Audi’s is moderate. (See especially Tibor Machan’s essay “Evidence of Necessary Existence” in Objectivity V1N4 [http://objectivity-archive.com/].)

I will try very soon to say more concerning the “first question” for ethics as in Rand 1961 and in Nozick 2001.

#6 Bob_Mac

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 08:50 AM

"My understanding is that epistemic foundationalism is a minority view today."

Yes that is what I was getting at. My problem, it seems, is that I seem to see progress through a scientific lens. When a model substantially outperforms its predecessor, the prior model is often abandoned - justifiably. With philosophy (I have only a small academic exposure) it seems that this is not the case. A big argument is all that ensues, with no clear path.

"It posits only movable foundations. It allows not only the defeat of non-inferentially justified beliefs but also permits something else, such as coherence, to play a significant role in justification, so long as non-inferentially justified belief is a necessary element in it. "

I don't know what kind of foundationalism this is - coherent foundationalism, hmm... better get to reading for me...

I have read a little on coherentism, and a good deal of it makes sense so far.

"In a generic form, it is roughly the view that if (at a given time) one has any justified beliefs at all, then one has a least one non-inferentially justified belief; any other justified belief one has is adequately justified by, and would not be justified apart from its (positive) dependence on, at least one non-inferentially justified belief."

I guess I gotta figure out whether or not I believe this to be true.

Bob

Edited by Bob_Mac, 24 December 2007 - 08:56 AM.


#7 BaalChatzaf

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 09:17 AM

I guess I gotta figure out whether or not I believe this to be true.

Bob


Everything you know (or think you know) has to be based on at least on primordial rock bottom fact. For Descartes that rock bottom fact was that he was thinking. There are other rock bottom facts too. But that is the starting point and foundation of all knowledge. Most of what we know (or think we know) is of the inferential kind.

Ba'al Chatzaf
אויב מיין באָבע האט בייצים זי וואָלט זיין מיין זיידע

#8 Wolf DeVoon

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 10:02 AM

Much of this dissertation and discussion eludes me, but I wanted to make a remark.

Pleasure and pain are mechanisms necessary for human survival
I doubt this is meaningful, unless humanity is defined as cave dwelling dodos and small children. The essence of rational adulthood is to look beyond pleasure and pain, take risks, defer gratification, oppose the mob. Winning or losing is not the criterion of purposeful action. I'd argue Rand lost.

W.
Justice is the armed defense of innocent liberty.

#9 BaalChatzaf

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 10:56 AM

Much of this dissertation and discussion eludes me, but I wanted to make a remark.

Pleasure and pain are mechanisms necessary for human survival
I doubt this is meaningful, unless humanity is defined as cave dwelling dodos and small children. The essence of rational adulthood is to look beyond pleasure and pain, take risks, defer gratification, oppose the mob. Winning or losing is not the criterion of purposeful action. I'd argue Rand lost.

W.


There are some pains that you ignore at your own peril. Pain is one of the ways your body is telling you what is what.

Ba'al Chatzaf
אויב מיין באָבע האט בייצים זי וואָלט זיין מיין זיידע

#10 Bob_Mac

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 11:34 AM

I guess I gotta figure out whether or not I believe this to be true.

Bob


Everything you know (or think you know) has to be based on at least on primordial rock bottom fact. For Descartes that rock bottom fact was that he was thinking. There are other rock bottom facts too. But that is the starting point and foundation of all knowledge. Most of what we know (or think we know) is of the inferential kind.

Ba'al Chatzaf


I think there's a bigger question though. It's not just whether a single foundational fact(s) exists, but rather whether or not this provides an adequate foundation for knowledge. Not to mention the arguments around apparently self-evident facts themselves.

Edited by Bob_Mac, 24 December 2007 - 11:46 AM.


#11 Wolf DeVoon

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 12:49 PM

Much of this dissertation and discussion eludes me, but I wanted to make a remark.

Pleasure and pain are mechanisms necessary for human survival
I doubt this is meaningful, unless humanity is defined as cave dwelling dodos and small children. The essence of rational adulthood is to look beyond pleasure and pain, take risks, defer gratification, oppose the mob. Winning or losing is not the criterion of purposeful action. I'd argue Rand lost.

W.


There are some pains that you ignore at your own peril. Pain is one of the ways your body is telling you what is what.

Ba'al Chatzaf


"The American Revolutionary War of Independence was not an exercise in "the possible." A majority of Americans thought it was impossible to resist the King's Officers and win colonial freedom in 1776. The Declaration of Independence was an act of treason, punishable by death. Hit the books for a snap quiz. How many signers of the Declaration were put to death or imprisoned, their fortunes destroyed, their families punished? What was the total civilian economic price of freedom in 1776? How many years did we fight a Revolutionary War? How many were killed in battle because Thomas Paine correctly predicted victory and rightly demanded action?" The End of Fukuyama

No pain, no gain.

W.
Justice is the armed defense of innocent liberty.

#12 Brant Gaede

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 01:29 PM

You're a hell of a writter, Wolf.

--Brant

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#13 Wolf DeVoon

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 01:36 PM

You're a hell of a writter, Wolf.

--Brant

Mostly painful, no gain yet. You know what's worse? I'm short GOOG and RIMM.

:rolleyes:

Edited by Wolf DeVoon, 24 December 2007 - 01:37 PM.

Justice is the armed defense of innocent liberty.

#14 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 09:02 AM

Concerning Nozick 2001

Recall how Rand begins the 1961 presentation of her ethics. She first defines code of ethics. She defines it as a species of a code of values for guidance in one’s choices and actions. Specifically, it is a code of values pertaining to the choices and actions that determine the course of one’s life.

She then asks whether man needs a code of values, including a code of ethical values—and why. By this question, she does not want to prejudge which particular code is correct. She aims for the question to make sense for a broad range of candidate codes (FE 28). Rand presupposes, however, a particular concept of ethics as such, which she articulated in her definition of code of ethics at the outset. With that definition comes a particular relation of ethical values to other kinds of values. Ethical values naturally grade into the other values (those not determining the course of one’s life), and ethical values are naturally more weighty than other values. So goes the value-terrain with Rand’s definition.

The ethics section of Nozick 2001 (pp. 236–301) is titled “The Genealogy of Ethics.” He begins much like Rand by asking: What, if any, is the function of ethics? Like Rand, he soon turns to biology and the human case in it. (On function see Nozick’s The Nature of Rationality [1993], 117–19, and Functions [2002], edited by Ariew, Cummins, and Perlman.) Unlike Rand, he does not offer at the outset of this inquiry a definition of ethics. This is an explicit strategy.

Ethical norms are norms. How the ethical ones are distinguished from other norms, such as enforced laws or etiquette, is left initially open; more detailed content of ethics can be deferred until after we understand why ethics exists. The search for the function of ethics begins with a concept of ethics that is open in another way too. It is neutral between various ethics, neutral between the ethics of Kant and Schopenhauer, for example. Without attachment to a more particular system of ethics, one can adequately tell whether an ethics is present in a society, and Nozick claims that “any suitably general and suitably neutral identification of an ethics will find that some ethics or other is present in every society” (239).

It seems plausible that ethics is ubiquitous across societies because it performs a function that humans in association everywhere have found extremely important, even necessary. Perhaps ethical capacity of some sort was biologically instilled in order to aid in this function; perhaps ethics is so important a cultural tool that every society (or at least every society that has survived for some time) has found its way to culturally instill it. In either case, the presence of ethics is associated with this function. What, then, is this important function of ethics? (239)


I showed Nozick’s answer in my comment on Irfan’s paper, but repeat it here:

The function of ethics, of ethical norms and ethical beliefs, is to coordinate our actions with those of others to mutual benefit in a way that goes beyond the coordination achieved through evolutionarily instilled desires and patterns of behavior (including self-sacrificing behavior toward biological relatives). This coordination that ethics achieves is more extensive and better adapted to new and changing circumstances and opportunities. (240)


Nozick reviews the biological findings of interlocking behaviors of organisms. These include both behaviors in which the cooperating individual organism bears significant net costs and behaviors which are in the interests of the individual organism while also interlocking with the behavior of others to mutual benefit. These behavior patterns are instilled by the processes of evolution (240–43).

It is a familiar picture that the range of animal behaviors possible with conditioning mechanisms is wider than with merely reflex mechanisms. Wider still are animal behaviors with operant conditioning mechanisms. (For finer detail, see pages 198–202 of “Volitional Synapses” in Objectivity V2N4.) This widening of behavioral range applies to self-beneficial behavior as well as to coordination behavior. Intelligent, conscious control widens these ranges further. The higher powers “have been selected for because of the benefits they bring” (243). With the power of intelligent, conscious control, the animal (including the paragon of animals) becomes greatly able “to coordinate behaviors to mutual benefit with nonpresent nonrelatives, and to generate new kinds of coordinated cooperative behavior for new situations that differ from long-standing ancestral ones” (243).

Nozick takes guiding one’s behavior by ethical norms to be part of those higher powers, “and it too brings benefits in extending the realm of cooperative activity beyond what is reached by fixed instilled patterns of behavior” (243). Ethics is a distinctive way of coordinating behavior so as to achieve mutually beneficial action (243–53). “Ethics exists because at least sometimes it is possible to coordinate actions to mutual benefit” (244).

At this stage of the Nozick account, I worry about the seamless move from biological success of survival and reproduction to success of utility, individual and joint. I worry also, as usual, that the theorist of ethics—Darwin, Spencer, Lanessan, Nietzsche, Guyau, Bergson, Dewey, J. Huxley, Rand, or Nozick—is focusing on those aspects of biology that he will then draw, too conveniently, into his particular ethics grounded in the nature of life. Which focus (or foci) is best warranted in the statement of biological facts pertinent to ethics?

I leave that question for the future and return to Nozick’s account of ethics. Ethical norms are internalized norms. They can continue to effect coordination to mutual benefit in the absence of social sanctions.

An ethics is the most weighty principles or values concerning interpersonal relations . . . that mandate behavior that may be opposed to one’s desires of the moment, where these principles or values are not backed solely (or predominantly) by the consideration that other people will punish you if you deviate.
. . .
It does not follow from the definition that ethical considerations must be more weighty than any other kind of consideration. Some principles or values that are not about interpersonal behavior might turn out to be more weighty than ethical ones in certain situations. (248)


Human beings have the ability not only to follow norms, but to perform evaluations. Nozick sees humans as having “four general mechanisms for regulating behavior: pleasures and pains; desires, wants, and preferences; evaluations; and norms” (274). We can evaluate things in the world and shape our desires upon which we act. “The initial importance of evaluations . . . is in guiding our own conduct through the greater control they give us over our existing desires” (276). “Evaluations enable us to manage, oversee, and guide our desires because of the widespread network of considerations that they are responsive to. Evaluations do not stand in isolation individually, they form a system . . .” (275). When we have begun to have general standards of evaluations, norms themselves can become subjects of evaluation. “Once ethics of some sort exists, once our normative boxes and operators are in place and prepared to receive content, and once our evaluative capacities are functioning, ethics can get extended beyond its originating function” (278).

Ethical obligations to oneself—such as coordination of one’s present actions with one’s future and past actions—would be among the propagations of ethics that go beyond its originating function of serving cooperation for mutual benefit. The disposition to care for oneself and one’s kin was instilled by evolutionary and developmental biology. Ethical caring for these, and for others, is a further reach of awareness.

#15 Wolf DeVoon

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 11:00 AM

Sorry to intrude again. Above I mentioned that I was betting against the Wall Street consensus and investor momentum. That's a very risky position, almost certain to fail. Failure is pertinent because Rand, Nozick, Aristotle, etc advocate individual and collective utility. Or at least heroism and folly are absent from Stephen's discourse so far.

In The Practical Problems of Happiness, I wrote: "Happiness is not mass-produced. It does not arise safely and securely, the cheery product of prudence. Your best interests, individual or collective, most certainly lay elsewhere in the lap of luxury, of certainty and shame."

As Rod Nibbe likes to say: Beaten paths are for beaten men.

"I believe that Ayn Rand gave us two versions of Ayn Rand, and I forgive her the mishmash of minarchy that she was seduced into misappropriating. The young Rand was a vamp -- my kind of babe. The Fountainhead had it all. Rape, dynamite, ruthless manipulation of weaker characters like Peter Keating, smashing up priceless museum pieces and fireplaces by the dozen (if you include Night of January 16th and We The Living, written in the same period). How anti-NAP can you get? I sometimes wonder why Randroids don't seem to grasp the obvious, that Rand the seeker was an immoral anarchist to the very roots of her hair, top and bottom." The Right to Do Wrong

W.

Edited by Wolf DeVoon, 26 December 2007 - 11:09 AM.

Justice is the armed defense of innocent liberty.

#16 Brant Gaede

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 03:32 PM

You're a hell of a writter, Wolf.

--Brant

Mostly painful, no gain yet. You know what's worse? I'm short GOOG and RIMM.

:rolleyes:

Rimm's the most dangerous.

--Brant

Rational Individualist, Rational self-interest, Individual Rights--limited government libertarian heavily influenced by Objectivism


#17 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 05:24 PM

Objective Cognition, Objective Valuation

I’m sorry to be so long in following up on the discussion of Irfan’s paper at ARS 2007. I came down with pneumonia on 12/31 and did not get out of the hospital until 1/9.

I want at least to indicate some of the commentary from Prof. Bloomfield and the response from Khawaja. This leads to the opportunity for further specification of the situation of Rand’s metaethics among its contemporaries. I will propose those further specifications.

In his comment on Irfan Khawaja’s “The Foundations of Ethics: Objectivism and Analytic Philosophy,” Paul Bloomfield remarked that “the standard metaethical options on the table nowadays in analytic philosophy are, in rough terms, realism, expressivism, and error theories” (B 4). I will neglect the latter two. (One expressivist is Allan Gibbard; one errorist is J. L. Mackie. For the error theory of morality today, see Richard Joyce’s “Morality, Schmorality” in Bloomfield’s Morality and Self-Interest.) The varieties of realism are what are of most interest.

Realism in metaethics is “a metaphysical doctrine, typically taken to involve the willingness to make an ontological claim about the existence of moral properties in the world which are, in some important sense, ‘mind independent’” (B 4). “Realists see moral discourse as being truth-apt, where truth is understood as being more than deflationary, perhaps requiring some form of correspondence, where there are truth-makers in the world for our moral claims” (B 5). I should mention that the “moral properties in the world” should not be thought of simple properties in nature. They would have to be properties sufficiently complex and richly textured to be able to explain, justify, and guide revisions in our nuanced moral thinking.

One kind of realist holds that moral properties require “the same ontology that we give to rationality,” including logic and mathematics. This is a form of nonnaturalist realism. I think the sense in which it would be nonnatural is as follows (but see also Tara Smith’s Viable Values, pp. 38–53): There are all kinds of relations that are concrete existents. Such would be relations of perceptually given similarity, relations of parts to wholes, relations of spatial and temporal separation and containment, and relations of cause and effect. But there is one relation that is required for every concept we have, and it is not a concrete relation. That is the membership relation. The ontology of that relation is the ontology right for moral properties, according to this sort of nonnaturalist realism. I should notice that it is reasonable to call this sort of moral realism nonnatural only if one thinks the membership relation requires a category in the real that is sui generis against natural properties.

“Naturalists, on the other hand, think that morality is a natural phenomenon, somehow either reducing to or emerging out of our nature as members of Homo sapiens”(B 5). (See further, Richard Joyce’s The Evolution of Morality, pp. 146–52, 184–90; David Brink’s “Realism, Naturalism, and Moral Semantics,” pp. 154–70, in Social Philosophy & Policy 18(2).) Bloomfield relegates to a footnote a third variety of contemporary moral realism. In this school, “moral properties are secondary qualities like color, or are, in other terms, ‘response dependent’. Whether or not these are really realists theories or some form of subjectivism that is masquerading as realism is part of the debate” (B 4–5).

Bloomfield concludes of Rand: “It would be seemingly impossible to read her as either an expressivist or an error theorist, while she is easily identified as a realist. Moreover, it seems clear that she is a naturalistic realist and not a nonnaturalist, since she sees morality as being fundamentally due to the phenomenon of life” (B 5–6).

Khawaja observes in his brief rejoinder that “realism is fundamentally a thesis about (the ontological status of) the truth conditions of moral propositions. On the Objectivist view, life-conducivity is principally what morality is (and so, moral propositions are) about. So an account of the truth-conditions of moral propositions presupposes an . . . account of the nature, requirements, and essence of human life. . . . Whether this . . . account ends up being realist (and in what sense) is an extremely complex affair . . . not easily ‘mapable’ onto the menu of theories Bloomfield mentions” (K 3). (Concerning Khawaja’s account of “the nature, requirements, and essence of human life,” see pages 100–104, 109–13, of his Objectivity essay [V2N5].) Khawaja concurs with Bloomfield that Rand’s metaethics is not expressivist nor a form of error theory. Whether Rand’s is some sort of moral-realist theory is a question Khawaja defers.

I want to pursue the question right here. Recall that Khawaja had maintained—quite correctly—that Rand’s ethical theory is foundationalist in two ways. Firstly, as with any knowledge, ethical knowledge is epistemically foundationalist. Justified true beliefs can be traced “to the perceptual level via the concepts that constitute those beliefs” (FE 33). Secondly, Rand’s ethics is foundationalist in that it has a specific rational ground in the answer that Rand gives to her “first question” for ethics (FE 33). The specific rational ground of Rand’s ethics is given in “The Objectivist Ethics” (14–22) and in Atlas Shrugged. That ground is the phenomenon of life with its distinctive character of existence. As Khawaja says, “life-conducivity is principally what morality is (and so, moral propositions are) about” (K 3).

On Rand’s view, existence “exists as an objective absolute (which means: independently of the consciousness, the wishes, or the feelings of any perceiver)” (FNI 22). The facts of life-conducivity grounding correct morality are objective in the elementary sense just mentioned. In this coarse grain, Rand’s moral theory is a realist one, for it makes “an ontological claim about the moral properties in the world which are, in some important sense, ‘mind independent’” (B 4).

Rand’s general epistemology envelopes her epistemology of moral concepts. She rejected the idea that the classes that concepts are of are some sort of “special existents unrelated to man’s consciousness—to be perceived by man directly,” though not by sensory means (ITOE 53). The membership relation, which is required for any and all of our concepts, is not a relation unrelated to man’s consciousness. In this sense, Rand’s theory of concepts—including moral concepts—is not realist as that label is traditionally used in theory of universals.

On the other hand, in Rand’s epistemology, the membership relation of proper concepts is sensitive to the differences, the similarities, the degrees of similarity, the dimensions, and the causal dependencies that obtain in existence independently of our consciousness of them. In Rand’s theory, concepts are to be regarded as objective, “as produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality” (ITOE 54).

By Rand’s epistemology, moral concepts and propositions would be objective. The facts of life-conducivity can be conceptually comprehended, and these concepts will be related to man’s consciousness, but squarely standing on the facts. The facts of life-conducivity are mind-independent. (Even the facts of mental conditions, such as cognitive dissonance or self-disrespect, are mind-independent in this reflective, step-back sense of mind-independence.) For Rand all consciousness, including conceptual consciousness, is a natural biological phenomenon. So Rand’s general metaphysics and epistemology lays a background amenable to placing her moral realism into the Bloomfield division: naturalistic realism.

At the same time, quite harmoniously, I should say that Rand’s general metaphysics and epistemology does not of itself land Rand’s moral realism also in what Bloomfield termed nonnaturalist realism. The membership relations of all moral concepts and all concepts relating to life-conducivity are relations in the natural world, even though they are always mind-dependent in an epistemologically objective way. Because the ontology of the membership relation is natural (though actively constructed), because the membership relation is a denizen of the natural world, there is no reason from the epistemology of moral concepts to think that moral properties (facts of life-conducivity) are nonnatural.

Life-conducivity is a function not only of the character of a thing or circumstance, but a function of the constitution of the organism confronting the thing or circumstance. The facts of life-conducivity are always relations to an organism. Rand’s ethical theory is one in which moral properties are always in relation to individual human beings. This in no way detracts from the objectivity of conceptual comprehension of moral properties, of the facts of life-conducivity.

The morally good, on Rand’s view, is “an evaluation of the facts of reality by man’s consciousness according to a rational standard of value. . . . The objective theory holds that the good is an aspect of reality in relation to man” (CUI 21–22). Recall the third variety of contemporary moral realism mentioned by Bloomfield. In this school, “moral properties are secondary qualities like color, or are in other terms, ‘response dependent’” (B 4). Rand’s moral objectivism has some affinity with this sort of moral realism. There is no affinity to the idea that moral properties are secondary qualities, but there is affinity with the general idea that moral properties are “response dependent.” At the vegetative levels of the life one’s body, what is life-conducive is a function of how one’s body would respond. Likewise at the appetitive levels of the life of one’s body and at the intelligent level of one’s life, the life-conducive is a (complex) function of how one would respond. This sort of response dependence is perfectly consistent with naturalist moral realism and with objectivity in moral values.

Readers here know that, on Rand’s understanding, human beings are not simply rational animals. Humans, in Rand’s view, are profoundly disjunctive in nature: they are either rational animals or they are suicidal animals (AS 1013–15). Humans have the ability to choose the latter not only directly, but indirectly and by degrees by rejecting thought and rationality and by rejecting intelligent embrace of biological and psychological needs. (There is neither implication nor insinuation in this view that there are never circumstances in which deliberate suicide would not be the rational, self-respectful, moral choice.)

Does the fact that by their conceptual power humans are able to ratify and enhance, to reform, or to cast away so many of their moral values mean that Rand’s metaethics is, in a sense, a nonnatural variety of moral realism? “A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality” (AS 1013). Moral life is continually thoughtful life, and “thinking is not an automatic function” (OE 20). “In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort” (OE 20). Moreover, “man’s actions and survival require the guidance of conceptual values derived from conceptual knowledge. But conceptual knowledge cannot be acquired automatically. . . . The process of integrating percepts into concepts—the process of abstraction and of concept-formation—is not automatic” (OE 20).

I think it would be misleading to say that on account of the human volition required to sustain human life and on account of the (constrained) ability of humans to remake themselves, their world, and their values, Rand’s moral realism is a nonnatural one. It would be misleading even to say that Rand’s is manmade realism, in contrast to natural realism. At bottom human volition, like the human power of conceptualization, is a play of wondrous biological nature.

#18 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 09:30 AM

Reasonable Norms, Hypothetical Imperatives

There are two additional aspects of naturalistic ethics in general that would be good to mention. These are stated by Owen Flanagan, Hagop Sarkissian, and David Wong in “Naturalizing Ethics,” which is their contribution to Volume 1 of Moral Psychology (MIT 2008), Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, editor.

1. Rational Method Not Only Demonstrative

“No important moral philosopher, naturalist or non-naturalist, has ever thought that merely gathering together all relevant descriptive truths would yield a full normative ethical theory. Morals are radically underdetermined by the merely descriptive, but so too, of course, are science and normative epistemology. All three are domains of inquiry where ampliative generalizations and underdetermined norms abound.

“The smart naturalist makes no claims to establish demonstrably moral norms. Instead, he or she points to certain practices, values, virtues, and principles as reasonable based on inductive and abductive reasoning . . . . Indeed, anyone who thinks that Hume thought that the fallacy of claiming to move demonstratively from is’s to oughts revealed that normative ethics was a nonstarter hasn’t read Hume. After the famous passages in the Treatise about is-ought, Hume proceeds for several hundred pages to do normative moral philosophy. He simply never claims to demonstrate anything. Why should he? Demonstration, Aristotle taught us long ago, is for the mathematical sciences, not for ethics.” (14)

2. Naturalistic Moral Imperatives

Naturalistic morality should be seen as “a system of hypothetical imperatives that hinge on our wanting to secure certain aims: ‘If you want to secure social cooperation, then you ought to . . . .’ It is true that naturalists cannot allow for categorical imperatives if they are conceived as independent of human interests and values, or categorical imperatives that are binding to all rational beings, wherever they may be. Yet while the aims of naturalistic ethics are internal to the motivational systems of the species Homo sapiens, they are external to any particular individual member of that species. This follows from the view that there are a limited number of goods that human beings seek given their nature and potentialities, and these goods (or aims) limit what can be placed as antecedents to the hypothetical conditionals. In referring to these facts in moral discourse one is not simply pointing to preexisting propensities in any given individual but is rather referring to basic and fundamental reasons stemming from human nature that might help shape and channel the particular propensities of any given individual. In this sense, they do have some ‘categorical’ force.” (16–17)

In connection with the first point, we should remember that the fact that some realists are naturalists does not mean that some non-realists are not also naturalists. (Today, the sophisticated descendents from the sentiment-theorists of the age of Hume are the expressivists, such as Allan Gibbard and Simon Blackburn.)

Concerning the second point, Rand placed herself in the hypothetical-imperative territory in her “Causality versus Duty.” Remember too that for Rand, the moral individual achieves the value that is self-esteem “by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man . . . .” (AS 1021)

#19 BaalChatzaf

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 10:41 AM

Reasonable Norms, Hypothetical Imperatives

There are two additional aspects of naturalistic ethics in general that would be good to mention. These are stated by Owen Flanagan, Hagop Sarkissian, and David Wong in “Naturalizing Ethics,” which is their contribution to Volume 1 of Moral Psychology (MIT 2008), Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, editor.

1. Rational Method Not Only Demonstrative

“No important moral philosopher, naturalist or non-naturalist, has ever thought that merely gathering together all relevant descriptive truths would yield a full normative ethical theory. Morals are radically underdetermined by the merely descriptive, but so too, of course, are science and normative epistemology. All three are domains of inquiry where ampliative generalizations and underdetermined norms abound.

“The smart naturalist makes no claims to establish demonstrably moral norms. Instead, he or she points to certain practices, values, virtues, and principles as reasonable based on inductive and abductive reasoning . . . . Indeed, anyone who thinks that Hume thought that the fallacy of claiming to move demonstratively from is’s to oughts revealed that normative ethics was a nonstarter hasn’t read Hume. After the famous passages in the Treatise about is-ought, Hume proceeds for several hundred pages to do normative moral philosophy. He simply never claims to demonstrate anything. Why should he? Demonstration, Aristotle taught us long ago, is for the mathematical sciences, not for ethics.” (14)


Thank you for that quote Stephen. David Hume has been unjustly bad-mouthed in O'ist circles. His critique of inductive reasoning at no time denies external reality. It does deny logical validity (logical = deductively logical).

Ba'al Chatzaf
אויב מיין באָבע האט בייצים זי וואָלט זיין מיין זיידע

#20 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 31 May 2008 - 07:25 AM

Following on #14

This new book looks like an important complement to the theory outlined by Nozick.

The Structural Evolution of Morality
J. McKenzie Alexander
Cambridge 2008

From the back cover:

It is certainly the case that morality governs the interactions that take place between individuals. But what if morality exists because of these interactions? This book argues for the claim that much of the behaviour we view as 'moral' exists because acting in that way benefits each of us to the greatest extent possible, given the socially structured nature of society. Drawing upon aspects of evolutionary game theory, the theory of bounded rationality, and computational models of social networks, it shows both how moral behaviour can emerge in socially structured environments, and how it can persist even when it is not typically viewed as 'rational' from a traditional economic perspective.






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