Letter from Nathaniel Branden on Morality


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I posted this over on RoR also. It upset me. In the first part paragraph, Sharon asked the following and I answered as given below. (The part with Sharon is not really pertinent, but I find it important somehow.)

... could I put your name  on the volunteer list, just in case my daughter and I are mugged in the park, and my  granddaughter is wandering around with dirt on her face and a messy diaper?

Sharon,

If I were around and something like that happened, you can rest assured that I would do what was necessary to see that your granddaughter (even if she were a stranger) received enough care to survive and get to a safe haven (including changing her dirty diaper if need be). I would not seek compensation for this and it would make me feel good inside to do it. I hereby volunteer to be responsible in that case (and any similar one I happen to be confronted with). People can make of that what they will. I speak for me.

Just because I keep hearing a refrain that nobody would actually starve a child, I decided to google the thing (crime child starvation). I came up with 1,260,000 hits. No. I didn't make a number mistake. That's one million, two hundred and sixty thousand hits.

I started looking through them. Obviously most of the hits were parents and some were foreign countries. I am sure I can find wilderness stranger stories if I look hard enough, too. But I started getting sick in my heart reading one case after another. What a horror!

Then I came across this ABSURD story. In this one, the 19 year old mother, the legal guardian (who was not the mother), and strangers who worked in a shelter center ALL starved a five week old baby boy to death. ALL OF THEM!

And what about government protection? THAT FAILED EVEN WORSE! The result? No one was held responsible. The rest of the result? The Toronto Metro Catholic Children's Aid Society received more money!

Dayaamm! The entire civilization flunked that one!

Here's the story (my mouth is still open from my jaw dropping):

This page is dedicated to the memory of baby Jordan Desmond Heikamp, who starved to death in the care of his 19-year-old mother and in full view of shelter workers at the Anduhyaun native women's shelter, even though the responsibility for Jordan's welfare had been assigned to Angie Martin, 43, of Brampton, an employee with the Toronto Metro Catholic Children's Aid Society.  

The verdict of the coroner's inquiry? It appears that all of the people entrusted with the life of Jordan Heikamp are held to be blameless.

It appears that the officials feel there is nothing wrong with the Toronto child protection system that can't be fixed by throwing more money at it.

I didn't have the stomach to read all the details.

Michael

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Nathaniel's argument misses the point that it takes more than one meal to help an abondoned, starving child. What would the man do, feed the child and then walk on, knowing that the next day the chil

Michael,

I have always interpreted your argument as contextual. Based on the actions you will do when face to face with a situation. There is a world of difference between what we actually experience face to face in our lives and the things that happen out of our control away from our circle of influence. The people who pretend to "make a difference" outside of their circle of influence, that which they personally experience and know to be true, are simply deluding themselves. And they are focusing their thoughts as far away from themselves and their personal lives as they can. It would be empty speculation for me to try to reason why they do this. The fact that people can have their focus "out there" and not be paying attention to what is happening right in front of them explains how a group of people can stand around and allow a possibly mentally ill 19 year old mother to starve her baby to death.

I am with you my friend.

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Mike,

Thank you. I also have come up with the gazillion dollar question that should be answered BEFORE thinking about how to apply ethics.

Objectivist ethics are against the doctrine of self-sacrifice. In any scenario involving an adult and a child, there is a presupposition that one or the other has to be sacrificed. Either the adult gets enslaved or the child dies. And we argue over which is better (or moral or legal or whatever). But isn't that a false dichotomy?

Why does either have to be sacrificed? Why is sacrifice necessary in this case?

The more I think about it, the more I see that there is no good reason on earth to sacrifice the kid - and no good reason on earth to sacrifice the adult. The kid doesn't need to die and the adult doesn't need to become a slave. Those are not metaphysical either-or exclusive alternatives. It's just a matter of working out how.

That's only a start, but I am beginning to get the feeling that all this thinking is going somewhere good.

Michael

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Mike:

~~ Maybe, just maybe, this whole 'scenario-problem' re 'babe-and-unempathic-adult-O'ist-in-the-woods' can be re-phrased from another perspective. (Part of your RoR prob DID have to do with how O'ism/O'ists should properly treat it, non?) :-k

~~ Maybe the whole question should be put as: "Could a bona-fide O'ist be ethically capable of ignoring the child? If not, why not? If so, then...'Houston, we have a problem'." 8-[

~~ I'd argue that if the supposed O'ist accepts the whole kit-and-kaboodle of O'ism (however one defines it's 'essence') in more than a merely rationalistic/'intellectual' way, where, in revering 'life', especially human-life (excepting lethal and threatening idiots like cartoon-rioters), AND, presuming they do have intellectual-emotional 'integration' in their psyche, they psychologically couldn't ignore the kid. --- And, this has nothing (directly) to do with 'ought/should/must/obliged' in an ethical/moral context. :idea:

~~ As an analogy, picture 2 cars driving along a road at night. Both pass an obvious car accident. The car's in flames and there's screams, and there's no help showing. They're obviously the 1st-on-the-scene. The 1st car has a professional hit-man on vacation. The car in back has Roark and Dominique (or, Rand and Frank). I have a prob believing that the 2nd car's occupants would take the attitude of the 1st car's one: "Sheesh; bad news. Glad I'm not there. Ah, well, someone else'll show up. I got more important things to do." --- My point is: an intellectual attitude re 'life', 'morality', 'rights' and 'obligations', if unintegrated in one's psyche to one's emotional, um, 'side', may be psychologically no different from the 1st car's occupant...who clearly has no ethics-code restrictions or requirements; ergo, no different from the adult-in-the-woods who turns his/her back on the child. :!:

~~ In short, the situation seems more about the Psychology of the adult rather than the Philosophical 'Ethics' code of them...especially if the latter is O'ist-oriented. I see any O'ist worth their salt as one who's little different in this context than most people. Given that, too bad your subject on RoR shifted into the 'philosophic-justification' perspective. True, though many did argue that "no O'ist would turn their back", few pointed out that the psychology of an O'ist just wouldn't allow it. (Such a self-styled O'ist would be a merely rationalistic one [or as some argue, 'a rule-based' one], as I've argued.) :eek:

~~ Howard would (necessarily? I leave that for you to judge) stop. The car in front wouldn't 'bother.' :idea:

~~ I remember Rand, in some context, responding about a doctor handling an epidemic. She didn't say that he Objectivisticly-'properly' would just throw up his hands and say "Ah-h-h, the hell with it; 'bye, all." As long as he had an actual reverence for life...he'd do his best in the emergency-of-the-others; whether it was officially his 'job' or not. O:)

~~ In effect, we're really talking a metaphysical 'sense-of-life' thing here; ergo, it's not a problem which is merely/'really' an epistemo-ethical-'rights' one, superficially though it appears.

~~ Ergo, the adult in the woods, could not be an O'ist, derivable 'ethics'-action-obligation and/or 'rights'-arguments... or no. [-X

~~ NOW, New Question: how should an O'ist observer handle this...person, regardless the evolutionary factors that this turn-their-back person is lacking some factor of? :-k

LLAP

J:D

P.S: Hope you catch 'that' movie...one day.

P.P.S: Methinks there's something about one's metaphysical 'sense-of-life' (Psychological basis-of-values) and one's accepted Philosophy that has much mutual interplay, thereby raising a separate, but relevent, question: "Which is the chicken and which the egg?" --- A 'philosophical psychology' prob which I do wish O'ists would address...even if the argument would be that it's a specifically 'scientific' prob not directly in the pervue of philosophy proper.

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John,

Thank you for that post. While I admit that there is an enormous psychological problem with this issue, there are other considerations. The one I have been battling for so much is to look at this from the child's perspective. (Your entire post mentioned only the adult's rights and obligations.)

If I understand the crux of your argument, you say the problem would not exist for true Objectivists because any true Objectivist would not let the problem exist - he obviously would act. If did he not act, he is not a true Objectivist. I can imagine a Christian saying that. Or a Muslim. Or even a communist.

I am very curious as to why this problem is dismissed so much. Since you brought up RoR, I recently had another round over there. This time, however, it was a lot more civil. Still, I mentioned a google search I did and came up with all kinds of hits. One poster implied that these hits happened because I didn't use google correctly (and even showed where he got zero hits on some phrases). Some others (a core group) started belittling the notion, as if to say, "So what?"

Here's the truth. People do starve children to death. The Internet is full of cases of this. Ignoring it will not make it go away. If a parent would let a child starve, why wouldn't a stranger?

I think the huge volume of instances of child starvation points at something in human nature that needs some kind of intellectual attention. The issue is serious and it cuts deep into the human psyche. Observable facts that back this up - I can present two right off the top of my head: (1) The level of emotional excess this causes among Objectivists. You can argue that the emotional excess is due to a presumed threat to individual rights, but the fact is that you don't see this fanatical condemnatory level with other issues involving rights (the minarchist-anarchist thing, for instance, which gets heated, but rarely that scorching). (2) The constant rapid growth of religions. The treatment and protection of children is one of the backbones of religion. (This indicates that a very deep human need is being addressed by religion.)

Since there is a lot of hooting and hollering whenever I see this issue raised among Objectivists (ahem... except on OL of course), I can almost here the Preachers chuckling amongst themselves. They don't have to worry about competition from Objectivism on this score. Really loud Objectivists not only refuse to examine the issue, they get obnoxious with anybody who wants to talk about it. They do the Preachers' work for them more competently than any religious argument ever could.

The overwhelming feeling I get from the majority of Objectivist or Objectivist-friendly people who have belittled the discussion of this idea (and even some very good people who do not belittle it, but hold such a strong view about the adult's rights that they constantly mention it, regardless of the angle discussed) is that they are afraid of losing intellectual ground. They are afraid that altruists and collectivists and government apologists and religious zealots, etc., can take aspects of my focus to invalidate the Objectivist position, thus invalidate individual rights.

I hold that a good idea has to be defensible from all angles and that it must deal with all issues head on - even inconvenient ones. Reason is the standard and, if used properly, it will take us to good places even for inconvenient problems.

I also hold that the principles of Objectivism have to be just as valid for a kid as they are for an adult. This leads me back to my question.

Here is the scenario again, an adult stranger who has plenty meets a stray starving child away from civilization and refuses to share a bit of food.

In this case, if the adult has a social obligation to share his food, you sacrifice his rights. If he does not share his food, you sacrifice the child's life.

There is something seriously wrong in that alternative. Why is any sacrifice necessary? I hold it isn't and I am trying to figure out why.

(Saying that a true Christian, er... true Objectivist wouldn't let that happen doesn't do much for the kid if he happens to encounter one who is not a true whatever. He is sacrificed and society then sanctions that as proper with no penalty. Some people mention that the person will be shunned by decent folks, but that falls flat with me, since there are a lot of people who are not so decent walking around and the shunning is not enforceable.)

Like I keep stating, I don't have the answers. And I know that raising this problem makes people uncomfortable. But I am highly uncomfortable with the lack of a firm non-sacrificial principle here.

btw - I noticed on a site called Objectivist Nation that you live near another Objectivist, Steven Shmurak. I used to like his posts on SoloHQ and while researching another thing a while back, I came across his profile. He listed one of my articles as his favorite. Since then, I have tried several times to email him, but the emails bounce back and google is no help. Do you know him? Is he still alive? If you do have contact with him, please tell him that I send my best regards.

Michael

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Mike:

~~ My entire post argued the IRRELEVENCE of concern about rights, obligations, etc re the adult; it did NOT argue about the adult's rights, etc (again: other than it's irrelevence). I thought I made that clear.

~~ The reason I didn't talk about the scenario at all "from the child's perspective" is that the whole scenario setup PROBLEM as you originally defined it was in terms of how 'wrong' the adult seemed to be in how the-adult-acted, plus, how a 3rd-party observer should regard/treat the adult thereby. --- What this has to do with the child's perspective I have no idea.

~~ You say (re my conclusion about O'ists not starving kids) "I can imagine a Christian saying that. Or a Muslim. Or even a communist." Yes, Mike; we can imagine a lot of things...but not square circles. Besides, I didn't just 'say' it; I ARGUED it; I further pointed out what you're saying: that for the REASONS I gave, I can't see any O'ist acting unlike most other people (who would not be using the REASONS I gave). What do you disagree with about the logic in my ARGUMENT? I missed that part. You sound like you find my argument to my point (as well as my analogy and examples) as all...totally irrelevent...to your concerns.

~~ You speak of 'this problem' being dismissed so much; I gather, you meant on RoR. Uh, that WAS one of the longest thread-subjects done on that forum, so, I think that any 'dismissal' now was probably due to a 'burn-out' of repititous arguments on the subject by many. Myself, I don't see you addressing even my REASONS, either, and, I've little more to substantially add on the subject at this point. --- I just thought I'd give you my...thinking process (REASONS)...as well as my end-thoughts (what I 'say'). You find them useful, or, you don't. So far, I consider the problem 'dismissed', because, I consider the problem 'answered.'

~~ Re "people do starve children to death," yes; no one has, will, or can disagree with that. They also dismember them alive, drown them in tubs (or cars sent into a lake), advertise them on tv for donations to be sent to the advertising body (this is 'exploiting', as in kiddy-porn) and pretty well anything 'they' do to other so-called 'adults.' Therefore...these people are definitely not nice and most (the non-crazies) deserve almost whatever a vigilante would do to them. --- But, I don't see this set of global-facts as relevent to the scenario-problem you were talking about other than being subsumed under the scenario's metaphor-example.

~~ Re the situation "from the child's perspective", I can only say that s/he'd probably be scared at being left alone...again. I have no idea what more can be said on that...unless you're thinking of the child's 'rights' implying an owing/obligation from the adult? I believe I already brought up that consideration (on RoR) and you dismissed it on the grounds that the subject of 'rights' was not the basis to work from. Otherwise, I really don't know what you're looking for in this whole scenario-problem.

~~ Regarding the rest of your...perspectives...on 'this problem' and Objectivists...I don't know what more to say; and it's not because I'm 'uncomfortable' with the problem; else I wouldn't have persued it this far with you. I just see no flaw in the argument I gave for the position I take (the position of which you merely say that I merely 'say.')

~~ Take care, Mike, and, keep your cool with others 'till you're really ready to say 'good-bye' to them. (At that point, well, "Flame ON!"...once, as an ending.)

LLAP

J:D

P.S: Re Steven Shmurak: I have never met him that I recall...unless it was more than a decade ago at a tape-lecture class given by someone else. Name-wise, no recall. Sorry.

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John,

Let's try to do this without taking things personally, if we can. Who should feel more offended, me because you say my entire questioning is irrelevant, or you because I say your arguments don't address the issues?

Why does somebody have to be offended? I'm not. (Frankly, I fully intend to keep questioning and reasoning about this until I am satisfied. If that offends you, I'm sorry. I'm not going to stop, though, and I still hold that your arguments did not address the issues I raised. You find them irrelevant, so we should move on to some other issue, don't you think?)

Like I asked Dragonfly once (and he fully agreed), we can disagree on something and still be friends, can't we?

Can't we?

Michael

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Mike:

~~ I'm getting perplexed by your responses.

~~ Would you please quote where *I* "...say [your/Mike's] entire questioning is irrelevant" (as opposed to you saying "...I say your arguments don't address the issues")?

~~ Since my arguments don't address the issues, I guess I've been wasting my thought process...and typing time...and your reading time. --- Really sorry.

~~ However, at this point (sequing from RoR), I've become a bit tired in trying to figure out which issues (rights/penalties/morality/psychology/laws/'explanations'/call-to-action/etc) you wish to pin down 1st in your scenario-problem. I think I covered them all, and...I get the response that I'm not addressing 'the issues'. I think that's the same as "John, you're arguments are irrelevant." --- As I said in the last post: "Otherwise, I really don't know what you're looking for in this whole scenario-problem."

~~ "Offense"? "Personally"? No, Mike; no problemo. Not to be concerned. Of course we can agree to disagree and be friends (--- just wish I knew specifically what you disagreed with me about.) No matter.

~~ As I said, Take Care.

LLAP

J:D

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John,

Very clearly stated (after the initial irrational explosion on RoR, transfer of the discussion to here and I decided to suspend judgment on the depraved indifference homocide thing), the first problem was the extent of the child's right to life. How far should it go and what does it entail?

When I asked this, I usually got a lot of explanations about adults and no discussion of the child.

However, here is one small example of a clear statement on this issue. Bill Dwyer recently stated on RoR in this last round that in the event of the death of the child's parents, the child's right to be cared for by an adult ceases to exist until some adult freely chooses to take care of him.

My take on that is this: since the child cannot exercise his right to life without such support, I am extremely uncomfortable with this position legally. It looks to me like the law would be abandoning one of its citizens (or partial citizens) by allowing his right to life to become extinguished for certain cases.

(Our context - always - is within the confines of Objectivist principles.)

The problem then changed to ethics. NB even wrote his letter that started this thread. He stated that something needed rethinking because of the moral outrage we all would feel at watching the gross indifference of a stranger with plenty walk by and not give some food to an abandoned starving child. I agree. What needs to be rethought?

As a parallel, I asked why and how can something be ethically wrong (presuming that such behavior is considered as morally wrong), result in the death of a citizen (or partial citizen), and still have no legal redress? I raised this issue, but because it was causing some very bad vibes, I didn't press it.

A few other things came up. The last one was why can't a non-sacrificial principle be arrived at (or at least sought) that covers both the adult and the child? Why is any sacrifice legally - if not morally - necessary?

Those are some of the issues. If I missed where you discussed them (not merely dismissed them as unnecessary or nonexistent problems), I'm sorry. I'll reread your posts just to make sure.

Michael

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Mike, you wrote:

I also hold that the principles of Objectivism have to be just as valid for a kid as they are for an adult. This leads me back to my question. Here is the scenario again, an adult stranger who has plenty meets a stray starving child away from civilization and refuses to share a bit of food. In this case, if the adult has a social obligation to share his food, you sacrifice his rights. If he does not share his food, you sacrifice the child's life.
[emphasis added]

What is the function of the word "you" here? Is it meant to apply to the adult stranger -- or to each of us in this discussion as little deities watching and adjudicating from on high? I will address both possibilities, and I would appreciate it if you would respond to both of them, so that we can have a clear sense of how you view the responsibilities of both the adult stranger and us as armchair ethicists.

1. Let's assume it just means the adult stranger. Now I ask what do you mean by "social obligation"? Don't you really mean legal obligation? Because there are all kinds of "social obligations" that do not involve rights and are not (or should not be) enforceable by law, such as the obligation to be honest when your life or privacy are not at stake. And if you really do mean legal obligation, you're begging the question by smuggling it in under the cover of "social obligation." (This is not an accusation of dishonesty, just an observation that you are not speaking precisely enough to rule out what you -- hopefully -- do not mean to say.) Adult strangers have the legal obligation to not aggress against a starving child -- just as they have the legal obligation to not aggress against a starving adult. In this respect, adult strangers are in the same situation vis-a-vis starving children and adults as are the parents of a starving child. Neither party is entitled to regard the legal obligation to refrain from aggressing against the starving child or adult as a form of "sacrifice." The critical difference, however, is not in what they must (legally) refrain from doing, but in what they must do. Parents -- and their temporary or long-term agents (babysitters, daycare, grandma, etc., as well as adoptive parents and legal guardians) -- legally must feed their child, while adult stangers are under no such legal obligation. The reason for this legal obligation is the fact that the parents, by bringing the child into the world, caused there to be a helpless human being -- while the adult stranger did no such thing. Because the parents (and their agents) have assumed legal responsibility for the child, their being legally required to feed the child (and to be punished if they don't feed it) cannot legitimately be regarded as a "sacrifice" -- and because an adult stranger has not assumed legal responsibility for anyone else's child, he has every reason to complain that he is being "sacrificed," if the law requires him to feed an abandoned child and to punish him if he fails to do so. There is no such thing as "mandatory benevolence." In reality, such laws are simply another form of paternalistic aggression, just like civil rights laws that try to compel "tolerance" and "brotherhood" (or at least "non-discrimination").

2. Now, let's assume that it refers to us armchair ethicists, trying to figure out what's right, and if the government has any proper role. If an adult stranger does not share his food with a starving child, we are "sacrificing" the child. We, by not supporting the child's rights, i.e., by not arguing that the law should compel the adult stranger to feed the child, are "sacrificing" the child. Or, at least, are saying that the child and his rights should be "sacrificed," if no one is willing to feed him. I disagree with this characterization of my (and others'?) position. A child whose parents (and/or agents of the parents) have abandoned him is in the same position vis-a-vis adult strangers as is a helpless quadruplegic victim of a reckless driver who refuses to support his victim. If an adult stranger, does not take over and help the quadruplegic, he is not "sacrificing" the quadruplegic's right to life -- and if an adult stranger does not take over and feed the starving abandoned child, he is not "sacrificing" the child's right to life or "starving" the child either. (So, stop saying that, for Pete's sake!) And I, as an armchair ethicist saying this, am not advocating that either the quadruplegic or the starving child be "sacrificed" or "starved."

The unrecognized issue here is what I call Creeping Utopianism -- or how to square rights with the perfect society. In a perfect society, adult strangers would always step in and help the helpless, whether starving children or quadruplegic adults. No helpless people would "fall through the cracks." As it is, even with our high levels of taxation and the high level of government meddling in providing "human services" (so individuals feel less of an incentive to pitch in), many people still offer help -- even some Libertarians and Objectivists. But there will always be egocentric or sociopathic individuals among us -- even (or especially?) among Libertarians and Objectivists. That is just the bottom line of our imperfect, real world. All you can legitimately do is what Fundamentalist Pro-Lifers do in regard to abortion -- offer your own services and money, and try to educate others as to unmet needs and potential disaster situations. But to get the egocentric folks to step up to the plate may be a decades-long project -- and for sociopaths, well, forget it! It's just the kind of thing that you have to do the best you can in a positive way, and to try to shame and humiliate the egregious shruggers at those in distress. Going beyond this either involves inappropriate government involvement (of which we have too much already) or vigilante action (like the Pro-Lifers who bomb abortion clinics). No thanks to that!

(Saying that a true Christian, er... true Objectivist wouldn't let that happen doesn't do much for the kid if he happens to encounter one who is not a true whatever. He is sacrificed and society then sanctions that as proper with no penalty. Some people mention that the person will be shunned by decent folks, but that falls flat with me, since there are a lot of people who are not so decent walking around and the shunning is not enforceable.)

That's right. Like I said, we're not living in Utopia, and there is no way to make one. And stop using the word "sacrifice" in this context. You earlier cited the example of the Catholic aid center whose employees allowed a little boy to starve to death, and the coroner ruled that no one was at fault. This is a case of the parent's legal agents (state-supported, at that) failing to fulfill their legal obligations. This is not the same kind of situation as an adult stranger failing to feed a starving child. So, please try to distinguish the cases in your mind. The fact that the Canadian legal system (speaking through one of its minions, the coroner) failed to uphold the child's right to be fed by those who accepted legal responsibility for it does not -- repeat NOT -- mean that society is sanctioning the starvation of children by those legally obligated to feed them. And it does not mean that society in general -- and adult stranger passersby, in particular -- are legally obligated to feed starving children. Or that society, in not mandating punishment for adult strangers who don't feed starving children, is somehow "sanctioning" the action (i.e., non-action) of such adult strangers.

I'm sorry to be so wordy and lengthy in these comments -- but your package-deals of parents with adult strangers in re responsibility, and the rhetoric that rides on it ("sanctioning," "sacrificing," etc.), creates a nest of confusions, and I really couldn't have untangled it much more simply.

REB

P.S. -- If you want to design a society that has government assume legal responsibility over abandoned helpless people (children, quadruplegics, etc.), and which serves legal notice to all adults that they could be held responsible for feeding such people and could be punished for failure to do so, be my guest. My own Utopian mission is to have government assume legal responsibility over 3rd trimester fetuses and to forbid women from aborting them when there is no medical necessity to do so and to punish them and their doctors if they do so anyway. Like you, I've gotten no end of heat -- and very little light -- from those who just don't like the idea. :-/

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Roger,

I have gotten so tired of repeating questions that are sidestepped on this issue that I have become a bit sloppy in my language. You asked me what the word "you" meant, gave two possibilities, elaborated on them and asked for an analysis. Unfortunately both suggestions you gave were wrong. I was merely using a figure of speech. I should have said:

In this case, if the adult has a social obligation to share his food, his rights are sacrificed. If he does not share his food, the child's life is sacrificed.

(The upside is that finally someone who differs with me but is not hostile asked me for precision - and that felt real good for a change. Damn good. I'm used to another kind of rhetoric on this topic.)

Before I get your cases, let's define sacrifice. Here is an Ayn Rand quote ("The Ethics of Emergencies"):

"Sacrifice" is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue.

Here is another. (John Galt's Speech)

"Sacrifice" does not mean the rejection of the worthless, but of the precious. "Sacrifice" does not mean the rejection of the evil for the sake of the good, but of the good for the sake of the evil. "Sacrifice" is the surrender of that which you value in favor of that which you don't.

Here is the dictionary definition of sacrifice (an online one for speed):

Sacrifice

1. a. The act of offering something to a deity in propitiation or homage, especially the ritual slaughter of an animal or a person.

b. A victim offered in this way.

2. a. Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim.

b. Something so forfeited.

3. a. Relinquishment of something at less than its presumed value.

b. Something so relinquished.

c. A loss so sustained.

Right away, we can see the difference between the way Rand used sacrifice and the way the dictionary defines it in the first two definitions. Unfortunately, if we consider definition "1.a.," our poor little child will be sacrificed to a principle instead of a god or deity, with organized society instead of a tribe being the one doing the sacrificing. (I am using organized society here to mean a group of individuals who have constituted or support a government that is charged with protecting their rights and the rights of all citizens.)

At any rate, the issue of sacrifice involves the issue of values. Now for the classic Randian question: Of value to whom?

As I stated, my perspective is looking at it from different angles. When we discuss rights, there will be the rights of the adult and the rights of the child. Organized society is the entity that ensures these rights are not violated. Thus we can look at this through three different perspectives - the adult's, the child's and organized society's.

You request me to stop using the word "sacrifice," yet I don't know what else to call the easily preventable death of a child. It's a sacrifice. His life is sacrificed. The nature of his death exists.

Anyway, here are a few comments about your post:

1. The differences you make between social obligations and legal obligations I understand to be under Objectivist principles.

Obviously, the legal obligations you mentioned have nothing to do at all with the laws that are currently on the books. Your principle, that the parents have brought a child into the world as a helpless human being and this creates their obligation to take care of him, is not one I find either in Objectivism or in legal doctrines. I would have to check the laws, but I imagine that the grounds given will be based on biology and not on such a principle. In Objectivism, I don't know where this principle is dealt with.

The rights of the stranger that you mentioned are very clear and have been mentioned countless times during the discussions.

2. In this case, as I was not using the word "you" to mean "we," there is very little to say.

What is implied in the phrase "organized society" (or government, but I prefer "organized society" as it is more inclusive) is that all citizens have delegated their right to use force to it. This is a Rand's version. One other power we delegate is the protection of the rights of all citizens. So if any entity is sacrificing anything by a preventable death of a citizen occurring, it would be the entity that is charged with protecting these rights. (The kid starving to death when he sees an adult with food deny it to him surely must feel like he is being sacrificed, even if he doesn't have the word for it.)

If we look at the Catholic center case, a sacrifice was made under ALL ethical systems, Objectivist, Catholic, nanny-state, you name it. A child was starved to death amid adults. Differing ethical views attribute adult responsibility to different people, yet this case managed to be wrong under all systems. The legal outcome was not the result of any governing principle, either. It was a classic screw-up instead.

btw - I am not making a "package deal" between parents and adult strangers. That would presuppose that I am advocating something specific. I am not. I am chewing so far. You err when you treat my arguments as if I had a political program in mind. I don't. I will later after a lot more thinking, but I don't right now - and I mean that literally. I am merely looking at facts and soaking them up.

Moving on, I believe the ethical issue goes deeper and involves a further understanding of the nature of human beings than Objectivism traditionally provides. I know one thing, though. Ethics must be based on the nature human beings (being the philosophical field of human values), not on any mental constructs. In other words, human values must be suited to human beings as they exist, not human beings must become adapted to proposed values because they appear to be rational according to a standard that has not taken full human nature into account.

Only after this is defined is it logically proper to decide on laws and rights.

Michael

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Michael, you wrote:

The differences you make between social obligations and legal obligations I understand to be under Objectivist principles. Obviously, the legal obligations you mentioned have nothing to do at all with the laws that are currently on the books.[emphasis added]

I disagree. There are laws against child neglect, and parents can lose their children if they don't feed them.

Your principle, that the parents have brought a child into the world as a helpless human being and this creates their obligation to take care of him, is not one I find either in Objectivism or in legal doctrines. I would have to check the laws, but I imagine that the grounds given will be based on biology and not on such a principle. In Objectivism, I don't know where this principle is dealt with.[emphasis added]

In the early 1960s, Nathaniel Branden in The Objectivist Newsletter recognized the principle of parental obligation, though not its biological/factual ground. In 1976, Leonard Peikoff in a Q&A period of one of his lectures in "The Philosophy of Objectivism" re-iterated the principle in rather colorful terms. If you brought a child into the world, you "jolly well" are obligated to take care of him. But again, the ground of the principle was not clarified.

In the late 70s, I did a bunch of writing and speaking, culminating in "A Calm Look at Abortion Arguments" (Reason magazine, September 1981, reprinted about 1991 in Free Minds and Free Markets) and a follow-up article (rejected by both Reason and Liberty), "The Case Against Libertarian Baby-Starving." In those essays, I made the argument for parental obligation in terms of "caused helplessness." Because of the rather stringent qualifications for being an Objectivist, however -- as well as the rampant strains among egocentric Objectivists and Libertarians of equating the enforcement of one's chosen legal obligations with "sacrifice" and "involuntary servitude" -- I could not get the time of day from anyone in a position to help push the point. <sigh>

Finally, just a MONTH ago, my wife and I heard Harry Binswanger make the IDENTICAL argument that I have been making for the past 25 years. He explicitly tied parental obligations to having put another human being in a position of helplessness (a category that includes not only one's children, but also people one has seriously injured and rendered unable to care for themselves; the subcategories are differentiated by the fact that the former are caused to be helpless through a natural biological act, while the latter are caused to be helpless though one's aggression or negligence).

So, I KNOW that this issue has been discussed, at least at ARI, but they have not gone out of their way to put it in print, so far as I know. You can thank our "oral/aural tradition" for that seeming gap in Objectivist moral-political theory. Granted, it's quite possible that one of their speakers or conference lecturers has made such an argument on tape/CD, but fat lot of good that does those of us who don't attend the lectures or talks or don't buy the recorded talks and wade through them looking for such tidbits. Anyway, Michael, you know that not only I, an Objectivist renegade (or whatever) have made the argument, but that the Pope's right-hand man has made it, too. And I'm sure that Leonard and Nathaniel would agree with the rationale, now that it has been explicitly made (though Leonard would probably find some reason to ignore or discredit my having been spouting it in the wilderness for 25+ years, I being a heretic, after all).

By the way, you can easily tease this principle out of Rand's essay on rights. She says that a rational being has the right to take ALL the actions necessary to support &c his life. If he is put by another in a position of helpless inability to take those actions, then the person who put him in that position made him unable to exercise his rights (to support his life), and that person is thus obligated to act on his behalf until and unless that inability is removed (through growing up or recuperating, in the two respective cases mentioned above). Really, I see this argument as fairly straightforward and a lot more convincing than some of the tap-dancing I've seen by those Libertarians and Objectivists opposed to the obligation to support one's children. (I'm thinking particularly of Rothbard's horrendous argument in The Ethics of Liberty and a similar article by Bill Evers in Journal of Libertarian Studies, both of which appeared, I believe, back in the mid to late 1970s.)

What is implied in the phrase "organized society" (or government, but I prefer "organized society" as it is more inclusive) is that all citizens have delegated their right to use force to it. This is a Rand's version. One other power we delegate is the protection of the rights of all citizens. So if any entity is sacrificing anything by a preventable death of a citizen occurring, it would be the entity that is charged with protecting these rights. (The kid starving to death when he sees an adult with food deny it to him surely must feel like he is being sacrificed, even if he doesn't have the word for it.)

Each individual delegates things he rightfully can do to the government. An individual can rightly use force in retaliation, as long as it is not excessive; the same applies to government. So this is something an individual can delegate to government. An individual can rightly defend his own rights from the initiation of force or fraud -- including the failure of others to honor their legal obligations toward him. So this is something an individual can delegate to government. An individual can also rightly use force in retaliation on behalf of those for whom he is legally responsible (and who cannot defend themselves), and he can also rightly defend against the initiation of force or fraud the rights of those for whom he is legally responsible. So these are both things an individual can delegate to government.

By choosing to live under a government, rather than leaving its territory, a person is presumed to have delegated those various rights of defense and retaliation to that government. A child is presumed to have made this delegate by default, if and until he becomes an adult and decides otherwise. So -- in particular -- if some person fails to honor his legal obligations toward another (whether contractual, restitutive, child supportive, or whatever), the government has the rightful (delegated) power to enforce those legal obligations in favor of the person who was aggressed against, defrauded, or "stiffed" and against the person doing the aggression, fraud, or "stiffing."

Thus, if the government (or "organized society" -- and not just an adult stranger passing by a starving child) fails to protect a child in relation to the adult who is defaulting on his chosen legal responsibility to him, then the government is sacrificing the child's rights, just as surely as it sacrifices anyone's rights when it does not take reasonable actions to fight crime.

By the way, that is NOT why I objected to your use of the term "sacrifice." I object to your failing to distinguish between the legitimate uses of it (applied to parents defaulting on their legal obligation to their child, government defaulting on its delegated legal obligation to defend the child against the default of its parents) and the illegitimate uses of it (applied to adult strangers choosing not to help the child). The latter usages are very inflammatory and they, more than anything else, are the reason why you have gotten so much nastiness in comments on your posts. You really need to be more careful about that, if you want to move out of the penalty box with your respondents.

Now, granted that the government properly acts on behalf of an abandoned or starving child in relation to its parents. But how do we get from there to imposing and enforcing legal obligations on adult strangers to feed abandoned, starving children?

What a starving child "feels" or thinks when he sees an unwilling adult with food walk by him without sharing may well equate to "I am being sacrificed. He would rather keep his food than save me from starving. Keeping his food to himself, or for some other purpose, is more important than saving my life." But he doesn't know the stranger's context, and neither do we, in any given case. And it isn't the stranger's responsibility to justify to the government or to us what he does with his property, as long as he is not aggressing, defrauding, or defaulting on legal obligations.

So, again, where is the adult stranger's legal obligation to the starving child? What right does the child hold against the adult stranger that the child has delegated (or would delegate) to the government to enforce against the adult stranger on his behalf?

There are general rights -- e.g., to not be aggressed against -- that each individual holds against every other individual, with corresponding legal obligations. But there are also special rights -- e.g., to be supported by those who put one in the position of being a helpless human being -- that each individual holds against the specific individual who put him in that position. These special rights are NOT the same as the "positive rights" that Libertarians and Objectivists keep freaking about as leading us down the path to the welfare state. It is only when some people try to argue for extending the special rights we have against certain specific, legally responsible people, as though we had them against any and all people, that these theorists have a point. Unfortunately, you have not done a very good job in convincing them that your championing of starving babies is not a Trojan Horse for the welfare state.

REB

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Roger,

I am still focusing on human nature. You are using the "isolated individual cut off from species" model, i.e., we are all individual "things" stuck by gravity to a spinning ball that is racing through time and space in the universe. Nothing more. (And if we happen to have 3 heads, lay eggs, have gills, etc., the only thing that counts is that we are "individuals.")

Notice that even your argument for caring for the child is not based on the child coming from the parents' loins as a biological process (and I even see an interesting property thing there), but because it placed another individual in harm's way. That's imagining that being human means not taking into account our humanity (in the biological human nature sense), only our individuality.

We are individuals. But we also belong to a species. That is part of our nature.

I haven't researched the legal grounds for family law, but you wrote:

I disagree. There are laws against child neglect, and parents can lose their children if they don't feed them.

(We are talking about "placing another individual in a helpless situation" as sole premise for legal grounds of parental obligation.)

Could you provide a statute? I will look at this too, but I'm not sure this will even be on the books - or if it is, I suspect that this will be one consideration among many - and not even the main one. I suspect the biological tie (backed up these days by DNA testing) will be the legal grounds.

Still, I think we will get nowhere in coming to common terms until we define human nature, and only then the ethics that go with such nature. For now, I am questioning the "alienated individual" model as sole grounds for all ethical and legal considerations, and I believe "rational animal" might be complete as an essential definition, if we flesh out the animal part (including reproduction, stages of growth, etc.). That part is usually skipped over (and even belittled) in the Objectivist writings I have read (except some developmental child psychology in a couple of Rand essays). Yet there "animal" sits in ITOE as clear as day as the genus for human.

I am still not convinced about the word "sacrifice." An easily preventable death of a child is a sacrifice in our society. His life is sacrificed. It goes away and never comes back.

btw - Your essay sounds fascinating. Apparently I am not the only one to get in trouble with Objectivists because he is bothered by child neglect. Should your thesis become the official ARI party line, you can count on my support to sing your prior publication a quarter of a century ago to the four winds.

One last thought. Do you have any objection to emergency legislation as a category of law? (I am not talking about which rights get what treatment, merely the law category.)

Michael

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Michael, you wrote:

I am still focusing on human nature. You are using the "isolated individual cut off from species" model, i.e., we are all individual "things" stuck by gravity to a spinning ball that is racing through time and space in the universe. Nothing more. (And if we happen to have 3 heads, lay eggs, have gills, etc., the only thing that counts is that we are "individuals.") Notice that even your argument for caring for the child is not based on the child coming from the parents' loins as a biological process (and I even see an interesting property thing there), but because it placed another individual in harm's way. That's imagining that being human means not taking into account our humanity (in the biological human nature sense), only our individuality. We are individuals. But we also belong to a species. That is part of our nature....I think we will get nowhere in coming to common terms until we define human nature, and only then the ethics that go with such nature. For now, I am questioning the "alienated individual" model as sole grounds for all ethical and legal considerations, and I believe "rational animal" might be complete as an essential definition, if we flesh out the animal part (including reproduction, stages of growth, etc.). That part is usually skipped over (and even belittled) in the Objectivist writings I have read (except some developmental child psychology in a couple of Rand essays). Yet there "animal" sits in ITOE as clear as day as the genus for human. [emphasis added]

I don't know where you get this notion that I am stuck in some kind of "alienated" or "isolated individual" model, or that I am ignoring the fact that we are animals as well as rational.

In particular, I am NOT ignoring the fact that we come from our parents' loins. It is one of the ways in which we can cause there to be a helpless human being. Measurements omitted, right?

And how does a starving child coming from someone else's loins make me legally responsible for feeding him, unless I have agreed to be legally responsible for doing so? See, your point really is irrelevant to the discussion.

It is BECAUSE we are members of the human species, and not just "isolated" or "alienated" individuals, that we have certain survival needs during early childhood -- or period of being incapacitated due to the actions of another -- that can only be met by someone else's pitching in and helping us "support our lives", since someone else put us in the position of not being able to do that. "Support our lives" is a phrase from Rand's discussion of the meaning of the right to life, on the third page of her essay on rights. I take it to have DIRECT application to the kinds of "caused helplessness" situations I say are the essence of the only valid kind of "positive rights" to care that others have.

My firm position has always been, and always will be, that the legal obligation to provide care for a person in a position of caused helplessness is ONLY on the person causing that helplessness (or his agents, including adoptive parents who voluntairly take legal responsibility for a child). I don't see how ANY of these amounts to "alienation" or ignoring that we are members of a species.

Again, I think you are engaging in inflammatory language that, if it does not derail discussion, certainly distracts it from the points being discussed. You really do undercut your expressed goals to the extent that you throw these labels around, without supporting them with adequate argumentation. (To be sure, I'm not pissed off -- yet -- but I am getting increasingly frustrated with you.)

All for now.

Roger

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Michael, you wrote:

Your essay sounds fascinating. Apparently I am not the only one to get in trouble with Objectivists because he is bothered by child neglect. Should your thesis become the official ARI party line, you can count on my support to sing your prior publication a quarter of a century ago to the four winds.

I appreciate that, but I have mentioned this material to you before, in connection with both Libertarians and Objectivists. Perhaps you were just too busy, fending off the slings and arrows of those further from reality, but since I even referred to the web pages on which my essays are posted, I'm very surprised you haven't look them up by now. Here is the link to the web page:

http://members.aol.com/REBissell/indexmm.html

One last thought. Do you have any objection to emergency legislation as a category of law? (I am not talking about which rights get what treatment, merely the law category.)

I don't know whether I approve of this category of law. I do think that rights are suspended in certain situations. The principle of rights is just as contextual, and no more intrinsic, out-of-context absolutes, than is the principle of honesty. There are times when rights (and legal obligations) are simply not in effect. One basic principle that underlies all the virtues has to do with the purpose of morality: helping you live your life. If using force against another is the ONLY way you can survive, you are not morally obligated to refrain from using that force -- and thus that person does not have a right against your using it. (Rights and legal obligations are correlatives and stand or fall together.) In particular, if the only way I can survive is to steal your loaf of bread, I am not violating your rights or defaulting on my obligation to refrain from using force against you, if I steal the bread.

This is more Libertarian/Objectivist heresy, but it just says there is a deeper principle of morality (code of values for living your life) that says you cannot be obligated to refrain from any action that is necessary to your survival. (Notice: necessary, not sufficient. Stealing the bread would feed me, but if I can survive in some other non-forcible way, then stealing it is not necessary -- and thus not morally legitimate.)

Enough on that for now. Except to mention that it has been denigrated and ridiculed (even by some on this list) as "disappearing rights." You're damned RIGHT rights disappear in some contexts -- as does the moral obligation to be honest. You just have to scrupulously identify when those contexts are operative and not play fast and loose about it.

Best,

REB

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Roger,

On your essay, I've been swamped with reading and writing. I'm sorry and I will get to it today. (That makes three things I am behind with on your stuff... Dayaamm!)

Leaving human nature aside for a moment, I do have a few comments on rights. I agree with with this:

If using force against another is the ONLY way you can survive, you are not morally obligated to refrain from using that force -- and thus that person does not have a right against your using it.

This is obviously extremely context-ridden (emergencies, and even then, some and not others), and reparations are in order after the emergency passes. I fully understand that (although I suspect you have encountered many who do not - in a very loud voice.)

Let me ask the following question (and I am just asking - not promoting this idea).

Being that the government is the agency we have to protect our rights, what if the following were stated:

If using force (in extreme emergencies only) against one of its citizens is the ONLY way another can survive, the government is not morally obligated to refrain from using that force -- and thus that person does not have a right against it using it.

That actually is the case in war time.

I have another formulation in terms of rights. Let's take it all the way to ground bottom and say this in the ugliest manner possible. The reason for doing this is to project how Objectivism could be characterized by an enemy in a logically correct manner.

(The refusal to examine this from the "enemy's" perspective is one of the reasons I see that Objectivism doesn't grow more. Thus once again, I am not accusing or promoting, merely drawing a logical conclusion from the traditional Objectivist manner that is promoted of seeing rights.)

The context is emergency, one-on-one, no other adult near and over a relatively long time.

Under Objectivism, a person has the inalienable right  to stand in front of a non-related child and watch him slowly starve to death.

Like I said, I'm not promoting anything yet. I'm looking. Is there anything logically wrong with my conclusion? I admit that I don't like this particular formulation - not at all, yet the logic leads there.

Michael

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Michael, you wrote:

I do have a few comments on rights. I agree with with this:
If using force against another is the ONLY way you can survive, you are not morally obligated to refrain from using that force -- and thus that person does not have a right against your using it.

This is obviously extremely context-ridden (emergencies, and even then, some and not others), and reparations are in order after the emergency passes. I fully understand that (although I suspect you have encountered many who do not - in a very loud voice.)

Not so much loud as scornful and dismissive.

Let me ask the following question (and I am just asking - not promoting this idea).

Being that the government is the agency we have to protect our rights, what if the following were stated:

If using force (in extreme emergencies only) against one of its citizens is the ONLY way another can survive, the government is not morally obligated to refrain from using that force -- and thus that person does not have a right against it using it.

That actually is the case in war time.

Suppose authorities know that a U.S. citizen was in possession of crucially important information about a terrorist attack and refused to divulge that information to the authorities. I think they would be fully justified in incarcerating and, if necessary, torturing him to get the information.

Another example might be a human shield situation, which police sometimes face, too. The currently favored approach is to "negotiate" or to capitulate to the criminals or terrorists, in order to save the hostage. I suspect that ARI spokesmen would favor drilling the evil-doers through the bodies of the hostages/human shields, if necessary, in order to not let the evil ones get away. Their rationale would probably be the same as for bombing civilians in an enemy country -- they wouldn't be there if they weren't in favor of the evil regime, so they are not innocent victims. This is a rather harsh stance, wouldn't you say? Yet, we did it during the Civil War and World War 2, in order to demoralize the enemy troops and bring about an earlier end to the fighting -- and to save our own troops' lives. Same rational for the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

You tell me if these were morally justifiable. I'd say yes, at least in terms of the people in enemy nations. I don't know about domestic human shields...

I have another formulation in terms of rights. Let's take it all the way to ground bottom and say this in the ugliest manner possible. The reason for doing this is to project how Objectivism could be characterized by an enemy in a logically correct manner.

(The refusal to examine this from the "enemy's" perspective is one of the reasons I see that Objectivism doesn't grow more. Thus once again, I am not accusing or promoting, merely drawing a logical conclusion from the traditional Objectivist manner that is promoted of seeing rights.)

The context is emergency, one-on-one, no other adult near and over a relatively long time.

Under Objectivism, a person has the inalienable right to stand in front of a non-related child and watch him slowly starve to death.

Like I said, I'm not promoting anything yet. I'm looking. Is there anything logically wrong with my conclusion? I admit that I don't like this particular formulation - not at all, yet the logic leads there.

This is very contrived and seems more for an enemy's purpose of rhetoric and smearing Objectivists than to provide understanding or insight. (And let me remind you that some prominent Libertarians and some, mostly Junior, Objectivists -- may they all rot in hell! -- believe that it is your inalienable right to stand by your own child and watch him slowly starve to death.) In that spirit, let me offer some contrived answers. :-)

OK, you're standing somewhere and watching a non-related child slowly starve to death. On whose property are you doing this? (I'm employing a radical libertarian approach here.) What is a non-related starving child doing on your property? Or on anyone's property, if non-related to that property owner? I think the government, in its role as protector of the rights of children, could make it illegal to have a non-related starving child on private property. This would be an extension of the fact that it is already illegal to starve your own child (on or off your private property). If on public property, the government has the right to establish the rules by which you use public property and can ban you from watching a non-related child slowly starve to death -- and can punish you if you disobey this ban. If you didn't want to pay a fine or go to jail, that would force you to either leave or to feed the child. :-)

REB

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This is a letter I recently wrote to a friend with whom I was discussing the legality relevant to the abandoned child issue:

"I've been thinking about it a great deal and I've finally come to some conclusions about what the problem is with the people who seem to be against any legal penalty for someone who does not help the child -- help either by feeding it, or by immediately alerting the authorities to the child's plight.

"When I say 'people,' I do not include nuts such as some of those on other forums who are utterly indifferent to the child's suffering. Their problem is psychological, not philosophical. I'm referring to good people.

"I strongly believe there should be a legal penalty, but I realize it's not as simple an issue as it originally appeared to be. Consider a related kind of instance. Say that I have firsthand knowledge that two men of my acquaintance intend to rob a bank; I know what bank, when and how they plan to rob it, and I can prove it. In this case, if I don't report it to the police, I am an accessory before the fact by most of our current laws, (which I consider appropriate) and I am subject to legal penalties. This explains and justifies the case of the terrorist now on trial, who knew about the planned 9/11 attacks but said nothing; he is subject to the death penalty, as he should be, as an accessory before the fact of mass murder. (I think that the decent people who opposed a legal penalty in the case of the abandoned child would agree that this is just.) But what if the terrorist didn't know for certain that there were be attacks? -- or what if it was only a rumor that he had heard? -- or what if he had only a vague suspicion about what was to come? His case would become tricky, and it could be argued, especially if he had only a suspicion and no actual evidence and could not really believe that such an atrocity was possible to human beings, that he should not be prosecuted. Similarly with the bank robbery and me: if I've only heard a rumor that there was to be a robbery, surely I should not be prosecuted for failing to report it and possibly damaging innocent people.

"My point is that there can be complex issues involved in many such cases where a person does not report a suspected crime to the police.

"Here is another example of legal complexities, not involving an accessory issue, but which at first glance might seem to be an indifference to crime and criminals. It has often been suggested that people who have sex with children should not only receive long prison sentences, but should be castrated. But to establish this as law would be a terrible mistake -- although when one looks at many sexual predators, such as the man who for two rears continually raped a baby, it seems totally justified. But what if the offender is seventeen years old and merely had consensual sex with his fifteen-year-old girlfriend?

"It is now legal in some states to keep sexual predators confined, on the grounds that they cannot be rehabilitated, even after they have served their sentences. Much as I'd like to see the man who raped the baby off the streets forever, is it just to keep him confined when the jury has sentenced him, say, to twenty years in prison, and he has served those twenty years? Doesn't he have the right to be free at the end of his sentence? Doesn't the failure to release him make a mockery of trial by jury?

"To go back to the man and the starving baby. In order to impose a legal penalty on the man, it would have to be proved that he was reasonably certain the baby had been abandoned, that its parents did not intend to return to care for it, that it had not been fed and that it would die if he did nothing. In that case, I certainly would say that he's an accessory after the fact of the attempted murder of the child by its parents. And I suspect that decent people would agree. But I think that issues of legality, of what laws should be on the books, are more complex that you and I first saw them to be.

"I don't think that the failure to be morally outraged by the idea of abandoning a helpless baby (which is a separate issue from the legal one) is a problem for Objectivism, but it is a problem for some Objectivists of the true believer mentality. And even with regard to legality, I can't imagine that Rand would want the man who walked away from the baby he knew would die without his help to be considered legally innocent. But, tragically, there are people calling themselves Objectivists who are so literal minded, so blind, and so twisted psychologically that they take self-interest to mean the worst and most inhumane kind of ugly selfishness."

Barbara

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Thanks for the above post, Barbara! Very in-depth and illuminating.

I've said something along this line before, I'm going to state it again; it is a very straightforward view of the scenario.

I am not sure that the possibility of legal consequences would be effective as a motivator in such a situation. To some, it might. But, those kinds of people (those that are mindful of society's laws, and so forth) probably are not so much in need of feeling consequences for not assisting in such a situation. On the whole, my guess is that there is a pretty good chance they would try to do something anyway, unless there was some strong mitigating factor (their own survival concerns, anxiety, something psychological that would deter them from doing what they truly believe is right).

I do not believe for a second that there is any other answer other than to assist, if you are a life-affirming person. If you have any heart in you at all. And you either do, you don't, or you're trying to learn how.

The bottom line is that whether or not there is a law in place, if the person does not assist, the child dies. Consequences are after the fact and do nothing to address the loss of life; it is gone.

So, would it help to put a law on the books? Maybe. Would it do harm? Only in the minds of certain kinds of political/philsophical thinkers. Surely anarchist types wouldn't care for it... [-X . I suppose if you had a cruel enough extremist, knowing that a law is telling them to do something might be the edge that keeps them from acting. But, that kind of person is not likely to be very efficacious in the first place- not in these do or die humanity-type scenarios.

My conclusion is that the outcome is very close to predertmined, because it is a here-and-now decision-making situation. So, whatever that person IS, at that moment, is going to have a great deal to do with their action or non-action. There is little time for contemplation, it is a time for action.

Although, sometimes this kind of scenario will elicit a profound change of heart in the hard-hearted. Sometimes, it will bring up a great empathy, a great feeling, the type of which has often been kept under tight guard, locked in the basement growing with the mushrooms. Sometimes, a person goes out of their comfort zone, and that to me is heroic.

Best,

rde

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Barbara -- very good post! I have some comments/questions. You wrote:

To go back to the man and the starving baby. In order to impose a legal penalty on the man, it would have to be proved that he was reasonably certain the baby had been abandoned, that its parents did not intend to return to care for it, that it had not been fed and that it would die if he did nothing. In that case, I certainly would say that he's an accessory after the fact of the attempted murder of the child by its parents. And I suspect that decent people would agree. But I think that issues of legality, of what laws should be on the books, are more complex that you and I first saw them to be.

I agree with your analysis of this situation. When the abandonment of a child is deliberate and tantamount to attempted murder by its parents, those who understand the situation but do not help would be guilty of "accessory after the fact."

However, what about a case where the parents did not care for the child, not because they deliberately abandoned him, but because (say) they died in an automobile accident and the child survived. This kind of case could not be covered by the "accessory after the fact" idea. A perverse person who wanted to stand by and watch the child suffer and die would not be breaking that kind of law. To what crime would he be the accessory? So, your analysis, while helpful for cases of deliberate abandonment, is not a catch-all for all abandoned babies (e.g., orphans), sorry to say.

I don't think that the failure to be morally outraged by the idea of abandoning a helpless baby (which is a separate issue from the legal one) is a problem for Objectivism, but it is a problem for some Objectivists of the true believer mentality...tragically, there are people calling themselves Objectivists who are so literal minded, so blind, and so twisted psychologically that they take self-interest to mean the worst and most inhumane kind of ugly selfishness.

I agree with you -- except I don't know who could read Rand's "The Ethics of Emergencies" and not acknowledge a moral obligation to non-sacrificially help out victims of a tragedy that confronts them. Wouldn't a "true believer" have picked up on Rand's explicit wording that you "should" help out such people, if you can non-sacrificially do so? Doesn't "should", which she used more than once in that essay, mean moral obligation? If so, how can one shrug off such moral obligations and call himself an "Objectivist"? (Let alone a decent person.) If I had VOS in front of me, I'd quote this material, but I'm sure you all can find it, in case you don't remember it. It's really remarkable that so many people calling themselves "Objectivists" seem to have amnesia about these passages.

REB

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You know, I believe some things are becoming clearer as this discussion continues. Barbara, that was a wonderful way of looking at one legal angle. I have been thinking about the same difficulty you have in definitions (proving intent and so forth). Also, I have thought about Roger's question as to what happens if the child's parents are dead. Like I mentioned before, one poster's position is that the child's right to receive care from an adult extinguishes.

This discussion started up again because of a wisecrack I made on RoR that spiraled into a discussion (with the traditional heckling thrown in for good measure, although it was generally more civil than before). One really good thing came from that discussion. A comment was made in my direction (as a sort of pot shot):

... you lost me at initiating force, unchosen obligations, and conditional "rights".

I responded with this answer:

That's easy.

Initiating force - Spank on the bottom at birth, then general punishment as you grow up.

Unchosen obligations - Obeying the rules and orders of parents you did not choose, regardless of their irrationality.

Conditional "rights" - Having all your rights, especially your right to life, conditional to the actions of unchosen adults (your parents).

Oh...

Sorry.

You were talking about adults, right?

This actually works very well in illustrating what I have been trying to put across about rights from the child's perspective.

And I also have been thinking that if you get to the point where you talk about a logical absurdity like an infant choosing his parents by right (i.e., you get to this point by using the same standard of arriving at rights for both the adult and the child), your model of human nature is wrong somewhere. I don't find the Objectivist model wrong with respect to rational thought, but I find it incomplete as regards the whole picture.

In the case of children and emergencies, I believe it is perfectly possible to fill in these kinds of gaps without damaging essential rights by using more refined definitions (and reason, of course).

Michael

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You either value protecting the innocent when they are in peril, or you don't. I do, and in the scenario, the opportunity to do so is easy.

Why do people value that? That's the question that can be difficult to answer adequately through reason. To me it's fairly past words. About the closest I can come is saying I love life enough to be willing to avert harm coming to innocent life, if that is thrown in front of me.

As great as it is, reason does in fact have limitations. As powerful as it is, it is only one component of what a human consists of.

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Roger,

I truly lack any desire to become embroiled in a rights debate, and I've been trying for the most part to ignore this on-going discussion of the babe in the wilderness and related issues. But I feel that I must, in the interests of an attempt to keep the record straight, make a few comments about your report of prior engagements with Bill Dwyer and his "disappearing rights" thesis.

You refer to "some" on this list who used the sobriquet "disappearing rights." I'm assuming that I am the "some" you mean -- as best I can recall, I am the only one here who was there during the long "battle of the blankets" from late '99 through much of the next year on Old Atlantis. Not only was I there, I was the "some" who coined the sobriquet. I make no apologies for having done so. I think the coinage accurately describes the thesis, and that if an accurate description is considered by Bill (and you) to be an insult, the problem lies with the thesis not with the descriptive term.

Regarding the substance of the debate, you appear to me to be misremembering what the opposition to Bill was saying. It seems to have gone down with you as an argument between "deontologists" and "consequentialists," but -- again, as best I can recall -- only one person who argued against Bill held a "deontological" view of rights. That person was Rob Bass, and I don't think Rob was even part of the discussion when it started.

The discussion started over a wayfarer in the woods (why do we keep having troubles with wilderness-type settings?) who comes upon an uninhabited cabin in which are some blankets and food. (The blankets came to be the central focus of the debate, but food was also hypothesized as being available in the cabin.) Question: Is it morally ok for the wayfarer to break and enter and avail him/herself of the blankets and food?

All of us said yes (I think even Rob Bass said yes when he joined the debate). We were not claiming that rights were an unbreachable claim, that respect for rights should take precedence over saving one's life in the circumstance.

I never felt happy with the deontological/consequentialist breakdown. Some (e.g., Will Wilkinson) argued that those were the only two possibilities. I think there's a third possibility. I've just now, while sketching out this post in my mind before I sat down to write it, come up with a name for that alternative. How about "contextualist"? Seems to me good.

What I argued against Bill was that Bill was ignoring the full context of rights theory, that he was making a linguistic equation, thus:

a right = a corresponding obligation;

hence, if any part of the obligation disappears, a corresponding part of the right also disappears.

My contention was that this ignores the issue of ownership, which lies at the basis of rights theory. I several times posed this question to Bill. I don't recall getting what seemed to me a satisfactory answer:

Who owns the blankets -- the cabin owner?, the wayfarer?, or no one?

As I analyze the circumstance, the blankets belong to the cabin owner, and at no time does the owner lose title. Nor does the "obligation" entirely disappear at any time, since the wayfarer is under obligation to make every reasonable effort at reparations once the emergency is over. What's happened isn't that rights have ceased to be operative, but that a superseding principle has taken precedence, such that the wayfarer is morally justified in a temporary infringement of the cabin owner's rights.

Hence my second point, in addition to the contextual nature of rights, was the hierarchical nature of moral principles.

I can give another quick for instance which I think makes the issue of hierarchy clear. On part of the stretch between our property and that of the family on one side of us is a bed of rose bushes. Now suppose I'm out in our yard and I see that one of the neighbors' two boys is into some sort of injury-threatening trouble in the neighbors' backyard (say the net they use for lawn hockey has fallen on him or something). Taking the fastest route to get to the boy and assist him, I barge through the rose bushes, producing damage to those. My neighbors own the rose bushes; the rose bushes do not become my rose bushes because of the emergency, nor do they become no one's rose bushes. I have infringed my neighbors' rose-bush rights in my hasty action. And I can promise you that my neighbors would be grateful, that they too would consider their son's safety of higher importance than a bed of roses.

To repeat, I have no desire -- none -- to become involved in a rights debate. Rights theory is far from being a specialty or even a strong interest of mine. Indeed, that initial debate on Old Atlantis might have been the first time I ever gave much of any thought to rights theory. But I wanted to enter a corrective to the portrait you present, which makes it look as if Bill was beleaguered by a band of deontologists.

Again, to repeat, as best I recall, the only deontologist amongst those who argued against Bill was Rob Bass, and Rob wasn't even part of the discussion when it started. I think the sequence was that the debate began in fall 1999 and continued through the 2000 2KY excitement (would there be a computer meltdown or not?); then Rob Bass joined for some months in early 2000; he then left, being busy with work on his doctorate; but just about the time he departed, George Smith and friends joined the list -- which is when the discussion became inflamed (and ultimately nasty).

Ellen

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I want to write a quick word on ethics and forget rights for a minute.

Years ago, when I started seeing things in the black and white of Objectivism, I started forgetting that these are only two colors in existence. There's a whole spectrum that I stopped seeing.

From my own observations, I have perceived that one of the most poisonous moral postures is a false dichotomy (and it really is one) where a person believes that admitting the existence of a moral gray situation results in destroying the black and white - and vice-versa. It doesn't. Some things in life are meant to be extreme. Others go way out of whack when you take them to the extreme because they don't belong there. They belong in the middle. You also ruin an extreme by putting it in the middle.

Now to stretch this metaphor, moral events don't fall simply into a dichotomy with in-between (black/white or a blend of the two). There is a mix of many more elements. How about something that is morally orange, or morally light blue or morally dark brown? Is the issue A or is it B or is it in between? How about none of the above? How about over in left field somewhere?

Learning how to see that way is quite an exercise. (Please forgive the excessive reliance on metaphors this time. I'm in one of those moods.)

In plain language, you have philosophy, which I see as black, white and the range of grays. Then you have psychology, which adds all that color.

So even after you learn that things can be black, white or gray, and also a full spectrum of color, you still have to put them all into some kind of perspective.

One of the hardest concepts I ever had to learn how to apply to my life is balance.

Balance.

I still struggle with that.

I understand balance as keeping my eyes wide open to see properly, then keeping what I see in mind as I add my values and actions within a proper hierarchy. It is knowing that I can't eat all the candy in the store at once - that makes me sick. Life is some extremes (and they do and should exist mercilessly) and a whole lot of colorful middle. Seeing all this depends on seeing and judging reality, not wishing or evading. You reject a lot and strive for a lot in life. But you also simply take what you get for a whole lot.

I understand wisdom as knowing how to achieve such balance.

I understand achieving such balance as achieving happiness.

What joy is there in life without dreams and achievements? But what use are achievements if a person feels guilty all the time for not living up? And even what use is having any dreams if a person can't condemn and reject those who get in the way out of spite? Balance is really the key word to getting it all right and not tripping all over oneself.

With that view in mind, I am now looking at human nature and asking, "Who and what am I?" I used to have the answer for this on the tip of my tongue, but now I am checking that premise.

(For instance, I am starting to perceive that it is highly possible to be a productive hero and live by free trade and make room for kids and other dependent people in my world - mine and those of others - and be a good parent and a good neighbor and a good member of society and even be a good stranger to a lost soul on a stormy night. None of that needs to entail sacrifice and it isn't altruism or collectivism either. Doing all that makes me happy - and that apparently is true for far too many people to ignore.)

It seems the more I learn about my own nature as a human being, the more I am dissatisfied with the definitions I learned and the more new stuff I want to learn.

Michael

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Michael wrote:

One of the hardest concepts I ever had to learn how to apply to my life is balance.

Balance.

I still struggle with that.

Oh, how I'm in touch with this! I'm great with focus, to the point of obsession, when I am passionate about something but, when I need to focus on something that has little intrinsic motivation, I have to work on the discipline of balance. And I mean work!

This is one of the many reasons my wife is an amazing match for me: the discipline of balance is innate in her. She has been teaching this discipline to me through her example and through discussions we have on the subject. And when my own efforts at disciplined balance become derailed, she is there to kick me in the ass and draw my attention to what I am not integrating. She makes me a better person.

I see balance on many levels of abstraction (to borrow from Dragonfly). One of the most important ways I find I need to focus on balance is within myself. I need to find balance between my different subselves: between my different orientations of consciousness; between my different frames of reference; between my different motives; etc. I think this touches on Michael's moral colours. Philosophically, we need to integrate the information of these different perspectives within us. For psychological integration, we need to discover and apply the discipline of balance to these different perspectives within us.

Of course, raising the level of consciousness to these issues within leads to an increased level of awareness to the corresponding information in the objective world.

Paul

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