Dennis Edwall

Are There Moral Standards?

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All I can say about morality generally is that it is a means of social control, from the family to the state.

--Brant

That's the propagandist's view, Brant. Forget that altogether and look at it as a set of guidelines for predicting the best outcome--for you--for all your choices and decisions. It keeps you from working against yourself, unintentionally. It lets you know that the long-term consequences won't be bad ones, even though the short-term ones seem good. It is practical and necessary because we aren't omniscient.

=Mindy

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All I can say about morality generally is that it is a means of social control, from the family to the state.

--Brant

That's the propagandist's view, Brant. Forget that altogether and look at it as a set of guidelines for predicting the best outcome--for you--for all your choices and decisions. It keeps you from working against yourself, unintentionally. It lets you know that the long-term consequences won't be bad ones, even though the short-term ones seem good. It is practical and necessary because we aren't omniscient.

It's not clear to me, Mindy, why I need morality to figure that out, at least an explicit one. This doesn't mean I reject the Objectivist Ethics as such, however, only that I'm not sure of their objectivity. That is, they are certainly needed for the Objectivist philosophy. The ethics are logically derived from the implicit individualism of the individual, thinking mind. That's okay for the basic principles involved, but then it is necessary to get empirical and things start getting complicated. Practically, this is eschewed by Objectivism. I think this is because people like Peikoff would lose control.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede

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All I can say about morality generally is that it is a means of social control, from the family to the state.

--Brant

I would say that morality is a tool in finding common ground amongst individuals, not so much a control mechanism (in the basic sense). If I were the only man living, would I need a moral code?

The conflict arises when people are saturated with a morality that differs - whether through parenting, social majority, or personal choice - and cannot establish that middle ground. Reasonable people, regardless of background, will come together ammicably and co-exist. Friends and strangers alike do it all the time (part of group dynamics). Until they breach sensitive subjects like politics and religion, the sticks and stone will not break bones.

~ Shane

Edited by sbeaulieu

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I didn't say "killing" but rather "murder." That means every society has a law against killing certain others, though it be defined in different ways.

= Mindy

So much for a universal code against murder. I suppose the general rule (if there is one) is don't murder your closest kin. And even that rule is violated. Killing the Other has always been permitted to some degree.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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I didn't say "killing" but rather "murder." That means every society has a law against killing certain others, though it be defined in different ways.

= Mindy

So much for a universal code against murder. I suppose the general rule (if there is one) is don't murder your closest kin. And even that rule is violated. Killing the Other has always been permitted to some degree.

Ba'al Chatzaf

The point, the logical point, is that it is always outlawed to kill certain other people, even if who may and who may not be killed is different in each society. We call it "murder" and recognize it as a universal more.

= Mindy

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We call it "murder" and recognize it as a universal more.

A universal "more"? I suppose you mean a universal mos.

Yes, thank you, that's what I should have written.

= Mindy

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All I can say about morality generally is that it is a means of social control, from the family to the state.

--Brant

It's not clear to me, Mindy, why I need morality to figure that out...

--Brant

When you figure that out, you are practicing ethics. Assuming you are thorough in considering long-term and short-term consequences, in thinking about collateral effects, etc., you simply are being moral. That's it.

The reason we write it out as a "code" is that there are plenty of choices and decisions out there that are hard to figure out. Principles of moral conduct, or a hierarchy of reasoned values to consult makes it easier to know what you'd choose if you were omniscient.

= Mindy

Edited by Mindy

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All I can say about morality generally is that it is a means of social control, from the family to the state.

--Brant

It's not clear to me, Mindy, why I need morality to figure that out...

--Brant

When you figure that out, you are practicing ethics. Assuming you are thorough in considering long-term and short-term consequences, in thinking about collateral effects, etc., you simply are being moral. That's it.

The reason we write it out as a "code" is that there are plenty of choices and decisions out there that are hard to figure out. Principles of moral conduct, or a hierarchy of reasoned values to consult makes it easier to know what you'd choose if you were omniscient.

= Mindy

Now you are simply talking about morality, not necessarily Objectivist morality. I know a lot about the former. There is not so much to understand about the latter. That's because the former takes in human beings in all their complexities. The latter is essentially an Ayn Rand fantasy projection for her heroes redacted for her followers. It's not so much wrong as so much not enough. All choices have an essential moral component; that's the nature of choice and morality.

--Brant

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All I can say about morality generally is that it is a means of social control, from the family to the state.

--Brant

It's not clear to me, Mindy, why I need morality to figure that out...

--Brant

When you figure that out, you are practicing ethics. Assuming you are thorough in considering long-term and short-term consequences, in thinking about collateral effects, etc., you simply are being moral. That's it.

The reason we write it out as a "code" is that there are plenty of choices and decisions out there that are hard to figure out. Principles of moral conduct, or a hierarchy of reasoned values to consult makes it easier to know what you'd choose if you were omniscient.

= Mindy

Now you are simply talking about morality, not necessarily Objectivist morality. I know a lot about the former. There is not so much to understand about the latter. That's because the former takes in human beings in all their complexities. The latter is essentially an Ayn Rand fantasy projection for her heroes redacted for her followers. It's not so much wrong as so much not enough. All choices have an essential moral component; that's the nature of choice and morality.

--Brant

Exactly, that's morality. Yes, choices are "moral" because "moral" is the term for good choices.

Whether or not Objectivist Ethics is adequate is another discussion, right?

= Mindy

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I recently started reading the book "Why People Believe Weird Things" by Michael Shermer (2002). Shermer is well known in the skeptical world, being the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com) and the director of the Skeptics Society. He has written quite a few books, but this is the first one of his that I am reading.

In this book he has a chapter, "The Unlikeliest Cult: Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and the Cult of Personality." He summarizes the history of Rand and Objectivism, beginning with The Fountainhead and continuing through the growth NBI years, the Rand-Branden split, etc. I found this summary to be generally a fair assessment. As the following will show, Shermer seems to be a sympathetic critic. (Also see the TNI interview at http://www.objectivistcenter.org/ct-1852-M_Shermer.aspx.)

After he finishes his Rand/Objectivism summary, he makes these two valid points:

"This analysis, then, suggests two important caveats about cults, skepticism, and reason. One, criticism of the founder or followers of a philosophy does not, by itself, constitute a negation of any part of the philosophy. .... Two, criticism of part of a philosophy does not gainsay the whole. " (italics original)

The final four paragraphs of the chapter are worth quoting at length:

"I have read Atlas Shrugged, as well as The Fountainhead and all of Rand's nonfiction works. I accept much of Rand's philosophy, but not all of it. Certainly the commitment to reason is admirable (although clearly this is a philosophy, not a science); wouldn't most of us on the face of it, agree that individuals need to take personal responsibility for their actions? The great flaw in her philosophy is the belief that morals can be held to some absolute standard or criteria. [my emphasis] This is not scientifically tenable. Morals do not exist in nature and thus cannot be discovered. In nature there are only actions - physical actions, biological actions, human actions. Humans act to increase their happiness, however they personally define it. Their actions become moral or immoral only when someone else judges them as such. Thus, morality is strictly a human creation, subject to all sorts of cultural influences and social constructions, just as other human creations are. Since virtually every person and every group claims they know what constitutes right versus wrong human action, and since virtually all of these moralities differ from all others to a greater or lesser extent, reason alone tells us they cannot all be correct. Just as there is no absolute right type of human music, there is no absolute right type of human action. The broad range of human action is a rich continuum that precludes pigeonholing into the unambiguous rights and wrongs that political laws and moral codes tend to require.

"Does this mean that all human actions are morally equal? Of course not, any more than all human music is equal. We create hierarchies of what we like or dislike, desire or reject, and make judgments based on those standards. But the standards are themselves human creations and cannot be discovered in nature. One group prefers classical music over rock, and so judges Mozart to be superior to the Moody Blues. Similarly, one group prefers patriarchal dominance, and so judges male privilege to be morally honorable. Neither Mozart or males are absolutely better, but only so when judged by a particular group's standards. Male ownership of females, for example, was once thought to be moral and is now thought immoral. The change happened not because we have discovered this as immoral but because our society (thanks primarily to the efforts of women) has realized that women should have rights and opportunities denied to them when they are in bondage to males. And having half of society happier raises the overall happiness of the group significantly.

"Morality is relative to the moral frame of reference. As long as it is understood that morality is a human construction influenced by human cultures, one can be more tolerant of other human belief systems, and thus other humans. But as soon as a group sets itself up as the final moral arbiter of other people's actions, especially when its members believe they have discovered absolute standards of right and wrong, it marks the beginning of the end of tolerance, and thus reason and rationality. It is this characteristic more than any other that makes a cult, a religion, a nation, or any other group dangerous to individual freedom. Its absolutism was the biggest flaw in Ayn Rand's Objectivism, the unlikeliest cult in history. The historical development and ultimate destruction [sic] of her group and philosophy is the empirical evidence that documents this assessment.

"What separates science from all other human activities (and morality has never been successfully placed on a scientific basis) is its commitment to the tentative nature of all its conclusions. There are no final answers in science, only varying degrees of probability. Even scientific "facts" are just conclusions confirmed to such an extent that it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement, but that assent is never final. Science is not the affirmation of a set of beliefs but a process of inquiry aimed at building a testable body of knowledge constantly open to rejection or confirmation. In science, knowledge is fluid and certainty fleeting. That is at the heart of its limitations. It is also its greatest strength."

I think that Shermer's criticism is generally valid when the target is the True Believer types within Objectivism.

However, his contention that morals cannot "be held to some absolute standard or criteria" goes too far, and undercuts his response to the question, "Does this mean that all human actions are morally equal?" of "Of course not."

Shermer's last paragraph is an excellent description of how science ideally works. For some reason I cannot understand, he believes that the identification of morals cannot be deduced using a similar process, that "morality [cannot be] successfully placed on a scientific basis." I believe that his supposed justifications such as "Morals do not exist in nature....", "morality is strictly a human creation, subject to all sorts of cultural influences and social constrictions....", and "Morality is relative to the moral frame of reference." are insufficient.

In a narrow sense, it is true that "morals [cannot be] held to some absolute standard" just as the same is true in science where "There are no final answers...." (last paragraph of Shermer). But we can use the same tools of logic combined with values derived from human life qua man to help us define our moral compass. Properly understood, there is such a thing as absolute moral standards.

Shermer is the kind of guy that proves to be an interesting issue for Objectivists. He's a brilliant guy who's written a seminal new popular book on the new discipline of neuroeconomics that doesn't believe in an absolute standard of morality. These guys are definite networking and intellectual trading possibilities.

Jim

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Well, does this mean there can be moral Nazis? How about tossing babies into the air and catching them on your knife like Geronimo did? That the idea of the plasticity of human nature is the playpen of totalitarians is no coincidence. Those who want to abjure the objectivity of morality want to do whatever they want to do and sleep well at night. They aren't so foolish, for the most part, however, they just want to encourage others so they can observe and comment on the various spectacles. The modern version of what went on in the Colosseum. No right. No wrong. No Objectivism. Never mind how MUCH you agree with it. Nothing to agree with. "Morals do not exist in nature?" Gimme a break! That'd apply to subjective ones too, then. So, no objective, no subjective. Therefore: What the F... are YOU talking about? Morality as a stolen concept plus tripe.

--Brant

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Well, does this mean there can be moral Nazis? How about tossing babies into the air and catching them on your knife like Geronimo did? That the idea of the plasticity of human nature is the playpen of totalitarians is no coincidence. Those who want to abjure the objectivity of morality want to do whatever they want to do and sleep well at night. They aren't so foolish, for the most part, however, they just want to encourage others so they can observe and comment on the various spectacles. The modern version of what went on in the Colosseum. No right. No wrong. No Objectivism. Never mind how MUCH you agree with it. Nothing to agree with. "Morals do not exist in nature?" Gimme a break! That'd apply to subjective ones too, then. So, no objective, no subjective. Therefore: What the F... are YOU talking about? Morality as a stolen concept plus tripe.

--Brant

Moral law is unobjective in the sense that it cannot be reduced to physical law. Moral codes are conventions and human artifacts. The only natural constraints on moral law is that its practice does not render those who carry out such law extinct, and that the moral law does not require physically impossible actions.

By and large morality is convention. Such conventions can be quite clear and explicit but they are still made up by humans out of whole cloth. Any sentence with "ought" or "should" in it expresses a judgment, not a fact.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Edited by BaalChatzaf

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The only natural constraints on moral law is that its practice does not render those who carry out such law extinct, and that the moral law does not require physically impossible actions.

Bob,

Are you making an objective statement here, one that can be reduced to physical law?

:)

Michael

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The only natural constraints on moral law is that its practice does not render those who carry out such law extinct, and that the moral law does not require physically impossible actions.

Bob,

Are you making an objective statement here, one that can be reduced to physical law?

:)

Michael

Yes. I have state the -only- connection between physical law and morality. It has the form of a constraint.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

You can say that about any scientific experiment.

Michael

Experiments reveal facts, states of the world. They are used to challenge hypotheses which are educated guesses that people make up. That is how physical science stays glued to reality, by experiment. Not by glib argumentation. Glib word games are for philosophers. Experiments and solid mathematics are for physical scientists. Which is why sciences grows, gains and bestows prosperity, while philosophy just burns calories and produces nothing much useful.

Ethics and morality are conventions. They are only loosely connected to the way the world is. Which is why there so many ethical and moral systems and so few sound scientific theories. Ethics, while socially useful, is made up mostly out of whole cloth. It is the way the strong control the weak and the way the weak limit the strong.

Read Book I of Plato's -Republic- and see what Thrasymachus has to say on the matter.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Well, does this mean there can be moral Nazis? How about tossing babies into the air and catching them on your knife like Geronimo did?

Yes, actually.

Here's why (quote from Human Action Theory)

"Since nobody is in a position to substitute his own value judgments for those of the acting individual, it is vain to pass judgment on other people's aims and volitions. No man is qualified to declare what would make another man happier or less discontented. The critic either tells us what he believes he would aim at if he were in the place of his fellow; or, in dictatorial arrogance blithely disposing of his fellow's will and aspirations, declares what condition of this other man would better suit himself, the critic."

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All "laws", legal, physical, doctrinal, etc. are creations of humans in the sense that humans formulated them. These "laws" represent some structural relations that we may or may not observe on an objective, non-verbal level of abstraction. the 'law' that states "the force of gravity between 2 bodies is proportional to the distance squared" does in fact have some structural similarity to what we have observed, for example.

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Ethics and morality are conventions. They are only loosely connected to the way the world is.

Bob,

You mean like logic and math?

:)

Michael

What's the joke? Logic and math are human artifacts. The facts dug out with their help are For Real. Facts are what are. With some clever instruments and mental tools we can tease out some of them.

Physics is, at its root, empirical. It is not deduced a priori from philosophical vaporware. That is why physics is the basic science and it is what grounds all other natural sciences and engineering arts based on these sciences. Physics has produced the furniture of our modern world (by way of its applications). Philosophy has produced hot air. It is vaporware.

One of the first things to notice is that moral laws cannot be deduced from physical laws. Moral laws when put into practice can have physical observable consequences and for that reason moral laws, to be operative at all, must be bound and constrained by physical law. But they are not determined by physical law nor can they be deduced from physical law. They are man made conventions. They are as made up as long novels and music.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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What's the joke? Logic and math are human artifacts. The facts dug out with their help are For Real. Facts are what are.

Bob,

The joke is you just gave the basis of the fundamental axioms that serve as the linchpin of Objectivist ethics. Even as you deny the objectivity of the same.

Michael

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What's the joke? Logic and math are human artifacts. The facts dug out with their help are For Real. Facts are what are.

Bob,

The joke is you just gave the basis of the fundamental axioms that serve as the linchpin of Objectivist ethics. Even as you deny the objectivity of the same.

Michael

Please answer this question straightforwardly. Do you believe ethical or moral laws can be deduced from physical laws. A simple yes or no will do the trick. If you answer yes, then tell us how.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

I believe the foundation of morality can be "deduced" to the same extent logic and math can. Can you "deduce" logic and math from the laws of reality? If not, why are they the basis of science? What makes logic or math any more valid than "existence exists" or the law of identity or causality?

As to morality, once you accept fundamental axioms, logic and math, including the law of identity applied to life, it is pretty easy to deduce values.

Michael

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