The Ayn Rand Love/Hate Myth - Part 2 - Moral Ambivalence


Michael Stuart Kelly

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Michael,

There are lots of evolutionary defaults that are part of man's nature. Some good, some bad. However, the Objectivist Ethics is based on man's means of securing his own survival. This part of the Objectivist Ethics is universal. There are other aspects of the Objectivist Ethics built on optional values that are specific to any given individual.

The species level genetic programming is only good insofar as it is benign. There are people who screw up their lives overanalyzing themselves instead of taking a trust but verify approach to their natural inclinations.

The reason a good study of evolutionary psychology, clinical psychology, and empirical positive psychology are important is that if we understand them, we aren't swimming upstream against our natural inclinations unless it serves our purposes.

Jim

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> a man who camped out in the wilderness for several days with a child he encountered by chance, had plenty of food and refused to share it with the child resulting in the child's death from starvation, violated that child's right to life? [Michael]

I don't think this is a well-formulated or completely fleshed out example. Why is he camping out with him, to watch him starve? What is the implicit contract or agreement? Contrast this to the example that you offer to take someone else's child camping. You have accepted the responsibility to care for him, feed him, etc.

I wouldn't spend much time discussing extreme or emergency situations which are only going to happen once in a trillion times or, worse, are completeley unrealistic or without the context completely fleshed out.

A better issue to discuss is the one of: when do you assume ethical and legal responsibility. One example is bringing a child into the world in which you assume a whole host of legal and ethical responsibilities for nurturing, development, and protection.

Another is agreeing to render a service or a form of cooperation. Many irresponsible people think that a service or cooperation can always be instantly terminated. They are wrong (over-simplistic and dropping context). One example: I give you a ride in my car, saying I will take you to the next town or to Los Angeles. We get into an argument. I push you out the door in the middle of nowhere. Have I violated your rights? Often, yes (it depends on context). My offering you a ride entails that if I choose to terminate that ride earlier than agreed upon, I at least not put you in danger: I can't eject you into a blizzard, for example. Again, context, if the argument makes me feel like I am in danger...you start waving a knife around or talking about how you'd like to kill people, etc...then the situation has suddenly changed.

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It also occurs to me that there is a whole literature on this sort of thing and that these kinds of issues have been thought through for thousands of years going back to Roman times: It's part of the discipline of law -- "implied contract", "promise to perform", "oral contract", "written contract".

It's a repeated mistake of Objectivists in their insularity to too often try to arrive at the truth of complex issues by asking other Objectivists, none of whom in this case has ever cracked a law book. The blind leading the blind.

So I've decided that the best way for me to understand the ethical and legal issues surrounding issues of contract and responsibility is to actually go and read something on these subjects. I suspect my car example has come up thousands of times in American law courts...

..Maybe even in ancient times. Pushing someone out of a moving chariot! Ejecting your fifth wife from the harem without advance notice or alimony! :-)

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Phil,

You may not like my example, but it is the one I gave at the beginning of the discussion (not in those words since it had to develop over time - still the essentials of what I am talking about here were present before, but consistently not addressed). Frankly, it is more up front to say that you won't consider it at all than to alter it, get personal and insulting and so forth.

But here is one of the other items on my plate. As I intend to do with looking at the laws that are on the books, I will start looking for cases of actual events that have happened with those characteristics (or similar) and how and if they were prosecuted.

One thing you can count on with our species. Some crazy dude somewhere has done something nuts like that. All you have to do is look and you will find. Just think about the parents who drown their children, etc.

One thing I mentioned to Roger in an email is the context of confinement. Let's look at that a second.

If a stranger abducted a child, locked him up somewhere and starved him to death, I don't believe that anyone would argue that he had murdered the child. And yes, force was initiated in the abduction. But then, would the starvation be considered as force by the NIOF at all costs people? What grounds would be used for considering this to be a crime other than kidnapping?

The wilderness has characteristics that are very similar to confinement, in that a source of food is unavailable to a child, regardless of where he goes. He has no means to survive unless he was a Boy Scout.

Anyway, as I said, I am looking into human nature for the present. Jim mentioned our means of survival (reason). That's another good thing to look at in this case. The adult has the means of survival fully developed. The child does not.

Just musing so far...

We all know that reason is man's principal means of survival. I am starting to wonder if it is the only one.

btw - On your car example, I do believe that there is an implied obligation to not endanger the passenger you give a ride to if the ride goes sour. This actually happened with me in Brazil, where I gave a long-distance ride to a person who got extremely obnoxious on the way. (My girlfriend was half-black at the time and he started making racial slurs - and he was an American.) I wanted to stop the car and let him off on the side of the road, but I waited until I came to a rest stop, where he would be able to get other means of transportation like a bus or hitch a ride with somebody else.

Also, as an aside, Brazilians have a cultural thing with this that I find highly amusing. This has actually happened to me many times. He will give you a ride for a 100 miles or so, but will drop you off 7 or 8 blocks from your destination because it is "out of his way." I still haven't figured that one out.

Michael

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Law or not, here's the thing:

People can and often will do whatever they want, whenever they want.

There are choices that have no ramifications to a man, other than what the action will leave him with, in the interior domain.

I am positioned a little differently, obviously, because of my religious faith. Yes, faith, that's what I said, and no, it bears no resemblance to the little circus show that some Objectivists will open up on that over and over. For want of a better word, let's say.

What I mean by that is that I have a moral compass. I already know that. MSK has a moral compass. Lots of folks do, but we can always use more... O:)

That's standard equipment for a real human. My interest lies in experiencing ways that I can expand my moral compass. You can do that.

I virtually always know what the right thing to do is. I think most decent people do. MSK touched on this. There is no need for stylized, articulated sophistication. That is only looking at things through the eye of the mind. For one thing, it is too slow that way, for two, it is prone to generating what Frank Zappa once referred to as "statistical density." That type of mental gymnastic, while something that apparently is considered by some to be as intellectually stimulating as chess, is not only slow, but error prone.

The real problem is then going ahead and taking that action.

The kinds of situations we are talking about are no joke. They are about life, and they are real. There are no things more important than these decisions.

One reason the mental chess approach is so error prone is because it is a dissociative use of the mind. It is a use of the mind only.

What is required of a human to make a sound moral decision requires the entire human, acting in full parity. If you would like to narrow it to something similar, but not all inclusive, consider the term "emotional intelligence." This state will allow for a much better chance of doing the right thing, and doing so with no hesitation.

best,

r

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Responding to a post by Kat (from several back in the queue):

I'm basically repeating here what I said in ethics a few days ago.  

I am truly disturbed at how people would ignore another human being's suffering in the name of practicing Objectivism. It seems contrary to human nature to let a child starve when you could easily help without sacrifice to yourself.  This is a case of selfishness being taken too far.

How can one just stand there looking stupid and not act in such a situation? To add insult to injury they are trying to justify their indifference on the basis of Objectivist principles of individual rights.  Sorry, I ain't buying that nonsense.

Kat, can you name the people to whom you're referring? Who is it that you think said that he (I believe all the responders on the RoR thread were guys) would ignore the lost child in the wilderness Michael proposed as an example? I think even Luke said that he himself would of course share food with the child.

If a child is there without their parents and obviously abandoned, neglected or lost and I was the only adult around, I would not hesitate to step in and help the kid. I think most people would,

So I think would any of the people who responded to Michael. And I agree that "most people" would -- indeed, so enormous a percentage of "most people," the number of those who wouldn't help in the situation Michael described is vanishingly small.

and I agree with Michael that it would be criminal not to, especially when the kid is considered to be an imposition on one's individual rights.  I'm sorry, but in a crisis life or death situation, the normal rules don't apply.  Children rely on adults for their survival, so if you are the only adult, you have the responsibility to step in.  To make the conscious decision to walk away and let the child die is an act so cruel and despicable that it should be considered criminally negligent.

There is where the disagreement lies, as to whether or not ignoring the child should be "considered criminally negligent." If you want to argue that it should be in libertarian rights theory (of which O'ist theory is a subcategory), then what's needed is a case being made as to why. A sense of moral outrage, no matter how widely that sense of outrage would be shared (and to repeat, I think it would be nearly universally shared), just isn't an argument. That, I believe, is the point that Michael's responders were attempting to make to him.

"But I don't think of you" is not an excuse in this case and no cost/benefit analysis and all the Excel spreadsheets in the world ain't gonna excuse letting this young child die of starvation, when you were his or her only chance of survival.  It seems so obvious that most people would rescue the child and we shouldn't have to have laws to compel people to act right in such a situation.  Why be a killer when you could be a hero?

Yes, it is obvious that most people would rescue the child; the likelihood of there even being such a circumstance in which an issue of law would arise is incredibly remote. To begin with, the hypothetical is stretching it: how did this kid get abandoned in the wilderness, and how did the adult happen upon the kid? But just suppose...some kid is taken on a wilderness trip by a parent or parents or other responsible adult(s) (an adult other than the child's parents taking a child along in such circumstances could be considered to have accepted temporary guardianship responsibilities). And suppose the adult(s) meet with an accident and are killed or so disabled they can't move to help the child and some other adult who just happens to be out there in that very stretch of "wilderness" comes upon the child, an adult who just happens to have plenty of food and who leaves the child abandoned and uncared for... How is the existence of a law going to make any difference? Do you think that someone so heartless as to leave the child uncared for is going to be worrying about being brought to a court of law? Who is going to know?

But your next paragraph introduces the kicker, and the reason why Objectivists would become concerned at the principle being enunciated:

As an Objectivist, I hold human life as the standard of value. If other Objectivists consider it a governmental initiation of force to compel its citizens by law to act in the interest of saving a child's life,

Notice your wording, Kat: "compel its citizens by law to act in the interest of saving a child's life": Do you mean a law which states specifically "Any adult finding a lost child in the wilderness must attempt to care for that child"? Or do you mean something so vague as the wording you used? The wording you used could be stretched to cover an exceedingly large number of circumstances in the daily lives of all of us. This is the big worry here, over a law which requires being one's brothers' chilren's keeper. Where do you draw the line if you pass such a law? How do you word it so as to confine it only to the kind of emergency situation in which it wouldn't even be needed precisely because the number of adults who wouldn't help in the imagined circumstance is so minutely small?

they are putting a political principle (non-initiation of force) ahead of an ethical principle (man's life as the standard of value).  Politics is built on ethics, not the other way around.

I agree that politics is built on ethics, but I disagree that they're putting a political principle ahead of an ethical principle. No one is saying that it would be morally justifiable not to help in the circumstance Michael proposed. I'd venture to add that suppose such a scenario did occur, and suppose any of those guys responding to Michael on RoR found out about it and were alone with the person who had left the child to die, they'd take measures into their own hands and whup the perpetrator -- and a court of law would look the other way.

Ellen

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Everyone's heard of William Holden 'the Actor', right? --- Picnic, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, etc.

His next-to-last theatre-movie (his last was S.O.B) was something called The Earthling (1980).

HE plays this guy who's right down the alley that everyone is copping a squinty-eyed 'Dirty Harry' attitude and insulting with everything but "PUNK!" towards each other over. A-N-D, Ricky Schroeder is the 'child;' maybe not an 'infant', but, clearly he was never a cub/boy-scout, either.

I really suggest that all commenters catch this tape (no DVD so far) before commenting any further on this topic of 'lost/orphaned-"children"-left-adrift-by-every-passerby'.

(And, I shan't get into my usual 'rant' about the use of the very ambiguous term 'child'.)

LLAP

J:D

P.S: 'summary' @

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080671

P.P.S: the story-summary there really does not do justice to Holden's character's views on the orphaned-in-the-woods boy for the 1st hr. Holden's character TOTALLY matches up to the hypothesized emergency concern of Michael (and Kat) --- Yes; I saw it...around '81. Methinks my description is why it didn't get good reviews: Holden's character was definitely NOT a 'Good-Samaritan.' Yet, he also was NOT a 'monster,' either. Should he 'deserve' some kind of legal-'punishment'...for ignoring Ricky (in the beginning)...or...not?--- You be the judge.

P.P.P.S: I've 'edited' a few different times. Sorry. Just felt compelled to 'add' something new on this...specific point where I think ALL 'debaters' need to 'Think Twice.'

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Ellen,

I want to comment on your post to Kat, but I am sure she will, too. Some very disturbing things were revealed in this discussion that upset her. Here is a quote (I will leave out the poster's name because I am not interested in the person, merely the issue raised and the implications.)

"Years ago, Peikoff was on 'The McQuistion Program" and debating a liberal and a conservative.  The liberal asked, "A pregnant woman comes to your door and is bleeding.  What do you do?"  Peikoff politely explained that if she asked nicely and conceded that he had no "duty" to help her, he would gladly see what he could do to help.  Conversely, if she demanded that he "owed" her assistance, he "would stand there and watch her bleed -- and that, in essence, is capitalism.

"I completely agree with Peikoff's forthright statement."

This attitude, so far, is held up by most as being proper under Objectivism. For the life of me, I cannot even contemplate this without getting a sense of outrage. Note that this is sanctioned by silence.

Well I am a voice that will say loudly that watching a pregnant woman bleed to death, regardless of what she may babble at the time, is an unspeakable evil. The problem is that it is being spoken - by those who practice Objectivism, and even the "intellectual heir." It is held up as proper, depending on what the poor woman says in her agony.

It has been pointed out to me that Objectivism is supposed to be a philosophy for living on earth. I submit that that - and my example of the kid - is not a morality for living. It is is a morality for death. The right-to-life of two people have been violated with complete indifference and it is held that they have no rights in those conditions.

I don't have all the answers yet. This is very, very, very tricky. I am fully happy so far (not permanently) with your formulation (although I am beginning to hold doubts about a couple of the people):

I'd venture to add that suppose such a scenario did occur, and suppose any of those guys responding to Michael on RoR found out about it and were alone with the person who had left the child to die, they'd take measures into their own hands and whup the perpetrator -- and a court of law would look the other way.

I am still researching and thinking. But one answer I do have. Total indifference to that level of suffering is not only evil, it is pathological. I am certain that Rand was not proposing that, nor sanctioning it. Her writing is too full of comments to the contrary, albeit they are not in the majority.

Kat recently wrote to another person that naked evil is getting off on a technicality. I have to agree with her. That is how far too many people now see Objectivism. That is one reason why the spread of the philosophy is so slow. That is why that 98% plus people who read Rand take only part of her ideas and just leave the rest aside while they try to lead a good life.

Here is another quote that was not even challenged in the discussion:

I can think of a few people to whom I would offer no assistance but instead would watch bleed and die such as Hillary Clinton, Fidel Castro, and other notables, as well as some of the bullies I recall from my school years and certain unsavory coworkers."

I am no big fan of Hillary Clinton, but she is a US Senator for God's sake. But this stance is being held as proper for even school children and coworkers.

We are not talking about sacrifice here. We are talking about watching these people die in agony without lifting a finger.

This was sanctioned by silence. Not one voice contested this, not even me (I was a bit busy at the time warding off insults).

Now let's get back to Kat. She has no theoretical political knowledge. She is a newbie to Objectivism trying to assimilate the ideas. (btw - I appreciate your attempt to take her ideas seriously and provide her with good questions to ask, albeit the "I said/you said" slicing up a post thing comes off on the screen as a bit condescending, and I am certain that this is not you.)

Kat has two kids and she is thinking about Objectivist morality. She looks at a discussion like this and thinks about them. What if one went on a hiking expedition and got lost and encountered a stranger who was equally lost? What does Objectivism say that the right thing to do is?

Then she reads people clamoring for the right to ignore her precious child and let him starve to death. She reads really nasty insults directed at those who raise the issue. She reads one of the official spokesmen for Objectivism saying that it is OK to watch a pregnant woman bleed to death because you don't like what she says.

Can you blame Kat for wanting the government to step in and to hell with the more complicated implications? She is not even motivated to increase her theoretical knowledge if it is going to lead to sanctioning those abominations.

Michael

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Michael,

In these situations we simply have to trust our fellow human beings. There is no other way. This is what Robert Heinlein had to say about it:

"I am not going to talk about religious beliefs but about matters so obvious that it has gone out of style to mention them. I believe in my neighbors. I know their faults, and I know that their virtues far outweigh their faults. "Take Father Michael down our road a piece. I'm not of his creed, but I know that goodness and charity and lovingkindness shine in his daily actions. I believe in Father Mike. If I'm in trouble, I'll go to him."

"My next-door neighbor is a veterinary doctor. Doc will get out of bed after a hard day to help a stray cat. No fee--no prospect of a fee--I believe in Doc.

"I believe in my townspeople. You can know on any door in our town saying, 'I'm hungry,' and you will be fed. Our town is no exception. I've found the same ready charity everywhere. But for the one who says, 'To heck with you - I got mine,' there are a hundred, a thousand who will say, "Sure, pal, sit down."

"I know that despite all warnings against hitchhikers I can step up to the highway, thumb for a ride and in a few minutes a car or a truck will stop and someone will say, 'Climb in Mac - how far you going?'

"I believe in my fellow citizens. Our headlines are splashed with crime yet for every criminal there are 10,000 honest, decent, kindly men. If it were not so, no child would live to grow up. Business could not go on from day to day. Decency is not news. It is buried in the obituaries, but is a force stronger than crime. I believe in the patient gallentry of nurses and the tedious sacrifices of teachers. I believe in the unseen and unending fight against desperate odds that goes on quietly in almost every home in the land.

"I believe in the honest craft of workmen. Take a look around you. There never were enough bosses to check up on all that work. From Independence Hall to the Grand Coulee Dam, these things were built level and square by craftsmen who were honest in their bones.

"I believe that almost all politicians are honest. . .there are hundreds of politicians, low paid or not paid at all, doing their level best without thanks or glory to make our system work. If this were not true we would never have gotten past the 13 colonies.

"I believe in Rodger Young. You and I are free today because of endless unnamed heroes from Valley Forge to the Yalu River. I believe in -- I am proud to belong to -- the United States. Despite shortcomings from lynchings to bad faith in high places, our nation has had the most decent and kindly internal practices and foreign policies to be found anywhere in history.

"And finally, I believe in my whole race. Yellow, white, black, red, brown. In the honesty, courage, intelligence, durability, and goodness of the overwhelming majority of my brothers and sisters everywhere on this planet. I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth. That we always make it just by the skin of our teeth, but that we will always make it. Survive. Endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes will endure. Will endure longer than his home planet -- will spread out to the stars and beyond, carrying with him his honesty and his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage and his noble essential decency.

"This I believe with all my heart."

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James,

What an inspiring quote! This echoes my sentiments perfectly.

ahem...

Now about individual rights. You wrote:

In these situations we simply have to trust our fellow human beings. There is no other way.

Granted the premises, I have to agree. But what if the premises were incomplete? Not wrong. Incomplete?

And I also cannot help but ask the following:

Would you be comfortable in relaxing legal provisions and "trust our fellow human beings" with your own inalienable rights?

Michael

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This is a complex issue -- not the moral part of it, which is clear, but the political part; that is, whether or not the adult who refuses food to a starving child should be arrested as a criminal. I think the answer to this and to related questions may ultimately be found in the fact that a crime has been committed by the child's parents, the crime of attempted murder, and that by refusing to save the child at no cost to oneself, one is enabling the parents to be successful in their effort to murder the child. The question is: has one become an accessory to murder by allowing the child to die?

I would ask the same question about a different kind of situation: Say that one is outside a bank, and witnesses a bank robbery in progress -- but one does not take the minor amount of trouble required to use one's cell phone to notify the police. This makes it possible for the robbery to succeed and possibly for the robbers to kill innocent people. Should one face no legal penalty here?

There was a case a few months ago of a pedophile abducting, raping, and murdering a nine-year-old little girl. He kept her for two days in a home in which other people lived, and they had to know what was happening -- but they did nothing to stop him, did not notify the police, and even helped him to escape afterward. Does anyone doubt that these people are monsters who belong in prison?

Or to give a very different kind of example: Say that one is standing on the sidewalk and sees a car about to run down a pedestrian -- whom one could save by calling out to the pedestrian to warn him. One does not do so, out of indifference -- or, as was suggested on another website, because one does not like that particular pedestrian -- and the pedestrian is run down and killed. Should one have no legal responsibility here?

Surely none of us would want to see the person who is so monumentally indifferent to human life walk away without penalty.

Roger, you said that to criminalize the failure to be a Good Samaritan opens the door for the military draft. But that is not relevant to the above examples. If one is drafted, one is put in extreme danger physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and in the name of a cause with which one might not, quite rationally, agree. I am not at all suggesting that a failure of Good Samaritanism be criminalized, in fact, I would passionately object to it. I am suggesting only -- and I'm not able to frame this as clearly as I'd like to -- that if one has the power to save a human life without any risk to oneself, one should be required to do so. Surely there would be something hideously wrong with a society in which the failure to exercise this power carried no penalty.

Barbara

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Barbara, that's an excellent series of examples. I'm impressed by the number and variety of cases and contexts that you have thought of. (This makes me look forward even more to your future book because the ability to provide a spectrum of concrete examples is a rare and important skill.)

My first reaction is that -- as in the legal definition and case law of negligence or what is "contributory" to a crime or what constitutes being an "accessory" or "aiding and abetting" a crime -- there is a progressive spectrum here between what is ethically monstrous and what is not only that but punishable by law. A more complex issue than I had originally realized, but I think that a violation of rights has to be found as in your point about being an accessory to a violation. Your point about without risk to your self, i.e., without cost, seems relevant, as well.

(Michael, I was not referring to you in my previous post or trying to be insulting but generalizing about what too many Objectivists do.)

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But still, there's the hypothetical situation which Michael brought up originally: the...child...'orphaned' in the woods (re my previous post about The Earthling), who meets an adult who shows absolutely NO empathy for the child.

Mike's (& Kat's) question remains: What does any '3rd' (non-police) party discovering what's happening have the moral 'right' to do, not about the child, but about the ignoring adult?

Now, the 'pregnant bleeding woman' is a new scenario to deal with. Gotta admit, Piekoff's alleged answer is...definitely...a very weird response.

LLAP

J:D

Addendumed P.S: If I'm off here, correct me. But, we ARE talking about the 'Punishment' aspect of Justice here, correct? Re a 'penalty'-of-(some kind of)-pain for a defaulted 'moral' obligation?

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Barbara, I like your examples, too. In fact, I'd like to add one that is related to the national defense example I gave about the draft. This seems to fit more in your category of little or no risk:

Suppose you are living up north, near the border with Canada, way out away from civilization, but you keep your cell phone just for emergencies, and one day you're looking out of your cave (or hidden shelter) and you see a group of Al Qaeda-type guys carrying weapons and sneaking across the border, no doubt with evil intent. They don't notice you, and they move past your area on southward.

Question: are you morally obligated to call the U.S. authorities (or someone) on your cell phone to warn them of the invasion? If so, are you also legally obligated to make this call? That is, should you (later, if there is a "later" for the U.S.) be charged with a crime? Is it (or should it be) a crime to not make such a warning call, when there is little or no risk to you?

I posed this question to a friend earlier today, and he thought that it would be immoral, but shouldn't be illegal.

This leads me to a comment on something you said, Barbara:

I am suggesting only -- and I'm not able to frame this as clearly as I'd like to -- that if one has the power to save a human life without any risk to oneself, one should be required to do so. Surely there would be something hideously wrong with a society in which the failure to exercise this power carried no penalty.

No legal penalty does not imply no penalty, as you seem to suggest. In other words, there could be enormous negative social consequences for someone who failed to do the morally right thing, without having to execute, imprison, or fine him. I'm sure you could as easily concretize some of these as I could: difficulty in having friendships, difficulty in finding employment, due to one's serious default on doing the right thing being widely publicized.

Don't you remember the uproar several years ago over the publicizing of "johns" who visited prostitutes? This is the kind of social "punishment" I am talking about -- and wouldn't it be better aimed at the kind of moral monsters who violate no rights, but fail to act to save lives when they could at little or no risk, than at guys who can't keep their pants zipped up?

REB

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What a relief to read these posts! (Especially after what I went through.)

This issue is out there on the table now. We can discuss it and see where it goes. Whew! Thank you so much, Barbara and the others.

I won't even mind being wrong on this, if such should prove to be the case. But at least reason is being brought to bear on it, not dogma. Somehow I have a feeling that the kid is going to get some kind of moral and/or legal protection sanctioned by Objectivist principles out of all this.

John, that movie sounds fascinating. I will be sure to see it. Also, you asked, "But, we ARE talking about the 'Punishment' aspect of Justice here, correct? Re a 'penalty'-of-(some kind of)-pain for a defaulted 'moral' obligation?"

I wish it were that simple. As I understand it, we are discussing what to do when the fundamental rights of two people collide. Sense of life also figures, since compassion is being judged as to whether it is part of human nature. Penalty is only one aspect - and it might not be necessary at all, if a solution can be found.

Phil, not only was I not insulted, I was encouraged by your call for study of this.

Roger, this is merely speculation, but imagine your own child starved to death like that. Your own dear child. Would shunning the monster be enough for you? I'm asking, not leading. (All right, maybe a little... I admit to a bias that favors minimum responsibility in emergencies to preserve life. And I don't see this as self-sacrifice held as the highest moral purpose of life, i.e., altruism, either.)

I have been biting my tongue on something, but this issue gives Objectivism a bad name. Not just when we discuss it. When people ask about it. So here goes:

If I were an outsider and read Rand's fiction and identified with it, but came across the malicious indifference that is traditionally held as morally correct among Objectivists, as illustrated by the examples presented, I would make the following rule of thumb for myself. When I worked and pursued my goals, I would follow Rand. If I ever let my kids go on a camping trip, or my wife was pregnant and I had to travel, I would make sure there were no Objectivists around, but Christians (or other religious people), instead.

I speculate that there are many out there who feel like this. (Maybe a good portion of that 98% plus readers of Rand.) Ignoring this is ignoring reality.

Michael

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Michael wrote:

Roger, this is merely speculation, but imagine your own child starved to death like that. Your own dear child. Would shunning the monster be enough for you? I'm asking, not leading. (All right, maybe a little... I admit to a bias that favors minimum responsibility in emergencies to preserve life. And I don't see this as self-sacrifice held as the highest moral purpose of life, i.e., altruism, either.)

First of all, Michael, your language begs the question, when you say “imagine your own child starved to death like that.” You are smuggling in the premise that he is being starved by any person who has food and doesn’t feed him. That is precisely the point at issue, so it would be better if you expressed it in more neutral terms: “imagine your own child starving to death like that.”

Consider this analogy: suppose my child were in water over his head, and there were someone nearby who was unwilling to wade in and save my child (at no risk to himself), and you asked me to imagine my child “drowned” like that. The bystander did not “drown” my child. He did indeed let him drown. But we have yet to establish that the bystander had a moral obligation to save him, let alone a legal obligation.

I would like to set aside these questions and instead make a firm, unequivocal point that a person who does not take such an action to save a life, when there is no significant risk to himself, is a moral monster. A person who has that little regard for human life cannot reasonably be held to be fit for the company of rational beings – not from the standpoint that he is dangerous, but from the standpoint that he is oblivious to the value of human life.

So, what would I do in response to someone like that, who has allowed my child to die? You ask whether I would think “shunning” was enough. By which, I assume we all understand it to mean: ignoring, avoiding, rejecting, etc. Well, no, of course not. I thought I made that obvious. It would be my mission, my obsession, for some good period of time at least, to doggedly make this person’s life a living hell, to the full extent that I could do so without initiating force against him. (I think that attacking him or his property, or trying to have him punished legally would be an initiation of force.)

Like what? Well, all the negative publicity I could generate, all the exposure of his heinous, callous inaction I could muster, all of the well-poisoning of his employers, customers, neighbors, friends, family, etc. I could do – all of this and more is what he would get. And I would, like Polly Klaus’s father, set up a nationwide network of people whose loved ones have been treated in this way, in order to focus the issue society-wide, so that the more egocentric and callous among us would realize that it might just be in their self-interest to take that minimal effort, instead of shrugging it off. (And if that didn't work, I'd hunt him down and tie him up and watch him starve to death. :evil:

A vendetta? Revenge? You bet. But more importantly, the kind of justice that a sociopathic or egocentric, callous bastard deserves when his self-centeredness results in someone needlessly dying. The kind of justice that a society needs to inflict on those who behave without the appropriate minimal level of regard for others. It would also be more satisfying than waiting for the criminal justice to grind its way to an uncertain conclusion.

I have been biting my tongue on something, but this issue gives Objectivism a bad name. Not just when we discuss it. When people ask about it. So here goes: If I were an outsider and read Rand's fiction and identified with it, but came across the malicious indifference that is traditionally held as morally correct among Objectivists, as illustrated by the examples presented, I would make the following rule of thumb for myself. When I worked and pursued my goals, I would follow Rand. If I ever let my kids go on a camping trip, or my wife was pregnant and I had to travel, I would make sure there were no Objectivists around, but Christians (or other religious people), instead.

I think you have to go by your sense of life judgments about people, not by their ideology. There are many good, decent, emotionally and morally mature Objectivists – and they are not that hard to distinguish from the often intellectually prodigious, but also blatantly immature, egocentric people who have gravitated to Objectivism. For instance, from what I’ve heard, I’d think it would be safe to leave your child with the people who run Camp Indycon. On the other hand, I think you already have a list started of people on RoR that you would not trust with the care of your child!

Objectivism is especially appealing to those who have suffered unjustly at the hands of family, school, or religious authority. Such people, like addicts, are often emotionally and ethically frozen at the level of adolescence, which means they are riper than most for a philosophy that invites them to “question authority” and “live for yourself.” It is difficult for these people to reach the mature level of human development where the “sphere of self” expands outward beyond (or even to, in some cases) close friends and family. And even when their emotions start thawing out, and they are able to experience impulses to care and help others when needy, a voice in their head says, “No, that’s altruism,” or, “Wait, you might be acting from altruistic impulses; you have no moral obligation here.”

Partial antidotes to this stumbling block – which our movement’s catastrophic fracturing has placed off-limits to many – are writings like Nathaniel Branden’s “Altruism vs. Benevolence” and David Kelley’s Unrugged Individualism. But even these do not go far enough. We are truly in the frontierland of Objectivism here. Many Objectivists (and Libertarians) still do not even acknowledge the legal obligation of parents to care for and support their own children, so it is not surprising that there are deafening howls of protest at Michael’s own, more controversial explorations of this issue.

I speculate that there are many out there who feel like this. (Maybe a good portion of that 98% plus readers of Rand.) Ignoring this is ignoring reality.

I don’t think I fit this category! I have said for some time now that the whole complex of issues surrounding third-trimester fetal rights and the right of children to care and support by their parents is the “Achilles Heel” of the Objectivist and Libertarian movements – and I have for nearly 3 decades railed against the “Libertarian baby starvers” (my term), such as Murray Rothbard and Bill Evers, who argued that not even parents have a legal obligation to support their children – and I note with dismay that there are a disturbing number of Objectivists who take this position as well.

To his credit, back in the 1970s, Leonard Peikoff stoutly asserted that parents “jolly well do” have such an obligation, and Nathaniel Branden back in the 1960s made the same claim in The Objectivist Newsletter, but the rational argument in support of this position has yet to be widely accepted. So, is it any wonder that Michael is meeting thunderous objections to his idea of requiring the nearest food-bearing adult to feed a hungry, abandoned child? Perhaps we should prioritize our issues here, and get Objectivists and Libertarians to agree that parents’ feet should be held to the fire, before trying to launch a crusade to criminalize all people who refuse to act in loco parentis.

REB

P.S. – I think that this discussion thread is yet another tribute to the kind of haven Michael and Kat have created here at O-L. It is not an easy issue, but our environment does not make it more difficult than it has to be. Notice how non-acrimonious and how civil we are able to be in our disagreements. Notice how exploratory and productive our discussions are, when we are not laboring to deflect the tons of horse crap shoveled at us by people who have been conditioned not to think outside the box by the authority figures of Objectivism. (And they know who they are.)

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Roger:

So, what would I do in response to someone like that, who has allowed my child to die? You ask whether I would think “shunning” was enough. By which, I assume we all understand it to mean: ignoring, avoiding, rejecting, etc. Well, no, of course not. I thought I made that obvious. It would be my mission, my obsession, for some good period of time at least, to doggedly make this person’s life a living hell, to the full extent that I could do so without initiating force against him. (I think that attacking him or his property, or trying to have him punished legally would be an initiation of force.)

That sounds nice in theory, but in reality it might not work so well. The person you want to persecute may be more powerful and have more influence than you (and I don't mean "you" personally, but anyone - many people might even not be able to do what you suggest here, should they therefore have to put up with this?), or he may be a criminal (or a combination of both), and your attempts might even backfire and you may become the victim of his wrath. On the other hand, if you can make this person's life a living hell, the question is whether this is justified. You may think so, but the possibility that you're wrong is not merely theoretical: you may have misinterpreted some events or missed some important information which would put the whole event into a quite different light. That is the reason that we should be able to use objective laws to determine the culpability of the person that is presumed to be guilty. We have instituted laws just for the purpose of eliminating personal revenge and vendettas, and these concern not only misbehavior and revenge by physical means and initiation of force.

The kind of justice that a society needs to inflict on those who behave without the appropriate minimal level of regard for others. It would also be more satisfying than waiting for the criminal justice to grind its way to an uncertain conclusion.

Better an uncertain conclusion than an unwarranted conclusion. In civilized countries there is no place for personal vendettas that make someone's life to "a living hell"; if his actions are that serious, they should be dealt by the law. Objectivists should realize that there is more to justice than only NIAF, the world isn't that simple. And about being "more satisfying than waiting for criminal justice": Murdering my neighbor while has done something unpleasant to me may also be very satisfying, but that's still no reason to allow that only while I think that he deserves it.

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Mike:

~~ Re the movie: do, if you can. I've little doubt you'll find it 'thought-provoking' re one scenario of your concern. =D>

~~ You point out my question (about clarifying the essence of what we're basically talking about) and rather than confirm it as accurate you say

I wish it were that simple. As I understand it, we are discussing what to do when the fundamental rights of two people collide...Penalty is only one aspect - and it might not be necessary at all, if a solution can be found.
:-k

~~ Well, I must admit that I'm not really all that clear on what you're trying to pin down then, given how you put that. Assuming that by 'rights' one's talking within the O'ist framework, I really don't see how 'rights' ever can conflict. They've been delineated pretty carefully, starting with the very existential-oriented and metaphysics-based

Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival.
I.E: the defining of the 'nature' of the common, inherent needs of each and every human. --- Yes, there can be a conflict of need-fulfillment sources (say, last oxygen tank for 2 astronauts in crisis, or, 1 water-canteen for 2 in a desert, ad-infinatum-ad-nauseaum-scenarios), but, then the 1st main question becomes:
How does one (if either) acquire the 'right' to...whatever?
The 2nd one seems to be the one that you're concerned about Mike:
If the one with the 'right' (and presumably possession) does not share, how is the non-sharer to be regarded...and, maybe...treated?
%?

~~ If I'm not correct on THIS re-summarizing of your concern, then I have one more possible interpretation of where you're driving; something more abstract, and deeper 'principle'-wise. How's this one:

Where can 'sharing' with an anonymous stranger be established in O'ist ethics as a moral-requirement, or, at least a 'virtue' consistent with the O'ist definitions (in meta/epist/ethics)?
--- Is THIS maybe what you're trying to essentially identify the problem as, with all these different scenarios? [-o<

~~ Re 'compassion'/empathy itself, Kelley nwst, I find it hard to see it fitting into the def of 'Virtue' per se in the 'should' ethics of O'ism. Benevolence is not something one 'decides' to base (primarily or secondarily) actions upon; if one has it, one acts automatically on it (presumably within rational limits). Indeed, benevolence/compassion/empathy isn't something one even can 'decide' to have in the first place; one's got it (to some degree or other, selective or general)...or one doesn't. It seems to be like 'sense of humor': ya got it, or ya don't; nothing to 'decide' about. --- As an aside, contrary to your view Mike, I don't see such as 'hard-wired' into humans (or primates). I believe it's learned according to what 'closeness' one has in growing up (friends, guardians, etc)...or...the lack thereof. Even in children, lack of such in some is observable. :(

~~ Anyhoo, keep on truckin' on this...hopefully without (ahem) getting carried away with your responses to some criticizers (who got carried away, agreed) and losing any more sympathizers. #-o

J:D

999-I will not click 'Preview', 1000... [-o<

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Roger and John,

Do we agree that rights are contextual or are they absolute rules, irrespective of circumstances? In my view they are contextual - and judging their validity and extent should take society, man's nature and non-social reality into account.

Roger mentioned that "starving" and "letting one starve" mean different things, like with "drowning" and "letting one drown." And John is still not clear where I am headed (which is pretty fair on both parts).

Here is one crucial aspect of this problem. Leaving aside action (which is merely for the present post), let's just concentrate on property rights.

When one person owns the only means to survival for those within proximity during a disaster or emergency - I mean something like food, water, shelter (when weather conditions are life-threatening) or even medicine in some cases, does he have the right in that context to withhold these items from the others? Does his property rights extend to such an evil? (There is another person who has been trying to convince me on RoR that this evil simply does not exist, but that ain't going anywhere soon. I got the reality picture too far ingrained in my head.) Or do those property rights suffer a temporary change of status?

As I see it, the owner did not create the emergency, thus neither penalty nor benefit come from conditions like normal living in society, nor did they arise from his production or efforts (or legal inheritance). I see trying to use the rules and standards for normal conditions in these emergency cases as trying to impose rules on reality.

Principle-wise, right-to-life should cover emergencies where at all possible and take into account the context of reality conditions at the time. To me, this means survival should be the basic good over all else in an emergency where danger to survival is clear and present to some. I see this clearly trumping property rights for emergencies.

Also, this is where something like starvation and drowning are different. A person who "lets another starve" under conditions in my example (where there is enough food) has non-sacrificial means (in terms of survival) to buy some time for all so help can arrive. In a situation of drowning, the person must put himself in harm's way - and this applies even to an experienced swimmer since a panic reaction by the one drowning could cause the death of him.

Obviously when your card comes up metaphysically, the whole shebang is over. But property rights are not metaphysical conditions. They are social ones. Proper and inalienable rights may be ultimately derived from metaphysics, but they are essentially rules for living in society and they exist in a heirarchy. (You must be alive to own property, for instance, so right-to-life is more important than right to property.) Food and water and so forth - and nature's requirement to use them short-term - are metaphysical conditions imposed on man's biologial nature.

When death hangs in the balance under extreme reality stress, my inclination is to draw the solution from reality, not impose social rules on it. Once you're dead, you're dead, so you cannot go back and make amends for a mistake - or a different interpretation of the rules - to the dead party.

Also, and this is secondary (repeat - secondary) to the principles we are discussing, any property owner who feels the need for redress for loss under those conditions will have a means to do so when people who used his property survive. A dead person cannot come back and offer him a deal.

As an emergency is temporary and is a peripheral consideration to ethics, not a central one, I don't see where this contradicts any basic tenet of Objectivism, except maybe contradicting the blind extension of a normal right to cover an emergency in order to morally sanction an act of depraved indifference.

What should we do legally? As I said before, I have suspended my judgment for now while I am chewing on this.

Shortly, and hopefully, some of my more heated statements on RoR will be presented and I will be able to clarify or modify them - just so nothing stays dangling in the air for parties hostile to me to use for their philosophical purification crusades elsewhere.

Michael

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Mike:

~~ Will get back on this (after my 'review'), but, at the moment I must stress:

~~ We really do have to keep clear that we're on the same page re what we agree on about the definitional-meanings of 'rights', in the varied 'contexts' of metaphysics, ethics, and legalities, as well as whether or not we're talking about the possession of them by 'A', or the recognition of them by 'B'. Elsewise, lottsa misunderstandings and pointless cross-wavelength arguments are bound to occur. 8-[

~~ As to 'rights' being 'contextual' (other than as I specified above), well, I do hope we're not talking Situation-Ethics or Moral-Relativism here, but... [-X

~~ Further food-for-thought: I don't know anyone in O'ist circles who regard rights as...rules per se. Rights are merely the base for which 'rules/guides/shoulds/oughts/musts/decision-requirements'/etc are necessary for living as a human, and, to live by...and to neither ignore nor be ignored.

~~ Catcha later.

LLAP

J:D

P.S: I ain't countin' nuttin' no more.

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Dragonfly, either the child allowed to starve was the victim of a rights violation, or he was not. If the former, then a crime was committed, all of this cerebral wattage here ought to be able to make a solid case to prove it. In that case, punishing the person allowing him to starve ought to be done by the government, as a legal consequence of being convicted of the crime.

However, if it is NOT a crime, but instead a morally heinous act (or refusal to act, then there is nothing the government can or should do. Instead, this is where private actions come in, so long as THEY are not crimes themselves. As you pointed out, Dragonfly, if you do not KNOW that a person allowed your child to starve, you are not justified in taking ANY kind of retaliatory action against him, whether using force or simply social sanctions. E.g., if you went around saying some guy allowed your kid to starve, and it wasn't true, and he could establish it in a court of law (i.e., that you couldn't establish it in a court of law -- burden of proof, and all thagt), then he could sue you for slander/libel. (Or do Objectivists reject that concept?)

But I thought we were focusing on a case where you DID in fact know that some guy allowed your child to starve. Suppose he was bragging to a buddy, and you overheard it. Whatever. I maintain that, armed with such evidence, you would be fully justified in doing everything WITHIN THE LAW to make his life miserable, including spreading the information about his heinous behavior. This approach leaves a bad taste in some people's mouths because of the mis-use of it (e.g., in the newspaper or online exposure of men going to prostitutes), but I'm setting that aside for the purpose of this discussion, since we're not talking about tsk-tsk kinds of "immorality," but heinous defaults on humane behavior. And I still say that there is plenty I can do within the law to get some kind of emotional closure on the matter, short of executing the guy who lets my kid starve, even if it's not a crime. That Michael's challenge, and this is my answer.

REB

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Michael, you asked about rights being absolute vs. contextual -- basically within the context of emergency situations, right? And we're talking about survival needs in such situations, right?

Here is something I've argued (as have others, notably Bill Dwyer) about rights in such situations. What is the basis of rights? Why can we be obligated to refrain from using force against another? I think it boils down to: when it is not necessary to use force in order to survive?

My ethics of rational self-interest says it is all right to do anything that is necessary in order for me to survive (as man qua man). Since ethics is for the purpose of living and being happy, I can't be required to abstain from whatever is necessary in order to survive. (Note: I said NECESSARY, not SUFFICIENT. Something might well be sufficient to help me survive, but if it requires my using force against another, I can be required to abstain from doing it, if there is an alternative that is sufficient to help me survive that does NOT involve using force.)

OK, given this, what about when I am starving, and Ima Hogg is sitting on a bunch of food he neither intends to sell nor eat nor give away? Let's make it interesting and posit a whole community of starving people, and only Ima Hogg has food. No alternatives available other than: steal the food or starve. What to do, what to do! A "good Libertarian" (and presumably Objectivist) would "rather starve" than treat another person -- even mean old Ima Hogg -- as a sacrificial animal (viz., of the porcine variety). Your need does not translate into a claim on the resources of others, right?

BULLSHIT! You are under NO obligation to refrain from using force for survival in such a situation. What moral code are you going to invoke to impose such an obligation? The morality that says that moral principles are for the purpose of helping you LIVE YOUR LIFE?

Now, does this mean that another person's rights do not exist? No. But they are CONTEXTUAL, not absolute. They exist when BUT ONLY WHEN your survival does not require using force against another. (This is analogous to the rational obligation to tell the truth only when your survival does not require lying to another. I limit it like this, because I'm not sure about the Peikoff bit of lying to protect your privacy.)

For this argument, Bill Dwyer has been ridiculed for having a theory of "disappearing rights." But apart from the intended purpose of belittling his -- and my - view with a frivolous label, it is a completely accurate description of when rights do and do not operate.

Now, suppose you and your child are starving, and no neighbors are willing (or able) to help. Do you have to refrain from taking what you need by force? No.

What about third parties? Does the family next door, who has just enough for themselves, have the right to intervene on your behalf and steal from Ima Hogg, if you are too weak to do so on your own behalf? Yes.

What about the starving kid in the street? Or in New Orleans? Well, obviously the best thing to do is to organize a charitable operation to help them, since none (or few) of us is in the "just enough for ourselves" situation. And there are plenty of Ima Givers who would be more than happy to pitch in. But suppose there weren't enough givers? Would we be justified in pressuring the government to send (tax-coerced) aid? Sure. We have government (tax-coerced) roads, why not government charity, when necessary?

Emergencies are temporary. They are not on-going claims on the productive. The unproductive do not have the right to sit on their asses or to hold out for the ideal or preferred job and suck us dry via welfare or sucker charity programs. I totally believe in "workfare" programs as a superior government program to the ADC "come and get it" kind of deal.

Because emergencies are temporary, "disappearing rights" are temporary. Morality ends at the point of a gun -- and so do rights. But once the gun or the mortal threat is ended, principles including rights are back in full force (pardon the expression).

Most Libertarians and Objectivists HATE this line of reasoning, because it seems to open the door to the welfare state. I personally don't see why there would have to be an ongoing state program for this stuff, if people were allowed to keep enough of their earnings that they could afford to give to charity (through United Way, Church, or whatever). The need to steal would only arise in truly desperate situations. Poverty does not count. Only desperate poverty. We are talking about survival, not owning a color tv.

Now, this still does not support the idea of legally punishing those who do not help the helpless (unless they caused the helplessness). But it does open the door to forcing them to help the helpless via tax-coerced programs. (Which makes it all the more imperative that we get this culture's ruling philosophy turned around, so that government can be voluntarily funded -- and thus that charity and care for the helpless can be voluntarily funded.)

But setting aside the issue of to what extent (if any) government should take part in emergency relief efforts, I am convinced of this much: your moral obligations are suspended to the extent that they would forbid you from doing something that, in that situation, would be necessary* to the preservation of your life. That includes your moral obligation to be honest to another -- and it includes your moral obligation not to take the life or property of another.

REB

* Remember: "necessary" does not mean whatever will accomplish something, it means the only thing that will accomplish something -- in this case, allow you to survive. If there are non-coercive survival alternatives, you are morally bound to use one of them instead.

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Roger:

However, if it is NOT a crime, but instead a morally heinous act (or refusal to act, then there is nothing the government can or should do.

This point is not clear to me: do you mean to say that a refusal to act in a certain situation can't or shouldn't be punishable by law?

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Roger,

When you use a phrase like:

heinous defaults on humane behavior

for what we are discussing, it makes me feel that it is an honor to know you. Full moral clarity. Thank you.

One of my purposes of this discussion, indeed, is to challenge what I deem the moral agnosticism and ambivalence I have perceived. There are those who hold this kind of act up as an example of practicing virtue under Objectivism. I believe this needs to be corrected by adding to ethical and political considerations, and maybe even fleshing out the concept of man's nature a bit.

I believe a sound philosophy, to be fully integrated, must present measures for dealing with the evil it identifies - most particularly evil that results in death. It must do more that mention it in passing and say essentially that nothing can be done except to avoid the one who practiced the evil. Or worse, say that such evil, although it feels wrong, does not exist.

btw - How's this case (and the bleeding pregnant woman) for classic examples of Objectivism's traditional "death premise"?

(Sorry, couldn't resist...)

:D

Michael

Edit - You know, the scenes and issues that have been painted so far in this entire discussion would make one hell of a novel...

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