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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Individualist Morality FAQ

Q: What is morality ?

A: Morality is the study of the nature of individual values and their fulfillment ("value expression"), using the facts of natural law. More simply : actions have consequences which can be anticipated and measured, and that's how we know what to do or not to do.

Q: But isn't morality subjective ?

A: The very fact that you decided to ask that question proves that it isn't. Obviously your choice of asking the question shows that you valued knowing the answer, and that you thought asking it was better than not asking it.

The more general answer is that no, facts of reality are not subjective. The fact that not eating will eventually lead to starvation is a fact. That's why you eat. The same is true for any other action you perform. They are based on what you think is best to express your values. You might be wrong, of course, and you probably are, given that you're so stupid you have to ask if morality is subjective.

Q: Hey ! I didn't ask for no guff !

A: That's not a question, and you're an imaginary asker anyway. So I really don't care.

Q: Yea, okay, whatever. So what does individualism have to do with morality ?

A: Only individuals can act, not groups or societies. Only individuals can think and reason and make value-judgments. So we always have to start from the premise of individual value expression. The facts of morality have nothing to do with religion, politics, group consensus, tradition, what your friends say, or what your teacher said in public school. They are about finding out for yourself how you can act in accordance with reality and live a happy, fulfilled life.

Q: Wait, wait. Isn't morality just a way for us to live together without killing each other ?

A: You are one sad sucker, aren't you. You've bought into the collectivist propaganda hook, line and sinker.

Q: Hey ! There you go again ! What propaganda have I bought into anyway ?

A: The propaganda that human beings are inherently degraded and that they need to be indoctrinated into "getting along". Most people "get along" just fine without following collectivist principles, simply because they observe the facts of living in society as they grow up. They know that if they try to get along with others, others will try to get along with them. All the values they need to fulfill as individuals - visibility, communication, friendship, love - require cooperation.

Another problem of "getting along" is that we will always be confronted with people having wildly different value systems. Religion and government demand that we "get along" by being forced to fight tooth and nail for the power of imposing our value system against that of others. That is not cooperation or morality.

Finally, the scenarios where we need morality the MOST are scenarios where we are alone, such as the "stranded on a desert island" scenario. In this kind of scenario, our actions determine life or death. One of the advantages of living in society is that we don't need to work as hard to survive and flourish as we would alone. So in fact we need morality LESS when we live in society. So the collectivist belief is actually completely backwards.

Q: What about the idea that morality comes from evolution ?

A: Your instincts are part of your nature, and so you always have to take them into account. You can't be happy by systematically repressing your instincts. But you can't equate evolution with morality any more than you can say a car is a wheel or a brake pad. It might feel instinctually good to, say, kill someone who's cheating with your wife, but that'll only land you in jail for the rest of your life.

Q: What about altruism ?

A: There's no such thing as altruism. It is an empty term, like "god" or "superatural". Every single individual acts in his perceived self-interest. The difference is that some people are rational and some people are not.

Q: Isn't helping others altruistic ?

A: That's a ridiculous idea. How can helping others not be beneficial to the individual ? It is better for me to live in a flourishing society, and helping others makes me feel good, so helping others is an expression of my values.

Q: So you believe in "might makes right" ?

A: Not so. It is the collectivists who believe in "might makes right" (for example, that God is moral in slaughtering almost all life on Earth, simply because he can do so). I do not believe that "might makes right", indeed that "might" tends to make people "wrong". I think we should deal with each other as individuals, not as tools of power.

Q: You're so cynical. Can't you just believe in something greater than yourself ? Are you so vain ?

A: No, I'm not vain. I'm an individual, just like every other individual on Earth. I just happen to understand that fact and do not desire to lose myself in collectivist fantasies. I am not a part of a country, race, language, culture, religion (or lack thereof) or class, I am simply a person called Francois Tremblay. That is the fact of the matter. There are plenty of things "greater than myself" (such as, say, gravity), but that fact has no moral or political import.

Q: Is X moral ?

A: Only specific actions or values can be moral or immoral. You have to look at what values you're causing if you do it. This changes depending on context - "killing" a bacteria in your guts is different than "killing" someone because he made you mad. In both cases, "killing" effects very different values. In one case you can save your life, in the other you can go to jail forever.

Q: I'm an idiot and I still want absolute rules for life.

A: Tough luck boy. Even in religion there is no such thing. If you really need some simple rules, here are some good ones :

* Be rational, use your fucking head. Staying ignorant and gullible makes you a sap.
* Don't let anyone guilt you into serving their values (and that includes your parents, your church and your government).
* Don't hurt people unless you're defending yourself.
* Be nice to people who deserve it.

Post a Comment


28 Comments:

At 6/08/2006 10:10 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

"How can helping others not be beneficial to the individual?"

Exactly. In biology, acts of altruism among animals are in direct proportion to the percentage of DNA shared. So at a genetic level, helping others helps yourself.

 
At 6/08/2006 11:57 AM, Blogger olly declaimed...

"Q: But isn't morality subjective ?"

"no, facts of reality are not subjective."

"Q: I'm an idiot and I still want absolute rules for life."

"A: Tough luck boy. Even in religion there is no such thing."

Just for clarification purposes, you seem to be contradicting yourself here. You are, on the one hand, saying that, no, morality is not subjective (which implies that morality is objective), and on the other hand saying that there aren't any absolutes (which implies subjectivity).

Care to clarify? Good post though!

-olly

 
At 6/08/2006 12:22 PM, Blogger Joe Otten declaimed...

Altruism does in fact exist. Eg, people give to charity. There is no self-interested justification for doing this. Some people, more than others, have a desire to help others.

See also http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2006/05/misconceptions-regarding-desires-and.html

 
At 6/08/2006 12:43 PM, Blogger olly declaimed...

"Altruism does in fact exist. Eg, people give to charity. There is no self-interested justification for doing this. Some people, more than others, have a desire to help others."

I don't know if I entirely buy that. Giving to charity makes you feel good, at the very least, which brings a level of self-interest into the situation.

-olly

 
At 6/08/2006 3:57 PM, Blogger Vic declaimed...

Also, olly, Francois states that one can have a self-interest in a flourishing society, because a society where more people are prosperous and happy is a better place for anyone (including one's self) to live. So, beyond just the titillation of giving, you're helping yourself by helping others.

 
At 6/08/2006 4:20 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

olly: You are, on the one hand, saying that, no, morality is not subjective (which implies that morality is objective), and on the other hand saying that there aren't any absolutes (which implies subjectivity).

Zach: "Objective" is not synonymous with "absolute." When we talk about "objective morality," we mean moral choices that are based on the facts of reality, not on some person's arbitrary whim (e.g., Christianity).

 
At 6/08/2006 10:24 PM, Blogger olly declaimed...

Zach: "Objective" is not synonymous with "absolute." When we talk about "objective morality," we mean moral choices that are based on the facts of reality, not on some person's arbitrary whim (e.g., Christianity).

Zach, I'll concede that objective isn't always synonymous with absolute... but you are still neglecting then the second part of my question. Perhaps you are right, and this isn't a contradiction, but it still begs the question: if there aren't any absolutes, doesn't that imply relatavism?

 
At 6/08/2006 10:29 PM, Blogger olly declaimed...

vic: Also, olly, Francois states that one can have a self-interest in a flourishing society, because a society where more people are prosperous and happy is a better place for anyone (including one's self) to live. So, beyond just the titillation of giving, you're helping yourself by helping others.

Vic, I agree. If we are going on the definition of altruism as "unselfish concern for the welfare of others" (pulled from Websters), then I personally think that the only time this can be true is in sacrificing your life so that your progeny can live... no LIVING act can be altruistic in my opinion.

-olly

 
At 6/09/2006 8:00 AM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Altruism does not exist. It is a religious and statist fiction meant to impart a burden of guilt on the individual.

 
At 6/09/2006 8:34 AM, Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler declaimed...

There seem to be at least two reasons to believe that altruism exists.

1. Personal Experience: If I have done things that benefit others, and not myself, I'm likely to believe that altruism exists.

2. Observation: One can see instances of people sacrificing their lives for the benefit of others, in which self-benefit appears impossible. Also, one can believe others who say they haven't benefited from their acts for others, as there seems no reason to disbelieve them other than an a priori conviction that altruism is impossible.

There seems to be a blurring of motivation and likely consequences going on in the anti-altruism argument. If we accept the definition that altruism is "unselfish concern for the welfare of others," it seems irrelevant whether the beneficial act happens to entail positive consequences for the actor; the question seems to be whether those consequences are the actor's motivating force.

Further, even if beneficial acts make society a better place for everyone (including oneself), and even if they are done for that express reason, it's not clear why that should render the beneficial acts "selfish," as "selfish" usually is understood to mean primarily benefiting oneself, as opposed to benefiting the larger group or a wholly different person. Most people, I daresay, would find it odd to say "His sacrifice was actually quite selfish; he did it for the sake of his countrymen."

 
At 6/09/2006 11:24 AM, Blogger olly declaimed...

Altruism does not exist. It is a religious and statist fiction meant to impart a burden of guilt on the individual.

Francis, check out a post I just made addressing this issue, curious to know what you think:

Link

-olly

 
At 6/09/2006 11:58 AM, Blogger Young Physicalist declaimed...

“Finally, the scenarios where we need morality the MOST are scenarios where we are alone, such as the "stranded on a desert island" scenario. In this kind of scenario, our actions determine life or death. One of the advantages of living in society is that we don't need to work as hard to survive and flourish as we would alone. So in fact we need morality LESS when we live in society.”

Morality is judging whether or not our actions where good against others. So, morality in and itself depends on how you interact with others, not how efficiently you survive in wasteland.

 
At 6/09/2006 12:19 PM, Blogger olly declaimed...

"Morality is judging whether or not our actions where good against others. So, morality in and itself depends on how you interact with others, not how efficiently you survive in wasteland."

Agreed, morality in a vaccum is pointless. Morality is, at the most basic level, fundamentally interactive between beings. It doesnt' really matter WHAT your morality is, or how you justify it, if it's never capable of being applied.

-olly

 
At 6/09/2006 12:28 PM, Blogger tryptych declaimed...

As the two above posters point out, such a discussion of morality leaves out any intersubjecive element to the construction of the individual.

"So we always have to start from the premise of individual value expression. The facts of morality have nothing to do with religion, politics, group consensus, tradition, what your friends say, or what your teacher said in public school. They are about finding out for yourself how you can act in accordance with reality and live a happy, fulfilled life."

I suggest you brush up on Fichte and Hegel. By their thinking, the individual self is founded on a relationship of mutual recognition with the Other. Since your "self" is a product of these relations, they of course have a bearing on issues of ethics.

 
At 6/09/2006 12:37 PM, Blogger tryptych declaimed...

"The facts of morality have nothing to do with religion, politics, group consensus, tradition, what your friends say, or what your teacher said in public school."

Oh, by the way, what are the "facts of morality" and where do they come from? Are they natural laws then?

 
At 6/09/2006 12:56 PM, Blogger olly declaimed...

Tryptych: I suggest you brush up on Fichte and Hegel. By their thinking, the individual self is founded on a relationship of mutual recognition with the Other. Since your "self" is a product of these relations, they of course have a bearing on issues of ethics.

Hegel went to far with it though, as he was positing the subjugation of the individual to the herd. It's one thing to say that we are defined by our relationships to others, but it's another to say that individualism should be subjegated by the herd mentality for this reason.

 
At 6/09/2006 4:47 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Joe Otten knows not what he says.

If I pass a bum asking for chang, and I give him nothing, it is because dont value him and I dont WANT to give him anything.

But if I pass a bum asking for change, and I do give him some, it is because I believe that giving the bum the change will give me more happiness than keeping the change in my pocket.

The only reason I willingly do anything is because I WANT to. The only reason I WANT to is because it makes me happy. And in this case, the happiness I gain from donating money to the poor would be greater than the happiness I have from keeping the money to myself.

In real life though, I never give bums on the street any money. I would, in fact, take more pleasure from the bums dis-a-fucking-pearing than prospering of my hard earned cash.

Donating to a childrens hospital, thats a different story :)

 
At 6/09/2006 4:47 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Olly,

There is one, and only one, absolute. And it is that there are no others.

 
At 6/09/2006 4:49 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Um, I didnt really mean what I just said in the last comment, but I meant it for illustrative purposes regarding the problem of absolutes that you brought up. It is one possible solution to the absolutes question.

 
At 6/09/2006 5:42 PM, Blogger olly declaimed...

Aaron:

lol, I read the first comment, and it made me think of that old TV show (and movie before it) Highlander "There can be only one."

You are right, that may be he the answer to, and the death of, relativism all in one fell swoop.

-olly

 
At 6/12/2006 3:42 AM, Blogger Joe Otten declaimed...

Aaron, Francois,

It is morally irrelevant what a donor feels, and it is absurd to argue along the lines that this part of the brain is not altruistic because it is being rewarded by some other part of the brain.

We can only judge whole persons, and any feelings motivating actions are part of the person, part of what makes them altrustic or sadistic, or randy or whatever.

We would not consider a criminal innocent if they feel bad about what they did. But that is more or less what you are doing with the altruist.

 
At 6/12/2006 9:00 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"It is morally irrelevant what a donor feels, and it is absurd to argue along the lines that this part of the brain is not altruistic because it is being rewarded by some other part of the brain."

I didn't say that. Your straw man is not very good.

 
At 6/13/2006 6:48 AM, Blogger Daniel declaimed...

Richard Chappell would
strongly disagree with your appraisal of egoism and offhand rejection of altruism
:
It is in everyone’s interests to live in a more moral society. Real life conflicts often take the form of a ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’, whereby each person can promote their own interests at a greater cost to others. It might be argued that following self-interest cannot be rational in such cases, because it is collectively self-defeating.[3] But egoism does not aspire to be a collectively rational theory. It merely makes claims about what it is rational for an individual to do. And egoism is not individually self-defeating: in Prisoner’s Dilemmas, each individual does better by following self-interest than not, assuming their decision does not affect that of the other parties. So the most we can conclude here is that the amoralist has reason to promote moral behaviour generally – and perhaps even agree to universal moral indoctrination, if need be. If such measures caused him to acquire a more moral character, this ‘cost’ would be more than offset by the benefits of having more moral neighbours. But it remains rational for him renege on his part of the bargain and avoid such indoctrination for himself if possible.

We might instead try to show that it is even individually rational to acquire a more moral character. Virtuous goals are more likely to be supported by the rest of society, and thus more likely to meet with success. One who feels pleasure in sympathetic response to others’ happiness will find more pleasure in a harmonious society than would more vicious or sadistic characters.[4] But cultivating a taste for others’ happiness does not guarantee that the amoralist will see others as ends in themselves. He might try to please them merely as a means to his own happiness. To encourage a deeper moral conversion, we should also point out that the more genuine forms of central human goods – such as love and friendship – rest on “a non-calculating reciprocity” which is not available to the systematic egoist.[5] Further, the amoralist must always hide his repugnant true character from others, thus thwarting the deep human need to share who one really is with a trusted confidant.[6] All forms of genuine social regard and validation are closed to one with such vicious character, which may in turn damage his self-respect.[7] It thus seems plausible that an intrinsic concern for at least some other people is an essential feature of the (prudentially) good life. But this is insufficient to establish the universal concern for others that is characteristic of the moral point of view.[8]


How would you respond to his point about otherly concern?

 
At 6/14/2006 4:34 AM, Blogger Joe Otten declaimed...

Francios,

Well it was Aaron who said that apparent altruism is in fact motivated by good feelings. So it is hardly my straw man.

And if you are not counting events inside the brain as making altruistic acts selfish, then you have a lot of altruistic acts to account for within your theory of the non-existence of altruism.

 
At 6/17/2006 7:23 AM, Blogger victoria_woodhull declaimed...

"You might be wrong, of course, and you probably are, given that you're so stupid you have to ask if morality is subjective."

So do you think that Stephen Jay Gould is stupid? Gould in an essay "Kropotkin was not a Crackpot",

"First, nature (no matter how cruel in human terms) provides no basis for our moral values. (Evolution might, at most, help to explain why we have moral feelings, but nature can never decide for us whether any particular action is right or wrong.) Second, Darwin’s “struggle for existence” is an abstract metaphor, not an explicit statement about bloody battle. Reproductive success, the criterion of natural selection, works in many modes: Victory in battle may be one pathway, but cooperation, symbiosis, and mutual aid may also secure success in other times and contexts."

"There are no shortcuts to moral insight. Nature is not intrinsically anything that can offer comfort or solace in human terms – if only because our species is such an insignificant latecomer in a world not constructed for us. So much the better. The answers to moral dilemmas are not lying out there, waiting to be discovered. They reside, like the kingdom of God, within us – the most difficult and inaccessible spot for any discovery or consensus."

http://www.marxists.org/subject/science/essays/kropotkin.htm

BTW, some bloggers might recognize me, but I had to change the name to get registered.

 
At 8/22/2006 12:20 PM, Blogger Personal Development declaimed...

I am sure you have heard the song "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club but have you ever given much thought to its meaning? While on Earth, you are living in a world of reincarnation which is governed by the law of karma. Karma begins to propel you as Soul on a personal journey through the universe. Karma ends when you have reached enlightenment and fully realise that this physical reality and the Universe itself is just an illusion. When you reach a state of knowingness that there is but One all pervading essence and that essence or consciousness is You!
So what is Karma and how does it work? While in the illusion you have a soul. This soul lives past, present, and future lives. To grow in love, joy, and awareness, you reincarnate into a series of physical bodies to experience different existences. This road leads to the experiences of being both sexes, all races, religions, and ethnic types throughout many lifetimes.
Karma in its simplicist terms can be described by the biblical statement "as you sow, so also shall you reap". Karma is the principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, total cosmic justice and personal responsibility. It brings 'good' experiences as well as 'bad' - a debt must be repaid and a blessing rewarded.

A more indepth esoteric look at karma gives us the following distinctions: Sanchita Karma: the accumulated result of all your actions from all your past lifetimes. This is your total cosmic debt. Every moment of every day either you are adding to it or you are reducing this cosmic debt. Prarabdha Karma: the portion of your "sanchita" karma being worked on in the present life. If you work down your agreed upon debt in this lifetime, then more past debts surface to be worked on. Agami Karma: the portion of actions in the present life that add to your "sanchita" karma. If you fail to work off your debt, then more debts are added to "sanchita" karma and are sent to future lives. Kriyamana Karma: daily, instant karma created in this life that is worked off immediately. These are debts that are created and worked off - ie. you do wrong, you get caught and you spend time in jail.
As a soul, you experience a constant cycle of births and deaths with a series of bodies for the purpose of experiencing this illusionary world gaining spiritual insights into your own true nature until the totality of all experiences show you Who you really are - the I AM! Until you have learned, you will find that pretending that the rules of karma do not exist or trying to escape the consequences of your actions is futile.
Although it may often "feel" like punishment, the purpose of karma is to teach not to punish. Often the way we learn is to endure the same type of suffering that we have inflicted on others and also rexperience circumstances until we learn to change our thinking and attitudes.

We are all here to learn lessons as spiritual beings in human form. These lessons are designed to help us grow into greater levels of love, joy, and awareness. They teach us our true nature of love. Where we do not choose love, show forgiveness, teach tolerance, or display compassion, karma intervenes to put us back on the path of these lessons. Quite simply, the only way to achieve a state of karmic balance is to be love.
Before you incarnated into your present personality, you agreed to put yourself in the path of all that is you need to learn. Once you got here, you agreed to forget this. Karma is impersonal and has the same effect for everyone. It is completely fair in its workings and it is predictable - "do onto others as you would have them do unto you" is a way to ensure peace and tranquillity in your own life as well as the lives of those you come into contact with. The law of karma is predictable - "as you sow, so shall you reap" what is done to you is the net result of what you have done to others!
Karma gives you the opportunity at every moment to become a better person than you are and to open up to the realization that you are the master of your own fate.

The goal of karma is to give you all the experiences that you need to evolve into greater levels of love, joy, awareness, and responsibility. Karma teaches that you are totally responsible for the circumstances of your life. They keep you on the straight and narrow until you have mastered your vehicle and can ride freely on your own. Once you understand that you are the master of your own circumstances and that everything you experience is a direct result of your past actions due to your thinking and emotional responses you can overcome its seeming negative effects by creating only 'good' karma.
Karma forces us to look beyond ourselves (oneness) so that we can see ourselves as we truly are Whole, Complete, at One with everything. Once we truly understand ourselves, we can see our divinity and our unity with all life.
Karma drives us to service. Love means service. Once you accept total responsibility for your life, you see yourself as a soul in service to God. Once you do, you become a fully realized being, allowing God to experience the illusion through you.
Belief in karma and an understanding of its workings will lead you to a life of bliss. Only your own deeds can hinder you. Until the time comes when we release ourselves from our own self-imposed shackles of limitation and fully understand who and what we are we will live under the mantle of karma. So until that day why not create some wonderful experiences for ourselves by "doing onto others, as we would have them do unto us". personal development plan

 
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