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I'm not knocking anybody for asking questions about moral choices, but after listening to Peikoff's and Diana's podcast, and browsing the questions on this forum, I'm struck by how often people ask "is it moral [insert action or life choice]?"

I might be wrong, but it seems that the frequency these questions arise, and the eagerness to answer them feeds into the "cultish" accusers source of ammunition since, it smacks of someone seeking a religious authority's proscriptions, instead of using an individual's reason and principles applied in context?

asked Feb 10 '11 at 12:27

Andrew's gravatar image

Andrew
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edited Feb 10 '11 at 12:42

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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Or- they could be asking for the "..reason and principles applied in context..".

(Feb 10 '11 at 12:40) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

A quick note: Anyone, Objectivist or not, can ask questions on OA -- and the majority of questions aren't being asked by Objectivists, so I wouldn't take the frequency of question-topics or -formats as much of an indicator of Objectivist thought processes or priorities...

(Feb 10 '11 at 13:38) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

I like Greg's answer. Yes, if one is to view ethics as a science, the myriad of questions isn't surprising. Another issue is that most of us learn "what is moral" at a very young age as we are being raised by our parents. Changing one's view of morality is a difficult process as one needs to re-evaluate principles and answer questions that are never asked by those who stick with "the way I was raised" as a dogma.

(Feb 10 '11 at 15:38) Kate Yoak ♦ Kate%20Yoak's gravatar image
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Objectivists understand that the philosophical rubber hits the road in ethics: knowing what to do to in order to live well. This translates to knowing the importance of clearly understanding and then successfully selecting and applying relevant principles to myriad concrete circumstances. If one is new to such a practice, it is often difficult, so asking someone who is more clueful and skilled for examples and explanation is a fabulous idea. (Especially if it is an area that is of life-and-death importance, which morality literally is.)

Now, the aura of 'cultishness' which frequent consultation of an expert might give off is confused, but understandable. Notice that few would see anything cultish in a math or engineering student asking his instructor for demonstrations of how to approach various concretes -- nor of a biology student asking his professor to explain how to integrate this and that phenomenon with the principles of the field. There's no perception of a slavish deference to authority -- even when students show widespread agreement with the authority -- because people recognize that these are reality-based fields being addressed via reason rather than something arbitrary being navigated via faith, intuition, emotion, or whatever. The authority is seen as teaching an independent mind, not dictating to a mindless follower, and so all is well.

In contrast, the general population thinks ethics is inherently arbitrary rather than similarly objective (i.e., they see it as inevitably involving some flavor of subjectivism, whether anything-goes personal or social whim, or anything-goes supernatural dictates). So it is understandable that they would project the appropriately-negative implications of that notion onto the behavior of anyone who would eagerly attend to the words of some authority in the moral sphere -- including those of us who understand that morality and its use is just as objective as math, biology, and engineering. That's of course an unfortunate perception, but I think the cure for this isn't to avoid even extravagant use of experts while learning and applying so important a science as morality in our lives; I expect the better response is to explain that morality is in fact objective and not arbitrary, making the (rational) use of experts warranted.

answered Feb 10 '11 at 13:37

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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edited Feb 10 '11 at 18:12

Great insights; stuff I'd never considered. Thanks.

"Ethics is where the philosophical rubber hits the road". I like that. Also, seeing morality as a science is still something my subconscious struggles with even though I was never that religious.

(Feb 10 '11 at 17:39) Andrew Andrew's gravatar image

I answered this question in a recent edition of my Rationally Selfish Webcast.  An audio recording of my response is available as a podcast here: NoodleCast #58: Live Rationally Selfish Webcast. The discussion of this question runs from 49:06 to 59:28. 

My basic view is that the application of abstract ethical principles to everyday life is just as difficult as the application of abstract medical principles to a particular disease. In both cases, the advice of experts is often helpful. Also, Greg nailed it in his answer!

answered Feb 15 '11 at 23:55

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Diana Hsieh ♦
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Asked: Feb 10 '11 at 12:27

Seen: 2,960 times

Last updated: Feb 15 '11 at 23:55