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A previous question touched on this subject (Does Objectivism say you should judge your non-Objectivist friends and family as immoral?) but didn't quite satisfy my inquiry.

When trying to understand another person's ideas, methodology, and context of knowledge, at what point can we say that their irrational/immoral proposition is a breach of morality and not such a simple error of knowledge? I'm thinking of the everyday man on the street or layperson as well as the expert working in their specialized field. How can we tell that it is a dishonest evasion of facts that led them to a certain view and not simply ignorance?

My assumption would be that we should expect experts to have a greater breadth of contextual knowledge thereby holding them to a higher standard of accountability, e.g., Rand claim Kant to be the most evil man in history. Another person I would hold to a similar evaluation would be Paul Krugman. Everything he writes is so blatantly false it's infuriating. How do you go about judging experts in this way? Do you have to read everything they've written, a good majority, or is one good example good enough to make a rational judgment on their character?

And to the layperson, to what degree do we hold them accountable? In a daily conversation how would we find out their context of knowledge to judge whether or not statements would be a breach of morality? I'm thinking person you might not know at all or interact with prior. Friends or family I would think should be easier to judge.

As an example let's use health care since it's current. Reading and understanding explicitly the study of philosophy is not necessary for a person to live a full productive life and this is true for most people. Who then would be guilty of a breach of morality and therefore immoral for advocating the right to health care? : philosopher, journalist, dentist, barber, policeman, secretary, bum.

I'm looking more for a technical answer than a explanation of principles.

asked Apr 24 '11 at 21:53

mcaution's gravatar image

mcaution ♦

I will need to think for a while before providing an answer. However, I believe immorality comes from either use of violence against another or from deliberately choosing what is either wrong or irrational.
Krugman most closely reminds me of the physicist in Atlas Shrugged. Irrational thinking with irrational justification coming out of what could be a genius mind.

(Apr 26 '11 at 17:55) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

To clarify, when referring to breaches of morality I meant in terms of, "a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought"; theirs ideas rather than their actions. Issues dealing with psycho-epistemology rather then actions such as violence. I'm more interested to learn how people come to their irrational ideas in the first place, their methodology. What is it about a person's psycho-epistemology that leads them to breaches of morality in their ideas in spite of their context of knowledge?


(Apr 29 '11 at 02:40) mcaution ♦ mcaution's gravatar image

The question concludes:

I'm looking more for a technical answer than a explanation of principles.

The solution is to apply the principles to the facts. This presupposes a knowledge of the applicable principloes, and a thorough knowledge of the facts of a particular case. There is no generic "formula" for that; it's a conceptual cognitive process. One principle, for example, pertains to evasion. The factual question would be: is the person evading? How can one know? Is there conclusive, objective evidence of it?

A "case study" method might be useful. Law schools use it for teaching principles of law and how to apply them.


In the comments, the questioner asks about "a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought." (Quoted from the topic of "Errors of Knowledge versus Breaches of Morality" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.) Evasion is not so much a question of having irrational ideas, but of suspending thought entirely, inducing a state of cognitive emptiness by means of pervasive mental fog. The essence of volition is the choice to focus one's mind or let it drift without purposeful direction. Evasion consists in unfocusing in response to specific mental content, motivated by the wish not to comprehend that particular content.

The questioner also asks: "What is it about a person's psycho-epistemology that leads them to breaches of morality in their ideas in spite of their context of knowledge?"

This is not an accurate identification of the Objectivist view. A breach of morality isn't just in one's ideas, or even primarily in one's ideas. It is destructive action performed in spite of one's knowledge, made possible by evasion of one's knowledge of the destructiveness. It's more like knowledge versus emptiness (or fog), not "true ideas" (knowledge) versus "false ideas."

If one has developed a deeply rooted habit of thinking, of always having ideas about things, it may be difficult to imagine someone who merely drops mental focus and goes into a state of mental fog -- a state in which ideas are replaced by fog, not by other (irrational) ideas.

Refer to the topic of "Evasion" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon for a further overview of evasion. The topic of "Evil" may also be of use in clarifying the scope and meaning of "moral" versus "immoral."

answered Apr 25 '11 at 22:36

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Apr 30 '11 at 02:42

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Asked: Apr 24 '11 at 21:53

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Last updated: Apr 30 '11 at 02:42