Whether morality is primarily about social/interpersonal stuff or about dealing with reality effectively

Topic Summary: Whether morality is primarily about social/interpersonal stuff.

Goal: Discuss the topic and try to reach tentative agreement with Max, who has a view on morality that I disagree with.

Why are you posting this in Unbounded? Unbounded seems like the appropriate place to have discussions about philosophy.

Do you want unbounded criticism? (A criticism is a reason that an idea decisively fails at a goal. Criticism can be about anything relevant to goal success, including methods, meta, context or tangents. If you think a line of discussion isn’t worth focusing attention on, that is a disagreement with the person who posted it, which can be discussed.) Yes.


Max wrote:

Morality is about interpersonal harm, and people are free to live their own lives (wrt themselves) how they wish.

I disagree (note I disagree with other stuff you wrote on the page that I linked, but I’m trying to keep the discussion really focused to start). I agree with Rand’s view on this matter, which she indicates in this quote:

You who prattle that morality is social and that man would need no morality on a desert island—it is on a desert island that he would need it most. Let him try to claim, when there are no victims to pay for it, that a rock is a house, that sand is clothing, that food will drop into his mouth without cause or effort, that he will collect a harvest tomorrow by devouring his stock seed today—and reality will wipe him out, as he deserves; reality will show him that life is a value to be bought and that thinking is the only coin noble enough to buy it.

-Galt’s Speech,
For the New Intellectual, 127

@Max, what do you think?

📝 Aside: conversation practice

I’d like to use this as conversation practice. Some things I’m going to try to do (and keep doing consistently) is to write a focused reply to one thing. I’ll also keep questions focused and to a minimum so we can go deep rather than going wide. I might note other topics/things as we go so that we can come back to them later. IDK if it’s possible to have like a wiki-post where we could both keep conversation-tree type metadata. I guess you’re a mod so I can make a reply mb and we can both edit that post as required? I’ll do that after this reply so we can use it if we want. We could also keep separate ones.

How do you see the AR quote as related to mine? It’s not obvious to me what you’re trying to point out. I have some ideas, but they’re guesses.

My main guess is that you think there’s a conflict between “social” and “interpersonal” – is that right?

I thought it’d be good to try to interpret the Galt quote.

The title and ~subtitle of this section of FTNI is:

“THIS IS JOHN GALT SPEAKING”

This is the philosophy of Objectivism.

A few paragraphs before the main quote, Galt says (this seems notable):

“A rational process is a moral process. […]

Here’s the main quote, with some paragraphs from above/below the main paragraph too. (I haven’t read AS or FTNI, so it was useful for me to get some context.)

It seems like the connection between rationality and morality (and the choice to pursue reason/truth) is the main topic of these paragraphs.

For the original AR quote, here’s my take on it:

  1. Galt is addressing listeners/readers who think that both:
    1. morality is social
      • My guess is that this is directly related to AR’s criticisms of ideas like man has an obligation to live for others, rather than himself
        • “morality is social” is referring to these ideas (which AR/objectivism disagrees with)
    2. a person[1], in isolation / a vacuum, has no need of morality
      • a desert island is often a metaphor for extreme isolation, or a situation where there’s no connection to civilization / other people. That’s how it reads to me atm.
  2. Galt is saying that this is a time where morality is exceptionally important
    • this meaning being on a desert island (in isolation / a vacuum)
      • i.e., there’s no social factors – but morality is still important
  3. the next sentence (which is the rest of the para) answers the question why is morality important in this case?
    • my outline of the answer: [if he claims] ([without society/victims to make the claims true]) […examples of irrational claims…] [then he’ll die] [because thinking/rationality is necessary to live and stay living].
      • I agree with this (both in isolation, and in answer to the above question)
      • I’d still agree with this without the “when there are no victims to pay for it” bit.
        • I read it as like a necessary parenthetical, but WRT Galt’s ideas themselves, I think the conclusion still makes sense without it.

Do you see any problems with my understanding of the quote? It’s not obvious to me that there’s a conflict between my take and my quote.

Note for future

One thing I did notice, a few paragraphs earlier Galt says:

[…] but if devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.

I think it’s implied that Galt thinks “devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality”. It’s not obvious that there’s convergence between this idea and my quote, so maybe there’s a conflict.


Mb useful questions for context / bg

Some closed question that might be useful for us to both answer upfront (to figure out points that we might disagree on).
Note: I’m conscious this is going broad (in some sense) early in the conversation. I don’t think it’d be good to focus on any disagreements that come up with these right now (not without good reason), but they might be good context for us re: each-other’s ideas. Also, to avoid going deep, they’re all closed (yes/no) questions.

  • Do you think your future self is a different person to your current self? (my answer: yes)
    • If so, does “interpersonal harm” include harm to your future self? (my answer: yes)

WRT my quote:

Morality is about interpersonal harm, and people are free to live their own lives (wrt themselves) how they wish.

  • If “interpersonal” was removed, would you still disagree with that?

    • (my answer: yes; i.e. I agree with “Morality is about harm”)
  • Do you agree with the second clause: “… people are free to live their own lives (wrt themselves) how they wish.”?

    • (my answer: yes)

  1. I read the way Galt says “man” as collectively referring to ~civilization, but the example (on a desert island) seems to be talking about a single person – that’s why I say “a person” specifically. If there were more than 1 person, then there would be some social/interpersonal stuff, which would defeat the purpose of the example. ↩︎

  • J - 1 disagrees w/ M’s quote
    • M - q: about J’s disagreement (conflict between ‘social’ and ‘interpersonal’?) 2
      • J - Not a conflict
        • M - ack mistake
        • M - clarification: conflict between quotes b/c of similar meanings of social and interpersonal
      • J - “… the connection between “interpersonal” and “social” is that they’re indicating the same basic idea about morality (which you advocate, and which Rand criticizes).”
      • J - M’s next clause (“and people are free to live their own lives (wrt themselves) how they wish.”) says if you’re not harming others => you can do whatever => that’s compat with morality
    • M - interpretation of Galt’s quote 2
      • M - q: any problems with the interpretation?
        • J - q: what’s the role of morality in Galt quote? specifically: finding food. how does morality apply to those actions?
    • M - (for later) note about an earlier quote that seems to conflict more obviously. “I think it’s implied that Galt thinks “devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality”. It’s not obvious that there’s convergence between this idea and my quote, so maybe there’s a conflict.”
      • J - if morality is about avoiding i11n (interpersonal) harm then there’s objective truth of that matter => truth still relevant.
        • M - agree about objective truth of the matter
        • M - not always about avoiding harm, tho
        • M - doesn’t know of a moral topic that explicitly has nothing to do with harm
    • M - 2 some closed questions that mb provide some context
      • M - 2 q re morality is about harm
        • J - “I would still disagree. I don’t think morality is about harm but about how to live well.”
          • M - agrees w/ morality being about how to live and isn’t about multiple things
            • M - there’s an intersection between things like morality is about harm and morality is about living well that covers all the important bits
            • J - “do you now reject “Morality is about interpersonal harm” or “Morality is about harm”?”
              • M - “No – I think it’s part of the intersection”
                • J - confused (NB: M reads this as roughly saying ‘this doesn’t make sense’)
                • J - “Can you define/sum up morality in a way that you think covers the intersection?”, “do you think the harm stuff is like a subpoint or subtopic of morality but not the main theme?”
                  • M - “harm stuff is deeply/foundationally connected to morality”
                    • M - “the choice to use the word “interpersonal” was a bad one”
                • J [via meta post/reply] - “I think you have the idea that morality can always be connected to harm in some way?” (also car/driving example)
                  • M - Yes
      • M - 2 q re future self vs current self and whether they’re diff ppl
        • J - sometimes yes, sometimes no
        • J - “we can discuss more if you think it’s fruitful”
          • M - not atm
        • I - “This view doesn’t actually match what you said in your blog post”
        • I - “How would it even be possible for a project/decision to only impact a single person if you are defining your future self and your current self as different people?”
          • M - short time period + trivial stuff
            • M - not so sure about this now, tho
            • J - point about ‘current self’ not really meaning anything; seems like M’s idea about ‘future self’ is more specific than literally all future moments
              • M - explanation about decision having impact and scope, and that being the dimension of the important breakpoint(s) WRT current/future self 33
        • I - “it seems like you are saying that decisions that only impact a single person are probably amoral”
      • M - q re ppl free to live their lives how they wish
        • J - “As a standalone statement of fact I’d agree with it. In context I disagree with it cuz I think it’s suggesting whim-worship.”
          • (M note: unfamiliar w/ whim-worship (by that name at least))

I’m gonna reply to your post as I go along rather than do a mega reply.

I don’t think there’s a conflict between “social” and “interpersonal”. I read your use of “interpersonal” as indicating that you think morality is about other people and specifically about doing harm to other people. I read Rand’s use of “social” in context as describing the idea that morality is about other people, which she criticizes. So the connection between “interpersonal” and “social” is that they’re indicating the same basic idea about morality (which you advocate, and which Rand criticizes).

Your next clause, IMHO, clarifies your meaning: “and people are free to live their own lives (wrt themselves) how they wish.” So you’re basically emphasizing that if you’re not harming other people, you can do whatever and that’s compatible with morality. I disagree emphatically (as does Rand).

tangent but at least audiobook AS and other Rand stuff when you get the chance IMHO (assuming that’s a format that works for you). Don’t “wait” for a careful readthrough if that’s not gonna actually gonna happen anytime soon. Even hitting the highlights will make it easier to have conversations about this stuff.

That seems reasonable. I put more effort in to my original reply (i.e., wrote more) than I mb should have. I thought it’d be useful to do at the start of the discussion tho.

it’s fine to do high effort if you want to. i find that going bit by bit actually gets me writing more stuff and also prevents me from forgetting points as much

Ahh, yeah. I realize I should have said that differently. I should have said something like those two things mean similar things, so there’s a conflict between my quote and Galt’s quote.

Let me answer your question with a question: since you say you agree with Galt, in your own words, what role is morality playing in the desert island case? Like take one case, finding food. Super concretely, what’s the role of morality in finding food on a desert island? How does morality come into play in the decision to find coconuts or fish or whatever, or in performing those activities?

numbering in short quote preview is wonky :\

Well if morality was about interpersonal harm (specifically, avoiding interpersonal harm - so not like Sith morality where you’re trying to maximize interpersonal harm or something lol) then there would be a truth of the matter about what does and doesn’t cause interpersonal harm. So truth would still be relevant I think.

[META]

I’m okay discussing this, but had something else written responding to 372/4 (particularly your last para)

I’ve got it saved so we can come back to it, but I wanted to mention b/c it feels like the discussion could get out of hand a bit.

Yes, I would still disagree. I don’t think morality is about harm but about how to live well.

I also think morality is about how to live (moral things being those that are compatible with / part of living well – there’s mb a bit more to it, too). How to live is about choices and actions (thinking is an action).

I don’t think morality is about multiple things – like there’s a substantial intersection that covers all the important stuff.

To a certain extent yes and to a certain extent no? Like it depends on the context you have in mind. E.g. if I commit a crime and get locked up, I can’t get out of jail on the next day on the theory that they’ve got the wrong guy. (:upside_down_face:) Anyways I don’t see the immediate relevance to resolving the disagreement but we can discuss more if you think it’s fruitful.

Ok well if you think

  1. Morality is about how to live
  2. Morality isn’t about multiple things

then do you now reject “Morality is about interpersonal harm” or “Morality is about harm”?

to be clear I’m not saying morality doesn’t speak to the issue of harming other people (or yourself). I just don’t think it’s primarily about harm, in essence, as the primary topic of morality.

I don’t think it’s really necessary at this point. (also, I’m going to update the convo tree now)

No – I think it’s part of the intersection I mention:

As a standalone statement of fact I’d agree with it. In context I disagree with it cuz I think it’s suggesting whim-worship.

Ok I’m a bit confused then.

Can you define/sum up morality in a way that you think covers the intersection? And do you think the harm stuff is like a subpoint or subtopic of morality but not the main theme?