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

One issue with something like the view "“If you’re not harming others, you can do whatever and that’s compatible with morality.” is that it’s possible to not harm others but not be a very effective person. Like, you could be someone who smokes marijuana all day but basically keeps to yourself, supports yourself with a kind of dull/low-paying job, pays your rent on time, etc. Harmless, sure, but moral?

Morality includes knowledge on how to be an effective person that e.g. takes the initiative, relies on their own independent judgment, and achieves interesting things. The sphere of moral knowledge isn’t so limited that it only tells you how to achieve the status of a harmless weed-smoker. It can go a lot further than that, and tell you how to actually be someone who makes a dent in the universe.

I think there are at least a couple of common reasons that people disagree. One is that they mix up the entirety of morality with the issue of rights. Another is that they don’t want to judge other people or themselves badly, so they try to limit the scope of what morality deals with. (These aren’t mutually exclusive errors).

Not wanting to judge other people or themselves is not the reason why people don’t want to include “what is the right way to live?” type questions in morality. I remember Sam Harris discussing in one of his podcasts with DD that Sam has met scientists who said to him they think slavery is bad and they would personally fight on the side of people who want to free slaves but they believe that there is nothing ‘really’ wrong with slavery. Sam stressed the word really because I think the scientists he talked with themselves would have stressed the word really to make the point that there are some things (like science and maths) which ‘really’ has right or wrong but other things (like morality) don’t. DD also shared some of his views regarding this topic and IIRC the gist of what DD said was that these people are making a positivist kind of error. This is all to say that there are people who would oppose what other people are doing but even they would say that the people they are opposing aren’t ‘really’ wrong. Most people don’t understand morality or what morality is about or that there can be right or wrong answers in morality (including me). The reason why there is so much disagreement and confusion about morality because people don’t have a good knowledge of morality.

This is related to your point: I think that if someone were to learn that being unproductive and irrational is immoral and if they were unproductive and irrational then they might want to rationalize and make themselves believe that being unproductive and irrational is not part of morality.

Do you mean that it (not wanting to judge other people or themselves) is not the only reason, or that it’s not one of the reasons?

I’m somewhat familiar with the sort of perspective you’re describing in your post, which attributes a higher status to things like science and math (often especially math) compared to other things. You seem to be saying that a downstream consequence of that perspective is a retreat from reasoning about morality. That honestly seems like a much rarer and less common issue than the sort of thing I was thinking about, and like the sort of thing that would only affect a small group of academics and intellectuals as opposed to being a broad phenomenon. Note also that the context was that I was talking about people who want to limit morality to just dealing with harm and not include being an effective person. In your own chosen example, you talk about people not wanting to treat slavery as being “really” wrong. I think most people would take it as self-evident that slavery involves some harm to another human being. So I don’t think your reply is really an effective reply to the issue I was talking/thinking about.

You also seem to have misinterpreted my point about not wanting to judge other people badly as being a reason people want to limit the scope of moral knowledge. You seem to think I am saying it is the reason that people want to limit the scope of moral knowledge. You further seem to be proposing your alternative explanation as being the sole explanation. But even in my original post, I gave another reason, and I said “there are at least a couple of common reasons that people disagree” (emphasis added), so I’m not sure what’s going on there.

The thing I was thinking about: people commonly have strong social reasons/pressures for wanting to get along with other people and have socially smooth interactions with them. Strongly judging others (in a negative way, anyways) could make having smooth interactions a lot more difficult for people, which many people would find unpleasant.

I can’t explain my error but now that you ask me “not the only reason” makes more sense to me.

Ok, so you seem to be admitting you made an error, but you didn’t say what the error was.

You wrote your post as if you were contradicting and correcting Justin. But you didn’t actually point out anything wrong with Justin’s position. And the way you wrote you post actually implied that Justin said something that he didn’t say.

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I don’t fully understand the sense in which the word retreat is used here. I would say that a downstream consequence of math is higher status perspective is confusion about morality.

I agree. It’s a much rarer issue.

I have a guess as to what is going on. I have been having a related conversation with myself for the past few days. I shared some confusions that came to me while thinking about my problems because I thought they are somewhat relevant to your discussion as well.

I agree. Wanting to fit in and conform is a big problem.

My error was that I was unclear about whether I meant “not the only reason” or “not one of the reasons”.

Sorry for causing confusions because of my lack of skills. I will retry once again because I think I have more clarity of what my point is and thus I will make less errors.

I think the reason why people think that being an effective person is not part of moral knowledge is that people don’t have good knowledge of morality. They don’t know what morality is, what morality is about or that morality is objective.

For example you can find people who are relatively successful according to culture (a person working at facebook for example) who will say that a person X who is not effective and living like what you described above is wasting their time or will pass on some sort of a similar judgements but they will not say that such a person is being immoral.

This still reads like you are trying to correct Justin. But the things you are saying do not contradict what he said.

Justin gave some examples of specific types of misunderstandings that people have about morality.

Your response is the more general point that when people are wrong about morality, it is because they have misunderstandings about morality.

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I’m trying to point out something that doesn’t make sense. I will use an analogy to make my point. Let’s say there’s a person participating in a physics debate about whether force of gravity exists. That person holds the view that force does exist because goats have four legs. This is the kind of situation I think this is. The above person is wrong because he is not even participating in the right debate. Knowing whether being effective is contained in morality is a meta morality question. An ineffective person might want to believe that being effective is not about morality because believing the opposite would mean some harsh things for himself. But he is participating in the wrong debate. Whether X is part of morality is a meta debate and doesn’t have anything to do with what X actually being part of morality would mean for someone.

You wrote this as a reply to my post, but I can’t tell what you are replying to.

Still planning on responding?

I’m not sure but I think it is one of the two things that I will quote below.

I think it is one of these two things. These two things are related as well so maybe I am responding to both.

Yes. I’ve been busy with some stuff lately & haven’t had the time/energy. Will have more time again soon.

I wanted to provide an update. I don’t expect any particular replies to this – it’s an interim update.

I reread some of the first chapter of Philosophy: Who Needs It. I didn’t remember how relevant it was. Major takeaway so far: ‘what is moral’ is derived from values and principles we choose to pursue.

I have a different interpretation of Galt’s speech now. Like I think I understand why the man on the desert island needs morality. (Note: it seems like even a crude morality in this crude situation would suffice, but it needs to work.) Particularly wrt something I wrote in the OP: “Sometimes those projects/decisions only impact a single person, in which case they’re probably amoral – that’s okay” – is it the case that the stranded man’s actions are amoral just because he’s the only one affected? No – “reality will show him that life is a value to be bought and that thinking is the only coin noble enough to buy it.”

Here are some quotes I saved from PWNI-ch1 as relevant:

if you don’t look, you won’t have to know that you are, perhaps, too far from the earth and no return is possible; so long as you don’t know it, you are free to believe what you wish—and you experience a foggy, pleasant, but somehow guilty, kind of hope.

The third branch—ethics—may be regarded as its technology. Ethics does not apply to everything that exists, only to man, but it applies to every aspect of man’s life: his character, his actions, his values, his relationship to all of existence. Ethics, or morality, defines a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the course of his life.

What is good or evil for man—and why? Should man’s primary concern be a quest for joy—or an escape from suffering? Should man hold self-fulfillment—or self-destruction—as the goal of his life? Should man pursue his values—or should he place the interests of others above his own? Should man seek happiness—or self-sacrifice?

Now ask yourself: if you are not interested in abstract ideas, why do you (and all men) feel compelled to use them? The fact is that abstract ideas are conceptual integrations which subsume an incalculable number of concretes—and that without abstract ideas you would not be able to deal with concrete, particular, real-life problems. You would be in the position of a newborn infant, to whom every object is a unique, unprecedented phenomenon. The difference between his mental state and yours lies in the number of conceptual integrations your mind has performed.

(note for above: emphasis mine)

Your subconscious is like a computer—more complex a computer than men can build—and its main function is the integration of your ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind. If you default, if you don’t reach any firm convictions, your subconscious is programmed by chance—and you deliver yourself into the power of ideas you do not know you have accepted. But one way or the other, your computer gives you print-outs, daily and hourly, in the form of emotions—which are lightning-like estimates of the things around you, calculated according to your values. If you programmed your computer by conscious thinking, you know the nature of your values and emotions. If you didn’t, you don’t.

(edit WRT last quote: if you do not choose your values then you don’t have control over them – if anything, the first step is choosing some. before that everything is random and inconsistencies creep in; how do you guard against them? after you choose some values/principles, at least it’s possible to confront inconsistencies. that’s why choosing rationality as a value/principle is so important – it’s that foundation that let’s you build a morality that’s valuable and meaningful. (aside: i have a worry that what i’ve said is mistaken such that it’d be overly judgemental – I think being able to make judgements is important, but erring on the side of not-overly-judgemental seems safer. i’m unsure about that and wanted to put it out there))

Ayn Rand quoted by Max:

Who programs [your subconscious]? Your conscious mind. If you default, if you don’t reach any firm convictions, your subconscious is programmed by chance

I think it’s worse than that. If you don’t control outcomes like this, then you shouldn’t expect random outcomes. You should expect static memes to determine outcomes.

If you programmed your computer by conscious thinking, you know the nature of your values and emotions. If you didn’t, you don’t.

You may consciously program your subconscious computer then forget what you did. This is common for programming done in early childhood.

PS You’re updating Justin but may not have seen him leave the forum.

I didn’t, thanks for letting me know.

I posted the following under to the original source from my site: https://forum.xk.io/n/10025. Copy-pasting here since it’s relevant, and because I want to say it here, too.

I was so very wrong about morality and interpersonal harm.

I’ve read Galt’s speech.

In n/10017 (the parent of this post) I said:

Sometimes those projects/decisions only impact a single person, in which case they’re probably amoral – that’s okay. Morality is about interpersonal harm, […].

I was so very wrong about this. Morality does concern one’s actions, since some actions are right and some are wrong. But morality is not about harm (interpersonal or otherwise), at least, no more so than it is about rocks.

I am starting to understand.

I’m not sure enough, yet, to say what morality is about – I could try, but I don’t want to rush it. I want know it before I claim to know it. Soon, I will be sure enough.

I’m grateful that JustinCEO (on the CF forum) noticed this part of n/10017 and challenged me on it, and I’m grateful that he and ingracke found it worth their time to discuss it with me.

I am grateful for Ayn Rand – her life, her works, and most of all: her mind. Right now, I’m grateful particularly for Atlas Shrugged .

I have a special gratitude for Elliot, not only for his participation in the above-linked thread (among many other things, too many to list here), but also – and, right now, primarily – for his labor, dedication and ideas that safeguard the closest thing I’ve ever known to a sanctuary .

Why do I express my gratitude? I admire their virtues. Why am I grateful? Their virtues have allowed me to profit, and I will continue to. And I know that they have and will, too.

CC @Elliot @ingracke @JustinCEO (as you’re mentioned above).

Atlas Shrugged is changing my life.

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You both were right.

I have no apology, and my only defense (judge it how you will) is that I want to celebrate this moment. Not the admission of my evasion, but that it was what you said it was. I want to celebrate this: now, I know it too.

In the past 19 months I have learned, multiple times, that honesty is bigger, deeper, broader than I thought it was. The most recent of those times is today. That’s why I want to celebrate it.