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February 13, 2006

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Kimball Corson

Law Fairy writes, "There are a few issues here: either artwork has value, or it does not. I assume, Bob, that you take it to have value, since you say you own some. If artwork has value, from whence does it arise?"

Bob responds, “To me, all value comes from the individual. All value is relative. What I may value, you may not. You may value Picasso; I wouldn't pay one thin dime for.”

I suggest that value arises from the condition of relative scarcity in the face of a desire for that which is scarce. If Picassos covered the ground the world over, they would not have value in the sense that any of us would then pay anything for one. We could just pick one or another up off the ground instead. This is not to say however whether or to what extent we like or dislike any Picasso. Individually, we could like them a lot, a little or not at all or dislike some and like others. Our preferences don’t matter until they become scarce relative to those of us that want them. Then they begin to have value.

Kimball Corson

Speaking of property rights, intellectual property rights are troubling. Unlike physical property rights, you can sell them and keep them at the same time. In fact, you can sell them over and over again ad nauseum. And you still get to keep what you have sold so many times. On the other hand, if I sell my road bike, the buyer gets it and then I do not have it. I can only sell it once; then it is not mine to sell again. It seems less morally reprehensible somehow to steal something that some still gets to keep and yet still sell again and again. These issues have always troubled me, intellectually.

Kimball Corson

Law Fairy writes to Bob:

"Copyright, in particular, would suffer from your "absolute property rights" rhetoric. If I own a physical copy of a book, I am not free to xerox it as many times as I want and pass it out to strangers for a minimal fee. This is because the author retains intellectual property rights in the book. The ownership is not of the book itself, but of the thoughts, the ideas, the expression in the book."

I observe that a copyright may not protect the thoughts and ideas in a book, but only the specific expression of those thoughts and ideas. Substantially dissimilar phrasing or expression of those same thoughts and ideas can get around the copyright legally. This legal limitation on copyright appeases somewhat my concern about this class of intellectual property rights. As Bob and Law Fairy realize, the ownership and sale of a painting is different than the ownership and sale of a book. The reason for that is explained in my immediately preceding post.

Bob

Kimball,

I asked, "Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of a group to do alone?"

You resond, "I respond most obliquely. It is much harder for an individual to delude himself about the truth of a matter if he is alone than if he is in a group of similarly deluded or like minded people. Mutual self-delusion is mutually reinforcing. Anti-abortion activists do not spend much of their time with pro-lifers and visa versa. Tree huggers and oil barons are separate groups as well. Too, self- delusion becomes much easier alone or in groups where the true of the matter at issue is less clear or accessible only by serious or uncomfortable thoughts."

I respond...you did not answer the question. The subject of delusion is not pertinent. This question, above all others for me, is the most important. Don't inject any special circumstances. Just answer the question.

Kimball Corson

Now, hold on to your hat, Bob.

You are right. I responded, but did not answer the question. I did not answer because I do not think we know or perhaps can know what is moral and what is not. I subscribe to Nietzsche's view that the true (psychologically real) consequences of our actions on others are seldom known (as explained by the famous dictum, “what does not kill me only makes me stronger” . . . and wiser and smarter, etc. – so am I really injured by what seems to have been my injury?). Too, because of the nature of our conscience and subconscious minds and the fact we do know how we think or were our thoughts truly come from, our real motivations or intentions (as opposed to those society finds it expedient to impute) are not really known or knowable either so that, as a matter of truth (as opposed to what society finds expedient) we can not know what is moral (good and acceptable) and what is not, except in regard to killing another (what does not kill me . . .).

If our true intentions and the real impact of our action is not known or knowable, we cannot therefore truly judge the morality of it. See Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. The classical religious model of judging the quick and obvious physical consequences of our action and then assuming we must have intended those consequences is too simple and flawed, if we really care about truth.

However, if we were omniscient enough to know what is moral and what is not, I would agree with your implicit suggestion that it should not be moral for us to act collectively in a manner that for any one of us would not be “moral” (i.e., good and acceptable). That groups can readily delude themselves about even the obvious consequences of their action and turn a blind eye on first order “truth” (‘Look Ma, the emperor has no clothes on,’ Jonestown, Hitler’s Third Reich, etc.) is an important consideration in regard to how groups or collectively people behave. Deluded, they can believe almost anything they want or are lead to believe.

Morality is a very tricky business. I don't think we have the hardware for it. Most don't even reach this far.

Kimball Corson

Bob,

You "asked, "Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of a group to do alone?," implicitly suggesting, under no circumstances is the answer.

With very fundamental qualifications I ultimately answered "that it should not be moral for us to act collectively in a manner that for any one of us would not be “moral” (i.e., good and acceptable)." However, as I think about it, this is a different proposition than yours because the perspective of the one judging morality is shifted.

You pose the problem from the vantage point of a third party, knowledgeable judge of mortaility. I make collective action prohibited if any member of the group would find the action proposed to be immoral. Because moral beliefs are often disparate, I impose a narrower standard than you do.

Further, in light of my privious comments on the question you pose, I have to back away from even my answer. I don't know who can be the judge of what is moral or immoral, for either the group or the individual. No one is sufficiently omniscient. Therefore, we have a foundational problem. However, if your third party judge were omniscient and all agreed he was, then I think the answer to your question is probably, "in all circumstances," but I don't think that situation is feasible so that your question is really unanswerable absent a clear consesus among all on the morality of the proposed action, possible e.g., killing is immoral, but even there we differ with some believing in capital punishment and others not and some believing in abortion and others not. We cannot get a consensus on what should be the easiest proposed action in all circumstances: not to kill. Also, many who believe in pro-life are in favor of capital punishment and some who are pro-choice don't believe in capital punishment. Go figure. Further, the clear consensus may be wrong absent omniscience and especially with delusion of the group being a possibility , e.g., the emperor has no clothes on.

Again, this stuff is really tricky business if we bother to think about it, instead of just react.

Bob

Kimball,

"I subscribe to Nietzsche's view that the true (psychologically real) consequences of our actions on others are seldom known (as explained by the famous dictum, “what does not kill me only makes me stronger” . . . and wiser and smarter, etc. – so am I really injured by what seems to have been my injury?)."

Well, in my opinion, "what does not kill me only makes me stronger" is a fallacy. There are many things that can permanently weaken you (physically, mentally, and spiritually) without killing you. So, even though you may subscribe to this religion, I do not. I would definitely consider myself injured by my injury. Heck, I was in a car accident last year and ended up with a broken leg. I know for a fact, I was injured. And just because I wasn't killed, doesn't mean I wasn't injured. That's absurd.

"If our true intentions and the real impact of our action is not known or knowable, we cannot therefore truly judge the morality of it."

That's a big "if." Besides, intentions and impact often have little to do with each other.

"The classical religious model of judging the quick and obvious physical consequences of our action and then assuming we must have intended those consequences is too simple and flawed, if we really care about truth."

I agree, it is the unseen that we must also take into account. That's why altruists often fail. They only see their own intentions and the immediate impact, they ignore all other impacts.

"if we were omniscient enough to know what is moral and what is not"

i don't believe that one must be omniscient to know right from wrong. But it's a good excuse to do as one pleases. "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought I was doing a good thing."

"That groups can readily delude themselves about even the obvious consequences of their action and turn a blind eye on first order “truth”... is an important consideration in regard to how groups or collectively people behave. Deluded, they can believe almost anything they want or are lead to believe."

Yes, I agree with you here. But just because the group (or the individual) is deluding themselves, does not alter the morality of the act. You seem to be saying that if the majority believes an act to be right, then it is, in fact, right. I disagree.

Bob

"You pose the problem from the vantage point of a third party, knowledgeable judge of mortaility. I make collective action prohibited if any member of the group would find the action proposed to be immoral. Because moral beliefs are often disparate, I impose a narrower standard than you do."

I believe I impose a narrower standard. My standard is thus;

I believe that there are only two basic laws:

(1) Do not encroach on other persons or their property (this would be the basis of all criminal law and property law).

(2) Do all you have agreed to do. (This would be the basis of all contract law.)

I answer all questions based only on these two laws.

Bob

"I don't know who can be the judge of what is moral or immoral, for either the group or the individual. No one is sufficiently omniscient. Therefore, we have a foundational problem."

By this, do you mean that no person is responsible for their actions due to the fact that no person can judge the morality of his actions? We would have more than just a foundational problem. I disagree with your premise that we, as human beings, cannot rationally think and determine what is moral or immoral. That seems to be a cop out, an excuse to do what one pleases.

"However, if your third party judge were omniscient and all agreed he was, then I think the answer to your question is probably, "in all circumstances," but I don't think that situation is feasible"

So, we need a God to tell us how to behave? Sorry, I am atheist and I still know right from wrong.

"so that your question is really unanswerable absent a clear consesus among all on the morality of the proposed action"

No, it is not unanswerable if you don't believe in situational ethics... and I don't.

"possible e.g., killing is immoral, but even there we differ with some believing in capital punishment and others not and some believing in abortion and others not."

Well, killing is not immoral, murder is. There is a difference. Now, abortion and capital punishment are both murder. I am against both.

"We cannot get a consensus on what should be the easiest proposed action in all circumstances: not to kill. Also, many who believe in pro-life are in favor of capital punishment and some who are pro-choice don't believe in capital punishment. Go figure."

Yes, you are right that many people believe in one and are against the other. And yes, this is illogical. You probably want to know when I think killing is moral...well, in self-defense for starters. That would be moral killing, not immoral murder. And yes, there is a difference.

"Again, this stuff is really tricky business if we bother to think about it, instead of just react."

React? Who me?

Kimball Corson

Bob writes:

“Well, in my opinion, "what does not kill me only makes me stronger" is a fallacy. There are many things that can permanently weaken you (physically, mentally, and spiritually) without killing you. So, even though you may subscribe to this religion, I do not. I would definitely consider myself injured by my injury. Heck, I was in a car accident last year and ended up with a broken leg. I know for a fact, I was injured. And just because I wasn't killed, doesn't mean I wasn't injured. That's absurd.”

I respond:

First, Nietzsche and I view the matter psychologically and much less physically. If you learned nothing about yourself and your situation from having a broken leg and the accident, then maybe you were just injured. On the other hand, if you learned something about yourself and those similarly situated, developed more compassion for others, learned about pain and suffering, realized how separate we really are from our bodies, etc., etc., then – depending on what you learned and felt, the experience could have actually been a positive one – it all depends on you and arguably how well the leg healed. Secondly, it need not always be true that what does not kill you makes you stronger. There are exceptions, but that only reinforces the position that we cannot readily know. Finally, who would Helen Keller been, if she had sight. How people deal with their injuries, accidents and handicaps is sometimes very different as is what they get out of those experiences.

Bob writes:
"’If our true intentions and the real impact of our action is not known or knowable, we cannot therefore truly judge the morality of it.’

“That's a big "if." Besides, intentions and impact often have little to do with each other.”

I respond:

I think real psychological impact and intentions are very much unknowable, at least in the first instance and without much thought and knowledge later. What if in the hospital with your broken leg you met and married the nurse who became the love of your life? Also, you are right that intentions and impact often have very little to do with each other. That too is part of Nietzsche’s position. There is often a huge disconnect there. That supports his views.
Bob writes:

"’The classical religious model of judging the quick and obvious physical consequences of our action and then assuming we must have intended those consequences is too simple and flawed, if we really care about truth.’
“I agree, it is the unseen that we must also take into account. That's why altruists often fail. They only see their own intentions and the immediate impact, they ignore all other impacts.”

I respond:

I agree strongly here. We too often see only see what we think were their intentions. Why try to be altruistic? – out of a guilty conscience? If so, for what? Often we infer intentions from what happened, but too often, as you point out and agree, there is a huge disconnect there.

Bob writes:

"’if we were omniscient enough to know what is moral and what is not.’
I don't believe that one must be omniscient to know right from wrong. But it's a good excuse to do as one pleases. "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought I was doing a good thing."

I respond:

Every theory is subject to abuse by one claiming to adopt it. Perhaps omniscience is not necessary in every case, but you can see how much more needs to be known and understood, often possibly only much later, to put things together on the “impact” side, but we are still let with the true intentions problem. It is interesting that our legal system now considers background in regard to sentencing criminals. This reflects a realization that determining intent is very difficult. What is clear is that if we cannot fully know true motivation or intent and true impact, it is much more difficult to judge right from wrong or as I would say good from bad.

Bob writes:

"’That groups can readily delude themselves about even the obvious consequences of their action and turn a blind eye on first order “truth”... is an important consideration in regard to how groups or collectively people behave. Deluded, they can believe almost anything they want or are lead to believe.’
Yes, I agree with you here. But just because the group (or the individual) is deluding themselves, does not alter the morality of the act. You seem to be saying that if the majority believes an act to be right, then it is, in fact, right. I disagree.”

I respond:

You are absolutely right. Just because an individual or group deludes themselves do not make what they do good. The fact they are deluded on makes them further removed from understanding their own true intentions and the impacts of what they do. They are bigger messes than we are. Yet delusion is pretty common, unfortunately. I clearly don’t believe that if a majority believes or does something that makes it right. I even suspect there is a strong tendency too often in the opposite direction.

Bob writes:

"’You pose the problem from the vantage point of a third party, knowledgeable judge of mortality. I make collective action prohibited if any member of the group would find the action proposed to be immoral. Because moral beliefs are often disparate, I impose a narrower standard than you do.’
“I believe I impose a narrower standard. My standard is thus;
I believe that there are only two basic laws:
(1) Do not encroach on other persons or their property (this would be the basis of all criminal law and property law).
(2) Do all you have agreed to do. (This would be the basis of all contract law.)
I answer all questions based only on these two laws.”

I respond:

I think we have a disconnect here. I was only addressing whether an independent, third person was trying to do the judging of what is good or bad or whether one member of the group got to do that job. I cannot go along with your (1) and (2) for the reasons I indicate, but see what I write below. I cannot adequately know the true psychological intent and impact of every encroachment or every breach. Life is too complicated for our pea brains, at least as we use them. We need to know more to make sound judgments about what is ultimately good and what is ultimately bad. But again, see below.


Bob writes:

"’I don't know who can be the judge of what is moral or immoral, for either the group or the individual. No one is sufficiently omniscient. Therefore, we have a foundational problem.’

“By this, do you mean that no person is responsible for their actions due to the fact that no person can judge the morality of his actions? We would have more than just a foundational problem. I disagree with your premise that we, as human beings, cannot rationally think and determine what is moral or immoral. That seems to be a cop out, an excuse to do what one pleases.”

I respond;

Here you put your finger on a real serious problem. If we cannot really know what is good and what is bad, are we licensed to do what we think we want and to hell with the consequences? While some postmodern nihilists think so, I think not and Nietzsche clearly thought not too. In the face of our ignorance, we have obligations to err on the side of (1) a stable social order, (2) impinging as little as practicable on each other’s freedoms and rights, and (3) to try and figure out as best we can what our real motivations or intentions to act are and what the real impacts of our actions on others are most likely to be. We have to try to seriously think about (3) because it is very, very hard to know.

Bob writes:

"’However, if your third party judge were omniscient and all agreed he was, then I think the answer to your question is probably, "in all circumstances," but I don't think that situation is feasible’
“So, we need a God to tell us how to behave? Sorry, I am atheist and I still know right from wrong.”

I respond:

Unless we are badly deluded, I don’t think the creator of the physics underlying our universe tells us anything. Metaphorically, when we ate of the tree of knowledge and were banished from the Garden of Eden (paradise), we were left strictly to our own devises. The net consequence is very close to atheism. I was think more of a non-acting, independent reviewing person, not a person in the group acting, not a god. Unlike you, however, for all the reasons I have explained, I find it much harder to truly know good from bad, but do believe in (1), (2) and (3) above, (I am assuming good = right and bad = wrong, but that is another discussion.)

Bob writes:

"’so that your question is really unanswerable absent a clear consensus among all on the morality of the proposed action’
“No, it is not unanswerable if you don't believe in situational ethics... and I don't.

I respond:

I do believe in situational ethics. The psychological impact of an act on one person can be a net benefit, but on another, a net injury. That is, the same act can be good or bad, depending. Deluded or even just mistaken, one may think he is doing something good for someone, when in fact he is harming them. All of this is too much for us to easily know and it makes generalizations almost impossible.

Bob writes:

"’possible e.g., killing is immoral, but even there we differ with some believing in capital punishment and others not and some believing in abortion and others not.’
“Well, killing is not immoral, murder is. There is a difference. Now, abortion and capital punishment are both murder. I am against both.”

I respond:

I am corrected here on the distinction between killing and murder. We kill living organisms all the time to live and that is certainly not immoral. The deliberate, thoughtful and premeditated killing of another person is murder, I agree. Intention is pretty clear and the impact is obvious. There can be no net gain on this earth to one who is murdered (unless he rightly was about to commit suicide anyway – the assisted suicide situation). See why this stuff is tricky.

Bob writes:

"’We cannot get a consensus on what should be the easiest proposed action in all circumstances: not to kill. Also, many who believe in pro-life are in favor of capital punishment and some who are pro-choice don't believe in capital punishment. Go figure.’
“Yes, you are right that many people believe in one and are against the other. And yes, this is illogical. You probably want to know when I think killing is moral...well, in self-defense for starters. That would be moral killing, not immoral murder. And yes, there is a difference.”

I respond:

But is this not a situational ethics? The general rule “Thou shall not kill” is then too broad, as I believe it is.

Bob writes:

"’Again, this stuff is really tricky business if we bother to think about it, instead of just react.’
“React? Who me?”

I respond:

No, not you. You are obviously thinking about these matters, and not just one reacting with uncritical indignation as many do to these thoughts.

Bob

Kimball,

"what does not kill me only makes me stronger...First, Nietzsche and I view the matter psychologically and much less physically. If you learned nothing about yourself and your situation from having a broken leg and the accident, then maybe you were just injured. On the other hand, if you learned something about yourself and those similarly situated, developed more compassion for others, learned about pain and suffering, realized how separate we really are from our bodies, etc., etc., then – depending on what you learned and felt, the experience could have actually been a positive one – it all depends on you and arguably how well the leg healed."

Basically, what you are saying is that for almost all occurances, one takes away a positive (be it physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual attributes). Okay, maybe and maybe not. But I also argue that for most occurances, one can also take away a negative. Now, sometimes the positives outweigh the negatives and vice versa. But the original premise that "what does not kill me only makes me stronger" is still not always true and that was my point. The way this is written is as an absolute, ie. I am still living, so I am therefore stronger. This is not necessarily true for any of the four attributes.

"Secondly, it need not always be true that what does not kill you makes you stronger. There are exceptions, but that only reinforces the position that we cannot readily know."

That we can not readily know what? Right from wrong? Or whether I am stronger or not because I live? Either way, I believe we can know.

"Finally, who would Helen Keller been, if she had sight. How people deal with their injuries, accidents and handicaps is sometimes very different as is what they get out of those experiences."

Well, chosing some heroic figure who successfully overcame her disabilities is unfair. I am sure there are many unknown people who did not overcome their trials and tribulations and existed in a hopeless and "weak" state. Of course, we can't name any of these people because we do not worship failures.

"I think real psychological impact and intentions are very much unknowable, at least in the first instance and without much thought and knowledge later."

Some are, some aren't (for now, lol).

"Also, you are right that intentions and impact often have very little to do with each other. That too is part of Nietzsche’s position. There is often a huge disconnect there. That supports his views."

How does this support his view that "what does not kill me only makes me stronger?"

"Why try to be altruistic? – out of a guilty conscience?"

That's what the experts all say, but I believe it is a great way to hide selfishness. Either the person will eventually directly benefit from the altruistic program he proposes, or he is being altruistic to impress others. Either way, altruism is almost always selfish. People just don't do something for nothing (at least not something that requires long-term effort). Saving another person in an emergency seems altruistic, but usually the person doesn't have time to consider the consequences of his actions. Therefore, I don't consider this case to be truly altruistic. But I digress.

"If so, for what?"

To impress others, as I have just said.

"Often we infer intentions from what happened, but too often, as you point out and agree, there is a huge disconnect there...but you can see how much more needs to be known and understood, often possibly only much later, to put things together on the “impact” side, but we are still let with the true intentions problem. It is interesting that our legal system now considers background in regard to sentencing criminals. This reflects a realization that determining intent is very difficult. What is clear is that if we cannot fully know true motivation or intent and true impact, it is much more difficult to judge right from wrong or as I would say good from bad."

Exactly, that is why it is rediculous for the judge and jury to determine motive. The act speaks for itself. The motive is irrelevant. It is impossible to truly determine motive. I am sure Hitler thought he was doing the right thing too. But his belief is irrelevant; deluded or not. Actions speak louder than words.

"Just because an individual or group deludes themselves do not make what they do good. The fact they are deluded on makes them further removed from understanding their own true intentions and the impacts of what they do."

I agree. This does not change the morality of their actions; whether they understand their intentions or not. Again, I believe that there are only two basic laws: (1) Do not encroach on other persons or their property (this would be the basis of all criminal law and property law).
(2) Do all you have agreed to do. (This would be the basis of all contract law.)

"I cannot adequately know the true psychological intent and impact of every encroachment or every breach. Life is too complicated for our pea brains, at least as we use them. We need to know more to make sound judgments about what is ultimately good and what is ultimately bad. But again, see below."

Again, I don't believe that the intent is important. The action should be judged. ( I know, this is going to be hard to defend, because you are going to throw a million examples at me where intent is important. But let's use some common sense examples. No silly stuff about a surgeon losing a patient. Of course, he was doing his job and trying to help. He can't be held for murder by only taking the action into account. Stick to examples that involve morality. Like, a poor man steals to feed his baby. And yes, that is wrong because the ends do not justify the means. The man takes a worthy risk, but a risk, none the less.)

"If we cannot really know what is good and what is bad, are we licensed to do what we think we want and to hell with the consequences? While some postmodern nihilists think so, I think not and Nietzsche clearly thought not too."

Luckily, man is a rational animal, therefore, we can think and use our mind to determine right from wrong. I am glad to see that Nietzsche and yourself believe so also.

"In the face of our ignorance, we have obligations to err on the side of (1) a stable social order, (2) impinging as little as practicable on each other’s freedoms and rights, and (3) to try and figure out as best we can what our real motivations or intentions to act are and what the real impacts of our actions on others are most likely to be. We have to try to seriously think about (3) because it is very, very hard to know."

Yay for your number (2), although I feel that your number (1) may allow encroachment on number (2). And your number (3) is irrelevant, as I have said earlier.

"’However, if your third party judge were omniscient and all agreed he was, then I think the answer to your question is probably, "in all circumstances," but I don't think that situation is feasible’

Are you saying that "in all circumstances" is your answer to my question: "Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of a group to do alone?" Or did you mean "under no circumstance?" I can't answer this until I know your answer. I want to make sure we are clear here.

"I do believe in situational ethics."

I gave an example earlier about a father stealing to feed his baby. So, you would believe that his motive is good, therefore, his action is right? Therefore, he is innocent? I would disagree. Although, if my baby was hungry, and I could find no other options, I would do the same. But I would do it knowing it was wrong, but worth the risk. If I was caught, I would plead guilty. But that's just me. Many people would try to wriggle out of taking the responsibility (punishment) for their actions.

"The psychological impact of an act on one person can be a net benefit, but on another, a net injury. That is, the same act can be good or bad, depending."

True, and I believe that if you have to hurt one person to help another, your act is wrong. The ends do not justify the means. You cannot infringe on one person to aid another.

"Deluded or even just mistaken, one may think he is doing something good for someone, when in fact he is harming them. All of this is too much for us to easily know and it makes generalizations almost impossible."

True, that is why I believe that the intent is irrelevant. The action is what is important. This view also supports my disbelief of situational ethics.

"The general rule “Thou shall not kill” is then too broad, as I believe it is."

Well, many of the translations of the original biblical books were inaccurate. The actual commandment is "Thou shall not murder." Yes, I know I am an atheist, but I have read the bible and many of the original sources. So, yes, "thou shall not kill" would be to broad, but then, that was not the correct rule. "Thou shall not murder" is a fine rule.

Finally, I want to let you know that I am enjoying our conversation. This may not be the appropriate place for it. If you like, we can have this conversation via email, or not. Here is fine too. This is getting to be rather lengthy. But I do like how you respond to each issue. And you have made some very good points. And if you wish to continue discussing here, I am willing. See ya tomorrow.

Kimball Corson

Bob writes, starting with quotes of me:

“’what does not kill me only makes me stronger...First, Nietzsche and I view the matter psychologically and much less physically. If you learned nothing about yourself and your situation from having a broken leg and the accident, then maybe you were just injured. On the other hand, if you learned something about yourself and those similarly situated, developed more compassion for others, learned about pain and suffering, realized how separate we really are from our bodies, etc., etc., then – depending on what you learned and felt, the experience could have actually been a positive one – it all depends on you and arguably how well the leg healed.’

“Basically, what you are saying is that for almost all occurrences, one takes away a positive (be it physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual attributes). Okay, maybe and maybe not. But I also argue that for most occurrences, one can also take away a negative. Now, sometimes the positives outweigh the negatives and vice versa.
But the original premise that "what does not kill me only makes me stronger" is still not always true and that was my point. The way this is written is as an absolute, ie. I am still living, so I am therefore stronger. This is not necessarily true for any of the four attributes.”

I respond:

We agree. Nietzsche argues by reducto ad absurdum. You are right, considering everything – all the correct dimensions you identify -- an injury or a “helping hand” can be a net negative or a net positive. But this reinforces Nietzsche’s basic point which is that it is almost impossible or very, very difficult to know, even after the act, much less before the act. This uncertainty of impact also then muddies up even the conscious intent of the actor.

Bob writes:

"’Secondly, it need not always be true that what does not kill you makes you stronger. There are exceptions, but that only reinforces the position that we cannot readily know.’

“That we can not readily know what? Right from wrong? Or whether I am stronger or not because I live? Either way, I believe we can know.”

I respond:

No, we readily cannot know true impact too often. It is very hard to determine impact, as I explain above. That fact makes even conscious intent difficult. Again, considering everything – all the good dimensions you identify -- an injury or a “helping hand” can be either a net negative or a net positive. Impact is a key issue and it is complicated.

Bob writes:

"’Finally, who would Helen Keller been, if she had sight. How people deal with their injuries, accidents and handicaps is sometimes very different as is what they get out of those experiences.’

“Well, choosing some heroic figure who successfully overcame her disabilities is unfair. I am sure there are many unknown people who did not overcome their trials and tribulations and existed in a hopeless and "weak" state. Of course, we can't name any of these people because we do not worship failures.

I respond:

I agree and back down on this one. You are right.

Bob writes:

"’I think real psychological impact and intentions are very much unknowable, at least in the first instance and without much thought and knowledge later."

“Some are, some aren't (for now, lol).

"’Also, you are right that intentions and impact often have very little to do with each other. That too is part of Nietzsche’s position. There is often a huge disconnect there. That supports his views.’

“How does this support his view that "what does not kill me only makes me stronger?"

I respond:

I doesn’t, directly. But it does support the view that if impact is often hard or impossible to determine, especially before acting, then one’s intentions in regard to the act can become confused too because if we cannot gauge impact well before acting, then even our conscious, hoped for intent might get derailed. Conscious intent wants to be tied to outcome. If there is a gap then the situation becomes more complicated.

Bob writes:

"’Why try to be altruistic? – out of a guilty conscience?’

“That's what the experts all say, but I believe it is a great way to hide selfishness. Either the person will eventually directly benefit from the altruistic program he proposes, or he is being altruistic to impress others. Either way, altruism is almost always selfish. People just don't do something for nothing (at least not something that requires long-term effort). Saving another person in an emergency seems altruistic, but usually the person doesn't have time to consider the consequences of his actions. Therefore, I don't consider this case to be truly altruistic. But I digress.

“‘If so, for what?’
“To impress others, as I have just said.”

I respond:

We agree entirely here. That said, I think true altruism is possible, but it is exceedingly rare.

Bob writes:

"’Often we infer intentions from what happened, but too often, as you point out and agree, there is a huge disconnect there...but you can see how much more needs to be known and understood, often possibly only much later, to put things together on the “impact” side, but we are still left with the true intentions problem. It is interesting that our legal system now considers background in regard to sentencing criminals. This reflects a realization that determining intent is very difficult. What is clear is that if we cannot fully know true motivation or intent and true impact, it is much more difficult to judge right from wrong or as I would say good from bad.’

“Exactly, that is why it is ridiculous for the judge and jury to determine motive. The act speaks for itself. The motive is irrelevant. It is impossible to truly determine motive. I am sure Hitler thought he was doing the right thing too. But his belief is irrelevant; deluded or not. Actions speak louder than words.”

I respond:

It depends whether we are interested in truth or social expediency. If the latter, you are right. If we want to know the truth or seek real justice, then we need to know motive, consciously and subconsciously as well as true impact.

Bob writes:

"’Just because an individual or group deludes themselves do not make what they do good. The fact they are deluded on makes them further removed from understanding their own true intentions and the impacts of what they do.’

“I agree. This does not change the morality of their actions; whether they understand their intentions or not. Again, I believe that there are only two basic laws: (1) Do not encroach on other persons or their property (this would be the basis of all criminal law and property law).
(2) Do all you have agreed to do. (This would be the basis of all contract law.)”

"’I cannot adequately know the true psychological intent and impact of every encroachment or every breach. Life is too complicated for our pea brains, at least as we use them. We need to know more to make sound judgments about what is ultimately good and what is ultimately bad. But again, see below.’

“Again, I don't believe that the intent is important. The action should be judged. ( I know, this is going to be hard to defend, because you are going to throw a million examples at me where intent is important. But let's use some common sense examples. No silly stuff about a surgeon losing a patient. Of course, he was doing his job and trying to help. He can't be held for murder by only taking the action into account. Stick to examples that involve morality. Like, a poor man steals to feed his baby. And yes, that is wrong because the ends do not justify the means. The man takes a worthy risk, but a risk, none the less.)”

I respond:

To ignore intent is the Old Testament, Islamic system. We are going back to just looking at the obvious first order impact and from that infer the actor intended that impact. In this system, real intent does not matter, neither does real impact, as we have discussed those. This system may be socially expedient, but it is not a system that is concerned with truth or real justice. At times, the difference can be glaring and the judgment very unjust on the face of it (we both can work out examples), but the social order might be well served. If that is true, then in that system what can be wrong or bad for an individual (anyone charged) can be right or good for the group. – an answer to your question. To avoid that conundrum, real intent and real impact need to be sought and hopefully understood, but it seems we are just not up to it yet, nor do most even understand the need to try for it presently.

Bob writes:

"’If we cannot really know what is good and what is bad, are we licensed to do what we think we want and to hell with the consequences? While some postmodern nihilists think so, I think not and Nietzsche clearly thought not too.’

“Luckily, man is a rational animal, therefore, we can think and use our mind to determine right from wrong. I am glad to see that Nietzsche and yourself believe so also.”

“’In the face of our ignorance, we have obligations to err on the side of (1) a stable social order, (2) impinging as little as practicable on each other’s freedoms and rights, and (3) to try and figure out as best we can what our real motivations or intentions to act are and what the real impacts of our actions on others are most likely to be. We have to try to seriously think about (3) because it is very, very hard to know.’

“Yay for your number (2), although I feel that your number (1) may allow encroachment on number (2). And your number (3) is irrelevant, as I have said earlier.”

I respond:

You are then back under the Old Testament/Islamic system I explained above, with its attending problems. Those problems are too much for me. I believe (1), (2) and (3) are all important and the real trick is to balance them within our limitations, while recognizing all three.

Bob writes:

"’However, if your third party judge were omniscient and all agreed he was, then I think the answer to your question is probably, "in all circumstances," but I don't think that situation is feasible’

“Are you saying that "in all circumstances" is your answer to my question: ‘Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of a group to do alone?’ Or did you mean "under no circumstance?" I can't answer this until I know your answer. I want to make sure we are clear here.

I respond:

I said “probably in all circumstances” what you say is true; however, and this is a big however, it depends on what the group and individual understand to be to be moral. If by moral you mean moral under the Old Testament/Islamic standard where intent does matter and we look only a obvious physical consequences, then “probably in all circumstances.” If we take my view and Nietzsche’s, then the answer remains the same if we are all omniscient. But if some of us understand more and better than others, then the answer becomes “probably not in many circumstances” will it be moral for they group when it is immoral for the individual.

Bob writes:

"’I do believe in situational ethics.’

“I gave an example earlier about a father stealing to feed his baby. So, you would believe that his motive is good, therefore, his action is right? Therefore, he is innocent? I would disagree. Although, if my baby was hungry, and I could find no other options, I would do the same. But I would do it knowing it was wrong, but worth the risk. If I was caught, I would plead guilty. But that's just me. Many people would try to wriggle out of taking the responsibility (punishment) for their actions.”

I respond:

Let us instead take your earlier example of murdering someone in self-defense. You justify that as being moral, but is it not murder nonetheless. Is that not situational ethics? In other words, the injunction on murder is not absolute. It depends on the situation. What if I murdered Hitler in 1940 or 1941? Or Mother Teresa? Should I get a gold metal or the gas chamber? Does my intent or less well said the target matter? I think so. These are all different situations. Now to your example: The baby is about to die of starvation. The father steals food from someone too wealthy to notice or care that it is missing. A neighbor reports the theft. To make it interesting, the sentence for stealing is five years in prison. Does intent matter? I think it surely does here. What about impact? That clearly matters too. Your sentence should not be five years in prison just because this particular social order does not like stealing. The instinct for justice in each of us would and should consider your situation and your intent and the impact of your crime on the wealthy food owner.

Bob writes:

"”The psychological impact of an act on one person can be a net benefit, but on another, a net injury. That is, the same act can be good or bad, depending.’

“True, and I believe that if you have to hurt one person to help another, your act is wrong. The ends do not justify the means. You cannot infringe on one person to aid another.”

I respond:

I agree if you mean by hurt one person that they are on net injured and by helped another you mean he or she is on net benefited. Indeed, you might try to help both people and on net injure both of them or try to hurt both and on net benefit both. If however you were omniscient and could on net help someone by on net injuring someone else, I agree that ends don’t usually justify the means, but what about my Hitler example? Shouldn’t I be allowed to murder him and on net benefit virtually everyone else? Wouldn’t I be given a medal instead of prison time?

Bob writes:

"’Deluded or even just mistaken, one may think he is doing something good for someone, when in fact he is harming them. All of this is too much for us to easily know and it makes generalizations almost impossible.’

“True, that is why I believe that the intent is irrelevant. The action is what is important. This view also supports my disbelief of situational ethics.”

I respond:

We disagree here. I think intent matters. The Hitler and Mother Teresa examples show us why intent matters. Also, you should not be treated the same if you stole for your starving baby as if you stole to sell the bread and get money for drugs. Intent does matter, if we want to be just. If we want to be only socially expedient, then that is a different matter. Also, you want to look only at action and not impact. Nietzsche’s “what doesn’t kill me only . . . “ comment” was designed to show us that obvious action consequences are often not the same as impact and it is impact that should matter. The Old Testament/ Islamic system misses the mark of justice too often for the sake of mere social expediency and order. Even our legal system moved away from that to consider intent. Premeditated murder is treated differently than manslaughter, but the victim is dead either way, i.e., the impact is the same and a net injury, by definition. Intent matters, and so should real impact.

Bob writes:

"’The general rule “Thou shall not kill” is then too broad, as I believe it is.’

“Well, many of the translations of the original biblical books were inaccurate. The actual commandment is "Thou shall not murder." Yes, I know I am an atheist, but I have read the bible and many of the original sources. So, yes, "thou shall not kill" would be to broad, but then, that was not the correct rule. "Thou shall not murder" is a fine rule.”

I respond:

But then is not your murder in self-defense justification still just plain murder for which you should be sentenced, if you believe the mandate ‘thou shall not murder’ is absolute and intent doesn’t matter, as I and the current legal system don’t. Your intent was to murder your would-be murderer so you could stay alive. Intent again matters. And you believe in situational ethics here. Then the question becomes if absolutes are always appropriate, when are the rules applicable and when are they to ve modified?

Bob writes:

“Finally, I want to let you know that I am enjoying our conversation. . . . I do like how you respond to each issue. And you have made some very good points. . . .See ya tomorrow.

I respond:

Thank you. I enjoy it as well. And to think Law Fairy wanted these topics off limits because we might strongly disagree. Between us the exchange of views has worked as it should: we are both pressed to consider our positions more articulately and careful and to change our respective minds when and where persuaded.

The Law Fairy

Kimball -- when did I ever say I wanted anything "off limits"??

Kimball Corson

Not exactly off-limits, but you wanted to steer the conversation away from these more sensitive areas because they are so. But look at what a good exchange Bob and I have had and from an unpromising start at that. That is why I believe "wide-open" is the only way to go. If it is too much for some, let them simply back away for a bit to protect their sensibilities, rather than engage. . . , just as you have . . . sort of. (Now, don't hit me.)

Kimball Corson

Bob,

Perhaps what you are saying when you say intent is irrelevant -- inasmuch as you otherwise substantially agree with me -- is that as I view intent, understanding it boarders on the unmanageable, and therefore we should deem true intent to be irrlevant and say only obvious impact is what was intended.

The Law Fairy

Kimball, I did suggest backing off from the topic -- not necessarily because it was "sensitive" and could offend folks, but because it brought up a lot of issues I didn't see taking us anywhere helpful. Like I had said earlier, I think people should be free to post what they want -- including, for instance, their opinion that abortion is a red herring when it comes to art :)

Bob

Kimball,

You said: "We agree. Nietzsche argues by reducto ad absurdum. You are right, considering everything – all the correct dimensions you identify -- an injury or a “helping hand” can be a net negative or a net positive. But this reinforces Nietzsche’s basic point which is that it is almost impossible or very, very difficult to know, even after the act, much less before the act. This uncertainty of impact also then muddies up even the conscious intent of the actor."

Well, I believe that intent is impossible to know in many cases, even in accidents. Maybe I got rear-ended by this lady because I unknowingly cut her off earlier and this was her revenge. But again, her intent is irrelevant and she (or her insurance company) is held accountable. I also don't believe that there was uncertainty of impact. Now, we may not know the full impact, but we can hold the person accountable for the impacts that we do know about. My original point in bringing up this examplpe is that some impacts are known and can be handled under law, regardless of intent. Do we really care (or even ask) what her intent was for rear-ending me? No. We just make her accountable for all known damage. Yes, some impacts are missed, that's life. I can live with uncertainties.

"’Secondly, it need not always be true that what does not kill you makes you stronger. There are exceptions, but that only reinforces the position that we cannot readily know... we readily cannot know true impact too often. It is very hard to determine impact, as I explain above. That fact makes even conscious intent difficult. Again, considering everything – all the good dimensions you identify -- an injury or a “helping hand” can be either a net negative or a net positive. Impact is a key issue and it is complicated."

Like I said above, yes, all impacts may not be known, but we can deal with the known impacts and correct the offending (bad, evil, whatever) actions.


"’I think real psychological impact and intentions are very much unknowable, at least in the first instance and without much thought and knowledge later... Also, you are right that intentions and impact often have very little to do with each other. That too is part of Nietzsche’s position. There is often a huge disconnect there. That supports his views."

Which views in particular, he has many?

"I doesn’t, directly. But it does support the view that if impact is often hard or impossible to determine, especially before acting, then one’s intentions in regard to the act can become confused too because if we cannot gauge impact well before acting, then even our conscious, hoped for intent might get derailed. Conscious intent wants to be tied to outcome. If there is a gap then the situation becomes more complicated."

Well, that's why I believe any action that infringes on any person's life or property is wrong. It's a good starting point for questioning the impacts of actions and laws.

"We agree entirely here. That said, I think true altruism is possible, but it is exceedingly rare."

So exceedingly rare, that it shouldn't even be an arguement for or against anything. I just want to be left alone from the do-gooders, they always seem to hurt me more than they help. Mostly, I just consider them meddlers.

"’Often we infer intentions from what happened, but too often, as you point out and agree, there is a huge disconnect there...but you can see how much more needs to be known and understood, often possibly only much later,"

Even when we learn about bad impacts much later, the legislators make it worse with more laws to try and force the original intent. Besides, the current legislators dont have the experience of previous legislators, so they may pass laws that previous legislators repealed when they learned about the negative impacts. We really dont seem to learn, we just repeat the same mistakes every other generation, or so.

"It depends whether we are interested in truth or social expediency. If the latter, you are right. If we want to know the truth or seek real justice, then we need to know motive, consciously and subconsciously as well as true impact."

True, but we can never really know the true intent. Therefore, we need to study impacts to eliminate the negatives. And what is law, but expediency?

"To ignore intent is the Old Testament, Islamic system. We are going back to just looking at the obvious first order impact and from that infer the actor intended that impact. In this system, real intent does not matter, neither does real impact, as we have discussed those."

I disagree here, some biblical laws deal with immediate impacts. Yes, it is simple, but it is also effective. I would argue, more effective than our legal system today where very few are held accountable due to our belief of good intentions (you know, aww, he didnt mean it, so it doesnt count).

But I also dont agree that ignoring intent is Old Testament. The biblical laws encroach on personal freedoms. These laws are about keeping certain people in power. These laws are not for the people, but for the creators.

"This system may be socially expedient, but it is not a system that is concerned with truth or real justice."

Maybe it dishes out too much justice for our post-modern psychology? We have become too lenient with others, as well as ourselves. Our society shows this.

"At times, the difference can be glaring and the judgment very unjust on the face of it (we both can work out examples), but the social order might be well served. If that is true, then in that system what can be wrong or bad for an individual (anyone charged) can be right or good for the group. – an answer to your question."

Yes, the biblical laws put the group before the individual. But I suggest that we put the individual before the group, i.e., what is wrong for a person is always wrong for the group.

"To avoid that conundrum, real intent and real impact need to be sought and hopefully understood, but it seems we are just not up to it yet, nor do most even understand the need to try for it presently."

I believe it is impossible, theefore, it should be irrelevant.

"’If we cannot really know what is good and what is bad, are we licensed to do what we think we want and to hell with the consequences? While some postmodern nihilists think so, I think not and Nietzsche clearly thought not too."

Here is an interesting note: Nietzsche may actually be a nihilist; he claims that all ethical statements are false, because any kind of correspondence between ethical statements and "moral facts" is illusory. there is no universally true fact, roughly because none of them more than "appear" to correspond to reality). Instead, ethical statements (like all statements) are mere "interpretations."

Your Case 1:
"If by moral you mean moral under the Old Testament/Islamic standard where intent does matter and we look only a obvious physical consequences, then “probably in all circumstances.”

You are saying here that the group can do as it pleases in all circumstances? Why?

Case 2:
"If we take my view and Nietzsche’s, then the answer remains the same if we are all omniscient."

Again, you are saying that you, too, believe that the group may legally do anything they please, even if it is illegal for an individual to do? Why? Because might makes right?

Your case 3:
But if some of us understand more and better than others, then the answer becomes “probably not in many circumstances” will it be moral for they group when it is immoral for the individual.

Who would these "supermen of understanding" be?

"Let us instead take your earlier example of murdering someone in self-defense."

Actually, it would not be murder; it would be killing. Murder is a legal term and it has (from the beginning of legal systems) always excluded killing in self-defense from being considered murder. All social contracts allow killing in self-defense.

"You justify that as being moral, but is it not murder nonetheless. Is that not situational ethics?"

Yes, it is situational. Like I said in an earlier post, it is very hard to know intent, so if I killed someone in self defense (which would be my excuse and only I would truly know), we would consider that murder. Now, remember, I said earlier that we can come up with many "situations" where intent would justify a wrong. And I said that I knew I would not be able to defend this belief of mine. But here is how I would do it. I think the law would have to explicityly state the situations where a wrong can be committed (like killing in self defense). And law does that to some degree now. But that is why we have trial by jury. To determine, as best they can, the intent, which again, is almost impossible. I can plead self defense, but it is up to the jury to believe me. Therein lies the problem. Of course, in this example, the only other recourse is to let my attacker murder me. That way I don't kill/murder, and my murderer is easily convicted and put in jail. BUT, that defeats the purpose of law, because law is an agreement among men to keep all men "good." If I let myself be murdered so that I dont break a law, then what good is the law, as it does not protect me. The law serves men; men do not serve the law.

"In other words, the injunction on murder is not absolute. It depends on the situation. What if I murdered Hitler in 1940 or 1941?"

Was it in self defense? If not, you are guilty. Having hindsight about a murderer isn't a fair arguement anyway.

"Or Mother Teresa? Should I get a gold metal or the gas chamber? Does my intent or less well said the target matter? I think so. These are all different situations. Now to your example: The baby is about to die of starvation. The father steals food from someone too wealthy to notice or care that it is missing."

Who said he steals from the wealthy? Let's say he steals from another starving homeless family. Not that it really matters who he steals from. He is still commiting a crime.

"A neighbor reports the theft. To make it interesting, the sentence for stealing is five years in prison. Does intent matter?"

No. He took a risk. He knew it was wrong. He got caught. Time to pay up. But just to let you now, I would take the same risk for my family.

"I think it surely does here. What about impact? That clearly matters too. Your sentence should not be five years in prison just because this particular social order does not like stealing. The instinct for justice in each of us would and should consider your situation and your intent and the impact of your crime on the wealthy food owner."

If the social order specifies 5 years for stealing, so be it. In Saudi, they just cut your hand off. In the USA, we just slap your wrist. The penalty is up to the society. The penalty is irrelevant to the situation. That's like saying since the penalty is too severe, we wont convict anybody for committing a crime. So, everybody gets off and does it again. Crime spree becasue law is out the window. Of course, the penalty should be fair, not too severe, but also not too lenient. In the old common law days, the convicted thief would have to pay the victim 2.5 times the amount he stole, no matter what the amount was. If he didnt have it, he would work for the victim (or the victims family) until the debt was paid. There was no jail, no debtors prison. The convicted person could also choose not to pay his debt and become an outlaw (live outside the law), In this case, the judge issued a writ that allowed anybody to kill (not murder) this person on sight. I kinda like the part where the criminal makes restitution to the victim and not the "state." And it's the criminals choice to choose outlawry.

"I agree if you mean by hurt one person that they are on net injured and by helped another you mean he or she is on net benefited. Indeed, you might try to help both people and on net injure both of them or try to hurt both and on net benefit both. If however you were omniscient and could on net help someone by on net injuring someone else, I agree that ends don’t usually justify the means"

Well, this is weird. Here you are disagreeing with what you said earlier? I thought you said you believed that the group can do whatever it wishes? Now you are saying they cant?

"but what about my Hitler example? Shouldn’t I be allowed to murder him and on net benefit virtually everyone else? Wouldn’t I be given a medal instead of prison time?"

Well, murder is murder. But, did you mean kill him before, or after, he committed his evil actions? If before, then you are wrong. Hindsight doesnt save you. If after, do you mean once we engaged him in war? As the non-aggressor, we were defending ourselves. I have already spoken about the self-defense issue.

"Also, you should not be treated the same if you stole for your starving baby as if you stole to sell the bread and get money for drugs."

Why? Are drugs bad? What if not getting my fix could possibly kill me? What if I did steal for drugs, but told the court I stole to feed my baby. You can't prove otherwise, therefore, I go free because the court can't really know my intent. The action is enough to judge.

"Intent does matter, if we want to be just."

Impact does matter, if we want to be just.

"If we want to be only socially expedient, then that is a different matter."

It's not just about being socially expedient. It's about not being able to determine intent. If we are going to judge people only on what they say their intent is, we will end up holding nobody responsible for their actions.

" Premeditated murder is treated differently than manslaughter, but the victim is dead either way, i.e., the impact is the same and a net injury, by definition. Intent matters, and so should real impact."

Intent doesnt really matter to the dead man. I do have a problem with the theft laws though. Why is there petty theft, grand theft, larceny, burglary, etc.? Why do we distinguish between these? They are all thefts. Why do we punish large thefts more severely than small thefts? I know why, but I want to hear what you think first. The reason why is what our legal system is all about; and it's got nothing to do with intent.

"But then is not your murder in self-defense justification still just plain murder for which you should be sentenced, if you believe the mandate ‘thou shall not murder’ is absolute and intent doesn’t matter, as I and the current legal system don’t."

Actually, in the bible, it does address killing in self defense. It is permissable. The attacker is breaking the social contract. The social contract no longer applies to him; he is an outlaw. He may be killed. And yes, before you say it, this IS situational, lol. But it is explicitly written within the law as an exception to the law.

"Your intent was to murder your would-be murderer so you could stay alive. Intent again matters. And you believe in situational ethics here. Then the question becomes if absolutes are always appropriate, when are the rules applicable and when are they to ve modified?"

Hehe, I kinda just answered this. But you are right, absolutes are a problem. That is why the laws are modified to include the exceptions. Of course, these exceptions always deal with intent and a good lawyer always uses these exceptions to circumvent the law because these intent-based exceptions are the easiest and most successful method to beat the law.

"Perhaps what you are saying when you say intent is irrelevant -- inasmuch as you otherwise substantially agree with me -- is that as I view intent, understanding it boarders on the unmanageable, and therefore we should deem true intent to be irrlevant and say only obvious impact is what was intended."

Yes, but when we discover other latent or residual impacts, we should take them into account too.

Here are some other notes about Nietzsche:

people who are strong (strong-willed) believe that 'good' is the noble, strong and powerful, while the 'bad' is the weak, cowardly, timid and petty.

people who are weak believe that what is good is what is most useful for the community as a whole. Since the powerful are few in number compared to the masses of the weak, the weak gain power vis-a-vis the strong by treating those qualities that are valued by the powerful as "evil," and those qualities that enable sufferers to endure their lot as "good." Thus patience, humility, pity, submissiveness to authority, and the like, are considered good.

The weak regards the virtues of beauty, power, strength and wealth as 'evil' in an act of revenge against those who have them in abundance. (On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Section 10) Slave morality is therefore a reactionary morality because 'good' does not spring creatively from the individual but develops as a negation of the values of the powerful. The noble person conceives of goodness first and later determines what is 'bad' while the slave conceives of 'evil' first and fashions his own conception of 'good' in opposition to this.

that's why democracy is becoming more popular. the weak majority see in it the possibility to take from the strong majority. religion is also a tool of the weak to enforce their values of good and evil.

nihilists are weak-minded people who are so confused that they can't make any sense out of anything, so they opt not to beieve in anything. Nietzsche may actually be a nihilist; he claims that all ethical statements are false, because any kind of correspondence between ethical statements and "moral facts" is illusory. there is no universally true fact, roughly because none of them more than "appear" to correspond to reality). Instead, ethical statements (like all statements) are mere "interpretations." Nietzsche believed this "God is dead" would eventually undermine the foundations of morality and lead to moral relativism and moral nihilism.

He valued individualism above all else, and was particularly opposed to pity and altruism (one of the things that he seems to have detested the most about Christianity was its emphasis on pity and how this allegedly leads to the elevation of the weak-minded). he argues that the state should not intervene on behalf of the inferior.

You know what Kimball, I kinda like this guy!

Kimball Corson

Well, Bob, that was a good and worthy mouthful and my initial task is where to start. I abandon our format and begin with Nietzsche. Consistent, he was not, or at least not always. He lets us into his brain to see how he thinks and shifts position or tack. To be sure, he held the noble, independent, powerful, thoughtful man in highest esteem, but at the same time would have that man laugh, dance and operate with the natural instincts of a child. As close as he could come to suggesting a social order for such men was that of the ancient Greeks before Socrates polluted their sons' minds with deconstructionistic dialectic. How to be thoughtful but instinctual at the same time is tough, especially if too much knowledge of history can destroy you. How to also be strong and instinctual, but at the same time above or beyond the reach of Socrates’ dialectic is also tough. How a social order of such men might work is what gives me fits. There, I project, as best I can, but not very well, I know. My social accommodation effort compromises too much on Nietzsche’s superman/child, I realize and I am very, very hesitant to write Nietzsche off here. I have learned from that mistake before.

Operating on instinct and realizing there is no good or bad for reasons I have explained and that the group or social order is deluded and servile to our weakest sensibilities, the superman/child would appear to be unbounded, but where is the check needed for a social order, or – as Nietzsche suggests – does he just step out of it or into its shadows and proceed as he will – much like Ann Rynd’s architect hero in Atlas Shrugged. These are tough questions and where you just might be most right is to argue that if caught doing what he instinctually believes he should and it violates some law, he just takes his lumps and hopefully moves on, if not dragged down by the herd-minded social order. That could make a case for your “primitive” legal system in lieu of what we have or what I have suggested by extrapolating from Nietzsche’s beyond good and evil. In that regard, your position is closer to Nietzsche's than mine is, I suspect. Mine is too much befitting weak whiners and avoiders, I fear, and those are certainly not supermen/children.

Accepting this troubling background, let me step into our conversation afresh and see if I can do better, at least by my own lights, if not Nietzsche’s. I too will have to shift position a bit, as I already have.

If we adopt your ‘Old Testament/Islamic” legal system and recognize it is merely a tool of social order and a device of expediency, not truth, are we not left with a serious conundrum too often in that what is immoral for the individual charged (who would have us look to the truth regarding his intent and net impact of what he did) becomes moral for the society which cares more for order and expediency and not at all for true intent or final net impact. Should this trouble us? I suspect we both think so, but for different reasons. You, because you want the man charged to ignore truth and accept the predictable consequences of his acts. And me, because in this system, truth really doesn’t matter, only the rules and order or rights do. You sacrifice Nietzsche’s superman to the crowd, and I would turn him into an apparent whiner. Nietzsche would prefer your position, I am sure. He would contend a true superman would have instincts that subsumed the law in a way to, if not avoid its infraction, at least circumstantially to avoid prosecution. Too, the superman would consider the moral calculus I propose, but that too would be a part of his instinct and not something he would expect to be understood by the social herd –or the courts, if he were caught. His instinct for this moral calculus may be the reason he would often avoid prosecution for his violations of the law, where truth and social expediency would otherwise come in conflict.

A stark individualist the superman certainly is, but it is hard to imagine a social order of the likes of him. Nietzsche would say that is not to be expected or of concern, for too few arrive at such a state (or indeed even understand Nietzsche) and such individuals live in either isolation and/or the shadows around the rest of us, showing us only an oblique face from time to time. As with Christianity, too few can grasp the brass ring or hang on to it, but unlike Christianity, belief and effort (faith and good works) don’t get you into any heaven in Nietzsche’s world.

My effort, should I criticize it, is to try too hard to have us all or many become supermen in a social order of such men and I guess I just fail for the reasons I explain here and Nietzsche implied. What distresses me about my failure is its implications, under both Jesus’ system and Nietzsche’s system, for social progress. Are we simply doomed to recycle the same social sludge generation after generation. I would hope not, but here suggest or explain why that is likely so. But is this refuted by the fact we do see some social progress across the generations. . . or do we? Did the ancient Greek of Athens live better and more successfully than we do? I suspect they did. If so, where is the progress I thought I saw? Am I the fool for socially trying here and how much history should I know? Or does my instinct tell me all I need to know here, that I don’t want to believe? I suspect the latter, but what a thought is that!

This ends my first take on your response. I will regroup and address more later.

Kimball Corson

If I were to back away from my effort to advance the legal system by having it seek truth with respect to true motivation and/or intent and true net impact for the act in question, and if I were to adopt the socially more expedient “Old Testament/Islamic” system, given all I have recently said, how does that advance our social order independently of the occasional person moving toward the superman/child? Rarely if ever, in a pacified qua civilized social order, are supermen/children ever true leaders. They can lead, but only in the direst of times. This is so because political compromises are disconnects from truth designed to weld together whining factions -- not the business or interest of a superman/child. So the issue then becomes what is best for the rest of us?

The certainty and attending injustice of your system or what we presently have, or what I propose? Yours is a bright-line Scalia system that quickly and probably most effectively protects infringed rights and interests, but it too often pits truth against social expediency. Our present system is a step in the right direction, but it knows not what it is doing or where it is going or why. It claims to seek truth, but is riddled with silly notions like equal protection and sentencing guidelines, with three-strikes-and-your-out tossed in for probabilistic social expediency. It is a mish mash that at once reaches too far and not far enough. Certainty of out-come is not among its virtues, neither is an instinct for truth. And it is expensive. The worst of all world, perhaps.

But is my proposal any better? I think so and I explain why. While it lacks social expediency and the quick and sure protection of property and personal rights, it does clearly seek truth and by the learning process implicit in it affords us a way to advance our thinking and understanding of what truth entails here and its true complexities. I think we should value this learning experience and effort to seek truth over social expediency and quick and certain punishment. It is difficult to argue for our continued ignorance on whatever grounds.

In the cosmic scheme of things, how important are our property and personal rights, here and now, against the advancement of our individual and collective consciousnesses in this quarter. Not much, I think. Indeed, if true freedom is having nothing left to loose, do not personal and property rights hopelessly conflict us in regard to our true freedom? Frank Lloyd Wright once said he built house for the wealthy who were nothing more than janitors to their possessions. We are not here on earth that long, and all of us suffer the ultimate injustice of having everything we own and all of our earthly rights taken from us at death. What survives, if not our consciousness and what we have learned about truth that really matters. Regardless of what we suppose for the hereafter, we do loose all at death. What I postulate makes truth and an expanded consciousness paramount. Others may see it differently. You may see it simply as the end. Either way we lose much or all at death, so how important really is the swift and sure protection of our rights at the cost of injustice and our dedication to truth?

No, I have to stay with my proposal that we do need to learn and consider motive and/or true intent and net final impact in order to try to be just and give truth its due regard, even if the process is made more complicated, cumbersome, slow and less sure as to result. It is the learning process from doing so that really matters most, not the end result per se, and you know where I am coming from in that regard. An atheist would see it differently: maximize personal and property rights here and now because that is all you will get, as death is final and there can be no superceding concern of continuing importance. I disagree with that position for the reasons stated.

The fact we are not supermen/children does not mean that collectively we cannot try to have us socially move in that direction. It helps salvage social progress too, for at least we will learn and come to know more about ourselves as a social order and that strikes me as worthy. The Islamic belief system shuts its doors on too much in this quarter. To be sure, what I propose is subject to abuse, but all real learning or teaching systems are. The baby should not be tossed with the bath water. We need to keep our eye on what matters -- the truth of matters and what we are learning. Sorry, I still come out differently and for different reasons.

Kimball Corson

Law Fairy,

Now you're play a lawyerly sematical game by saying "...including, for instance, their opinion that abortion is a red herring when it comes to art :)" because the core concept of the discussion was the destruction of something of putative value -- within which art and fetuses both fit rather nicely, I thought.

The Law Fairy

It's not a semantic game, Kimball, I was just pointing out that I wasn't trying to stop anyone from discussing anything. I was just suggesting that it wasn't getting us anywhere. Abortion raises a lot more issues than are necessary to discuss whether art should be protected -- an analogy to abortion proves way too much in that regard and provokes reactions that will likely be unhelpful. *As I said before,* I think you should be allowed to talk about it, but it hardly makes me a fascist or censor-minded person to suggest that the analogy is faulty and useless. So my point was that I was, in fact, acting within this context of full free speech by pointing out the poor fit of the analogy.

Kimball Corson

I thought the fit was a good one because of the externalities analysis applicable to both and the idea that one fetus could be of tremendous benefit to humankind, just as a great work of art, both with strong positive externalities in this and future generations, so that abortion would be a mistake for society (regardless of what trimester was involved) and a fetus that was to become a dangerous career criminal could have serious negative externalities just like the destruction of a piece of fine art, so that an abortion might be best for society in that case, independently of which trimester was involved. This discussion shows how Roe v. Wade misses the mark societally and how this type of analysis ought to be considered in the abortion decision, just as it ought to be considered on whether to keep or allow destruction of a fine piece of art as well. Just because you don't like the analysis (perhaps its assumptions and certainly its irreligious implications) doesn't mean the analogy is poor or a poor fit. You are just too steeped in the traditional and unfruitful religious and pro-choice arguments surrounding abortion to appreciate a societal perspective and analysis of the issue that is sufficiently general to reach to decisions on the preservation or destruction of fine art as well. Further, I’ll bet you had not heard the argument before, nor have you even given much thought to the direct societal implications of one or another abortion decision, as opposed to the more ethereal and commensurately less useful religious or pro-choice arguments. Few people do.

Kimball Corson

Law Fairy,

Note carefully, I am not suggesting a role for the government here. I am only saying that, in the context of the private abortion decision, the likely societal consequences should be considered by the mother also. It is one thing for Albert Einstein and his wife to decide on an abortion and quite another for a husbandless woman, whose boyfriend and his brothers, along with her own, are all in prison, to decide on an abortion. I am just asking for some societal consideration, that's all. There is some evidence that society is considered by woman contemplating an abortion -- although not in those terms per se -- but to listen to the religious and pro-choice arguments, the societal aspect is all but lost in favor of more marginal issues -- marginal in the sense of how they actually will impact our lives. I suspect your religious views are causing you to turn a quick, blind or disparaging eye on too much these days, which is a shame, given your fine, well-trained mind.

The Law Fairy

Kimball, the fact that I'm religious is irrelevant, and I'm able to argue without that fact needing to be raised. Indeed, it's at best unfair of you to "blame" my religion for any disagreement I have with you on this point. Might it not be simply that you and I see things differently? And, if so, my religion itself is not a handicap. I see your point. I think it's wrong, for the simple reason that a fetus is not a piece of artwork. You can harp on my religion all you like -- my religion isn't what makes me disagree with you. It's my carefully considered opinion on the subject that causes that. I trust that you agree that religions persons can have beliefs and opinions and thought processes that don't line up with the "party line," so to speak, of their respective churches, without having to give up the basic tenets of that religion.

As to the externalities of *not* having an abortion, it's an argument that, you're correct, isn't given much thought. But I honestly don't see how it could, or how your theory plays out here. I think life is more than the sum of its parts. If this is so, then your calculus loses a lot of its value, for the simple reason that we can't predict what a person will become before that person is even born (or, arguably, even a "person"). Aside from the more emotional problem that your theory brings to mind Justice Holmes proclaiming that "three generations of imbeciles is enough," the more pointed issue is whether life can take its own course and a person can rise above her circumstances without being condemned to the likely fate of someone from her situation. I say it can, and I'm fairly certain you agree with me, given your reference to Hellen Keller (as to the externality considerations, one might recall the Beethoven story, overused though it is by the pro-life movement).

Here is the problem with the externalities approach you suggest: it necessarily implicates the development of social psychology. If human life is reduced to a series of calculations and a pro/con flowchart, we all lose something in the process. Human life loses meaning. I recall a favorite college professors telling us in economics: every time you use numbers, you lose meaning. Numbers and calculi (??) have their place, but what is the point of using them if human life itself does not exist for these numbers to serve? If we encourage this kind of calculated decision-making in pregnant women, we're altering the social perception of human life. I'm opposed to doing this. Not because I deny the value, within the logic you've set out, of this suggestion. But because the harm of your suggestion is too great.

What it boils down to is this: Either human life has meaning that cannot be derived or understood from its empirical bases, or it does not. I say it does. Obviously, you are free to disagree with me here, but I believe that if you do we are likely at a standstill -- there is nothing wrong with this. When you talk about the meaning of life, you're getting down to core beliefs. These sorts of things are built up over time and have further-reaching implications than even deeply-held policy preferences. Obviously my religion plays into this. But I have just as much of a right to think that human life has independent meaning, as you do to disagree with me. The fact that I count myself a member of what happens to be an organized church shouldn't be reason to automatically disparage my beliefs. Deep down, everyone has his or her own religion -- it's just that some of us get the added fun of being labeled "religious" (and therefore "suspect") simply because enough people agree with us that they're put together a church. This is a tragedy and a fallacy in my mind -- but that's neither here nor there.

Bob

Kimball,

I prefer our original format. That way we can argue our specific points. Otherwise, we will only gloss over specifics and argue at such a high-level of abstraction, and that would be meaningless. I will await your address of my previous post.

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