North Texas Objectivist Society (NTOS) Message Board › Pragmatism and Case-by-Case Approaches

Pragmatism and Case-by-Case Approaches

Hammad Hussain
user 2469690
San Marcos, TX
Post #: 13
CJ, in his post of May 20, 2006, on the thread "Organizer is Asking David Croft to Withdraw from NTOS," states that a case by case approach "is actually necessary for objectivity." This is followed by "Objective truths are contextual..." (Here is the link.)

At the end of his post, he states, "I'm not interested in debating this. I just couldn't let that objection to case-by-case pass by without comment." I understand that, but I couldn't let CJ's comment pass without comment.

In order to determine the appropriateness of a "case by case" approach, the meaning of that phrase needs to be clear. Pragmatists use it to mean that each particular case should be assessed "on its own merits," without any reference to any general principle. This is clearly a non-objective approach (given the Objectivist view of "objectivity"), since, without reference to any general principle, there is no way to prove, or even demostrate that there is inconclusive evidence for, the judgment of a particular. In regard to honesty, Objectivism accordingly rejects this pragmatic "case by case" approach to determine whether, in a particular situation, truthfulness or deceit is appropriate. (See the OPAR section on honesty.)

I don't mean to imply that the above is what CJ meant by a "case by case" approach. The problem was that it was not fully clear from his post what he meant.

He could have meant that one needs to examine new cases individually to determine how a general principle applies to a given case. This is true and required by objectivity. But it is not an alternative to absolutism. A general principle (like the virtuousness of honesty) is contextual, but within the context in which it is applicable, it applies absolutely, and its violation is absolutely wrong. (The normal context with regard to honesty is explained in the OPAR section on honesty.) Thus, in the context in which honesty is applicable, the DEGREE of dishonesty is not relevant to determining that an act of dishonesty is unjustified. There can be varying degrees of dishonesty meriting varying degrees of punishment, but it doesn't alter the fact that dishonesty is dishonesty, and that within the relevent context, all dishonesty, _qua_ dishonesty, is absolutely unjustified. The degree of dishonesty is not relevant to whether the dishonesty is justified, but only to the precise degree of reproach or punishment it merits. It is this absolutism that pragmatic "case by case" approaches, in assuming that each individual case is completely unique (and as a result, that no individual act is ever completely right or completely wrong), deny.


--Ahmad Hassan


Below is CJ's post in its entirety:

"I'd like to point out the fallacy of saying that case-by-case can't be objective.

It is actually necessary for objectivity.

Objective truths are contextual...

That is why it is immoral to lie in some instances and perfectly valid in others. By not having a case-by-case approach to rule violations, you cannot take into account degree of violation and the contexts...such as intent and reasonability of prior knowledge that the action was a violation.

That's my two cents. I'm not interested in debating this. I just couldn't let that objection to case-by-case pass by without comment."

[AH: Edited for clarity.]
A former member
Post #: 23
First: I should have said "absolutes are contextual" instead of "Objective truths are contextual." Looking back, I recognize that.

Second: Case-by-case analysis within the context of the axioms of Objectivism was implied. If it wasn't implicit, that was my mistake.

My point was that you can have an objective standard, but that objective standard must be applied to each individual case and not lumped in with others.

I just don't want a "sins of your father" mentality to creep into value judgements. Each person's policy violations are their own, and they shouldn't suffer for the sins of their predicessors.

Third: I never said there were no absolutes. There are instances where you are absolutely immoral to lie. There are also circumstances where it is absolutely immoral to reveal the truth.

What say you?
A former member
Post #: 14
I can't think of any context in which it's moral to lie.
I can think of certain situations when a breach of my morals would be appropriate. What does OPAR say about that?
Tom
TAA1
McKinney, TX
Post #: 8
Nathan,

A muderer breaks into your home with the sole purpose of harming your family. You have a small child up stairs hiding. The muderer ask you if their is any one else in your home. It is your moral duty to lie in order to protect your child.

Tom
A former member
Post #: 24
I can't think of any context in which it's moral to lie.
I can think of certain situations when a breach of my morals would be appropriate. What does OPAR say about that?
Rand states that there are instances where it would be immoral to tell the truth.

Tom gave a good example. There are plenty of others.

Peikoff even argues that there may be justification for lying to the government about the amount of money you make. He didn't go into details, so I'm not sure what his argument was.
Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 80
Nathan,

A muderer breaks into your home with the sole purpose of harming your family. You have a small child up stairs hiding. The muderer ask you if their is any one else in your home. It is your moral duty to lie in order to protect your child.

Tom

I'd say it's my moral duty, if there is such a thing, to kill that bugger, not lie to him. What's to stop him from going up and looking for my child anyways.

Between reasonable and rational people, I don't see where the truth can be harmful. While I wouldn't see lying as exactly immoral (right now), I wouldn't think anyone would come to the point where they felt they had to lie. At the point of a gun, morality has fled and you are no longer talking rationality.

- Travis
David
user 2856143
Dallas, TX
Post #: 7
Nathan,

A muderer breaks into your home with the sole purpose of harming your family. You have a small child up stairs hiding. The muderer ask you if their is any one else in your home. It is your moral duty to lie in order to protect your child.

Tom

I'd say it's my moral duty, if there is such a thing, to kill that bugger, not lie to him. What's to stop him from going up and looking for my child anyways.

Between reasonable and rational people, I don't see where the truth can be harmful. While I wouldn't see lying as exactly immoral (right now), I wouldn't think anyone would come to the point where they felt they had to lie. At the point of a gun, morality has fled and you are no longer talking rationality.

- Travis

Why should your rationality leave you? You should continue to act to protect your life and the lives of those that you love. In this case, it is clear that the rational and, yes, moral thing to do is to lie.
Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 82
Why should your rationality leave you? You should continue to act to protect your life and the lives of those that you love. In this case, it is clear that the rational and, yes, moral thing to do is to lie.

He gave up his personal rights when he broke into my house and initiated force against me. What good would I do my daughter if I just lied and said she wasn't there and let him kill me hoping he'd leave? No, when faced with such a position I will do everything within my power to defend myself and stop someone as evil as this. I would give my life for my family, but I would never just roll over and die, I'll go out fighting.

(I am taking this scenario in the context that I know he is going to kill me as you've only referred to him as a murderer)

Perhaps, if you take it not knowing what the exact intent of the person is, it should change from 'would it be moral to lie' to 'would it be immoral to lie'. I know it sounds the same, but I don't think it's the same question.

- Travis
A former member
Post #: 27
Why should your rationality leave you? You should continue to act to protect your life and the lives of those that you love. In this case, it is clear that the rational and, yes, moral thing to do is to lie.

He gave up his personal rights when he broke into my house and initiated force against me. What good would I do my daughter if I just lied and said she wasn't there and let him kill me hoping he'd leave? No, when faced with such a position I will do everything within my power to defend myself and stop someone as evil as this. I would give my life for my family, but I would never just roll over and die, I'll go out fighting.

(I am taking this scenario in the context that I know he is going to kill me as you've only referred to him as a murderer)

Perhaps, if you take it not knowing what the exact intent of the person is, it should change from 'would it be moral to lie' to 'would it be immoral to lie'. I know it sounds the same, but I don't think it's the same question.

- Travis
It is all about context.

Let's try a different scenario. Let's say a man catches you unawares and pulls a gun to rob you. After he takes your wallet, he asks you where your car is. It is perfectly moral to lie, send him in the wrong direction, and seek a weapon or a police officer for your protection.
A former member
Post #: 15
See, that situation with the criminal tresspass, armed robbery, and attempted murder is what I was talking about. Lying and killing are bad. Letting a murderer kill me and my family is worse. It is less immoral to lie to save your family than it is to let your family die. Another way to say it is that it's more moral to lie to save your family than to let them die.

This isn't the same as saying that it's ok to lie to save your family. That makes it sound like the principle of honesty doesn't apply in certain situations. That's pragmatic thinking. We aren't pragmatists as everyone demonstrated by appealing to the survival principle. It isn't the context of the situation that negates the honesty principle here, it's the primacy of one principle another. It's still immoral to lie, even to save your life, but it's even more immoral to let yourself get killed so easily. Are ya'll with me on this? What does OPAR say again?
Powered by mvnForum

Suggested Annual Donation

$10.00 (after 6 event visits)

This covers: Supporting operating expenses and advertising for new members!

Payment is accepted using:

  • PayPal
  • Cash or check - “Please give any cash or check to any Organizer at an event. We also accept BitCoin: 14sioRkdEBcvvQavE4zbDbSwbsvscPAvF9 Thanks!

Your organizer will refund you if:

  • Each event may have a specific refund policy based on the nature of the event. General donations are not refundable. We may rely on any payment, so if you have any questions please ask an Organizer BEFORE making a payment!

People in this
Meetup are also in:

Sign up

Meetup members, Log in

By clicking "Sign up" or "Sign up using Facebook", you confirm that you accept our Terms of Service & Privacy Policy