Henrik Unné

The moral status of the typical average man

148 posts in this topic

This gushing self-praise is revolting. You condemn almost the whole of mankind, whom you have never met and know nothing of, while at the same time you praise yourself as a virtuous and philosophical man. If I had reason to believe your opinion of yourself, I would be the first to praise you; but, as has been often observed, the good promote themselves by right action, the bad by self-praise and the general condemnation of the human race -- the first, by showing they are good, and the latter, by showing everyone else is bad.

"He . . . knew a great deal about art, letters, philosophy, and general culture; about almost everything, indeed, except the world he was living in."

G. K. Chesterton

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No, I do not blame men for not being philosophic originators or geniuses. But I *do* agree with you that I and you would likely be just as ignorant as them if we had not discovered Ayn Rand.

Then you aren't you condemning people for something you, from personal experience, have reason to believe might very well be an error of knowledge.

"Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience."
But it is their own fault that they do not discover Ayn Rand. If only they would bother to pursue knowledge of such subjects as political science and economics, then they would eventually discover the fact that philosophy is of practical importance, and they would eventually discover Objectivism.

Would you condemn Howard Roark for spending all that time and effort pursuing knowledge of architecture instead of studying economics and philosophy?

Basically, I reason that - "If I could do it, despite my handicaps, then so can just about any ordinary man, if only he tries." The "it" here consists of discovering Objectivism. I myself did not just "happen" upon Objectivism. I discovered Objectivism because I was looking for it.

Then you are in a distinct minority among most of the Objectivists I know including almost all the leading Objectivists.

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No, I do not blame men for not being philosophic originators or geniuses. But I *do* agree with you that I and you would likely be just as ignorant as them if we had not discovered Ayn Rand.

Then you aren't you condemning people for something you, from personal experience, have reason to believe might very well be an error of knowledge.

"Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience."
But it is their own fault that they do not discover Ayn Rand. If only they would bother to pursue knowledge of such subjects as political science and economics, then they would eventually discover the fact that philosophy is of practical importance, and they would eventually discover Objectivism.

Would you condemn Howard Roark for spending all that time and effort pursuing knowledge of architecture instead of studying economics and philosophy?

As to Howard Roark - I certainly do not think that everyone has to be a professional philosopher or intellectual activist. Architects are a value also. But I do not think that anyone living in a modern society, not even Howard Roark, can rationally defend a choice to remain as ignorant of such subjects as political science, economics and philosophy as most ordinary men are. I think that even Howard Roark should have taken the trouble (if he didn´t, Ayn Rand does not tell us that) to gain some abstract knowledge about such subjects, for example by reading some books.

As to ignorance - I do not think that errors of knowledge are always innocent. In a modern society, it is obvious that you need a knowledge about how the modern society "works" in order to safeguard your interests, so you need to get yourself some knowledge of such subjects as political science and economics. If you do not bother, then your ignorance is your own fault, and you are morally culpable.

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As to ignorance - I do not think that errors of knowledge are always innocent. In a modern society, it is obvious that you need a knowledge about how the modern society "works" in order to safeguard your interests, so you need to get yourself some knowledge of such subjects as political science and economics. If you do not bother, then your ignorance is your own fault, and you are morally culpable.

It is not obvious. It is not on the same level as "if you want to be a physicist, you should go to college". It is a much higher level inference you make based on a much broader scale of knowledge. It is becoming more apparent as we slide into socialism/fascism here in America as witness the tea parties this spring. It is not obvious to the average man on the street that if he studied economics he would be able to better protect his interests or, at the least, perform some action in their defense. What is the obvious connection between the law of supply and demand and a certain individual's interests? Not obvious to you, nor to I, but to just a regular guy doing his job, raising his family. There is no obvious connection. You are treating higher level connections between one's own self-interest and abstract subjects as if they were self evident perceptions sticking out there like tags.

The fact that you got there and others did not is not automatically a sign of moral depravity on their part. And sweeping generalities on billions of people you'll never meet is unjust, not only to them, but, most importantly, yourself.

I work in very busy bar in the Seattle area. I meet and speak with untold numbers of people all the time. In my experience a lot of people are freely on board when I express a view. Most people are of the opinion that the government should stay the hell out of their lives - for instance. But they haven't a foot to stand on ideologically, and can contradict themselves the very next moment and not even realize it.

In my experience most people try the best they know how to achieve some sort of good in their lives but are utterly without a rudder, or a compass, the tools or weapons to defend themselves against the irrational even their own. This, I lay at the feet of the intellectuals. They who have not only abandoned them to the cultural dump heap of modern society, but actively stab them in the back and look upon them with nothing but contempt.

The masses of men will never change the course of history, nor has it ever been their job to do so. Your actual enemies are far fewer in number and far more insidious than merely the apathetic man on the street corner. The fact that the masses of men are uninterested in the field of ideas is also the fault of the intellectuals. Take a course in modern philosophy and that will answer you easily.

I could go on but the sun is coming up and that means sleep time. Ah, to sleep as the vampire...

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But it is their own fault that they do not discover Ayn Rand. If only they would bother to pursue knowledge of such subjects as political science and economics, then they would eventually discover the fact that philosophy is of practical importance, and they would eventually discover Objectivism.

Would you condemn Howard Roark for spending all that time and effort pursuing knowledge of architecture instead of studying economics and philosophy?

As to Howard Roark - I certainly do not think that everyone has to be a professional philosopher or intellectual activist. Architects are a value also. But I do not think that anyone living in a modern society, not even Howard Roark, can rationally defend a choice to remain as ignorant of such subjects as political science, economics and philosophy as most ordinary men are. I think that even Howard Roark should have taken the trouble (if he didn´t, Ayn Rand does not tell us that) to gain some abstract knowledge about such subjects, for example by reading some books.

Actually, Ayn Rand did tell us that the best of men -- by her standard -- had very good reasons for not studying political science, economics and philosophy.

America's best minds went into science, technology, industry—and reached incomparable heights of achievement. Why did they neglect the field of ideas? Because it represented Augean stables of a kind no joyously active man would care to enter. America's childhood coincided with the rise of Kant's influence in European philosophy and the consequent disintegration of European culture. America was in the position of an eager, precocious child left in the care of a scruffy, senile, decadent guardian. The child had good reason to play hooky.

I suggest you read that essay to see why Ayn Rand considered the average American innocent and why the intellectuals -- the ones who do study political science, economics and philosophy -- are the guilty ones.

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America's best minds went into science, technology, industry—and reached incomparable heights of achievement. Why did they neglect the field of ideas? Because it represented Augean stables of a kind no joyously active man would care to enter. America's childhood coincided with the rise of Kant's influence in European philosophy and the consequent disintegration of European culture. America was in the position of an eager, precocious child left in the care of a scruffy, senile, decadent guardian. The child had good reason to play hooky.

I suggest you read that essay to see why Ayn Rand considered the average American innocent and why the intellectuals -- the ones who do study political science, economics and philosophy -- are the guilty ones.

I agree with you completely that the higher anti-education system is an "Augean stables". I found that out already in junior high school, and largely as a consequence became a high school dropout. But at least i did not give up. When I became an adult I began to try to acquire knowledge of abstract knowledge on my own, for example by reading books on political science and economics. Why can´t other people to the same kind of thing? Whether or not you develop an active mind is an issue of free will. Short of your going psychotic, even the most vicious college professor cannot shut off your mind, only you yourself can do that. And also, I went psychotic when I was a teenager, but as soon as I recovered, I began pursuing knowledge again.

So, since man is a volitional being, it is the individual´s own fault if he contents himself with living in a state of ignorance and helplessness. It *is* a choice to be non- or anti-intellectual, no matter how irrational the anti-education system is.

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As to ignorance - I do not think that errors of knowledge are always innocent. In a modern society, it is obvious that you need a knowledge about how the modern society "works" in order to safeguard your interests, so you need to get yourself some knowledge of such subjects as political science and economics. If you do not bother, then your ignorance is your own fault, and you are morally culpable.

It is not obvious. It is not on the same level as "if you want to be a physicist, you should go to college". It is a much higher level inference you make based on a much broader scale of knowledge. It is becoming more apparent as we slide into socialism/fascism here in America as witness the tea parties this spring. It is not obvious to the average man on the street that if he studied economics he would be able to better protect his interests or, at the least, perform some action in their defense. What is the obvious connection between the law of supply and demand and a certain individual's interests? Not obvious to you, nor to I, but to just a regular guy doing his job, raising his family. There is no obvious connection. You are treating higher level connections between one's own self-interest and abstract subjects as if they were self evident perceptions sticking out there like tags.

I do not see that (that it is non-obvious that you need a knowledge of such subjects as political science and economics in a modern society).

The very reason that most ordinary men support the welfare state, as the majority of them do here in Sweden, is that they want their welfare and secutity to be dependent on the government, that is to say on politics. Well, if they place their very lives in the hands of the political process, then do they not in reason need to know how that process "works"? Sure, they can think to themselves "The government will guarantee my need for a pension, health care, my children´s education, etc. *somehow*" and not reflect on what that "somehow" consists of. But that is so stoopid, that the individual who does that is morally depraved. There are limits to how much you can choose to default on the responsibility of thinking, and be morally innocent.

Of course, we can disagree on whether the non-thinkers are *so* immoral that they are "monsters", but I think that you have to agree with me that any adult who makes it a habit not to think about abstract issues is immoral - not because it is a duty to think, but because not thinking is suicidal, and every adult has at least some inkling of that fact.

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This gushing self-praise is revolting. You condemn almost the whole of mankind, whom you have never met and know nothing of, while at the same time you praise yourself as a virtuous and philosophical man. If I had reason to believe your opinion of yourself, I would be the first to praise you; but, as has been often observed, the good promote themselves by right action, the bad by self-praise and the general condemnation of the human race -- the first, by showing they are good, and the latter, by showing everyone else is bad.

"He . . . knew a great deal about art, letters, philosophy, and general culture; about almost everything, indeed, except the world he was living in."

G. K. Chesterton

I know that boastulness is obnoxious, and I did not intend to be boastful. I just wanted to show "where I was coming from", why I have such a high opinion of the ordinary man´s potential, and therefore have such a low opinion of the majority of ordinary men´s moral status, given the degree to which most of them waste that potential.

It is true that I have never met more than a tiny fraction of the whole of mankind, but there is such a thing as inductive generalization. I have interacted with many hundreds of men in my life, and I have complemented the observations that I have made of those men, with bits of information that I have picked up from reading, and I think that it therefore is untrue that I "know *nothing*" about the whole of mankind. I know that every one of them (at least the ones that have a normal brain) possess volition, and it is therefore their own fault, if they choose to habitually not think. And I think that there is massive evidence that most men habitually do not think, at least not about abstract issues. I think that the state of the world testifies to that.

I believe that my disagreement with you, and some other persons in this debate thread, is not a question of what the facts are, but rather of how to morally evaluate them. I think that everyone here must in reason admit that the majority of the members of the human race do habitually default on the responsibility of thinking about abstract issues. The disagreement here is about whether it is a *monstrously* immoral act to do that. My basic reason for thinking that it is, is that a person who does not bother to think about abstract issues, thereby resigns himself to being ingorant and helpless. And no man with a shred of self-esteem can make such a choice. It is suicidal, and everyone must in reason have at least an inkling of that fact.

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Henrik, may I ask what your purpose is in evaluating the "typical average man" ? What benefit do I gain from forming a judgment on the "average man," apart from and in addition to forming judgments on the specific individuals I meet?

My main purpose is just to recognize the facts of reality. It is always beneficial, in principle, to identify whatever facts of reality one is capable of identifying.

What is the "cash value" of realizing that the majority of ordinary men are morally depraved? It gives me a sense of relief to know that the world is not so full of injustice as I used to think that it was, since I now see that the majority of men deserve what they are getting.

You say that by recognizing that the great majority of men are morally depraved you feel relief, because they will get what's coming to them when the civilized world collapses. That it will mean, for you, that there is justice in the world. Well, what about the morally depraved men who live relatively happy lives, never thinking about abstract issues, and die of old age before feeling the effects of the collapse? What about all those morally depraved people who lived unintellectual, happy lives in earlier times? Where is justice for them? And what if men of reason succeed in turning the direction of the world around?

Your "justice' is dependent on a collapse, or at least some kind of bad occurrence; in fact, it must hope and strive for collapse and defeat. And all men, even the abstract thinkers, will feel the effect of that. Where will be the justice for them?

So, I conclude then, that your view is only good for seekers and lovers of revenge. It has no place in the minds of men of justice.

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You say that by recognizing that the great majority of men are morally depraved you feel relief, because they will get what's coming to them when the civilized world collapses. That it will mean, for you, that there is justice in the world.
Henrik will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think his position is that justice is already being served to the "immoral majority," in the form of taxes, regulations, and so on. Of course, the problem with this, as I pointed out in my previous post, is that these punishments are affecting the good guys at least as much as (if not more than) the "depraved" ones.

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You say that by recognizing that the great majority of men are morally depraved you feel relief, because they will get what's coming to them when the civilized world collapses. That it will mean, for you, that there is justice in the world. Well, what about the morally depraved men who live relatively happy lives, never thinking about abstract issues, and die of old age before feeling the effects of the collapse? What about all those morally depraved people who lived unintellectual, happy lives in earlier times? Where is justice for them? And what if men of reason succeed in turning the direction of the world around?

Your "justice' is dependent on a collapse, or at least some kind of bad occurrence; in fact, it must hope and strive for collapse and defeat. And all men, even the abstract thinkers, will feel the effect of that. Where will be the justice for them?

So, I conclude then, that your view is only good for seekers and lovers of revenge. It has no place in the minds of men of justice.

What about the morally depraved men who will live happy lives if the world does *not* collapse? And what about the happy, but morally depraved, ordinary men in today´s America? They are simply *lucky*. They are the ballast that rides on the achievements and actions of better men. I do not think that it is an injustice per se that they are lucky. It is not an injustice when a man, without really doing much to deserve it, inherits a fortune or wins a million dollars on a lottery ticket. As long as the morally depraved majority of ordinary men do not violate anyone´s rights, there is no need to actively punish them. I just "reward" the morally depraved among the ordinary men for their depravity, by not feeling sorry for them, if and when I and other Objectivists fail, and the world goes to hell.

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Your whole article reduces to blaming men for not being philosophic originators or geniuses.

No, it doesn´t. I do not expect most men to be philosophic originators or geniuses. I merely expect them to put forth a reasonable amount of effort to find out what the philosophic originators and geniuses among men had to say, for example by reading some good books.

For example, I have countless times tried to get ordinary men interested in Objectivism, but I have met with three types of reactions most of the time - bovine indifference (they say that they will "get around to it", but they never do), amusement ("You care about philosophy? You´re weird") and militant indifference ("Oh! Politics, ideas, philosophy! I am not interested!"). They just don´t care.

I do not think that there is any reasonable excuse for not caring to find out about things. Remaining in a state of ignorance is not a rationally or morally acceptable option.

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You say that by recognizing that the great majority of men are morally depraved you feel relief, because they will get what's coming to them when the civilized world collapses. That it will mean, for you, that there is justice in the world.
Henrik will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think his position is that justice is already being served to the "immoral majority," in the form of taxes, regulations, and so on. Of course, the problem with this, as I pointed out in my previous post, is that these punishments are affecting the good guys at least as much as (if not more than) the "depraved" ones.

Yes, I agree with you. And it is unjust that even the "Moral Minority" (to paraphrase the Republicans) is suffering. It is for the sake of the Moral Minority, not for the sake of the ballast, that I am still working to spread Objectivism with whatever means I can.

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I think the use of the word average in this case is misleading. The statistical word that more closely resembles what people are trying to express when they say "average man" or "average women" is modal or mode. Mode means the thing or number in the distribution which occurs the most. So if you had a set which was 1 2 2 2 3 4 4 5 6, the mode would be 2. obviously there would be no mode with people, (by the strict definition as it applies to a set of numbers) but the concept is still applicable. I think this concept better fits the intent of the original post, although i don't think I too much agree with him. I at least sympathize with the sentiment a little.

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I want to make a slight correction. Sometimes when people say average man or women that is what the mean but often then mean model. Average would be taking the mean of each easily observable characteristic. Modal would be taking the most common occurring state of each characteristic. But, the two theoretical people would be vastly different as many individual characteristics would have very different means and modes.

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This is my last post on the topic because I am starting to annoy myself so i shudder to think how others might react. :) Similar arguments could be made for median being the more applicable term but I think modal is the best fit.

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You say that by recognizing that the great majority of men are morally depraved you feel relief, because they will get what's coming to them when the civilized world collapses. That it will mean, for you, that there is justice in the world.
Henrik will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think his position is that justice is already being served to the "immoral majority," in the form of taxes, regulations, and so on. Of course, the problem with this, as I pointed out in my previous post, is that these punishments are affecting the good guys at least as much as (if not more than) the "depraved" ones.

Yes, you are right, though his view clearly implies what I've said. I fully agree with your last point.

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Actually, Ayn Rand did tell us that the best of men -- by her standard -- had very good reasons for not studying political science, economics and philosophy.

That's a good point, Betsy...

It's of no value to be told what to think

by those who can't do anything else

except tell others what to think.

People could learn more from a good plumber...

Greg

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I have not endorsed all of Greg's statements, but merely agree with the premise, if you add the prepositional phrase In the long run, that people get the government they deserve.
I would put it this way: In the long run, a nation always gets the government it deserves. But an individual does not always get the nation he deserves.
In my opinion, once a person has stated that they have contempt for the vast majority of mankind, it is a healthy thing for the thread, and thus the people posting in it, to point out the futility- and incorrectnness- of blaming others, and show how to minimize the effect of these members of mankind that he has contempt for. I have already stated in this post that this government can ruin a "innocent" person's life in an instant. That is obvious. And the fact that taxes are forced upon us is obvious to us all. So I am merely stating that it would be refreshing to learn what actions people here are taking in the real world to combat potentially ending up like one who has contempt for mankind. Perfectly appropriate given both the initial post in this thread, and the subforum of psychology.
(Emphasis mine)

I know you were probably just abbreviating the second time, but I should point out that contempt for any number of people (even if it's the vast majority of mankind) is something very different from contempt for mankind as such.

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BTW, while I still don't believe in evaluating an average, as far as individual judgments are concerned: I have found that the vast majority of people I've personally met are morally neutral. They are neither great heroes nor great villains; I feel neither admiration nor contempt for them. I consider them uninteresting.

But if you ask me what I think of mankind, I will not give you an opinion based on a mode ("overwhelming majority,") much less an average. A person who tells you he loves music is not saying he loves some average drawn from all the notes any of the 6 billion people currently living on Earth have ever tried to play on an instrument. He is expressing his evaluation of the kind of music he chooses to listen to, the kind of music he calls music--the music of people like Mozart and Rachmaninoff. So if you ask me what I think of mankind, I will tell you what I think of the men I find worthy of my interest, the men I call men: people like Aristotle, Edison, and Ayn Rand. And that is nothing less than total, absolute, unqualified admiration, and love, and exaltation.

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I have split off many recent posts to create a new topic titled "Do we have the government we deserve?" on the Politics forum. (link)

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Ayn Rand directly addressed the question of the moral status of the average man, in her article "Altruism as Appeasement":

No, men are not brutes; neither are they all independent thinkers. The majority of men are not intellectual initiators or originators; they accept what the culture offers them. It is not that they don't think; it is that they don't sustain their thinking consistently, as a way of life, and that their abstract range is limited. To what extent they are stunted by the antirational influences of our cultural traditions, is hard to say; what is known, however, is that the majority of men use only a small part of their potential intellectual capacity.

The truly and deliberately evil men are a very small minority; it is the appeaser who unleashes them on mankind; it is the appeaser's intellectual abdication that invites them to take over. When a culture's dominant trend is geared to irrationality, the thugs win over the appeasers. When intellectual leaders fail to foster the best in the mixed, unformed, vacillating character of people at large, the thugs are sure to bring out the worst. When the ablest men turn into cowards, the average men turn into brutes.

No, the average man is not morally innocent. But the best proof of his non-brutality, of his helpless, confused, inarticulate longing for truth, for an intelligible, rational world—and of his response to it, when given a chance he cannot create on his own—is the fact that no dictatorship has ever lasted without establishing censorship.

This enormously important essay first appeared in The Objectivist Newletter (January 1966), and was reprinted in The Voice of Reason. It is indispensable in explaining why liberals cling to their corrupt ideas).

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Ayn Rand directly addressed the question of the moral status of the average man, in her article "Altruism as Appeasement":

No, the average man is not morally innocent. But the best proof of his non-brutality, of his helpless, confused, inarticulate longing for truth, for an intelligible, rational world—and of his response to it, when given a chance he cannot create on his own—is the fact that no dictatorship has ever lasted without establishing censorship.

I disagree that the propensity of dictators to censor is proof that the average man is not a brute. Dictators don't censor in order to squelch only rational, moral expression, but rather to squelch any expression, rational or no, that threatens their power. There is no end of dictatorships that aimed to silence competing, equally authoritarian gangs. In fact, a great part of the motivation behind the Left's "Fairness Doctrine" is to silence not just the Right's rational ideas, but the talk-show popularity of anti-abortion, gun rights, Christianity, "conservative values", and general criticism of the Left.

The average man may not be a brute, but it's not because dictators fear his rational mind.

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I disagree that the propensity of dictators to censor is proof that the average man is not a brute. Dictators don't censor in order to squelch only rational, moral expression, but rather to squelch any expression, rational or no, that threatens their power. There is no end of dictatorships that aimed to silence competing, equally authoritarian gangs. In fact, a great part of the motivation behind the Left's "Fairness Doctrine" is to silence not just the Right's rational ideas, but the talk-show popularity of anti-abortion, gun rights, Christianity, "conservative values", and general criticism of the Left.

The average man may not be a brute, but it's not because dictators fear his rational mind.

The reason that the average man is not a brute is that ideas and morality matter to him. As a result, those who wish to control other men must control their ideas and have a moral sanction. Just forcing men to do their bidding is not enough.

Ask yourself why totalitarian dictatorships find it necessary to pour money and effort into propaganda for their own helpless, chained, gagged slaves, who have no means of protest or defense. The answer is that even the humblest peasant or the lowest savage would rise in blind rebellion, were he to realize that he is being immolated, not to some incomprehensible "noble purpose," but to plain, naked human evil.

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