Ifat Glassman

Degrees of good and bad

39 posts in this topic

There are no degrees of honesty. There can be degrees of dishonesty...
Is the claim here that it is valid to speak of someone as 'more dishonest' but invalid to speak of someone as 'more honest'?
I can't speak for Paul, but I would say that this is the case.

The reason why is that honesty means never faking reality to gain a value, so a person is either honest or he is not. How dishonest a person is depends on how much he fakes reality to acquire values.

I asked my question because, in the context of individuals or groups who are dishonest, Miss Rand has used the phrase "more honest" on several occasions to describe some of them when compared to others of them. And I believe that is a valid use of the phrase.

To use the examples provided by Paul, it is valid to say that the man who lies once a year and the man who lies once a week are both dishonest. But, within that context, it is also valid to say the yearly liar is more honest - more truthful - more in accord with reality - than the weekly liar.

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Quantitatively, honesty and dishonesty are complements arithmetically. 100% honest = 0% dishonest, 100% dishonest = 0% honest, 99% honest = 1% dishonest, etc. Both add up to 100%. That however overlooks the difference between the qualitative and quantitative. To say somebody is honest means that they are never dishonest, that they do not tell lies (or at least within a rational context; the example from Peikoff where a murderer comes to your door and asks if the children are home and you say "no" when they're asleep in bed, is dishonest but demanded by reason. Context matters.)

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To say somebody is honest means that they are never dishonest, that they do not tell lies (or at least within a rational context; the example from Peikoff where a murderer comes to your door and asks if the children are home and you say "no" when they're asleep in bed, is dishonest but demanded by reason. Context matters.)

I would not consider all lies to be dishonesty but only those told to achieve a value. Lying to a murderer is something done to keep a value that is rightfully one's own. This is also how Objectivists justify telling a lie in order to preserve their privacy or other threatened personal values.

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There are no degrees of honesty. There can be degrees of dishonesty...
Is the claim here that it is valid to speak of someone as 'more dishonest' but invalid to speak of someone as 'more honest'?

Yes, in the sense of how I defined degree in Post 20: the extent to which one fakes reality can certainly be measured within the context of rational values that are or may be harmed. The wider the evasion, the greater the immorality. So 'more dishonest' means dishonest to a greater degree.

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There are no degrees of honesty. There can be degrees of dishonesty...
Is the claim here that it is valid to speak of someone as 'more dishonest' but invalid to speak of someone as 'more honest'?
I can't speak for Paul, but I would say that this is the case.

The reason why is that honesty means never faking reality to gain a value, so a person is either honest or he is not. How dishonest a person is depends on how much he fakes reality to acquire values.

I asked my question because, in the context of individuals or groups who are dishonest, Miss Rand has used the phrase "more honest" on several occasions to describe some of them when compared to others of them. And I believe that is a valid use of the phrase.

To use the examples provided by Paul, it is valid to say that the man who lies once a year and the man who lies once a week are both dishonest. But, within that context, it is also valid to say the yearly liar is more honest - more truthful - more in accord with reality - than the weekly liar.

If I only kill one person in my life, am I less of a murderer than someone who murders once month? If I never mention that fact to anyone because no one asks me about murdering someone, am I dishonest?

This is the problem with doing such comparisons: Comparisons of less vs. more must take into account the context and hierarchy of the values, not just a numerical calculation. Honesty means that within the context of one's present mental functioning, one is not faking reality. (Thus, I may have been dishonest 20 years ago, but once I acknowledge the reality of what I've done, I can move forward to reclaim honesty as a virtue.) If someone lies once a year or once in a lifetime, he is lying all the time because he has not acknowledged his faking of reality. Whether someone lies once or 10 times a year is not a basis to say that one is more honest than the other.

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-------------

I asked my question because, in the context of individuals or groups who are dishonest, Miss Rand has used the phrase "more honest" on several occasions to describe some of them when compared to others of them. And I believe that is a valid use of the phrase.

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I did a search on the Objectivism Research CD for "more honest" and there are several citations of that expression.

  1. In this respect, socialism is the more honest of the two theories.
  2. Sometimes, looking at the sketch of a structure simpler, cleaner, more honest than the others, Roark would say: "That's not so bad, Peter. You're improving."
  3. In a certain sense, the line of the New Left is cruder and more honest—not honest in an honorable sense of the word, but in the sense of a combination of brazenness and despair.
  4. "Peter, you were more honest than that yesterday."

(bold added for emphasis).

I think it is fairly clear that she is not using the expression "more honest" within the context of the virtue of honesty. Here honesty seems to refer to the typical usage "free from fraud or deception." "More honest" seems to mean less deceitful. I'm not objecting to the everyday usage of 'more honest.' But I think it is clear from Rand's definition of the virtue of honesty, "that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality," allows no qualifier. Perhaps one could say paradoxically that a person who says "I am lying all the time" is being more honest about his lies because he is not deceiving others or himself. But he is still acting against reality.

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the example from Peikoff where a murderer comes to your door and asks if the children are home and you say "no" when they're asleep in bed, is dishonest but demanded by reason.
Since morality deals with actions in a volitional context and force removes one from that context, then one cannot speak of the falsehood in this case as an example of the vice of dishonesty.

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I think it is fairly clear that she is not using the expression "more honest" within the context of the virtue of honesty.
Then it is good no claim was made to the contrary. In fact, if there was ever any doubt as to the context of my question, it was made explicitly clear in my response to Betsy.
"More honest" seems to mean less deceitful.
"more honest" refers to a degree of dishonesty in comparison to another degree of dishonesty.
I think it is clear from Rand's definition of the virtue of honesty, "that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality," allows no qualifier.
And no qualifier to it was put forth.
I'm not objecting to the everyday usage of 'more honest.'
Then it appears the answer to my question is that it is valid to speak of someone as 'more honest'.

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I think it is fairly clear that she is not using the expression "more honest" within the context of the virtue of honesty.
Then it is good no claim was made to the contrary. In fact, if there was ever any doubt as to the context of my question, it was made explicitly clear in my response to Betsy.

Perhaps I missed that. I'll double check.

"More honest" seems to mean less deceitful.
"more honest" refers to a degree of dishonesty in comparison to another degree of dishonesty.

But I don't think that was the context that ifatart was referring, which context I was addressing.

I think it is clear from Rand's definition of the virtue of honesty, "that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality," allows no qualifier.
And no qualifier to it was put forth.

Since you didn't define what you meant by the expression, more honest does contain a qualifier.

I'm not objecting to the everyday usage of 'more honest.'
Then it appears the answer to my question is that it is valid to speak of someone as 'more honest'.

Yes, as degrees of dishonesty, not degrees of honesty.

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"More honest" seems to mean less deceitful.
"more honest" refers to a degree of dishonesty in comparison to another degree of dishonesty.
But I don't think that was the context that ifatart was referring, which context I was addressing.
Ifatart speaks not only of judging those who are virtuous but also of judging those who are less than virtuous. Thus I would suggest the claim of a more limited context here is in error - and that my comments are most certainly within the bounds of the context of the thread.
I think it is clear from Rand's definition of the virtue of honesty, "that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality," allows no qualifier.
And no qualifier to it was put forth.
Since you didn't define what you meant by the expression, more honest does contain a qualifier.
As I already indicated, the context of my statement was explicitly identified in my response to Betsy - "in the context of individuals or groups who are dishonest". Therefore, as I indicate above, "more" does not modify the virtue "honesty". It was specifically limited to the class of individuals identified as dishonest. And thus my claim that "no qualifier to [the quoted definition] was put forth" is completely accurate.
I'm not objecting to the everyday usage of 'more honest.'
Then it appears the answer to my question is that it is valid to speak of someone as 'more honest'.

Yes, as degrees of dishonesty, not degrees of honesty.
Indeed - which was the context of my question in the first place.

So it appears we are in agreement about the question that I raised.

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To get back on topic...

As I explained in post #54, I am seeking to make a judgement of a man's moral worth. Not from a point of view of which personal values a person can offer me, but based on my moral code.

(At first, I attempted to ask how will a man holding an objective moral code will judge others, but if it makes discussion easier, I'll present the question from my point of view, and not from some general person's point of view).

From my experience of judging people, I tend to think that people have certain degrees of how good or bad they are, which I measure by my moral code, according (as much as possible) to what I know of the context of the man/woman in question. This evaluation is something I cannot live without. Evaluating people's moral "degree" is a crucial part of my outlook of a person, it affects my emotions towards them, the treatment I would give them, and the values I may choose to seek in a relationship with them. However, when passing a moral judgement, I leave personal values out of the relationship. I may use the consideration of personal values later, but it does not interfere with the moral judgement.

For example: I can make the decision that even though Mr. X is moral, he is still not good enough to be a romantic choice. Or I can decide that even though the grocery downstairs is very cheap and good, the owner is so depraved, that I rather not even buy there. In both cases, there was an evaluation of the men's moral worth separate from how well they fulfil some personal need of mine.

People here have already agreed that there are different degrees of evilness.

My first question is: can there be an objective judgement of degree of evil? Is it objective to say that Hitler was more evil than my friend who willfully evades a certain subject in her life, but has many other virtues? Can such a judgement be objective, or can it only be my personal judgement with no objectivity? If an objective judgement can be made - what is the right method to make it, so that the evaluation is objective?

Second question is: If there are degrees of evilness, are there also degrees of goodness? Can two men be perfectly moral and yet one is more virtuous than the other?

Third question is: Suppose we take that friend I mentioned as an example. She has many virtues (honesty, independence, creativity, etc) but yet she refuses to think about the topic of downloading illegally, even after being presented with the meaning of her actions, and recognizing that her ideas about this subject contradict internally.

No doubt this act is bad, but is it right to say that she is evil? My evaluation of a person like this is that she is good, with some bad element, as oppose to say that she is a bad person, but just a little bit. Is there an error in this judgement? If so, what is it, and why is it an error?

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Evaluating people's moral "degree" is a crucial part of my outlook of a person, it affects my emotions towards them, the treatment I would give them, and the values I may choose to seek in a relationship with them. However, when passing a moral judgement, I leave personal values out of the relationship. I may use the consideration of personal values later, but it does not interfere with the moral judgement.

Now I think we are getting down to the real issues -- and the most interesting part for me.

First, I don't think you should ever "leave personal values out of the relationship." Why have a relationship at all if not for personal, selfish reasons? For the sake of "morality" or the greater glory of Objectivism? Nah! Too unselfish.

For example: I can make the decision that even though Mr. X is moral, he is still not good enough to be a romantic choice.

Absolutely!

Never make a romantic choice because you think you ought to because someone is very moral.

I put that in bold because it is very important and because there are already too many Objectivists I know who made themselves and their partners miserable by getting romantically involved with people they thought they "should" love. It doesn't work that way.

We don't love who we should love; we love who we do love. If you don't have the chemistry, you can't force it and you can't fake it. Morality is an important factor in romantic attraction, but there are others including someone's looks, personal habits, temperament, etc. Dagny didn't choose Galt because he was morally the best but because he was the man she wanted.

Or I can decide that even though the grocery downstairs is very cheap and good, the owner is so depraved, that I rather not even buy there.

Cheap and good merchandise is a value. Having a pleasant transaction with a grocer is a value. If you hate the grocer's guts, it's not pleasant, so you have to decide which is more important: the groceries or the grocer. The only way to do that is to consult your own personal hierarchy of values.

In both cases, there was an evaluation of the men's moral worth separate from how well they fulfil some personal need of mine.

In both cases, making a decision is much easier if you take your personal values into account.

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Evaluating people's moral "degree" is a crucial part of my outlook of a person, it affects my emotions towards them, the treatment I would give them, and the values I may choose to seek in a relationship with them. However, when passing a moral judgement, I leave personal values out of the relationship. I may use the consideration of personal values later, but it does not interfere with the moral judgement.

I made a mistake - it should have been "I leave personal values out of the judgement", not out of the relationship . This is the meaning I had in mind, the keyboard just "slipped" and I typed "relationship" instead of "judgement".

First, I don't think you should ever "leave personal values out of the relationship." Why have a relationship at all if not for personal, selfish reasons? For the sake of "morality" or the greater glory of Objectivism? Nah! Too unselfish.

I agree with this and with everything else in your post.

So now that I have corrected my typing mistake, here is what I meant: passing moral judgement on someone is a separate process/judgement from checking how well a person can provide some personal value. This means that the evaluation "X is very moral because he sells me great shoes" is wrong.

Personal values should not be made part of one's standard of evaluating other people.

Clarification:

They [personal values] certainly can and should be used to decide about a relationship with other people, values you can choose to pursue from people, etc', but not part of the moral judgement of their character. That was my point.

Also, ideally, people's moral character IS a sought values in most relationships to varying degree; for example, it is very important for me that my boyfriend will be moral, and it is a little bit important to me that the people I buy things from are not evil.

Point is: I claim that the standard that should be used in passing moral judgement is one's own moral code and NOT one's sought values. The question about degree of good/bad relates only to the moral-worth of a person, and not to other values this person may provide (other than being a moral individual). "How bad is this person" relates only to the person's traits as judged against my moral code. "How virtuous is this person" can only be answered by looking at my moral code, and not anything else I may seek from this person.

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Since this topic has drifted away from Ifat's original question into a fascinating discussion of some meta-ethical issues, I have split the latter discussion off into its own thread . The title is "Values, Intrinsic Value, and Choice" and you will find it here.

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