Ifat Glassman

Introspection and morality

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I am curious to get the input of members here for the following question:

Is it moral to introspect?

Is it immoral not to introspect?

Why - to both answers of the above questions.

What is the role of introspection in one's life? - What is it good for, what can it be used to achieve?

When should one introspect (How often, in what situations)?

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Well, I believe the simple answer would be this:

If you refuse to introspect, to discover things about yourself and your views, your beliefs and your emotions, then you are evading. Evasion runs against the virtue of Honesty. So in this sense, yes, you should introspect. But more broadly, you should always seek to know, to understand yourself, and to not evade your beliefs or your feelings.

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If you are walking down the street and you see a woman getting dragged by her purse by a thief, what emotion would you feel? If you had a job where the good and bad were rewarded equally, what emotion would you feel? The first time you read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, what did you feel? Without introspection you would not know why you felt that certain way and whether it was an integrated, appropriate response.

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I wouldn't say that introspection is moral as such. It's moral (and indispensable) inasmuch as it allows you to identify your values and correct errors in them. I think many people live without introspecting, and the result is they accept whatever morality has been handed to them and refuse to question that morality when it contradicts reality. If they're happy, it's really only due to chance.

However a life filled only with introspection would be pointless, and it's a contradiction. Introspection depends on extrospection, it assumes that you have values that were derived from your experience. The whole point of introspection is to examine what you've learned, make corrections and apply the lessons to a more productive, meaningful life.

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I am curious to get the input of members here for the following question:

Is it moral to introspect?

Is it immoral not to introspect?

Why - to both answers of the above questions.

What is the role of introspection in one's life? - What is it good for, what can it be used to achieve?

When should one introspect (How often, in what situations)?

How does this question arise? Introspective knowledge is one kind of knowledge, knowledge about yourself. Why would you think it might be immoral? Is something motivating your question that you didn't mention?

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Is it moral to introspect?

Is it immoral not to introspect?

There's about a billion things that are neither moral or immoral.

What is the role of introspection in one's life? - What is it good for, what can it be used to achieve?

When should one introspect (How often, in what situations)?

Whenever one needs to, in order to get in comfort with one's own inner dealings and subconscious values.

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Is it moral to introspect?

Is it immoral not to introspect?

Let's see what would happen to someone who does not introspect.

Introspection is the process by which we are aware of our inner mental operations. How could a person tell if he was or was not in focus, whether or not he had the knowledge or motivation to achieve his goals, or direct the operation of his mind if he did not introspect? He would have to take whatever random ideas and values he had without questioning them or evaluating them. This cannot be to his self-interest.

How about emotions? Their function is to almost instantaneously sum up our values with respect to the context we find ourselves in and impel us to action. They get us to move out of the way of an oncoming truck, attract us to a soul mate, etc. If someone does not introspect, then his emotions become whims which Ayn Rand defined as "a desire experienced by a person who does not know and does not care to discover its cause." ["The Objectivist Ethics," VOS, P. 14] At that point he has only two alternatives: either act on his whims, or suppress and repress them and, along with his whim, his values. This cannot be to his self-interest.

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Great post, Betsy. Especially the link between action, emotions and whim, and the point about emotions propelling us to action. Thanks.

I am curious to get the input of members here for the following question:

Is it moral to introspect?

Is it immoral not to introspect?

Why - to both answers of the above questions.

What is the role of introspection in one's life? - What is it good for, what can it be used to achieve?

When should one introspect (How often, in what situations)?

How does this question arise? Introspective knowledge is one kind of knowledge, knowledge about yourself. Why would you think it might be immoral? Is something motivating your question that you didn't mention?

I did not ask if introspection can be immoral. I asked if the lack of it can be immoral. Assuming you took it under account;

I see two questions here; one is what motivates me to ask these questions and the second is what makes me think that lack of introspection can be immoral.

So first one: People here (on the forums 4aynrand) are very smart and knowledgeable in Objectivism. I thought I would get an interesting input to these questions (and I did). I think you were asking something different though, which is how did I arrive at these questions to begin with (right?). More specifically you seem to be asking about the question of the link between morality and introspection (right?).

The answer is that I see a few connections between morality and introspection, but am yet unable to know if they mean that introspection is moral or the lack of it immoral.

The connections are:

First, introspection is a tool to achieve happiness, which is the purpose of morality.

Second, people who do not introspect (which means they act on whim) usually do not act to achieve happiness (unless their initial "guess", for lack of a better word, of morality, was good). They usually act to achieve psychological-self-"protection" (what they perceive as protection), which is not to their best interest, and again, does not achieve happiness.

Third, Since morality is based on the standard of YOUR life, as an individual with unique nature (more specific than just a human), in order to build you own morality you must know yourself. If you skip this stage, whatever set of guidelines you have can only be followed as a bunch of rules, like religion "shall do's and shall not do's".

And lastly (because I don't know how to say 4 in the form of "third" or "secondly") - Those who avoid introspection as a way of life are acting against the virtue of honesty - they are not honest to themselves (it is impossible if you never look inside), and many times against other virtues as well.

So the main connection that I see is that introspection is a condition to happiness, and happiness is the purpose of morality. I'm not sure if from this I can conclude that introspection is moral and its vice is immoral though.

In fact, in general, I do not have a very clear idea of what makes an action moral/immoral vs. amoral. For example: Is brushing my teeth in the morning moral? I don't know.

About "psychological self protection" that I mentioned:

I understood a few years ago the link between honest introspection and happiness, and it motivated me to examine myself, especially examine those things which may be unpleasant to discover. This last part is what people mostly run away from. They "feel" or "think" that to evade possible bad discoveries about themselves is for their self-protection.

So when someone does not introspect you often see it very well reflected in any topic they try to discuss. You see it reflected in their motivation (they are out to prove their point at all costs (including truth), instead of learning and understanding), you see it in the ideas they try to support (somehow those ideas always link back to some psychological problem they have that they are ignoring), and more stuff that I don't care to think about now.

Point is, I sometimes get annoyed in discussions with people like that. Annoyance comes from a subconscious judgement that they are immoral. When I track it down I see that I am annoyed because I think they are bad for evading. So this motivated me to ask about the connection of introspection and morality.

Alright, I believe this answered your two questions.

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and one last question:

Is it moral to introspect?

Is it immoral not to introspect?

Let's see what would happen to someone who does not introspect.

...

I still don't see the connection between what would happen to someone who does not introspect (result) and morality of introspecting or not introspecting.

Like I said, it could come from the fact that I do not yet know how to classify actions in general as moral/immoral or amoral. Reference to a good source that answers that (or an answer) on that would be great.

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and one last question:
Is it moral to introspect?

Is it immoral not to introspect?

Let's see what would happen to someone who does not introspect.

...

I still don't see the connection between what would happen to someone who does not introspect (result) and morality of introspecting or not introspecting.

Like I said, it could come from the fact that I do not yet know how to classify actions in general as moral/immoral or amoral. Reference to a good source that answers that (or an answer) on that would be great.

The Objectivist Ethics by Ayn Rand, the part of Galt's speech in which he presents the Objectivist validation of ethics, Rand's article Philosophy Who Needs It?, and Viable Values by Tara Smith are good sources for your questions.

Since moral choices begin with identifying answers to the questions "Of value to whom and for what?" one should begin with asking them about introspection, which is the identification of the contents of one's consciousness, including one's awareness of reality and one's value system. To whom is self-awareness a value? Clearly, to oneself since one will be identifying one's values and knowledge. For what is it of value? Since life requires the acquisition of values, one must be aware of the values that one has acquired during one's life so that one knows that the values do actually support one's life and do not harm one's life.

I do not think that one should look at introspection in the context of being moral or immoral since it is a psychological process. One judges morality on the values that an individual holds and the action he takes related to those values. I also think making such a moral judgment of introspection puts an issue between the practice of it and the evaluation of it that should not be there. The issue that gets invoked is the judgment of good or evil, and I don't think it is healthy to put that pressure on one's psychological functioning. Introspection is a skill that is learned and is required for epistemological reasons as well as personal knowledge. I think it would be wrong to assert, "I am evil because I didn't introspect after I came home from work today." Whether one does or should introspect at any given time depends upon many factors. If someone is not good at introspection, one will observe the effects on the values of that person, and it is those values that one passes judgment upon.

I think that once one learns to introspect with some degree of proficiency, it become a constant part of one's mental awareness, in much the same way as one is aware of the external world. This is absolutely true in any element of problem solving because part of the solution is to be aware of whether one is following the correct path. When reading a book, is one not constantly aware that one either enjoys it or is getting bored by it or confused by it? How would one continue to read another word if one were not aware of it, i.e., introspecting?

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Paul, to see if I got you right: Would you call the following person moral?

This person is productive (because all of Ayn Rand's heroes were productive and he relies on her standard of good), he respects other people's rights (because the law says he should), but his code of ethics is taken completely on faith, pretty much like the Tablets of Stone (from the bible), and he directs all of his actions by it, in complete obedience.

(I actually have such person in mind, so yeah, I do think this is possible)

How would you evaluate such a person? By his actions or by his psychology?

And thanks for the book reference. I actually read most of what you've stated, but will give it a second read to see if I missed some parts.

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Paul, to see if I got you right: Would you call the following person moral?

This person is productive (because all of Ayn Rand's heroes were productive and he relies on her standard of good), he respects other people's rights (because the law says he should), but his code of ethics is taken completely on faith, pretty much like the Tablets of Stone (from the bible), and he directs all of his actions by it, in complete obedience.

(I actually have such person in mind, so yeah, I do think this is possible)

How would you evaluate such a person? By his actions or by his psychology?

And thanks for the book reference. I actually read most of what you've stated, but will give it a second read to see if I missed some parts.

How did this person choose their productivity, as Ayn Rand does not tell a person what form of productivity to choose? How and why does this person choose to respect the rights of others, as todays laws are actually against the rights of most individuals? How does a person take Ayn Rand's ethics on faith, unlike the bible she does not prescribe thou shall and thou shall not? One of the items that reality does not allow for is actions taken on whim as whimsical actions will lead to contradictions and that person will never achieve real happiness.

In other words, a person must focus their thoughts and actions, and in a certain context, to be focused is to be focused on life. So, if life is you standard and highest value and one is not focused on maintaining and achieving life, than they are evading and acting in an immoral way.

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Paul, to see if I got you right: Would you call the following person moral?

This person is productive (because all of Ayn Rand's heroes were productive and he relies on her standard of good), he respects other people's rights (because the law says he should), but his code of ethics is taken completely on faith, pretty much like the Tablets of Stone (from the bible), and he directs all of his actions by it, in complete obedience.

(I actually have such person in mind, so yeah, I do think this is possible)

How would you evaluate such a person? By his actions or by his psychology?

And thanks for the book reference. I actually read most of what you've stated, but will give it a second read to see if I missed some parts.

There are two answers. If you are classifying him as productive, then you must know that he is being rational about his selection of virtues and values. I would say that ethically, he exhibits the moral virtue of productivity, but that he is irrational in his method of thinking. Most productive people fall into this category.

On the other hand, your inclusion of "and he directs all of his actions by it, in complete obedience" makes an assumption on your part. How do you know that all of his actions are directed by this method? If, in fact, you know this to be true, then he is not being productive, he is simply "following orders." The claim that he respects other people's rights because the law says so, means that he doesn't have a rational basis for acting the way he does. How many laws violate people's rights? Does he respect those laws? No answer from such a person.

I evaluate such a person by the hierarchy of philosophic ideas: epistemology is more fundamental than ethics. I'd say he is irrational, which is a judgment wider than saying that he is immoral. He only maintains his "productivity" because he hasn't integrated his ethical action with his epistemological premises. As Ayn Rand herself said (I do not remember the exact quote here), consistency is an essential element of her philosophy. Her definition of productivity can not be taken out of the context of her ethical theory. Productivity is a virtue that follows from rationality: it is rationality applied to the task of creating values to live by. So, of course, one may have friends or co-workers who are productive at a particular aspect of their lives, but their irrationality is what drives them in other important areas of their lives.

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-------

How would you evaluate such a person? By his actions or by his psychology?

---

One important point about this. I think it is wrong to morally evaluate someone based upon his psychology. No one has direct access to the contents or methods of another's consciousness. Making such judgments are done by inference and are irrelevant to moral judgment. Of course, that does not mean the one does not observe factual information and identify another person's psychological conditions. But one does not make a moral issue of it.

One morally evaluates a person by their values and their actions in relation to their affects on one's own hierarchy of values.

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Paul, to see if I got you right: Would you call the following person moral?

This person is productive (because all of Ayn Rand's heroes were productive and he relies on her standard of good), he respects other people's rights (because the law says he should), but his code of ethics is taken completely on faith, pretty much like the Tablets of Stone (from the bible), and he directs all of his actions by it, in complete obedience.

(I actually have such person in mind, so yeah, I do think this is possible)

How would you evaluate such a person? By his actions or by his psychology?

And thanks for the book reference. I actually read most of what you've stated, but will give it a second read to see if I missed some parts.

Religious ethics often preaches productiveness as a virtue -- but not to serve oneself. Productiveness is virtuous, according to religion, in order to serve others.

And in order to be productive, one must be relatively free to produce. Hence, it should not be surprising that anyone who takes productiveness seriously would also feel a need to be relatively free and to respect the corresponding freedom of others.

Reduced to naked essence, religion is actually incompatible with both productiveness and freedom. But in practice, religion's adherents may try not to "go to extremes," particularly if they are living in a culture that is still influenced, implicitly, by the Renaissance and Enlightenment.

As for the value of introspection, how can one resolve any conflicts between one's thoughts and one's emotions without introspecting? And how can one ever hope to avoid such conflicts if one isn't already following a fully rational code of ethics? Non-rational ethics is inherently impractical. Even if one is following a fully rational ethics, it won't give one strict "commandments" to follow "religiously." One will always need to ask oneself from time to time, "What am I doing? Why am I doing it?"

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You see it reflected in their motivation (they are out to prove their point at all costs (including truth), instead of learning and understanding), you see it in the ideas they try to support (somehow those ideas always link back to some psychological problem they have that they are ignoring), and more stuff that I don't care to think about now.
but his code of ethics is taken completely on faith, pretty much like the Tablets of Stone (from the bible), and he directs all of his actions by it, in complete obedience.

(bold mine)

How do you know that your conclusion about another's mental process is not a wrong assumption on your part?

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One morally evaluates a person by their values and their actions in relation to their affects on one's own hierarchy of values.

I'm not clear what you meant here.

In relation to "affects ... on hierarchy" ? Is this like changes on hierarchy?

Or did you mean: "in relation to their affects based on one's own hierarchy of values" ?

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How did this person choose their productivity, as Ayn Rand does not tell a person what form of productivity to choose? How and why does this person choose to respect the rights of others, as todays laws are actually against the rights of most individuals?

OK, I think you have dug into the details of this example too much. My intention was to ask about judging someone by their actions vs. their motivation, and to show that the motivation is the one that is relevant when making a moral evaluation, not the result of their action.

I did not intend for this hypothetical to turn into a psychological research of a specific personality type.

How does a person take Ayn Rand's ethics on faith, unlike the bible she does not prescribe thou shall and thou shall not?

Her novels provide enough examples of heroic people and what they do. A person can choose to mimic it.

But really, this is not an issue I wish to dig into. I have not conducted a research on such a person, I cannot provide all the details you are asking for.

Paul; you said:

"I think it is wrong to morally evaluate someone based upon his psychology. No one has direct access to the contents or methods of another's consciousness. Making such judgments are done by inference and are irrelevant to moral judgment."

Were you making 2 points here why one should not judge someone morally by their psychology?

It appears like the argument started as "you can never be sure of a person's psychology because you do not experience it first hand" and then switched to "such judgements (of a person's psychology) are irrelevant to moral judgements.

I am not clear about the transition here between the two points (if they were 2).

I disagree with the first statement. You can be certain of someone's psychology even if you don't experience it first hand.

And as for the second part; you also said that "One morally evaluates a person by their values" - well a person's values are part of his psychology, and yet you say that psychology is irrelevant? I don't understand this.

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How do you know that your conclusion about another's mental process is not a wrong assumption on your part?

Is there a reason why I should assume I am mistaken?

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OK, I think you have dug into the details of this example too much. My intention was to ask about judging someone by their actions vs. their motivation, and to show that the motivation is the one that is relevant when making a moral evaluation, not the result of their action.

I did not intend for this hypothetical to turn into a psychological research of a specific personality type.

Her novels provide enough examples of heroic people and what they do. A person can choose to mimic it.

But really, this is not an issue I wish to dig into. I have not conducted a research on such a person, I cannot provide all the details you are asking for.

My goal was not to dig into the details but to try and understand how you came to your conclusions. Were you conclusions derived from psychologizing or from witnessing this person's actions in reality? Are you assuming that you know their motivations or have you actually witnessed their actions according to their stated motivations?

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How do you know that your conclusion about another's mental process is not a wrong assumption on your part?

Is there a reason why I should assume I am mistaken?

I did not mean that you should assume either way but simply how do you determine that as we do not have a direct access to the contents or methods of another's consciousness. Directly, we only see the result and there maybe more than one cause in terms of another's psychological motivation for a certain action. More often than not unless someone tells you their motivation - it would be very difficult to be certain - I think (not impossible but difficult). If you are using your own introspection (as people tend to do that) - it may not give you the right answer. Projecting your own motivation when you put yourself in that context (thinking how would YOU possibly make that error) without evidence (simple existence of that error is not evidence) is psychologizing.

A man should be judged on the basis of his actions, his statements, and his conscious convictions and not on the basis of projected psychological inferences.

I am not assuming that you doing it but I wanted to make this point. That is why I asked: What kind of evidence do you have for your conclusion about another's mental process?

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One morally evaluates a person by their values and their actions in relation to their affects on one's own hierarchy of values.

I'm not clear what you meant here.

In relation to "affects ... on hierarchy" ? Is this like changes on hierarchy?

Or did you mean: "in relation to their affects based on one's own hierarchy of values" ?

Thanks for catching my lack of clarity here. First, "affects" should be "effects".

I should change the sentence to: "One morally evaluates a person by identifying his values and his actions, judging what effect those values have on one's own values based upon one's own hierarchy of values in the context of one's association with that person."

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and one last question:
Is it moral to introspect?

Is it immoral not to introspect?

Let's see what would happen to someone who does not introspect.

...

I still don't see the connection between what would happen to someone who does not introspect (result) and morality of introspecting or not introspecting.

Like I said, it could come from the fact that I do not yet know how to classify actions in general as moral/immoral or amoral. Reference to a good source that answers that (or an answer) on that would be great.

What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.

That's what Ayn Rand says ethics is for: guiding choices and actions.

That view is not shared by most other ethical systems whose primary goal seems to be classifying people's actions as moral or immoral so that they can determine who should feel guilty, who they should criticize, condemn, and ostracize, and who they can feel morally superior to.

Objectivism, unlike most other moralities, does not regard particular choices and actions as intrinsically moral or immoral. Because it distinguishes between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality, it recognizes that even bad, wrong and self-destructive choices, if made innocently, are not immoral.

In the case of introspection, most people never really learned how to do it well. Thus, failure to introspect, while not in one's self-interest, is not necessarily immoral.

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What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.

That's what Ayn Rand says ethics is for: guiding choices and actions.

That view is not shared by most other ethical systems whose primary goal seems to be classifying people's actions as moral or immoral so that they can determine who should feel guilty, who they should criticize, condemn, and ostracize, and who they can feel morally superior to.

Objectivism, unlike most other moralities, does not regard particular choices and actions as intrinsically moral or immoral. Because it distinguishes between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality, it recognizes that even bad, wrong and self-destructive choices, if made innocently, are not immoral.

Well sure, but it still recognizes some actions as immoral. Not by a list of actions which are good or bad (which would be intrinsic), but by the standard which one used to direct the action.

If a person steals, murders, evades something crucial - these actions are immoral, would you agree? (I am not assuming any special context of error of knowledge for any of those).

It is important to be able to distinguish actions (as inseparable with their motivation) which are moral from those who are amoral. Not for the sake of superiority and the negative stuff you mentioned, but for an actual very important reason that serves one's life:

The usual response to injustice or an immoral act is anger (also depending on the degree of how personal the issue to you). Anger can impel us (using your word) to act in self-defense and serve as a motivation. We need to be able to unite the emotion with some conscious judgement of its source. If one is angry when no breach of morality has happened then one can know that the emotion needs to be corrected. But without that - without knowing how morality relates to actions and motivations, a person is unable to verify a basic emotion of survival - anger.

And it's not just a matter of understanding the emotion. It is important to distinguish between an immoral act and error of knowledge for the purpose of self-defense. How can the legal system function without the distinction of moral/immoral vs. amoral actions? (as an example separate from the subject of introspection of course).

In personal relationships, a person needs to be able to distinguish between error of knowledge and immoral decision.

If a friend is immoral then it is perhaps better not to be his friend. If it is an error of knowledge that he is making, then it becomes worthwhile to invest effort into it.

In any case, there are certainly important reasons to be able to judge the morality/immorality vs. amorality of actions.

The concept already exists in all of us anyway - it is why we become angry. But the question is if we choose to make the subconscious judgement clear to us on principle.

In the case of introspection, most people never really learned how to do it well. Thus, failure to introspect, while not in one's self-interest, is not necessarily immoral.

Sure, if introspection at a certain time is not to one's interest, no reason why it would be immoral. But when a person never bothers to check his own mind, yet being critical of others, I find that rather disgusting - that someone evades tremendous contradictions in their own view (and refuse to introspect) but yet are eager and active to find it in others'.

As an example, there was the group of activists who objected to the BB&T donation; their actions was pretty much like a person hitting someone with a stick yelling "it is bad to beat people up!". Now how can one do such a thing without avoiding introspection on principle?

I don't buy that such people "never really learned how to do it well" (though I don't think you were talking about such a case). The knowledge is accessible to them, if they chose to look at the obvious.

On the positive side of relation between introspection and morality: introspection is a highly selfish act. And I do admire people who do a lot of it. For me the results are visible in the person that they are. Is this admiration based on coincidence, that they happen to be good at introspection? Hell no. It takes effort and devotion to the truth. Introspection is very difficult, Some aspects of it are more difficult than extraspection.

That's all I have to say, I kinda lost the focus of the discussion here.

So one last note to Sophia: You seem to be saying that understanding someone else's psychology is a very difficult task, and that most people project their own motivations on other etc', then in light of the difficulty of the task, what makes me sure I am not wrong. Well the form of the question is negative, and I don't see why it should be. I bet some of the things you investigate in your work are very difficult, that people have done it wrong in the past, and that people used unbased assumptions to analyze the data. What then makes you sure you got it right?

I don't see a reason for the tone of probable failure that you're using.

If you want to start a new (very interesting in my opinion) thread on the topic of methods to understand people's psychology, and to validate one's knowledge, go ahead. I'll participate. But I'm not going to answer when the underlying tone is "there are so many different ways to get it wrong - how can you possibly get it right"

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Note to iftart.

Based upon your last few responses, I find that I no longer understand your question and the context about introspection and its morality. I don't understand why you would even be considering the issue of introspection when thinking about activists who oppose BB&T or murderers or thieves. These examples are way outside the context of moral judgment pertaining to introspection. Perhaps if I were a prison psychologist, then it might be of interest.

I agree with Betsy's comments about what morality is for. And those are the issues that one passes moral judgment: values and actions. One does not morally judge a person by his introspective abilities or inabilities. One does not need to know any aspect of a murderer's introspective abilities to morally judge him. Why you bring this up is beyong me. So unless you can restrict the context back to what your original question was focussed on, then I will just leave my previous comments stand without further comment.

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