|Wow. How exciting! Let me just reply to some of the posts here.|
James, glad you liked the article. You're certainly right that the focus really needs to be on your own life.
Lindsay, thank you. Very kinds words.
Luke, I'm glad you liked it, and that it helps you in your own work. The distinction between rules and principles is not my own, I just bring it up a lot (as you can see, there are people who can't see the difference). I read it first in an article by David Kelley. It's a very powerful concept that can change the way you look at virtues entirely. The Objectivist ethics deals primarily in values, and the virtues (via principles) are just ways of attaining them.
Lance, I agree that the perfectionist mindset is bad. I think it's bad because it's aim is to avoid immorality, instead of living life. The goals are all wrong. And it requires interpreting ethics in a rationalistic light so that you can have clean moral boundaries. Measuring moral correctness is seen as the defining function of morality, instead of living life. So it leads to rules.
Jeff! Fantastic! I completely agree, and think you said it very well. And based on the number of sanctions, others agree. David is an idiot. It's always shocking to see somebody so wrong on so many issues. He'd almost have to try! I'll give him one thing though. The style of his post and the content fit nicely together. All crap.
Katdaddy, you said "I keep sensing a 'Thou shalt not lie' commandment coming from you irregardless of context." Funny you should mention that. In previous articles on the "rule-based morality" topic, I've mentioned that they usually end up in the form "Thou shalt not" whatever. Very nice call.
Kernon and Jeff, you're both right that rudeness in retaliation is fine. Civility is not a blank check for taking abuse.
Jason, I agree with some of what you wrote. Obviously Rand didn't accept that honesty was a rule stating you should always tell the truth under any conditions. She didn't exactly redefine it, though. She stated the principle behind it, why the truth was in your self-interest, and by connecting it to values, set the scope for it. So you can call that redefining if you want, but it's not as if she flipped the meaning on its head like "selfishness" or "egoism".
But look at what your wrote after that? You're accepting David's bizarre view that honesty is all in your head (mind-body dichotomy). As Kernon describes later, it's the view that honesty is avoiding self-deception. By that view, a compulsive liar who pretends to be someone he's not, tries to trick people all the time, and is in every way dishonest by convention standards is fully embodying the virtue of honesty because he's keeping his lies clear in his own head. Since he doesn't believe it himself, he's a paragon of honesty! And I thought it was stupid that he suggested a man who's completely dependent on others and has to obey their every whim is practicing the virtue of independence. I can only imagine what he thinks pride is.
Anyway, this view of honesty as simply focusing on reality doesn't hold up under scrutiny. Is a liar focusing on reality just because he keeps his lies (fake reality) clear of the truth (reality)? Is spending time trying to make a convincing lie, worrying about trying to make reality appear different from how it really is, and spending mental effort keeping them apart really the same thing as focusing on reality?
And then, you give the quote by Peikoff, who agrees with me, not David. He doesn't talk about honesty as avoiding self-delusion. How can that become "a means of serving the ends of evil"?
Let me just add to what Kernon quoted from Rand herself. This is her statement about what honesty is.
Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud -- 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, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, their perceptiveness becomes the enemies you have to dread and flee -- that you do not care to live as a dependent, lest of all a dependent on the stupidity of others, or as a fool whose source of values is the fools he succeeds in fooling -- that honesty is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the sake of others, but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice: his refusal to sacrifice the reality of his own existence to the deluded consciousness of others.Now really, does this sound like a virtue that involves "only mental action"? It sounds to me that a commitment to reality means more than just keeping your lies clear in your head.
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Now contrast David's view of honesty as "only mental action" with my view of honesty. My view is that instead of keeping lies straight, you can avoid them entirely. You don't have to spend mental energy constructing elaborate falsehoods and trying to convince others of them. You can focus on what's real, and work at dealing with reality directly. You can live without fear of being caught, and with the quiet assurance that you have nothing to hide. You have the advantage of being able and willing to communicate your thoughts, feelings, and goals to other people, without worrying that they'll see through your web of lies. Communication, which is so useful for achieving values with other people, is a value instead of a threat. You seek the best and brightest among men as your friends, instead of the most gullible. You gain the respect and trust of those around you, enabling more person connections and opportunities that wouldn't be normally available to you.
This whole conversation is interesting in the context of my article. I claim that morality is a tool for living, and not the other way around. And that virtues are based on principles and are aimed at values, not arbitrary rules we follow because Saint Ayn told us too. And such a violent reaction! I guess the shoe fit!