Rebirth of Reason

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Post 20

Monday, July 24, 2006 - 9:36amSanction this postReply
Hi George!
Of course I heard of Prof. Wu!! The famous Chinese physicist who's brilliant experiments proved the Lee and Yang's theory of the law of parity. After that, Lee and Yang went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1957.

When I was an undergrad in China in the early 80s, Dr. Wu and her husband visited our school. She gave a talk in mixed English and Chinese. She was in her 60s then and was as sharp as I'd never seen in anyone. That's probably the first time ever that I heard a presentation from a top scientist. She has been an inspiration to a lot of us. Thanks for reminding me of Prof. Wu!

Post 21

Monday, July 24, 2006 - 2:06pmSanction this postReply
Yes, context, context, context - not omniscience, but context, and then there be the moral perfection....

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Post 22

Monday, July 24, 2006 - 7:44pmSanction this postReply
Am I morally perfect?

“0) It is a fact that I am morally perfect.”

(A) The Greeks said judge no man happy until he is dead.

The word “perfect” means complete (Latin PER- “through” –FACERE; FACTUS/-FECTUS “to do; done” i.e. “done through”) and therefore does not apply to works in progress. Since my life (and the voluntary activity which constitutes it in a moral sense) is not yet over, to claim that “I am morally perfect” without qualification would either be hyperbole, presumption, or nonsense.

The proposition smacks either of what Rand would call ‘intrinsicism’ or alternatively of what she would call ‘range-of-the-moment’ thinking. If one’s so-called ‘perfection’ depends on the correctness of past actions, then “once a sinner always a sinner.” But if perfection can be judged on a momentary basis then surely even Stalin was morally perfect - at least when brushing his teeth. My survivors can trouble themselves over my moral perfection, if they wish. I will trouble myself over that which is in my control: my current comportment, my aim towards future goals, my conscientious self-evaluation.

“1) Moral perfection is not possible.”

(B) This is either trivially true given my remarks in (A) or is a cop-out.

“2) Sometimes I break down, but most of the time I try to behave well.”

(C) The word “most” here is ambiguous. If it implies that some of the time I try NOT to behave well it is a red herring. If it means that I always try but sometimes fail, it is unnecessary pleading.

Is not the effort to behave well (within the context of rational self-interest) the essence of moral action? Perhaps a few analogies will suffice. If I am hale, undiseased, well nourished, and fit - but I scrape my knee - am I ‘perfectly’ healthy? (And if my knee is unscraped, will I never die?) If I am of clear complexion, good build, virile, symmetric and unblemished – but have a receding hairline – am I not ‘perfectly’ handsome? (Or would a toupee ‘perfect’ me?)

(D) This type of question reveals one of the traps of capital “O” Objectivism as practiced by some. Rand’s system of rational egoism should be a means to better oneself, not to flagellate oneself or to put oneself in a better light than others. Leave that failing to the Pharisees, to the Fundamentalists and to the Imams.

(E) Am I productive, joyful, self-aware, respectful and respected? Am I loving and loved, am at home in my skin and among my fellows, am at ease with millionaires and ‘illegal’ aliens? Am I (momentarily) enraged by injustice but willing to forgive my debtors and to punish my enemies and am then eager to get back to enjoying life?

I am not morally anorexic. I don’t stay up at night worrying about my perfection. No one who is morally perfect does.

TSK, Manhattan, 07/23/06

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Post 23

Monday, September 11, 2006 - 8:45amSanction this postReply
I chose the option "Moral perfection is not possible", for the following reason.

"Perfection", by itself, is a floating abstraction.  One must always specify, or at least imply, (1) the context in which (or purpose for which) something may be considered perfect, and (2) the precision or "level of magnification" within which it may be considered perfect.

Consider any mechanical object that has been "perfectly" designed and built.  Ummm... "Perfect" for what purpose?  This point about context should be obvious.  The object will fail, shatter, etc. if you don't use it in the right context (or for the right purpose).

Now consider a piece of paper, where you take a ruler and draw a perfectly straight line.  Ummm... "Perfectly straight" by what standard?  Within what level of precision?  If you look at it under a magnifying glass, it's not at all perfect - it's full deviations and imperfections, some quite ugly.

Re: the question about "moral perfection", I admit I should be expected to fill in some of the missing context.  Clearly, I should assume happiness as the purpose, and Objectivist virtues as the standard.

But the question still gives no clue as to the level of magnification / precision.  One of the commentors said he's morally perfect because his ongoing practice of the purpose & virtues is consistent.  Ummm... *How* consistent?  I.e., "perfectly consistent" to what level of magnification?  And, what level of magnification would or should matter?

My purpose is not to hold him under a magnifying glass!  but simply to underscore that the "moral perfection" of the question remains a floating abstraction.  And floating abstractions are not "possible" (as existents, or existential conditions).

(Edited by Jeff Carty on 9/11, 9:49am)

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Post 24

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - 1:42pmSanction this postReply

I liked others' comments as well that "perfect" etymologically means "complete" (as distinct from "flawless"), and that a living organism is never and can never be complete.

I've been studying biology, and it is in the basic structure of living organisms that they can only either (1) grow / move forward, (2) go into deep hibernation, or (3) decline and die.  Only with the latter two directions does the organism reach some semblance of completeness.

A growing organism is incomplete, and incapable of being complete.  It always has more work to do on its own being: more to be integrated, acquired, learned, decided, built, pumped, changed or disposed of - from the highest levels of its knowledge and behavior, down to physical, sub-cellular and molecular levels.

Perhaps risking controversy, I must submit here that the very notion of "moral perfection" is baggage left over from Platonism or the Morality of Death, and is not compatible with a Morality of Life.  I believe Rand understood that partially, but not, um, perfectly.

Since it is baggage from the Morality of Death, it has negative effects.  A person who says "I am morally perfect" commits himself to that conclusion, and thus gives himself an incentive - of whatever size - to evade contrary information that may otherwise benefit his life.  He also increases his focus (i.e., beyond what is useful and required) on *tracking and evaluating status* - taking more than is required from his focus on other cognition, production, rest, enjoyment, etc.

Because "complete" means "dead" (or deeply hibernating), when speaking of life: the person who says "I am morally perfect" says, without knowing or intending to, "I am morally dead."  I do not believe Rand fully understood this, as an implication of her Morality of Life and life's inherent nature.

Morality is a tool for humans to employ in making more beneficial / profitable choices.  Is it worth one's time, or even intelligible, to speak of a state of perfection with any tool?  For example, "hammer perfection"?  "Buzzsaw perfection"?  "Piano perfection"?

To strive for a high level of skill, knowledge and integration with a good tool is worthwhile indeed.  And one will always find more to discover or create or integrate, no matter what level of skill one reaches.  And one will always make more mistakes as well; the master simply recognizes and recovers from her mistakes faster.

I apologize for length, and for echoing many points made earlier.  I've been stuck on the question before and found it useful to work these things out in my own words.

(Edited by Jeff Carty on 9/12, 2:53pm)

Post 25

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - 8:00pmSanction this postReply
Don't apologize Jeff, the length was perfect.


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