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Friday, May 21, 2004 - 8:02amSanction this postReply
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This reminds me a lot of what Leornard Piekoff wrote on the subject of lying.

Pretty much the same argument, but he did list some exceptions to this rule.

 

For example, if may be necessary to lie in order to save your life from a murderous regime.

 

However, there are also less life-or-death situations when lying may also be in order.

 

For example, in a job interview you may say "I am the best man for the job", when you really think "I hope to be the best man for the job".

 

There may be times when people want you to lie to them.

For example, if a woman asks you how she looks, she doesn't want to hear that she looks terrible, even if that is your honest opinion.

 

Maybe for privacy reasons. 

For example, someone may ask "How are you?" and you may reply "Good", even if this is not the case, because you don't want to tell them details of your problems.




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Post 1

Friday, May 21, 2004 - 8:30amSanction this postReply
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Regarding the remark,

if a woman asks you how she looks, she doesn't want to hear that she looks terrible, even if that is your honest opinion.

I am grateful that the woman in my life values my frank opinions about this.  Many men are not so fortunate.

On a broader scale, it would benefit everyone if women would stop expecting men to appease their "sensitive" feelings and if men would stop appeasing women's desire to be treated in this fashion.




Post 2

Friday, May 21, 2004 - 10:36amSanction this postReply
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Very good article Joe. I remember that what struck me most when I first read Rand in any depth was her comments on honesty and the *impracticality* of lying - this was a moment of great change for me as I think it was when I first realised how implacably morality is linked to respect for reality. The first few paragraphs of this article capture the impracticality of lying simply and effectively. Well done.



Post 3

Friday, May 21, 2004 - 8:20amSanction this postReply
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Joe,

Great article!  It's very interesting indeed.  I do have one comment/suggestion for your consideration that I think might help to clarify your article.  It involves the following passage in which I think you first introduce the concept of "arbitrariness."

JOE:  This kind of epistemological quagmire happens for another reason as well. When people accept the arbitrary as true, they again fill their minds with ideas that are not related to reality. They create an alternative view of the world.

MY SUGGESTION:  Add the word "necessarily" before the word true. [...When people accept the arbitrary as "necessarily" true...].  The danger as I see it, and which I think it is safe to say that you were taking aim at, is when, for example, people accept arbitrary events or occurrences as necessarily true.  By necessarily true this implies that no other outcome was or is possible.  Granted you were focusing more on the epistemological implications of dishonesty in your article, but perhaps a sentence or two relating/contrasting the arbitrary to metaphysical entities might round out and polish your article a bit.  This might also help say a non-Objectivist to better follow your article.  Anyway, this is my $0.02 worth.

Matt




Post 4

Friday, May 21, 2004 - 9:16amSanction this postReply
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Just agreeing with Luther here...in my experience, it's best to just grit your teeth and be honest about a woman's appearance...although I typically side-step a little bit by pointing out the good and bad features, and only respond to the "overall appearance" after I list the major good/bad qualities.

But, yes, there are definitely times when lying is not a problem to add on to this list, whenever you're keeping a secret, you can lie about its existence.  For example, if there's a surprise party coming up, you can tell the person for whom the party is being thrown, when confronted, that no such party will occur.  Even for more important/pertinent secrets, lying about the fact that you're keeping a secret is, in itself, another level of "disguise" for the secret.




Post 5

Friday, May 21, 2004 - 2:23pmSanction this postReply
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Great article, Joe!

Once again, you astonish me with your ability to take a difficult, abstract concept and - within a mere 500 words or so - make it about as clear as the thing can get!

Man, are you ever an inspiring guy to associate with.

Ed



Post 6

Friday, May 21, 2004 - 6:53pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for the comments everyone.  A few replies.

Marcus, I've mentioned elsewhere in my writings that we're dealing with principles, not rules.  Because of that, there will always be contexts in which they either aren't true, or their effect is limited.  For instance, I discussed how trying to maintain a lie causes either a mental burden if you keep it clear, or mental destruction if you don't.  It's based on this view of trying to maintain the false view of the world.  In the case of dealing with a murderer, it's unlikely that you'll continue to try to maintain that false view.  You really want to end your dealings with the murderer quickly and forever.  So this particular side-effect is almost a non-issue.  But if you lie to your friends, coworkers, family, or anyone else you intend to continue a relationship with, you have to maintain that lie. You have to remember it, worry about it, keep track of who knows what, etc.

Matthew, I think you may have misunderstood my article.  I'm not talking about whether an event had to happen or not, or whether any other outcome was impossible.  I'm just talking about arbitrary beliefs.  Believing something without evidence for or against.  When you believe something for no reason, you either have to accept it as true, or you have to try to maintain it as a separate possible view of reality.  The more you do it, the harder it gets to keep it separate.  And when you actually do accept it as true, your mind gets cluttered with ideas that are unrelated to reality.

Joe T., you gave an exception to the being dishonest when it comes to keeping secrets.  Taking honesty as an active virtue (see my series Virtuous Living), you would try to avoid doing things you feel the need to keep secret.  That's because even if you're morally justified in being dishonest in that case (you don't owe other people your personal information), you still have the mental burden you have to carry.  You still fear you'll get caught, have to expand your tree of lies, act in order to conceal the information wasting valuable time and energy, etc.

Virtues are principles because they show that to gain values, you need to follow actions.  And if you act inappropriately, there are costs.  The virtues help you understand the costs and benefits in a powerful way.  But taking an action, even if it's the right decision, can still cost you plenty.

To all the people who focused on the honesty/dishonesty part, I'm glad it was useful.  But the reason for writing this piece was to explain how accepting arbitrary beliefs has the same cost.

Ed, thanks for the compliment.  Glad you liked the article.




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Post 7

Friday, May 21, 2004 - 7:12pmSanction this postReply
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I loved this article...  it has great relevance to something that happened in my life recently.

A good friend of mine from college lives in a very high-profile city and is now a fledgling member of a very prestigious profession that carries a lot of responsibility, and I just spent a few weeks in his present world, where he and his small and highly select group of friends have created a microverse of lies to justify their constant binge use of drugs.

The evidence is all around them, literally screaming at them constantly, "These drugs are having a destructive effect, you are not in control of them, and you do not understand them as you tell yourselves you do!!" 

In retrospect, he now says that I "betrayed" the "sacred trust" of him and his friends, by imposing an objective judgement (I see no reason not to spell "judgement" without an "e" any longer, so I am simplifying my life from here on out) upon his lifestyle that contradicts what he and his friends manufacture.  He weaves a reverse logic built out of false premises to justify conclusions that he must somehow validate, no matter what.

At first, I felt shameful and guilty that I had truly betrayed an old friend and an important trust.  Now I realize that I upheld it better than anyone else has.  I have attempted to explain this to him, to no avail.  He has been fully informed; the ball is now in his court. 




Post 8

Saturday, May 22, 2004 - 7:58amSanction this postReply
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Joe,

Terrific article, as always. Where would you (or anyone else) stand on the issue of a somewhat longer term lie for a higher good? For instance intelligence agents infiltrating terrorist groups or undercover cops infiltrating criminal gangs, or even ordinary guys trying to uncover criminal activity and lying to the suspected perpetrators? Presumably the higher goal would take precedence?

By the way, regarding the point about a woman's looks, I've always figured its better to tell them the truth, as if they do happen to look terrible they can't do anything about it if they don't know :-)

MH




Post 9

Saturday, May 22, 2004 - 8:38amSanction this postReply
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I think there are exceptions to the lying prohibition. Francisco seems to lie throughout the early part of Atlas. Maybe you have to be a genius to keep it all straight in your own head. And then there are spies. Surely there must lie occasionally to protect their cover. I don't know how double, not to mention triple, agents do it. Of course, the spies I'm referring to are those who are defending a free country. Lying to protect a totalitarian state is surely doubly evil, whereas lying to protect a rights defending state seems to be good.

Fred Seddon



Post 10

Saturday, May 22, 2004 - 8:16amSanction this postReply
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Joe:  Actually, I was thinking more in terms of other people wishing that you keep a secret of theirs, not in terms of keeping secrets about yourself.  For example, I once had a friend who came from...ah, let's just say a background that makes most people quite uncomfortable, which he/she quite deliberately left behind.  I was asked to not tell anybody else.  I definitely considered his/her past to be a secret that was shared with me.

I have read the Virtuous Living series, and thought that they, like this, are right on the mark.




Post 11

Saturday, May 22, 2004 - 10:29amSanction this postReply
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Joe,

Thank you for your clarification on what you meant by arbitrary.  Indeed, I was confused.  I was thinking of the concept "arbitrary" in a metaphysical sense, when as you of course stated explicilty and up front in your article, you were approaching it from an epistemological angle.  Just to make sure I better understand all this, when someone accepts an arbitrary belief as true, are they then ultimately guilty of negating the primacy of existence?

Matt




Post 12

Saturday, May 22, 2004 - 3:26pmSanction this postReply
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MH, I think spying certainly can be appropriate, even though it causes the kind of problems I was talking about.  Another feature of a virtue is that you can recognize the values or losses attributed with acting for or against the virtue.  A spy is certainly better equipped if he knows what he's getting into.  His mind will carry the burden of keeping two views of reality separate, but if he knows the consequences, he can keep the mental focus going.    But that's not a way to live your life.  It can be temporary under certain circumstances, but he eventually needs to leave it all behind.

The spy who lives a pretend life in another country has another advantage.  He's living in a fantasy world, with no real connection to his past.  There's no need to try to integrate the two.  When he's pretending to be someone else, he does it all the way.  You still might have problems of keeping them separate, but it's easier when the two are so unrelated.  Contrast this with the man who is trying to maintain a secret life at the same time as his normal life.  The two interfere with each other constantly, he's always afraid the circle of people might interact, etc.  Much more difficult.

Fred, reading Atlas Shrugged for the second time (or more), you notice that Francisco actually tells the truth most of the time at the beginning.  He's done other things to try to confuse people, so they misinterpret him even when he's being honest.  But even then, he craves going back for the summer to his friends where he can be openly himself.

I don't know if it takes a genius to keep it straight.  The point is merely that you're incurring a large cost usually for no good reason.

Joe T, I think I understand.  Of course, if your friend had followed the virtue of honesty, he/she might have avoided the past he/she wants to avoid.

Matthew, interesting question.  You might argue that they are in practice denying the primacy of existence, since they're implicitly claiming knowledge of the world can be independent of the world.  But they're usually not doing so explicitly and intentionally.  For instance, people who believe in god are often doing so because everyone else is doing it, or there are claims of miracles, or after decades of going to church they feel it's true.  These aren't legitimate reasons for believing it, but unless one thinks about epistemology and how we gain knowledge of the world, they might not see it.




Post 13

Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 12:54pmSanction this postReply
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I'm new to this forum. I've been clicking around and reading articles and posts.

I grew up in the Mormon church then became a physician, so weeding out the "arbitrary" and focusing on reality has been the mental war of my adult life. Thank you for your article. It clarified some thoughts for me.



Post 14

Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 1:17pmSanction this postReply
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You're welcome, Daniel.  And thank you for commenting.  Welcome to SOLO.



Post 15

Saturday, April 22, 2006 - 8:56amSanction this postReply
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Joseph said:

 For instance, people who believe in god are often doing so because everyone else is doing it, or there are claims of miracles, or after decades of going to church they feel it's true.  These aren't legitimate reasons for believing it, but unless one thinks about epistemology and how we gain knowledge of the world, they might not see it.


On the "they might not see it" part you most often have the inherent problem when conversing with them of the built in caveat of 'the devil at work' which by it's nature often precludes them listening to you with an open mind whether they want to or not. The fact that they believe it is an issue which bears strongly on the dispensation of their immortal soul is an extremely strong elixir with which many if not most of them have been fed since birth.

I, like Daniel above, was raised in a Christian home, although mine was Southern Baptist. I then married a woman of Holiness faith whose parents were both preachers which led to a long period of being subjected to Christian dogma.  The subsequent journey to try and understand life in an objective manner--which at it's heart had questions that I had been asking myself (if not aloud) since I was quite young-- has been going on a long time before I was aware of an Objectivist movement. It was often steeped in deep seated fears which I had to overcome through rigorous mental discipline lest the weight of accumulated guilt pull me back into the fold so to speak. I personally understand the battle all too well.

L W

(Edited by Mr. L W Hall on 4/22, 10:59am)




Post 16

Saturday, April 22, 2006 - 5:47pmSanction this postReply
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Joe,

Do the angst-ridden people you write about truly exist?  I have never met them.  Is this some generational thing?




Post 17

Sunday, April 23, 2006 - 8:32pmSanction this postReply
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L W,

Not sure if you're up to responding to this somewhat-loaded personal question, but are you an atheist now -- and is your wife, too?



Wolf,

At going on only 38 years, I have met these angst-ridden folks en masse. I'm even related to several of them (ie. they truly exist).

Ed




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Post 18

Monday, April 24, 2006 - 1:37pmSanction this postReply
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Ed,

It puzzles me.  I have not led a sheltered life. 

The thieves and liars I have met suffer little angst.  If they get away with it, they are happy with a short or sometimes long term gain.  If caught they disappear if they can, or throw themselves, figuratively or literally, on the 'mercy of the court' promising never to do it again.

The only place outside of a mental institution I have found the types that Joe describes are in Dostoyevski novels.  Crime and punishment comes to mind.

One can live a satisfying life as a villain, take Elsworth Toohey for example. 




Post 19

Monday, April 24, 2006 - 3:05pmSanction this postReply
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Wolf,

I don't think that you see the fear that I see, when I look into an evader's eye. It's true, truly evil folks even hoodwink themselves, in order to capture an unearned piece of mind.

But you should see the fear in them when someone as strong as I am decides that enough injustice has been done -- and personally holds their feet to the fire. You should see them scurrying like terrified cockroaches, trying desperately to get out of the light.

It is only because good men often do nothing, that they even have enough spine to get out of bed each day.

Ed




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