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#30480 - 10/13/09 05:02 PM Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem
ballbreaker Offline
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Hey all. As many of you know, the principle of "Self-Ownership" is the idea that all individuals have a 'property in themselves'. From this it is supposed to follow that we stand in relation to one another as sovereign individuals and that, therefore, the non-aggression principle (i.e. to not harm others physically except in self-defense) ought to be the supreme moral law. This is the basis to most theories of libertarianism including Objectivism (no matter how upset Objectivists become when they're lumped in w/other libertarians).

I'd like to believe in the theory myself, but I'm wondering if there are others who may feel that it suffers from Hume's "Is-Ought Problem". That is, from the descriptive statement that ;individuals hold a property in themselves/are self-owning/whatever' we cannot necessarily make normative statements/derive moral laws; i.e. there is no connection between a thing's nature or fact of 'being' (I'm using this loosely) and how it should act.

Obviously this is a broader problem associated with natural rights but I thought I'd pose it anyways and see where the discussion goes.

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#30485 - 10/14/09 02:54 AM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: SkaffenAmtiskaw]
Doomsage680 Offline
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I do not see the direct connection between the idea of self-ownership and "how it should act". When it comes to Objectivism, my understanding is that one's individual liberties stem from existence in the sense that, I exist, so I must have the right to pursue survival, so I must be able to provide myself food, clothing, shelter, so I must have possession of myself in mind and body. And because others might not respect my right to survival, or my right to property of self and the earnings of my labor, I must have the right to self defense and the means to self defense.
I'm not sure if that is addressing what you brought up, but that is my understanding of the non-aggression principle's roots.
Now of course warfare and diplomacy often accompany each other, but it is my position that if one is forced to do something not in their self-interest, it is immoral and even harmful in the long term. US foreign policy is a long list of interventionist failures, because when we force policies on others not only is it undesirable to them but often leads to resentment. Short term gains are lost as conflicts are fueled by government interference, and even the temporary economic boosts provided by war are lost to foreign debt and increased monetary inflation, as well as the high cost of maintaining troops around the world. Nation's that avoid armed conflicts and favor diplomatic and non-interventionist solutions benefit with greater economic stability and less political resentment. I am open to all criticism, but this generally sums up my political stance.
I believe that the best policies are those that are in all participants best self-interests, because they will both have more motivation to pursue progress and fulfill promises.
I remember the quote, "When goods cross borders, soldiers don't".
_________________________
"I who have nothing but the comfort of my sins"
- Vinny Paz

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#30488 - 10/14/09 01:25 PM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: Doomsage680]
ballbreaker Offline
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Loc: Toronto, Canada
 Originally Posted By: Doomsage680
I do not see the direct connection between the idea of self-ownership and "how it should act". When it comes to Objectivism, my understanding is that one's individual liberties stem from existence in the sense that, I exist, so I must have the right to pursue survival, so I must be able to provide myself food, clothing, shelter, so I must have possession of myself in mind and body.


You're on the right track. The "Principle of Self-Ownership" is a more succinct way of putting all these ideas together. What I'm suggesting, however, is that the fact that you have possession of your mind and body (which is a descriptive fact which presupposes what you require to survive/provide an upkeep for this body and mind) does not necessitate any actual moral claims on others that 1) you should not be harmed/coerced, 2) you should be able to acquire private property and have this property respected as an extension of yourself.

So, in a nutshell, I'm saying there is no connection. You own yourself...great, seems axiomatic/self-evident, so I don't see how I could disprove it if I wanted to. But this fact of 'self-ownership' doesn't entail any moral duties on my part or any other, not necessarily anyways. Follow me?

 Quote:
US foreign policy is a long list of interventionist failures, because when we force policies on others not only is it undesirable to them but often leads to resentment. Short term gains are lost as conflicts are fueled by government interference, and even the temporary economic boosts provided by war are lost to foreign debt and increased monetary inflation, as well as the high cost of maintaining troops around the world.


It's interesting that you mention this. It wasn't clear to me whether or not you were an Objectivist or just had Objectivist leanings, but it would not be a great stretch to effectively but Rand in the neoconservative camp as far as foreign policy is concerned. This isn't a criticism necessarily, but just something to think about.

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#30489 - 10/14/09 02:04 PM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: SkaffenAmtiskaw]
Doomsage680 Offline
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That was a very good response, made me think about whether or not there is a sound base for Objectivism. It is this point I would like to pursue, as to address whether there is "some final, objective truth to the notion of good and evil." Now I have not been in favor of using "good and evil" because they usually mean "altruism or selfishness" which to me is a useless dichotomy. First, I would agree that Objectivism does not describe a way that everyone does live but rather a way people "should" live, while people actually live by some sort of mixed and matched ideas involving self-interest, altruism, or whatever they happen to think. I believe reality can be looked at objectively because I believe the individual, by virtue of living, has certain rights, which lead to morality.
Would you agree, or do you believe this is invalid? Or rather, would you believe that the concept of rights is also invalid, because people will act according to their choosing regardless?
If all rights are decided by who has the ability to do something, as well as the cost-benefit ratio for the actions, ...ahh shit as I was typing this I started thinking about it a lot and if I am correct, descriptive ethics, or at least morality people actually live by, is whatever they think is right, with those impressions given to them by society. But if one doesn't place too much value in society, as I don't, then one can basically live by what they can do in that society, of course considering that the society does hold some amount of power, and they should probably not piss off too many people unless they know they can get away with it.
I await your response as I think I suddenly just got it, at least to a certain extent. My beloved Ayn Rand...I might not be Objectivist anymore...I suddenly see the logic that my old mentor and theatre director told me about all that time back in high school.
Thanks for the great response, my mind is certainly very open at the moment.
_________________________
"I who have nothing but the comfort of my sins"
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#30492 - 10/14/09 03:16 PM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: SkaffenAmtiskaw]
ballbreaker Offline
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Registered: 09/04/07
Posts: 134
Loc: Toronto, Canada
 Originally Posted By: MawhrinSkel
Ethics. Worn-out dogma that she felt she needed and wanted to pass on to everyone else.


I'm not sure how you mean this statement, since dismissing 'objective' ethics seems apart from dismissing ethics as such.

 Originally Posted By: MawhrinSkel
I act nice to my surroundings so they'll be nice to me. If I feel I can get more out of being 'bad', I will. And I won't feel bad about it, unless I get caught. There is a simple cost/benefit ratio to everything you do. Playing by the sheep's rules gets you brownie points. Sometimes you can bend them, other times break them, without suffering ill effects for it.

Therein lies my own personal solution to self-ownership. I take pride in being free from those wretched rules, and didn't get there by substituting one set of 'oughts' for another.


This isn't so much a 'solution' to self-ownership as it is a dismissal of it; which is perfectly OK. After all, all 'reason' based arguments depend on acceptance or rejection of certain axioms as their starting points, so why can't we reject the axiom of self-ownership for a different axiom, like 'I act to benefit myself'.

However, Rand's ethical theory, despite its failings and shaky foundations, had a universality to it; what is right and wrong for X applies just as well to Y. Maybe we're getting too far into political or social ethics (or however we want to call it) but I can't see you advocating your 'personal' ethic as a universal ethic for others; by this I mean the ethic "do what benefits you most".

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#30494 - 10/14/09 04:55 PM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: SkaffenAmtiskaw]
Jake999 Offline
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Posts: 2230
 Originally Posted By: MawhrinSkel
As for Rand's universality, I completely agree. There is a streamlined feel to her philosophy, which makes up much of its appeal. Which is also partly the reason I don't trust it. Reality is everything but streamlined, as are people. I favor my own view, and will keep doing so until I find one I like better.


And THIS is precisely why ANY philosophy, ethic, religion, cooking recipe or any other facet of life is should be considered suspect and, in and of itself, fatally flawed. Universality is not applicable to humanity, excepting in the areas to which man has no current choice for opposition, such as man's need to eat, drink, or die.

I've found that absolutes demand exception, and popular dogmas (even if disguised as anarchistic change) change. LaVey once told me something that is relevant concerning universality. "If everyone is doing it, it's a sure sign that I SHOULDN'T."
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#30495 - 10/14/09 05:57 PM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: Jake999]
Jake999 Offline
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Registered: 11/02/08
Posts: 2230
Should read and UNIVERSAL philosophy, ethic, relion... my typing with out coffee can be hazardous to the comprehension levels of the reader. Sorry.
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Bury your dead, pick up your weapon and soldier on.


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#30504 - 10/15/09 12:08 AM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: SkaffenAmtiskaw]
ballbreaker Offline
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 Quote:
I don't see her ethics as objective


Ok, let me clarify my position, since we're not actually at odds here.

You don't see her ethics as objective because you reject their objectivity (as do I). Fine. I'm only saying that Rand is claiming implicitly that her ethics are objective. Any natural rights theorist, for example, or a human rights proponent (most, anyways), would say so about their own ethics. Which is why Rand (any theorist of this kind would do I suppose) helps us to see the problem systemic in attempts to ground ethics in universal truth/objectivity/God/etc.

My point in the original statement that you had done away with "objective ethics" but not "ethics as such" was exactly what it sounded like...even though we grant that we can't, as above, ground our ethics in truth-claims it doesn't mean to say we don't still possess ethical theories that are implicit in our actions (or how we theorise we would act). Similarly, we might have broader ethical prescriptions we'd like everyone in society to follow; a (hopefully) non-controversial one might be "don't kill" (yes, we might add an 'except in self-defense' clause or whatever).

How do we work broader ethical theories out now, since without 'Reason' we're mostly practicing emotivism? This question is not a criticism of our common position, but it's a question worth asking I believe.

 Quote:
Reality is everything but streamlined, as are people. I favor my own view, and will keep doing so until I find one I like better.


Hm. What do you mean by 'reality'? Physical reality in general or what?

I don't know how I feel about your statement that people are everything but streamlined...I don't know how this squares with the assertion that we're just clever, complex animals. Sociobiologists would have us believe we're much more streamlined than we'd like to believe.

Just food for thought.

 Quote:
For the time being, I just think operating in absolutes and certain perceived axiomatic truths begs the question of "What if it ain't so?" Some things are close enough to truth to treat them as such, but too often 'ethical' questions stray into a gray area I wouldn't feel comfortable with if I adhered to a rigid view of 'good' or 'evil'.


Hm. Axioms are, by definition, true. I guess we can question whether any proposition is self-evident, which seems to be where you're going.

But you're right...even if we did have a set of axioms, we wouldn't necessarily have any solid way of ordering them so as to give primacy to one over another. So even if we did accept that there can be self-evident truths, this doesn't tell us anything deeper about..well...anything.

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#30505 - 10/15/09 02:06 AM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: ballbreaker]
Doomsage680 Offline
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Registered: 10/01/09
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Loc: NJ, USA
I have come to the conclusion that in addition to there being no God, no absolute right or wrong, there is also no such thing as rights. They are simply concepts that may or may not be respected by others, so one only has the "rights" that they can enforce, as long as they can enforce them. The only self-evident truth is that people will do what they want, if they can.
_________________________
"I who have nothing but the comfort of my sins"
- Vinny Paz

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#30517 - 10/15/09 02:09 PM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: Jake999]
Zorg Offline
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Loc: A Galaxy Far, Far Away
 Originally Posted By: Jake999
[quote=MawhrinSkel]

And THIS is precisely why ANY philosophy, ethic, religion, cooking recipe or any other facet of life is should be considered suspect and, in and of itself, fatally flawed.


Context.
Any philosophy devoid of context is bullshit.
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"Plato was a bore."
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#30542 - 10/16/09 09:03 AM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: SkaffenAmtiskaw]
6Satan6Archist6 Offline
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As stupid as it is, you probably would be fired if you were a teacher at an American school and gave that same assignment. Ever since school shootings have been popular to report, schools have adopted a "zero tolerance" policy for things like. It has gotten to the point where even bringing a toy gun to school or jokingly telling your friend you are going to "kill them" because they piss you off is enough to get one suspended and possibly expelled.

You could argue all you want that it was an attempt to get the students to take a good look at their value judgements etc. but I doubt if it would help much.

If I had been given such an assignment by a teacher I would probably have said something along the lines of: While it isn't exactly wrong or right for you to try to kill me, it would be rather stupid of you. Try and kill me and see how well that works out for you. Unless you intend on shooting me in my sleep be prepared for one hell of a fight. And even if you were able to kill me it would not end there as I have any army of friends who would track you down and repay the favor.

Speaking of killing; I am about to go hunting with my sister's boyfriend in about 20 minutes. I have never been hunting before but I figure it is a skill I should probably learn.
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#30545 - 10/16/09 09:24 AM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: 6Satan6Archist6]
Jake999 Offline
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Posts: 2230
TODAY you would get fired, but I remember assignments during my high school classes where we were asked to justify the killing of the Vietnamese in their own country and contest that against what we would feel if a "marauding army" crossed our borders to kill Americans. Of course, I graduated high school in 1969, and to say it was almost a schizophrenic state of affairs in education as well as society as a whole would be oversimplifying the time.

The "peace between the wars" that happened after Vietnam was a turning point in America where classroom assignments weren't quite so controversial. The last troops left Vietnam in 1973 (the last combat troops in 1972), and "the left" was feeling the high moral ground in America. We began to think in terms of "there are no winners and there are no losers..." I don't think even the kids really bought that one... and we tended to stress pacification rather than confrontation in education.


In a lot of ways, I think that's still pretty much the way it is, and while we might be more "pro troop" on the surface these days, and look at them much like Neil Young's "kinder, gentler, machine gun hand," there's still an uneasiness within the academic community to confront the past in which we had to make those decisions as kids in the field, often fresh out of classes. The parents (the old left) and the kids (coddled by decades of "peace",) just aren't anxious to look that deeply inward.

It's kind of refreshing to see that someone is taking hypothetical back into school and asking this generation to at least think about it, even if it's now from a place of comfort and relative safety that those of us in the 60's and early 70's never would have had. For us it was a reality of the times, and I think our answers would be worded differently than those you'd get today... IF we were allowed to answer.


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#30586 - 10/17/09 11:35 PM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: ballbreaker]
CJB Offline
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Loc: Virginia Beach, VA
I've never really had a problem for the is-ought problem, mostly because I've never seen a situation where it actually applies to anything. When a person ought to do something, it's not because of any is, but because they have a goal in mind as well as the is.

"Individuals hold themselves as their own property" itself isn't an original Is statement, but is an "ought." While it's true that I can't control your thoughts (a better Is statement would be that individuals own their own minds), I can enslave you or murder you, both of which take away your self-ownership.

During your period of enslavement or before I kill you, you can fight me if you choose, which is a choice made on the goal that you want to live. You want to live itself is another ought statement, based on how much you value your life. Why ought you value your life? I value my life because I like it. Why ought you like your life?
The spiral goes down like this, ad infinitum, with no "ought" being coming from an "is" statement on its own (not that I can see anyway, excpept for maybe "We're genetically programmed to...").

Another spiralling example: I'm fat, I ought to lose weight. Why? So I can be attractive. Why? So I can get laid. Why? Because it feels good. Why? Because our bodies are programmed that way so we want to have sex to have babies and continue to species. Why?
Now, once you get to this point, you can get a lot of weird and interesting questions and answers, and some (like this one, for me, at least) which we may not even know the answers to. Hell, maybe "Because we're biologically programmed that way" is the "is" statement in the first place.

Now coming from an Is statement forward with no defined goal...let's look at "Individuals own their own mind." With not goal in mind, there is no "ought." Any factual "is" statement doesn't have an ought without something else determining what the ought should be. The chair is brown, it's raining outside, my head hurts...these statements in and of themselves without a goal in mind lead to nothing that ought to happen (although they may have a "therefore" in there..."it's raining, therefore the ground is wet," which is not an ought statement.)

As far as the libertarian convention for the non-agression principle, "Individuals own themselves" (IS) + "(most) Individuals want to live long and happy lives" (GOAL) = "Individuals ought not initiate harm against each other" (OUGHT)

In a nutshell, I guess I see the "is-ought" problem as something of a fallacy. The fallacy is based on Hume's looking at other fallacy's. If you see "oughts" as deriving from a fact ("is") and a goal (I want to), than you see no is-ought problem. I suppose the real problem would be deciding where your goals come from, but aside from cases where genetic programming comes into play, I don't see an answer.

Sorry if that seemed a bit long-winded, by the way, but that's just the way I am.
_________________________
~~CJ
"To say 'I love you' one must know first how to say the 'I.'"
-Ayn Rand

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#30647 - 10/20/09 01:53 AM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: CJB]
Doomsage680 Offline
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CJB, you bring up an interesting idea, though I'm pretty sure I disagree, if I understand you correctly. You say, ""Individuals own themselves" (IS) + "(most) Individuals want to live long and happy lives" (GOAL) = "Individuals ought not initiate harm against each other" (OUGHT)"

Even if we accept that "Individuals own themselves", there is the goal aspect- "(most) individuals want to live long and happy lives.
It is likely true that most individuals WANT to live, but this does not directly translate into my recognition of that desire. If it benefits me that some individuals do not live long lives, or happy lives, than I Will do what I can to interfere or disregard their desire. Therefore, the Ought becomes irrelevant.
The Is-Ought problem only becomes irrelevant if all involved parties share the same Goal, otherwise, force Will be initiated in some way.


"If you see "oughts" as deriving from a fact ("is") and a goal (I want to), than you see no is-ought problem. I suppose the real problem would be deciding where your goals come from, but aside from cases where genetic programming comes into play, I don't see an answer."

I don't understand what you mean by Oughts being derived from Is. From what I understand of your logic, "Individuals want to eat(IS) + Individuals want to live long and happy lives (Goal) = Individuals ought not to eat each other (Ought)"
What if by some circumstances a group of individuals finds a need to eat another? The Is and the Ought are in contradiction. Though these circumstances may be rare, they show the Is-Ought Problem by its principles.

If I have misinterpreted your argument, please correct me.
_________________________
"I who have nothing but the comfort of my sins"
- Vinny Paz

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#30655 - 10/20/09 05:06 PM Re: Self-Ownership and the Is-Ought Problem [Re: Doomsage680]
CJB Offline
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Loc: Virginia Beach, VA
You know what sucks? When you type out a reply for fifteen minutes, and then hit "alt-back" instead of "ctrl-back", and then have to start over again.

 Originally Posted By: Doomsage680
CJB, you bring up an interesting idea, though I'm pretty sure I disagree, if I understand you correctly. You say, ""Individuals own themselves" (IS) + "(most) Individuals want to live long and happy lives" (GOAL) = "Individuals ought not initiate harm against each other" (OUGHT)"

Even if we accept that "Individuals own themselves", there is the goal aspect- "(most) individuals want to live long and happy lives.
It is likely true that most individuals WANT to live, but this does not directly translate into my recognition of that desire. If it benefits me that some individuals do not live long lives, or happy lives, than I Will do what I can to interfere or disregard their desire. Therefore, the Ought becomes irrelevant.
The Is-Ought problem only becomes irrelevant if all involved parties share the same Goal, otherwise, force Will be initiated in some way.

"If you see "oughts" as deriving from a fact ("is") and a goal (I want to), than you see no is-ought problem. I suppose the real problem would be deciding where your goals come from, but aside from cases where genetic programming comes into play, I don't see an answer."

I don't understand what you mean by Oughts being derived from Is. From what I understand of your logic, "Individuals want to eat(IS) + Individuals want to live long and happy lives (Goal) = Individuals ought not to eat each other (Ought)"
What if by some circumstances a group of individuals finds a need to eat another? The Is and the Ought are in contradiction. Though these circumstances may be rare, they show the Is-Ought Problem by its principles.

If I have misinterpreted your argument, please correct me.


Oughts being derived from Is is the whole point of the Is-Ought problem. Hume said that he noticed people would say stuff about how things are, and then determine how things SHOULD be, and that would be where they got their moral premises from. These other people that he's criticizing are basically calling for a universal moral system to guide people in their daily lives. Hume says that we can't look at how things are and decide how things should be. I think that there are (at least some) objective morals that people should abide by. I don't get there by looking at how everything IS and deciding from that how it OUGHT to be, but I look at what IS, what most people want, need, or desire, and from that point determine what the OUGHT should be.

A person's own is+goal=oughts may not be universal, but there are certain almost universal is's, goals, and therefore oughts. That's what laws should be made from. Most people (presumably) own themselves, and most people want to live long and happy lives, therefore people shouldn't initiate force against each other. If you want to add more to the formula for either your own subjective or an overall objective set of morals, you can put in cost-benefit analyses, what you're willing to do to get the goal, etc.

One of the things you have to think of...if YOU own yourself, and YOU want a long and happy life, but you don't care about other people's long and happy lives...those other people DO care about their lives, and may take exception to your trying to kill them or make them miserable. This will make them liable to try to kill you or make you miserable. As long as everybody follows the Ought (Do not initiate force), than everybody wins. If you initiate force against someone who you know won't retaliate, and you won't get in trouble for it, and it actually accomplishes some goal you have (I am assuming you're not just some bully who gets his kicks off on hurting other people), than as long as it's not against me or someone I care about, go for it (apparently I wouldn't make a very good cop). The universal Ought here, though, is probably assuming that most people do give a damn and won't put up with your shit. I'm not going to preach anything dumb like mystical karma here, but practically, if you're mean to someone, they're likely to be mean back. That would decrease your own happiness, therefore negating your goal of being happy.

Now, if you and I become deserted on an island with no food source, than our IS changes, and our means and analyses and so forth changes. Now, we don't have the ability to get food without eating each other. In such a case, assuming both of us want to live and are willing to live with ourselves after eating another person, than there will be an epic battle (...or a sneaky rock smashed over one of our heads). In such a case, unless both of us are willing to die by the "don't eat your neighbor" principle, force would become obvious. (and just so you know, if we're trapped on a desert island and you tell me you're not going to eat me because of your morals, than don't expect to wake up in the morning).

That might be where I got a bit derailed, in the "universal" vs. "personal" moral system. A good (in my opinion) universal moral system, translated into law, will leave more than enough elbow room for a person to develop their own moral code, which might be in stark contrast to another person's moral code. I wouldn't cheat on a girlfriend, whereas you may see nothing wrong with it. As long as you're not in a contract with a person to not cheat on your significant other (i.e. marriage), than I wouldn't really care what you do. Honoring contracts seem to be a good place for a universal law to be put in place, otherwise contracts would become meaningless and EVERYONE would suffer for it.

I hope that cleared up what I was trying to say. Feel free to disagree. Best way to learn stuff is like this (and that applies to the both of us).
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~~CJ
"To say 'I love you' one must know first how to say the 'I.'"
-Ayn Rand

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