Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Nature of Man

All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge. So all good is due to sufficient knowledge. This is the principle of optimism. This means that for every evil act, had the evildoer known that his act was evil, and that there was a good option available to him, he would have done good instead of evil. To explain this principle, I'll consider a few hypothetical situations.

The first situation involves a parent giving her baby a bottle of formula. The baby takes a sip and puts the bottle down on his tray. Then the parent tried to coax the baby with cute feeding methods involving airplane sounds. The baby kept turning his head. Then the parent got anxious and tried to force it in his mouth thinking that she's doing it in the best interest of her baby. The baby hit the bottle, knocking it to the floor. Then the parent used more force and succeeded in getting her baby to drink the formula. Hours later, the baby died. The autopsy showed that the baby was poisoned. The police learned that the formula was tainted -- not just the formula in the baby's bottle, but also the whole batch of formula shipped by the manufacturer.

It’s important to consider who committed evil; the parent, the baby, or both. The baby knew that the formula tasted really bad, so each time that he rejected it, he was doing good. The parent knew that her baby rejected the formula, so each time that she tried to coerce her baby to drink it, she was committing evil.

Now consider a situation identical in all respects but one -- the formula wasn't tainted, so the baby didn't die. Who acted immorally? Can the answer be different? Logically, the answer cannot be different. Morality does not depend on the actual results, but rather only the expected results. To illustrate this point, consider whether or not it is moral for a father of five young children to choose to spend all his wealth on lottery tickets. Does the moral choice depend on whether or not he wins? No, the moral choice depends on whether or not he’s expected to win.

As I’ve illustrated, every evil act is caused by insufficient knowledge. In the case of the parent who forced her baby to drink the bottle, had she known that coercing people is expected to lead to bad results, and that persuasion doesn't have that fault, she would not have resorted to coercion. In the case of the father who spent his entire life savings on lottery tickets, had he known that his choice is expected to lead to bad results, and that he had a better way to spend the wealth, he would not have committed evil.

At some point in the future, when every human being understands this principle of optimism well, and has sufficient knowledge, all evils will be eradicated.

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  1. Rami, in discussing the nature of man, are you forgetting that man is a being of volitional consciousness? Regarding knowledge, man is not omniscient -- he must focus his mind and mentally work to know. Not everything, but that which is reasonably needed to know for him to gain and keep his values. Using Rand's helpful metaphor, much blindness (ignorance) is brought about by the refusal to see (know). Evasion. In your example of the baby not liking the taste of his formula, in a nation where food distributors have a reputation for low-quality products, it might well be an excellent principle for parents to always keep an unopened can of previously bought formula to double-check. But in the U.S.A, by and large, I believe we are acting rationally in trusting the integrity of major baby food formula makers. In such a context, since man is not omniscient, not knowing (and having no reason to suspect) that a particular batch of baby formula is toxic -- indeed, lethal -- is not normally a moral fault. Evading would be refusing to take normal precautions -- such as sterilizing a previously used nipple. I'd venture to say that the act of evasion (refusing to think) is responsible for most of the evil results in the world, since evasion is the surest way NOT to have sufficient knowledge for addressing any particular human challenge.

    1. Regarding the "moral fault", I agree that the mother in your hypothetical acted morally, even though the baby died. But my point was that if the baby spits out the formula, then that should be parent's indication that feeding it to him is bad. So, forcing him to eat it anyway is immoral.

      Regarding evasion, I agree with you that evasion is responsible for much evil. But note that having sufficient knowledge helps one not evade. So insufficient knowledge causes the evil known as evasion of responsibility.