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Help a Skeptical Moral Nihilist?

First of all, thanks in advance to anyone who reads all this.  

 

Lately I've been struggling with my own morality and would love for some smart philosophers to help me out.  I am a sociopath, and so without a moral code I am left to use my own dysfunctional internal moral compass.  

 

I do believe it is important to have a moral theory to guide my everyday actions.  Without one, I often find myself deliberating for hours about otherwise simple decisions.  I may not have a problem with stealing for example, but the idea that there is someone out there in the world who could make an airtight moral case that stealing is wrong... deters me.  Or, the idea that I am misinterpreting UPB and there is already an airtight case also causes me to hesitate.  I worry that without morality now, I will do something that I will regret when I'm older and wiser.  However, that is a kind of Pascal's Wager and not terribly compelling when I have a visceral urge to violate commonly held morality.  

 

I think many people do not realize how liberating it would be to default to 'good' behavior and worry only about which hand to pat yourself on the back later.  

 

This idea that I need to find and adhere to a universal moral code, I think, is because I have a respect for truth and rationality.  As a high IQ individual in the engineering field, it's hard to say that truth and reason do not matter.  For that reason, I would categorize myself as 'skeptical' or 'empiricist' first.  I am fully aware, and experience has shown, that I am fallible and vulnerable to sophist trickery.  Just because I am a moral nihilist now, does not mean it will always be so.  

 

With UPB, Steph has used moral rules like 'don't steal' and 'don't rape' as fundamental axioms from which to work backwards and develop the theory.  As a sociopath, this doesn't work for me because I cannot not agree with the axioms.  It's not obvious to me that stealing is wrong, it doesn't feel wrong, and if someone steals from me I wouldn't 'prefer it', but only in the same kind of way that I 'prefer' vanilla ice cream to chocolate. I've often heard Steph and callers say (paraphrasing) "well, you'd have to be a sociopath to not understand X about UPB...".  True I suppose... but that leaves me in a tough spot!  

 

I would also agree that UPB could bring about a better world, but that is not a compelling argument for me to follow it myself.  For example, while I can see the value in an airplane, I would not want to be an airplane.  You may say that is a silly argument, but as a sociopath, you must realize that I empathize with an airplane about as much as a person who follows UPB.  

I do however, believe it is important to have some kind of moral code to guide my everyday actions.  Without one, I often find myself deliberating for hours about otherwise simple decisions.  I may not have a problem with stealing for example, but the idea that there is someone out there in the world who could make an airtight moral case that stealing is wrong deters me.  Or, the idea that I am misinterpreting UPB and there is already an airtight case also causes me to hesitate.  

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UPB doesn't present rape and murder as axiomatically bad. It doesn't depend on these to make the claim.

 

Is it preferable to rape? Yes, probably for some people. Is it preferable to be raped? Nope, by definition. Would you like to be raped? (that is, sexually acted upon in a situation that you would refuse if it was voluntary)

 

Since it's not preferable to be raped, then the proposition of rape isn't universally preferable. For a behavioral proposition to be universally preferable, it must be preferable by both the actor and the subject. (Preferable means "could be preferred").

 

UPB is mostly (a less vague) an expression of the golden rule -- don't do to others what you would have not liked done to you.

 

You can test your ideas, at least most of them, in a situation where someone else was to run the scheme and you are the subject rather than the actor.

 

You can definitely measure what things harm you. These things that would categorically harm you will harm others too, and if you do these then others will not trust you, just like you wouldn't them. Ultimately, harming others comes with a cost to your reputation.

 

Harming your reputation is harming how well the environment receives you -- whether you're in jail, what sort of circle of friends you're in, which jobs you can get, who and how much they are willing to invest... Harming your reputation is harming yourself.

 

No emotions required to figure this out. I personally like to see behavior between humans as a protocol scheme between nodes in a distributed system as an engineer. If implementation of a behavior will break coherence then it is invalid. How can the task be achieved while maintaining coberence in such system?

 

Hopefully this contributes some inspiration :)

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With UPB, Steph has used moral rules like 'don't steal' and 'don't rape' as fundamental axioms from which to work backwards and develop the theory.

 

 

He didn't. The only axiom it uses is that 1+1 = 2.

UPB basically just says that a moral rule in order to be valid cannot contradict itself if applied universally. This in turn leads to the conclusion that murder and rape are immoral because they cannot be applied universally.

Stefan does say that a moral code to be a worth a damn cannot possibly condone murder and rape and it just so happens that UPB doesn't.

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So, UPB to me is a bit of a brain exercise every time I consider it.

 

First, you have to accept that there is a universal truth that applies to everyone. If you say there is no such thing as truth--that's a self-detonating statement. The form negates the content. Saying truth is subjective is in itself a truth statement which would apply to everyone; it's contradictory. So, in order for a moral code to be valid it must be universal--two people in the same room must be able to be moral at the same time. 

 

This is one of the examples Stef uses in UPB (I'm paraphrasing it): Let's just say that there's a moral code out there that says "rape is good." If that moral code was valid, you must always be actively pursuing/doing the "moral good," so you'd have to be raping someone, constantly, in order to be moral. That in itself is a problem, but, the real issue stems from the fact that, in order to perform the morally good action of rape, the victim would HAVE to fight the rapist off. It isn't rape unless it is not consensual. Therefore, the victim is acting against what is "moral," in this case, the victim is trying NOT to be raped. He is actively impeding the action which is held up as a moral good.

 

Therefore, a person must act immorally, and fight the rapist off, in order to make the moral action possible. In this scenario, where rape is the moral good, immorality (or fighting off rape/not raping) is necessary for the "moral" action to be possible. You can see that this scenario implodes because it is contradictory. You can't have a moral action which depends on the commencement of an immoral action to exist. 

 

Further, in this scenario, if two guys are in a room together, only one of them can be moral at a time. One person has to be the victim, the other the aggressor, in order to conform to the definition of rape. So therefore you can't universalize it, so it's not a valid moral code.

 

It follows then that its opposite, which is DON'T rape, is moral. 

 

That's my best attempt at understanding it; I've never really tried to put it into my own words before or explain it, so, sorry if it is confusing. But ultimately UPB isn't so much a question of what you personally would prefer, which, I understand might be difficult for you, given your personality type, it's more about what is logically consistent or not. Hopefully that wasn't too convoluted

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  What makes you say you are a sociopath?  Have you been diagnosed this way?  Have you ever seen a mental health professional?

  My limited understanding of sociopathy, is not entirely consistent with the idea that a sociopath would come to a philosophy message board, say they are a sociopath, and really want to understand morality so that they can act morally.  I wonder if maybe your natural empathy and moral instincts were stifled by events in your childhood?  Or perhaps you are on the autism spectrum, and simply have trouble empathizing but don't necessarily desire to harm or manipulate others. 

  Have you thought about calling into the show with this question?  I think it could be very interesting and helpful to both you and the listeners.

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Thank you all for clarifying the errors in my understanding of UPB, it's been very helpful.  

 

Harming your reputation is harming how well the environment receives you -- whether you're in jail, what sort of circle of friends you're in, which jobs you can get, who and how much they are willing to invest... Harming your reputation is harming yourself.

 

 

 

Yes, but your reputation may be worth less than what you can get by destroying it.  Also, if you're not particularly famous and avoid social media, it's possible to juggle many reputations, some of which are disposable.  I travel frequently which essentially gives me a fresh reputation in each geographical area.  

 

There are plenty of immoral things you can do that won't land you in jail even if you're caught.  Intelligent sociopaths rarely get caught without turning themselves in or pushing the limits far beyond their control.  

 

 

 

  What makes you say you are a sociopath?  Have you been diagnosed this way?  Have you ever seen a mental health professional?

  My limited understanding of sociopathy, is not entirely consistent with the idea that a sociopath would come to a philosophy message board, say they are a sociopath, and really want to understand morality so that they can act morally.  I wonder if maybe your natural empathy and moral instincts were stifled by events in your childhood?  Or perhaps you are on the autism spectrum, and simply have trouble empathizing but don't necessarily desire to harm or manipulate others. 

  Have you thought about calling into the show with this question?  I think it could be very interesting and helpful to both you and the listeners.

 

 

Excellent questions, thank you for digging to the root of it.  

 

Without getting into all the details, I've self-diagnosed (I know, I know...)  using sociopath self-assessments, and can strongly relate to other sociopaths that I read about.  My brother saw a health professional (psychologist? psychiatrist? Not sure) when he was a teenager, and was held in a ward against his and our family's will for a few days.  Since he's a lot more normal than I am, I'm not interested in risking my freedom by being honest with mental health professionals.  

 

I'm not sure how much is genetic and how much is environment, but I most certainly had a traumatic childhood.  My A.C.E is 8/10.  

 

In your experience, how many non-sociopaths are interested in coming to a philosophy board with a desire to understand themselves and their relationship with morality?  Anyway, there aren't any intellectual forums I'm aware of that seriously discuss the path to evil.  I do think there is a chance that I might heal, and maybe that's why I am pursuing this discussion.  I think it would be great to enjoy being good, and maybe I'll live a bit longer.  

 

I'm not sure how much is genetic and how much is environment, but I most certainly had a traumatic childhood.  My A.C.E is 8/10.  

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Thank you all for clarifying the errors in my understanding of UPB, it's been very helpful.  

 

Yes, but your reputation may be worth less than what you can get by destroying it.  Also, if you're not particularly famous and avoid social media, it's possible to juggle many reputations, some of which are disposable.  I travel frequently which essentially gives me a fresh reputation in each geographical area.  

 

There are plenty of immoral things you can do that won't land you in jail even if you're caught.  Intelligent sociopaths rarely get caught without turning themselves in or pushing the limits far beyond their control.  

 

 

 

Excellent questions, thank you for digging to the root of it.  

 

Without getting into all the details, I've self-diagnosed (I know, I know...)  using sociopath self-assessments, and can strongly relate to other sociopaths that I read about.  My brother saw a health professional (psychologist? psychiatrist? Not sure) when he was a teenager, and was held in a ward against his and our family's will for a few days.  Since he's a lot more normal than I am, I'm not interested in risking my freedom by being honest with mental health professionals. 

I'm not sure how much is genetic and how much is environment, but I most certainly had a traumatic childhood.  My A.C.E is 8/10.  

 

In your experience, how many non-sociopaths are interested in coming to a philosophy board with a desire to understand themselves and their relationship with morality?  Anyway, there aren't any intellectual forums I'm aware of that seriously discuss the path to evil.  I do think there is a chance that I might heal, and maybe that's why I am pursuing this discussion.  I think it would be great to enjoy being good, and maybe I'll live a bit longer.  

 

I'm not sure how much is genetic and how much is environment, but I most certainly had a traumatic childhood.  My A.C.E is 8/10.  

Hi thanks for your reply.  First of all let me say that I am very sorry to hear about your childhood.  It sounds like almost everything that could have gone, did go wrong.  Also, I understand your concern about being institutionalized, but my understanding is that if you see a psychotherapist, unless you express an intention to do harm to others, they don't have the legal right or power to take away your freedom in any way.  I also don't know how helpful the self-diagnosis is, though I feel "over my head" as far as trying to disprove you.  But I really respect your interest and desire to avoid what you call the road to evil.  Again, it doesn't seem to me that a sociopath would "enjoy being good", but I don't know that much about it.  Can you say more about this desire?  Also, you didn't respond to my suggestion about calling in.  Is that something that would interest or appeal to you?

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Hi thanks for your reply.  First of all let me say that I am very sorry to hear about your childhood.  It sounds like almost everything that could have gone, did go wrong.  Also, I understand your concern about being institutionalized, but my understanding is that if you see a psychotherapist, unless you express an intention to do harm to others, they don't have the legal right or power to take away your freedom in any way.  I also don't know how helpful the self-diagnosis is, though I feel "over my head" as far as trying to disprove you.  But I really respect your interest and desire to avoid what you call the road to evil.  Again, it doesn't seem to me that a sociopath would "enjoy being good", but I don't know that much about it.  Can you say more about this desire?  Also, you didn't respond to my suggestion about calling in.  Is that something that would interest or appeal to you?

 

 

Thanks again for your interest, Rose, I really appreciate having someone to talk to.  

 

I understand the problems with self-diagnosis, but it's the best way I know to summarize my state of mind.  I'm happy to drop the label and discuss specifics.  

 

I process my own meat, partly because I like to save money, but mostly because I get a thrill from killing animals.  If I'm honest, things like that will come up, and if I'm dishonest, then what is the point?  I don't know if the psychotherapist can construe that as a threat to do harm, so I'd rather continue talking somewhat anonymously to smart people on the internet.  

 

When I kill an animal... I can focus on its beauty and innocence and feel sad and anxious, but I can just as quickly turn that off (or never feel it at all), do the deed and feel invigorated.  I can turn my feelings on and experience the world like a normal person, but without a compelling reason, why should I?  

 

If there was a compelling rational argument to do wrong, I suppose it would be very simple for me to take 'the road to evil'.  However, most philosophers spend their time dedicated to understanding what is just and moral.  I think I'm interested in that pursuit simply because that is what I have been exposed to in my amateur study of philosophy (freedomain radio included).  Just as engineers often design weapons, tools or skyscrapers rather than Rube Goldberg machines, I am pursuing what is practical.   On the other hand, I am aware that there are many high IQ criminals that likely get all their thrills from solving puzzles such as: "How do I get what I want?  How do I manipulate this person?".  I do this as well, but I know I can turn it off if I have a set of logical rules for myself.  

 

Another angle - a sociopath (if I am one) does not like to live in a sociopathic world.  It's in my interest for the majority of the world to be good and just because it will be more advantageous for myself.  The more moral the world is, the more opportunity there is for those who are not bound by it.   Living in a world of moral and just people is to be surrounded by opportunity.  Would a wolf like to be in a field of wolves, or rabbits?  Perhaps the facade of adhering to a moral theory like UPB is the perfect disguise?  

 

Whoops, I thought I answered you about the show.  I live in the 3rd world and my internet is quite spotty, so I haven't called in for that reason.  If that changes, I'd be interested, as it would be an honor to get Stef's opinion.  I've heard people with similar stories break down and cry on the show... I would love that opportunity as I haven't cried in about 15 years and it feels overdue.  

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I used to be guilty of sociopathic thinking myself so perhaps I can help you.

 

Here is what I found most troubling about what you said.

With UPB, Steph has used moral rules like 'don't steal' and 'don't rape' as fundamental axioms from which to work backwards and develop the theory.  As a sociopath, this doesn't work for me because I cannot not agree with the axioms.  It's not obvious to me that stealing is wrong, it doesn't feel wrong, and if someone steals from me I wouldn't 'prefer it', but only in the same kind of way that I 'prefer' vanilla ice cream to chocolate. I've often heard Steph and callers say (paraphrasing) "well, you'd have to be a sociopath to not understand X about UPB...".  True I suppose... but that leaves me in a tough spot! 

I think you are a bit confused as to what exactly it means for something to be a "fundamental" axiom. A bit confused about Stefan's book. Don't Steal and Don't Rape are hardly "fundamental". They are more like middle or last principles of morality.

 

Some Max Stirner guy came on Stefan's show and asked "why be moral" or "why follow UPB" and Stefan said "because it is correct". So really "Don't Steal" and "Don't Rape" are not the fundamental axioms of UPB, but "Truth is Better than Falsehood" is the fundamental axiom of UPB. The reason you should adhere to UPB is because the moral rules that are derived from the methodology of UPB are correct and you ought to adhere to what is correct.

 

Now THAT my friend is an axiom I doubt even a sociopath can disagree with. If you are going to question why one ought to adhere to what is correct then you probably should be locked in an insane asylum. Not adhering to reality is literally the definition of insanity.

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I used to be guilty of sociopathic thinking myself so perhaps I can help you.

 

Here is what I found most troubling about what you said.

I think you are a bit confused as to what exactly it means for something to be a "fundamental" axiom. A bit confused about Stefan's book. Don't Steal and Don't Rape are hardly "fundamental". They are more like middle or last principles of morality.

 

Some Max Stirner guy came on Stefan's show and asked "why be moral" or "why follow UPB" and Stefan said "because it is correct". So really "Don't Steal" and "Don't Rape" are not the fundamental axioms of UPB, but "Truth is Better than Falsehood" is the fundamental axiom of UPB. The reason you should adhere to UPB is because the moral rules that are derived from the methodology of UPB are correct and you ought to adhere to what is correct.

 

Now THAT my friend is an axiom I doubt even a sociopath can disagree with. If you are going to question why one ought to adhere to what is correct then you probably should be locked in an insane asylum. Not adhering to reality is literally the definition of insanity.

 

But, as Wuzzums said above,

 

Stefan does say that a moral code to be a worth a damn cannot possibly condone murder and rape and it just so happens that UPB doesn't.

 

The "worth a damn" part is an appeal to emotion.  Aside from sheer force of habit, no one does good like a computer, just calculating out what is good or bad and then acting on it according to pure force of mechanical inertia.  People do things for emotional reasons, and in sociopaths the emotional reasons are vestigial or entirely lacking.  The only thing that can bring them to heel is to make an argument to one that living his life honourably, justly, truthfully, and charitably is more fun at the time, or will be more fun in the future.

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“Words are the source of misunderstanding.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

 

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” — Confucious

 

If we’re to have a discussion about ethics and morals, I believe it to be important to have a clear definition for the terms being used. Too often, people use words with multiple meanings, or even invent new meanings for words. Sometimes, they conflate the meaning of words or attempt to use different words interchangeably. Usually, it is simply the result of imprecise or sloppy thinking, but sometimes, it is done deliberately by sophists seeking to use the semblance or reason and logic to justify a non-rational or sometimes an irrational position. Very occasionally it is done to provide greater clarity, and in such cases, the word is usually carefully and explicitly defined.

 

There are three types of behavior. The first type of behavior is autonomic or automatic behavior which is non-conscious and reactive. It is the direct response to specific types of stimulus to our nervous system. An example of such behavior is the unconscious response to pain (usually withdrawing or pulling away from the stimulus). The next type of behavior is volitionally created, but unconscious or subconscious. It is the result of conscious decisions or semi-conscious decisions repeated over time until the behavior is habitual or an unconscious or subconscious response to specific stimuli. Examples of such behavior include the collection of unconscious behaviors enabling a person to walk, ride a bike, drive a car, touch-type, play the piano or musical instrument, etc. The third and last type of behavior is deliberate, volitional behavior. Examples of this include conscious, deliberate decision making and the specific, intentional decisions and actions involved in creating unconscious, habitual behavior.

 

Volitional behavior is behavior which is voluntarily chosen. It is contrasted by non-volitional behavior, which is behavior in which there is no voluntary choice. Most volitional behavior ranges entirely volitional to almost entirely compulsory. Entirely compulsory behavior is non-volitional, i.e., the behavior is not deliberately controlled in the moment, but may be the response of habitual, unconscious, or autonomic behavior to stimuli. Mostly compulsory behavior is volitional behavior under duress. Such duress may include the threat of a loss of one’s

 

Volitional behavior is also of two kinds, optional, and obligatory. Volitional behavior which is optional involves decisions making between two or more options for which there is no sentimental judgment. A sentimental judgement includes judgments of “desirable, undesirable, and abhorrent”, and “Good, Neither Good nor Bad, i.e. Neutral, and Bad”. Such sentiments may also exist on a gradient, e.g. most desirable, more desirable, desirable, less desirable, least desirable”.

 

Obligatory volitional behavior also has two kinds: subjective which is born from individual sentiment, or objective which is causally tied: i.e., “to get this, one must do that”. It ought to be abundantly clear to any rationally thinking individual that all obligatory volitional behavior that is born of sentiment is subjective, and all obligatory volitional behavior that is descriptive of causal relationships is objective. Ethical prescriptions and proscriptions are imperatives which are inherently subjective. Causal descriptions are declarative or descriptive and inherently objective. Ethical imperatives are rational if the imperatives or rules are rationally causally related to the ideals which they purport to support or maintain. They are irrational if they do not.

 

That which is objective is evaluated by reason or observation and rational analysis. That which is subjective is evaluated by non-rational sentiment and rational analysis of causal relationships with sentimentally desired ideals or values.

 

Rational Ethics, properly understood, are ethical imperatives or prescriptive of proscriptive behavior which are objectively in an accurate or true causal relationship to one’s subjectively chosen ideals or values.

 

Morals are the Ethics which are imposed by the moral leaders of society upon its members. In most societies, morals are mostly democratically or collectively determined. Professional associations such as Bar Associations, Medical Professional Associations, Accounting Associations have ethical standards which are voluntarily chosen or agreed upon and adhered to by its members. These are typically referred to as ethics, but might just as well be regarded as morals, since membership in these associations and adherence to these ethical standards is typically necessary in order to find employment in such fields. Religions promulgate the morals of society, but most of such morals are typically attributed to divine fiat or dictate, especially in the Abrahamic traditions.

 

If you’re looking for a moral compass, you’re looking for an external source or sources to tell you what you should esteem or value, what Ideals you should hold to, rather than looking to your own sentiments. In order to determine what ethical standards of behavior you should adhere to, you should look at what it is you desire. You should evaluate your ideals and values. From there, you should work backwards and determine those actions and behaviors which are required to achieve or fulfill those ideals and values. When it comes to morals, you should at the very least determine what actions and behaviors you are obligated by society to adhere to in order to maximize your liberty and ability (freedom) to achieve your individual or personal ideals and values.

 

A sociopath is typically identified as a person who lacks a natural sense of empathy with others as a result of trauma (typically early childhood trauma), damaging those areas of the brain that under normal circumstances develop naturally in childhood. A psychopath is typically identified as a person who lacks a natural sense of empathy with others as a result of congenital abnormalities in the brain. Nevertheless, sociopathy can be “learned” or “conditioned” through desensitization to feelings of empathy. This process is typical among those without adverse childhood experiences who nevertheless go on to become serial rapists and murderers, often as a result of habitual viewing of violent pornography depicting scenes of rape and torture, etc. However, just as habituation can result in desensitization of the natural empathy a non-psychopath may begin with, there is some evidence to suggest that habituation can also help to train a sense of empathy in those who have experience significant adverse childhood experiences.

 

One of the ways that one can train their natural sense of empathy is by deliberately and habitually imagining situations from another person’s point of view and how those situations might make them feel. Another way to help train a natural sense of empathy is to meditate and seek to deliberately experience emotions, especially emotions such as anger, hate, fear, grief, loneliness, relief, peace, hope, gratitude, joy, and love. Listening to various pieces of music in various genres can help to spur various emotions, as well as watching various videos. This is perhaps the most challenging thing for people who are emotionally “shut down” or otherwise “disabled”, as it would be akin to teaching someone who is tone deaf to properly hear, or someone who grew up speaking Japanese to distinguish between the r and l sounds in English. The brain can be retrained in much the same way muscles can be retrained. It can take weeks, months, even years of concentrated and concerted effort to correct damage which occurred early in life, but it is usually possible, if one desires to do so.

 

I hope this helps.

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I haven't read the whole thing but I want to say that I think you've been brainwashed on the whole killing animals thing. What you describe sounds perfectly normal for 99% of all of human evolution eating animals. Have you read Anthem by Rand? It's very short, you should read it.

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Any moral justification/rule, etc that underlies your behavior would have to be logically consistent otherwise it's wrong. So one test of consistency is universality (otherwise it's arbitrary and thus wrong). Something like theft cannot be universal. You'd be doing something to someone else you could never, by definition, agree to yourself. So if you rape, steal, assault or murder you do so in the knowledge that what you're doing can never be morally justified. It would be literally wrong. 

So being sociopath or whatever is irrelevant. If you do any of these things you will be unable to provide any moral justification that doesn't collapse into insurmountable contradiction. To disprove this then all you have do do is provide a logically consistent justification for rape, murder, etc. 

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You are presupposing (assuming, or accepting as a pre-established truth) that morals must be rationally consistent and universally applicable to all people. Stefan believes he has proven this to be the case with UPB; however, all he has done is established a rationally consistent moral theory which is mostly useless. The only things it condemns as immoral are those actions which are the imposition of force upon another person which cannot be "reasonably justified" by all people under all circumstances. It cannot even condemn lying, marital infidelity, or the exploitation of the weaknesses of others as categorically immoral, nor can it definitively claim any performance action is actually moral. only claims that "Negative Performances", i.e. not doing something immoral are moral.

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. only claims that "Negative Performances", i.e. not doing something immoral are moral.

I am fairly sure that a number of times, Stefan has stressed that doing nothing, or "not raping" does not make you a moral person

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