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New Ideal - Reason | Individualism | Capitalism

Greg Salmieri on How We Acquire Moral Knowledge

People often know better than the bad moral principles they espouse.

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By articulating a rational, scientific ethics based on the requirements of individual happiness, Ayn Rand was making a radical break with all previous moral thought. So, it’s no surprise that few people today articulate their moral principles or explain morality’s foundations as Ayn Rand would. Most struggle to give any coherent answers at all. So, it might seem that almost everyone lacks even the most basic knowledge of right and wrong.

And yet, there has been genuine moral progress. For example, most people do know how to interact peacefully in their personal lives — something most did not know how to do in past ages when various forms of subjection were everyday parts of life.

In his talk at the 2023 Objectivist Summer Conference in Miami, Dr. Greg Salmieri discusses the processes by which we acquire practical knowledge (the “how to” knowledge of arts, crafts and skills) and, in particular, practical knowledge of the subject of ethics: how to live.

Ethics, according to Salmieri, is “the master craft,” “the craft of living” that teaches us how to “integrate our values and activities into a whole self-sustaining life.” As with any craft or skill, learning to live an ethical life is an ongoing process of building new knowledge upon existing knowledge. And the ethical knowledge we acquire is held in various real and useful forms, even as we work to conceptualize it into abstract principles.

Understanding these forms is crucial for understanding and evaluating the actions of others. It also illuminates how we ourselves can master the art of living.

In the Q&A, Salmieri discusses:

  • The “theoretical” versus “practical” knowledge distinction common in philosophy;
  • How learning a craft goes hand-in-hand with forming a clear vision of the goals of that craft;
  • How to deal with people who hold only pre-conceptualized or mis-conceptualized moral knowledge.

The recording of Salmieri’s talk is now available online.


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