Objective Morality

Moonbat

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JD's video link on the free will thread lead to another set of youtube video debates, I have watched many over the past few months and alot of them contain William Lane Craig.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqaHXKLRKzg&feature=related

The above link, 'the God debate II Harris vs Craig, was purely about subjective morality. Craig argues that it can only come from God, but I don't know if there is such a thing as truly subjective morality.

In the vids they both use the phrase Subjective Morality independantly from human opinion, can anything as intagible as good/evil ever be independant from human opinion and could we ever know of it if it was?

So to summarise, is there such a thing as subjective morality?
 

hopewrites

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I couldn't think so. But that might be because of my understanding of "morality"

If morality is the act of having morals. And morals are the set of inner guidelines and rules for being one's self. How can one view these things unbiasedly? One will always have more information about how one came to adopt or discover said morals than any outside entity, thereby biasing one to favor the views, conclusions, opinions, and standards that manifest said morals.


Even if one can keep one's ego from telling one is right.
 

HareBrain

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Moonbat, you've used objective in the thread title but subjective several times in the text. I think you mean objective throughout.

To answer the question, you can't have a truly objective morality except one handed down by a power who is beyond moral judgement. (Which can only mean God.)

The closest you can get, I think, is to arrive at a morality that seeks to generate the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people. But then you run into problems such as defining "benefit" (some would argue that eliminating certain minorities would benefit everyone else, or that forcibly "curing" gay people would benefit gay people themselves) and how to balance large benefits for small numbers against small benefits for large numbers.

You then have variants of the "golden rule": treat others as you would wish to be treated, or treat others as they would wish to be treated, or love thy neighbour as thyself, etc. These are worthy ethics to aim for, but it's probably beyond the powers of any person to apply them to everyone he encounters, so a large degree of subjectivity enters in the choice of who to apply it to. And so on.
 

j d worthington

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To answer the question, you can't have a truly objective morality except one handed down by a power who is beyond moral judgement. (Which can only mean God.)

Even then, you're still dealing with a subjective morality; it is just that it is an individual god (no particular deity really gets favor in the question of which one, though some are obviously even less likely than others) rather than another which comes up with the rules. And so far, none of the gods posited have "come up with" a set of morals worth a hill of beans, at least not in their totality (and frequently in the majority of the rules set forth).

The closest one can truly come, I think, is that set of rules of behavior which ultimately benefits the survival of a species... but this can have very far-reaching implications, for we are simply too short-sighted to know, for instance, whether eliminating a particular type of pest will be beneficial or otherwise, in the long run. We are very far indeed from understanding all the complexities of how our local (Terran) ecosystem works, and the delicate balance which needs to be maintained not only for the sake of other species, but for our own survival as well... and this isn't even acknowledging, let alone touching on, what applies when it comes to all the myriad forms of life which are almost certainly out there in the bigger picture....

No, objective morality (as such) is a myth. What we can have are what Lovecraft called "proximate values", but even these are likely to be subject to extreme variability even within individual, let alone general, cases....

As for WLC... I'm afraid all his arguments have been thoroughly dismantled numerous times already; most of them aren't even new, and have been taken apart for centuries; in the case of the question of evil, that one has been exploded (save for apologetics and "logic" that would make a pretzel look straight in comparison -- i.e., excusing or special pleading) since at least the time of Epicurus.....

One thing, though: this is a debate which it is almost impossible to have without getting into theological arguments, and that is beyond the limits allowed at Chrons, so tread warily....
 

HareBrain

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Even then, you're still dealing with a subjective morality; it is just that it is an individual god (no particular deity really gets favor in the question of which one, though some are obviously even less likely than others) rather than another which comes up with the rules. And so far, none of the gods posited have "come up with" a set of morals worth a hill of beans, at least not in their totality (and frequently in the majority of the rules set forth).

I used "God" with a capital G, and hypothetically. If an entity creates and transcends reality itself, the subjective/objective distinction disappears, no? (This is a purely philosophical point.)

As for the argument that no god has come up with a set of morals worth a hill of beans, of course they haven't. No god has ever come up with any morals at all, in my view.
 

anivid

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Well, within Philosophy « morality » usually refers to a society’s customs and practises i.e. something you share with a group of people - where the standards, you might have for yourself, are referred to as « ethics », hence leaving out the subjective morality.
 

Moonbat

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HB you are right, I'm completely stupid to have written subjective in the text when I meant objective the whole way through :eek:

So if, as Anvid states, Morality is regarded as a society's customs and practices then we will never have an objective moral standard. Even if we meet an advanced race that have their own set of morals they will only be relevant to their society.

Would it follow then, that any immoral behaviour I see in a society other than my own (let's say the Taliban's subjugation of women) if only immoral from my viewpoint and if I were a Taliban I would think it was right, and no amount of postulating by me (as a westerner) could ever prove that it was wrong?
 

anivid

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Actually: YES - Morality can vary from religion to religion - and also from what we call the Western Societies to other conglomerates.
But usually, as you're saying, we judge others from our own standings, which will further a cultural imperialism, but not exactly the inter-religious/national understandings - world peace :)
 

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Even then, you're still dealing with a subjective morality; it is just that it is an individual god (no particular deity really gets favor in the question of which one, though some are obviously even less likely than others) rather than another which comes up with the rules. And so far, none of the gods posited have "come up with" a set of morals worth a hill of beans, at least not in their totality (and frequently in the majority of the rules set forth).

The closest one can truly come, I think, is that set of rules of behavior which ultimately benefits the survival of a species... but this can have very far-reaching implications, for we are simply too short-sighted to know, for instance, whether eliminating a particular type of pest will be beneficial or otherwise, in the long run. We are very far indeed from understanding all the complexities of how our local (Terran) ecosystem works, and the delicate balance which needs to be maintained not only for the sake of other species, but for our own survival as well... and this isn't even acknowledging, let alone touching on, what applies when it comes to all the myriad forms of life which are almost certainly out there in the bigger picture....

No, objective morality (as such) is a myth. What we can have are what Lovecraft called "proximate values", but even these are likely to be subject to extreme variability even within individual, let alone general, cases....

I'm not sure we can even judge this far: And so far, none of the gods posited have "come up with" a set of morals worth a hill of beans, at least not in their totality (and frequently in the majority of the rules set forth).

We can only judge morality in the view of what we hold as moral. As you have eloquently said: we are simply too short-sighted to know, It could well be that the morals we dismiss are the morals we need in the long run. As in so much of life we act on faith. We either believe or we do not believe that we are acting in accordance with what is better or worse for (depending on your frame of reference) yourself, others, the world, or what you believe to be objective morality.

In our world trust is impossible to dismiss. We either trust that people have done the research or we do not. We either trust that the road department completed the road over the next hill, or we do not. We either trust that the judge is fair, or we do not. ad infinitim.
 

j d worthington

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True enough, and I should have specified what is implicit in my statement: that, from the (general) human perspective, my statement applies. However, once you remove the idea of an objective moral standard (something which is unvarying, unchanging, and applies in all circumstances; does not rely on any -- human or supernatural -- prejudices, biases, etc.) then all you have is the proximate values mentioned. Of course, this leaves an immense field (as others have noted, even within the varying religions, morality differs very widely indeed), but the general view would still tend to be that which promotes our welfare rather than our detriment being more morally acceptable. And, of course, the fact of the matter is, that this is an inevitable outcome of evolutionary survival. If it were not the case, and those things which worked toward our detriment were considered morally superior (I'll have to to into this more later on, when I have a bit more time), then it would prove contra-survival, and we wouldn't be around to have a morality at all....
 

hopewrites

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HB you are right, I'm completely stupid to have written subjective in the text when I meant objective the whole way through :eek:

So if, as Anvid states, Morality is regarded as a society's customs and practices then we will never have an objective moral standard. Even if we meet an advanced race that have their own set of morals they will only be relevant to their society.

Would it follow then, that any immoral behaviour I see in a society other than my own (let's say the Taliban's subjugation of women) if only immoral from my viewpoint and if I were a Taliban I would think it was right, and no amount of postulating by me (as a westerner) could ever prove that it was wrong?

if one can view another's morals without applying one's own, would that suit the idea of objective morality? or would one have to accept that the other's morals were as right as one's own, even if they are juxtaposed?

in ether case it is something that I do when encountering others, as it seems to be the only way to actually get to know another person. having found that not everyone can accept all my various ethos, I usually present the version of myself that they will find least unacceptable without outright lying.
 

j d worthington

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I'm not sure we can even judge this far: And so far, none of the gods posited have "come up with" a set of morals worth a hill of beans, at least not in their totality (and frequently in the majority of the rules set forth).

We can only judge morality in the view of what we hold as moral. As you have eloquently said: we are simply too short-sighted to know, It could well be that the morals we dismiss are the morals we need in the long run. As in so much of life we act on faith. We either believe or we do not believe that we are acting in accordance with what is better or worse for (depending on your frame of reference) yourself, others, the world, or what you believe to be objective morality.

In our world trust is impossible to dismiss. We either trust that people have done the research or we do not. We either trust that the road department completed the road over the next hill, or we do not. We either trust that the judge is fair, or we do not. ad infinitim.


I didn't have a chance to address the entirety of this earlier, only one small point. However, here are a couple of things to consider:

1) While we "trust" in most cases, it is possible to check and find out if these things have been done. It may cost effort, time, etc., but it is something which can be done. And when it comes to the research, especially on scientific matters, there is the peer review process as well, which is geared to tear apart anything based on faulty reasoning or reasearch, let alone nonexistent research. This is why, even though faulty articles are published now and again (especially in the popular science media; less often in the peer review journals), they very soon come under attack and are debunked. We saw this with the "studies" which pointed to how harmful vaccinations were; very quickly that doctor's entire structure was taken to pieces, the "research" was shown to be completely without foundation, and even the genuine motivation (a financial benefit) was unearthed. This is why all the furore about "cold fusion" was, at most, a "nine-days' wonder"... it was quickly scrutinized and proven to be, at best, a seriously flawed set of claims. And so forth.

So we can put a reasonable trust in these things; but it never hurts to remember that in science, nothing can be accepted as proven irrevocably; anything in science must be falsifiable, i.e., open to being revised or discarded based on further evidence which casts doubt on or explains in a more thorough fashion whatever model has been held up to that point. This is the great strength of science, as it allows for a constant expansion of knowledge, whereas "absolute certainty" by its very nature places limits on the ability, or even the tendency, to question further. And, whilst some things may indeed be wrong with the model we have (of whatever subject), as Asimov noted, "some things are wronger than others"; these we know flatly contradict all indications from reality, and are thus no longer worth even considering.

2) I don't wish to get into this too deeply, as it would entail going into the religious discussion area, but when one argues that a deity (especially the one most commonly referred to in western societies) had reasons which were superior and beyond our understanding for doing, commanding, or allowing things which we find repugnant and morally reprehensible (genocide, infanticide, etc., etc., etc.), this falls very much in the area of what I mentioned above: special pleading*. In no other area would we be willing to advance such a flimsy bit of reasoning. If it appears, by any normal standard, to be morally reprehensible, repugnant, and vile, the chances are that it is, without exception, morally reprehensible, repugnant, and vile, no matter from what corner it originates. Most of humanity has learned to recognize this in connection with our despicable treatment of other species, as well as members of other ethnic groups within our own. The actions in question may indeed have had their benefits, but they are nonetheless despicable because they were not necessary to our survival; merely to our momentary expediency or convenience.

And if we're dealing with any form of "supreme being" -- or even a superior being of the Graeco-Roman or other mythologies -- then, if a human mind can conceive of a better, more humane and ethical approach, there is absolutely no excuse for such a being as that posited to be held to any less high standard. It just doesn't hold water without, as noted, completely distorting our ability for rationality into mind-numbing examples of rationalization instead.

HB: I noted the capitalization and what it indicated; but, as I said, there is no reason for choosing any particular deity over any other (evidence for the actual existence of any being rather scarce on the ground); hence the entire concept of it being a single deity tends to indicate an unconscious acceptance of that which has predominated in Western culture for the past millennia and a half; whereas in truth there is as likely to be either a council or at least an enormous variety of possible deities involved (and in such a case, the powers and limitations are widely disparate indeed); hence any morality given by one would still be subjective, as it would be the personal preference of one deity over the others, nothing more. (And, as has been pointed out in numerous instances, even going by biblical accounts, there are indications of many more actual gods than the one generally referred to here in the West.)

The only "objective" morality which could truly be called that is something which is imposed on life by the structure of the universe itself; the very nature of reality. And that can be summed up rather quickly: "Keep your actions to those which truly benefit the survival of your (and perhaps other) species, or you will most certainly die. You may die anyway, but this gives you perhaps a ghost of a chance....":rolleyes:

*along with all the "pretzel-logic" apologetics this tends to entail.
 

Moonbat

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A typically interetsing a detailed post from JD.

If it appears, by any normal standard, to be morally reprehensible, repugnant, and vile, the chances are that it is, without exception, morally reprehensible, repugnant, and vile, no matter from what corner it originates.

If I sustitute 'morally reprehensible, repugnant, and vile' for bad (which I think is simplifying things but should make sense to most of us) then I get

If it appears to be bad, the chances are that it is bad, no matter from what corner it originates.

Which would suggest that the appearance of badness can be objective, but there are things that would originate from one corner and seem bad from another.
 

j d worthington

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As I said, "by any normal standard", this alters things. I would have used the term "sane" rather than "normal", save that there are some areas where that term (or its cognate, "delusional") are being hotly debated at present. The problem is that, no matter how many people believe a thing (or believe in a thing), means absolutely nothing as concerns its truth value. (I use the word "truth" here in the sense of "based in reality", "factual", etc., rather than its much more slippery metaphysical sense, something which is used a great deal by apologists and unscrupulous debaters to attempt to cloud the issue.)

In other words, the majority of the time, the accepted norm is that killing is not something to be undertaken lightly; torture is something only to be undertaken when the need for information is great; rape is something which should be prevented or punished, etc. This is the general consensus of opinion, whether or not backed by a particular religious text (and this latter is not always the case, as such texts provide a surprisingly large number of contexts in which such actions are not only allowed or condoned, but actually praiseworthy). I would argue (as others have done) that we, as well as most other species, have reached such a consensus by process of evolutionary elimination: These opinions help promote social stability, compassion, empathy, etc.; all of which in turn helps promote the future of the species. Those things which promote the converse tend, on the other hand, toward social destabilization, strife, unrest, cruelty, oppression, and a detrimental state of affairs resulting in an unstable populace, generally with a much-reduced lifespan, and a higher mortality rate... hence a gradual tendency toward reduction of the species' viability.

Thus, within the context of the generally accepted norm, these things are bad, because they are bad for us as a whole.

Which leads to that huge can of worms involving war, executions, violent revolution, bigotry, etc. While we continue to have all these things with us, they are growing increasingly non-viable unless (as with war) we deliberately restrict ourselves to the use of lesser technologies than those at our disposal. With war, for instance, we use (generally speaking) "conventional" weaponry with a more-or-less limited capability for destroying life; whereas we possess weapons which could, without exaggeration, make this planet uninhabitable for nearly any form of life. For all our inherited aggressive tendencies, we also recognize that to use such weapons would be foolhardy in the extreme, so we restrict our use of them to very rare circumstances (aside from testing, which also has its deleterious effects, albeit these are so slow and gradual overall that it is taking us a longer time to get it through our often thick heads that this, too, has got to eventually go).

Executions are, unlike the view throughout the bulk of history, falling more and more out of favor, as people find this "solution" to problems not only repugnant but actually ineffective save in the very limited sense of making it impossible for a particular individual to continue their depredations. As a deterrent, it has never, historically, worked worth a damn; nor is there any reason to believe it ever will. It is also being increasingly seen as "legalized murder", no better ethically than the very crimes for which it is invoked, and saying something not particularly enviable about the society which continues to utilize it. And, as noted in the other thread, more and more we are realizing that the reasons for criminal behaviors quite often have to do with a malfunction in the mental and emotional makeup of the individual, and to execute them for something which is (speaking of the underlying cause rather than the action) often beyond their control, is itself as unjust as shooting a leper because of his disease. As we learn more about this aspect of things, treatment is (albeit incredibly slowly) becoming more a viable option than execution (and perhaps, eventually, even imprisonment); and this also eliminates the very grave risk of killing individuals who, though found guilty in a court of law, may in fact have been innocent of the crime (a not uncommon state of affairs, as we are increasingly learning). It is also a waste of human potential... a fact (to tie this in with sff) which has been argued by various writers over the past century or more, from Bertrand Russell to HPL ("The Shadow Out of Time") to Lester Dent (the Doc Savage stories) to Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man; The Stars My Destination), etc., etc., etc.

Bigotry is a much more difficult one to overcome entirely, as it is based in a very deeply-embedded instinct of wariness for that which is different... which itself is tied to the early survival of any species. We have the advantage, however, of having evolved to where this instinct is, at least in its primitive form of fear, hatred, etc., no longer necessary for our survival, whilst its sublimated form (caution) can take its place and function much more fruitfully by allowing us to investigate whether or not something (or someone) forms a threat and, if such proves not to be the case, adopting them instead into our arsenal of resources useful for our survival.

Each of these things has served a beneficial purpose for societies (and therefore humanity as a general thing) in the past, but they are becoming increasingly less satisfactory responses to circumstances, and more creative, humane, and ethical solutions are likely to be required as we go along.
 

hopewrites

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But we are beginning to see that the more covetously we guard human potential the more populous we become, and that is not necessarily a good thing.
We see in wildlife preserves that simply increasing the population of a species by way of reducing its mortality rate does not have beneficiary results for that species as a whole. Only when a population is kept in check by the hardship of finding appropriate food and avoiding dangers does it thrive and reach its potential.



The argument, then, that removing those incapable of reaching human potential is a detriment to the overall potentially of humans, does not make sence.
 

j d worthington

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But we are beginning to see that the more covetously we guard human potential the more populous we become, and that is not necessarily a good thing.
We see in wildlife preserves that simply increasing the population of a species by way of reducing its mortality rate does not have beneficiary results for that species as a whole. Only when a population is kept in check by the hardship of finding appropriate food and avoiding dangers does it thrive and reach its potential.



The argument, then, that removing those incapable of reaching human potential is a detriment to the overall potentially of humans, does not make sence.

On the surface, I would say this is true. However, I would also argue that this is a limited view of the matter. True, we do need to find a way to reduce our population growth (at least until we actually do get our butts out there and start colonizing space... something we really do need to do to survive eventually, given such things as the supervolcanoes, mass extinction events, etc., which our little mudball is open to in this massive shooting gallery called the universe)... but the indiscriminate elimination of people in which we have so freely indulged has even more detrimental effects, both on the individuals and the societies involved (i.e., an increased callousness to the suffering and death of others, leading in turn to less effort being put into relieving such circumstances).

I was not saying they could not reach human potential... quite the reverse. They may presently be unable to realize that potential, but with proper treatment this may be no longer be the case. In fact, given some of the people who have committed criminal acts in the past, it is evident that at least a percentage have quite high minds in most other respects which, if harnessed, could be of immense benefit to their societies (and possibly the human race as a whole). There will always be those, of course, who are by genetic or other factors (neonatal injury; disease; brain trauma, etc.), are too mentally limited to benefit greatly, but these are also likely to be in the minority.

The difference between us and what you (rightly) describe as the norm for the biological kingdom is that we have developed aspects of the brain which allow us to project based on our knowledge of current circumstances, and therefore to not be so blindly bound to primitive instinct and "chance" (i.e., the massed effects of the natural world). We aren't restricted to the "tooth-and-claw", but have minds which allow us to plan ahead and take action to alter what would otherwise be the inevitable outcome. As a growing number of scientists are coming to feel, this is in fact putting us in a different relation to evolution altogether, where we are much, much less likely to alter physically (at least) due to the necessity to adapt to or environment; we alter our environment instead (not always wisely, but it's a learning process), and may in time alter ourselves to suit whatever needs a particular situation or set of situations may entail.

Incidentally, here is a video by Michio Kaku addressing part of what I speak of above:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkuCtIko798
 

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J.D. solid, solid, stuff. We might disagree about the cause of the progression, but we both clearly see a progression in all of its frustrating slowness.
 

hopewrites

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I can most certainly agree that rabbits never worry whether they are bringing up more offspring than they can support, nor do wolves debate about resource utilization, and that these concerns are utterly humanistic.
But who among humanity is willing to stand up and volunteer to be among the eliminated number? I am actually quite glad that few people take my view of things in this, for it is a very slippery slope when deciding whom amongst humanity is superfluous. With too few altruistic enough to volunteer, one would have to come up with a committee of persons whose morality was unquestionably objective to oversee the process.
Even in the wild, some of the strong are eliminated with the weak, but not often. Justice, too, is a humanistic concern. And one I find rather comical at times. Perhaps I am jaded from hearing day in and day out how 'unfair' life is, and wondering who's idea it was to give life a fairness value. For it seems to only have decreased quailty of life, rather than appropriately quantified it.
 

Peter Graham

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Would it follow then, that any immoral behaviour I see in a society other than my own (let's say the Taliban's subjugation of women) if only immoral from my viewpoint and if I were a Taliban I would think it was right, and no amount of postulating by me (as a westerner) could ever prove that it was wrong?

Yes. Because, from your perspective as a Taliban, you aren't subjugating women. You are looking after them and doing your sacred duty by God. It's for their own good. Look at these western women with their casual fornication, inappropriate clothes, godlessness and alcohol. They are disgusting. Morally debased, immodest, drunken prostitutes who treat marriage as little more than an excuse for a party. They ignore even their own apostate holy books and put themselves where God should be - at the centre of the world. And are they happy? If they were happy, would they have so many relationships? Would they drink so much? Would they take so many anti-depressants? And so on.

Not that this means you shouldn't postulate. I'm not a fan of cultural relativism, but if we leave aside subjective notions of "right" or "wrong" and understand that much touted concepts like "freedom" mean different things to different people, we might get somewhere. You aren't wrong to pontificate about the awful treatment of women in some countries, but you would be wrong if you assumed that those countries are ergo wicked as a result.

Regards,

Peter
 

j d worthington

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Doug: Thank you. As you say, we may disagree (and argue) about these things, but that it is good to know that doesn't affect our friendship, or our abilities to generally come to a mutual understanding, if not agreement.

Peter... the problem to me, though, is that such repressive actions do tend to have negative results in the larger frame of reference. By essentially denying the same privileges to over half of the human race, these approaches cut back on the number of possible solutions to problems. Allowing the same "freedoms" does, of course, mean you'll have more of the things we find troublesome; but at the same time, it means you also have more people invested in changing things for the better, rather than concretizing the methods of the past. Following the latter approach, however appealing it may be to our love of traditional ways of life, does not tend to get us in a position to make positive changes for the future (and thus ensure our survival, which in turn allows us to continue increasing our advantages, etc.).

The larger our resource pool, the better the odds....
 

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