• Amalac
    489
    Kant's theory of practical reason has been perhaps the most audacious attempt to find an independent and unquestionable source of moral certainty, and even though this certainty was limited to the formal conditions under which material moral commandments might be admissible to all, and could not directly confer validity on the commandments themselves, the idea seems wrong. The validity of the famous Kantian claim - I must act only according to a principle that I might will to be a general law - was based on the fact that I cannot be consistent if I act otherwise, and that a principle of conduct that does not observe this restriction is counterproductive. If, for example, my behavior is guided by a principle that allows me to lie whenever it suits me, then my principle justifies everyone else's lies, and yet when everyone has the right to lie, no one is believed any longer and no liar achieves his goal; consequently, the principle self-destructs.

    This argument is not convincing and may be circular. Even on the assumption that some principles — it doesn't matter whether they are explicitly admitted or not — necessarily ground my behavior, that is, whatever I do, I always believe, however vaguely it may be, that there is a normative "principle" that justifies my behavior (and the assumption is far from obvious), there is no reason why those principles must necessarily have universal validity or why I have, as it were, to impose my rules on all humanity (not only Kant had this opinion; Sartre had it too, for reasons he did not explain). I am not at all inconsistent if I prefer other people to follow rules that I do not want to follow. If, to continue with the example given above, I lie whenever I feel like it but I want everyone else to be invariably frank, I am perfectly consistent. I can always, without contradicting myself, reject the arguments of those who try to convert me or push me to change my way of acting by telling me: "What if everyone did the same?" Since I can coherently maintain that other people's actions do not concern me, or that I positively want them to obey the rules that I refuse to follow.

    In other words, an imperative that demands that I be guided by norms that I wish were universal has, in itself, no logical or psychological foundation; I can reject it without falling into contradictions, and I can admit it as a supreme guideline only by virtue of an arbitrary decision(...)
    — Kolakowski

    When I first read this, I found Kolakowski's refutation quite convincing, and I still think that what he says is correct in some sense.

    We can apply his criterion to other ethical matters such as voting and veganism as well: a single vote almost certainly won't change the results of any election, despite the fact that if a million people decide not to vote, that might change the outcome; and also despite the fact that if no one voted, democracy would be useless.

    A single person's decision to keep purchasing animal products probably won't — by itself — cause more animals to suffer, because changes in production in accordance to the demand are not such as would occur in such a detailed way, due to the most minimal changes in the demand which are caused by the influence of a single person's choices, rather they are such as are due to a significant influence caused by the choices of many people as a group, which lead to the demand overcoming a certain threshold (I'm not entirely sure about this though, it'd be quite helpful if someone could link some study about the influence [if any] of a single vegan person in the future supply of animal products).

    And also, the people who have decided to vote/not to vote, or to purchase meat/not to purchase meat, will likely not change their decision due to my choice and arguments, either because they don't care about them or find them unconvincing, or because they are not even aware of them.

    Those who argue: “the influence of a group of many people cannot be achieved if each person belonging to that group thinks their individual actions change nothing, therefore it's not true that an individual's actions change nothing” could be accused of committing the fallacy of division, trying to infer that because the actions of a group composed of many people has a significant influence in the course of many events, a single person belonging to that group also has a significant influence with their actions.

    An analogy which illustrates this is given by Russell:
    Granted that football could not exist without football-players, it could perfectly well exist without this or that football-player

    Something similar could be said about voting: that a decisive number of votes could not exist without voters, but could exist without this or that voter.

    I think it is difficult to respond to such objections. It can be argued that if many people become convinced that what Kolakowski says is true, this would have very bad consequences: no one would vote, making democracy useless. No one would stop purchasing animal products, increasing the amount of suffering of sentient animals, etc.

    But that is not — strictly speaking — an objection to Kolakowski's argument, which seems to me to have no logical flaws, it is rather an observation of possible bad consequences of publicly stating and defending the argument, and its possibly convincing many people.

    That would no doubt be true if it came from someone who is quite famous and influential. But what about the average person? I honestly doubt they could have much of an influence in other people's decisions with regards voting or meat purchasing, even if they posted their opinions here. I don't know how many people visit this site, but I doubt it's that many, and as I said before many of them won't even bother reading threads about those subjects. Furthermore, one would have to prove that those people who do change their mind about these subjects, wouldn't have changed their mind if they hadn't read person X's post about a certain subject.

    On the other hand, a philosopher (I forgot his name) proposed a thought experiment which challenges Kolakowski's objection: suppose there's a thief walking around a city. He comes to your house and tells you that he will steal some things and give you one of those things if you sign a contract, but only if he gathers 1000 signatures, and he won't tell you how many signatures he currently has. Would you think that your individual choice doesn't change anything, and thus sign the contract? If the thief did manage to reach 1000 signatures, are we to say that the only people to be held accountable are the thief, and the 1000th person? But how can the 1000th person be guiltier than the 7th person, if they are doing exactly the same thing? And what if right after the 1000th signature, person #7 changes his mind and the thief erases his name, thus not stealing anything? In that case it seems person #7 had the same causal power as person #1000.

    At the end I'm unsure, is Kolakowski's objection valid after all?
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    When I first read this, I found Kolakowski's refutation quite convincing, and I still think that what he says is correct in some sense.Amalac

    Only if you ignore/forget that it's an ethics that is under consideration. If you play a game of chess, there is nothing to compel you to play according to the rules of chess, other than if you depart from them then you are no longer playing chess. Kolakowski's argument as presented seems similar to a claim that an illegal chess move can be somehow a legal chess move.

    We don't have access to K's understanding of what ethics is. Generally, though, ethics concerns regard for others. Any argument that turns that upside down is no longer within ethics but is something else.
  • Agent Smith
    1.2k
    Kolakowski's argument, if it even is one, would require as a premise a proposition that clearly states the difference between you and others. Everyone is unique of course, but then...everyone else is too :chin:

    He seeks a foundation, I seek one too.
  • Agent Smith
    1.2k
    Well OP? What's your response?
  • emancipate
    356
    Well OP? What's your response?Agent Smith

    yeah come on OP @Agent Smith has been waiting for 5 minutes already. :roll:
  • Agent Smith
    1.2k
    yeah come on OP Agent Smith has been waiting for 5 minutes already. :roll:emancipate

    Please wait...while I rearrange my neurons to make sense of Kant & Kolakowski.
  • Agent Smith
    1.2k
    The Categorical Imperative (CI): Adopt only those maxims that you would will to be a universal law.

    You may not like done unto you, what you do to others. It appears Kant's CI is simply a variation on the Golden Rule. So, the question is, what's wrong with the Golden Rule?
  • Amalac
    489
    Only if you ignore/forget that it's an ethics that is under consideration.tim wood

    What I mean is that the factual claim that an individual's action changes nothing, in the cases of such actions as voting or buying meat, is probably correct. If, for instance, you compare a scenario in which you vote, and one in which you don't vote, the outcome will almost certainly be the same.

    I don't see why it would have to be logically necessary that the criterion to determine whether an action is or is not good, is whether or not it can be universalized without contradiction.

    To the question: What if everyone did the same? One can answer: that hypothetical scenario is irrelevant, in the real world it's almost certain that not everybody will do the same things I do, and most likely won't change their actions or decisions due to finding out about my individual actions or decisions.

    Kolakowski's argument as presented seems similar to a claim that an illegal chess move can be somehow a legal chess move.tim wood

    Not sure what you are getting at here. There's, in principle, nothing logically inconsistent about saying: I'll lie whenever I want, but I want others to be honest, or: I''ll never vote but I want others to vote. I know that's the pharisee's attitude ( “do as I say, not as I do”), but I don't see what's contradictory about it, once the criterion of universalization of a maxim/action to determine whether an action is right or wrong, is rejected.

    We don't have access to K's understanding of what ethics is. Generally, though, ethics concerns regard for others. Any argument that turns that upside down is no longer within ethics but is something else.tim wood

    I think Kolakowski rejects the idea that the way to determine whether a single individual's action is good or bad, is whether or not it can be generalized/universalized without contradiction. Why should one accept that criterion in the first place instead of, say, a consequentialist criterion?
  • Amalac
    489
    Kolakowski's argument, if it even is one, would require as a premise a proposition that clearly states the difference between you and others. Everyone is unique of course, but then...everyone else is too :chin:Agent Smith

    Not sure I quite get what you mean by this, but your concern has, I think, already been addressed in the OP:

    Those who argue: “the influence of a group of many people cannot be achieved if each person belonging to that group thinks their individual actions change nothing, therefore it's not true that an individual's actions change nothing” could be accused of committing the fallacy of division, trying to infer that because the actions of a group composed of many people has a significant influence in the course of many events, a single person belonging to that group also has a significant influence with their actions.Amalac

    An analogy which illustrates this is given by Russell:
    Granted that football could not exist without football-players, it could perfectly well exist without this or that football-player
    Amalac

    It can be argued that if many people become convinced that what Kolakowski says is true, this would have very bad consequences: no one would vote, making democracy useless. No one would stop purchasing animal products, increasing the amount of suffering of sentient animals, etc.

    But that is not — strictly speaking — an objection to Kolakowski's argument, which seems to me to have no logical flaws, it is rather an observation of possible bad consequences of publicly stating and defending the argument, and its possibly convincing many people.

    That would no doubt be true if it came from someone who is quite famous and influential. But what about the average person? I honestly doubt they could have much of an influence in other people's decisions with regards voting or meat purchasing, even if they posted their opinions here. I don't know how many people visit this site, but I doubt it's that many, and as I said before many of them won't even bother reading threads about those subjects. Furthermore, one would have to prove that those people who do change their mind about these subjects, wouldn't have changed their mind if they hadn't read person X's post about a certain subject.
    Amalac
  • Agent Smith
    1.2k
    Not sure I quite get what you mean by this, but your concern has, I think, already been addressed in the OP:Amalac

    Kolakowski has pulled a fast one on us. There are dragons.
  • Amalac
    489
    The Categorical Imperative (CI): Adopt only those maxims that you would will to be a universal law.

    You may not like done unto you, what you do to others. It appears Kant's CI is simply a variation on the Golden Rule. So, the question is, what's wrong with the Golden Rule?
    Agent Smith

    The golden rule doesn't apply to actions like voting (those actions which you don't do to someone) though and sometimes people want to be told a lie rather than the truth, which is not compatible with Kant's criterion, so I don't think you can equate the two.
  • Amalac
    489
    Kolakowski has pulled a fast one on us. There are dragons.Agent Smith

    ...what?
  • Agent Smith
    1.2k
    ..what?Amalac

    There are dragons! :chin:
  • Agent Smith
    1.2k
    The golden rule doesn't apply to actions like voting (those actions which you don't do to someone) though and sometimes people want to be told a lie rather than the truth, which is not compatible with Kant's criterion, so I don't think you can equate the two.Amalac

    Kant's universalization rule implies the Golden rule (role reversal).
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    I don't see why it would have to be logically necessary that the criterion to determine whether an action is or is not good, is whether or not it can be universalized without contradiction.Amalac
    I don't either. But whoever said it had to? And certainly, wrt logic, the denial does not itself entail anything. K. has (it seems) provided a specious argument. I wonder why.
  • Amalac
    489
    I don't either. But whoever said it had to? And certainly, wrt logic, the denial does not itself entail anything. K. has (it seems) provided a specious argument. I wonder why.tim wood

    So either Kant offers no argument for accepting that what the categorical imperative says is true (which he considered to be a synthetic a priori truth), or — as Kolakowski says — Kant's argument may be circular:

    K: Act only according to a maxim by which you can at the same time will that it shall become a general law. Or: Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a general natural law.

    A: Why is the right criterion for determining whether an action is or is not good, whether or not it can be generalized without contradiction?

    K: Because you'd be inconsistent otherwise (which is circular, since it assumes the validity of the criterion that's in need of justification).

    So, why should we believe what Kant says about the way to determine whether an action is good or bad?
  • T Clark
    7.6k
    To the question: What if everyone did the same? One can answer: that hypothetical scenario is irrelevant, in the real world it's almost certain that not everybody will do the same things I do, and most likely won't change their actions or decisions due to finding out about my individual actions or decisions.Amalac

    This came to mind. From Joseph Heller's "Catch 22," which I loved when I read it 45 years ago but which I'm afraid to read again in case it isn't as good as I remember:

    “From now on I'm thinking only of me."

    Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile: "But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way."

    "Then," said Yossarian, "I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn't I?”
  • T Clark
    7.6k
    At the end I'm unsure, is Kolakowski's objection valid after all?Amalac

    I am not in any way a student of Kant, but I do find his categorical imperative provocative. Here is my understanding from Wikipedia:

    Kant included three formulations for the categorical imperative:

    • 1 - Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.
    • 2 - Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.
    • 3 - Thus the third practical principle follows [from the first two] as the ultimate condition of their harmony with practical reason: the idea of the will of every rational being as a universally legislating will.

    Honestly, I don't really get Formulations 1 and 3, but I love the simplicity, subtlety, and humanity of Formulation 2. So, a couple of questions. 1) Did Kant think that the three formulations are equivalent logically or morally? 2) If we used Formulation 2 rather than 1, what impact would that have on Kolakowski's argument.

    I have some more thoughts, but I have to go out for a couple of hours.
  • T Clark
    7.6k
    Kant's universalization rule implies the Golden rule (role reversal).Agent Smith

    I think you're right, but I'm not sure. Are the CI and Golden rule logically or morally equivalent?
  • Agent Smith
    1.2k
    I think you're right, but I'm not sure. Are the CI and Golden rule logically or morally equivalent?T Clark

    If you rob, would you mind being robbed (universalized)?
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    So either Kant offers no argument for accepting that what the categorical imperative says is true (which he considered to be a synthetic a priori truth), or — as Kolakowski says — Kant's argument may be circular.Amalac

    He offers argument a-plenty. You need to think about what you mean or understand by true, and also to do a little reading of Kant. But chess is a reasonable analogy. There's nothing in logic that says you have to play chess. But if you choose to play chess, then there's lots of logic that comes into play. You do not have to be ethical, but you cannot be unethically ethical.
  • Amalac
    489
    “From now on I'm thinking only of me."

    Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile: "But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way."

    "Then," said Yossarian, "I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn't I?”
    T Clark

    Nice one.


    Kant included three formulations for the categorical imperative:

    1 - Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.
    2 - Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.
    3 - Thus the third practical principle follows [from the first two] as the ultimate condition of their harmony with practical reason: the idea of the will of every rational being as a universally legislating will.
    T Clark

    It is formulations 1 and 3 that I had in mind, and I think Kolakowski probably had them in mind as well.

    I think 2 is different. If, for instance, I decide not to vote, am I “using other people as a means to an end”? I don't think so. I wouldn't mind, in the case of veganism, to include sentient non-human animals as moral agents in 2 to be honest, but that doesn't change the fact that, in a sense, a single person's choice to buy meat probably won't change the future production.

    I know Kant also said that the effects of actions are not relevant to virtue, but I think he is mistaken on this point, and this assertion of his also strikes me as quite arbitrary.
  • Amalac
    489
    But chess is a reasonable analogy. There's nothing in logic that says you have to play chess.tim wood

    I agree.

    You do not have to be ethical, but you cannot be unethically ethical.tim wood

    What Kolakowski is doubting is whether or not the way to be ethical is the one suggested by Kant, instead of utilitarianism or some other ethical doctrine.

    Of course you can define being ethical as “acting in accordance with the categorical imperative”, and in that trivial sense what you say is obviously correct. The non-trivial question would then be: should we act ethically or should we act as the consequentialists say we should?
  • kudos
    222
    I think the criticism is a common one, but at the end of the day Kant did not choose judgement and practice for subject matter, the aim seemed to be intended to be definitive and illuminating. Let's not forget that the work characterizes morals as a product of the societies of which they are a part, and perpetuated by the will of each member as they act in the universality of the whole. By universality, do we mean a pure logical syllogism that is always true for all, or a kind of synthetic system that is transitory and engulfed in partial subjectivity? I guess that's where the division here seems to be that differentiates this phrase from the Golden Rule. The G.R. would have everyone act according to what they had always known and believed were the right thing, but this phrase of Kant's – that in writing meant was only as a guide to a more complex analysis – seems to ask, given the opportunity to influence what we perceive as the right thing, what would we select?
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    The non-trivial question would then be: should we act ethically or should we act as the consequentialists say we should?Amalac
    To ask this you must first affirm the possibility of an ethics. That done, then off to the races! Nor will I argue Kant with anyone who has, apparently, neither read not understood him. There is plenty online of both Kant and secondary sources on his ethics. And you will find that he is comprehensive in presentation to a degree that does not lend itself to short, easy summary-as-argument.

    To start, you shall have to take some care with the words you use and with what you mean by them. And, to be sure, that you do not have to be ethical by any standard, or ethical at all, but that once you claim to be, then like the chess player, bound by the rules you have yourself adopted to be under.

    But we can start small. Do you have any problems with reason or the golden rule or good intentions?
  • Amalac
    489
    but this phrase of Kant's – that in writing meant was only as a guide to a more complex analysis – seems to ask, given the opportunity to influence what we perceive as the right thing, what would we select?kudos

    Didn't Kant say that the consequences of an action are not morally relevant to virtue? If so, why would the influence due to our actions be relevant in a Kantian framework? If I'm misunderstanding, could you can elaborate on what you mean by “influence”?

    I thought the categorical imperative was simpler than that. Kant gave the example of borrowing money: if everyone tried to borrow money, then there would be no money left to borrow, and so nobody would get the money they want, contradicting the goal of their action, therefore borrowing money is wrong.

    But why should it matter what would happen in such a hypothetical scenario, which is so remote from reality?
  • Amalac
    489
    To ask this you must first affirm the possibility of an ethics. That done, then off to the races!tim wood

    Remember that in the post you quoted I defined being ethical as “acting in accordance with the categorical imperative”, in order to show the trivial way in which what you said is true. What the question you refer to assumes is that each of us can find out whether it's better to be a deontologist or a consequentialist, or a mixture of both, by seeing which of them harmonize better with our fundamental moral values. But Kant claims that he can logically and objectively demonstrate that an action is right or wrong a priori, and I think his argument in support of this claim is not valid.

    Nor will I argue Kant with anyone who has, apparently, neither read not understood him.tim wood

    I have read him, and the claim that I don't understand him is just a form of special pleading.

    And, to be sure, that you do not have to be ethical by any standard, or ethical at all, but that once you claim to be, then like the chess player, bound by the rules you have yourself adopted to be under.tim wood

    Yes, if you claim to be a Kantian in ethics, then in order to be consistent you must follow the categorical imperative. Once again, it's trivial.

    Why should one be a Kantian instead of a utilitarian? It seems to me like Kant didn't answer that question. And if he doesn't hold that one should act in accordance with the imperative, then what exactly does he mean when he says that the imperative is known a priori?

    I know you already said you won't bother responding about Kant, I just leave this for other people to read.

    But we can start small. Do you have any problems with reason or the golden rule or good intentions?tim wood

    I have no problems with any of that, except good intentions in some cases. But I thought you didn't want to argue Kant with someone who, according to you, didn't understand Kant? Then how is that related to this thread?
  • kudos
    222
    Didn't Kant say that the consequences of an action are not morally relevant to virtue?

    I'm not saying your interpretation of Kant is wrong and I admit that I'm not sure where you got this line, is it a direct quote? Analyzing it, it is also a little ambiguous with regards to context, what came before and after and what section was it in? Virtue and morality aren't the same thing, in my view virtue is the integrity to do the most moral action when it is the most difficult and fruitless to do so. So in a sense, the consequences aren't morally relevant because in Kant's view moral universals are not drawn as a direct result of our base interest and subjectivity.

    I think I see your point that we're not thinking in terms of checks and balances, Kant made a distinction between thinking morally in terms of interest, much more generally stated here as consequence, and from a place of reason. The example Kant gave still stands: if we do things like borrow money or pirate videos online, we set a moral precedent that sacrifices our ability to determine the universal otherwise through the only practical means we have: action. We have willed an influence that there be lesser moral objection from our place in borrowing money or pirating videos as we chose to do, because in so doing we have authorized it in the only sphere in which we have control: our own conduct.
  • Mww
    3k
    And you will find that he is comprehensive in presentation to a degree that does not lend itself to short, easy summary-as-argument.tim wood

    I find it worse than that.

    Kant's theory of practical reason has been perhaps the most audacious attempt to find an independent and unquestionable source of moral certainty — Kolakowski

    The idea by which moral certainty is possible is given in CPR 1781. The ground for moral certainty is given in F.P.M.M.,1785. And while the essay is nearly exclusively predicated on the concepts from 1785, it says nothing at all about “audacious attempts to find an independent and unquestionable source” for those very concepts, which is given in CpR 1788.

    And there’s more, but.....another time, perhaps.

    In Kant, the source for moral certainty is the transcendental idea of freedom, not once mentioned in the essay. Or, at least the part of the essay posted here. I couldn’t find it to see if there was more to it.

    So, yes, absolutely. Comprehensive in presentation. Over seven years and three separate volumes.
  • Amalac
    489
    I'm not saying your interpretation of Kant is wrong and I admit that I'm not sure where you got this line, is it a direct quote?kudos

    Here you go:

    (...)That is, I ought never to act in such a way that I couldn’t also will that the maxim on which I act should be a universal law. In this context the guiding principle of the will is conformity to law as such, not bringing in any particular law governing some class of actions; and it must serve as the will’s principle if duty is not to be a vain delusion and chimerical concept. Common sense in its practical judgments is in perfect agreement with this, and constantly has this principle in view.
    Consider the question: May I when in difficulties make a promise that I intend not to keep? The question obviously has two meanings: is it prudent to make a false promise? does it conform to duty to make a false promise? No doubt it often is prudent, but not as often as you might think.
    Obviously the false promise isn’t made prudent by its merely extricating me from my present difficulties; I have to think about whether it will in the long run cause more trouble than it saves in the present. Even with all my supposed cunning, the consequences can’t be so easily foreseen. People’s loss of trust in me might be far more disadvantageous than the trouble I am now trying to avoid, and it is hard to tell whether it mightn’t be more prudent to act according to a universal maxim not ever to make a promise that I don’t intend to keep.
    But I quickly come to see that such a maxim is based only on fear of consequences. Being truthful from duty is an entirely different thing from being truthful out of fear of bad consequences; for in the former case a law is included in the concept of the action itself (so that the right answer to ‘What are you doing?’ will include a mention of that law); whereas in the latter I must first look outward to see what results my action may have.
    — Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals , page 11

    Can you will that your maxim become a universal law? If not, it must be rejected, not because of any harm it might bring to anyone, but because there couldn’t be a system of universal legislation that included it as one of its principles, and that is the kind of legislation that reason forces me to respect. I don’t yet see what it is based on (a question that a philosopher may investigate), but I at least understand these two:
    •It is something whose value far outweighs all the value of everything aimed at by desire,
    My duty consists in my having to act from pure respect for the practical law.
    — page 12

    These are just a few among other passages. I didn't mean that consequences are wholly irrelevant for Kant, only that because they are uncertain, we have to guide our conduct by the imperative rather than them, if we want to be virtuous in Kant's sense.
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    Once again, it's trivial.Amalac
    What, exactly, is trivial? You might say that geometry is trivial - generations of students have said as much if not in the same words - but it not at all trivial in application.

    But apparently you "buy' ethics; you just question which model best for you. And that a research problem. There is the question of preference, but also which is better. Consequentialism/utilitarianism may taste great, but is less filling. On the other hand, I find deontological ethics very nutritious and not bad tasting either, although needing a but more chewing.

    And the question of whether intention and consequence can be separated. Subject to correction, I think Kant's argument might run thus: if your intentions are good, then your virtue intact consequences notwithstanding. On the other hand, if consequences are your measure and you do not achieve them, then you got nothing. And this would seem supported in the admonition to "do the right thing," and not some variation like, "be sure to get yours," or "it's ok it comes out ok..." or "the ends justifies the means." In the latter case, of course, the ends perhaps justifying some means, but not all.

    Kant doesn't tell us what to do. He merely provides some tests. But they're pretty good tests, and he bases them in logic. Which consequentialism/utilitarianism do not do.
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