Statesboro, GA, USA
as far as the individual is concerned their choices always seem rational, reasonable and arrived at by using as much enlightenment that the individual possesses at the time they make them. After all if they really didn't think they were all three why would they make them in the first place.
But Grinch, I don't subscribe to the view that humans never act against their own moral insight, for selfish reasons or baser things like lust and greed. Sadly, we can alter or damage the aparatus of insight. You can stifle and finally all but kill the conscience. But I totally reject the notion that we all simply do the best we can, (including those we've considered to be moral monsters). I believe the sad fact about sin, is that we choose to act against our own moral insight. I know that experientially. It's the gut that trips us more than the head or the heart.
I've a sneaky suspicion that Hitler didn't wake up one morning and think, "wow I've had the most unreasonable, irrational and unenlightened idea - I'll do it". I think he believed it was reasonable, rational and enlightened, I also believe he was mistaken but the method in his madness is likely to be the same mechanism I used to conclude that he was mistaken.
Actually I think the mechanism you're using is quite different. Whether or not you say so, I see a moral objection in what you say. Hitler didn't merely miscalculate, or simply choose what was least fitted for his biological survival ... He committed real moral horrors, and you know it.
And while I agree that it didn't happen overnight, I won't conclude that that means he had no misgivings or battles with his God-given conscience along the way. A man has to take hold week by week, month by month, year by year, and murder his own conscience before he can coldly murder millions of people. It's no accident that Hitler loved the Nietzschian body of philosophy, in which was stated:
"Who can attain to anything great if he does not feel in himself the force and will to inflict great pain? The ability to suffer is a small matter; in that line, weak women and even slaves often attain masterliness. But not to perish from internal distress and doubt when one inflicts great suffering and hears the cry of it- that is great, that belongs to greatness."
What is the nature of this internal distress and doubt that was overcome? It is the slow and self-torturous murder of a God-given conscience. We feign innocence in our long and convoluted waywardness, but it really isn't as innocent as you make it out. I'm not saying Hitler wasn't totally self deceived at some point, and didn't in some frightful way come to believe that what he was doing was noble. I'm just saying that it was a willful and terrible path to get there, with many merciful obstacles along the way.
The first problem you encounter when imagining a universal morality is that moral values in the real world are not universal; I don't hold the same moral values as someone three blocks away never mind someone three thousand miles away.
Actually the idea that we all hold grossly different ideas of morality, is an overstatement. Of course most people (being sinful) are inconsistent even with their own ideas of morality, or apply them to others but not themselves, leading to perceived differences of moral understanding. However, examining the moral codes of civilations throughout history reveals much more likeness than difference. I would also recommend to you C.S. Lewis' "The Abolition of Man" where he demonstrates a harmonization of moral codes from all of the ancient civilizations. They reveal an amazing consistency, as if imperfect hands and eyes were all looking at the same image, when they attempted to sketch it. There's no denying the caricature of an oversized feature here, or a forgotten shade there. Yet the likeness is still far more striking than the difference.
The next problem is that morality has clearly changed over time, what was morally correct and ethical a thousand or a hundred years ago is not necessarily moral or ethical today. This changing or evolving morality isn't compatible with the notion that mans moral framework is either fixed or universal or indeed non-negotiable.
Morality, and people's conceptions of it (or practice) are not the same thing. If there is a universal moral law, it is certainly possible for a society to become morally corrupt. Hitler's Third Reich is a prime example. Their conception changed, and yet that doesn't make them really moral. In one sense morality is like music, being intuitive. In another way it is like math, with the potential of getting it very wrong. But with a society, as well as with an individual, this doesn't happen quickly. Of course there are godless philosophies, and all kinds of justifications of thought offered by various "teachers" along the way, which may help this spoiling along. My point is, a change in morals, as you call it, can be mistaken for a loss of morals. Of course moral improvements can be made too, where moral principles were either overblown or atrophied, excessively or inadequately applied. I don't believe a universal moral law, implies that there are not fluctuations in our imperfect expressions of it.
I believe Rand was correct that self-interest is the guiding force when it comes to making ethical choices
If self interest is the guiding force, then I don't think morality has a necessarily moral foundation. It takes more than self interest, since morality most often concerns itself with how we treat others. (I'll sustain that by continually reminding you that ill treating others does not universally guarantee a loss of pleasure for the self ... other than that darned conscience which bothers us, which BTW doesn't concern itself with only self-interest).
And since rationality, on its own, is subjective ... so is "long term" versus "short term". I've no doubt that an over-emphasis on self, based on long term concerns, can also lead to immoral decisions. The question of what constitues long term success, versus short term success, is still plagued by the subjectivity you see in rational versus irrational self-interest. Applying different adjectives doesn't change the inadequacy of self-interest as a basis for morals.