What’s Your Basis for ‘Reason’ and ‘Morality?’

 

A Catholic cathedral in France taken by my nephew Luke Renoe. This visual art hangs in our home, a marker of transcendence.

I was transported back to the 1980s and ’90s on my drive to university this morning listening to a podcast. I could hear myself making the same arguments to my high school students then. Kate Cohen in a Washington Post article was pushing back on “religious exemptions” used by some to exclude themselves from the mandate of law. Ms. Cohen then suggested as someone who is “not a believer” she would like exemptions from “religious laws.” Cohen’s basis for her belief? It is “in contravention of reason and morality.”

Now those who follow me on social media, my websites, and teaching videos know that I have deep respect for other points of view. But everyone who knows me also realizes that my first response will always be to ask straightforward questions. So here are the questions I would ask Kate Cohen.

“How do you define ‘reason’ and ‘morality?’” “What is the source or origin of those concepts, ‘reason’ and ‘morality’?’” And most important of all “Who gets to answer these questions, then, apply them?” Again, those who know me know that these are questions I ask everyone all the time, whether in high school, undergraduate, Ph.D. studies, or casual conversation.

And my answer will always be the same: the standard for ‘reason’ and ‘morality’ must have a transcendent source. If there is no outside, supernatural origin for decision-making about right and wrong, then we are left with human definitions, sources, and decision-makers. And if we are left solely with humans at the helm we are left with a haunting question, “Who will decide which humans decide and how will those decisions be made?”

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Mark Eckel: And if we are left solely with humans at the helm we are left with a haunting question, “Who will decide which humans decide and how will those decisions be made?”

    And that’s the problem is that humans keep trying to run everything.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    That’s it. Such a simple task. Summon forth via reason the basis of reason.

    Kurt Gödel, call your office.

    • #2
  3. Lawst N. Thawt Coolidge
    Lawst N. Thawt
    @LawstNThawt

    She has fallen into the same trap that Marx fell into.  Her world is theoretical.

    • #3
  4. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Ms. Cohen then suggested as someone who is “not a believer” she would like exemptions from “religious laws.” Cohen’s basis for her belief? It is “in contravention of reason and morality.”

    Ms. Cohen has never been forced into any place of worship against her will. I’m not sure which exemptions she would like to claim. I suppose she might have more to fear from meeting someone on some dark street that might wish to claim their own exemptions from “religious laws”.

    • #4
  5. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Ms. Cohen then suggested as someone who is “not a believer” she would like exemptions from “religious laws.” Cohen’s basis for her belief? It is “in contravention of reason and morality.”

    Ms. Cohen has never been forced into any place of worship against her will. I’m not sure which exemptions she would like to claim. I suppose she might have more to fear from meeting someone on some dark street that might wish to claim their own exemptions from “religious laws”.

    Thou shalt not murder (your unborn babies)

    Thou shalt not steal (our earned money through taxes)

    Thou shalt not covet. . .

    These are onerous “religious laws”. . . to lefties.

    • #5
  6. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    How is it that all those people who claim to hear the voice of God hear him saying different things? From what I can tell, He hasn’t helped at all. 

    • #6
  7. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Django (View Comment):

    How is it that all those people who claim to hear the voice of God hear him saying different things? From what I can tell, He hasn’t helped at all.

    Jesus came to establish a Church (Kingdom) and that’s why he delegated authority to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church — to settle disputes. He continues to provide for the Church such that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. He’s been doing it for over 2,000 years.

    • #7
  8. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    How is it that all those people who claim to hear the voice of God hear him saying different things? From what I can tell, He hasn’t helped at all.

    Jesus came to establish a Church (Kingdom) and that’s why he delegated authority to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church — to settle disputes. He continues to provide for the Church such that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. He’s been doing it for over 2,000 years.

    All of those “Holy Rollers” I met swear that God told them the Catholics were all going to Hell. Did they not hear Him correctly? 

     

    • #8
  9. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Django (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    How is it that all those people who claim to hear the voice of God hear him saying different things? From what I can tell, He hasn’t helped at all.

    Jesus came to establish a Church (Kingdom) and that’s why he delegated authority to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church — to settle disputes. He continues to provide for the Church such that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. He’s been doing it for over 2,000 years.

    All of those “Holy Rollers” I met swear that God told them the Catholics were all going to Hell. Did they not hear Him correctly?

    Yep, just like all the Baptist in-laws heard before they married into my Catholic family. 

    • #9
  10. Lawst N. Thawt Coolidge
    Lawst N. Thawt
    @LawstNThawt

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    How is it that all those people who claim to hear the voice of God hear him saying different things? From what I can tell, He hasn’t helped at all.

    Jesus came to establish a Church (Kingdom) and that’s why he delegated authority to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church — to settle disputes. He continues to provide for the Church such that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. He’s been doing it for over 2,000 years.

    All of those “Holy Rollers” I met swear that God told them the Catholics were all going to Hell. Did they not hear Him correctly?

    Yep, just like all the Baptist in-laws heard before they married into my Catholic family.

    There’s a verse somewhere I think in the Christian New Testament when Jesus is talking to his followers and says something like whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God, so obvious sometimes people don’t hear so well.  We humans don’t always get it right. 

    On the Him not helping thought, for all we know, we’re exactly where He helped us get to for the maximum benefit.  No pain, no gain.  No doubt, no faith.  

    • #10
  11. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    How is it that all those people who claim to hear the voice of God hear him saying different things? From what I can tell, He hasn’t helped at all.

    Jesus came to establish a Church (Kingdom) and that’s why he delegated authority to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church — to settle disputes. He continues to provide for the Church such that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. He’s been doing it for over 2,000 years.

    All of those “Holy Rollers” I met swear that God told them the Catholics were all going to Hell. Did they not hear Him correctly?

    Yep, just like all the Baptist in-laws heard before they married into my Catholic family.

    It’s kind of amusing to me that a Baptist woman referred to her husband being “baptized into her church”. You see, he was a cradle Catholic, but she and her church didn’t recognize that baptism. So he had another baptism that they considered valid. Try telling her that one of the original twelve said something like “one baptism; one faith” and you’ll get a blank stare. She couldn’t grasp the idea that her husband had been baptized into a Faith, not a specific church. 

    • #11
  12. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Lawst N. Thawt (View Comment):
    On the Him not helping thought, for all we know, we’re exactly where He helped us get to for the maximum benefit.  No pain, no gain.  No doubt, no faith.

    Good point. It could be much, much worse.

    • #12
  13. E. Kent Golding Member
    E. Kent Golding
    @EKentGolding

    Reason starts with observation — what can I see, touch, smell, hear etc.      What is outside me,  and how does it interrelate and work?  Morality starts with God — How does God want me to interact with Him and his creation?  I use the Bible , the traditions of the historical Christian. Church, and Reason to answer the morality questions.   God also gave us reason,  and either informs or clouds reason according to his will.

    • #13
  14. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Django (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    How is it that all those people who claim to hear the voice of God hear him saying different things? From what I can tell, He hasn’t helped at all.

    Jesus came to establish a Church (Kingdom) and that’s why he delegated authority to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church — to settle disputes. He continues to provide for the Church such that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. He’s been doing it for over 2,000 years.

    All of those “Holy Rollers” I met swear that God told them the Catholics were all going to Hell. Did they not hear Him correctly?

    Yep, just like all the Baptist in-laws heard before they married into my Catholic family.

    It’s kind of amusing to me that a Baptist woman referred to her husband being “baptized into her church”. You see, he was a cradle Catholic, but she and her church didn’t recognize that baptism. So he had another baptism that they considered valid. Try telling her that one of the original twelve said something like “one baptism; one faith” and you’ll get a blank stare. She couldn’t grasp the idea that her husband had been baptized into a Faith, not a specific church.

    In that case, it’s very true that he was baptized into her church. Baptists require Baptist baptism to be members of their churches. It was very difficult on me to agree to it, but for all the theology in the world, I knew I was planted at that church and I can’t just not grow where I’m planted and participating in the ministries of a church is a necessary part of growth.

    So, I was baptized into the baptist church. But I was baptized into the faith February 12, 1984 at 3 months old. And all my kids are baptized, but only one has been baptized into the baptist church.

    And yes, the “one baptism” is a point where I sometimes feel regret for giving in. I have to remind myself why I’m at that church to begin with. At this point in time, it is an oasis away from the apostasy of so many other churches.

    • #14
  15. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Stina (View Comment):

    In that case, it’s very true that he was baptized into her church. Baptists require Baptist baptism to be members of their churches. It was very difficult on me to agree to it, but for all the theology in the world, I knew I was planted at that church and I can’t just not grow where I’m planted and participating in the ministries of a church is a necessary part of growth.

    So, I was baptized into the baptist church. But I was baptized into the faith February 12, 1984 at 3 months old. And all my kids are baptized, but only one has been baptized into the baptist church.

    And yes, the “one baptism” is a point where I sometimes feel regret for giving in. I have to remind myself why I’m at that church to begin with. At this point in time, it is an oasis away from the apostasy of so many other churches.

    Stina’s Baptist?

    Good heavens.  I am so bad at keeping denominational affiliations around here straight.  My brain kept wanting to classify you as Mormon for no apparent reason, but at a conscious level I knew I didn’t know that for sure.  For the longest time I thought Percival was Catholic for no apparent reason.

    • #15
  16. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Stina (View Comment):

    In that case, it’s very true that he was baptized into her church. Baptists require Baptist baptism to be members of their churches. It was very difficult on me to agree to it, but for all the theology in the world, I knew I was planted at that church and I can’t just not grow where I’m planted and participating in the ministries of a church is a necessary part of growth.

    So, I was baptized into the baptist church. But I was baptized into the faith February 12, 1984 at 3 months old. And all my kids are baptized, but only one has been baptized into the baptist church.

    And yes, the “one baptism” is a point where I sometimes feel regret for giving in. I have to remind myself why I’m at that church to begin with. At this point in time, it is an oasis away from the apostasy of so many other churches.

    Stina’s Baptist?

    Good heavens. I am so bad at keeping denominational affiliations around here straight. My brain kept wanting to classify you as Mormon for no apparent reason, but at a conscious level I knew I didn’t know that for sure. For the longest time I thought Percival was Catholic for no apparent reason.

    Wow. Mormon! I’m episcopal on a path to Catholicism or orthodoxy through the baptist church.

    You are totally forgiven for not knowing my denomination but I don’t know what I think about you thinking I was Mormon, lol.

    • #16
  17. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Stina (View Comment):

    Wow. Mormon! I’m episcopal on a path to Catholicism or orthodoxy through the baptist church.

    You are totally forgiven for not knowing my denomination but I don’t know what I think about you thinking I was Mormon, lol.

    I wasn’t quite thinking it. I knew I didn’t know. Probably a vague mixed up memory from some other Ricochet person.

    • #17
  18. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Stina (View Comment):

    In that case, it’s very true that he was baptized into her church. Baptists require Baptist baptism to be members of their churches. It was very difficult on me to agree to it, but for all the theology in the world, I knew I was planted at that church and I can’t just not grow where I’m planted and participating in the ministries of a church is a necessary part of growth.

    So, I was baptized into the baptist church. But I was baptized into the faith February 12, 1984 at 3 months old. And all my kids are baptized, but only one has been baptized into the baptist church.

    And yes, the “one baptism” is a point where I sometimes feel regret for giving in. I have to remind myself why I’m at that church to begin with. At this point in time, it is an oasis away from the apostasy of so many other churches.

    Stina’s Baptist?

    Good heavens. I am so bad at keeping denominational affiliations around here straight. My brain kept wanting to classify you as Mormon for no apparent reason, but at a conscious level I knew I didn’t know that for sure. For the longest time I thought Percival was Catholic for no apparent reason.

    As I explained to you: all my Baptist friends think I’m a Catholic, and all my Catholic friends think I’m a Baptist.

    Which makes me a Lutheran.

    • #18
  19. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Mark Eckel: And if we are left solely with humans at the helm we are left with a haunting question, “Who will decide which humans decide and how will those decisions be made?”

    And that’s the problem is that humans keep trying to run everything.

    Ruin.

    • #19
  20. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Mark Eckel: And if we are left solely with humans at the helm we are left with a haunting question, “Who will decide which humans decide and how will those decisions be made?”

    And that’s the problem is that humans keep trying to run everything.

    Ruin.

    That, too.

    • #20
  21. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Mark Eckel:

     

    A Catholic cathedral in France taken by my nephew Luke Renoe. This visual art hangs in our home, a marker of transcendence

    And my answer will always be the same: the standard for ‘reason’ and ‘morality’ must have a transcendent source. If there is no outside, supernatural origin for decision-making about right and wrong, then we are left with human definitions, sources, and decision-makers. And if we are left solely with humans at the helm we are left with a haunting question, “Who will decide which humans decide and how will those decisions be made?”

    I’ll play the skeptic. Doesn’t this just move the question back a step to: Who will decide which God or religious tradition we will listen to? We haven’t skirted the problem of human decision making.

     

    • #21
  22. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Mark Eckel:

     

    A Catholic cathedral in France taken by my nephew Luke Renoe. This visual art hangs in our home, a marker of transcendence

    And my answer will always be the same: the standard for ‘reason’ and ‘morality’ must have a transcendent source. If there is no outside, supernatural origin for decision-making about right and wrong, then we are left with human definitions, sources, and decision-makers. And if we are left solely with humans at the helm we are left with a haunting question, “Who will decide which humans decide and how will those decisions be made?”

    I’ll play the skeptic. Doesn’t this just move the question back a step to: Who will decide which God or religious tradition we will listen to? We haven’t skirted the problem of human decision making.

     

    David Berlinski said Socrates asked it first: Is it right and moral because God said so, or was God simply acting in a constabulary role and delivering the message? If the latter, what does make actions right and moral? Natural Law? 

    • #22
  23. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Django (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Mark Eckel:

     

    A Catholic cathedral in France taken by my nephew Luke Renoe. This visual art hangs in our home, a marker of transcendence

    And my answer will always be the same: the standard for ‘reason’ and ‘morality’ must have a transcendent source. If there is no outside, supernatural origin for decision-making about right and wrong, then we are left with human definitions, sources, and decision-makers. And if we are left solely with humans at the helm we are left with a haunting question, “Who will decide which humans decide and how will those decisions be made?”

    I’ll play the skeptic. Doesn’t this just move the question back a step to: Who will decide which God or religious tradition we will listen to? We haven’t skirted the problem of human decision making.

     

    David Berlinski said Socrates asked it first: Is it right and moral because God said so, or was God simply acting in a constabulary role and delivering the message? If the latter, what does make actions right and moral? Natural Law?

    Actually the Natural Law would be my answer to my own question above. The “outside” standard for morality need not be immediately supernatural, it could be natural so long as it transcends mere individual whim. 

    • #23
  24. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Mark Eckel:

     

    A Catholic cathedral in France taken by my nephew Luke Renoe. This visual art hangs in our home, a marker of transcendence

    And my answer will always be the same: the standard for ‘reason’ and ‘morality’ must have a transcendent source. If there is no outside, supernatural origin for decision-making about right and wrong, then we are left with human definitions, sources, and decision-makers. And if we are left solely with humans at the helm we are left with a haunting question, “Who will decide which humans decide and how will those decisions be made?”

    I’ll play the skeptic. Doesn’t this just move the question back a step to: Who will decide which God or religious tradition we will listen to? We haven’t skirted the problem of human decision making.

     

    David Berlinski said Socrates asked it first: Is it right and moral because God said so, or was God simply acting in a constabulary role and delivering the message? If the latter, what does make actions right and moral? Natural Law?

    Actually the Natural Law would be my answer to my own question above. The “outside” standard for morality need not be immediately supernatural, it could be natural so long as it transcends mere individual whim.

    An additional speculation from Berlinski? If God got up on the wrong side of the bed one morning and decided that torture, rape, and murder were good things, would that automatically make the right and moral, or would be decide that given His life choices that God is a pretty reprehensible character?

    • #24
  25. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Django (View Comment):

    An additional speculation from Berlinski? If God got up on the wrong side of the bed one morning and decided that torture, rape, and murder were good things, would that automatically make the right and moral, or would be decide that given His life choices that God is a pretty reprehensible character?

    The Euthyphro dilemma is a false dilemma: We don’t have to choose between “Morality depends on G-d’s arbitrary whims” and “Morality is higher than G-d.”

    The classical approach, rediscovered by contemporary philosophical theologians like Robert Adams and C. Stephen Evans, is that morality is rooted in the perfect character of G-d.  It’s not higher than G-d, and there’s nothing arbitrary about it.

    • #25
  26. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Django (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Mark Eckel:

     

    A Catholic cathedral in France taken by my nephew Luke Renoe. This visual art hangs in our home, a marker of transcendence

    And my answer will always be the same: the standard for ‘reason’ and ‘morality’ must have a transcendent source. If there is no outside, supernatural origin for decision-making about right and wrong, then we are left with human definitions, sources, and decision-makers. And if we are left solely with humans at the helm we are left with a haunting question, “Who will decide which humans decide and how will those decisions be made?”

    I’ll play the skeptic. Doesn’t this just move the question back a step to: Who will decide which God or religious tradition we will listen to? We haven’t skirted the problem of human decision making.

     

    David Berlinski said Socrates asked it first: Is it right and moral because God said so, or was God simply acting in a constabulary role and delivering the message? If the latter, what does make actions right and moral? Natural Law?

    Actually the Natural Law would be my answer to my own question above. The “outside” standard for morality need not be immediately supernatural, it could be natural so long as it transcends mere individual whim.

    An additional speculation from Berlinski? If God got up on the wrong side of the bed one morning and decided that torture, rape, and murder were good things, would that automatically make the right and moral, or would be decide that given His life choices that God is a pretty reprehensible character?

    Wow! You totally demolished that straw man!

    • #26
  27. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    An additional speculation from Berlinski? If God got up on the wrong side of the bed one morning and decided that torture, rape, and murder were good things, would that automatically make the right and moral, or would be decide that given His life choices that God is a pretty reprehensible character?

    The Euthyphro dilemma is a false dilemma: We don’t have to choose between “Morality depends on G-d’s arbitrary whims” and “Morality is higher than G-d.”

    The classical approach, rediscovered by contemporary philosophical theologians like Robert Adams and C. Stephen Evans, is that morality is rooted in the perfect character of G-d. It’s not higher than G-d, and there’s nothing arbitrary about it.

    That sounds like the priest who said that God could not be evil because it was not His nature. He didn’t point out how that assumption is supported. 

    • #27
  28. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    If there is no outside, supernatural origin for decision-making about right and wrong, then we are left with human definitions, sources, and decision-makers.  And if we are left solely with humans at the helm we are left with a haunting question, “Who will decide which humans decide and how will those decisions be made?”

    Here is a hypothetical conversation that could happen regarding God and morality.

    Jeff: God is the author of right and wrong, moral and immoral.

    Brian: Could God decree that cruelty is right and generosity is wrong?

    Jeff: Of course not.  God is perfectly moral.  Thus, God would never issue an immoral decree.

    Brian: I see.  God is constrained by the moral facts.  These moral facts are conceptually prior to even God.

    Jeff: No.  God is not constrained by the moral facts.  God is the maker of the moral facts.

    Brian: But I thought you just said that God could not decree that cruelty is right and generosity is wrong?  That makes it seem as though the moral facts exist conceptually prior to even God.  This is explained in Dr. Russ Shafer-Landau’s book, “Whatever Happened to Good and Evil.” 

     

    • #28
  29. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Django (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    An additional speculation from Berlinski? If God got up on the wrong side of the bed one morning and decided that torture, rape, and murder were good things, would that automatically make the right and moral, or would be decide that given His life choices that God is a pretty reprehensible character?

    The Euthyphro dilemma is a false dilemma: We don’t have to choose between “Morality depends on G-d’s arbitrary whims” and “Morality is higher than G-d.”

    The classical approach, rediscovered by contemporary philosophical theologians like Robert Adams and C. Stephen Evans, is that morality is rooted in the perfect character of G-d. It’s not higher than G-d, and there’s nothing arbitrary about it.

    That sounds like the priest who said that God could not be evil because it was not His nature. He didn’t point out how that assumption is supported.

    Of course I didn’t point it out. Was there some need to at the time?

    Do you want to know how it’s supported?  Read some good books on it.  Definitely the Bible for the real backstory, but you can take your pick of Aquinas, Anselm, Evans, Adams, or someone like that for a more direct look at the question.

    • #29
  30. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    An additional speculation from Berlinski? If God got up on the wrong side of the bed one morning and decided that torture, rape, and murder were good things, would that automatically make the right and moral, or would be decide that given His life choices that God is a pretty reprehensible character?

    The Euthyphro dilemma is a false dilemma: We don’t have to choose between “Morality depends on G-d’s arbitrary whims” and “Morality is higher than G-d.”

    The classical approach, rediscovered by contemporary philosophical theologians like Robert Adams and C. Stephen Evans, is that morality is rooted in the perfect character of G-d. It’s not higher than G-d, and there’s nothing arbitrary about it.

    That sounds like the priest who said that God could not be evil because it was not His nature. He didn’t point out how that assumption is supported.

    Of course I didn’t point it out. Was there some need to at the time?

    Do you want to know how it’s supported? Read some good books on it. Definitely the Bible for the real backstory, but you can take your pick of Aquinas, Anselm, Evans, Adams, or someone like that for a more direct look at the question.

    Gotta remember though.  Saint Thomas Aquinas endorsed the torture of heretics and believed that Christians in heaven would enjoy watching the damned in hell suffer enormously.  

    So, perhaps Saint Thomas Aquinas was a bit off the rails when it comes to moral philosophy.  Maybe.

    • #30
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