Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rand's Ethics, Part 15

Randian virtues: pride. The worst and most fatuous of the Randian virtues, displaying an obtuseness to the human condition that is really lamentable to behold. Here’s how Rand initially justifies her choice:
Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value and, like all of man's values, it has to be earned—that of any achievements open to you, the one that makes all others possible is the creation of your own character—that your character, your actions, your desires, your emotions are the products of the premises held by your mind—that as man must produce the physical values he needs to sustain his life, so he must acquire the values of character that make his life worth sustaining—that as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul—that to live requires a sense of self-value, but man, who has no automatic values, has no automatic sense of self-esteem and must earn it by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man, the rational being he is born able to create, but must create by choice—that the first precondition of self-esteem is that radiant selfishness of soul which desires the best in all things, in values of matter and spirit, a soul that seeks above all else to achieve its own moral perfection, valuing nothing higher than itself—and that the proof of an achieved self-esteem is your soul's shudder of contempt and rebellion against the role of a sacrificial animal, against the vile impertinence of any creed that proposes to immolate the irreplaceable value which is your consciousness and the incomparable glory which is your existence to the blind evasions and the stagnant decay of others.


The first thing to note is that, in her description of pride, Rand unwittingly embraces relativism. “Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value,” Rand states. In other words, each person is their own highest value; which means the value of each person is relative to each individual. This would be all fine and good were it not for the fact that Rand insisted her values were “absolute.” (I realize her apologists at this point will counter-insist that her absolutes are “contextual”—whatever that means! I suspect she’s merely trying to have it both ways, and thinks she can get away with it by playing games with words!)

What is even more striking is the famous passage where Rand insists that man ought to be a “being of self-made soul.” Just as Rand embraced free will in its most extreme form, so she embrace a most uncompromising version of pride. We can be proud of ourselves not merely because it feels good to think that way; we can also be proud of ourselves because this self is our own creation! One can hardly imagine greater effrontery or arrogance as this.

According to both traditional authorities and the latest scientific evidence, Rand’s view of the self-created self has no empirical ground to stand on. Not only does there exist well documented genetic factors in personality, but there also exists a cognitive unconscious that quite literally has a will of its own. In other words, we don’t, nor can we, control everything about ourselves. Even worse, the extent that we can control ourselves depends, in crucial part, on taking countermeasures against our limitations. But how can these countermeasures take place when we refuse to accept the existence of these congenital limitations? How can we overcome the bad qualities in our cognitive unconscious when we deny, as Rand did, that a cognitive unconscious even exists? Throwing pride into the mixture only renders the situation worse, making it even less likely that the individual is going to face up to his limitations.

As is well known and has been demonstrated by hundreds of psychological experiments, there exists a human tendency toward self-deception. “Most people claim they are above average in any positive trait you name,” notes the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker. In other words, the tendency to see ourselves better than we are is built-in. Why, then, does this tendency need encouragement? If people already tend to think better of themselves than is warranted by the facts, why would any psychologically astute person wish to encourage them to be proud? The better strategy, it would seem, would be to pump a bit for humility—if for no other reason than as a sort of countermeasure against the innate bias towards pride.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall,” the Bible claims. Is this just mystical nonsense? Or is it one of those sayings that causes most people to regard the Bible as a repository of wisdom, since it backs what people have learned through hard-earned experience? Most traditions of folk wisdom contain warnings about the dangers of pride. Literature, from the Greek dramatists through Dante and Shakespeare to the great novelists of the last two centuries, repeatedly warns against the dangers of pride. Where did these warnings come from? Why do they continue to resonate with most people? Is it merely because most people are envious, or corrupted by religious teachings and Immanuel Kant? Or does the experience of the human race testify to a truth about human nature and the psychological dangers of encouraging people to think too well of themselves? And what about the effects of pride on Rand herself? Was it pride that encouraged her to begin an ill-advised affair with a man half her age—an affair, moreover, that turned out to have disastrous consequences to both her personal life and the intellectual movement devoted to her philosophy?

95 comments:

Jay said...

In other words, the tendency to see ourselves better than we are is built-in. Why, then, does this tendency need encouragement?

Because pride doesn't mean seeing yourself as better than you are. It means making yourself the best that you can be and being proud of the character you forge. The antidote to groundless arrogance isn't humility or shame, it's objectivity.

Anonymous said...

Jay, you define pride as follows,
"pride doesn't mean seeing yourself as better than you are. It means making yourself the best that you can be and being proud of the character you forge. The antidote to groundless arrogance isn't humility or shame, it's objectivity."

No pride is just an emotion, like happiness or anger. All pride is, is feeling good about oneself. Just because pride can be beneficial in some instances doesn't mean it always is. To paraphrase an old native American saying I once heard, "fire my warm you, but it can also burn you!"

Damien

Jay said...

Damien,

Rand actually defined pride as more than just a feeling. To her, it was a fundamentally positive estimate of yourself. Aristotle held a somewhat similar view, saying that a proud man "thinks himself worthy of great things and is really worthy of them."

Peikoff elaborates: "A volitional being cannot accept self-preservation as his purpose unless, taking a moral inventory, he concludes that he is qualified for the task; qualified in terms of ability and value."

JayCross said...

My personal favorite quote also pertains to Rand's conception of pride:

The proud man does not demand of himself the impossible, but he does demand every ounce of the possible. he refuses to rest content with a defective soul, shrugging in self-deprecation, "That's me." He knows that "me" was created - and is alterable - by him.
- Peikoff

Red Grant said...

____________________________

Peikoff elaborates: "A volitional being cannot accept self-preservation as his purpose unless, taking a moral inventory, he concludes that he is qualified for the task;qualified in terms of ability and value." - jay
____________________________




"I do not agree with the view that to be moral, the motive for one's action has to be benefitting to others...people like me want to...satisfy our hearts to the full, and in doing so we automatically have the most valuable moral codes." - Comrade Chairman Mao, SuperObjectivist?

JayCross said...

Red,

I'm not sure I understand the contrast. Could you elaborate?

Red Grant said...

____________________________

The proud man does not demand of himself the impossible, but he does demand every ounce of the possible. He refuses to rest content with a defective soul, shrugging in self-depreciation, "That's me." He knows that "me" was created - and is alterable - by him. - Peikoff as posted by jay
____________________________




Some say one has a responsibility to history. I don't believe it. I am only concerned about developing myself....I have my desire and act on it. - Comrade Chairman Mao The SuperObjectivist?

Anonymous said...

Oh you Objectivists, you think that you can redefine "pride" to mean whatever you like? Don't you realize that the authors of this site will just say that you're just playing games with words? And sure, there are other people in the history of philosophy who agree with your definition, but who are they? Everyone knows that pride is just a feeling, and there are never ever ever multiple senses of words!!! And everyone knows that one definition is just as good as another; definitions are just nominalistic tags! I know that because that's what a definition is, by definition!!!

http://sublimehumannature.blogspot.com/2008/03/taking-pride-in-pride.html

Red Grant said...

____________________________

Because pride doesn't mean seeing yourself as better than you are. It means making yourself the best that you can be and being proud of the character you forge. - jay
____________________________






I am responsible to no one. - Comrade Chairman Mao, the SuperObjectivist?

Red Grant said...

Dear Jay,



I'm just trying to show you that while there's something truly grand, almost "operatic" about Objectivism, there's also something deeply infantile, philosophically immature(or sophmoric, half-baked) and imprudently unnecessarily narcissistic(as I see it) about it.


It can be a great source of inspiration for some of us, including myself, but it's no philosophy.


Here's one of my all time favorite paintings, one of the most iconic Stalinist Social Realism painting, "Higher and Ever Higher!" by Serafima Ryangina (1934) that always reminds me of the end of the movie, "The Fountainhead", where Gary Cooper takes Patricia Neal in an elevator to the top of the tallest skyscraper in the world.


http://faculty-web.at.northwestern.edu/art-history/werckmeister/April_15_1999/Higher.jpg

Anonymous said...

Jay, you said,

"Rand actually defined pride as more than just a feeling. To her, it was a fundamentally positive estimate of yourself. Aristotle held a somewhat similar view, saying that a proud man 'thinks himself worthy of great things and is really worthy of them.'"

I don't agree with Rand. All pride is, is feeling good about oneself and one's accomplishments.
Second, How does Aristotle quote contradict that? Wouldn't it go, almost without saying that someone who felt really good about himself and his accomplishments, would think himself worthy of great things?

Damien

Jay said...

Damien,

Crazy as it sounds, I actually know people who are quite accomplished and yet, do not seem to hold a very high view of themselves. A female friend of mine is a good example. She is a smart, accomplished student who is by far the youngest manager at her company. And yet, she is in an abusive relationship and sees it as a totally normal thing that she (and by extension, anyone else in a similar situation) should just learn to deal with.

Rand's conception of pride would not allow a person to do that.

Anonymous said...

Jay,

I never said, all people feel good about themselves or their accomplishments. Plus, just because someone thinks they should feel good about themselves or their accomplishments, does that mean that they will?

Damien

JayCross said...

Plus, just because someone thinks they should feel good about themselves or their accomplishments, does that mean that they will?

If someone wants to feel good about themselves and their actions support that feeling then yes, I don't see what's missing from the equation. Rand's point is that both the feeling and the the actions must form a unity. You should not think highly of yourself without a reason to. If you have no reason to, you must create one through constantly adhering to rational principles, setting and achieving goals, and adopting an attitude of self-reliance.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

You should not think highly of yourself without a reason to. - jay
____________________________





Can one always find or create a reason to think highly of oneself?




____________________________

If you have no reason to, you must create on through constantly adhering to rational principles,.. - jay
____________________________





Who decides what is rational principles?




____________________________

....setting and achieving goals, and adopting an attitude of self-reliance. - jay
____________________________





I am responsible to no one. I am responsible only for the reality that I know, and absolutely not responsible for anything else. - Comrade Chairman Mao

Jay said...

Can one always find or create a reason to think highly of oneself?

Yes, I think so. Even when you're facing challenges, I believe a man of pride can step back and see the beauty in struggle, taking solace in who he is or hopes to become. At the very least, he can decide "I am going to make X change, and it will be for the better."

Red Grant said...

Like Comrade Chairman Mao?

Jay said...

No, not exactly.

I am responsible to no one. I am responsible only for the reality that I know, and absolutely not responsible for anything else. - Comrade Chairman Mao

The Objectivist ethics require you to leave other men alone to pursue their lives in peace. It also encourages benevolence as a general policy.

Anonymous said...

Rand was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder by her own psychologist. Understanding BPD is key to understanding Ayn Rand, in my opinion.

In my lifetime, I've had close relations with two women who both worshiped Ayn Rand. Indicatively, I later learned that these two people were borderline disordered.

When one becomes educated on the truth about Borderline Personality Disorder, life is changed forever. It is a pernicious, terrible mental illness. For most, there is no cure.

People afflicted with BPD live with a dangerously distorted view of human existence. This characteristic is most certainly reflected in Ayn Rand's narcissistic writings and in her own personal conduct.

The tragic conclusion of Ayn Rand's "philosophy" is documented in Therapist by Ellen Plasil. This is the book that Ayn Rand's followers don't want anyone to read.

gregnyquist said...

Anon: "Rand was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder by her own psychologist."

I'm not sure that's quite accurate. I don't believe Rand ever had a psychologist. Wasn't it Alan Blumenthal that gave the diagnosis? Blumenthal wasn't Rand's psychologist; rather, he was a psychologist who happened to be the co-heir to Rand's estate (along with Peikoff). I believe he broke with Rand in '78. His diagnosis (assuming the story is true, which I don't know) is interesting. Not having ever met Rand personally nor being trained psychologist, I don't think I'm qualified to make such a statement. I don't think I'm going out on a limb to suggest that whatever problems Rand did have of a psychological or personal nature, her pride wouldn't help her recognize those problems or deal with them. Despite all her fine talk about introspection, she doesn't seem to have really known herself. Her sharp intellect unwittingly in the service of spinning her idea of herself to fit her ideology. In any case, perhaps, in part, due to her pride and her overweening confidence in her own reason, she seems in some respects to have lost touch with reality. Some of the journal excerpts in Valiant's book clearly show this.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "The antidote to groundless arrogance isn't humility or shame, it's objectivity."

That's all fine and good, but it is based on the assumption that human beings, generally speaking, are in fact capable of being objective about themselves, and the psychological evidence does not seem to support that contention. If most people are not capable of being objective about themselves, encouraging them to be proud does not seem like a good idea to me.

Jay: "A female friend of mine ... is a smart, accomplished student who is by far the youngest manager at her company. And yet, she is in an abusive relationship and sees it as a totally normal thing that she (and by extension, anyone else in a similar situation) should just learn to deal with."

Is this woman in an abusive relationship because she doesn't have enough pride in herself? Maybe. But it's not the only possibility. She may be legitimately in love with the guy. Keep in mind: the Randian view of love is not psychologically valid. A much truer conception of love is that of Stendhal, who, in his book on the subject makes it clear that love is just happens regardless of what a person may want. I seem to remember a harrowing anecdote or two in his book of remarkable women falling in love with men who didn't quite appreciate them.

Ellen Stuttle said...

I'm not sure that's quite accurate. I don't believe Rand ever had a psychologist. Wasn't it Alan Blumenthal that gave the diagnosis? Blumenthal wasn't Rand's psychologist; rather, he was a psychologist who happened to be the co-heir to Rand's estate (along with Peikoff). I believe he broke with Rand in '78. His diagnosis (assuming the story is true, which I don't know) is interesting.

For one thing, the DSM is mostly absurd, and "Borderline Personality" is among the absurder and murkier of the omniglut categories.

For another, Greg is correct that Ayn did not have a psychologist. (The very idea that she would have gone to a psychologist! te-he)

If Allan Blumenthal used such a diagnostic category pertaining to her, I'd be surprised. Possible, I suppose; he's quoted by Walker as saying something else about her which I was surprised to read. I wonder if Walker quoted him correctly or cleverly excerpted. (I was very familiar with Allan's views when I lived in New York, but I haven't seen him since 1980.)

It was 1977 not 1978 when Allan and Joan broke with Ayn. BB has the year wrong in her biography.

As to Therapist by Ellen Plasil, an "Anon" writes:

The tragic conclusion of Ayn Rand's "philosophy" is documented in Therapist by Ellen Plasil. This is the book that Ayn Rand's followers don't want anyone to read.

I don't know where you would get the idea that AR's followers have any objection to people's reading Therapist. Therapist pertains to the shenanigans of Lonnie Leonard. Lonnie borrowed from Objectivism and got his clients from O'ist circles, but Ayn would have completely disowned Lonnie's interpretations of Objectivism and been appalled at his activities. (I've hoped that she was spared hearing about the LL scandal, but probably she wasn't. Plasil et al.'s suit against Lonnie was filed in 1977 and Lonnie was talked about a lot in New York O'ist circles over the next two or so years.)

Therapist has been out of print for quite some time.

Notice the pun of the title. I'm not sure if Ellen Plasil intended that; it's so perfect I expect she did.

Lonnie Leonard, whom I met a few times and heard extensive details about, was one of the few people I've ever known personally whom I think of as indisputably evil. When I heard from a friend that Lonnie died in 1999 from drinking himself to death, I felt, Good; he deserved that fate.

Ellen

JayCross said...

Don't you think a proper conception of pride would preclude someone from being in an abusive relationship? Even if it's not Randian pride?

Something should jump out at you and say "I'm above this. I don't deserve to be treated that way."

Ellen Stuttle said...

I wrote:

If Allan Blumenthal used such a diagnostic category [as Borderline Personality] pertaining to her, I'd be surprised. Possible, I suppose; he's quoted by Walker as saying something else about her which I was surprised to read. I wonder if Walker quoted him correctly or cleverly excerpted. (I was very familiar with Allan's views when I lived in New York, but I haven't seen him since 1980.)

I just industriously looked up all the references to Allan Blumenthal in Jeff Walker's The Ayn Rand Cult.

Walker does attribute to Allan the "[belief] that Rand suffered from a veritable cluster of personality disorders: Paranoid, Borderline, and Narcissistic." This isn't stated in the form of a direct quote, however. I'd be curious to know exactly what Allan said. The "Paranoid" and "Narcissistic" parts make sense to me as descriptions, but, to repeat, Borderline is such a mushy vague notion. Still, maybe Allan threw that one in while firing off a string of categories rapid-fire.

Ellen

Red Grant said...

____________________________

The Objectivist ethics require you to leave other men alone to pursue their lives in peace. - jay
____________________________






They[the Natives] didn't have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using... - Ayn Rand





____________________________

It also encourages

benevolence

as a general policy. - Jay
____________________________





benevolence - 1. charitable kindness

2. - an alturistic gift or act

http://on.witionary/wiki/benevolence

Charity - The providing of goods or money to those in need

http://on.witionary/wiki/charity


Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent - Ayn Rand

Red Grant said...

____________________________

Don't you think a proper conception of pride... - jay
____________________________





Who decides what is proper conception of pride?




____________________________

...would preclude someone from being in an abusive relationship? - jay
____________________________






Who decides what is an abusive relationship?





____________________________

Even if it's not Randian pride? - jay
____________________________





Does this mean then you believe there is a

proper conception of pride

that lies outside Randian pride?


Stated in a different way, does this mean then you believe Randian philosophy doesn't necessarily decide what is a proper conception of pride in universally valid objective way?

JayCross said...

I think there are earlier, less developed states of pride that are still good building blocks to a full realization. If someone instinctively recoils from a negative situation, thinking "I don't deserve this", that person has pride. It may not be the fully developed Randian conception, but it's a good start.

Anonymous said...

Ellen

There is nothing "murky" about Borderline Personality Disorder, according to contemporary literature on the subject.

Regarding the book "Therapist" by Ellen Plasil, the author's description of her relationship with her abusive father should not go unmentioned here. Also, it's interesting that you seem to attempt to characterize the book within the narrow confines of Lonnie Leonard's pathology. It would be important also to note Plasil's observations regarding the Objectivist subculture of which she was a part. The author's conclusions about that subculture form an essential theme - a devastating critique of a cult-like atmosphere that stifled creativity and fomented paranoia.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

I think there are less developed states of pride that are still good building blocks to a full realization.[of proper conception of pride]. - jay


It may not be the fully developed Randian conception[of pride], but it's a good start. - jay


Don't you think a proper conception of pride would preclude someone from being in an abusive relationship? - jay

Even if it's not Randian pride? - jay
____________________________



Does this mean then you believe that a proper conception of pride that would preclude someone from being in an abusive relationship(whatever it may be defined by whomever) doesn't have to be Randian pride?

If so, then,

does this mean then you believe a proper conception of pride doesn't have to be Randian pride?

meg said...

The idea that someone who is in an abusive relatonship needs to channel Randian pride is odd, and even a bit offensive. As Greg mentioned, there may be a variety of reasons why she chose to be in that relationship, and if she decides to leave it, it could also be for a number of reasons. One annoying thing about people who are so convinced about their own belief is that they think widespread adoption of their belief will somehow solve the world's problems, or even a step further thinking that would be the only way to solve the world's problems (or personal problems) or we're all doomed, or something. No one particular belief system or group of people has a monopoly on truth or goodness, and the idea that someone needs Rand's advice to get out of an abusive relationship is well...arrogant(proud!), inappropriate and uncalled for.

JayCross said...

Meg,

What, specifically, is wrong with my argument? Would a proud person, or would a proud person not, let someone abuse them?

I didn't say a lack of pride is why she got into that relationship. I'm sure genuine feelings exist. My point was that a proud person does not see those feelings in a vacuum. Self-respect supersedes romantic feelings for someone else; if you are being harassed, demeaned, name-called, and screamed at on a regular basis, a proud person does not stay in that situation.

I didn't say Rand's philosophy solved every world problem so that is a ridiculous objection IMO.

Ellen Stuttle said...

There is nothing "murky" about Borderline Personality Disorder, according to contemporary literature on the subject.

Anon,

I disagree with you about that, but I think this isn't a context in which to argue about it, especially considering your reported personal experiences and my having no idea who you are or what the details of your circumstances are.

Regarding the book "Therapist" by Ellen Plasil, the author's description of her relationship with her abusive father should not go unmentioned here.

I agree with you on that, but I think it's a mistake to make generalizations about what "Objectivist" parents would be like from the specifics of Ellen Plasil's upbringing. I know of many other "second-generation Objectivist" circumstances which have a different profile from her unfortunate childhood.

Also, it's interesting that you seem to attempt to characterize the book within the narrow confines of Lonnie Leonard's pathology. It would be important also to note Plasil's observations regarding the Objectivist subculture of which she was a part. The author's conclusions about that subculture form an essential theme - a devastating critique of a cult-like atmosphere that stifled creativity and fomented paranoia.

I grant that "Plasil's observations" regarding her particular subculture do form an essential theme in her book. However, I knew a good sampling of the Lonnie Leonard subculture and was well familiar with the wider New York City Objectivist subculture of the time period when she was living in New York City. (In terms of my personal experience, I'm speaking of about 12 years: September 1968 through December 1979; Ellen Plasil moved to New York City later than I did, circa '70 or '71, as best I recall without going to check -- I have the book, but I'm too tired to check the dates now.) Ellen Plasil, when she moved to New York City, went directly into the Lonnie Leonard subculture. Lonnie encouraged -- nay, make that stronger, demanded -- a separateness between his group and the wider group. I think that Ellen Plasil did not have much experience of the wider subculture.

My remarks aren't meant to deny that there was a strong cult-like -- and stifling -- atmosphere in the wider Objectivist subculture. But the specific quality of the stiflingness in the wider subculture differed from the atmosphere of the narrower circles of Ellen Plasil's friends, most of whom were Lonnie Leonard people. As to the paranoia...Lonnie was a complete master of fomenting that. Yes, there was a certain amount of "paranoia" in the wider subculture but not like the sort of "secret blood brothers" and chronic spying on each other, with obligatory reporting to Lonnie, which went on in his circle.

Ellen

Ellen Stuttle said...

An additional detail about creativity-stifling and the contrast between Lonnie's people and the wider group:

As soon as Lonnie would find out that a client had a passion for a particular line of work, or even a strong leaning or inclination, he'd start methods of discouraging the desire, of trying to convince the person he/she wasn't suited for the desired career and instead should pursue some career which wasn't to the person's actual tastes.

This was different from the stifling of creativity in the wider group, where the problem was people's being afraid of not being good enough at what they wanted to do, and, if they were artistically inclined, of not producing proper art according to O'ist standards.

Ellen

Ellen Stuttle said...

Erratum (I wish one could edit posts here): Two above I wrote September '68 through December '79 as the years of my NYC residence; I meant December '80. Late '79 was the last event at which I saw AR herself.

Ellen

Cavewight said...

Borderline Personality Disorder is no more "murky" than other disorders, but if you're a therapist working with teenagers then over a brief period of time the diagnosis becomes obvious, no longer murky. Do any of you know schizophrenia when you see it? Probably not. But experience is a better teacher than books, and meeting just a few schizophrenics is enough to form the pattern for all the rest, after which it's just a question of boiling it down to a specific kind (or, in some unfortunate cases, kinds).

I don't think Rand had BPD, but
she did have sub-dom sexual proclivities, and probably rape fantasies. It's necessary to avoid confusing a personality disorder with a sexual disorder - or some kind of mood disorder, which was far more likely to be present than BPD. If I wanted to waste my time I could probably route out which one it was.

It's strange that nobody has mentioned Rand's obvious obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. As far as personality disorders go, this one was most telling in her biographies.

Here is a description of OCPD I found at a website:
http://personalitydisorders.suite101
.com/article.cfm/obsessivecompulsive_personality
"The standards that those with OCPD set for themselves and others are impossibly high, and they are prone to damage personal relationships by being critical of those who don’t live up to their lofty ideals. There are few moral gray areas for someone with full-blown OCPD; actions and beliefs are either right or wrong, with no room for compromise. They can also be workaholics, preferring the control of working alone, as they are afraid that work completed by others will not be done correctly (Dobbert 2007)."

As a final note, it is common to misdiagnose OCPD when a mood disorder is also present, and this seems to be the case in the misdiagnosis of BPD.

Xray said...

Rand sucessfully sold her subjective value judgements as alleged "objective" values to her eager supporters only to willing to be deceived.
Everyone "ought to" value what Rand preferred.
Her claim of objective values existing can easily disproved.
Since what a person values is always a personal choice, "values" are not subject to proof/disproof, which exposes the term "objective value" as fallacy.
Since Rand's philosophy dangles by that thin thread "objective values" ("life proper to man" as she personally views it), once the thread is cut (which is very easy - just ask a Randite to give you an example of a so-called objective value, - they can't :), the whole objectivist philosophy is reduced to the subjective, confused ramblings of a woman who, deprived of apprectiation in her childhood and adolescence, later tried to compensate for it by inventing her own wish-fulfilling philosophical universe.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote:
Since Rand's philosophy dangles by that thin thread "objective values" ("life proper to man" as she personally views it), once the thread is cut (which is very easy - just ask a Randite to give you an example of a so-called objective value, - they can't :)

You've got to do better than that. Food is of value to all living organisms. What kind of food you like is a personal preference. You are simply substituting the latter (value-preference,e.g., steak that's cooked rare, medium, or well-done) for the former (the very need for food as an objective value).

Anonymous said...

Cavewrioght wrote:
"You've got to do better than that. Food is of value to all living organisms. What kind of food you like is a personal preference. You are simply substituting the latter (value-preference,e.g., steak that's cooked rare, medium, or well-done) for the former (the very need for food as an objective value)."

We're talking about philosophy, not biology. Food is a biological necessity. There is no "no you ought to eat", "you ought to breathe".

Rand obviously did not have these biological necessities in mind when presenting her laundry list of objective values ("Reason" etc)

Cavewight said...

Anonymous wrote:

We're talking about philosophy, not biology. Food is a biological necessity. There is no "no you ought to eat", "you ought to breathe".

Rand obviously did not have these biological necessities in mind when presenting her laundry list of objective values ("Reason" etc)


Obviously (and just for starters) if you want to live then you ought to eat, breathe, etc. Those are objective values. And anyway, Rand's meta-ethical argument does include a biological argument, particularly where she distinguished man from the other animals in terms of basic means of survival. She also threw some psychology into the mix of concepts (e.g., self-esteem).

Xray said...

Cavewright wrote:
"Obviously (and just for starters) if you want to live then you ought to eat, breathe, etc." (end quote)

Wrong: if you want to live, you MUST breathe, eat.
You can't derive an "ought to" from an "is".

The modifier is "IF" you want to live. For example, to someone planning to end his/her life by strangulation, breathing is a non-value.
Ingesting foood is considered a non-value by anorectic.

"Those are objective values." (end quote)
Not true. See above. The act of valuing implies attrbuting value to this or that by a mind capable of doing so, and implies a choice depending on the subjective preference of an individual, goal-seeking entity (or a grouo of indivduals).

Rand:
"The concept "value" is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the
question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of
acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative
exists, no goals and no values are possible." (end quote)

This is ths one of the few things Rand got right.

Cavewright:
"And anyway, Rand's meta-ethical argument does include a biological argument, particularly where she distinguished man from the other animals in terms of basic means of survival." (end quote)

By speaking of plants "seeking values" (TVOS,p. 19), Rand goes against her own definition outlined in the above quote.
For a plant obviously does not have the mental capacity to attribute value, nor can it act to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative.
A plant is programmed to act like it does - for exampe it can't "choose" not to seek sunlight, absorb water, etc.

Like in several instances, Rand contradicts her very own terms. It Her wrong language usage leads to confusion.

Cavewright:

"She also threw some psychology into the mix of concepts (e.g., self-esteem)." (end quote)

Indeed, Rand threw a lot of stuff into her various mixes, with the result of the brew causing epistemological indigestion to anyone halfway capable of reasoning. :)

Her laundry list of alleged "objective" cardinal values ("Reason, Purpose, Self-esteem") and cardinal virtues, ("Rationiality, Productivity, Pride"), is nothing more than a collection of her own subjective preferences.

And as for Rand's "ultimate value, one's life" - this again is not shared as a value by e. nihilists, buddhists, etc.
So again, it is a mere subjective choice on her part.

Bottom line: there exist no "objective values" out there, only to be discovered, however much Rand wanted people to believe this.

In indoctrinating others about what she believes is life "proper" to man, Rand she basically did the same what all other ideologists have been doing throughout the centuries: selling their subjectively chosen values as "objective".

Value implies a valuer and so is necessarily personal and subjective.
Calling value X objective is an attempt to disguise that you are really saying one should value X, which is an entirely different story.

Xray said...

Cavewight:
Sorry about misspelling your poster name in my previous post - I just noticed my mistake.

Cavewight said...

Xray,

It's quite all right, I don't expect anyone unfamiliar with the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to necessarily get as an odd handle such as mine right the first time. But if it happened again I would correct it.

As for the rest, I think you need to distinguish between those choices which life forces upon us and those which aren't. The existence of alternatives, according to Rand, makes the province of moral philosophy possible.

However, that being said, I don't believe that the issue of value itself is distinguished so readily. There are values physically forced upon us (food, oxygen), and values which are basic to qua man qua, that is, which are suitable to the needs of a rational metaphysical nature common to everybody and subject to the will as reasoning is a matter of choice. The basic choice, according to Rand, is living like a man vs. living like a parasite and a moocher.

What I'm leading up to here is the fact that the latter is a pre-moral choice, not a moral one - which means it is a matter of subjective, personal preference.

I am not, however, saying that your ultimate conclusion is correct, as you merely generalized from Rand's moral "instincts" to all moral theory as being subjective, a form of logic which apparently relies upon your own personal preference.

Xray said...

Cavewight said:
"As for the rest, I think you need to distinguish between those choices which life forces upon us and those which aren't." (end quote)

How can a choice be forced? Doesn't the very act of choosing exclude force?
Even in extreme cases, for example, in the case of a robber
demanding my wallet, the choice is up to me. I can either yield or try to fight back.

"The existence of alternatives, according to Rand, makes the province of moral philosophy possible." (end quote)

It's really about valuing this or that in the realm of ethics which Rand focuses on.
Imo her claim of objective values existing in ETHICS is based n fallacy.

"However, that being said, I don't believe that the issue of value itself is distinguished so readily. There are values physically forced upon us (food, oxygen)" (end quote)

They are biological necessities, not ethical values.
(Also, a value can't be forced upon somebody).
There is no "you ought to eat" if you want to survive.
Oxygen, food, water are not even valuable per se, independent of context. For example, you can die from too much oxygen, drown in water etc.

"and values which are basic to qua man qua, that is, which are suitable to the needs of a rational metaphysical nature common to everybody and subject to the will as reasoning is a matter of choice.

The basic choice, according to Rand, is living like a man vs. living like a parasite and a moocher." (end quote)

One could argue that e. g. a "capitalist" (Rand as we know believed in unbridled capitalism)who has children work for him in a third-world sweat shop, is a "parasite" and a "looter" (another of Rand's favorite labels), feeding off and profiting from the poverty and economic powerlessnes of others.

As for the term "rational" - it has nothing to do with what your goal is, but how you go about realizing it.
For example, "parasites", "moochers" or killers can be pretty rational, in e. g. carefully planning how to live off other people or how to commit crimes.
And as for Rand's proclaimed "ultimate value, one's life", parasites and criminals may well thrive in life.
I get the impression that Randists often seem to judge from the fate Rand's characters meet in her novels that this necessarily has to happen in real life too.

Life proper to "man" treats a category ("man") as if it were an
entity, denying the fact that each human individual is a valuing, goal-seeking entity.
In telling her supporters what to value and what not, imo Rand does not advocate individualism but the contrary.

"I am not, however, saying that your ultimate conclusion is correct, as you merely generalized from Rand's moral "instincts" to all moral theory as being subjective, a form of logic which apparently relies upon your own personal preference." (end quote)

That all ethical values are subjective is not my personal preference, but a conclusion I have reached when studying those values.

The disproof of objective ethical values existing lies in being able, for each and every of those values listed, to provide examples where these values are considered as non-values by other people or groups.

Feel free to present any ethical value which you believe is objective and we'll do the test.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote:
How can a choice be forced? Doesn't the very act of choosing exclude force?

You can choose to hold your breath. But see for how long you can hold your breath and find out for yourself what a forced choice is.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote:
As for the term "rational" - it has nothing to do with what your goal is, but how you go about realizing it.

I don't believe Rand would allow such a distinction in morality. While you can certainly distinguish between means and ends (I just did), she believed that if your ends are rational then your means must also be rational. "Rational" is synonymous with "objective." If your end is objectively derived by reason then so must be your means. That is, if you want to attain your end in the most rational manner, you should rationally choose the best means toward attaining the rational end.

... I use the term "rational" a lot but Rand's meaning is lost without it, as when you imagine bank robbers using rational methodology (detailed getaway plans, coordinating their activities bank layout, etc) to pursue robbing banks. In fact, yours amounts to little more than the Prudent Predator argument. And anyway, Rand would declare that there is nothing rational about robbing banks no matter how clever the methodology employed, or even if they manage to get away with it.

So I take the entire Randian moral argument to a deeper level. Let's even assume, for a moment, that Rand's moral argument is correct. It is certainly the case that she based her conclusions on axiomatic, unargued-for premises. In other words, she does not justify them, she assumes them as a given. She assumes, for example, that evolution has produced in man and particularly in his rational faculty nature's ultimate product that is so far in advance of animals and their instincts that there is really little or no basis for comparison between man and animals. The creation of the rational faculty then enabled man to progress beyond the primitive to the more advanced level we see today.

However, the entire basis for this argument - much of which is only implied in Rand's argument - is teleological. But Rand had no formal or official Objectivist version of teleology that I know of. Therefore, her entire moral theory rests on thin air.

Cavewight said...

xray wrote:

Life proper to "man" treats a category ("man") as if it were an
entity, denying the fact that each human individual is a valuing, goal-seeking entity.
In telling her supporters what to value and what not, imo Rand does not advocate individualism but the contrary.


I think she assumed that only ideal men, those potential or actual "men of the mind," would be attracted to a philosophy such as hers. The potentials would only need her guidance to preserve them from destruction by a world against which they had no intellectual ammunition to defend themselves. That is not the same as telling them what to do, but only what they "already know" on some level; the actuals would already hold to her philosophy and only provide her with the comfort of friendships between equals. Narcissists, after all, require "mirrors" to reflect their own wonderful selves back at them.

Those believers who are not potential or actual "ideal men" became Randroids, and I don't believe she predicted or even intended this phenomenon. But the Brandens suggest in their bios that she was not very happy with their existence, so I don't see how producing a group of sycophantic, wanna-be "ideal men" could have been Rand's actual goal.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote:

The disproof of objective ethical values existing lies in being able, for each and every of those values listed, to provide examples where these values are considered as non-values by other people or groups.

Feel free to present any ethical value which you believe is objective and we'll do the test.


I don't accept the terms of this test because what other people find moral is irrelevant. And even if I found an example which satisfied your terms, that would only provide for universal intersubjective agreement, not objectivity.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote:
Life proper to "man" treats a category ("man") as if it were an
entity, denying the fact that each human individual is a valuing, goal-seeking entity.


There was much to pick and choose from in your post, but I'm trying to cover all of it here without overwhelming the character limit per post.

I don't know that "man" is a category so much as a concept, and anyway, it is defined as "rational animal" which assumes that every man can be or is rational. I don't see where this denies that every entity "man" is a goal-seeking entity.

Xray said...

Xray:
"How can a choice be forced? Doesn't the very act of choosing exclude force?" (end quote)

Cavewight:
"You can choose to hold your breath. But see for how long you can hold your breath and find out for yourself what a forced choice is." (end quote)

But it is not the choice itself which was forced - and that was the point.
But as I reread my initial post, I realize that my phrasing "the very act of choosing" was too ambiguous - so for clarification, I'm not referring to the results of a choice, but to an individual having a choice, and each time an individual has a choice, this very fact implies that the person is free to choose.

Cavewight said...

Xray,

Being free to choose is irrelevant in the absence of alternatives.

Xray said...

Xray wrote:

The disproof of objective ethical values existing lies in being able, for each and every of those values listed, to provide examples where these values are considered as non-values by other people or groups.

Feel free to present any ethical value which you believe is objective and we'll do the test.
(end quote)
Cavewight:
"I don't accept the terms of this test because what other people find moral is irrelevant. And even if I found an example which satisfied your terms, that would only provide for universal intersubjective agreement, not objectivity."

But that is exactly the litmus test I'm inteested in: if person X believes that what other people find moral is irrelevant, then isn't it of crucial interest to get to know X's own moral value judgements in order to compare them to those of the other people and let X exlain why his her ARE relevant as opposed to the others'?
X may of course come to the conclusion that there exist no objective moral values, in which case Rand's claim that they do exist can be laid to rest.

Xray said...

Cavewight wrote:

"Xray,

Being free to choose is irrelevant in the absence of alternatives."
(end quote)

Correct, but Rand specifically emphasized the PRESENCE of alternatives to make a choice possible.

Rand:
"The concept "value" is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the
question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of
acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative
exists, no goals and no values are possible." (end quote)

So the issue is no about cases where an individual has no choice, but about those cases where the freedom to choose is there.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote:
Being free to choose is irrelevant in the absence of alternatives."
(end quote)

Correct, but Rand specifically emphasized the PRESENCE of alternatives to make a choice possible.


They are saying the same thing.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote:
But that is exactly the litmus test I'm inteested in: if person X believes that what other people find moral is irrelevant.

I read the post then decided to focus on this. I am not saying that person X or whoever believes that other people's views on morality is irrelevant. I am saying that what people think about morality is irrelevant to the question at hand. Your litmus test strikes me as possessing too much ad populorum (although I'm sure I'm wrong about that) and anyway, his conclusion that no objective morals exist may simply be his subjective preference, and not an objective conclusion at all.

Cavewight said...

Xray:

When I look back at your comments your litmus test strikes me as more than ad populorum, it is a petitio where the conclusion is built into the premise and so the result is to be expected.

Xray said...

Cavewight wrote:

"However, the entire basis for this argument - much of which is only implied in Rand's argument - is teleological. But Rand had no formal or official Objectivist version of teleology that I know of. Therefore, her entire moral theory rests on thin air."
(end quote)

True. Imo every code of moral values, once you examine it, does not stand up to scrutiny in terms of the values being presented there as being "objective".

"I don't know that "man" is a category so much as a concept, and anyway, it is defined as "rational animal" which assumes that every man can be or is rational." (end quote)

"Man" is a category; a category is one of many concepts but no concept per se.
Rand uses the term concept for what is actually category.

I don't see where this denies that every entity "man" is a goal-seeking entity."
The category "man" does not deny this, but Rand's life "proper to man" is a subjective value judgement, a "one size fits all" recommendation of how "man" "ought to" live "properly".
This is where she denies individuality in favor of collectivism.
In all ideologies btw, you will find those lists of subjective values claimed to be "objective".

Xray said...

Xray:

"When I look back at your comments your litmus test strikes me as more than ad populorum" (end quote)

You mean ad populum? You must have misunderstood what I wrote.
I want to demonstrate that the claim of an ethical value being "objective" can be disproved by the mere fact of others not holding the same value.
It is not about "consensus" by majority but about disproof of a claim by offering evidence of the contrary.
I can provide many examples for illustration if you want.

"it is a petitio where the conclusion is built into the premise and so the result is to be expected." (end quote)

Please cite from my posts where you think I built a conclusion into a premise.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote:
The disproof of objective ethical values existing lies in being able, for each and every of those values listed, to provide examples where these values are considered as non-values by other people or groups.

The implicit argument proceeds as follows.

1. All values are subjective.
2. I can provide examples where values are considered non-values by other people.
C. Therefore, all values are subjective.

This assumes that the way to determine objectivity is through a public opinion poll.

Cavewight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cavewight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cavewight said...

xray wrote:
True. Imo every code of moral values, once you examine it, does not stand up to scrutiny in terms of the values being presented there as being "objective".

But that's not what I wrote. I said that Objectivist morality rests on a theory of teleology that doesn't exist. In other words, it is based on thin air.
You could conclude that it is based on Rand's "instincts," which isn't difficult anyway since Rand admitted this and in so many words. Her goal however was not to establish objectivity by means of a public opinion poll, but philosophically. Furthermore, she never claimed to have finished her philosophy, she left the task up to her intellectual heir Peikoff, and eventually, Diana Hsieh.

Anyway, you use the term "ideological" as if it should be spelled with four letters instead of eleven. Your presentation lacks objectivity, so of course others are going to disagree with it. And I don't see why you limit this subjectivity issue to morality when in fact it is all too easy to show that your own views are also subjectively based, or biased. So if you stand on your pedestal spitting down at the people for being subjective in their values, they are likely to start spitting back. Nobody is objective, including you, your values are equally subjective, and so everybody could be considered "right" to an equal extent. Nobody therefore has the right to be placed above anybody else, including you.

I see the entire thrust of this argument as nothing more than deconstructionism with the criticism slightly displaced: instead of values being cultural, they are subjective. I would include deconstructionism itself as being "subjective" and "ideological," as not everybody agrees with it.

Cavewight said...

I had to remove two duplicated posts because of a server error.

Xray said...

Cavewright wrote:

"The implicit argument proceeds as follows.

1. All values are subjective.
2. I can provide examples where values are considered non-values by other people.
C. Therefore, all values are subjective."

My argument is as follows:

1) Each individual is a valuing, goal-seeking entity.
The very idea of "value" always implies an indivudual (or a group of individuals) ATTRIBUTING value to this or that.

Example: John values stamp collecting, Jane values her husband's cooking skills.
Debbie Rowe valued the millions she got from Michael Jackson more than being with her children, whereas other parents would not trade in their children for all the money in the world because they value them more than the money, etc.

2) Since something can only become a "value" to someone after this individual has subjectively attributed value, it logically follows that objective ethical values don't exist.

My challenge still stands:
Feel free to disprove my claim by presenting ethical values of which you think they are objective.

Cavewight:
"But that's not what I wrote. I said that Objectivist morality rests on a theory of teleology that doesn't exist. In other words, it is based on thin air.
You could conclude that it is based on Rand's "instincts," which isn't difficult anyway since Rand admitted this and in so many words. Her goal however was not to establish objectivity by means of a public opinion poll, but philosophically." (end quote)

And do you believe she succeeded in establishhg "objectivity"? How did she do that aside from claiming that her values and virtues were "objective"?
Take for example, two of her "cardinal virtues", "productivity" and "pride" - these floating abstractions would apply to a five-year-old in the sandbox being "proud" of his many mudcakes, a well as to a serial killer being "proud" of the number of his victims.
As to her "ultimate value, one's life" - well, it can be assumed that most of the "looters", "parasites" and criminals value life too.

She conceded that her objectivist morality was based on her instinct - that explains a lot of course. For trying to rationalize one's instincts by building some flawed philosophical house of cards around them is bound to end up in collapse.

"Furthermore, she never claimed to have finished her philosophy, she left the task up to her intellectual heir Peikoff, and eventually, Diana Hsieh." (end quote)

Imo Rand acolyte Peikoff even surpasses his idol in terms of confusing explanations.

Xray said...

Cavewight wrote:

"Anyway, you use the term "ideological" as if it should be spelled with four letters instead of eleven."
Good one :), but kidding aside, feel free to name any ideologists and their supporters which don't claim their subjective ethical values to be objective.

"Your presentation lacks objectivity, so of course others are going to disagree with it."
(end quote)

I have nothing at all against disagreement, after all, blog comments are meant to be for discussion.

But if you disagree, please quote from my post the area of disagreeemt and explain why you disagree, so that I have something to hang my hat on. I'll do the same with your posts.

"And I don't see why you limit this subjectivity issue to morality when in fact it is all too easy to show that your own views are also subjectively based, or biased." (end quote)

My personl ethical values are subjective, just as yours and everyone else's, yes.
As for analyzing Rand's pholosophy, imo it is based on epistemological fallacy. The claim of fallacy has to stand uo to scrutiny, i. e. is subject to proof/disproof.
Merely claiming that your discussion opponent's views are subjective is no disproof.

"So if you stand on your pedestal spitting down at the people for being subjective in their values, they are likely to start spitting back.
...

I see the entire thrust of this argument as nothing more than deconstructionism with the criticism slightly displaced: instead of values being cultural, they are subjective. I would include deconstructionism itself as being "subjective" and "ideological," as not everybody agrees with it." (end quote)

I neither stand on pedestal nor spit down on people for having subjective values. I have subjective values too since this is a natural human condition.
As to the cultural values you mentioned - these too are a collection of mere subjective values accepted by a community.

"Nobody is objective, including you, your values are equally subjective, and so everybody could be considered "right" to an equal extent. Nobody therefore has the right to be placed above anybody else, including you."

Correct. But this does not mean that one can't explain why one is convinced of one's subjective values, and try to persuade others to share them.
I have no problem recommending e. g. honesty, generosity, etc, but don't make the mistake to believe they are objective values.

I would include deconstructionism itself as being "subjective" and "ideological," as not everybody agrees with it." (end quote)

The challege is to disprove my claim of Rand's philosophy being based on the fallacy of objective values.
Another fallacy is her belief that altruism exists.

Please name objective ethical values and I'll stand corrected.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote:
have no problem recommending e. g. honesty, generosity, etc, but don't make the mistake to believe they are objective values.

I will make that "mistake" because they have been objectively defined, only not by Rand. I would never accuse Objectivism of being objective, by the way. Obviously since the entire theory is based on an "if" statement, it comes down to a matter of preferences.

Honesty (et al.) has been objectively derived using the logical reasoning of Kant's CI formula of universalization. This fits in well with your idea that moral values consist in opinions that cannot be universalized. If universalization (not a public opinion poll) is logically definable, then moral values are objective.

Cavewight said...

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/#ForUniLawNat

5. The Formula of the Universal Law of Nature
Kant's first formulation of the CI states that you are to “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.” (G 4:421) O'Neill (1975, 1989) and Rawls (1989, 1999), among others, take this formulation in effect to summarize a decision procedure for moral reasoning, and I will follow them: First, formulate a maxim that enshrines your reason for acting as you propose. Second, recast that maxim as a universal law of nature governing all rational agents, and so as holding that all must, by natural law, act as you yourself propose to act in these circumstances. Third, consider whether your maxim is even conceivable in a world governed by this law of nature. If it is, then, fourth, ask yourself whether you would, or could, rationally will to act on your maxim in such a world. If you could, then your action is morally permissible.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote:
My personl ethical values are subjective, just as yours and everyone else's, yes.
As for analyzing Rand's pholosophy, imo it is based on epistemological fallacy. The claim of fallacy has to stand uo to scrutiny, i. e. is subject to proof/disproof.
Merely claiming that your discussion opponent's views are subjective is no disproof.


I agree that calling your opponent's view "subjective" is not disproof in itself. But now I am perplexed, because moral proof/disproof implies objectivity.

Cavewight said...

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/#ForUniLawNat
[Morally], Humanity is an objective end, because it is an end that every rational being must have insofar as she is rational. Hence, it limits what I am morally permitted to do when I pursue my positive and subjective negative ends.

Xray said...

Cavewight wrote:

"Honesty (et al.) has been
objectively derived using the logical reasoning of Kant's CI formula of universalization."

Can you think of a reason why then Rand hated Kant so much, calling him the "most evil man in mankind's history"?

She also depised J. Rawls btw. whom you mentioned too.


As for Kant's CI you mentionied:

"Kant's first formulation of the CI states that you are to “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.”
(end quote)

Okay, let's do he test and take the case of e. g. Hitler who no doubt acted only in accordance with that maxim "through which he at the same time will that it become universal law".

Notice something via this drastic example? The rub is that people's individual ideas of what they would WANT as "universal law" DIFFER enormously.
For Hitler, it was getting the world free of "vermin", as he called those persons who did not fit his racist ideal. That was the "maxim" in accordance with which he acted.

"I will make that "mistake" because they have been objectively defined, only not by Rand." (end quote)

DEFINED, yes. A definition is something neutral - it describes, but does not value.

Defining e. g. "pride" does not say whether one considers it as a value or non-value.

Daniel Barnes said...

X-Ray:
>As for analyzing Rand's pholosophy, imo it is based on epistemological fallacy.

Hi X-Ray,

This is correct, I suppose, in that if you had to select one of Objectivism's many fallacies as being fundamental, you could choose this one - especially as Rand herself made her epistemology fundamental to all of Objectivism. She even grandiosely refers to herself as an "epistemologist". What makes this even nicer is that her epistemology is easily the most feeble part of her writing - a ramshackle concoction of word games, faulty logic, misunderstood problems, unwitting contradictions, handwaving, vague yet forcefully expressed assertions, and random insults. In fact it's almost a kind of madness.

If you like you can visualise Objectivism as a house of cards, only inverted and resting on a single, wavering card. This itself kept in place by a great deal of huffing and puffing...;-)

Cavewight said...

Xray:
It is inevitable in these threads that someone will mention Hitler, it is just a matter of finding out who will be the first.

And if you understand the CI, you will know immediately that none of Hitler's actions can even remotely be justified by the CI of Humanity. But we're talking about universalizability here, in which a moral agent tries to intuit a world in which there is the imperfect duty upon all, as a law of nature, to murder others to attain the goal of absolute statism. I'm afraid civilization would not stand for long if one had no choice but to murder others who (you believe) stand in your way, and neither would the CI, so the moral maxim of murdering others to achieve your goals is self-defeating.

And what really was my point? I quoted you a line from that page (which contains a really good article on the subject of Kantian philosophy) stating that the CI of Humanity is objective. But you gave no response that I can see. Here it is again:
[Morally], Humanity is an objective end, because it is an end that every rational being must have insofar as she is rational. Hence, it limits what I am morally permitted to do when I pursue my positive and subjective negative ends.

Rand hated Kant because every religion needs a Satan. She even cast the entire history of philosophy in terms of Good vs. Evil as if it were one of her novels.

I didn't actually mention Rawls, that was part of a quote. I have seen no evidence that Rand understood Rawls or his work which she condemned ("A Theory of Justice") as evil.

Cavewight said...

Daniel:
Xray is saying that Rand's moral theory is based in a fallacy found in her theory of epistemology. But he doesn't go into detail, and I myself am not certain which epistemological fallacy her moral theory is founded upon.

Xtra Laj said...

Xray,

Notice something via this drastic example? The rub is that people's individual ideas of what they would WANT as "universal law" DIFFER enormously.
For Hitler, it was getting the world free of "vermin", as he called those persons who did not fit his racist ideal. That was the "maxim" in accordance with which he acted.


Quite a few of us on this website have pointed this out to Cavewight, Greg especially with his channeling of Pareto. In fact, there is an extended critique of Kant posted by Pareto that shows that the CI as it is gives very little moral guidance and is a comforting rationalization of anyone's practical ethics. All you have to do is add enough qualifiers and you get to a situation where the rub is whether you really agree or disagree that this or that person is vermin etc., which the CI can never resolve in the first place.

Don't lose any sleep over it. Cavewight is an Kantivist. For him, Kant can say no wrong.

Xray said...

Answer to Cavewight in two parts due to limitation of characters.

Part I:
"Xray:
It is inevitable in these threads that someone will mention Hitler, it is just a matter of finding out who will be the first." (end quote)

In a discussion on ethics, it is to be expected that a character like Hitler will be mentioned at some point.

"And if you understand the CI, you will know immediately that none of Hitler's actions can even remotely be justified by the CI of Humanity. But we're talking about universalizability here, in which a moral agent tries to intuit a world in which there is the imperfect duty upon all, as a law of nature, to murder others to attain the goal of absolute statism. I'm afraid civilization would not stand for long if one had no choice but to murder others who (you believe) stand in your way, and neither would the CI, so the moral maxim of murdering others to achieve your goals is self-defeating." (end quote)

I used the drastic Hitler example to demonstrate that most philosophical recommendations like e. g. the CI are subjective value judgements too, with the author using his own idea of "humanity" as the backdrop.

Hitler simply denied the so-called "non-arians" the status of humans by arbitrarily categorizing them as "sub-humans".
Therefore Hitler's idea of "humanity" would of course vastly have differed from Kant’s - for all the “non-arians” and his ideological enemies would have had no right to be treated as humans.

But Hitler was such a cruel monster, one might add. Too extreme a case.
Then let's look at others: for example, the Old Greek philosophers. Has any of them ever gotten the idea that their slaves had the same ‘human’ rights as their masters?

As for Kant's idea of what constitutes "Humanity", this in turn was influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment Age. But don’t believe his idea of “humanity” was extended to the female part of the population. In the French Revolution, Olympe de Gouges was guillotinized for demanding equal rights for women, and women were forbidden every political activity.
So much for ”egalité”.

“Liberty”, “Freedom” “Humanity” "Justice” are all empty word shells filled with whatever sense people individually project into them.

Xray said...

Part II

Cavewight wrote:
“And what really was my point? I quoted you a line from that page (which contains a really good article on the subject of Kantian philosophy) stating that the CI of Humanity is objective. But you gave no response that I can see."

"[Morally], Humanity is an objective end, because it is an end that every rational being must have insofar as she is rational. Hence, it limits what I am morally permitted to do when I pursue my positive and subjective negative ends." (end quote)

Here we have it again: what precisely IS "Humanity" in the eyes of the person(s) propagating it? Such terms remain floating abstractions unless the skeleton is filled with flesh by getting the propagators to put their philosophical/ideological cards on the table. THAT'S where it starts getting interesting.
Suppose one asked, let's say, a Marxist, a militant muslim, an Objectivist, an advocate of abortion, a Jehova's witness, a biologist in a genetic research program, a business owner letting children work for him in a third world sweat shop - what do you think their idea of "humanity" and “justice” would be? What answers would one get from them?

"Rand hated Kant because every religion needs a Satan. She even cast the entire history of philosophy in terms of Good vs. Evil as if it were one of her novels." (end quote)

Well said. Objectivism is indeed a religion. It has all the traits: Goddess cult worship, many blind followers uncritically believing as gospel every word which came from the goddess’s mouth, High Priests, and also schisms among the followers (e. g. Kelley vs. Peikoff) as to what the "right" Objectivist “faith”.is. And it IS a faith, no question.

"I didn't actually mention Rawls, that was part of a quote." (end quote)
I knew it was a quote (from a very very useful site)." :)

"I have seen no evidence that Rand understood Rawls or his work which she condemned ("A Theory of Justice") as evil." (end quote)

Since Rand adhered to some personal ideal of “man” as "superman" towering above the others, it would explain her disdain of theories like John Rawls's.

Xray said...

Xtra Laj wrote:
"Don't lose any sleep over it. Cavewight is an Kantivist. For him, Kant can say no wrong." (end quote)

No problem. :)
Debating with someone holding an opposing view on certain issues keeps me on my toes and offers the opportunity to continually (re)check my own premises.

Xray said...

Cavewight wrote:

"Daniel:
Xray is saying that Rand's moral theory is based in a fallacy found in her theory of epistemology. But he [I'm a 'she'] doesn't go into detail, and I myself am not certain which epistemological fallacy her moral theory is founded upon." (end quote)

Cavewight,
One of Rand's epistemological fallacies is her belief that "objective" values exist. I have tried to get into detail n my past posts; I can demonstrate it with more examples if you wish - I like to use concrete examples often, since they can often serve to illustrate the point better than mere theoretical elaborations.

The erroneous belief in the existence of "objective" values is based on the failure to realize that the term, "to value" means
"attributing value"; and that whatever is subject to being valued is also subject to being disvalued.

Daniel Barnes wrote:

"Hi X-Ray,

This is correct, I suppose, in that if you had to select one of Objectivism's many fallacies as being fundamental, you could choose this one - especially as Rand herself made her epistemology fundamental to all of Objectivism. She even grandiosely refers to herself as an "epistemologist". What makes this even nicer is that her epistemology is easily the most feeble part of her writing - a ramshackle concoction of word games, faulty logic, misunderstood problems, unwitting contradictions, handwaving, vague yet forcefully expressed assertions, and random insults. In fact it's almost a kind of madness." (end quote)

Hi Daniel,

Indeed, when one reads Rand's work, her muddled teminology is baffling.
She often uses terms contrary to their meaning, and in addition, contradicts her own terms.
For instance, in TVOS, she points out that values can only be attributed by a valuer in the face of an alternative, and in another passage she writes about plants seeking values (!).
This and many other examples of the stuff she wrote her work comes close to the confused ramblings of madwoman.

If you like you can visualise Objectivism as a house of cards, only inverted and resting on a single, wavering card. This itself kept in place by a great deal of huffing and puffing...;-)

Very apt comparison! :-)

Anonymous said...

Erratum: Forgot to put D. Barnes' comment in quotes, sorry:

Daniel Barnes:
"If you like you can visualise Objectivism as a house of cards, only inverted and resting on a single, wavering card. This itself kept in place by a great deal of huffing and puffing...;-)"
(end quote)

Very apt comparison! :-)

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote: Here we have it again: what precisely IS "Humanity" in the eyes of the person(s) propagating it?
Words have definitions, in this I agree with the Objectivists. "Humanity" is objectively definable as you can see at the page I cited: Our ‘Humanity’ is that collection of features that make us distinctively human, and these include capacities to engage in self-directed rational behavior and to adopt and pursue our own ends, and any other capacities necessarily connected with these. Not so "floating" after all, nor subjective.

Xray wrote:
Notice something via this drastic example? The rub is that people's individual ideas of what they would WANT as "universal law" DIFFER enormously.
For Hitler, it was getting the world free of "vermin", as he called those persons who did not fit his racist ideal. That was the "maxim" in accordance with which he acted.


The CI consists of a number of tests, not just that one. A maxim may pass one test and fail all the rest. And anyway, I have read parts of Mein Kampf and found Hitler's arguments (he doesn't rant, he actually does try to sound reasonable) to be quite wanting. Of course they are based in racism, racism is not just evil it is also illogical, and moreover, anti-Kantian.

Xray wrote: what do you think their idea of "humanity" and “justice” would be? What answers would one get from them?

The people in your example often 'define' abstractions on a personal level where they understand things intuitively, on the basis of imminent need, or on the basis of experience.

But there is a reason why those values exist, and this reason can be objectively defined. In general, each person is pursuing universality. In general, each person (even Hitler) is pursuing the idea of Humanity (albeit in a demented fashion). And since this is an intersubjective trait, common to fascists, Jews, and everybody else, you would then have to agree that it is objective even if the particulars differ for every single individual.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote: As for Kant's idea of what constitutes "Humanity", this in turn was influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment Age. But don’t believe his idea of “humanity” was extended to the female part of the population.

Your example of Olympe de Gouges doesn't say anything about Kant's views of women. Most of Kant's views on women can be found in his work "Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime," if you really want to know. However, I do know that Kant was not in favor of guillotining people simply for holding certain views. The philosophers of the time at least were (mostly) products of the Enlightenment even if the people were not, and perhaps never will be.

As for not extending Humanity to women, that would certainly be Rand who thought that "a man is defined by his relationship to the universe, a woman by her relationship to a man." And Kant did not advise Maria von Herbert to do anything more than obey the rational command to duty - not duty to a husband, but duty to moral reason.

Xray wrote: I used the drastic Hitler example to demonstrate that most philosophical recommendations like e. g. the CI are subjective value judgements too, with the author using his own idea of "humanity" as the backdrop.

Even if Hitler had to rationalize humanity according to the needs of his racist views, he still worked from an idea which is objectively definable even if his application of that idea was not objective. The subjective application of a concept does not thereby reduce it to subjectivity. That is still begging the question, as it relies on an objective ground of the concept as any basis for subjectifying it, that is, filtering it through one's own peculiar biases. Your argument thus defeats itself, as everybody works from a common ground but comes up with a different practical solution. The common ground is not thereby affected, it is, indeed, a priori (i.e., universal and necessary) to the very effort at subjectifying it.

And on a more humorous note,
Xtra Laj wrote:
"Don't lose any sleep over it. Cavewight is an Kantivist. For him, Kant can say no wrong." (end quote)

Xtra is always looking for labels to pin on people so he can find their weak spot. He spent some time trying to find out if I was a "this-ist" or a "that-ist" - as if this were important to the arguments at hand. But labeling is just ad hominem and thus easily dismissed. Arguments stand or fall on their own, this has nothing to do with ideologies.

As for whether Kant can do no wrong, many critics have pointed out Kant's weaker arguments. And anyway it would be quite anti-Critical to consider Kant to be some kind of perfect deity, it would be against both the letter and the spirit of Critique.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote: The erroneous belief in the existence of "objective" values is based on the failure to realize that the term, "to value" means "attributing value"; and that whatever is subject to being valued is also subject to being disvalued.

Yet there is a distinction between "to value" and the noun "value." Even if some values are forced upon us by nature, you can still choose not to value them - however, those values are still objective.

Xray said...

Caverwight wrote:

"Xray wrote: The erroneous belief in the existence of "objective" values is based on the failure to realize that the term, "to value" means "attributing value"; and that whatever is subject to being valued is also subject to being disvalued."

Cavewight: "Yet there is a distinction between "to value" and the noun "value." Even if some values are forced upon us by nature, you can still choose not to value them - however, those values are still objective." (end quote)


Cavewight,
The distinction is merely syntactical, not semantical.
The linguistic technical term is "conversion", referring to the fact that words can change classes (from verb to noun or vice versa) without alteration of the audio-visual symbol.
The English language is particularly rich in those conversions.
Therefore the noun "value" is just a shortcut of language, presupposing the act of attributing value.

Some random examples from many:
to draft/a draft; to drag - a drag; to dream - a dream; to bend -a bend; to slide - a slide; to love - love (noun); to value - value (noun); to hate - hate (noun), and many more.

"Even if some values are forced upon us by nature, you can still choose not to value them - however, those values are still objective." (end quote)

No values can be forced upon anyone, let alone by nature.
This is technically impossible since "value" presupposes the mental act of attributing value by a consciuos and volitinal entity.
This excludes nature as an agent.

As for human beings and their values - it is true that people, (especially when propagating ideologies), can TRY to force their personal values and beliefs as alleged "objective" values upon others.

Some examples: "the dictature of the proletariat"; "eating meat is objectively immoral because an animal has to die for it"; "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori", the Old Roman saying for soldiers sent into battle; in the Bible, eating from the tree of knowledge was considered as an objective non-value to the point of being considered a crime because it violated the the supreme authority's (god's), command.

But the truth is that NO ONE can actually force another person to psychologically accept one's values as values of their own. A person may outwardly comply when forced, but "valuing" is an inner mental process implying free choice of mind.

Daniel Barnes said...

Xray:
>But the truth is that NO ONE can actually force another person to psychologically accept one's values as values of their own.

The situation is this: the (partial) subjectivity of ethics is an essential part of it. That is to say, the is/ought problem isn't a bug, *it's a feature*!

Xray said...

"Even if Hitler had to rationalize humanity according to the needs of his racist views, he still worked from an idea which is objectively definable even if his application of that idea was not objective."
(end quote)

It is important to be very clear about the use of the term "objective", to avoid mixing up the levels where it is applied.

One can of course objectvely describe the various values held by a person.
For example it is an objective fact (objective in connection with "fact" is actually redundant and used by me as mere emphasis here)that Ayn Rand's objectvist ethics holds "man's life as the standard of life". This fact can be checked out it TVOS, p. 27.

So in a scientific approach, one
can objectively define and describe each of Hitler's proclaimed values and virtues in detail.

But all description of values (whatever they may be), does not make ANY of those values one iota more objective - for values can't be be anything but subjective.

There also exists no absolute "good" or "bad". To say "good" or "bad" is to say 'suited to individual purpose'.
Good/bad refers to the objective evaluation of means chosen in respect to a subjectively chosen end.

Example: A bucket of water dropped on fire is "good" when the chosen goal is to extinguish the fire, but "bad" when the goal is to keep the fire burning.

Xray said...

Cavewight wrote:

"But there is a reason why those values exist, and this reason can be objectively defined. In general, each person is pursuing universality. In general, each person (even Hitler) is pursuing the idea of Humanity (albeit in a demented fashion). And since this is an intersubjective trait, common to fascists, Jews, and everybody else, you would then have to agree that it is objective even if the particulars differ for every single individual."
(end quote)

The objective aspect lies in the fact that every individual is an entity subjectively attributing value to this or that.

As to your claim of each person pursuing humanity, it does not apply to e.g. a nihilist.

"As for not extending Humanity to women, that would certainly be Rand who thought that 'a man is defined by his relationship to the universe, a woman by her relationship to a man.'"
(end quote)

Cavewight, could you please give me the exact source of that statement by Rand? TIA.

Rand was actually something like a male chauvinist. This is also obvious in her novels.

"And Kant did not advise Maria von Herbert to do anything more than obey the rational command to duty -not duty to a husband, but duty to moral reason." (end quote)

I just did a quick scan on Wikipedia which offers a good overview.
That was a most interesting correspondence between Kant and Maria von Herbert!
I was deeply moved by that poor woman's personal torment (my guess is she had had a lover before and held the info back from the man who then, as he found out, chose to end the relationship).

Do you think Kant helped her with his advice? He may have come across as cold and unfeeling to her imo.
Is it true that Kant showed Maria's very personal letter to other people, making mocking remarks aboutit?

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote: No values can be forced upon anyone, let alone by nature. This is technically impossible since "value" presupposes the mental act of attributing value by a consciuos and volitinal entity.
This excludes nature as an agent.


I would agree only not in your psychological terms. I would also agree in that none of these values are *intrinsic* to the objects being valued, to put it more technically. They do not possess any intrinsic value outside of any reference to a valuer.

However, that in itself does not prove values are subjective (which I take to mean "wholly within the mind"). Because it is likewise the case that the ability to value could not exist without some reason for valuing, valuing does not occur in a vacuum, and that reason must be a priori to the act itself.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote: Do you think Kant helped her with his advice? He may have come across as cold and unfeeling to her imo.
Is it true that Kant showed Maria's very personal letter to other people, making mocking remarks aboutit?


I'll provide the cite you requested later. I thought Kant's first response to von Herbert anyway was beautifully written and well-thought out. What Kant could not have known, however, was that she was mentally ill. And really, there is no philosophical respite for that sort of thing.

Eventually Kant discovered that Maria's problem was more fundamental than his philosophy could provide help for, and so he sent a package to one of his friends containing her letters with the words "A Warning" written on the package.

But all I'm saying is that his responses to her were never chauvinistic, he treated her as an equal until he discovered her true problem, and then he ended the conversation.

Cavewight said...

Xray:

I found the cite you requested, I originally read it in Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand probably around page 18.

Branden detractors will doubt the veracity of Barbara's quote. However, given Rand's statements about a female president, the quote doesn't sound too far off the mark concerning Rand's beliefs about women.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote: - for values can't be be anything but subjective.

Why?

Cavewight said...

So What's Wrong with the Sensible Knave?

(A start on answering the question "why values are objective.")

Xray said...

Cavewight wrote:

"Xray:

I found the cite you requested, I originally read it in Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand probably around page 18.

Branden detractors will doubt the veracity of Barbara's quote. However, given Rand's statements about a female president, the quote doesn't sound too far off the mark concerning Rand's beliefs about women."
(end quote)

Cavewight, I looked at page 18, in B. Branden's book and it says there:
"Man, she would say, is defined by his relationship to reality - woman, by her relationship to man."
(end quote)

Is that the quote you meant?

Xray said...

Cavewight wrote:

"I would agree only not in your psychological terms. I would also agree in that none of these values are *intrinsic* to the objects being valued, to put it more technically. They do not possess any intrinsic value outside of any reference to a valuer."
(end quote)

Correct. So this would be a common basis here for the discussion.

"However, that in itself does not prove values are subjective (which I take to mean "wholly within the mind"). Because it is likewise the case that the ability to value could not exist without some reason for valuing, valuing does not occur in a vacuum, and that reason must be a priori to the act itself."
(end quote)

This is of course correct. By "subjective", I don't mean 'existing only in the mind of a person' like e g. a Fata Morgana or some fantasy unconnected to reality.
By subjective in "subjective" values I mean connected to the personal (subjective) interests/motives of the individual attributing value to this or that.

Rand:
"'Value' is that which one acts to gain and/or keep.
"The concept "value" is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the
question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity
capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative.
Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible."

Imo this is of the few times Rand got her premises right.

Cavewight said...

Xray:

Yes, that's the quote, although it appears to be Barbara paraphrasing Rand.

The thing really puzzling me is the inconsistency of Rand's overall view of women. On the one hand she would only view woman in relationship to man, on the other hand the woman is on an equal footing socially, and I presume, metaphysically, as you can see by her heroines. Yet even Dagny Taggart, when she is at the top of her game, finds that there is a man who is far more advanced than she is and at whose feet she can worship.

Cavewight said...

Xray wrote: By subjective in "subjective" values I mean connected to the personal (subjective) interests/motives of the individual attributing value to this or that.

Rand:
"'Value' is that which one acts to gain and/or keep.
"The concept "value" is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the
question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity
capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative.
Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible."

Imo this is of the few times Rand got her premises right.


Certainly, she got it right because she stated the blatantly obvious in this case.

I think the alleged objectivity of Rand's moral theory derives from the biological basis concerning an animal's primary means of survival. This means of survival can be conceptualized thus defined. Man is not an exception to this rule, thus the human species can be objectively conceptualized and defined. Conceptualization ("epistemology"), which is defined as identification and integration of the facts of reality (in this case, the facts of man's fundamental reality) forms the objective basis for her morality.

If the basis for her morality is objective, then it no longer matters whether anybody makes the pre-moral choice to define his morality in terms of the principle of man's life. It is just as objective as anything else, and lacking this knowledge can be considered evasive, an unquestionable evil, or a simple cognitive error.

Thus, the question of making a pre-moral choice, which has been batted around for two or three decades now, fails.

Anyway, I don't consider epistemology, which often for the Randroids boils down to the mere use of logic, to be an objectifying grounds for argument. There is an implicit teleological argument sorely needed here. The Randroids think that identifying and integrating ("logic") are the entire secret to objectivity, when in fact objectivity itself begs a further grounds outside of itself.

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