Monday, December 08, 2008

Hoisted from comments: Michael Prescott On Rand's Ethics

Former Objectivist and regular ARCHNblog commenter Michael Prescott replies to current Objectivist and regular ARCHNblog commenter John Donohue, Pasadena with a simple yet devastating summary of the problems with the Objectivist Ethics.

Prescott: John, I'm afraid you can't dismiss the is-ought issue merely by saying that Rand didn't regard it as a problem. It remains a huge stumbling block (in my opinion, a fatal one) for any naturalistic ethics, whether Rand chose to acknowledge it or not.

"The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do."

In a certain sense, this is true, but it is not helpful to Rand's ethics. Here are some of the questions Rand needed to ask:

1. Is self-preservation the primary imperative of living things, or is it procreation? (Many species risk or even lose their lives in the act of reproducing, so it would appear that reproduction is, or can be, a stronger biological imperative than self-preservation.)

2. Does the concept of values apply to living things that have no conceptual consciousness? If not, isn't it a category error to talk about the "values" of plants and insects?

3. If biological self-preservation is the standard of value, then are we talking about the preservation of the individual or the community/species? If the former, then can't the individual do whatever is necessary to survive, even if it means looting and killing? If the latter, then can't the individual be sacrificed to the collective?

4. Isn't it begging the question to say that man's standard of value is the life "proper" to man, when determining what is "proper" requires a standard of value in the first place?

5. Using the vague concepts of "life" and "what is proper to man," couldn't we rationalize and justify almost any course of action? (In fact, this is the is-ought problem in a nutshell; the ethical naturalist always makes an unwarranted move from facts to values, blurring the distinction with rhetoric or equivocation. The values in question are never necessitated by the facts, but rather are values that the ethicist happens to prefer - in Rand's case, honesty, integrity, productiveness, pride, etc.)

6. Is it really the case that man cannot survive unless he practices the Objectivist ethics? Do people who are dishonest, who lack integrity, who are nonproductive, who have self-esteem issues ... really die? Or do they somehow usually muddle through? Isn't it the case that some dishonest people make out very well in life? Is material success inextricably tied to personal virtue, so that millionaires are inevitably more virtuous than people who are less well off?

7. If life is the standard, then what exactly do we mean by life? Are we talking about simple longevity, or about quality of life? If the former, aren't there are many evil and destructive people who live to a ripe old age? If the latter, how do we use "quality of life" as a standard of value, when we need a standard by which to judge "quality"? And how can we objectively judge "quality of life" anyway?

8. Rand says that people who don't live up to her standards are subhuman. Isn't this is a backhanded way of admitting that it is possible to live a long, comfortable life without practicing her virtues, but then waving off this fact by asserting that such people "don't count" because they're not "really" human? In other words, isn't it just a rhetorical device used to disguise the fact that non-Objectivists often survive and even flourish - a fact that, if openly acknowledged, would prove fatal to her argument?

9. If man cannot survive without an explicit code of values, then how did human beings survive for all the centuries before philosophy came along to enlighten them?

There are other questions, but I think that's enough to show that Rand's argument doesn't amount to much. It is good rhetoric, though. She was a first-rate polemicist, just not a first- or even second-rate philosopher.

101 comments:

Michael Prescott said...

Cool! I got my own post.

I feel like an angel who's earned his wings.

:)

In fairness, I should point out that none of my objections are original. Many of them come from John Robbins' book Without a Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System. Though I disagree with Robbins' philosophy (Calvinism), I found his arguments against Rand very strong.

HerbSewell said...

"1. Is self-preservation the primary imperative of living things, or is it procreation?"

Regardless of what it is, an organism still has to live as itself, or by its nature. If an organism's nature requires it to procreate then to not procreate would be acting against its own nature, or towards its own destruction. In order for the organism to live as itself, it can not contradict its own nature.

"2. Does the concept of values apply to living things that have no conceptual consciousness? If not, isn't it a category error to talk about the "values" of plants and insects?"

Rand explicitly covered this, saying that anything that a conscious body seeks to achieve is a value. On the other hand, because these organisms lack significant abilities in cognition, they can not make value-judgments that are not perceptual in nature, (much less conceptual value-judgments.)

"3. If biological self-preservation is the standard of value, then are we talking about the preservation of the individual or the community/species? If the former, then can't the individual do whatever is necessary to survive, even if it means looting and killing? If the latter, then can't the individual be sacrificed to the collective?"

This is the same question as the first, just in a different form. If a specific organism's nature requires it to sacrifice itself towards the collective then it would be working towards its own destruction to not do so. Acting in one's own nature does not necessarily lead to survival.

"4. Isn't it begging the question to say that man's standard of value is the life "proper" to man, when determining what is "proper" requires a standard of value in the first place?"

Not necessarily. First, one must identify by a standard of evaluation what is man's nature and what must man do in order to live as man qua man. Then, what would be "proper" would be the life that man has by his nature. Any other life would not be in his nature, and living it would be towards his destruction.

"5. Using the vague concepts of "life" and "what is proper to man," couldn't we rationalize and justify almost any course of action? (In fact, this is the is-ought problem in a nutshell; the ethical naturalist always makes an unwarranted move from facts to values, blurring the distinction with rhetoric or equivocation. The values in question are never necessitated by the facts, but rather are values that the ethicist happens to prefer - in Rand's case, honesty, integrity, productiveness, pride, etc.)"

If you use a irrational standard of evaluation then of course you could justify any course of action. The standard of evaluation here would be what is good for "life", a self-sustaining and self-generated action, as a "man", which is to be defined by epistemologists, or for an even closer dissection, a psychological anthropologist. Only the actions which further man's life are "proper" for his life, and actions that are against his life are "improper" for his life.

"6. Is it really the case that man cannot survive unless he practices the Objectivist ethics? Do people who are dishonest, who lack integrity, who are nonproductive, who have self-esteem issues ... really die? Or do they somehow usually muddle through? Isn't it the case that some dishonest people make out very well in life? Is material success inextricably tied to personal virtue, so that millionaires are inevitably more virtuous than people who are less well off?"

You're misunderstand the point of self-reserving ethics as far as the Objectivist ethics go. There are many hypothetical possibilities in which one, exercising the Objectivist ethics, would give up his life to preserve an idea/people/person. All the Objectivist ethics exist to guide man for him to live a man qua man, with happiness as the single moral purpose of his life.

"7. If life is the standard, then what exactly do we mean by life? Are we talking about simple longevity, or about quality of life? If the former, aren't there are many evil and destructive people who live to a ripe old age? If the latter, how do we use "quality of life" as a standard of value, when we need a standard by which to judge "quality"? And how can we objectively judge "quality of life" anyway?"

Ayn Rand explained this many times. The short answer is for man to live as man qua man. The long answer is that life is a self-sustaining and self-generated process. That means that these two have to be maintained above all else, and for an organism to act in any way that would either impede these actions or not grow them by its own volition is against his life.

"8. Rand says that people who don't live up to her standards are subhuman. Isn't this is a backhanded way of admitting that it is possible to live a long, comfortable life without practicing her virtues, but then waving off this fact by asserting that such people "don't count" because they're not "really" human? In other words, isn't it just a rhetorical device used to disguise the fact that non-Objectivists often survive and even flourish - a fact that, if openly acknowledged, would prove fatal to her argument?"

I would honestly like to see where she says that someone not living up to her standards is subhuman. Even supposing that is literally what she said and meant, she defined her standards as the only ones that allow and guide man to live as a fully-functional human. Anyone who chooses not to live and to accept death conceptually or does not have the volition to choose otherwise would be sub-human.

"9. If man cannot survive without an explicit code of values, then how did human beings survive for all the centuries before philosophy came along to enlighten them?"

Again, maybe man can "live" without an explicit code of values, but he will live by letting his "subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by [his] subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown" Over the last several dozen millenniums of humanities existence being bogged down with such volitional abominations such as religion and war, it was only philosophy that could elevate man to the status he is today. Every single aspect that makes mankind into a civilization has been justified by philosophy.

"There are other questions, but I think that's enough to show that Rand's argument doesn't amount to much. It is good rhetoric, though. She was a first-rate polemicist, just not a first- or even second-rate philosopher."

I don't think so. Asking most of these questions shows a poor understanding and comprehension of the Objectivist ethics, as she's addressed all of these questions in some say or another in her literature.

Michael Prescott said...

"I would honestly like to see where she says that someone not living up to her standards is subhuman." - Herb

"Man cannot survive as anything but man. He can abandon his means of survival, his mind, he can turn himself into a subhuman creature and he can turn his life into a brief span of agony—just as his body can exist for a while in the process of disintegration by disease. But he cannot succeed, as a subhuman, in achieving anything but the subhuman—as the ugly horror of the antirational periods of mankind’s history can demonstrate. Man has to be man by choice— and it is the task of ethics to teach him how to live like man." - Ayn Rand, "The Objectivist Ethics" (complete text here)

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

I think her standards were significantly higher than simply living not abandoning one's needs for survival. When I read standards, I thought of the standard of perfection that she used to create characters from her novels like Howard Roark or John Galt, to which she could probably not claim she met. Any way, I agree with her. Any man who conceptually chooses death over life, nonexistence over existence, unconsciousness over consciousness, or feelings over thought is subhuman, as he is acting against any aspect of his life because he has renounced man's basic tool of survival: reason.

Damien said...

HerbSewell,

you said,
---------------------------------------------------------------
Regardless of what it is, an organism still has to live as itself, or by its nature. If an organism's nature requires it to procreate then to not procreate would be acting against its own nature, or towards its own destruction. In order for the organism to live as itself, it can not contradict its own nature.
---------------------------------------------------------------

Some animals perform what is known as sexual_cannibalism. If you were a male praying_mantis having sex would be risking your life. This might be good for the species, but its arguably not good for the male preying mantis, who was just eaten by the female he mated with. The male mantis' act maybe natural, and it may help the species survive, but it also might mean his own destruction. Off course the male mantis probably doesn't understand enough to care.

HerbSewell said...

In this case, the biological urge to reproduce is stronger than its desire to stay alive. Through natural selection, a mantis is destined carry out this task as it is in its nature. Of course, plants and animals of that lower nature can only live on the perceptual level, so not only could they not disobey their nature if they tried, they don't even have the conceptual urge to do otherwise.

john said...

I cannot write at length tonight but will just chime in to say that all it took was a few calm and amazingly polite responses from Herb Sewell to un-devastate and indeed embarrass Mr. Prescott.

Here are my short barbs.
1) fascinated with the efforts of Mr. Prescott to extend ethics into the realm of plants and animals and wonder if he can link any of their blogs where they complain about not being recognized as beings of volitional consciousness, which are the only living things requiring ethical codes for their individuals.

2) astonished at the lengths taken to eviscerate the idea of "life" for the person holding the ethical code from self-sustenance, thriving, purposefulness, planning, study, persistence, goals, guided action, prosperity in all monetary and personal respects towards a state of highest areté. Down to the what? Species survival, plant values, human sacrifice and criminals.

3) remarkable how a direct quote from Ayn Rand cuts through the fog and nails the objection to the floor by the comparison of what she actually said with the author(s) attempted spin. I should just shut up, go back up to the mother ship and nuke this site from space using Rand's words.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Andrew said...

HerbSewell-

"Any man who conceptually chooses death over life, nonexistence over existence, unconsciousness over consciousness, or feelings over thought is subhuman, as he is acting against any aspect of his life because he has renounced man's basic tool of survival: reason."

Dont you think that reducing things to histrionic emphatic dichotomies is an oversimplification? Adding that we know psychology, biological individuality and environmental factors to be largely deterministic. How could these different paths of existence be issues of pure choice? To relegate these issues to matters of a dichotomy of choice is to ignore all nuances of human existence.

Nathanial Branden came to reject Rands disturbed view on emotions, or that thinking and strong, deep feeling cannot co-exist in harmony. As he said, "Feel deeply and think clearly".

These bizarre dichotomies seem to be par for the course in Rands work. Observe your examples.

And yes, reason is mans basic tool of survival, basic tool.

But remember the most rationalistic technocratic structures have done the most damage to humanity. The holocaust was a very rationally thought out program.

As Nietzsche said, "Human reason, is not all that reasonable".

There are other values of equal if not greater importance to focus on.

Andrew said...

Additionally, I am not arguing against reason, I am in favor of adding other values of pragmatic humanism to balance reason. To effectively achieve a more desirable total result for society.

When Rand looked back at history and saw dark ages of human suffering, she saw a lack of reason. But what other values did these era's lack? Surely more than just reason. Its obvious to see this judgment as an instance of Rands pervasive confirmation bias.

HerbSewell said...

Again, I'm speaking ethically, in which I'm speaking of volition. Clearly, there are many people who do have volition but have neurological or physiological problems that prevent them from being happy. Those people are a special case. The only men who I would consider sub-human are people with complete volition whp choose unhappiness over happiness, like Gail Wynand in the Fountainhead. There's also the issue of mentally retarded who have the fully developed cognition of an infant. I would consider them sub-human because they lack even the smallest amount of rationality to be conscious.

"But remember the most rationalistic technocratic structures have done the most damage to humanity. The holocaust was a very rationally thought out program."

Nearly the entirety of the Nazi's philosophy was mystical in nature. Carrying it out systemically does not a rational mentality make.

"Nathanial Branden came to reject Rands disturbed view on emotions, or that thinking and strong, deep feeling cannot co-exist in harmony. As he said, "Feel deeply and think clearly"."

I honestly think Nathaniel Branden just started damming Objectivism because Ayn Rand expelled him for having an affair with Patrecia Scott while they were having an affair with each other. While Rand could never describe emotions in a naturalistic way, (thus maybe giving a cognitive bias towards the Objectivist theory of emotions), I think that's such a small part of her philosophy that its sort of a question of semantics to argue over it. Should the study of emotions be more psychological or cognitive in nature? I haven't found a single aspect of Rand's ethics that can, (when well understood), conflict with the modern understanding of emotions or any potential understanding of emotions, (excluding that damn Kantian bastard Freud of course.)

HerbSewell said...

I've never heard of pragmatic humanism. In any case, Rand said that rationality, (the virtue that achieves the value of reason), is the source of all other virtues, but not the only one, in which she names the others in Galt's speech.

Michael Prescott said...

all it took was a few calm and amazingly polite responses from Herb Sewell to un-devastate and indeed embarrass Mr. Prescott.

While I appreciate the effort that Herb Sewell took in responding, I'm afraid I didn't find much of substance in what he had to say. It seemed like a lot of verbalistic handwaving to me.

For instance, he wrote:

"Regardless of what it is, an organism still has to live as itself, or by its nature. If an organism's nature requires it to procreate then to not procreate would be acting against its own nature, or towards its own destruction. In order for the organism to live as itself, it can not contradict its own nature."

All of which adds up to precisely nothing, as far as I can tell. If I am reading him correctly, he is saying that Rand's insight was that living things have to live "according to their nature" or they will perish. This is true in a trivial sense. Of course a bird that tried to live underwater or a fish that tried to live on dry land would perish, but no important philosophical inferences can be drawn from this fact.

For Rand's argument to work, she has to establish much more than the obvious fact that living things have to live as what they are and not as what they aren't. She needs to establish that life - biological self-preservation - is the prime directive of a living organism, its ultimate value (not merely an instrumental value).

Ipse dixit:

"Life can be kept in existence only by a constant process of self-sustaining action. The goal of that action, the ultimate value which, to be kept, must be gained through its every moment, is the organism’s life.

"An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means—and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism’s life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil." - A.R., "The Objectivist Ethics"

Note that she does not try to prove this point. She takes it as a given. But she is wrong, as countless examples from biology will attest, including Damien's praying mantis. It would be more correct to say, "An organism’s successful act of reproduction is its standard of value: that which furthers its chances of reproduction is the good, that which threatens its chances of reproduction is the evil."

This would be closer to the actual facts of biology (though "good" and "evil" would still be misnomers here), but you can see that if Rand had put it this way, her argument could not proceed, because she would not have established that the organism's ultimate value is its own life. Instead, she would have shown that an organism's life is only an instrumental value, a means to end, which is exactly the opposite of what she wants to say.

John wrote, "fascinated with the efforts of Mr. Prescott to extend ethics into the realm of plants and animals."

But it's Ayn Rand, not me, who tries to do this. I'm just calling attention to it. See the above quote from Rand about "good and evil" in the context of biological organisms.

HerbSewell said...

You're still misunderstanding her ethics. It's not necessarily biological preservation but living as one's nature. I am telling you right now that for her ethics to work, it's not about staying alive as the prime rational motivator, but discovering what one's life entails and then acting on those premises. I can not stress this enough as many people, like Robert Nozick, have misunderstood her ethics. Living according to one's nature does not necessarily mean biological survival. Even in her books, the characters speak of laying their lives down for someone because it would destroy one of the aspects of life that is critical for an organism to be a alive. In those situations, it was a cognitive desire to live. Galt states that he will have no desire to live if Dagny is tortured. Without that desire, Galt would have lost the self-sustaining aspect of his life, thus he would lost his self-esteem, man's highest value. Her ethics doesn't necessarily consist of egoism, which is placing life as the standard of value, but rational egoism, which is placing the self, the summation of one's values and virtues, as the standard of value. In man's nature, how much he wants to live is defined entirely by his self, his ego.

Michael Prescott said...

It may be worth adding that the technique we observe in the quoted part of Rand's essay is very typical of her.

She likes to present, at length and with an air of great philosophical discovery, some trivial and jejune truism, such as "living things must live according to their nature" - a fact that no one ever doubted. Then she will follow up by quickly making a far more controversial point, which she does not attempt to substantiate (in this case, that life is the ultimate value, and standard of value*, of an organism). It's as if the verbiage devoted to the obvious point will act as a smokescreen to cover the lack of support for her more dubious claim.

(I'm not saying she did it intentionally. In fact, she probably was unaware of it.)

I believe this methodology has been discussed and criticized in an earlier post on this blog, but I don't recall the details. Once it's pointed out, it's very noticeable and actually kind of funny.

*An ultimate value is not necessarily a standard of value, though Rand conflates the two - another weakness in her argument.

Michael Prescott said...

"It's not necessarily biological preservation but living as one's nature." - Herb Sewell

I understand this, but the problem is that her meta-ethical argument doesn't support that conclusion. What happens is that she starts off talking about biological preservation, then abruptly shifts gears when she gets to human life, suddenly saying that mere biological preservation isn't what "man qua man" is all about. She's certainly entitled to believe this, and I would agree with her, but in making this switch she throws away the earlier, supporting structure of her "biological" argument altogether. She is then left with nothing but her own say-so to support her contention that "man qua man" ought to (has to?) live a certain way. Lo and behold, it turns out that "man qua man" has to be an Objectivist! Who would have expected it?

In other words, she had two choices. One was to start with her biological argument and take it as far as it would go - in which case she would have ended up with a morality of "survival of the fittest" or "survival at any price." The other option was to forget about biology and say that physical survival is not the highest value, ultimate value, standard of value, or whatever one wants to call it, and then to choose some other standard, like "rationality."

Either option might have worked, at least up to a point, but what she ended up doing was trying to do both things at once - and the two things are contradictory. This is why her argument is incoherent. I will admit, however, that her rhetoric is good enough to disguise the incoherence in a first reading.

Ardsgaine said...

Did you miss the part of her argument where she points out that rationality is man's only tool of survival? That is the bridge between biological survival and survival qua man.

Certainly a man may muddle through in a half-assed manner, being irrational only on every third day of his life, but he survives by virtue of the two days on which he is rational.

If a man is in a canoe in a river that is flowing towards a waterfall, his survival depends on keeping the canoe from being washed downstream. He can muck about, paddling in random directions as the mood takes him, and as long as he averages zero movement downstream, he survives. Whoopie! Such a man will experience a great deal more anxiety and unhappiness than one who keeps his canoe headed upstream and puts a healthy distance between himself and the waterfall.

When we practice the virtues of rationality, productiveness, honesty, etc, we don't just survive, we thrive. The more we abandon those virtues, the more we slip downstream. Think of the virtues as a set of vectors that when added together must point in the direction of life in order for a man to thrive.

It is also far easier for men to muddle through if they live in a society where the vast majority of people are mostly rational, mostly productive, etc. Rand saw the that the societal trend was heading in the wrong direction, though, and that is what she was trying to stop. "Don't let it go."

It's a very straight forward philosophy, and there are plenty of expositions on Rand's ethics that would answer your questions, if you honestly want them answered. If you're just trying to lawyer your way out of it, though, you're really wasting your time. No one has you up on charges, except perhaps yourself.

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

Ardsgaine,

I'm not arguing that Rand didn't mean well, it just seems that your missing what we're saying here.

Damien said...

Ardsgaine,

you said,
-------------------------------------------
Did you miss the part of her argument where she points out that rationality is man's only tool of survival? That is the bridge between biological survival and survival qua man.
-------------------------------------------

Isn't there a difference through between survival and quality of life?
Staying alive and living the good life, are two different things. Although living a pleasurable, happy life, with lots of friends, depends on staying alive, you can stay alive and live a horrible miserable life. If your going to use survival as the standard of morality, to be logically consistent you will have to always oppose suicide, because, the one thing all successful suicides lead to, is the person who attempted the suicide to cease surviving. Do you think that suicide is wrong?

You can to a degree use reason to bring yourself closer to the way you ought to be, but that's different than just survival. All survival is, is staying alive.

Daniel Barnes said...

Ardsgaine:
>Did you miss the part of her argument where she points out that rationality is man's only tool of survival? That is the bridge between biological survival and survival qua man.

Ardsgaine,

Let's remind ourselves what Rand meant by "rationality" shall we? From the Lexicon:

Rand:"..It means a commitment to the principle that all of one’s convictions, values, goals, desires and actions must be based on, derived from, chosen and validated by a process of thought—as precise and scrupulous a process of thought, directed by as ruthlessly strict an application of logic, as one’s fullest capacity permits." (my italics)

So could you give us via a "ruthlessly strict application of logic" exactly how you get from "is" (fact) to "ought" (decision/value)?

Let's see your workings. Thanks.

john said...

Barnes: "...how you get from "is" (fact) to "ought" (decision/value)?"

Ardsgaine may or may not respond.

However, this is false schism that does not appear in Objectivism. Just because you jump-started this new thread does not mean that the thorough rejection of this vapid challenge did not get appear in the other.

Read the other thread. There is no Is/Ought problem in Objectivism.

Oh and Mr. Prescott, I am still waiting for the links to the writings of plants and anmials claiming their consciousness is volitional. (of course they will be slammed by "Andrew" who is dubious about 'choice' and claims everything is deterministc even for humans.)

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

FO said...

Herb Sewell,
Those critisizing Rand are looking for the substance in her argument that generate the content of the ethical code. Ideally, given the correct foundation we should be able to work out the ethical code ourselfs. For example, literal survival is such a substantial fundament that do generate content. Man qua man is not.

Your problem is that you reduce Rand meta ethical argument to a version that is utterly devoid of substance. To take an example, When Rand describes what it means for a plant or an animal to have its own life as its ultimate value she gives an example of a plant that turns to the sun in order to further its existence, and she says that organisms (apart from humans) cannot pursue there own destruction. This is a substantial claim that happens to be false which is evident by studying the life expectancy of wild tom cats for example.

However, to avoid this falsehood you interpret "life as the ultmate value" as "to act in accordance with ones nature". But this doesn't mean anything, it gives us no substance whatsoever to work with. We don't have to look at reality in order to find out whether its true because its not a predictive claim about reality.

In this incarnation Rands meta ethical argument says: Man ought to act in accordance with his nature. That's all. But Rand dosens't give as a criteria or method for determining what acting according to our nature is, she just asserts the answer. If someone asserts a "me-me-we" ideal in contrast to Rands "me-me-me" ideal, how would we determine which one was true? Which ideal is in accordance with our nature? When the substance is taken out of the meta ethical argument Rand has nothing (other than rethorics) to point to in order to decide such a dispute.

john said...

Are you people all dense?

First of all, you keep making the error of demanding that Objectivism "generate" an ethical code "from" the facts of reality.

Apart from the naked reality that Rand herself does not 'do' this nor insist that Objectivism "can do this", your repeated blind repetition of this error in turn puts a demand on you: You've got to show us what you mean by this bizarre demand. Show how objective reality generates YOUR ethical system, or ANY ethical system, without need of volitional consciousness of a human being -- thinking choosing and acting.

Second, you keep making the error of insisting that Rand does not substantiate any meaning to "man has a nature and he ought to operate in accord with it." Are you nuts? I really don't know what part of your anatomy to whack to wake you up on this. Perhaps the part that might be able to grok Objectivist Epistemology and the lengths to which she goes to support that man's nature is that of a rational animal. The phrase 'man qua man' is the shortcut buzz phrase that inculcates the full definition of man. It is an argument that anyone attempting to refute Rand must respect. I suggest you all begin doing that. Respect it first, then attack it if you wish.

Once again, as if honest debate did not demand it, I made it crystal clear in the prior thread in no uncertain terms. If you keep insisting Rand did not supply the substance of 'man qua man' or the exact nature that she suggests people act in accordance with, then you are just braying in the wind. So stop acting as if you do not know what Rand means by 'man qua man'.

I am really beginning to wonder what the motive is here. What is all the squirming and smarming and evasion?

It is very simple. Rand established that man's distinguishing characteristic qua man was the ability and necessity to survive and thrive by means of thinking, choosing and acting according to reason. Reason requires non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality. Her ethics as a philosopher is a specific suggestion that many individual souls on this earth adopt this. No magical thinking. No wishful thinking. No miracles. No praying. No blind acceptance of someone else's values. No pretending your soul belongs to a supernatural being who should be in charge of you. No avoidance of thinking, choosing and acting based on objective reality only. Live this way and see what it gets you.

She didn't 'demand' that people adopt it. She didn't support forcing people to do it. She definitely did not think that the very act of explicating this ethical 'suggestion' would in and by itself magically "produce" any end result. She did not even promise that people who built their ethical code based only on reason would automatically understand it, or know how to do it automatically, or automatically be happy. Frankly, her goal was to persuade people through the marketplace of ideas to conduct their lives under reason as a absolute, total honesty with no evasion of reality. God knows, most people don't.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

HerbSewell said...

I think her argument is pretty simple and straightforward and non-contradictory and you're just purposely trying to misunderstand her.

1. "Without Life there is no value."

That makes sense. Something that has no consciousness and does not have anything to lose can not value anything. A rock can not value something because it is not conscious.

2. "An animal must live as its own nature"

This is actually the simplest of them all. There are certain natures that have been given to all animals, biologically, that prescribe what it's life entails. For birds, its flying south for the winter. These actions may be geared towards either self-preservation, procreation, or preservation of a pack.

3. "One place life as the standard of evaluation, whereby what furthers one's life is good for that."

Again, for an animal to value something against its life to destroy the very faculty which allows him to value. For man, he have must have reason, self-esteem, and purpose to guide his value-judgments.

4. "Man must value for the preservation of life which most greatly preserves his values"

This means that a man can not live in a way that destroys his life and his ability to values. His nature is predetermined, but he must live by it or live towards death. He must as man qua man.

FO said...

John:
"It is very simple. Rand established that man's distinguishing characteristic qua man was the ability and necessity to survive and thrive by means of thinking, choosing and acting according to reason. Reason requires non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality."

Which just begs the question of what is rational. In an instrumental sense rationality is easy to understand. If you want to be a dictator, then you will benefit from using your brain. If you want to maximize your life expectancy, then agin, using your brain will help you. That's trivially true. But how do we determine the proper focus of the mind? First Rand seems to say that survival is the proper focus, and then she slides to survival qua man, that is, survival proper to a rational being. But then we are just stuck chasing our tail. The focus of our rationality should be to live rationally. Well, that tells us nothing.

Again, if someone asserts that qua man includes giving weight to other poeples happiness and wellbeing when you act, that this way of being is the true nature of man, the proper way for a truly rational being to survive among other men, then exactly how are you going to verify or falsify this claim? Show us the exact steps.

Red Grant said...

John, normally, I consider you to be a lot smarter than Herb.

At least, you do not contradict yourself so easy like Herb in a single post.

But this time, you talked too long, and too much, carelessly.









___________________________________


Perhaps the part that might be able to grok Objectivist Epistemology and the lengths to

which she goes to support that man's nature is that of a

rational animal. - John
-----------------------------------
The phrase

'man qua man'

is the shortcut buzz phrase that inculcates the full definition of man. It is an argument that anyone attempting to refute Rand must respect. I suggest you all begin doing that. Respect it first, then attack it if you wish. - John
-----------------------------------
Rand established that man's distinguishing characteristic

qua man

was the ability and necessity to survive and thrive by means of thinking, choosing and acting according to

reason. - John
___________________________________





And here comes the moment of truth for you, John.


___________________________________

Frankly, her goal was to persuade people through the marketplace of ideas to conduct their lives under

reason

as a absolute, total honesty with no evasion of reality.

God knows,

most people don't. - John
___________________________________





You have just contradicted your own statements above.






___________________________________

No magical thinking. No wishful thinking. No miracles. No praying. No blind acceptance of someone else's values.

No pretending your soul belongs to

a supernatural being who should be in charge of you.

No avoidance of thinking, choosing and acting based on objective reality only. - John
-----------------------------------
Frankly, her goal was to persuade people through the marketplace of ideas to conduct their lives under

reason

as a absolute, total honesty with no evasion of reality.


God


knows,

most people don't. - John
___________________________________











___________________________________

Reason requires non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality. - John
___________________________________




Of course, your self-contradictory identification of the facts of reality (as you yourself have defined) regarding the nature of man means you have not used reason in your statements above, doesn't it?

Andrew said...

HerbSewell

"Clearly, there are many people who do have volition but have neurological or physiological problems that prevent them from being happy. Those people are a special case."

Essentially this system of ethics depends on determining what is an "acceptable" impediment to exercising ones volition. As I said the deterministic nature of biology,psychology, environment etc, create this impediment. So I find Rands judgments of "character" based on this criteria to be unrealistic and damaging. As I said, it ignores the nuances of the human condition. Rand attempts to set herself up as an ethical arbiter in a field of which she does not fully grasp, or probably care to grasp. The latter simply because it would clash with her preconceived notions on the "ideal man".

"The only men who I would consider sub-human are people with complete volition whp choose unhappiness over happiness, like Gail Wynand in the Fountainhead."

Gail Wynand is presented as someone free of impediment and able to exercise his volition. He then "chooses" unhappiness, which relegates him to being "sub-human". But did he or others like him truly choose? From the book, Gail Wynand sounds like he reacted strongly against the environment of his formative years, much like Rand. What psychological effect does this have on people and how does it affect their decision making in life? Why did Rand "choose" to write a moral defense of Capitalism? Why?

"There's also the issue of mentally retarded who have the fully developed cognition of an infant. I would consider them sub-human because they lack even the smallest amount of rationality to be conscious."

Another group you consider "sub-human". Your definition of consciousness is limited to rationality. They may not be normally functional, so they are sub-normal. But being human is an intrinsic definition that we cannot be lowered from. So the term sub-human is an absurdity.

"Nearly the entirety of the Nazi's philosophy was mystical in nature. Carrying it out systemically does not a rational mentality make"

The corporatist fascist state is a technocratic rationalist structure. The holocaust was executed rationally in an environment of such. My point is, that predominant rationality does NOT bring other BALANCING values with it. Rand says it is the wellspring of "all other values".

"Rand said that rationality, (the virtue that achieves the value of reason), is the source of all other virtues, but not the only one, in which she names the others in Galt's speech."

Reason is a methodology, not the source of "all other virtues". Voltaire and others of his day made this mistake, the European swing to a dictatorship of reason did not bring with it morality as expected. Does reason entail compassion, humility and humor? No. Please tell me what other virtues reason guarantees and how?

john said...

for the record, I do not respond to anything writen by "red grant" due to the incomprehesible mess of the posts. any non-reply by myself is not to be understood to be agreement with or acceptance of anything in same.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

john said...

FO if you are offering "...giving weight to other poeples happiness and wellbeing when you act..." as either part of or all of an ethics then

a) what does "giving weight" mean, exactly; and
b) how did you arrive at that as crucial to the ethical code? what is your chain of thought?

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Andrew said...

HerbSewell-

"I honestly think Nathaniel Branden just started damming Objectivism because Ayn Rand expelled him for having an affair with Patrecia Scott while they were having an affair with each other."

Is this conjecture even relevant?

"Should the study of emotions be more psychological or cognitive in nature?"

The cognitive theories of study regarding emotion ARE psychological. Should the study of emotion be limited to cognitive understanding? No, it is just that, limiting. Gestalt, Jung, Rogers all provide rich insights into human emotion. So Rands cognitive bias concerning emotion is not conflicting with modern theories so much as it doesn't even interact with them due to her narrow range of inquiry.

"I haven't found a single aspect of Rand's ethics that can, (when well understood), conflict with the modern understanding of emotions or any potential understanding of emotions, (excluding that damn Kantian bastard Freud of course.)"

Well, I am impressed that you can ensure the certainty of Rands theories against yet discovered understanding of emotions. Quite amazing really.

FO said...

John:
It's an ideal to contrast Rands, and an ideal with which I happen to sympathize. For example, If I were living in a society where schools were not provided for to all inhabitants, I would claim that this would reflect very badly upon the members of this society. Man qua man ought to prefer a society where your life chances are reasonable no matter where you happen to be born, and man qua man ought to promote this society. This ideal with a communitarian component is a part of what it is to be a truly rational man who lives according to the real rational nature of a rational man. If you care about nothing but your own welfare, then you are a subhuman slowly awaiting destruction by reality, an existent unfit for existence with no prospects what so ever for real rational qua man happiness...and so on.

How do we verify or falsify whether this human ideal, with an explicit communitarian component, is qua man?

john said...

FO my general answer is that I think you have the cart before the horse.

I am not going to make a philosophical response to what you wrote. I'll just say this:

An Ethics is a code of behavior voluntarily adopted by an individual human to guide the conduct of his life.

Rand suggests that humans be oriented around rational self-interest. Certainly for many that is 'wrong' for them on a scale ranging from troubling to 'you will burn in hell forever for your selfishness.'

While ethics is for the individual, and therefore one can inject any elements one wishes into it and operate that way, all is well as long as ethical behavior remains confined to the individual. For instance, someone who believes it best for their soul to give over their life to helping others on a total basis would do so, and then reap the consquences personally for better or worse. Same for someone who pours all his life energy into his art, or business etc. That is the choice of their life and they reap the consequences for better or worse.

What is troubling about what you wrote is that it seems to spill over out of ethics into politics. Several of the items you mentioned are not normally accomplished trough personal choice but rather by politics/government. But in order not to presume, I will ask if the "communitarian component" you mentioned is strictly on a voluntary basis?

If you would be attempting to persuade others to subscribe to an ethics for themselves that includes voluntary communal giving, that is one thing. If you however belive that this goal is to be achieved by compelling others to participate, then you have crossed into politics and all bets are off.

Can you comment on that?

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Mark C. said...

I think one of the central issues is what it means for something to be the nature of an organism.

So, what does "x is the nature of y" mean? Is it anything that y could possibly do (in which case, of course y couldn't go against its nature)? Is it the set of all things that y has previously done? Is it whatever the typical behavior of individuals in the species (say, Y) can do or do in fact do? What is the nature of something?

FO said...

John:
"While ethics is for the individual, and therefore one can inject any elements one wishes into it and operate that way, all is well as long as ethical behavior remains confined to the individual."

I'm a bit puzzled here actually, Rands defining characteristic is that she is a moralist with a very extensive set of condemnations for those who don't agree with her. Your position here is more like the generic libertarian: do whatever you plaese within the confines of negative rights. That dosen't sound like Rand.

However, the main point is this; Rand claims that there is one true code of action, the qua man code, and she asserts what this code is and tells us that she can prove it rationally. I contest this statement by putting forward a competing code of values which I claim is qua man, that is, the true code for rational beings. At this point we have two canditates for qua man, and this is where Rands proof would come in very handy for the Objectivist. However, what I want to see is not an assertion that Rand is right and that I am wrong, that is like arguing over music, what I want to see is a method that I could apply to the problem at hand that would let me determine which code was true. And mind you, the allusion to rationality is rather pointless as I showed in my last post, rationality is only well defined an an instrumental sense.

"But in order not to presume, I will ask if the "communitarian component" you mentioned is strictly on a voluntary basis?"

That depends on the outcome of course. If a minarchy is tested and it performes like a third world country, then no. Otherwise yes.

john said...

Yes Rand made a strong case her ethics ought to be adopted by everyone because it was consistent with human nature, the human nature she identified in her epistomeology and with which everyone is familiar: man as a rational animal, reason as an aboslute. That's because she cared about the future of man.

She condemn those holding parasitic ethical positions, for instance. Several characters in her books are ethical parasites and there is not the slightest doubt she wants them to roast in hell forever. I am with her, never doubt it. Your totalized statement about her condemning anyone "not agreeing with her" is void; most non-agreers she gave no attention to. Those to whom had good intentions but erred in logic she had remarkable patience if they wanted to learn. Those, however, who espoused anti-human ethical systems? Condemnation.

But since her stand is that with ethics the person adopting the code reaps the results, she knew that reality would render justice. On the other hand, for those who espoused anti-human political systems -- political, not ethical -- condemnation seems a too-mild description for her wrath. I am with her on that, never doubt it.

In no case will you find Ayn Rand suggesting Objectivist ethics be enforced on other humans. There is every distinction between a high pressure sales job and an offer you can't refuse because a politician's gun is in your face.

All I did was back off the high pressure slightly. My purpose was this: by reminding that an ethics is voluntarily adopted and has consequences only for the adopter it exposes that a politics imposed by force has consequence for those not voluntarily subscribed to it.

Sure enough, you seem willing to impose your "communitarian component" by force if freedom "performs like a third world country". My friend Ayn Rand and I both equally condemn that politics with total wrath.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

FO said...

John:
"man as a rational animal, reason as an aboslute."

And what is the standard of rationality? Total blank out. I have set forth a competing qua man ideal with an explicit communitarian component. We agree that man is the rational animal. Man has a large brain that he can use to promote whatever end he wishes. But that doesn't tell us whether he ought to be concered about the welfare of his fellow humans, whether this is one of the ends he ought to pursue. You and Rand claim that you can prove whether this is true or not. Yet, anything even resembling a proof is absent. The only thing we have is a string of assertions. To begin with, what facts of reality are relevant to determine the issue at hand?

"Sure enough, you seem willing to impose your "communitarian component" by force if freedom "performs like a third world country". My friend Ayn Rand and I both equally condemn that politics with total wrath."

Well, the number of inconsistencies arising in Rands argument if her preferred political system performs subpar are more than countless, so the wrath would be rather irrational in this case.

john said...

Thus we have a purple-colored example of the usual business: total skepticism that the ethics (voluntary) proper to man can be identified combined with utter certainty that a politics (coercion) can and ought be impressed on citizens on some unspecified brutally pragmatic collectivst whim.

John Donohue
Pasadena

Daniel Barnes said...

Mark C
>I think one of the central issues is what it means for something to be the nature of an organism....What is the nature of something?

This is one of the bad habits that Rand, like many other thinkers, has picked up from the great pedant Aristotle - that is verbalism.

All this "what is the nature of..." type discussion always ends up in a verbalist argument over the meanings of words. This is makes Rand's arguments, like those of many other modern philosophers, such as many post-modernists, simply a modern version of scholasticism. (Such a comparison would infuriate Rand, but that is the truth of it. One of the many ironies that emerges as one examines Objectivism is that Rand is often an unwitting example of what she purports to reject).
Now, it turns out - and of course John, Herb, etc simply do not know this - that disputes over the meanings of words (and thus the concepts they represent) are not actually resolvable logically. Like the is/ought problem, it simply can't be done! (This did not stop Rand claiming it was not only possible, but necessary in the ITOE. But of course she never actually provided a logical demonstration of this either!) Unfortunately this logically demonstrable fact is not widely known, and not just by Objectivists; if it were we would have a good deal less blather in our discourse.

To test the strength of my theory, I will now make the following prediction:
That Herb or John's arguments will
1) Never involve an actual logical demonstration of Rand's arguments, despite Rand's insistence that all man's thought must be "ruthessly" logical!
2) Always ultimately depend on the arguments of the definitions of terms (and thus the concepts the represent) - a situation which cannot be resolved with logic.

Ah, the irony...;-)

FO:
>And what is the standard of rationality? Total blank out?

FO, excellent points.

Andrew:
>Well, I am impressed that you can ensure the certainty of Rands theories against yet discovered understanding of emotions. Quite amazing really.

Andrew, clearly you are not aware of the powers that many of Rand's followers believes she possesses....;-)

HerbSewell said...

Here's another break down:

1. "Value is that which one seeks to achieve or keep."

2. "Without life there can be no value"

Give me a situation where something that is not in a state of a self-sustaining and self-generating process that can value something. It is the constant action of achieving values based on value-judgments, perceptual or conceptual, that make a organism alive.

3. "A value can either be for or against someone's life"

Just because one values something does not necessarily mean that the value is for their life, or even rational, (which I will show that the two are never mutually exclusive.)

4. “A value that is against one’s life is a value that destroys one’s ability to value.

Because there is no value without life, to value something that is against the faculty that permits one to have values is a contradictory value.

Ergo, in order to establish a non-contradictory value, one has to use a rational standard of evaluation, with proper values being the ones which further the process that allows valuing in the first place: life.

“An ultimate value is not necessarily a standard of value, though Rand conflates the two - another weakness in her argument.”

That’s actually false. It is because that life is the ultimate value that is must be the rational standard of value for volitional animals. Because it is the ultimate value, there obviously can not be any higher values than it. In a hierarchy of values, life would be at the top as you said because it is the “ultimate value.” Because it is the ultimate value, any action that would against that value in some way would be irrational, as that action would be sacrificing a higher value for a lesser value or non value. If you truly believe that life is the ultimate value, a rational has to realize that all of his values must, in some way, achieve his ultimate value more: life. He does this by holding that every value that allows him to achieve his ultimate value, life, is good, while holding everything that is against the ultimate value is evil. This hierarchy of values would be termed as placing life as the standard of value. Thus, holding that life is the ultimate value does mean one must hold life as the standard of value, or you would have no gauge to know whether or not you are volitionally achieving or relinquishing your ultimate value.

HerbSewell said...

Even if all your arguments against Rand’s ethics weren’t in total misunderstanding and outright misguided, to actually name her standard of value as essentially constant self-preservation shows a lack of comprehension of her wirings on life. Michael, nor Daniel, would have ever bought up the animals that seem to act in behaviors that seem to go against their self-preservation if they would have fully apprehended Rand’s ethics. She even mentions this in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Switching the critique from Rand’s ethics to her writing style will not hide the poor understanding of her philosophy, something the editors of this blog should learn as they simply adore doing it in the posts.

HerbSewell said...

"Is this conjecture even relevant?"

Slightly less relevent then you mentioning Branden in the first place.


"Well, I am impressed that you can ensure the certainty of Rands theories against yet discovered understanding of emotions. Quite amazing really."

It's actually not that hard. All you have to do is to read her works without any bias and to fully comprehend them and you'll see that any contradiction is unlikely. Of course, while that's impossible for all the editors on this site, I expect people to look past their ad hominems and complete misunderstandings pf Rand's philosophy and actually think for themselves.

HerbSewell said...

"And what is the standard of rationality? Total blank out?"

Voltion and cognition.

HerbSewell said...

"1) Never involve an actual logical demonstration of Rand's arguments, despite Rand's insistence that all man's thought must be "ruthessly" logical!"

Name what you mean by logical and I'll demonstrate it.

"2) Always ultimately depend on the arguments of the definitions of terms (and thus the concepts the represent) - a situation which cannot be resolved with logic."

Name one word and I'll use your definition.

HerbSewell said...

"But that doesn't tell us whether he ought to be concered about the welfare of his fellow humans, whether this is one of the ends he ought to pursue."

Again, I'm only saying what the guide of ethics should be. If it's in one's own self-interest to help people then there's no reason not to help them. If you feel that you want love from others then working to earn that love would be the virtue of productiveness.

"You and Rand claim that you can prove whether this is true or not. Yet, anything even resembling a proof is absent. The only thing we have is a string of assertions. To begin with, what facts of reality are relevant to determine the issue at hand?"

"Life is the ultimate value"
"In order to guide man to achieve this value, he must have a rational morality."
"Life as the standard of value is the only workable morality that would allow him to achieve values that would allow him to achieve life."

"A is A"

HerbSewell said...

Daniel,

"Life is the ultimate value"
"In order to guide man to achieve this value, he must have a rational morality."
"Life as the standard of value is the only workable morality that would allow him to achieve values that would allow him to achieve life."

Please tell me which of these definitions I may be redefining, or better yet, please tell me how my argument is flawed.

Michael Prescott said...

Herb wrote, "... to actually name her standard of value as essentially constant self-preservation shows a lack of comprehension of her writings on life."

The point is that her standard of value shifts in the course of her argument from "constant self-preservation" in the early part to "the life proper to a rational being" in the later part. She is not entitled to make this switch. It is an equivocation, and equivocation is a logical fallacy.

Her supporters would say she has to make this switch because humans are so different from animals and plants. But that's precisely the problem. Because humans are different, all of her earlier bloviating about animals and plants is just useless verbiage that in no way supports the ethical points she's trying to make.

In fact, those points have no support; her entire argument comes down to saying, "You should live according to my principles because I believe my principles are good."

Herb also wrote, "... holding that life is the ultimate value does mean one must hold life as the standard of value."

Not necessarily. Thee is (or can be) a difference between an ultimate value and a standard of value. Here's a brief statement from an economics site that may clarify this point:

"A standard of value is any commodity by means of which people measure and express the value of other commodities. For example, when we say that a pair of shoes is worth five dollars and a coat ten, we measure and express the value of these two commodities by means of another which, for this purpose, we call a dollar."

Clearly, in this example, a dollar need not be our ultimate value. It is, however, our standard of value - our basis of comparison.

To say that our standard of value must always be what we value most is like saying that we must care more about the yardstick than about what we are measuring with it.

I agree with Daniel Barnes that these "debates" become useless exercises in verbalism. (And we haven't even mentioned Rand's invalid analogy of the "immortal, indestructible robot"!) Of course I don't expect to convince Herb or John; I'm commenting for the benefit of others who may be interested in taking a close look at Rand's positions. Her fans should realize, though, that the kinds of objections brought up on this site are precisely the sorts of things Objectivism will have to deal with if it wants to be taken seriously as a philosophy. In that respect, ARCHN is doing Objectivism a favor by taking it seriously - something any real philosophy would welcome.

Andrew said...

HerbSewell-

"Slightly less relevent then you mentioning Branden in the first place."

As a psychologist and intimate associate of Rand, Dr Branden is quite relevant to insights regarding her practical understanding of emotion.

An attempt to pin his views as the result of being a spurned lover of Rand, is a serious stretch. Dr Branded has had many years to formulate his views and his analysis is congruent with the tone of Rands work.

"I expect people to look past their ad hominems and complete misunderstandings pf Rand's philosophy and actually think for themselves."

The problem being is that Rands philosophy is closed, this discourages her followers from thinking for themselves, in ways that Rand did not originally. And in ways that could be possibly beneficial to her philosophy.

Are you just interested in tit for tat attempted point scoring, or will you answer some of my questions?

Why did Rand "choose" to write a moral defense of Capitalism. If you can understand this then you are on your way to comprehending the deterministic nature of human life. Once this is understood, ethical judgments concerning "choices" people make fail, because volition and "free will" are in fact hampered in ways Rand did not seemingly understand or embrace.

Also, what values does reason guarantee and how?

Once we understand that reason is simply methodology and not a guarantor of other values, much of Rand becomes redundant.

"And what is the standard of rationality? Total blank out?"

"Voltion and cognition."


Additionally, how does volition and cognition ensure rationality? It does not.

As I said, reason, is a methodology, not an absolute virtue. And nor is it guaranteed by volition and cognition.

In my opinion, it is morally dangerous to draw reason as am impartial tool into the definition of a humanistic virtue.


Daniel-

"Andrew, clearly you are not aware of the powers that many of Rand's followers believes she possesses....;-)"

Oh, I know the powers quite well. In fact, I used to posses them, well almost! I didn't go the distance in Randroid academy.

Of course, any family friends who had MA degree's or better simply ignored me during my time of Rand interest. I probably ignored them too! Being a touch intransigent.

But I made it through, as I consider it now, the last stage of puberty: Ayn Rand.

Daniel Barnes said...

OK. Using my amazing Rand-like meta-powers of philosophical insight, I too can ensure that all present and indeed even any future theories of human emotions must conform to my philosophical basis. How can I do this? Simple.

I predict that all future theories of human emotions, must, in fact, be theories! This because it is in accordance with their nature to be theoretical - they can be no other. And this will be true till the end of time, no matter what those actual theories turn out to be. Now, I will leave the content of those theories to the scientists and psychologists, as these are merely subordinate roles to my master role as philosopher. Meanwhile I will busy myself coming up with other eternal insights, when I'm not having infinitely regressive arguments over the meanings of words.

Truly, it is good to be and all-seeing metaphilosophical genius!

HerbSewell said...

"Additionally, how does volition and cognition ensure rationality? It does not."

Actually, it does. If you choose to volitionally understand reality then you are choosing to think and know. You can then look to your goals which you have achieved cognitively and choose volitionally that you want to follow them. Man is a being of volitional consciousness, meaning he can choose to think or choose not to think. Essentially, rationality is choosing to think over not thinking, and one cognates this when they see that there is no establishable relationship between feelings and reality, that emotions are not tools of cognition when it comes to reality independent of the conscious, or that one can not use whims to direct actions to further their own life. It is volition that chooses and it is cognition that allows man to be conceptually aware of reality.

"Also, what values does reason guarantee and how?"

Reason does not guarantee values. Rationality, (the virtue that achieves reason), can only achieve that which is within the perceptual volition provided by man's nature.

"As I said, reason, is a methodology, not an absolute virtue. And nor is it guaranteed by volition and cognition."

Again, I never said reason is achieved by volition and cognition. Reason is simply a faculty. It is rationality that results from a conscious effort to think, which comes from one's volition and one's cognition, one's ability to anylyze the material provided by one's senses.

"In my opinion, it is morally dangerous to draw reason as am impartial tool into the definition of a humanistic virtue."

Well there would be no definition if there was no faculty of reason. People would also have no ability to integrate virtues into their thoughts and actions were it not for reason.

"The problem being is that Rands philosophy is closed, this discourages her followers from thinking for themselves, in ways that Rand did not originally. And in ways that could be possibly beneficial to her philosophy."

It's not closed. The Ayn Rand Institute may not want to reconsider her philosophy, (a decision I, for the most part, personally agree with), but any man is welcome to introduce thoughtful, non-biased, and understanding critiques to her philosophy. Or, they can become an editor on the blog for Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.

"Why did Rand "choose" to write a moral defense of Capitalism. If you can understand this then you are on your way to comprehending the deterministic nature of human life. Once this is understood, ethical judgments concerning "choices" people make fail, because volition and "free will" are in fact hampered in ways Rand did not seemingly understand or embrace."

Every theory of determinism that directly contradicts with Rand's psycho-epistemology and ethics are either based on stolen concepts, brought up because of a poor understanding of Rand's philosophy, or both.

HerbSewell said...

Daniel, if you aren't going to introduce anything remotely intelligent to the conversation you might as well not post anything at all.

Daniel Barnes said...

Herb:
>Daniel, if you aren't going to introduce anything remotely intelligent to the conversation you might as well not post anything at all.

Herb, how does this differ from Rand's prouncements?

>Name what you mean by logical and I'll demonstrate it.

Standard two value logic with propositions leading to a conclusion will do fine.

>Name one word and I'll use your definition.

Now that's very un-Objectivist of you, and just the thing a Popperian like myself would say! If you're not going to argue over definitions then this is indeed a step forward.

HerbSewell said...

Micheal,

"In that respect, ARCHN is doing Objectivism a favor by taking it seriously"

I personally don't consider including ad hominems against Objectivism on virtually every single post taking the philosophy seriously, but that's just me.

Daniel,

>"Now that's very un-Objectivist of you, and just the thing a Popperian like myself would say! If you're not going to argue over definitions then this is indeed a step forward."

I suppose Popperians specialize in ad hominems, (irony noted.)

>Standard two value logic with propositions leading to a conclusion will do fine.

Har Har. I do believe I can do that, though it will take a few premises. Tell me which ones you take qualms with.

1. Life is the ultimate value, (as quoted by Micheal Prescott.)
2. Man must hold a morality to conceptually guide his actions.
3. Man must achieve certain values to sustain his life.
4. Life includes living as one's nature dictates.

Because Micheal has made a fuss over Rand's use of "standard of value," (despite the that "value" in the two definitions were defined differently from each other), I'll use the phrase "standard of evaluation," the criteria by which something is being compared. I am attempting to prove that the criteria here that one compares whether or not a man should do a particular action is that which furthers, (or preserves) life as defined by man's nature, or identity. That which is against his life, (as defined by his nature), should not be performed, (by which it would be against the moral standard of evaluation and by definition would be considered "evil"), and that which furthers life, should be performed, (by which it would be for the moral standard of evaluation and by definition would be considered "good").

HerbSewell said...

"Herb, how does this differ from Rand's prouncements?"

I really don't think she made a philosophical framework complex enough to contradict any conceivable reputable theory of emotions. She left that to psychology, to which I personally feel Nathaniel Branden pretty good job incorporating his experience into her epistemological theories. I haven't read Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, but what little I've gathered of the philosophy is that she leaves much room open to psychology to fill in the rest of her psycho-epistemology which she did not have the time or expertise to fully understand.

Andrew said...

HerbSewell-

Additionally, how does volition and cognition ensure rationality? It does not.

“Actually, it does. If you choose to volitionally understand reality then you are choosing to think and know.”

Prove to me that this is a choice. Rand has confused level or quality of consciousness with a false dichotomy of conscious vs unconscious. Again, this false dilemma is an oversimplification of the factors involved in human thought and volition. What factors affect quality of consciousness? As we have continued to go over to no avail, biology, psychology and environment.

Popper said the proper philosophical approach toward improving conditions for humanity was to, reduce human suffering. To make our philosophical intentions a negative. It is with this precept of inquiry into action, that I ask that we not attempt to determine what makes a man rational, but what makes man irrational? Answer this question and you may determine by default what makes a man rational. Then we may weigh the positive and negative factors of this process and value them according to a system of ethics that incorporates deterministic factors.

“We are not interested in a world, in which to be human is a weakness” Rene-Daniel Dubois

“You can then look to your goals which you have achieved cognitively and choose volitionally that you want to follow them.”

For a well functioning individual this obviously is a suitable and practical course of action.

“Man is a being of volitional consciousness, meaning he can choose to think or choose not to think.”

Another false dilemma. Does Rand set these up as to exploit semantic ambiguity?

“Essentially, rationality is choosing to think over not thinking, and one cognates this when they see that there is no establishable relationship between feelings and reality, that emotions are not tools of cognition when it comes to reality independent of the conscious, or that one can not use whims to direct actions to further their own life. It is volition that chooses and it is cognition that allows man to be conceptually aware of reality.”

Again, thinking vs not thinking. I reject this oversimplification. There is a link between feelings, reality and cognition. For one, cognition directly impacts feelings and reality has a reciprocal relationship with cognition. There is more than one aspect of reality to consider. Evaluating our feelings can help us determine fulfilling life choices that we make, be they in interpersonal relationships, career or spontaneous acts of humor and general life enjoyment. Although our feelings are not directly useful in the mechanistic aspects of engineering a bridge where formal logic, mathematics and the accompanying cognitions are required, they may help us work with others, remain motivated and gain a sense of fulfillment out of our work. So Rand conflates reality by saying that feelings do not share a relationship with objective reality, this is hogwash. And yes, a volition is often a choice and cognition a basic innate function of all human brains makes us aware of reality. Rand’s philosophy seems to relish in pointing out the obvious.

In anticipation, here is a volition that is not a choice. The hiker in the woods has an immovable boulder fall on his arm, he then has to cut his arm off with a pen knife or starve to death. This volition, was it a choice? At what point does situational determinism render choice irrelevant?



As I said, reason, is a methodology, not an absolute virtue. And nor is it guaranteed by volition and cognition.

“Again, I never said reason is achieved by volition and cognition. Reason is simply a faculty. It is rationality that results from a conscious effort to think, which comes from one's volition and one's cognition, one's ability to anylyze the material provided by one's senses.”

And yes, you do say that reason is achieved by volition and cognition. By the Objectivist position, being rational is a sufficient condition to have reason and if volition and cognition are sufficient to ensure rationality, the logical structure of the argument commits to saying reason is achieved by volition and cognition.

In my opinion, it is morally dangerous to draw reason as an impartial tool into the definition of a humanistic virtue.

“Well there would be no definition if there was no faculty of reason. People would also have no ability to integrate virtues into their thoughts and actions were it not for reason.”

I think your confusing reason with cognition. Yes, if people couldn’t think there would be no definitions. This however, does not answer my point. Rand has replace religion with an ideology of reason. It is dangerous. Reason alone does not ensure that people will incorporate other virtues. Most people inherently have an existing level of reason and other virtues. How we progress from there is not dictated by reason.

“It's not closed. The Ayn Rand Institute may not want to reconsider her philosophy, (a decision I, for the most part, personally agree with), but any man is welcome to introduce thoughtful, non-biased, and understanding critiques to her philosophy. Or, they can become an editor on the blog for Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.”

How is not wanting to re-consider not being closed?

“Every theory of determinism that directly contradicts with Rand's psycho-epistemology and ethics are either based on stolen concepts, brought up because of a poor understanding of Rand's philosophy, or both.”

For someone that likes to accuse Rand’s detractors of ad-hominem and poor understanding, I politely insist you might introspect on your accusations and determine whether or not you hold any bias in viewing information contradicting Rand’s theories. This claim you make here is so broad and vague I cannot know where to start refuting it from.

Daniel Barnes said...

Herb:
>I haven't read Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology...

What...???!!

Herb, Rand thought her epistemology as her most important contribution - that it was the foundation of Objectivism? She even calls herself an "epistemologist".

So it would pay you to get your head around it. Otherwise you just won't get a lot of what we're on about here.

(BTW, it is a pity that the ITOE is also Rand's weakest book).

Daniel Barnes said...

Herb:
> I do believe I can do that, though it will take a few premises. Tell me which ones you take qualms with.

Why not just lay it all out through to the conclusion, and we'll take it from there?

Anonymous said...

"I'm afraid you can't dismiss the is-ought issue merely by saying that Rand didn't regard it as a problem. It remains a huge stumbling block (in my opinion, a fatal one) for any naturalistic ethics..."

Sorry to derail the conversation, but can you expand on this statement? Naturalism treats base-level, innate human values as facts--emergent properties of a complex system (how exactly being well beyond the purview of human behavior). Consequently, no "ought" is being derived from an "is." I don't see the stumbling block.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding naturalistic ethics...

-- Ian.

HerbSewell said...

"Answer this question and you may determine by default what makes a man rational. Then we may weigh the positive and negative factors of this process and value them according to a system of ethics that incorporates deterministic factors."

Well... to be irrational conceptually would be to suspend the thought process and to act on notions that are not checked to be true by reality at some point in their conception. The opposite would be true of rationality.

"Prove to me that this is a choice."

Whether or not we think is determined by our volition. We can choose to act without consciously integrating the material provided by our senses, or we can choose to do so. Volition is the ability to focus one's mind towards a particular topic. Again, there has to be an impetus, a desire to do so in the first place. This desire comes before anything else. I don't necessarily know if that is based on volition because it is the source of volition. Why that may be psychological and even biological in nature, its not very relevant to rational standard of evaluation for ethics, as all non-contradictory value-judgments must be conceptual in nature, already implying volition and cognition.

"
Again, thinking vs not thinking. I reject this oversimplification. There is a link between feelings, reality and cognition. For one, cognition directly impacts feelings and reality has a reciprocal relationship with cognition. There is more than one aspect of reality to consider. Evaluating our feelings can help us determine fulfilling life choices that we make, be they in interpersonal relationships, career or spontaneous acts of humor and general life enjoyment. Although our feelings are not directly useful in the mechanistic aspects of engineering a bridge where formal logic, mathematics and the accompanying cognitions are required, they may help us work with others, remain motivated and gain a sense of fulfillment out of our work. So Rand conflates reality by saying that feelings do not share a relationship with objective reality, this is hogwash. And yes, a volition is often a choice and cognition a basic innate function of all human brains makes us aware of reality. Rand’s philosophy seems to relish in pointing out the obvious."

She was only looking to define the epistemological role in ethics. Everything else is to be dissected in psychology and biology.

"And yes, you do say that reason is achieved by volition and cognition. By the Objectivist position, being rational is a sufficient condition to have reason and if volition and cognition are sufficient to ensure rationality, the logical structure of the argument commits to saying reason is achieved by volition and cognition."

That would be true if volition and cognition were things people can consciously control. While there are ways people can improve their ability focus their mind and their ability to integrate perceptions, its mostly set by their subconscious, (by which volition can be improve by psychotherapy.)
While volition and cognition are the standards of rationality, one has to actually practice volition and cognate perceptions in order to achieve it. One can not fully abandon reason, but one can make a volitional, (or by a lack of volition), choice to not use it, forming concepts that have no root in logical cognition.

"I think your confusing reason with cognition. Yes, if people couldn’t think there would be no definitions. This however, does not answer my point. Rand has replace religion with an ideology of reason. It is dangerous. Reason alone does not ensure that people will incorporate other virtues. Most people inherently have an existing level of reason and other virtues. How we progress from there is not dictated by reason."

Cognition is part of reason, as is volition. After one focuses one's mind through volition, it is cognition that allows one to deal with the percepts, (or concepts), in order to form knowledge.
I really don't understand you. Man must live by truth or he will die, conceptually and probably physically. We identify reality through our integration of the material provided by our senses, and through this integration create knowledge. What you me be referring to is intuition, which is a non-volitional form of reason, with the cognitive process significantly hampered because it is done by the subconscious.

"How is not wanting to re-consider not being closed?"

I was referring to everyone else. For the record, the ARI considers her philosophy closed.

"For someone that likes to accuse Rand’s detractors of ad-hominem and poor understanding, I politely insist you might introspect on your accusations and determine whether or not you hold any bias in viewing information contradicting Rand’s theories. This claim you make here is so broad and vague I cannot know where to start refuting it from."

I hold that any determinism that would disallow man's volition contradicts itself, because it is through man's volition that he was able to create such deterministic theories in the first place. Any deterministic theories brought up against Rand that are actually consistent are actually theories dealing with the subconscious, to which I have noted that Rand has left a wide opening for psychology.

Daniel.

"Why not just lay it all out through to the conclusion, and we'll take it from there?"

This is just a rudimentary version that I said before, but as long as the premises are preserved, I believe the argument lives up to your standards.

"Life is the ultimate value"
"In order to guide man to achieve this value, he must have a non-contradictory morality."
"Life as the standard of evaluation, (meaning an ethic that would only tolerate actions that are for man's life), is the only workable morality that would permit him to achieve values that would allow him to achieve life."

Andrew said...

"Well... to be irrational conceptually would be to suspend the thought process and to act on notions that are not checked to be true by reality at some point in their conception. The opposite would be true of rationality."

Yes, but what causes men to be irrational? Essentially, everyone is trying to be in as close conformation with reality as possible. What prevents this from occurring?

"That would be true if volition and cognition were things people can consciously control. While there are ways people can improve their ability focus their mind and their ability to integrate perceptions, its mostly set by their subconscious, (by which volition can be improve by psychotherapy.)
While volition and cognition are the standards of rationality, one has to actually practice volition and cognate perceptions in order to achieve it. One can not fully abandon reason, but one can make a volitional, (or by a lack of volition), choice to not use it, forming concepts that have no root in logical cognition."

Accordingly, if you are rational, you will have volition and cognition control and therefore be a person of reason.

If volition and cognition are both necessary conditions of being rational and reasonable. What is the functional difference between reason and rationality?

If the logical chain outlined in my previous post is incomplete, please tell me what necessary conditions are required to obtain rationality and reason in addition to volition and cognition.



"Cognition is part of reason, as is volition."

Reason is more accurately part of cognition, its a subset. Thinking can occur without reason. Inner language can occur without reason. So labels can occur without reason, whether they survive the test of external deliberation, which would require abstractions and reasoning, is another matter.

"Whether or not we think is determined by our volition."

Is it? How? Or do you mean reason? Either way we think while we are alive, its unavoidable. Whether or not I was beaten as a child might make me think less or more violent thoughts.

"I really don't understand you. Man must live by truth or he will die, conceptually and probably physically."

Yes, this is obvious. So why support an ethical system that denies the truth?

"Why that may be psychological and even biological in nature, its not very relevant to rational standard of evaluation for ethics"

Psychology and biology are providing direct impetus for action so how can they "not be relevant" to a system of ethics. To ignore them is to disregard the relationship between feelings and hardwired propensities resulting in actions that fall under the scope of an ethical system.

And this is my point that I have been trying to get across. That reason is NOT a value, its a methodology, it does NOT lead to virtues.

Its part of our faculty and is very useful. But emotions and biology weigh heavily in making decisions and omitting them is an oversight with consequences. And that a system of ethics that focuses solely on reason is far to limited to be of any practical use to humanity. If we use an ethical system that focuses solely on reason you will see the rationalization of horrors. Rand assumes reason leads to everything great and wonderful, and reason is very helpful. But it is not absolute.

So if the ethical system you say leaves room for psychology and biology then it may survive.

If it is not OPEN it is obsolete because it is not complete and therefore not in accordance with reality and as such not rational or reasonable whichever you prefer.


I think I can summarize Rands work: Ayn says we need to reason so we can catch food and build huts. My belly aches, I am cold and scared of the woolly mammoth. So I have impetus for action but this is not a rational impetus, our ethical system is weary of emotions such as fear and biological inclinations.

I need to have conceptualized my basic needs using abstractions otherwise the impetus is irrelevant and quite possibly immoral.

Once I have conceptualized these needs I can then go forth as a rational being, catch a fish, build a hut and a fire, and Ayn will be happy with me. I have survived another day thanks to my Objectivist philosophy.

Sincerely,

Trog the Caveman

Daniel Barnes said...

Herb:

So roughly like this?

P1: Life is the ultimate value
P2: In order to guide man to achieve this value, he must have a non-contradictory morality
C: Life as the standard of evaluation, (meaning an ethic that would only tolerate actions that are for man's life), is the only workable morality that would permit him to achieve values that would allow him to achieve life.

Before I comment it seems your C is missing a word. Is it "reason"?

Incidentally, if you want the full breakdown of Rand's logic that she never provided, complete with text reference, here's one of the better ones:

Greg also gives breakdown here.

Red Grant said...

John, normally, I consider you to be a lot smarter than Herb.

At least, you do not contradict yourself so easy like Herb in a single post.

But this time, you talked too long, and too much, carelessly.









___________________________________


Perhaps the part that might be able to grok Objectivist Epistemology and the lengths to

which she goes to support that man's nature is that of a

rational animal. - John
-----------------------------------
The phrase

'man qua man'

is the shortcut buzz phrase that inculcates the full definition of man. It is an argument that anyone attempting to refute Rand must respect. I suggest you all begin doing that. Respect it first, then attack it if you wish. - John
-----------------------------------
Rand established that man's distinguishing characteristic

qua man

was the ability and necessity to survive and thrive by means of thinking, choosing and acting according to

reason. - John
___________________________________





And here comes the moment of truth for you, John.


___________________________________

Frankly, her goal was to persuade people through the marketplace of ideas to conduct their lives under

reason

as a absolute, total honesty with no evasion of reality.

God knows,

most people don't. - John
___________________________________





You have just contradicted your own statements above.















___________________________________

Reason requires non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality. - John
___________________________________




Of course, your self-contradictory identification of the facts of reality (as you yourself have defined) regarding the nature of man means you have not used reason in your statements above, doesn't it?

Red Grant said...

for the record, I do not respond to anything writen by "red grant" due to the incomprehesible mess of the posts. any non-reply by myself is not to be understood to be agreement with or acceptance of anything in same.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

12/09/2008 06:47:00 AM

Daniel Barnes said...

Ian:
> Consequently, no "ought" is being derived from an "is." I don't see the stumbling block.

As Patrick M O Neill points out, the "is/ought" dichotomy is only a problem for Rand's ethics in that she claimed to have solved it!

Michael Prescott said...

Naturalism treats base-level, innate human values as facts--emergent properties of a complex system (how exactly being well beyond the purview of human behavior). - Ian

Well, I'm assuming that any naturalistic ethics will fall victim to the naturalistic fallacy and to the is-ought problem, since there would have to be some point in the argument where values are derived from facts, either explicitly or implicitly.

In what you said above, you described values as "emergent properties of a complex system" that are "well beyond the purview" of behavioral science to explain. To me, this would seem to be an implicit instance of the is-ought problem - saying that values emerge from the facts of human behavior but we don't know how. In effect, it's saying that our "oughts" are derived from our "is's" - somehow. Unless the "somehow" can be explained, the objectivity of those values will remain in doubt.

No one doubts that human beings have values, pursue values, etc. The question is whether those values have some objective basis or are purely subjective (i.e., products or expressions of "sentiment"). That is, it may be an observable fact that many people want something, but we aren't entitled to conclude that what they want is objectively good.

Naturalism, as I understand it, asserts that there are objective values. Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry:

"Ethical naturalism ... is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

"Ethical sentences express propositions.

"Some such propositions are true.

"Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of human opinion.

"These moral features of the world can be reduced to some set of non-moral features."

Since I don't know of any way to logically derive values from objective facts, (i.e., to "reduce" these "moral features" to "some set of non-moral features"), I would say that a naturalistic ethics is unlikely to succeed.

On the other hand, if you're saying that "base-level, innate human values [are simply] facts" that we have to accept as a metaphysical given, without any attempt to derive them from other facts, then I would be inclined to agree; but, to me, that approach is more in line with G.E. Moore's intuitionism than it is with naturalism.

Of course I could be all wrong about this. It's a lot easier to critique Ayn Rand than to critique the views of more serious philosophers.

Anonymous said...

In what you said above, you described values as "emergent properties of a complex system" that are "well beyond the purview" of behavioral science to explain. To me, this would seem to be an implicit instance of the is-ought problem - saying that values emerge from the facts of human behavior but we don't know how. In effect, it's saying that our "oughts" are derived from our "is's" - somehow. Unless the "somehow" can be explained, the objectivity of those values will remain in doubt.

Maybe, but I'm inclined to think no. You don't need Newton's Laws to throw a baseball. You don't need relativity to land a man on the moon. You don't need string theory to predict how light will bend around the sun. So long as the observed "rules" hold for the desired frame, how's and why's and fine-tuned theories don't really matter. (And thank goodness for that. If we were required to know everything before doing anything...) With ethics, the pertinent frames seem to be sociology and psychology--fields dealing with the macroscopic regularities in human behavior.

So, I think it's valid to frame ethical questions in terms of, say, a person's aversion to contamination, without fully looking under the hood (although such knowledge is undoubtedly useful). At any rate, I think that's a more productive avenue than "God hates pork," which is what the naturalistic viewpoint is intended to counter.

-- Ian.

Anonymous said...

The point is that her standard of value shifts in the course of her argument from "constant self-preservation" in the early part to "the life proper to a rational being" in the later part. She is not entitled to make this switch. It is an equivocation, and equivocation is a logical fallacy.


This is more of an undirected, FYI tangent than a refutation. Wax on:

When I was an Objectivist, I did actually notice this equivocation. The way I rationalized it, however, is by substituting "life" with "well being." Well being encompasses both physical self-preservation and psychological healthiness. Hedonism is excluded because it satisfies short-term desires at the expense of the long-term. Selfishness (in the common sense) is excluded, because it pits you against the collective will. The whole point of an ethical system is to have a SYSTEM--comprehensive and sustainable, for you and for others, for today and for tomorrow; well being maximized.

With that reformulation, Objectivist ethics was revelatory. In place of a moral shopping list, I had a meter stick to measure my actions, or at least measure better. It replaced imperative with pragmatism, with facts and actions, and cause and effect. Instead of a rulebook, I had a method--infinitely more valuable.

No easy method, to be sure, and certainly Rand's arguments are shoddy, with many wrong conclusions (in my humble opinion). And certainly she didn't originate the philosophies of realism, naturalism, consequentialism, etc. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the education.

Wax off.

-- Ian.

Daniel Barnes said...

Ian:
>No easy method, to be sure, and certainly Rand's arguments are shoddy, with many wrong conclusions (in my humble opinion). And certainly she didn't originate the philosophies of realism, naturalism, consequentialism, etc. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the education.

Ditto, amen!

Michael Prescott said...

Nevertheless, I am grateful for the education. - Ian

That's a good point. For all my criticisms of Ayn Rand (and, like the devil's hordes, they are legion), I did learn something from reading her. Her writing was probably my first exposure to Aristotelianism, which my college Philosophy 101 course managed to skip over entirely, going straight from Plato to Descartes. And she does offer an uplifting view of the human potential, which can be very refreshing in this age of cynical materialism. No doubt she has inspired many readers to pursue dreams they might otherwise have neglected. And she has turned many people (including me) away from a youthful flirtation with socialism.

Though I now think her philosophy is mostly wrong, she certainly got me thinking about metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics in a way that I never had before.

HerbSewell said...

No, I'm not missing reason. I don't want to how man should go about determining whether or not an action or a value is good for his life. Of course, the only rational epistemology to justify ethics is that of reason. Without it, man has no volition and no ability to relate what he thinks to how he acts, because he can't actually think.

the ghost of ayn rand said...

Oh for crying out loud. I have about had it with this nonsense talk of an "equivocation" in the Objectivist ethics. Have you read The Virtue of Selfishness? Therein you will find an essay entitled "The Psychology of Pleasure" which states very openly that "pleasure ... is a profound psychological need". A rational mind needs pleasure, and man requires a rational mind, so that, for man, to exist (survival) and to thrive (well being) are one and the same thing. Hence, in the Objectivist view, "miserable life" is an oxymoron. This is so because of the nature of man and why there is, and let me say with specific emphasis, no equivocation in the Objectivist ethics. The substitition of survival qua plant, animal, or living organism and survival qua man is perfectly logical because it occurs as a direct result of substituting the concept of man for that of plant, animal, or living organism as the subject of discussion. It does not switch from one standard to another, but rather applies the same standard consistently to each type.

When one observes that a rectangle is a figure having four sides and a triangle is a figure having three sides, has one seriptitiously equivocated on the concept of "figure"? Or has one simply substituted another concept about which a different observation applies? So it is with the alleged "shift" from survival as such to survival qua man.

Of course it is no wonder that confusion runs amok for the concrete-bound, for the mystics who mindlessly prattle on, evading the facts of reality. Therefore, I thoroughly expect you to object that many men do indeed live miserable lives, but therein lies the rub: they are not living rationally, i.e. as man qua man. No man who chooses to live qua man lives a miserable life. He may, in his irrationality, live as a wretched, tormented, subhuman, miserable animal, but not as man qua man.

So please, let us dispense with the tired, worn out error, the old saw that there exists an equivocation in the Objectivist ethics!

Damien said...

the ghost of ayn rand,

Which one of us is arguing that pleasure is not a Physiological need?

the ghost of ayn rand said said...

Damien -

Anyone who claims that there exists an equivocation between "survival" and "survival qua man" in the Objectivist ethics, denies man's psychological need for pleasure (as one aspect of a rational mind) and offers instead the notion of a momentary or mere physical "survival" in the case of man (which does not exist, as distinguished from the cases of plant, animal, and living organism). Were it otherwise, one would surely realize that survival as such in the case of man and survival qua man are one and the same thing. The point is that there is no equivocation in the Objectivist ethics.

Michael Prescott said...

A rational mind needs pleasure, and man requires a rational mind, so that, for man, to exist (survival) and to thrive (well being) are one and the same thing. - Ghost of A.R.

So then pleasure is Rand's standard of value? Her ethics is hedonism?

But wait! Rand earlier said that the biological survival of the organism is its standard of value. So in order to be consistent, she would have to say that pleasure is essential to man's biological survival. Not merely desirable or helpful, but mandatory.

This is in fact what the Ghost avers:

Hence, in the Objectivist view, "miserable life" is an oxymoron.

But clearly this is false, since "miserable life" is not an oxymoron, as evidenced by the many people who are unhappy and yet are still biologically alive.

Anticipating this obvious objection, the Ghost says,

"No man who chooses to live qua man lives a miserable life. He may, in his irrationality, live as a wretched, tormented, subhuman, miserable animal, but not as man qua man."

Rhetoric and handwaving. Either a person is biologically alive or he is not. His quality of life is a different issue altogether, and if rand wanted to base her ethics on "quality of life," she should not have wasted time on irrelevant pseudo-biological arguments. Instead she should have tried to find an objective basis for measuring "quality of life."

Incidentally, I know of no evidence to support the thesis that Objectivists are happier than other people. So even if pleasure were essential to biological life, there is no particular reason to think that Rand's value system would ensure a higher quotient of pleasure in people's lives. (One might note that Rand herself ended up miserable, lonely, bitter, and angry, and Leonard Peikoff doesn't seem like a happy camper, either.)

Damien said...

the ghost of ayn rand,

Making a distinction between mere survival and living a good life is not the same thing as saying that man does not need pleasure. You could survive without pleasure, but you wouldn't like it. So you fail to show that there is no contradiction in objectivist thought on the matter of meta_ethics.

Damien said...

Michael Prescott,

Indeed one can live a miserable life. It might not be nice to live an unhappy life, but at least you are still alive. In fact to some degree you could argue that perhaps you should live a miserable life instead of committing suicide. Assuming there is no after life, once you're dead, you have nothing and experience nothing, neither pleasure or pain, happiness, or sorrow, but as long as you are alive, there is usually a small chance that things will improve. If you want a secular case against committing suicide, this is a fairly good one.

HerbSewell said...

Can you please tell me exactly what is missing here that would give a rational justifiable view of happiness from an Objectivist perspective of rational egoism?

Andrew said...

Herb-

Can you clear up this paradox of your design?

Rands philosophy is closed and yet also open to future discoveries of psychology and biology, however, Rand designed her system so it would be impervious to these future discoveries.

If you don't recognize it all I will go back and quote it.

"Of course, the only rational epistemology to justify ethics is that of reason. Without it, man has no volition and no ability to relate what he thinks to how he acts, because he can't actually think."

If someone is horrible to you and you become very upset. Although you feel upset, this feeling is not enough to justify an ethical judgment about the behavior you encountered? To me, this gives another person ability to dismiss your ethical judgment because it is not "rational". Is that right?

An ethical judgment can be a visceral thing initially. Then reasoned and deliberated after the original intuitive insight has been made.

Rand is noted for using this "reason" in emotive affairs. As I am sure the Brandens could attest to, she expected people to be "reasonable" in personal matters of life, love, relationships. A place where intuitive emotional judgments happen faster and more profoundly than can be "reasoned".

I am not denying that reason is an important link in the whole process of formulating action as man. But its simply a component that needs other inputs in order to develop a successful life system.

However, on a basic level our primary drives our biological. When we make a spear to fish to eat we use reason, but reason is just a tool like the spear. Reason may lead to creating more tools, but reason cannot outpace our evolution. The caveman cannot reason his way to designing a computer.

Correspondingly, as we move through the course of history, evolving and moving up Maslows hierarchy of needs pyramid, our ability to reason increases. We deal with more and more complicated problems of cognitive and emotional natures. The complexity of our internal and external interaction increases as our cognitive abilities increase.

Philosophy and its epistemology then starts to play a more central role in society. The more tools our species has in our intellectual tool box, the less we are a victim of evolutionary determinism.

Einstein was noted as being extremely creative and transcendental thinker. His creativity and intuition took him to places that his extremely high cognitive abilities were able to bind with logic and to articulate.

Emotion and intuition as such have an equally important role to play in epistemology as reason and the human experience will be richer for it.


"Sensation presupposes knowledge"

Bertrand Russell

HerbSewell said...

Andrew:

I really don't understand how this cult of misunderstanding of Rand's philosophy came about. Her point wasn't that emotions are not to be used to determine one's actions, but that they are not tools of cognition. In your situation, my emotion would be rational if there was a cognition behind it. I feel like I'm being treated like trash by this particular individual. I make notes of how he is terrible to me: i.e. he insults my mother, he puts out cigarettes on my clothes, etc. I can say that I am in constant loathing of my environment when I am in that situation. I look to see if there's any value that I will achieve that's greater than momentary comfort. If I see there is none, I would conclude there's is no rational purpose to stay around this thoroughly contemptible, detestable person, in which I will escort myself out of his field of interactive influence. If you saw anywhere that I was irrational in this situation, please tell me. If not, please tell me, if there are any, differentiations between I would have hypothetically handled the situation and how Rand's philosophy could advised me to.

"Emotion and intuition as such have an equally important role to play in epistemology as reason and the human experience will be richer for it."

I think intuition could be considered reason also. It still integrates perceptions into concepts, forming knowledge from those concepts. I certainly would imagine that a cognition guided with volition would be more proficient at finding truth than an nonvolitional cognition.

Michael Prescott said...

If I am understanding the Ghost's point correctly, he is saying that Rand's ethics is eudaimonistic. That is, Rand is not concerned about merely surviving, but about thriving or flourishing.

I am not sure that Rand's own writings would consistently support this point, but let's say they do. It doesn't help her ethical system, because there are insuperable problems with any version of a eudaimonistic ethics.

The first eudaimonsitic ethicist we know of was Aristotle. He wrote a long time ago and his writings are widely known, so if his ideas were so compelling, why is this issue not already resolved? The answer is that Aristotle's ethical system is not logically defensible.

Essentially, Aristotle held that the standard of value is a life well lived. But you can easily see the problem. How can we say whether or not a life is well lived unless we already have a standard of value?

Different people have different ideas about what constitutes a life well lived. Some people might desire a life of contemplation, or a life of self-sacrifice, or a life of religious devotion, or a life of money-making, or a life of wild sex. One person's idea of a life well lived will differ from another person's, often quite radically. A sadist might think a life well lived consists of torturing as many people as possible!

So it's clear that just saying "a life well lived" is not enough. We need some other standard by which to establish what "well lived" means.

Aristotle implicitly seems to have chosen the standard of "what my fellow citizens admire." Thus his "great-souled man" is distinguished by the traits that Athenians of Aristotle's day looked favorably upon. But this merely pushes back the problem one step. How do we know that the Athenians' standards were the right ones? If I lived in a society of cannibals, "a life well lived" might consist in being the best cannibal, but this standard would not be acceptable in other societies.

Here we have the problem at the heart of eudaimonistic ethics. To know what it means to "live well" or to "thrive" or to "flourish" or to "live life to the fullest" or to "be all you can be," we first need some other, pre-existing moral standard. This Rand does not supply, except by vague genuflections in the direction of "biological survival" (which does not help her eudaimonistic cause) and "reason" (which is too open-ended a concept to lend support to any particular inference - if you doubt it, consider that almost every philosopher in history has claimed to have reason on his side).

There is something appealing about Aristotle's great-souled man, but this is only because we in the modern world admire some of the same qualities that the ancient Athenians did. But if we are seeking to ground our ethics in objective facts, we need more than the sentiment of our admiration to serve as the foundation.

HerbSewell said...

Micheal,

Please relate that to Ayn Rand's ethics. I really don't understand what the confusion is. You yourself said that life is the ultimate value. In order to know how to achieve if, we need to place the preservation of life as the standard of value, (whereby value is defined as that which seeks to achieve or preserve), so we can no which values are for or against our life.

Andrew said...

Herb-

"I really don't understand how this cult of misunderstanding of Rand's philosophy came about. Her point wasn't that emotions are not to be used to determine one's actions, but that they are not tools of cognition."

Emotions are not unidirectional "tools" of cognition, they engage in a reciprocal relationship with cognition. So therefore they do require embracing as valid tools of learning, in the same way we incorporate reason as a tool of reckoning with our environment and ourselves. We can then feel our emotions and reason a course of action incorporating other inputs of knowledge. So in that sense, yes, emotions are inputs impacting cognition and are a means to an end, of determining a course of action. So as a sensory input of feeling with a reciprocal relationship with cognition, they are indeed a tool of the whole mind and of cognition. Emotions become a tool of cognition when we incorporate them into our reasoning methodology. Rand would have been better off embracing them as such. A tool is something you use.

"In your situation, my emotion would be rational if there was a cognition behind it."

Emotions cannot be considered in themselves to be "irrational or rational" just as people cannot be considered to be "good or bad". In the latter, there is only good or bad behavior, not people. In emotion, our cognitive reactions to visceral sensory inputs would be considered to be irrational or rational. For instance, feeling depressed and then considering the a witch doctor has put you under a spell. An emotion with an accompanying irrational cognition.

"If you saw anywhere that I was irrational in this situation, please tell me. If not, please tell me, if there are any, differentiations between I would have hypothetically handled the situation and how Rand's philosophy could advised me to."

Your thought process regarding incorporating your feelings and the subsequent action was rational based on your needs and your emotional abilities. This hypothetical person seems to function well emotionally, not being co-dependent, as they made a judgment and left the damaging relationship.

So the cognitive responses people have to emotions are dependent on their emotional state. Traumatized individuals who have suffered abuse, even seemingly minor by the standards of others, may have an impossible time "reasoning" through their emotions, their accompanying cognitive functions may also be disturbed and thus their actions.

It is because Rand does not seem to give sufficient understanding to the seemingly irrational nature of some emotions that their accompanying irrational cognition's don't seem to have a valid place in Objectivism. Rand her self probably could have benefited immensely from a serious amount of psycho-therapy. She was closed to her own emotions and consequently her philosophies incorporation of emotion is lacking.

She was known to bawl "wisdom seekers" off the stage as "cheap frauds" and used the term "evil" to describe individuals quite frequently. This judgmental nature of Rand exemplifies the absurdity of taking the "axiomatic principle of free-will" to its ridiculous conclusion, that these people are knowingly and wantonly committing "evil" negates all premises of psycho-social development.

And yet, paradoxically, as Micheal Prescott points out on his site, she worshiped aspects of the psychology of a disturbed murderer.

So I really cant see Rand as having developed anything close to an encompassing system of ethics.

Additionally, I am still curious about my previously mentioned paradox.

Also, to attempt to establish intuition as naked reason destroys the nuances associated with intuition and effectively castrates it.

HerbSewell said...

"Emotions are not unidirectional "tools" of cognition, they engage in a reciprocal relationship with cognition. So therefore they do require embracing as valid tools of learning, in the same way we incorporate reason as a tool of reckoning with our environment and ourselves. We can then feel our emotions and reason a course of action incorporating other inputs of knowledge. So in that sense, yes, emotions are inputs impacting cognition and are a means to an end, of determining a course of action. So as a sensory input of feeling with a reciprocal relationship with cognition, they are indeed a tool of the whole mind and of cognition. Emotions become a tool of cognition when we incorporate them into our reasoning methodology. Rand would have been better off embracing them as such. A tool is something you use."

That still does not say how emotions can directly identify reality. Emotions are still based on some levels of cognition, but are still just the products of the subconscious. Other than knowing how you feel, emotions themselves are not based on volition. Emotions can only be used for introspection, which to be rational, must ultimately lie in some kind of extrospection to understand one's psycho-epistemology and sense of life.

"Emotions cannot be considered in themselves to be "irrational or rational" just as people cannot be considered to be "good or bad". In the latter, there is only good or bad behavior, not people. In emotion, our cognitive reactions to visceral sensory inputs would be considered to be irrational or rational. For instance, feeling depressed and then considering the a witch doctor has put you under a spell. An emotion with an accompanying irrational cognition."

I disagree. An emotion that is based on intuition as opposed to volitional cognition would be irrational. Just because an emotion is irrational does not mean its wrong. For an integrated human, an emotion which is a product of intuition would most likely be the same emotion that is justified by volitional cognition. A rational emotion would be that which is checked by reason.

"So the cognitive responses people have to emotions are dependent on their emotional state. Traumatized individuals who have suffered abuse, even seemingly minor by the standards of others, may have an impossible time "reasoning" through their emotions, their accompanying cognitive functions may also be disturbed and thus their actions."

Rand's ethics depend squarely on volition, as that is the root of all rational values. One certainly, (under the Objectivst ethics), wouldn't consider a mongoloid evil because it constantly acts against its life by eating feces. If a person has a neurological disorder which makes it difficult to exercise volition or cognition, their metaphysical nature would make them unfit to be considered rational.

"Also, to attempt to establish intuition as naked reason destroys the nuances associated with intuition and effectively castrates it."

I don't think so. Intuition is one of the things that makes us human, as we would be just robots if every single action and motive would have to be volitional and conscious.

Andrew said...

“That still does not say how emotions can directly identify reality. Emotions are still based on some levels of cognition, but are still just the products of the subconscious. Other than knowing how you feel, emotions themselves are not based on volition. Emotions can only be used for introspection, which to be rational, must ultimately lie in some kind of extrospection to understand one's psycho-epistemology and sense of life.”

They identify reality in that they identify what is pertinent to us emotionally. Our navigation through reality obviously depends on incorporating this. Even though in a cut and dry sense reality is totally objective, our path through it is not, and through our path we therefore determine our own reality through our actions as we live life. In an emotional sense this is very true, as what I perceive as reality is reality and actions based off this become reality. How can I function any differently?

“I disagree. An emotion that is based on intuition as opposed to volitional cognition would be irrational. Just because an emotion is irrational does not mean its wrong. For an integrated human, an emotion which is a product of intuition would most likely be the same emotion that is justified by volitional cognition. A rational emotion would be that which is checked by reason. “

I must continue to disagree on this point. Emotions are never irrational or rational because more powerful emotions, those that people cannot reckon with cognitively at times, have no objective standard of measurement, they simply exist. What defines the rationality of a person will be there cognitive response to emotion. We can determine if someone’s emotional response to a situation is normal according to what others experience, but we could never determine it as being rational or irrational because that would presuppose the absolute ability to reckon with emotions cognitively. People can only be judged morally or ethically on things which are in their ability to control. This would contradict the false “axiomatic principle of free-will”.


“If a person has a neurological disorder which makes it difficult to exercise volition or cognition, their metaphysical nature would make them unfit to be considered rational. “

Rand needed to expand her definition to include emotional issues to give justification to feelings that affect our ability to behave in cognitively rational way. Her system seems very limited. Emotions are an aspect of our reality in the same way neurological disorders are. Objectivism does not seem to have explored this sufficiently to say the least. Furthermore, this is my interest in you resolving this paradox concerning the closed yet open prediction incorporating definition of the ethics system you gave throughout your posts. How can it be closed, yet open to new theories whilst having simultaneously guarded against future innovation in such disciplines?

Also, to attempt to establish intuition as naked reason destroys the nuances associated with intuition and effectively castrates it.

“I don't think so. Intuition is one of the things that makes us human, as we would be just robots if every single action and motive would have to be volitional and conscious.”

My point exactly Herb, so why would you want draw intuition into the quantifiable and deliberate realm of reasoning? As soon as you are unable to articulate reasoning internally, it becomes intuition. You seem to be contradicting yourself here.

Also Herb, can you reconcile this new paradox?

"Other than knowing how you feel, emotions themselves are not based on volition."

Judging from this statement, I was surprised to see that this following statement is possible.

"An emotion that is based on intuition as opposed to volitional cognition would be irrational"

gregnyquist said...

Michael: "I am not sure that Rand's own writings would consistently support this point [that Rand's ethics is eudaimonistic]"

Rand's writings don't support it, nor does what she said in public. In one of the Q&A to Peikoff's Lectures on Objectivism, Rand explained that she regarded eudaimonism as a mistake, because happiness is an emotion and therefore "subjective."

Andrew: "therefore [emotions] do require embracing as valid tools of learning"

This is correct. Cognitive scientists have discovered that if, due to brain lesions, the ability to experience certain emotions is impaired, reasoning ability becomes seriously compromised.

FO said...

Herb Sewell:"I really don't understand what the confusion is."

The problem is this:

-Objectivist: Because there is no value without life, to value something that is against the faculty that permits one to have values is a contradictory value, therefore life must be the ultmate value.
-Ok, so man ought to direct all his action and all the focus of his mind to ultimately maximizing his life expectancy?
-No no, that is not what Rand says at all. Oh no, Rand says that man ought to survive according to his nature and this may or may not maximize his life expectancy.
-Ok, so how do we know whether we survive according to our nature?
-Man is the rational animal, so if his survival method is in harmony with what is rational, if it is qua man, then it is according to our nature.
-But reason it not a standard in and of itself, reason is instrumental, it can be used to promote maximazation of life expectany or whatver end man wish to pursue. So how do we determine whether some end is rational, how do we determine the proper focus of our mind?
-The proper focus of our mind is to use it in order to survive rationally, according to our nature.
-But that is just circular, for example is FO:s qua man ideal (presented in his excheange with John) qua man? What non circular method is employed to decide between two candidates for qua man? How would you formulate a method that would let a person correctly decide between the two?
-Well, the method of reason of course. Reason applied to the facts of reality.
-So what facts of reality should we focus our mind on in order to decide between two candidates for qua man?
-The facts pertaining to man's true nature of course.
-And how do we know whether something is in accordance with man's true nature
-As I said, Rand identified man as the rational animal, man's true nature is that of a rational being. And a rational being must survuve in acordance with reason.
-You mean, he should use reason to maximize his life expectancy?
-No, you don't listen. I've already explained that survival in the literal sense isn't what Rand meant at all, Rand said that man ought to survive according to his rational nature, survive qua man, the method proper for a human being.
-........

HerbSewell said...

FO,

How about a simpler view. Self-esteem, the notion that one's life is worth living, is one's highest value. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generating process. Man must use his reason to know which values are critical for him to achieve or keep for the preservation of his self. Reason is that tool which will allow him to achieve those values. Purpose is that which directs him to what values he will achieve. A conviction that one is capable of achieving values and a conceptual desire to live make up the self-esteem. In order to be consistent in his hierarchy of values, he must evaluate which will lead to the creation or destruction of his self-esteem. The worth of one's life is entirely dependent on how much one wants to live it. If that aspect is lost, one's life has lost the impetus to live.

HerbSewell said...

"They identify reality in that they identify what is pertinent to us emotionally. Our navigation through reality obviously depends on incorporating this. Even though in a cut and dry sense reality is totally objective, our path through it is not, and through our path we therefore determine our own reality through our actions as we live life. In an emotional sense this is very true, as what I perceive as reality is reality and actions based off this become reality. How can I function any differently?"

I know that, but my point is that they, by themselves, can only be used for introspection of the subconscious. They don't state any facts, truths, or references to reality. They are just there subconscious responses, triggered and programmed by one's thoughts and value judgments

"I must continue to disagree on this point. Emotions are never irrational or rational because more powerful emotions, those that people cannot reckon with cognitively at times, have no objective standard of measurement, they simply exist. What defines the rationality of a person will be there cognitive response to emotion. We can determine if someone’s emotional response to a situation is normal according to what others experience, but we could never determine it as being rational or irrational because that would presuppose the absolute ability to reckon with emotions cognitively. People can only be judged morally or ethically on things which are in their ability to control. This would contradict the false “axiomatic principle of free-will”."

To say that something is not rational or irrational is against the law of the excluded middle. Any emotion that is developed or checked by reason is rational. Any emotion that is not is irrational. Rational and irrational only refer to aspects of volition and cognition. There's nothing wrong with having "gut reactions"

"Rand needed to expand her definition to include emotional issues to give justification to feelings that affect our ability to behave in cognitively rational way. Her system seems very limited. Emotions are an aspect of our reality in the same way neurological disorders are. Objectivism does not seem to have explored this sufficiently to say the least. Furthermore, this is my interest in you resolving this paradox concerning the closed yet open prediction incorporating definition of the ethics system you gave throughout your posts. How can it be closed, yet open to new theories whilst having simultaneously guarded against future innovation in such disciplines?"

Again, she was a philosopher, not a psychologist. As a philosopher, he only job was to say what role emotions play in our cognition. It is up for the sciences of psychology and biology to explain the nuances and the intricate workings of emotions.



"My point exactly Herb, so why would you want draw intuition into the quantifiable and deliberate realm of reasoning? As soon as you are unable to articulate reasoning internally, it becomes intuition. You seem to be contradicting yourself here."

I really don't see the contradiction. I only said that emotions are products of intuition of the subconscious.

"Also Herb, can you reconcile this new paradox?"

My point was to say that all emotions that are not at in some way based on volitional cognition are irrational. Going back to my example of that buffoon who I had desire to associate with, if I had just felt completely angry without an explanation for the emotion, it would have been irrational. It was because I explained by giving examples that I could justify the emotions. Even then, while somebody could explain an emotion, it doesn't necessarily mean its a result of reason. Let's suppose that there was a reason that I should still converse with this rapscallion, (I may intoxicating him with alcohol to get crucial information). It may still be in my best interest to converse with him and there's a conceptual positive value-judgment towards him, but it still doesn't evade the fact that I'm incredibly annoyed by him and emotionally he registers as a negative value-judgment. If I were to escape his area of influence because I emotionally detest him, it will not be in my best interest to do so.

Samuel said...

Herb, is it rational that the moon has craters? Or is it maybe irrational? After all, it has to be either rational or irrational, anything else would violate the law of the excluded middle.

(protip: you can't apply the law of the excluded middle directly on clauses which has an predicate describing the subject; e.g. emotion is rational/irrational. If you want to know more, ask the bald king of France.)

Daniel Barnes said...

Samuel:
>Herb, is it rational that the moon has craters? Or is it maybe irrational? After all, it has to be either rational or irrational, anything else would violate the law of the excluded middle.

Well said Samuel.

Damien said...

Michael Prescott,

I have got to admit I'm envious of you. no one has ever responded so much to anything I wrote. You've started one hell of a conversation.

Andrew said...

My point exactly Herb, so why would you want draw intuition into the quantifiable and deliberate realm of reasoning? As soon as you are unable to articulate reasoning internally, it becomes intuition. You seem to be contradicting yourself here.

“I really don't see the contradiction. I only said that emotions are products of intuition of the subconscious.”

Your previous statement:

“I think intuition could be considered reason also.”

My point is that it’s a contradiction of the Objectivist definition of reason, that reason is an ethical virtue and function of volitional cognition.

As I said, intuition is thought you are unable to articulate internally. You don’t seem to disagree with this.

From this chain of logic we can see that either you will have to disagree with the definition of intuition provided, introduce some sort of scope shift as you tried to by changing your premise, or accept your contradiction, oh wait, maybe you should check your premise, ha ha.

“To say that something is not rational or irrational is against the law of the excluded middle.”

And what of the “Law of Inappropriate Definition”, har har. Now, for the last time, emotions are not rational or irrational. If we are capable of identifying with them, we can deal with emotions in a rational or irrational way. Ie: whether or not we have cognitive distortions concerning an event and exaggerate negative consequences. Or whether or not we have mystical thinking.

Our ability to cognitively deal with emotions is dependent on how we individually experience emotion. And this is very dependent on our psycho-social development, the particular situation and our biology. Some people are just more stoic than others. But the definition of rational or irrational belongs to cognitions, not emotions.

“My point was to say that all emotions that are not at in some way based on volitional cognition are irrational.”

Greg Nyquist-

“This is correct. Cognitive scientists have discovered that if, due to brain lesions, the ability to experience certain emotions is impaired, reasoning ability becomes seriously compromised.”

Herb, here is an emotional issue not based on volitional consciousness, is this irrational?

I also suspect that as cognitive science advances more subtle nuances of a deterministic nature that reckon with biology and environment will come to light. Abuse of children, trauma, hereditary issues, etc. So referencing to a mundane daily situation as you have Herb, does not provide an insight beyond the most basic. And seeing as we are dealing with Rand, basic seems to fit the bill.

Here is the chain of inferences I have set up:

Emotions can be uncontrollable---they affect our ability to reason---reason is a “virtue” and as such part of the Objectivist ethical system---people cannot be judged on things beyond their control---therefore the Objectivist system of ethics is incomplete.


"Again, she was a philosopher, not a psychologist. As a philosopher, he only job was to say what role emotions play in our cognition. It is up for the sciences of psychology and biology to explain the nuances and the intricate workings of emotions."

Not much point in making excuses for her now. If she wasn't competent, why did she try to muddle her way through it?

Daniel Barnes said...

Damien:
>I have got to admit I'm envious of you. no one has ever responded so much to anything I wrote.

Hi Damien

This reminded me I was supposed to get back to you on a few posts myself. But it's all been a bit mad recently. Your comments are usually pretty good.

Damien said...

Daniel Barnes,

Thanks, I'm glad you appreciate them.

HerbSewell said...

“Herb, is it rational that the moon has craters? Or is it maybe irrational? After all, it has to be either rational or irrational, anything else would violate the law of the excluded middle.”

My definition of irrational is anything that is not rational. Because there was no volitional cognitive function, (or at least none that can be identified through any known rational means), it would be irrational.

“My point is that it’s a contradiction of the Objectivist definition of reason, that reason is an ethical virtue and function of volitional cognition.”

That is not reason. Rationality ≠ Reason. Reason is the faculty that integrates the material provided by man’s senses into concepts, gaining knowledge of the world through such integration. No where in that description does it say that is has to be volitional in nature. Let met back up a bit. Maybe rationality can be nonvolitional in nature, though at that point it’s really a question of semantics.

Now that I think of it, intuition can be rational, and so can nonvolitional emotions, but let me make this clear. As a species, one must take the products of nonvolitional cognition as strictly irrational. Only through rugged introspection, one can determine that one’s intuition is naturally very rational, relying on analyzing the situation and then creating an automated response to it.

“And what of the “Law of Inappropriate Definition”, har har. Now, for the last time, emotions are not rational or irrational. If we are capable of identifying with them, we can deal with emotions in a rational or irrational way. Ie: whether or not we have cognitive distortions concerning an event and exaggerate negative consequences. Or whether or not we have mystical thinking.”

I honestly still don’t see the paradox. I’ve gone through what I’ve said several times, yet do not see what is so contradicting. An emotion is rational if is as some point, volitionally or non-volitionally, backed by some non-contradictory identification of reality. If an emotion is simply based on one’s concepts of reality that have not been proven logically then they are irrational.

“Emotions can be uncontrollable---they affect our ability to reason---reason is a “virtue” and as such part of the Objectivist ethical system---people cannot be judged on things beyond their control---therefore the Objectivist system of ethics is incomplete.”

Emotions can only be uncontrollable when one lacks volition, reason is not considered a virtue by the Objectivist doctrine, and the study of emotions in terms of cognition rests squarely in epistemology, not ethics.

“Not much point in making excuses for her now. If she wasn't competent, why did she try to muddle her way through it?”

I’m not making excuses for her. I personally don’t think it’s philosophy’s role to explain the systematic function of emotions. The explanation is discovered through experimentation, in which it’s understanding would go to science

HerbSewell said...

“This is correct. Cognitive scientists have discovered that if, due to brain lesions, the ability to experience certain emotions is impaired, reasoning ability becomes seriously compromised.”

I'm not parading dualism. I recognize that a) conscious organisms have both mental attributes and physical attributes, and (b) both kinds of attributes may participate in determining the causal powers of the conscious organism. In all likelihood, the parts of the brain in that situation which controlled emotions also controlled the brain's cognitive function. My point is that one cannot pragmatically nor mystically say that emotions can control reality or must be assumed to logically based on reality. While the intuition that is behind the emotions may be rational in nature, the only rational use for emotions is introspection. One must squarely remember that pleasurable emotions, (or happiness), can only be the purpose of proper actions, not the standard. Emotions themselves say nothing about reality except how it relates your metaphysical values. Everything here about the Objectivist epistemology and its cognitive theory of emotions seems to be said in misunderstanding of the philosophy. All these objections seem to be coming from the standpoint that Objectivism is dualistic in nature, praising a rather asceticist view of emotions. That's not the case and I wish I knew where people received that notion from.

Andrew said...

My point is that it’s [“I think intuition could be considered reason also.”] a contradiction of the Objectivist definition of reason, that reason is an ethical virtue and function of volitional cognition.

“That is not reason. Rationality ≠ Reason. Reason is the faculty that integrates the material provided by man’s senses into concepts, gaining knowledge of the world through such integration. No where in that description does it say that is has to be volitional in nature. Let met back up a bit. Maybe rationality can be nonvolitional in nature, though at that point it’s really a question of semantics. “

Yes, semantics, lets clear up some semantics. Rationality is the state of being agreeable to reason. So primarily reason is the methodology and rationality describes it. If your reasoning, your rational. Therefore, if rationality is a virtue and it is explicitly describing the act of reasoning, ergo, the ability to reason is the fundamental definition. It’s as though Rand did not know the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions when she made this stuff up. Reasoning is a sufficient condition to being rational, being rational is a virtue, therefore, reason is a virtue.

“Now that I think of it, intuition can be rational”,

Intuition is unarticulated thought, as we seem to agree upon. If its not conceptualized, it cannot be reasoned or therefore rational in nature. If intuition was conceptualized, articulated and reckoned with in concert with other abstractions, it would become reason. So attempting to define intuition as reason, defies its own nature. Remember the Law of Identity, A is A.

“ As a species, one must take the products of nonvolitional cognition as strictly irrational.”

To be more accurate, one must take any cognitions arising from visceral inputs and condition them for rationality, you know, reason, which would be a sufficient condition to determine you as being rational and therefore, virtuous in Rands ethics.

“If an emotion is simply based on one’s concepts of reality…”

There is no other cause of emotion. They are all based on our own concept of reality, anything else is an impossibility, emotion originates in our own being.

“Emotions can only be uncontrollable when one lacks volition,”

Tell that to a genocide survivor or rape victim. Trauma and severe emotion are often uncontrollable. Volition or no volition. Some things cannot be “reasoned” through, they cannot be comprehended by the cognitive brain.

“reason is not considered a virtue by the Objectivist doctrine,”

Herb, you posted this earlier-

“In any case, Rand said that rationality, (the virtue that achieves the value of reason), is the source of all other virtues, but not the only one, in which she names the others in Galt's speech.”

As previously noted, I am confident in saying that rationality requires only reasoning, that reasoning is a sufficient condition to being rational. Ergo, reason is a virtue. To reason is to comprehend, this makes you rational. If you know of other requirements to being rational besides reason, due let me know and we could changes reasoning’s status to a necessary condition of being rational.

“Rand said that rationality, (the virtue that achieves the value of reason”

Rand seems to be mixed up again. Please note that its reason that achieves rationality and not the other way around. Reason is defined as a rational ground or motive, in addition to be being the power of comprehending.

Michael Prescott said...

Rand seems to be mixed up again.

Indeed. Rand never seemed to be quite sure what she meant by "reason," offering a variety of definitions and descriptions.

Robbins, in Without a Prayer, takes Rand to task for placing so much emphasis on a concept so vague:

"Reason is simply a cue word used by all varieties of philosophers. The word reason is a great empty vessel into which all meanings may be poured.

"For Hume reason means experience. For Spinoza and Hegel reason means logic. For Aquinas reason means experience plus ratiocination. Rand seems to mean sense experience, introspection, discussion, and logic.

"Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, and Rand are all philosophers who claimed to be 'champions of reason.'

"For Rand reason is a faculty distinct from the senses -- but she also wrote that reason is 'man's only means of perceiving reality' (Philosophy: Who Needs It? p. 75), so reason is the senses.

"Rand also said reason is 'the only objective means of communication and understanding among men.' This is yet another definition."

(The above is taken from my notes on the book; I'm not sure if it's a direct quote or a paraphrase, and I don't have the book handy to check.)

Andrew said...

“Indeed. Rand never seemed to be quite sure what she meant by "reason," offering a variety of definitions and descriptions”.

“Robbins, in Without a Prayer, takes Rand to task for placing so much emphasis on a concept so vague: “

And not only in her epistemology but her ethics, it has been drawn out into the realm of being a virtue. My thinking is that if deterministic factors affect reasoning ability, how can we be judged ethically on things beyond our control?

"Reason is simply a cue word used by all varieties of philosophers. The word reason is a great empty vessel into which all meanings may be poured.

"For Hume reason means experience. For Spinoza and Hegel reason means logic. For Aquinas reason means experience plus ratiocination. Rand seems to mean sense experience, introspection, discussion, and logic.”

To me reason has multiple applications in epistemology in an external sense but in an internal cognitive sense is simply the ability to comprehend. Aquinas seemed to combine the subjective experience with logical reasoning. Much better than attempting to make virtues out of your subjective experiences.

I seem to remember Max Weber splitting reason into two different types, one more structural and scholastic and the other more practical and personal. I don’t have the book, but I will get it.

"Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, and Rand are all philosophers who claimed to be 'champions of reason.'

"For Rand reason is a faculty distinct from the senses -- but she also wrote that reason is 'man's only means of perceiving reality' (Philosophy: Who Needs It? p. 75), so reason is the senses.

Perceiving means to become aware of through the senses, is reason a sense? I think were in trouble here. So now, senses are virtues?

"Rand also said reason is 'the only objective means of communication and understanding among men.' This is yet another definition."

She seems to need an application specific modifier here, to express a relation with an adverb, otherwise it does become another definition.

I thought maybe it was just Herb, who was making these confusions, but this is from Rand.

gregnyquist said...

HerbSewell: "All these objections seem to be coming from the standpoint that Objectivism is dualistic in nature, praising a rather asceticist view of emotions."

Not at all. We all know that Rand's position is: Enjoy emotions, but don't use them as a "tool" of cognition. It's this notion that emotions should not be tools of cognition that is being attacked as not being consistent with the predominant views of cognitive scientists. Nor are I we suggesting that emotions "ought" to be tools of cognition. No, the objection is far more fundamental: we're suggesting that emotions are tools of cognition, whether we want them to be or not, and that the classical model of a reason destitute of emotion is contray to the facts of reality (as discovered in cognitive science, particularly in the work of Antonio Damasio). Reason and emotion work hand in hand. When people are mislead by emotion it is because they experience "wrong" or inappropriate emotions. But with no emotions at all, no effective thinking would be possible at all.

Anonymous said...

HerbSewell said...
Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generating process.


So, can your self live without the sun?

Can you self live without water?

Does your self generate water?