Friday, December 05, 2008

Slow read with commentary:"The Ethics of Emergencies" (3)

Continuing our para by para examination of Rand's "The Ethics of Emergencies" (Earlier Parts here). Paragraph 9:

Most men do not accept or practice either side of altruism's viciously false dichotomy, but its result is a total intellectual chaos on the issue of proper human relationships and on such questions as the nature, purpose, or extent of the help one may give to others. Today, a great many well-meaning, reasonable men do not know how to identify or conceptualize the moral principles that motivate their love, affection or good will, and can find no guidance in the field of ethics, which is dominated by the stale platitudes of altruism.
Comment:The classic Randian bamboozling continues. Having argued, bizarrely, in the previous paras that altruism is simultaneously the cause of both complete self-sacrifice to others and sociopathic disregard of others, Rand then tells us that despite the "vicious" nature of this false dichotomy, most men do not actually accept either side of it. Well now, if that was the case one would think that harmless might be a better description than "vicious" - but we are not allowed to pause to notice such details as the outraged flood sweeps us on down to the sea of "total intellectual chaos" typical of human relationships over the unfortunate millennia prior to Rand's arrival. Things are in such a state that even well-meaning and reasonable people, minus Objectivism, simply are not able to "identify or conceptualize" the rational principles behind their emotions such as love, affection, or good will, and thus don't even know what "proper human relationships" are.

On the question of why man is not a sacrificial animal and why help to others is not his moral duty, I refer you to Atlas Shrugged. This present discussion is concerned with the principles by which one identifies and evaluates the instances involving a man's nonsacrificial help to others.
Comment: Two or three generic Randian tics are nicely evident over the past couple of paras. The first is the "false dichotomy". She manages to find one of these just about everywhere she looks for them, which I fear only engenders confidence in her when it should engender the opposite (one day it might be worth adding all of them up). The second is that no-one had Clue No.1 about anything - not even human relationships! - until she showed up. The third is the inevitable referral to the works of her favourite philosopher, herself. With these now out of the way we move to the fourth and most dominant Randian rhetorical move, and that is verbalism : the manipulation of the meanings of words.
"Sacrifice" is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue.
Comment: Here, wittingly or not - English was not her native language, and Rand had consistently misunderstood other English words before - Rand performs a verbal switcheroo, and replaces the usual meaning of "sacrifice"- the surrender of a lesser value for a greater value - for its opposite meaning. This complete switcheroo (discussed a little more in our ever-popular "Understanding Objectivist Jargon" series) passes unremarked, and of course immediately begins confounding the argument.
Thus, altruism gauges a man's virtue by the degree to which he surrenders, renounces, or betrays his values (since help to a stranger or an enemy is regarded as more virtuous, less "selfish," than help to those one loves). The rational principle of conduct is the exact opposite: always act in accordance with the hierarchy of your values, and never sacrifice a greater value to a lesser one.
Comment: Obviously if you switch the meanings of words to their opposite, then start arguing against them, you are going to descend into nonsense. To start with, it's not necessarily the case that helping strangers is considered more virtuous than helping loved ones; for example the expression "charity begins at home." Further, people would normally consider a sacrifice virtuous when someone gives up something important to them - say their high paying job - for something more important to them - say to care for their children, or study a particular passion, or to help people if they so desire. In none of these cases are they "surrendering, renouncing, or betraying their values". Thus Rand's proposed "rational principle of conduct" is merely what people do already.

37 comments:

john said...

So............

under your construction of "sacrifice" people surrender a lesser value for a higher value.

Isn't that selfish?

And let's see, what would the converse be? Under your construction what is it when someone actually DOES surrender a higher value for a lesser? What do you call that.

Which did Christ do on the cross?

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Anonymous said...

"Which did Christ do on the cross?"

He sacrificed a lesser value (his life) for a greater (the salvation of mankind).

"Under your construction what is it when someone actually DOES surrender a higher value for a lesser? What do you call that."

Stupidity? Oh, and do you have a good example of this happening?

john said...

anonymous [oh by the way i love your screen name] your question "do I have an example" of someone someone surrenduring a higher value for a lesser tells me you think that is impossible.

Do you think it is impossible for someone to sacrifice a higher value for a lesser?

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Michael Prescott said...

Do you think it is impossible for someone to sacrifice a higher value for a lesser?

Personally, I think this is possible, and it's called "cutting off your nose to spite your face."

Say a guy gets angry and quits his job, which he actually needs. His wife tells him to go back and beg for a second chance. He refuses to do it, out of pride. Now, maybe pride really is his highest value, but let's assume he needs the job more than he needs his pride. If he clings to his pride anyway, then he is sacrificing a greater value for a lesser one. And yes, people do this. But I don't know of any system of ethics that requires or encourages it.

As far as Christianity is concerned, I'd say that Jesus' remarks about "the pearl of great price" and the "hidden treasure" show clearly that his followers were not asked to make a sacrifice in the Objectivist sense. (An Objectivist might say, "Yes, but since there is no God or heaven, they were being asked to give up real things in exchange for nonexistent things" - but this is a metaphysical, not an ethical, objection.)

john said...

In order to parse the formulation "he needs his job and that clinging to his pride is surrendering a higher value for a lower one", there are two pathways:

1) One can say that whatever the person retains IS ipso facto the higher of the values -- no matter what the alternative. In this pathway there is no such thing as surrendering a higher for a lower or a lower for a higher, because the result of retention 'reveals' what the higher was.

2) there is an actual system of graduated value AND there is choice. Sometimes the choice is a higher for a lower value, sometimes it is for a lower over a higher.

Mr. Prescott you will notice that even in your example, in order to not fall into #1 above, you had to engage #2 above, namely an acknowledgement of a hierarchy of values and the fact that the person holding or responsible for the value made a choice. You have judged that holding the job is a higher value than than willfully holding on to anger and pride of the person. Somehow, you made that judgement.

Since #1 requires the obliteration of the concept 'value', then sacrifice of a higher value for a lower one IS possible, because in all cases, choice means either gain or loss of ones values. That is inescapable. I hope no one will sidetrack the discussion to say 'well it could be neutral' because I don't think any choice is completely neutral, but of course some have less or more impact on gain/loss than others.

So, clearly, Rand's identification of "sacrifice" as the surrender of a higher value to a lower is dependant on her identification of 'what is the ultimate measure of value' for an individual. She clearly holds that there is a universal, absolute highest standard, and that all choices are made with a net gain or loss to the individual of that highest value. In her analysis, the word "sacrifice" is always and dramatically attached to actions that objectively diminish this absolute highest value.

Someone arguing against this cannot just lambaste Rand's claim and assert another without cause. She has laid her cards on the table. Anyone denouncing her position is responsible for supplying the alternate.

All of Mr. Barnes purple prose and blustering bile is for naught. He looks ridiculous. He is flailing at nothing, unless he addresses this issue. NOTE: I cannot read Mr. Barnes other 'offerings' on this subject at this blog; all attempts to find part 1 and part 2 fail, including "click here for earlier segments" and "search for other entries on this subject" etc. However, I can see he is already millions of miles down a false trail and slaying invisible dragons.

I'd suggest he come back to the real issue: what is his standard of the highest value for human beings? Is it an absolute, objective standard or not?

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Damien said...

Daniel Barnes,

Most certainly she is already telling people to do what they normally do anyway. Why would anyone voluntarily sacrifice something of greater value to them for something of lesser value to them. If I value my freedom more than my life and die in battle defending it, that is still a sacrifice, in fact it is a tremendous sacrifice. Why is that not a sacrifice? If you don't believe that it is, ask a grieving mother whose son went to war and died, or ask your average war widow. But If I did not value my freedom more than my life, why would I being willing to risk getting killed, to keep from becoming a slave?

Michael Prescott said...

2) there is an actual system of graduated value AND there is choice. Sometimes the choice is a higher for a lower value, sometimes it is for a lower over a higher.

Yes, that is what I think. People can and sometimes do give up a higher value for a lower one. This is where regret comes from. Looking back, we realize we gave up something valuable in exchange for something less valuable. If this were not possible, we would never regret any of our choices, since we would always have chosen correctly.

However, I don't think there is any moral code that requires people to choose lower values over higher ones. People make these bad choices not because of a moral code, but (for the most part) because they have not thought things through or because their thinking is distorted by emotion.

There may be a few cases where a religious value system prompts someone to give up something he dearly wants in exchange for something he thinks he "ought to" want, like the happiness of his neighbors, but I think these instances are pretty rare. Most people are motivated by self-interest and will rationalize their behavior accordingly.

Dragonfly said...

The origin of the endless confusion about sacrifice and greater and lesser values is the notion that there exist absolute values. What Rand does is judging values for other people. Her own definition of "value" is: “Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. How can you decide for other people what they want to gain and/or keep?

What we call "sacrifice" is not choosing a lesser value for a higher value, but not choosing a high value because the person chooses for a value that at that moment is a even higher value for him. He may later regret his choice as he then judges the values of his choices differently ("it wasn't worth it"). People's values may change over time. What we think he should do is not relevant. Take Michael's example: how do we know that that person needs his job more than his pride? That we wouldn't make the same choice in a similar situation is not relevant, for him his pride may be more important. We call it a sacrifice while having a job is a great value anyway. In a similar way we talk in chess about the queen sacrifice, while the queen is so important and powerful. Yet in this case this is also done to gain a greater value (material compensation, better position or even a forced mate).

The whole "problem" disappears like smoke in the wind when you realize that values are subjective.

Anonymous said...

No ethical system advocates sacrificing something more important for something less important. Each just try to define what ought to be valuable, and thus what would be worthy of sacrifice to safeguard. Altruism vs. egoism thus boils down to the value that should be given to other humans, not a question about sacrifice vs. to not sacrifice. The higher value you give to others, the more you are willing to sacrifice for them, and vice versa.

john said...

Here's what I believe Ayn Rand would say to all of you:

In the realm of ethics, you of course are free to chose whatever you wish to believe is your fundamental value. Reality will be the test of living according to that choice. If you place other people's welfare above yours and live your life for them, for instance, reality will give you certain results. You may be happy or miserable. You may actually 'help' those others or you could harm them.

Rand holds that living for others is an error, however. She calls it 'being a second-hander.' Other moralists call it 'an inauthentic life' and some pyschologists call it "codependence."

The moral superiority of living for one's rational self-interest vs living for others will play itself out in the marketplace of ideas.

The next rachet up of this is: living with one's life on this earth as one's highest value vs a promised spirtual dimension after death. This too is subject to debate in the marketplace of ideas.

Rand draws the line at politics, however. While an ethical choice (even if wrong) might be to live for others, or to live to honor God in the next realm, a political choice involves force. Any time an authority with the agency of physical force compels people to live for others, or to behave a certain way because of edicts from a spiritual authority, that is slavery.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Michael Prescott said...

The whole "problem" disappears like smoke in the wind when you realize that values are subjective.

All values? How about if a Jewish person in Hitler's Germany valued his life, while the Nazis in power did not? Would this be merely a subjective difference of opinion? How about if a sadist wants to torture babies? Is that a morally optional choice?

I think some values are real and objective, though Rand's meta-ethical argument is invalid. Some form of intuitionism per G.E. Moore would seem like the best way forward, IMO. (I'm not saying Moore had the complete answer, but his approach looks more fruitful to me than any other I've seen.)

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

What we call "sacrifice" is not choosing a lesser value for a higher value, but not choosing a high value because the person chooses for a value that at that moment is a even higher value for him. He may later regret his choice as he then judges the values of his choices differently ("it wasn't worth it"). People's values may change over time. - Dragonfly
___________________________________





Well done, so far.




___________________________________

Take Michael's example: how do we know that that person needs his job more than his pride? - Dragonfly
-----------------------------------
What we think he should do is not relevant. - Dragonfly
___________________________________








How do we know that what we think he should do is not relevant?

especially as he perceives what we think he should do?






___________________________________

That we wouldn't make the same choice in a similar situation is not relevant, for him his pride may be more important. - Dragonfly
___________________________________




Are you here talking about his real "inner pride" of himself?

or

are you talking about false pride?



So most people don't confuse "inner pride" with false pride?







___________________________________

Here's what I believe Ayn Rand would say to all of you:

In the realm of ethics, you of course are free to chose whatever you wish to believe is your fundamental value. Reality will be the test of living according to that choice. If you place other people's welfare above yours and live your life for them, for instance, reality will give you certain results. You may be happy or miserable. You may actually 'help' those others or you could harm them. - John
___________________________________






So far , so good.





___________________________________

Rand holds that living for others is an error, however. She calls it 'being a second-hander.' Other moralists call it 'an inauthentic life' and some pyschologists call it "codependence." - John
___________________________________





John, so do you think your parents willing to give up their lives to save yours when you were a kid so that you could have a future they could be proud of, or at least would not be ashamed of, meant they were in error?


or


you never had parents?


or


you had parents, but they regarded you as something not worth living for or

not worth

sacrifising

their lives or their happiness as perceived by them for?

___________________________________

So, clearly, Rand's identification of "sacrifice" as the surrender of a higher value to a lower is dependant on her identification of 'what is the ultimate measure of value' for an individual. She clearly holds that there is a universal, absolute highest standard, and that all choices are made with a net gain or loss to the individual of that highest value. In her analysis, the word "sacrifice" is always and dramatically attached to actions that objectively diminish this absolute highest value. - John
-----------------------------------
Rand holds that living for others is an error, however. She calls it 'being a second-hander. - John
___________________________________




Does this mean then you believe your parents regarded caring for you when you were a kid as objectively lower value to their own individual happiness as they saw it?


If so, then

why did they even decide to raise you?

or

why did they even decide to have you in the first place instead of simply aborting you away?

or

simply giving you up for adoption for others?

or

simply placing you on the curb at the hospital in Nebraska?

(under the old safe haven law, if the law has changed since then, parents could simply abandon their children at the hospital for whatever reason)







___________________________________

The moral superiority of living for one's rational self-interest vs living for others will play itself out in the marketplace of ideas. - John
-----------------------------------

Is that a morally optional choice? - Michael
___________________________________






Who decides what is moral?





___________________________________

If I value my freedom more than my life and die in battle defending it, that is still a sacrifice, in fact it is a tremendous sacrifice. Why is that not a sacrifice? If you don't believe that it is, ask a grieving mother whose son went to war and died, or ask your average war widow. But If I did not value my freedom more than my life, why would I being willing to risk getting killed, to keep from becoming a slave? - Damien
___________________________________






So you wouldn't have had problem if the black slaves rose up and kill all the slave holders and those willing to support slave holders' "rights", including their mothers, wives, and children to regain their freedom

and overthrow the government that would have defended their "rights"?

during the time of the founding fathers after the independence?



or your idea of freedom doesn't extend to the blacks?

Damien said...

Red Grant,

I am not a racist. Slavery was always immoral, regardless of what society may have thought. Weather I would have had a problem with slaves overthrowing the nation at around its founding is an irrelevant question. But I am not talking about the nature of morality here. I am not talking about what people should or shouldn't do. I don't see why you insist on treating this like my statement was making a judgment over what we should or shouldn't do. I'm talking about the nature of human motivation and what most people mean by sacrifice.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Why would anyone voluntarily sacrifice something of greater value to them for something of lesser value to them. - Damien
-----------------------------------
But I am not talking about the nature of morality here. - Damien
___________________________________







So morality (as one perceives) has nothing to do with how one chooses higher or lesser values for oneself?

So morality (as you perceive) has nothing to do with how you choose higher or lesser values for yourself?




___________________________________

I'm talking about the nature of human motivation and what most people mean by sacrifice. - Damien
-----------------------------------
But I am not talking about the nature of morality here. - Damien
-----------------------------------
But If I did not value my freedom more than my life, why would I being willing to risk getting killed, to keep from becoming a slave? - Damien
-----------------------------------
Slavery was always immoral, regardless of what society may have thought. - Damien
___________________________________






So morality(as you perceive) has nothing to do with your motivation for defending your freedom from becoming a slave?

Damien said...

Red Grant,

Motivation and morality are two different issues. I was talking about motivation and not morality. You are talking about morality.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red Grant,

Motivation and morality are two different issues. I was talking about motivation and not morality. You are talking about morality. - Damien
-----------------------------------
But If I did not value my freedom more than my life, why would I being willing to risk getting killed, to keep from becoming a slave? - Damien
-----------------------------------
Slavery was always immoral, regardless of what society may have thought. - Damien
___________________________________




So your motivation for willingness to fight to keep from becoming a slave has

nothing

to do with your morality(as you perceive)?


If so, then


what's your motivation for willing to fight to keep from becoming a slave based upon?

Damien said...

Red Grant,

If you really must know what one's willingness to fight to keep from becoming slave is based upon, it is based upon their desire, a desire not to be a slave. Now we could go into a whole debate over the morality, of slavery, and one's right to resist, but that wasn't the point of my comment.

john said...

re: Mr. Prescott comment.

I visited that GEMoores link. I will not spend the time attempting to grasp it. Far too obscure with no foundational principles stated up top.

How would you summarize it? You must have a summary since you say it is the best way formward.

As far as claiming Rand's basis for ethics invalid, sorry but you are in error. Those with an imaginary belief in realms with no reality from which morality flows attempt to fake that there is no relationship between is and ought. 'It's magic.' Ditto with those who attempt to smuggle the basis of morality in on some intuition, emotion, or imaginary collectivist group-think as the subjective root of human nature.

Objectivists on the other hand have reality on our side. We are monolithic in insisting that the axiomatic fact of reality (IS) -- including the existent "Man" possessing objective characteristics indispensible for its existence -- determines objective moral behavior for human beings qua humans (OUGHT).

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Dragonfly said...

Michael: "All values? How about if a Jewish person in Hitler's Germany valued his life, while the Nazis in power did not? Would this be merely a subjective difference of opinion?"

Yes. That we strongly favour one opinion over the other one is not relevant. We tend to look for rationalizations for our strong feelings about such situations, and claiming that our value judgement is objective is such a rationalization.

M.: "How about if a sadist wants to torture babies? Is that a morally optional choice?"

Probably not for us, but for the sadist it is. You can of course give enough examples of behavior that most people would strongly condemn, but that doesn't mean that we can objectively demonstrate that such behavior is wrong. Of course you can deduce such a condemnation from a set of ethics principles, but that's merely shifting the problem: the ethics principles are themselves a subjective choice. Trying to deduce them objectively is doomed to failure, as at one point you'll always have to revert to some subjective choice. Ethics is no science, Mother Nature doesn't give a damn about ethics. What could be more sadistic than the behavior of the Ichneumon? And what about the ethics of the female mantis biting off the head of her mate?

Of course we may come up with arguments for our ethical choices, conforming to how we would like to see our world, but ultimately this is always a subjective choice.

john said...

Dragonfly's belief system boils down to:

"In my soul my standards are my standards. Your standards are your standards. There is no absolute truth. However, if you get a big enough gang to believe in your standards I realize you likely will impose them on me. Fair enough. I won't stoop to rationalizing that my beliefs have anything beyond subjective meaning."

I would have added this last sentence...

"Watch out though! I am organizing my own gang."

.....except that might be presumptuous; Dragonfly might believe that even forming his own gang is a form of imposing.

I honestly can't decide which is the more worthy of my contempt: Religious people who belive in an absolute truth but handed down by an imaginary force that owns the souls of all humans, or the radical skeptic who is so militant about there being no objective truth in morality, politics and even metaphysics that they deliver man's mind impotent, naked, blind, helpless and alone in the world.

However, they both cheat. That's my answer. It is only to the extent they tap into objective reality on reality's terms that they don't perish or kill one another within a few days.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red Grant,

If you really must know what one's willingness to fight to keep from becoming slave is based upon, it is based upon their desire, a desire not to be a slave. - Damien
___________________________________




Your desire not to be a slave, is it based on morality (as you perceive)?


or

something else?


___________________________________

Why would anyone voluntarily sacrifice something of greater value to them for something of lesser value to them. - Damien
-----------------------------------
But If I did not value my freedom more than my life, why would I being willing to risk getting killed, to keep from becoming a slave? - Damien
___________________________________






What standard do you use to choose what is greater value and what is lesser value?

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Rand holds that living for others is an error, however. She calls it 'being a second-hander.' Other moralists call it 'an inauthentic life' and some pyschologists call it "codependence." - John
___________________________________





John, so do you think your parents willing to give up their lives to save yours when you were a kid so that you could have a future they could be proud of, or at least would not be ashamed of, meant they were in error?


or


you never had parents?


or


you had parents, but they regarded you as something not worth living for or

not worth

sacrifising

their lives or their happiness as perceived by them for?

___________________________________

So, clearly, Rand's identification of "sacrifice" as the surrender of a higher value to a lower is dependant on her identification of 'what is the ultimate measure of value' for an individual. She clearly holds that there is a universal, absolute highest standard, and that all choices are made with a net gain or loss to the individual of that highest value. In her analysis, the word "sacrifice" is always and dramatically attached to actions that objectively diminish this absolute highest value. - John
-----------------------------------
Rand holds that living for others is an error, however. She calls it 'being a second-hander. - John
___________________________________




Does this mean then you believe your parents regarded caring for you when you were a kid as objectively lower value to their own individual happiness as they saw it?


If so, then

why did they even decide to raise you?

or

why did they even decide to have you in the first place instead of simply aborting you away?

or

simply giving you up for adoption for others?

or

simply placing you on the curb at the hospital in Nebraska?

(under the old safe haven law, if the law has changed since then, parents could simply abandon their children at the hospital for whatever reason)







___________________________________

The moral superiority of living for one's rational self-interest vs living for others will play itself out in the marketplace of ideas. - John
-----------------------------------

Is that a morally optional choice? - Michael
___________________________________






Who decides what is moral?

Michael Prescott said...

How would you summarize it? You must have a summary since you say it is the best way forward.

The most important point Moore makes is his identification of the naturalistic fallacy, described here. Once the naturalistic fallacy is understood, the way is cleared for an ethics based on an understanding of "goodness" as an unanalyzable "simple" - something that cannot be broken down into smaller parts or defined in terms of something else.

As far as claiming Rand's basis for ethics invalid, sorry but you are in error.

Rand's metaethical argument commits numerous fallacies, including equivocation on the key term "life."

I honestly can't decide which is the more worthy of my contempt: Religious people who believe in an absolute truth but handed down by an imaginary force

If this is aimed at Moore, I should point out that he was an atheist who did not derive his idea of ethical intuitionism from the supernatural. However, I do believe in the supernatural. In fact, for me the best basis for ethics is the Life Review reported by people who have had near-death experiences. It appears that the Golden Rule has a basis in fact: how we treat other people really does come back to us.

(I'm not trying to derail the thread into a pointless debate about NDEs - just trying to show where I'm coming from. Even if I'm wrong, my study of NDEs has still encouraged me to treat others with more compassion and respect, and as Martha Stewart would say, that's a good thing.)

john said...

You and Moore are claiming "good" as axiomatic?

That is totally void.

Good is a value judgement. It obviously can be broken down into antecedent parts, namely a thinker, the existents the thinker is thinking about, the relationship of one or more existents and a standard of validation for which the normative evaluation "good" is the affirmative as opposed to "bad" which is necessarily implied.

This error is utterly Platonic and mistakes qualities of human consciousness as existing as primaries on their own in some other "world".

Claiming that "good" is an irreducible primary is just another very weird way of cheating, as I indicated above. Rand would say you are stealing the value of the higher-level concept "good" and pasting it in as a primary to avoid facing the more elemental metaphysics of objective reality that antecede it.

This would be consistent with constructing the idea that the experiences reported in near deaths are supernatural.

And each time you insist that Ayn Rand's Objectivist Ethics has been refuted, you will be corrected. The page you linked contains nothing but misplacements, irrelevancies and avoidance of Rand's mainline proof.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Daniel Barnes said...

John:
>And each time you insist that Ayn Rand's Objectivist Ethics has been refuted, you will be corrected.

Well the case against Rand's ethics is simple and devastating.

1) First of all, the logical situation. She does not succeed in showing how ought is derived from is. She does not even understand this problem properly, which is that you cannot logically derive a decision (any decision, including moral ones) from a fact.

To demonstrate this, let's try this simple example:
Fact: It is Monday.
Therefore what should I do?

Please show your logical workings.

2)Secondly, Rand's ethics rest on an equally erroneous equivocation.This is in The Objectivist Ethics, where she equates "life" with survival at the beginning of the essay, then switches to equating it with "man qua man" (which means being an Objectivist) halfway through. Either side of this equivocation is fatal, as the first means Rand's ethics are merely the old Prudent Predator position, and the second makes them a simple petitio.

Sorry to break it to you...;-)





2) Second, her ethical pos

john said...

Sorry to break it to you but you and Nyquist and this entire blog are void because you do not discuss Ayn Rand. You launch off into long chains of slogging and flogging bluster, such as this thread, but you are running around in a desert of your own making, having nothing to do with Objectivism.

Here is your devastation:

"Fact: It is Monday.
Therefore what should I do?"

Where did you come up with the idea that an "Ethics" based on reality works this way? The example you gave is so sophomoric, so infantile that it almost makes me feel sorry for you. You actually put time into thinking that THAT is Objectivist ethics? Not only does Ayn Rand not make that argument, but even the legions of thinkers who wage war on the fact that morality is based on objective reality don't sink to this level when attempting to refute morality based on reality.

Your other point is equally void, based on your non-acceptance of Rand's identification of man's nature. Of course, this is the fundamental error of this website. Perhaps you can take some comfort in the fantasy that if Rand is indeed wrong in identifying man qua man, then you would indeed be triumphant. You wouldn't need to keep blabbering however as it would just be crowing.

I am not going to help you by lecturing on the ACTUAL relationship between the metaphysical facts of reality and Objectivst Ethics. Since you have apparently read the seminal works, and not understood, a repeat would have no purpose.

However, just in case you are open to an ethics 101 start over, ask yourself why man needs a code of ethics in the first place. You know, "What's the point?" "Why bother?"

Once you've posted the answer to that, perhaps I or another generous Objectivist will gently help you take tiny baby steps to understanding the subject. Some day you may even attain the level of being able to ask a simple question that reflects you have grasped the first page of "The Virtue of Selfishness" or any other primary text of Ayn Rand.

Until then, just remember you are not discussing Ayn Rand in your rambles but rather dust and wind.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red Grant,

If you really must know what one's willingness to fight to keep from becoming slave is based upon, it is based upon their desire, a desire not to be a slave. - Damien
___________________________________




Your desire not to be a slave, is it based on morality (as you perceive)?


or

something else?


___________________________________

Why would anyone voluntarily sacrifice something of greater value to them for something of lesser value to them. - Damien
-----------------------------------
But If I did not value my freedom more than my life, why would I being willing to risk getting killed, to keep from becoming a slave? - Damien
___________________________________






What standard do you use to choose what is greater value and what is lesser value?

gregnyquist said...

Michael: "I think some values are real and objective, though Rand's meta-ethical argument is invalid. Some form of intuitionism per G.E. Moore would seem like the best way forward, IMO."

Not many philosophers seem to be aware of this nowadays, but Moore's intuitionism was decisively refuted by Santayana nearly 100 years ago. Indeed, after reading Santayana's critique, Bertrand Russell abandoned intuitionism.

Rand and Moore are both enemies of all naturalistic moralities that seek to ground ethics in the actual needs and wants of living human beings. They each disliked the relativism and emotionalism of all naturalistic moralities, such as Hume's and Smith's moral sentiment view or the eudaenomism of Aristotle. It's not so much objectivity that they were aiming at, but universality: "absolute" values. Under a naturalistic morality, the moral unit is the individual, with his unique traits and interests. All values are "relative" to the individual; but that doesn't make them "subjective" in the disparaging sense meant by Rand. As Santayana explained, "Food and poison are such only relatively, and in view of particular bodies, and the same material thing may be food and poison at once; the child, and even the doctor, may easily mistake one for the other. For the human system whiskey is truly more intoxicating than coffee, and the contrary opinion would be an error; but what a strange way of vindicating this real, though relative, distinction, to insist that whiskey is more intoxicating in itself, without reference to any animal; that it is pervaded, as it were, by an inherent intoxication, and stands dead drunk in its bottle! Yet just in this way Mr. Russell and Mr. Moore conceive things to be dead good and dead bad. It is such a view, rather than the naturalistic one, that renders reasoning and self-criticism impossible in morals; for wrong desires, and false opinions as to value, are conceivable only because a point of reference or criterion is available to prove them such."

Rand would have regarded Moore's intuitionism as a species of intrinsicism; what she failed to understand is that all moral systems that claim to have discovered "absolute," non-relative values are guilty intrinsicism. Rand's own system is an attempt to mix relativism and absolutism. She wants to take the best elements from both camps while ignoring the respective disadvantages of each. She thought she could accomplish this by making "life" the point of reference or criterion: but life is simply too broad for most uses. Life is merely a necessary means for achieving other values, so that the value of life is dependent on whether there exist other values that are worth striving for beyond mere survival: for if no such values existed, than life itself would be an entirely vain endeavor and without value. But where are these other values to come from if not the needs and desires, the sentiments and interests that human beings actually experience? And so we find ourselves right back to the positions of Hume and Aristotle and all the other "scandalous" ethical relativists! There's no escaping it: if you want a rational, secular, naturalistic morality, you have no choice but to be a relativist and ground your morality in the real interests and needs of human beings. Absolute values only make sense in a transcendental system, such as monotheism, where values are written into the very fabric of reality by the hand of God.

Daniel Barnes said...

I wrote:
>Fact: It is Monday.
Therefore what should I do?

J Donohue replied:
>Where did you come up with the idea that an "Ethics" based on reality works this way? The example you gave is so sophomoric, so infantile that it almost makes me feel sorry for you. You actually put time into thinking that THAT is Objectivist ethics?

But John, this is just the problem that Rand is trying to solve: Hume's point that you can't logically derive a decision (an ought) from a fact (an "is", or any number of "is"es). This is the central logical problem in ethics, where it is know as the "is/ought" problem or gap.

You simply don't understand the problem you think Rand solved - and neither did Rand. The fact that you dare not answer even as infantile an example as "Fact: It is Monday. What ought I do?" shows all to eloquently what an non-solution you possess.

>Not only does Ayn Rand not make that argument, but even the legions of thinkers who wage war on the fact that morality is based on objective reality don't sink to this level when attempting to refute morality based on reality.

You don't know what you're talking about, my friend. Get yourself a fact, or any fact, and logically derive an actual decision from it. Then you've solved the problem. The forum will await with bated breath your demonstration. Meanwhile, because you're one of the ARCHNblog's most dedicated readers, I'll save you time and summarise Rand's answer to Hume for you: Man is, therefore he ought to do...something!

Brilliant!....;-)

Michael Prescott said...

Greg rwote, "if you want a rational, secular, naturalistic morality ..."

Wouldn't any naturalistic morality inevitably founder on the is-ought problem? (Not to mention Moore's "naturalistic fallacy.")

john said...

Once again, you are flailing at some phantom nightmare of your fetid imagination, a lot of noise with no relevance to Ayn Rand whatsoever.

"this is just the problem that Rand is trying to solve: Hume's point that you can't logically derive a decision (an ought) from a fact (an "is", or any number of "is"es). This is the central logical problem in ethics, where it is know as the "is/ought" problem or gap."

Rand did not attempt to "solve" this problem. It is not a problem. Her system does not suffer fracture from alienation of the facts of reality from the norms of her ethical system as did the unfortunate Hume and many others. Just as she has no need for God, no reason to attempt to prove the existence of God, nor any gap in her system due to the absence of God, she also has no need for this false schism, no reason to attempt to 'resolve' it, nor any gap in her system due to the absence of confronting it. The error belongs to others. You just don't get that you are dealing with a thinker outside your world view. Ayn Rand was often called an iconoclast and it is one 'branding' that she actually deserves.

Since I have no hope this response will knock you silly, I'll add the following for anyone else interested.

What Barnes and Nyquist do is reject Ayn Rand at the root. Fine, that is their right. Everything they write, however, then becomes a useless exercise in blubber, because they do not put her broad world view, nor her specific argument at issue. They "refute" something that has no basis in what Rand meant and hold up the supposed severed head in triumph. Honest thinkers at least have the balls to represent the actual intent of the opposition and then attempt to refute it. Not so here.

The Is/Ought problem is a non-issue for Ayn Rand.

Quoting her:
"It is only an ultimate goal, and end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “life.” To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.”

In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.”"
Ayn Rand in the Virtue of Selfishness.


I asked Mr. Barnes to answer the fundamental question, which of course he did not do. The answer is: Man needs a code of value to inform his thinking, choices and actions. He has evolved past the instinctual brute stage and now must kick his survival mechanism into gear by an act of will, and his tool is the identification of the facts of reality through reason. He stores the accumulated wisdom about facts in his mind, and has the ability to validate the truth of factual wisdom discovered by others and can integrate it into his own knowledge. Even then, having gathered this knowledge, right action to preserve his values (ethics) -- his life being the root value -- does not follow 'automatically.' He must think, choose and act to maintain his life.

The FACT that the world exists, and the FACT that he exists and the FACT that he is a being of volitional consciousness and the FACT that he must initiate action does not in and of itself "derive" a code of action, nor need it do so. What Rand maintains is that a person's rationality, choices and actions ought not contradict the facts of reality. One ought to have his choices 'fall back' upon facts at all times. That is what Rand means by "the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality." No magical thinking. No wishful thinking. No miracles. No praying. No blind acceptance of someone else's values. No avoidance of thinking, choosing and acting. A healthy ethical code for oneself is "determined" by the facts of reality in that it ought not contradict them.

The notion that facts must -- on their own and by the very fact they are facts -- "pop up" some sort of code detached from the life of the person holding the code is absurd. To make it very clear: "IS" does not "Derive" a code of ethics that a person suddenly notices and follows out of duty, fear or laziness. Rather, a human thinks, chooses and acts on a self-validated basis operating from an Ethics that advises that the thoughts, choices and acts "OUGHT" to be in non-contradiction to "IS".

Anyone infected with worry over the Is/Ought issue has symptoms of Platonism, and THAT is the problem here. Miss Rand is not infected. Shes does not carry the baggage. Platonists hunger to be told what to do, either by the PhilosopherKing, or Jesus, or Ancestors or dictators or the democracy. They want the "CODE" to appear on a tablet, preferably in flaming letters, to tell them what to do, how to live. The suggestion that the simple facts of life will produce the CODE is insane to them.

[Totally ironic sidebar: Nevertheless, even though insane, billions accepted for a thousand years that because of today being "Friday" I ought not eat meat or if I die from food poisoning I will burn in Hell forever. Right? ]

Of course in the modern day, all the dramatic trappings of the lust for an "established' moral code inscribed on a stone slate is stripped away (through exhaustion, in my opinion) and we have Intuition of the Good But Your Good is Your Good and My Good is My Good, as cited by more than one person in this very thread. That means whim: blind emotion. While this may appear to be the opposite of an imposed edict of morality, it is really the same thing; blank out of the need for individual soul to found his ethics in the facts of reality through his own thinking, choosing and acting.

Once again Mr. Barnes, you flail at only your own wind and dust. The Is/Ought problem is not to be found in Objectivism. Rand is under no burden to discuss it, let alone 'resolve' it, let alone accept YOUR world view in which it vexes all thinkers. She does not have the problem.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Red Grant said...

___________________________________.
Here's what I believe Ayn Rand would say to all of you:

In the realm of ethics, you of course are free to chose whatever you wish to believe is your fundamental value. Reality will be the test of living according to that choice.




If you place other people's welfare above yours and live your life for them,




for instance, reality will give you certain results. - John
-----------------------------------
Rand holds that living for others is an error, however. She calls it 'being a second-hander. - John
-----------------------------------
So, clearly, Rand's identification of "sacrifice" as the surrender of a higher value to a lower is dependant on her identification of 'what is the ultimate measure of value' for an individual. She clearly holds that there is a universal, absolute highest standard, and that all choices are made with a net gain or loss to the individual of that highest value.

In her analysis, the word "sacrifice" is always and dramatically attached to actions that objectively diminish this absolute highest value. - John
-----------------------------------
Rand holds that living for others is an error, however. She calls it 'being a second-hander. - John
-----------------------------------
What Rand maintains is that a person's rationality, choices and actions ought not contradict the facts of reality. One ought to have his choices 'fall back' upon facts at all times. That is what Rand means by "the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality." No magical thinking. No wishful thinking. No miracles. No praying. No blind acceptance of someone else's values. No avoidance of thinking, choosing and acting. A healthy ethical code for oneself is "determined" by the facts of reality in that it ought not contradict them. - John
-----------------------------------
Rand holds that living for others is an error, however. She calls it 'being a second-hander. - John
___________________________________





So your parents placed your welfare when you were a kid as lesser value than their own individual happiness?

Do you think parents then should place their childrens' welfare as lesser value than their own individual happiness?

Does this mean then your parents should have sacrifised you when you were a kid in an emergency because you would have been a lesser value to them according to Ayn Rand's standard?








___________________________________

Red Grant,

If you really must know what one's willingness to fight to keep from becoming slave is based upon, it is based upon their desire, a desire not to be a slave. - Damien
___________________________________




Your desire not to be a slave, is it based on morality (as you perceive)?


or

something else?


___________________________________

Why would anyone voluntarily sacrifice something of greater value to them for something of lesser value to them. - Damien
-----------------------------------
But If I did not value my freedom more than my life, why would I being willing to risk getting killed, to keep from becoming a slave? - Damien
___________________________________






What standard do you use to choose what is greater value and what is lesser value?

Michael Prescott said...

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.

Dragonfly said...

Very well said, Michael. You see, sometimes I agree with you!

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

Yet another attempt to completely miss the point of what Rand is trying to say. In actuality, you can't be necessarily sure that it was because of English being her second language that made her confuse the meaning of the word sacrifice. Secondly, in all likelihood, she was just redefining it in order for the term "sacrifice" to usable philosophically. For a rational human being, one is constantly working and acting in accordance to their hierarchy of values. People consider this more a "gain" than an actual "sacrifice". In all probability, she redefined the word in order for the term "self-sacrifice" to be non-contradictory. After she held that sacrifice was evil, she determined that the self was the source of all values of a rational being. In that case, one could not possibly commit self-sacrifice because it's impossible to gain a greater value than the self because it is the standard of value. In order to show that self-sacrifice was evil, she had to make the concept of sacrifice contrary to its denotative construct and simply contradictory.




"Thus Rand's proposed "rational principle of conduct" is merely what people do already."

That is completely untrue. People do not do that already because if we did, the whole concepts of duty that people can sacrificed their entire lives. The whole ideas of putting other before yourself, thinking of other people's welfare before your own, and being selfless in general that have been practiced since the introduction of Judo-Christianity and thrive in the philosophical bedrock of all totalitarian regimes come from the of altruism, the idea that the welfare of others is the standard of good. Aside from very radical philosophers in the past like Nietzsche, nearly the entire philosophical scene was that of propounding that man is an end to the means of others, and working in his own self-interest was others. While other people chose this goal, many did in despair as they could not adequately fulfill their culturally imposed moralities, leading to irrational philosophies like nihilism and hedonism. Ayn Rand set out to prove that not only that man could be proud that he worked towards his own interests but that it was only moral goal for man to live a man qua man.

Brendan said...

Herb: “…altruism, the idea that the welfare of others is the standard of good.”

No. Philosophically, altruism is opposed to egoism. The principle of egoism is that self-interest is a sufficient basis for morality.

Altruism takes the opposite tack: that self-interest is not a sufficient basis for morality, and the interests of others should also be a factor.

However, Rand’s interpretation of ‘opposite’ in this case meant that she understood the opposite of ‘self-interest’ to be ‘other-interest’. In doing so, she assumed that for egoism the principle of self-interest is the only basis for morality; whereas for altruism she assumed that the principle of other-interest is the only basis for morality.

In reality, a good proportion of the subject matter of morality is about weighing up the sometimes conflicting interests of various parties, and the standard understanding of altruism is consistent with this fact.