Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ayn Rand Contra Evolutionary Dynamics

Writer and philosopher Stefan Pernar (from www.jame5.com and www.rationalmorality.info) believes he has found a serious flaw in Rand's ethics. I will let Mr. Pernar explain his point of view in his own words:

When I started to research Objectivism, I was very excited. Ayn Rand’s philosophy seemed to be founded on axioms that are very similar to mine — namely the axiom of existence in the form of “existence exists” from which Rand derives life as the ultimate value (from Wikipedia):


According to Rand, “it is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible,” and, “the fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.” She writes: “there is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action… It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death…” The survival of the organism is the ultimate value to which all of the organism’s activities are aimed, the end served by all of its lesser values.


She continues to argue as following:


As with any other organism, human survival cannot be achieved randomly. The requirements of man’s life first must be discovered and then consciously adhered to by means of principles. This is why human beings require a science of ethics. The purpose of a moral code, Rand held, is to provide the principles by reference to which man can achieve the values his survival requires. Rand summarizes:

“If [man] chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course. Reality confronts a man with a great many ‘must’s,’ but all of them are conditional: the formula of realistic necessity is: ‘you must, if -’ and the if stands for man’s choice: ‘if you want to achieve a certain goal’”


So far so good. However, it is the next step that leads her to advocate selfishness in achieving the goal of existence where she loses me. In this context I would like to put forward the following key quotes of hers to illustrate the Objectivist perspective.:


“Man knows that he has to be right. To be wrong in action means danger to his life. To be wrong in person - to be evil - means to be unfit for existence.” (source)


The second one is a quote that epitomizes Objectivist Ethics and the proclaimed Virtue of Selfishness:


“I swear — by my life and my love of it — that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” — John Galt, Atlas Shrugged


It is not surprising that since these postulates contradict my own concepts of morality as well as the centrality of compassion in it, I was keen to disprove selfishness as virtue using a third party, an ‘independent’ concept if you will. Well, meet the Price equation and how it applies to the evolution of altruism.


In this context altruism is defined as the genetic predisposition to any behavior which decreases individual fitness while increasing the average fitness of the group to which the individual belongs. Or in other words: a group with sufficient altruists will out-compete a group of egoists.


A similar example would be kin selection; and without wanting to get into too much details J.B.S. Haldane had full grasp of the basic quantities and considerations that play a role in kin selection when he famously said that:


“I would lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins”


However you slice it, the question remains how the Objectivist ideal of selfishness as a virtue holds up against these insights in evolutionary dynamics? In short: it doesn’t. Egoists can only exist as parasites in groups of altruists—period. Fully selfish groups would be out-competed over the course of evolution because they are simply “unfit for existence” to use Rand’s own words.


Valentin Turchin probably put it best when he wrote:


“Let us think about the results of following different ethical teachings in the evolving universe. [...] No one can act against the laws of nature. Thus, ethical teachings which contradict the plan of evolution [...] will be erased from the memory of the world. [...] Thus, only those [ethical] teachings which promote realization of the plan of evolution have a chance of success.” — Valentin Turchin, The Phenomenon of Science, Ethics and Evolution


Sorry folks — the math says Objectivist Ethics is not one of them.

194 comments:

Cavewight said...

In this context altruism is defined as the genetic predisposition to any behavior which decreases individual fitness while increasing the average fitness of the group to which the individual belongs. Or in other words: a group with sufficient altruists will out-compete a group of egoists.

That's not how Rand defined "altruism." If he wants to redefine it according to another context then his critique is no longer applicable to Objectivist morality.

Stefan Pernar said...

Rand did not use genetic terms or an evolutionary context, but there is sufficient overlap between the meaning of the two definitions (giving ones own life for that of another) to remain applicable.

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "That's not how Rand defined 'altruism.'"

While this is true, there is a further question: is it relevant to the point at issue? The problem we are confronted with is two rather abstract (and therefore vague) conceptions of altruism. The question is whether, as Stefan suggests, there's any overlap.

Perhaps stating this issue in more concrete terms will be helpful. Suppose you have two countries, A and B, that are identical in every respect except that no one in A would ever die for their country while in B most people would be willing to die for theirs. Now further suppose that these two countries go to war. Which country is most likely to win the war? Well, obviously B would have an advantage.

Now those willing to die for country B would correspond to Stefan's conception of altruism. The question is: would they also correspond to Rand's conception altruism? Is willing to die for one's country (or tribe or group) altruism, in the Objectivist sense of the word? If it is, then Stefan's analysis applies to Rand's ethics.

Cavewight said...

Greg:

The countries in your example must have something worth dying for. Rand was not against the idea of sacrificing one's life for a higher value, and in this regard, it is not one's own life that is the determining standard, but the life of man qua rational being as a principle of moral behavior. If a soldier believes that his country's government is a defender of man qua man, then he should be willing to make the sacrifice for his country, and would never consider it altruism.

Evolutionary Dynamics theory does not consider the principles involved. There is simply the matter of measuring fitness - however this is accomplished, perhaps by taking a poll before and after the sacrifice, or giving the group members medical exams to see if the sacrifice of the one benefited them all on average.

That sound silly, but that's how I interpret the theory, since it was the theory that mentioned "average" fitness as if this were a kind of measurable statistic.

In effect, it is possible to sacrifice one's own fitness toward improving the average fitness of the group without considering it altruism, because Rand is not thinking in terms of measuring fitness but in terms of moral principles, or let's say, in terms of "moral fitness" which cannot be measured in terms of averages.

Anon69 said...

Cavewight, that is a perfect example of Objectivist epistemological goofiness. One's moral principles disappear without the concrete instance of *self* from which they are abstracted (one would think, chiefly so!). This is an area where Objectivism completely falls apart in my view - it's sordid insistence on abstract principle, even at the expense of one's own concrete self, and why? Because, we are told, "man thinks in principles", period, end of story. That is true, perhaps, at the level of Clifford the Big Red Dog ("that is a table ..."), but anyone who isn't seriously mentally challenged can quite easily see that the abstract principle "man's life" becomes a meaningless floating abstraction without the concrete instance of *one's own life* to tether it to reality. And yet I have seen this sort of absurd argument all the time from Objectivists (most notably, in Prudent Predator rebuttals). As one result we can end up in a place where men can die for their country consistent with Objectivism. Isn't it convenient that Objectivism can be twisted however we want to suit the expediency of the moment? But it is ridiculous. Real rational self-interest cannot contemplate self-sacrifice, indeed self-annihilihation, in the name of self-interest; to do so would be a gross epistemological error and contradiction. I contend that Rand cannot have it both ways - either Objectivism entails a morality of real rational self-interest whose concepts are reducible at any moment to real concrete instances - and there is no more important concrete instance than one's own existence - which precludes self-sacrifice, or it is altruistic and contemplates that one's own life can be sacrificed to a floating principle of "qua man".

Cavewight said...

Anon69:

I couldn't agree more.

Objectivist ethics can be twisted to suit any Randroid counter-argument. If you knock it down from one perspective, he props up another argument. If you knock that one down, he props up the original perspective in its place.

Objectivism is like a water mattress filled with jello. Push down on one end and the other end pops up.

Self-interest - is it concerned with one's self? Or, is it concerned with the principle of man's life qua rational being? How do these two poles coincide? Blank-out.

Objectivism cannot be defeated because it cannot be pinned down. And that, folks, is the way they prefer matters in the Objectivist realm.

Cavewight said...

Anon69 wrote:
One's moral principles disappear without the concrete instance of *self* from which they are abstracted (one would think, chiefly so!).

You're assuming that Rand did not commit some kind of bait-and-switch tactic in her Objectivist moral theorizing.

It's not that this hasn't been pointed out before, after all. It was, as I recall, pointed out back in the 1970s. One minute she's talking about man's survival, the next minute she's talking about "man qua man, qua rational being."

Where did the switch take place, logically speaking? The trick is to discuss the use of reason as that which distinguishes human from animal survival, then route the argument through the premise of man's life as the ultimate standard. The switch occurs after this point, a segue which seems effortlessly seamless - but then, Rand was quite the clever little writer. She started her argument premised in reality, and then, like a balloon, let it float into the stratosphere without anyone being aware of the difference.

You can see her employ the same tactic in the epistemology, in the chapter on axioms. Although in this case there is a chapter break dividing the previous discussion from the discussion on axioms, it involves the same technique. Start with ideas premised in reality (abstraction from perceived content), and then, after filling the balloon with all this helium about measurement-omission, etc., let it fly, declaring with vast godlike certitude, "A is A."

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "The countries in your example must have something worth dying for."

Worth dying for? To whom and why? Evolutionary dynamics only looks at the conduct, not at the motivation for the conduct, which is not important for judging its long-term consequences on the group's survival.

"Evolutionary Dynamics theory does not consider the principles involved. There is simply the matter of measuring fitness"

I don't think that's a fair characterization. I believe (though I am not an expert in this subject) that the focus is on survival of genetic material, and the effect this has on natural selection. Groups can be seen as carriers and promoters of the genes of its members. If there exists an unwillingness to fight and die for the group, the group will not survive, and the genes of its members will perish with it. Hence over time a genetic predisposition for sacrificing ones life for the group will develop, as genes predisposing individuals to risk their lives for the group will have a survival advantage over genes that don't carry that predisposition.

Onar Åm said...

I think a lot of the misconceptions in this thread stems from the concept of altruism as is commonly used. This concept is a mixture of the concept of benevolence (do good to ohers) and self-sacrifice. Speaking of matresses filled with jello, this common concept of altruism is certainly one of them. In one context it is used as synonymous with "nice" even though it is perfectly possible to be nice to others and benefit from it. I.e. benevolence and egoism are not opposites. And at other times altruism is defined as giving up a value, regardless of context, i.e. of what one gains. The most ridiculous construct I've seen is "reciprocal altruism" to denote trade. Self-sacrifice for mutual benefit! You can hardly look for a better oxymoron than that.

Ayn Rand cleaned up this mess and defined altruism as giving up more value than one gets in return. This is a brilliant way of integrating context into the concept of altruism. Similarly, egoism is defined as getting more in return than one gives up. The only thing that is somewhat confusing about this is that often a selfish act involves ending up with less value than one started with. The reason she calls such cases selfish is because she evaluates the full context: what alternatives exist? If only bad alternatives exist, then choosing the lesser evil is the selfish choice.

This is such a special case selfihsness that it warrants its own term (Ayn Rand did not provide it). I am fully open to suggestions here, but "selfish self-sacrifice" is one possibility, where the oxymoron is deliberate in order to make a point. We could also possibly speak of positive selfishness (maximizing a gain) or negative selfishness (minimizing a loss). Whatever term we choose these two cases are both selfish but appear very different. Minimizing your losses looks a whole lot like self-sacrifice to the untrained eye.

(An alternative is simply to hijack the term "sacrifice" (possibly rational sacrifice) and properly redefine it as "minimizing one's loss." Altruism then should properly be redefined as self-destruction for the sake of others, i.e. a special case of nihilism.)

Whatever name we give, all the troubling aspects of Ayn Rand's morality stems from this concept of minimizing one's losses. Understanding that minimizing one's loss is rational and a special case of selfishness is key to understanding her apparent acceptance of self-sacrifice.

When we understand this concept of negative selfishness it becomes immediately clear that in evolution ALTRUISM IS NEVER SELECTED FOR. There is no place for altruism in evolution. It doesn't exist. All cases of apparent altruism are just special cases of an organism minimizing bad alternatives, i.e. of selfish sacrifice.

Example: a parent gives her life to save her offspring.

The only way that such a trait can evolve and prosper is if the carrier of this gene on average gains from it. It follows the maxim: "do onto your children what you want your parents to do to you." In other words, that parent is alive today -- exists -- because some ancestor in a situation of crisis risked and gave up her life for her offspring.

Notice that the parent never risks her life unless there is a bad situation, i.e. there only exists bad alternatives. Also notice that she does not risk her life for others than carriers of that gene (or in general individuals that resemble herself).

Cavewight said...

Greg:
I'm searching for the principles in your post and not finding them. Perhaps I neglected to read between the lines too?

Oh well, nothing you've explicitly written so far here convinces me that Evolutionary Dynamics defeats Objectivism on its level, that is, on the level of principled reasoning. And anyway, I'm not sure you've understood my point about principles, and then you simply repeated the Evolutionary Dynamics view because you thought I misunderstood it.

And if I did, even if it is more than a matter of "average fitness," even if it has everything to do with passing along genetic material most capability of adaptability such that the species is thereby improved, that is not a moral principle. It is not on the same playing-field at all. So if it's Randian morality you're aiming at, it misses the target.

Altruism, as Rand defined it, is not the sacrificing of the individual in order to benefit the group or species, whether evolutionarily or otherwise. It is elevating the lower at the expense of the higher. In broadest socio-political terms, it means replacing the John Galts with the mentally or physically handicapped in the social order. In every day terms, it means throwing away a chance at a career you love in order to please your father and become a dentist just like he was.

Rand gave many examples through the lives of her fictional characters of what she meant by an ignoble, versus a noble, sacrifice.

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote:
If there exists an unwillingness to fight and die for the group, the group will not survive, and the genes of its members will perish with it. Hence over time a genetic predisposition for sacrificing ones life for the group will develop...

I can't make sense of this. First you say the group will not survive, then you say that a genetic predisposition will develop in that same group.

Stefan Pernar said...

Onar Åm said: "Ayn Rand cleaned up this mess and defined altruism as giving up more value than one gets in return."

I find that an interesting comment since I advocate for some time now that the distinction between altruistic and egoistic behavior is in fact an empty distinctions between different ways how an individual can deviate from an optimal course of action (http://www.jame5.com/?p=30)

Onar, would you mind sharing the source in Objectivist literature in which Ayn Rand defines altruism in the way you mentioned above? After studying Peikoff's "Objectivism - The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" this definition was far from clear to me.

Xtra Laj said...

Let's get this straight:

Dying to preserve the lives of others is "selfish"?

Are we dealing in semantics or what?

Cavewight said...

Laj:
Remember how I was saying that morality concerns the man qua man? And what defines man better than his peculiar form of consciousness? "It is your mind that they want you to surrender—all those who preach the creed of sacrifice." That says nothing about sacrificing your life.

Onar Åm said...

Stefan,

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/sacrifice.html


Xtra Laj,

if you carry a gene for giving up your life for others in times of crisis then it is because this gene has benefitted your ancestors, allowing your ancestry line, including yourself, to have a life. You exist because of that gene. You owe it your life. Only on very rare occasions does one need to give up one's life and that is why the gene is of net value to you. You gain more life out of it on average than you lose. Hence it's selfish, just like all traits that survive in the long run in nature.

Dragonfly said...

Onar Åm: "Ayn Rand cleaned up this mess and defined altruism as giving up more value than one gets in return."

This definition just creates a mess, as it depends on the definition of "value". Elsewhere Rand defines "value" as "that which one acts to gain and/or keep", which means that a value is a strictly personal, subjective notion (A may act to gain and/or keep quite different things than B). But in that case altruism doesn't exist at all, as every action by a person can be seen as the result of choosing a higher value (to that person) over a lower value (to that person). That those values may be completely different to us is not relevant. So for the mother who sacrifices herself to save her child the value of her child is a higher value than her own life. But that is equally true for someone who sacrifices himself to help some unknown stranger(s) (for example starving people in Africa), as for him the value of the lives of others is higher than his own life. We may disagree with that evaluation, but there is no reason to call his action altruistic or immoral, as he doesn't give up a higher value for a lower value (with that definition).

Rand tries to circumvent this problem by creating the notion of "objective" or "rational" values, but that is of course the same trick as switching from "mere survival" to "survival as man qua man", read "survival according to Objectivist principles". She wants to have her cake and eat it too: on the one hand she defines values as something strictly personal and subjective, and on the other hand she suggests that there are objective standards to determine values.

Therefore the biological definition of altruism is much more useful: it is an action that benefits another person while decreasing the fitness (the ability to survive) of the actor. With that definition, which is really objective, the action of the mother mentioned above is clearly an example of altruism. That this is an example of the selfishness of the genes of that person does not imply that it is an example of the selfishness of the individual, those are quite different things, which should not be confused.

Anon69 said...

Standing by for the next Objectivist rebuttal, "my psychology made me throw myself on that grenade". Yes, psychology is the link between self-interest and self-annihilation, not because Objectivism is eudemonistic (it isn't), but because without a satisfied psyche one's mind can't function, such that an unhappy person actually loses the means of survival. Thus, one is not putting someone else's life (or that of the group) ahead of one's own. Rather, one's own life has become impossible, so it makes perfect sense to toss oneself on the grenade to save one's comrades for the sake of one's country.

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

Anon69 wrote:
but because without a satisfied psyche one's mind can't function, such that an unhappy person actually loses the means of survival.

Aren't you confusing unhappiness with depression or losing the will to live? And aren't you making happiness a condition of living, that is, of making the fundamental moral choice to live, presupposing the moral end of Objectivism which is happiness? Or perhaps you're not speaking of Objectivism at all.

gregnyquist said...

Greg wrote:
If there exists an unwillingness to fight and die for the group, the group will not survive, and the genes of its members will perish with it. Hence over time a genetic predisposition for sacrificing ones life for the group will develop...

Cavewight:

"I can't make sense of this. First you say the group will not survive, then you say that a genetic predisposition will develop in that same group."

No, the second statement does not refer to the first, but is a general statement. The genetic predisposition develops in two ways: first, genes that don't encourage people to die for the group are deselected when the group perishes; and second, genes that encourage people to die for, say, some other group survive and propagate because that group survives. The individual's genes (or at least much of his genes) survive even when the individual dies for that group, since a portion of his genes are either propagated in his children or, if he has no children, in his nephews and nieces and cousins.

Evolutionary "dynamics," and evolutionary psychology in general, pose a huge threat to Rand's vision of the human condition. That's why Rand had mixed feelings about Darwinian evolution. She sensed that it posed a threat to many of her philosophical convictions.

Anon69 said...

Cavewight, for support that that is an Objectivist position see, e.g. "The Psychology of Pleasure" essay in Rand's "The Virtue of Selfishness", which states: "Pleasure, for man, is not a luxury, but a profound psychological need".

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

Read Dragonfly's response. The more and more I read your writing, the more and more I wonder exactly how someone as smart as you are managed to get so uncritically convinced of Rand's position on many of these things.

Here is the relevant dictionary definition:

"the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim."

The only way that you can call giving up things for others a sacrifice is if you consider the welfare of others less valuable than that of yourself. But since Rand didn't make the welfare of children more valuable than the welfare of a mother, how does the mother's behavior, even on Rand's terms, not constitute a sacrifice?

It's almost like Objectivists shut down their brains when reading Rand, then after gorging on all her fallacies, turn them on so that they can read errors into everything someone else writes. Till today, no one has shown me the dictionary that Rand got her definition of "selfishness" from, and until someone does so, I think there is good reason to believe that she was lying to push her agenda.

Cavewight said...

Greg:
When biological evolution proves itself, not just in comparison to Objectivism but in comparison to truth, then you can talk about if and how free-will is even possible, and what kind of philosophy is generated by an anti-freedom scientific matrix.

And really, when you're talking about moral theory, the most basic premise is and always will be free-will.

I don't have all the details on what Rand thought of Darwin, and why. I have my own Kantian matrix within which I place the latter's theory of evolution, and that is: Evolution is that science for which systematicity is oriented around the idea of perfect adaptability of species.

It is a true Kantian idea, because it is not only assumed true for its heuristic value (subjectively, perfect systematicity in thought), but which is also assumed to be true in reality (objectively) in that all species are naturally, and in actuality, aimed toward the idea of perfect adaptation.

It is not, however, necessarily the case that evolution theory cannot co-exist with free-will, that's what compatibilism is for.

Stefan Pernar said...

Cavewight: It is not, however, necessarily the case that evolution theory cannot co-exist with free-will, that's what compatibilism is for.

A very good way to understand how the human species becoming aware of evolutionary dynamics is affecting its self understanding iof you will is incorporated in the writing of John Stewart's Evolution's Arrow (http://users.tpg.com.au/users/jes999/)

Once a species becomes aware of evolutionary dynamics it will understand the mechanisms required to further its own development and can preempt certain steps that are inevitable from an evolutionary perspective and thereby avoid unnecessary suffering and obvious dead ends.

I do not think that Rand's philosophy is completely worthless, her oversight however of evolutionary dynamics is a major oversight that may very well defeat her IMHO.

Onar Åm said...

Dragonfly,

as I see it there is no contradiction between "mere survival" and "survival as man qua man." If Ayn Rand is to be criticized for something then it is the usage of the term "survival." The term "existence" is much more accurate, because survival normally means "successfully managing to exist in the future" whereas the term "existence" does not have such built-in contiguous temporal arrangement.

(Survival also usually means successful reproduction, but it is clear from context that this is not the meaning she uses)

So how does "existence" instead of "survival" solve the problem? Well, it brings into light the obvious question: how did you come into existence? You were *born*, so your very existence is contingent on the actions of previous generations. "Survival" doesn't cut it because it only looks into the future, not into the past upon which one's existence is contingent.

So how is it that people living today came into existence? What did their ancestors do to achieve this? They lived as "man qua man." On average and in the long run, living as man qua man secured the survival of all the people in existence today to some extent. So even if it comes to a point where an individual must end his life now (i.e. not "survive") in order to live as man qua man, his very existence would have been impossible if his ancestors did not live by a similar code. If ending your life now is the consequence of living as "man qua man" then this is simply genetic downpayment for the existence you were granted by those very genes. Problem solved.


Next: objective value can be reconciled with psychologically held value in the same manner as above. Note that plants do not have consciousness so to them all values are objective. They really do ACT in their self-interest, and those things they ACT to gain or keep are their values. There is no psychological valuation involved. But humans have evolved consciousness which allows us to value things. Obviously we evolved this mechanism in order to ACT in our self-interest, i.e. to psychologically value those things that further our life, and then be motivated to act upon that.

So we have no problem seeing how there is a necessary relation between the existence of psychological valuation and vegetative valuation (action). The former must have evolved because they enabled the latter. BUT, just like a plant may occasionally act against its own self-interest (i.e. against its existence) due to failure of the genetically preprogrammed behavior in some instances, so the psychological valuation may fail in some instances.

Fortunately we humans are equipped with the ability to reason and so we can actually *think* and *reason* what is in our objective self-interest. Thus, we humans are equipped with an extraordinary tool so that we can actually improve upon the performance of our innate valuation mechanism.

Cavewight said...

Stefan wrote: I do not think that Rand's philosophy is completely worthless, her oversight however of evolutionary dynamics is a major oversight that may very well defeat her IMHO.

If that theory didn't exist when Ayn Rand wrote her major works then I would hardly call it an oversight on her part. But anyway, I have never considered it necessary to go outside Objectivism to find a weapon to use against it. It's not as if Objectivism can actually stand on its own two intellectual feet. Of course that factor doesn't stop its followers, and that is only a matter of belief anyway, as it is with the followers of the church of the flying spaghetti monster and Scientology. The Church of Objectivism doesn't actually need reason, only believers.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar,

Since Ayn Rand did not have children, was she living as "man qua man"?

Not that I don't see any other problems with your just-so story but that one stuck out like a sore thumb.

Dragonfly said...

Onar Åm: "So how is it that people living today came into existence? What did their ancestors do to achieve this? They lived as "man qua man.""

No, they didn't (in Rand's sense), they just lived as man in all his variety, including tyrants, murderers and slave drivers. I find the notion that I owe my genes something so that I would have to sacrifice myself for some abstract notion absurd. Of course the same genes may create just the tendency to do so, but there isn't any reason to follow that urge out of a sense of duty. My genes are also urging me to procreate, but fortunately I can thwart their attempts, while still enjoying the agreeable side-effects.

"Fortunately we humans are equipped with the ability to reason and so we can actually *think* and *reason* what is in our objective self-interest."

And what is the objective self-interest of a person? Anything that improves the odds of his survival and that is certainly not only the Objectivist way of living, but may, depending on the circumstances, also be a career as a parasite or as a criminal.

Cavewight said...

Dragonfly wrote: My genes are also urging me to procreate, but fortunately I can thwart their attempts, while still enjoying the agreeable side-effects.

Do you have an example of this from personal experience?

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

no probably not to her fullest. She was depressed in her later years. I am quite confident that if she had had children (and grandchildren) she would have been happier.

It is a notable weakness of Objectivism that reproductivity is not considered a major virtue (a subset of productivity). Reproduction is an important path for self-realization, especially for women.

When that is said, there is no "one size fits all" formula for human morality. The correct method for judging a lifestyle is sustainability. I.e. if a lifestyle can be sustained in the long run (i.e. indefinitely) then and only then can it be called objectively good. One MUSN'T have children, so long as others have children. There are other ways of reproducing oneself (creating everlasting art etc.) and thereby self-realizing for the long run. It's just that having children will be the NORMAL way of achieving reproduction and the one that is right for the majority. Childlessness is obviously only sustainable as a minority position, a deviation from normalcy.

Onar Åm said...

Dragonfly,

most people do live as "man qua man" most of the time because to not do so would entail immediate extinction. My experience is that in everyday life where there is plenty of perceptual data to work with and the abstraction to perception ratio is fairly low people live virtually as Objectivists most of the time: they are honest, they don't lie, they don't use violence, they respect their neighbors, they uphold agreements, they work and enjoy the fruits of their labor, they think rationally and logically, they evaluate and make judgements based on facts.

The fact that people don't manage to live like this ALL the time is not relevant from an evolutionary point of view. It is sufficient that their rational behavior has outweighed their irrational behavior. It is not optimal, but it has allowed people to survive and partially prosper.

There are certainly circumstances in which living as a criminal is a way of surviving, but most of the time it is not rational. Rational people understand that it is not really in their self-interest to agitate the group of people with which they live. It is rational to live in groups due to the benefits of trade. It is also rational to be social, i.e. to respect other individuals because that creates a society which is good for individuals to flourish in. An individual need only ask: does she want her child to grow up in a criminal hell hole? Or does she want it to grow up in a peaceful, benevolent society. Obviously the latter. In order to achieve this she needs to behave socially, i.e. respect others and only use force against the anti-social.

Cavewight said...

Onar wrote:
most people do live as "man qua man" most of the time because to not do so would entail immediate extinction.

Whoops! There goes the other end of that damn jello-filled mattress popping up again! Let's push it back down and see what happens...

Onar Åm said...

Cavewight,

I have explained why there is no crash between "mere survival" (or rather the less ambiguous "existence") and "man qua man." It is not sufficient to look at the behavior of one man at one instant, one must look at the behavior over a lifetime and over generations. The very same thing is true for soldier ants who sometimes risk their lives to save their queen. Is this "ant qua ant" behavior altruistic or is it selfish? Does it further the existence of the ant or does it end it? One average the genes coding for such behavior is beneficial to its carriers, otherwise the carriers would not have blossomed. The ants owe their existence that gene. Not owing in the sense of duty, but as a mere statement of fact. The gene is on average a life saver. Hence, on average that behavior is selfish.

I use ants in this example to show that there is nothing special or mystic about "man qua man." What Ayn Rand was in fact alluring to was what in evolution theory today is called "evolutionary strategies." By strategies is not meant a conscious strategy, but strategy in the game theory sense, a set of rules that are followed. "man qua man" is an evolutionary stable strategy (ESS), i.e. a Nash equilibrium. Once it has come to dominate the population no other minority strategies can invade.

Ayn Rand even realized *this*, which is extremely impressive. In her Atlas Shrugged she wrote about "the sanction of the victim" and that evil has no power unless good men give it power. This is precisely a verbal description of an ESS. She is saying that if a society dominated by good men(the "man qua man" strategy) chooses not to sanction evil (a parasitic competing strategy) then evil holds no power. "Man qua man" is an evolutionary stable strategy.

When Ayn Rand says that men should live "principled" it is precisely sticking consistently to the "man qua man" evolutionary strategy she is talking about. An ESS only works if the individuals employing it stick to it. So if evil is not punished and good men abandon their principles bad things happen.

Cavewight said...

Onar,

Of course. In order to save Rand from her own moral theory in which she tried to have her cake and eat it too, it is necessary to revise and revise it until it would no longer be recognizably Rand but for a few of her wacky concepts thrown in here and there for good measure.

Onar Åm said...

Cavewight,

your argument is that when I translate Ayn Rand's theory into more conventional and common terms she doesn't sound so wacky to you, and hence I must be a wacko to try to save her wacky theory. C'mon, you can do better than that! How about even *remotely* considering the possibility that you have not fully understood Ayn Rand and that now that someone finally has been able to explain her theory in a term that is understandable to you, it actually sounds kind of reasonable?

If you claim that I don't understand Ayn Rand, then show me where exactly I am wrong. Your argument against Rand is that she makes too great a leap for you to understand what she is talking about. I agree, she was a "leaper" and she didn't fill in all the details. It does indeed sound like she is smuggling in "man qua man" and that it is totally different from "mere survival" but it is clear from the rest of her philosophy what she meant by "man qua man" and how it relates to "survival." I have no problems explaining it to you in non-Rand terms, if you're willing to listen.

Richard said...

I normally refrain from posting here, but I will pop in for this quick comment. While folks are picking at the speck of how 'altruism' is defined, no one is mentioning the logs. For example, the implication from the original post that the persistence of an ethical belief depends on the believers' genetic reproduction. Or the idea that evolution has a "plan." Or the notion that if these claims were true, it would "disprove selfishness as virtue." Or Pernar's acceptance of the core of Rand's metaethical argument (albeit reaching a different conclusion), which goes against the stated rejection of that argument by most other contributors here.

Apparently almost anything goes here if it is seen as anti-Rand, nevermind consistency or plausibility.

Dragonfly said...

Onar, you're attributing meanings to Rand's (often vague and ambiguous) words with which she certainly wouldn't have agreed. To interpret such an elastic term "life/survival as man qua man" as being equivalent to an "evolutionary stable strategy" is stretching the meaning of Rand's words beyond the breaking point. There are ESS's that definitely violate Rand's ethical principles, which she claimed to have derived from the "nature of man". This reminds me of the attempts of some creationists to explain away the discrepancy between the bible text and scientific knowledge by suggesting that the "days" mentioned in the creation story in Genesis are not our days of 24h but extended time periods of many millions if not billions of years (never mind that even with that modification the story is still completely at odds with scientific knowledge). Trying to explain the emergence of ethical systems in evolutionary terms may be a worthwile exercise, but trying to put such a theory in a Randian framework is a dead loss.

Anon69 said...

Wasn't it Rand who insisted that words have mathematically precise meanings? There shouldn't be any disagreement about what she meant - she should have supplied references to the concretes from which she derived her abstractions so that we could all perform measurement omission qua precise Objectivist epistemology and produce the exact same words as Rand used in "The Objectivist Ethics". Her claim of precision requires nothing less - unless it was just a big load of B.S. designed to help her and her disciples lay claim to an unjustified certainty about her pronouncements. ;-)

Cavewight said...

One thing nobody has mentioned yet in this thread is the fact that Rand cannot justify egoism on an objectivist basis. Egoism is the moral branch of subjectivism. Oh I know, some well say that she succeeded in it, and hold up VOS as proof. However (Tara Smith's book notwithstanding), this begs the question of Rand having proved her point, not to me or you personally (which is subjective truth), but with regard to truth itself which is objective.

If you listen to Rand followers talk about their personal experiences with Objectivism, what you will find is a lot of statements about how Rand affected them personally, i.e., regarding their relationship with subjective truth. The result cannot seriously be considered objectively philosophical in nature, no matter how hard Rand tried to convince others of her objectivity which usually occurred in comparison with those evillll philosophies which were extant pre-Rand.

Daniel Barnes said...

>While folks are picking at the speck of how 'altruism' is defined, no one is mentioning the logs.

Hi Richard,

Thanks for coming back despite our previous disagreements. Firstly, Rand herself would have hardly called the definition of altruism a "speck"; while tho I probably would, I am somewhat surprised that you do.

Secondly, and less trivially, the suggestion that a persistent ethical belief might originate in the believers' genetic reproduction is in fact well supported by empirical studies: I refer you to examples such as common incest taboos across widely differing cultures, or the theory of parental genetic investment, which is highly predictive of rate of child murder by step parents across differing cultures. And of course this is consistent with ARCHN's emphasis on the importance empirical science in our criticisms of Rand, so I'm not sure where you're seeing a problem here.

Thirdly, as to "the idea that evolution has a "plan", I was unable to find this reference in Pernar's post. There were rather a lot of links however, and perhaps I missed it. Could you point it out for me? If you mean a "pattern", rather than a "plan", well then this is of course perfectly unobjectionable, as a pattern does not necessarily imply an author. If Pernar's post does include the belief in a kind of divine "masterplan" for evolution, well let me here state my disagreement with this part of his theory. However, this does not change the force of the mathematical part of the argument. You will also note the masthead of the blog has always contained the words "Greg Nyquist's ARCHN and other criticisms of Objectivism". Given that there are already any number of websites devoted to uncritically promoting Ayn Rand and her philosophy, we have always approached this blog as being a kind of counterweight, where criticism of Rand, usually widely and thinly scattered, might be usefully gathered. Of course Greg and I promote our own views; and we naturally prefer other Objectivist criticism, when we blog on it, to have an empirical or logical bent. But sometimes we also blog on things outside of this too, like interesting events or characters in Objecto-world, or even on things that we don't necessarily personally believe in but are nonetheless significant, such as religion. So if you think that we are only here to promote our point of view exclusively, you've misread the situation - and our masthead...;-)

Moving to 'the notion that if these claims were true, it would "disprove selfishness as virtue'", I am not sure why you think this is a problem for this site.
Likewise: "Pernar's acceptance of the core of Rand's metaethical argument (albeit reaching a different conclusion), which goes against the stated rejection of that argument by most other contributors here." This seems a faux complaint, as you acknowledge Pernar gets a quite different conclusion from Rand, so there must be doubt as to a) which really is the right conclusion and/or b) just how much "core" argument they really share. So it's hardly as if by citing Pernar, we are implicitly endorsing Rand as you suggest. Far from it: Pernar's differences are merely more important questions that need to be raised over the validity - and even the clarity - of Rand's ethics, along the standard critiques (such as the logical criticism of her is/ought solution, which in our view are quite devastating enough).

(cont. next comment...)

Daniel Barnes said...

(...cont. from above comment)

Finally, you say "Apparently almost anything goes here if it is seen as anti-Rand, nevermind consistency or plausibility." As you can see, there is nothing inconsistent with being open to good criticism of Objectivism (such as the mathematical argument Pernar cites) even if you disagree with the author on other positions. You will of course be familiar with the ad hominem fallacy, so I'm not sure why you think the fact that we don't employ such a fallacy as our editorial policy is grounds for criticising us.

To end, I note that in addition to concerns about our "consistency", which I hopefully have now fully addressed, you also have some issues with "plausibility." I'm struggling to see what you view as so "implausible" about any of the issues raised above, other than the idea evolution is somehow "planned", which I have not seen actually raised. If it has been, and I have missed it in haste, well I agree I find that implausible, and will highlight my disagreement with this. Other than that, I think the rest of the points you've raised are perfectly plausible, and am surprised you think otherwise. What about them specifically do you find incredible?

regards
Daniel

PS: On another note, I thought your handling on the Wiki of the Valliant issue was well-judged.

Stefan Pernar said...

Richard said: "Pernar's acceptance of the core of Rand's metaethical argument"

In a sense I do, however my core premise is that only that can continue to exist which does not go against evolutionary dynamics. Much of my work is based around that idea and what its implications are.


Daniel Barnes said: I'm struggling to see what you view as so "implausible" about any of the issues raised above, other than the idea evolution is somehow "planned", which I have not seen actually raised.

It is indeed more of a pattern that is based on the fact that cooperating entities on the same level will always outcompete individual or less cooperative individuals on the same level in evolutionary terms. A good intro here is presented in Evolution's Arrow.

Richard said...

One thing at a time.

the idea evolution is somehow "planned", which I have not seen actually raised

From the "probably put it best" passage quoted at the end of the post: "Thus, ethical teachings which contradict the plan of evolution [...] will be erased from the memory of the world."

Richard said...

Next up, I referred to "the implication from the original post that the persistence of an ethical belief depends on the believers' genetic reproduction," which Daniel responded to with the following:

the suggestion that a persistent ethical belief might originate in the believers' genetic reproduction is in fact well supported by empirical studies

As I've noticed before, the response involves a recasting of what I said into something a bit different, which is then responded to. In regard to what I did say, let me pose a simple question to you: Do you believe that the spread of Objectivism has been primarily due to the biological fertility of the Rosenbaum clan? And the same question for the spread of the ideas of Marx, Aristotle, Jesus, etc., vis-a-vis their genetic relations. If the answer is no, then I assume you admit that ideas can propagate by means other than genes. At which point the major thesis of the post become highly questionable.

Onar Åm said...

I am baffled by the low level of argumentation among the anti-Rand'ers here. Dragonfly, if the notion that "man qua man" is a kind of ESS is such a ridiculous claim then it should be no problem showing *why* this is so. Go ahead, ridicule me -- with *arguments*.

And Cavewight, you are actually arguing about the emotional state of Objectivists rather than to argue, well, arguments? Seriously!?

Before you guys attack the notion that "man qua man" is an ESS I strongly suggest you read Richard Dawkins' "The selfish gene," in particular his chapter "Nice guys finish first" in which he discusses how Tit for Tat (benevolent grudgers) is the optimal evolutionary strategy in an iterated prisoner's dilemma game. Tit for tat is an evolutionary stable strategy. Tit for tat is also a perfect description of capitalism, i.e. peaceful trade for mutual selfish benefit, but with retaliation against criminals and moochers. Sadly Dawkins is a socialist so he doesn't understand that Tit for Tat is really the evolutionary basis of laissez-faire capitalism.

(Richard Dawkins is one of those scientists/intellectuals who hopelessly confuses altruism and benevolence. He calls trade "reciprocal altruism" or mutual self-sacrifice for mutual benefit!!!)

Now, the mechanism we have been discussing here (giving up one's life in a crisis for, say, one's children.) is not directly the tit for tat strategy, but it is very close. It is certainly trade for mutual benefit, except that it occurs on an intergenerational scale. The parents do nice things to their children and their children reciprocate, not by paying back to their parents, but by paying back to their own children. There is no revenge mechanism per say, except the revenge that reality itself provides. In other words, if a child tries to "cheat" his parents by not providing the same care to his own children then reality "retaliates" by ensuring that his blood line goes extinct. Hence passing one's own genes/behavior to one's children is an evolutionary stable strategy. What this in fact entails is that living according to one's genetically programmed nature (as "X qua X") is an evolutionary stable strategy.

Overall, given that Ayn Rand had virtually zero knowledge about evolutionary theory, I think her concepts are suprisingly well-defined and clear. She argues like an evolutionist many times. Her meta-morality argument is evolutionary (why do we have morality at all? Because it must have *naturally selected* because morality is in our self-interest.) Her "mind as our primary survival tool" is an evolutionary argument. (She notes that we are born naked, without sharp teeth, claws and other physical tools of survival. All this has been selected away due to the evolution of our superior mind.) Ayn Rand was not a biologist, yet she was able to identify the essential definition of life (a self-generating self-sustaining entity). She displayed enormous intuitive understanding of game theory. Long before tit for tat, ESS and the iterated prisoner's dilemma she noted that honesty, integrity and productivity are in the *long term* self-interest of a business man due to repeat business (iterated trades, giving rise to tit for tat as an ESS) To be able to do all this without any knowledge of evolution and game theory is simply stunning and any intellectually honest person should recognize this feat.

But in some areas her lack of specialized evolutionary and biological knowledge shines through in the form of slightly sloppy concepts. This is not due to a failing of her thinking, but simply that she was not God. She had her limitations. Oh, what crime.

However, some people who have followed in her footsteps have been able to improve significantly on her concepts. Most notably Harry Binswanger in his "The biological basis of teleological concepts" does a fabulous job of grounding a lot of Rand's philosophy in biology. It's a brilliant piece of work, which I have benefitted greatly from.

Richard said...

Daniel wrote:

Moving to 'the notion that if these claims were true, it would "disprove selfishness as virtue'", I am not sure why you think this is a problem for this site.

It should be a problem, because it there is no logical connection between the premise and the conclusion. Assuming evolution does have a plan (which it doesn't) and assuming that Randian egoism is incompatible with this "plan" and would therefore lead to "Fully selfish groups [being] out-competed over the course of evolution" as the original post argues, it does not follow that Randian egoism is disproven. I'm not aware of any new rules of super-logic that equate evolutionary success with correctness. Frankly, I doubt you care to embrace the implications of that line of thinking even for a chance to attack Rand.

Richard said...

Daniel wrote:

Pernar's differences are merely more important questions that need to be raised [...] along [with] the standard critiques (such as the logical criticism of her is/ought solution, which in our view are quite devastating enough). [...]

As you can see, there is nothing inconsistent with being open to good criticism of Objectivism [...] even if you disagree with the author on other positions.

The essence of what he has done is to accept the Randian argument that 'is' implies 'ought', while disagreeing with her about what constitutes the relevant 'is' (the individual's life vs. group evolutionary success). This argument is not just something different from what you have argued, it is an argument that is fundamentally incompatible with your "logical criticism of her is/ought solution." And it isn't some "other position" of his that is incompatible with yours, it's the very argument that you are disseminating.

But it's your blog. If you want to take the "my enemy's enemy is my friend" approach, logical consistency be damned, then it's your call.

gregnyquist said...

Richard: "Do you believe that the spread of Objectivism has been primarily due to the biological fertility of the Rosenbaum clan? And the same question for the spread of the ideas of Marx, Aristotle, Jesus, etc., vis-a-vis their genetic relations. If the answer is no, then I assume you admit that ideas can propagate by means other than genes. At which point the major thesis of the post become highly questionable."

This misses the point entirely. It misrepresents how genes work, the actual influence they have on conduct. There exists no altruist gene, just as there exist no gene against incest. But a combination of genes create various innate tendency, such as innate tendency to abhor incest or innate tendency, at last in some people, for "altruism" (or perhaps it would be better to describe them as "sentiments of sociality"). These innate tendencies do not determine behavior. People can act against them if they want (perhaps through what is called, rather vaguely, "free will"). But when people have an innate tendency, they will often (not always!) allow themselves to be influenced by it. Now if you are trying to figure out how a large number of people are likely to behave, these innate tendencies must form an important part of your calculations. If, for example, it was found that half the population is inflicted with strong innate sentiments of sociality, you can conclude that this half is going to be innately biased against Rand's ethics, and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to convert them to Objectivism.

So the fact that ideas can be propagated by other means besides genes is not the point at all. The question is whether the sentiments or tendencies passed on by the genes will create innate biases that will effect, not everyone, but the majority of people. Of course, there will always be individuals who are either weak in a given tendency or simply will themselves around it. Hence, ideas that go against the grain of innate tendencies cannot be regarded as an argument against those tendencies. The question is whether it is realistic to expect large numbers of people to act against ingrained tendencies. My main argument against Objectivism is based on the idea that most people have innate tendencies that bias them against central tenets of Objectivism, and that this is the reason why Rand's philosophy has difficulty gaining adherents beyond a statistically small percentage of the population.

Stefan Pernar said...

Richard said: The essence of what he has done is to accept the Randian argument that 'is' implies 'ought', while disagreeing with her about what constitutes the relevant 'is' (the individual's life vs. group evolutionary success).

The problem that I have with the is/ought problem is, that it ignores to understand what lead to the 'is' in the first place and thus fails to realize what will be required for something to 'be' in the future. Essentially, what is the point in accepting is/ought as valid if it leads to no one being around in a number of generations to ask the question in the first place?

I instead focus on solving the 'if/ought' problem. If you want to reproduce you ought to find young girls sexy. If you want to survive the next winter you ought to eat sweet food. And so on. I really like Daniel Dennett's take on this dynamic in his TED talk titled Cute, sexy, sweet, funny.

Granted, we are changing our environment so fast that our genetic makeup is having a hard time keeping up. That is the reason why it is so important to realize the teleology of evolution, the arrow if you will, the underlying pattern and derive imperatives to guide our actions.

gregnyquist said...

Richard: "Apparently almost anything goes here if it is seen as anti-Rand, nevermind consistency or plausibility."

My main reasoning for including Stefan's post is that I found it interesting. I could care less whether it is entirely consistent with my own or Daniel's posts. Our point is not to replace Objectivism with something else, but merely to raise interesting issues related to Objectivism so as to stir up critical thought about it.

I recognize that Rand's apologists rarely, if ever, are going to regard any criticism of Objectivism as being "plausible." But that is merely one of the less aimable characteristics of the typical Rand apologist. Not only does criticism of Rand have to be denounced as wrong, it must be given the further indignity of being dismissed as implausible. But Stefan's post, even if turns out to be false, is hardly implausible. It's extremely plausible when applied to hunter and gatherer groups; and it remains plausible (though with qualifications) to more advanced societies (especially in relation to war). Groups, tribes, nations have and continue to compete with one another, sometimes economically, sometimes militarily; and an individual's survival may in some instances be related to the ability of the group (or nation) to survive conflicts with other groups (or nations). The survival of the group may (and often does) require individuals within the group to "sacrifice" their life in battle. Rand can play around with the definitions of words as much as she likes, but it's hard to convince most people that an individual who loses his life defending his tribe or his country is acting selfishly.

Richard said...

Greg wrote:

So the fact that ideas can be propagated by other means besides genes is not the point at all. The question is whether the sentiments or tendencies passed on by the genes will create innate biases that will effect, not everyone, but the majority of people. [...]

My main argument against Objectivism is based on the idea that most people have innate tendencies that bias them against central tenets of Objectivism, and that this is the reason why Rand's philosophy has difficulty gaining adherents beyond a statistically small percentage of the population.

This might be your main argument, but it is not an argument offered in the post to which I was responding. Failing to discuss an argument that is not in the post is hardly missing the point. In fact, if you somehow think that what you wrote above is what Pernar was arguing in the post, then frankly I think it is you who have missed the point.

The post says that groups that accept certain ideas "would be out-competed over the course of evolution," and therefore those ideas "will be erased from the memory of the world." The fact that ideas can be propagated by means other than genes is entirely relevant to this claim.

Richard said...

Stefan's post, even if turns out to be false, is hardly implausible. It's extremely plausible when applied to hunter and gatherer groups; and it remains plausible (though with qualifications) to more advanced societies (especially in relation to war).

The post quotes material that said evolution has a "plan." That is a bad anthropomorphism and I do not find it plausible.

The post suggests that the (predicted) failure of a group in reproductive competition disproves the group's ideas. That line of argument has the same logical force as "might makes right," and I do not find it plausible.

These are specific aspects of the post that I called out in my first comment to this thread. If you or anyone else here finds these ideas "extremely plausible," then please explain why. (Since there is a tendency among some regulars in this forum to subtly or unsubtly change the subject, let me note that explanations or defenses of ideas that I have not called implausible will be duly ignored.)

Richard said...

I recognize that Rand's apologists rarely, if ever, are going to regard any criticism of Objectivism as being "plausible." But that is merely one of the less aimable characteristics of the typical Rand apologist. Not only does criticism of Rand have to be denounced as wrong, it must be given the further indignity of being dismissed as implausible.

I'm going to repeat verbatim a comment I unfortunately found it necessary to make the last time I was here: If you wish to accuse me of such behavior, I would ask that you do so directly and in your own voice. You may also wish to remember that unlike some people you discuss here, I am neither dead nor absent nor unwilling to respond, and therefore I am not a sitting duck for casual misrepresentation and impugning of motives.

To be more specific: If you wish to say that I have only referred to implausibility because I feel a need to subject any criticism of Rand to some "indignity" (from a motive not stated but presumably unsavory), then please say it directly so that we can have the ad hominem out in the open. Otherwise, I don't see the relevance of speculations about the "characteristics of the typical Rand apologist."

Richard said...

Stefan wrote:

I instead focus on solving the 'if/ought' problem.

Cute, but it makes me wonder if understand that Rand's own solution to the is/ought problem is based on a conditional. You appear to be accepting the same basic argumentative framework as Rand (ironically, as I've already noted, one rejected by your sponsors here), but hold a different primary goal for driving the 'if', what Rand called the "ultimate value." It is reasonable enough to argue about whether Rand was correct in identifying the individual's life as the "ultimate value." Unfortunately, your post doesn't really engage at that level, but rather assumes evolutionary goals and then argues that Rand's ethic (which is not based on evolutionary goals) won't achieve them. That may or may not be true (as others have gone on about endlessly, there are some mismatches in the terminology so you might be arguing against a straw man). But I don't think it's half as interesting as the issue of selecting the goal in the first place.

If you are interested in a deeper understanding the Objectivist metaethical arguments (whether you ultimately agree or not), I would strongly suggest moving away from Wikipedia and doing some offline reading. I recommend Smith's Viable Values, and based on your particular interests you should probably read Binswanger's The Biological Basis for Teleological Concepts. For critical discussion around the "ultimate value" question, you might try Badhwar's Is Virtue Only a Means to Happiness? and the anthology The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand, although I would caution that some of material in the latter book misconstrues Rand's positions while claiming to explain them.

Daniel Barnes said...

Richard:
>The post quotes material that said evolution has a "plan." That is a bad anthropomorphism and I do not find it plausible.

Well now I was about to reply to you seriously Richard, but am rapidly forming the opinion that you're merely trolling. Stefan has already explained that he intended "plan" in the sense of "pattern", just as I suggested, and just as was obvious. Yet even after you've been told this plainly, you're still bending over backwards to extract something, anything, objectionable from this single word. From what I can gather Stefan is a fan of Pinker and Dennett, and is not creationist/ID as it seems you are keen to imply, so unless you've got evidence to the contrary, can you acknowledge Stefan's clarification and let it go? Or perhaps you consider the idea of a "pattern" to evolution "implausible"?

Richard said...

Well now I was about to reply to you seriously Richard, but am rapidly forming the opinion that you're merely trolling. Stefan has already explained that he intended "plan" in the sense of "pattern", just as I suggested, and just as was obvious. Yet even after you've been told this plainly, you're still bending over backwards to extract something, anything, objectionable from this single word.

I'm am entirely willing to accept that Stefan chose a passage that, although introduced as "probably said it best," really did not say it best. But I was not responding to Stefan in the comment you quote. I was explaining, in response to Greg, what I meant in my first comment, because he had made an innuendo about my motivations. It's strange that I first had to prove that the word was even used, despite it being easily findable in the text of the post, and then had my motives questioned for finding it implausible, even though you agreed (presumably not motivated by any need to belittle criticisms of Rand) that such a claim would be implausible.

If you don't care to respond seriously and want to join Greg in making the discussion about my motivations as well, then there is no benefit (for me) in continuing.

Daniel Barnes said...

I should also note that apparently you have a number of complaints from your last visit here at the ARCHNblog which are causing you to persistently impute bad faith on to some of us here. Well, there's really no solution to that one, other than the court of reader's opinion, so I can only leave them to judge our exchanges over time.

However, if you're up to taking a criticism in the reverse direction, and one that might explain at least some difficulties last time, I note from my previous encounter that your own position re: Rand is none too clear. You run the Objectivist Reference Centre, so obviously are deeply interested in the subject; yet often when I assumed in discussion you held to some of the typical Objectivist doctrines you derided me for making sweeping assumptions. As I recall I asked you for a brief summary of where you agree with Rand's theories and where you strongly differ - "standing on one foot" if you will. You however declined to respond. Might I suggest that if you intend to defend Rand here whilst holding views differ significantly from typical Objectivist ones, it might be helpful if you can give us such a summary and hence avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.

Daniel Barnes said...

BTW, I apologise for my stupidity in being unable to see the word "plan" in that first post. I sometimes find it hard to spot things on screen that are blindingly obvious in say hard copy.

Cavewight said...

Onar wrote:
And Cavewight, you are actually arguing about the emotional state of Objectivists rather than to argue, well, arguments? Seriously!?

That's not what I said, and you know it. I'm afraid all you can do is knock down straw men, which was Rand's primary form of argument anyway.

Stefan Pernar said...

Stefan wrote: I instead focus on solving the 'if/ought' problem.

Richard said: Cute, but it makes me wonder if [you] understand that Rand's own solution to the is/ought problem is based on a conditional.

Please do not patronize me. Was Rand cute in her attempt to do the same thing as you say? So why should I be? Not helpful...

Richard said: If you are interested in a deeper understanding the Objectivist metaethical arguments (whether you ultimately agree or not), I would strongly suggest moving away from Wikipedia and doing some offline reading.

Your rhetoric is highly questionable, Richard. Again, who do you think you are, talking down to me like that?

Richard said: I recommend Smith's Viable Values, and based on your particular interests you should probably read Binswanger's The Biological Basis for Teleological Concepts.

Some of these I have already and will definitely check out some of the other sources you suggest. Besides: what exactly is the difference between 'the biological basis for teleological concepts' and 'evolutions plan'? Sounds very similar to me...

Richard said: "I'm am entirely willing to accept that Stefan chose a passage that, although introduced as "probably said it best," really did not say it best."

I still think it is a very good quote. Turchin would be the first to agree that 'plan' does not imply a divine plan. Also see my earlier clarifications. No need to nitpick on that any further.

Greg said: Rand can play around with the definitions of words as much as she likes, but it's hard to convince most people that an individual who loses his life defending his tribe or his country is acting selfishly.

Precisely. Greg put it very nicely and to the point. Such behavior would commonsensical be described as an altruistic act. Personally I do not see the concepts of egoism and altruism as having much value. See my post on resolviong moral paradoxes for an outline.

In conclusion (for me) I feel that the choice of Ayn Rand to call her ethics an ethos of selfishness was a very poor choice of words. Why insist that accepting neither more nor less value for ones effort as is warranted is selfish if it is in fact just fair? I am beginning to suspect that she could have just as well called her ethics the Virtue of Altruism and argue from the other perspective: never to demand neither more nor less value for ones effort as is warranted. That would then be altruistic? No - again just fair, simply viewed from another perspective. Giving someone a hand to pull her out of the water instead of letting her take it...

Richard said...

Stefan wrote:
Please do not patronize me. Was Rand cute in her attempt to do the same thing as you say? So why should I be? Not helpful...

You mentioned the "is/ought problem" (a traditional formulation) and then invented the term "if/ought problem." You seemed to be taking a playful approach to the wording and I was not attempting to be patronizing by noticing that. "Cute" was a compliment. My apologies if you found it insulting.

As to wondering whether you understand that Rand's own approach is based on a conditional, I think that is a fair question to ask considering that you were contrasting your approach with hers, when in fact they appear to be almost identical. Failure to recognize that Rand is using a conditional is also a common misunderstanding of her argument, a mistake that has been made multiple times by professional academics. Nor, despite your protestations of being patronized, is there anything in your response that says you did not make this mistake.

Your rhetoric is highly questionable, Richard. Again, who do you think you are, talking down to me like that?

My comments were not based on who I think I am, but on the sources that you used for your post, which were Wikipedia and online content from the Ayn Rand Institute. Nor have you said anything about Rand's views that could not be gleaned from such sources. Some of your comments (such as the "if/ought" bit discussed above) suggest misunderstandings of Rand's views that are common among those who have limited familiarity with them. In short, if you have studied any offline secondary literature on Rand, it was not evident from your comments here, hence my suggestion. If I was mistaken, I think the mistake is an understandable one.

Richard said...

Stefan,

In re-reading the comments, I noticed your brief mention of having read Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, which I had either missed or forgotten about when I made my earlier comments. That was a mistake on my part that obviously bears on my remarks about reading offline literature, so I apologize for that. (I do, however, think that some of the material I mentioned is more appropriate for your apparent interests than OPAR is, so I stand by the suggestions themselves.)

Richard said...

Greg wrote, and Stefan recently quoted:
Rand can play around with the definitions of words as much as she likes, but it's hard to convince most people that an individual who loses his life defending his tribe or his country is acting selfishly.

I agree that these are not convincing examples of selfishness. I would also note that these examples do not come from Rand. There were a few instances where Rand endorsed the idea of being willing to die to in pursuit of a value, but "tribe" and "country" were not the sort of values that Rand normally endorsed. The examples I know of that came from Rand herself were dying to protect a loved one and dying while fighting for one's freedom. These may be dubious examples as well, but at least they are real examples from Rand and not something invented by a commenter who is hostile to her ideas.

Richard said...

I should also note that apparently you have a number of complaints from your last visit here at the ARCHNblog which are causing you to persistently impute bad faith on to some of us here.

I've twice encountered situations (one in this thread, once previously) where a commenter has made generic aspersions about the supposed character flaws of people who support Rand's ideas, in a context where it had a strong appearance of being an innuendo about my own character. I do "impute bad faith" to that act (not globally to the person), and I will not back down for it.

The only other "complaint" I recall is the tendency of some commenters to make significant changes to other people's claims when restating them, in ways that make those claims seem more or less plausible to the commenter (depending on whether they support or oppose said claim). This is a bad habit, but I do not assume it is intentional. It's pretty common, actually, although some people do it more frequently than others. (I've made such mistakes myself, although I hope rarely.) I will continue to note this when it happens, but rest assured that I would not consider it "bad faith" unless there was evidence of willful misrepresentation.

As to my own beliefs vs. Rand's (or anyone else's), I can offer a simple generic test to apply. If I say, "Rand believed X" or "the Objectivist view is X," then it is reasonable to respond with quotes from Rand (or others as applicable) that you believe contradict my presentation. On the other hand, if I say "I believe X" or simply "X," then it is unwise to respond by stating someone else's views as if I were being inconsistent by not agreeing with them. It would be more appropriate to inquire or draw the contrast ("What you said about X makes me wonder if you disagree with Rand's view about Y."), if you think it's relevant.

Dragonfly said...

Onar Åm: "Dragonfly, if the notion that "man qua man" is a kind of ESS is such a ridiculous claim then it should be no problem showing *why* this is so. Go ahead, ridicule me -- with *arguments*."

If you equate Rand's "man qua man" with Tit for Tat, it would be an ESS. However, the problem is that a strategy like Tit for Tat is a simplification that works only under very specific rules. There are many other ESS's, for example the strategy hawk in the hawk-dove system is an ESS if V > C (V = gain in fitness, C = loss in fitness). If V < C the mixed strategy hawk-dove is an ESS. In the combination hawk-dove-assessor assessor is an ESS etc. The problem with all these ESS's is that they are highly simplified schemes from which you just cannot pick the one you like and declare it to be the model for human society. You'll have to study the history of mankind, and then you'll find enough evidence that "being nice" is far from the only successful strategy. I even think that an essential factor in the success of mankind so far (on an evolutionary scale we're just a baby species) is in fact a combination of cooperation and aggression. Homo homini lupus!

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote:
Rand can play around with the definitions of words as much as she likes, but it's hard to convince most people that an individual who loses his life defending his tribe or his country is acting selfishly.

It depends on why he's doing it, as I said before. Rand gave the example of people dying while defending their loved ones, why can't this same principle be applied here? Their deaths are not "in vain," pursuing values is not a matter of self-sacrifice.

I simply don't buy your complaint here. If you are saying that preserving one's own life is the ultimate goal here, you are mistaken. It is not an "every man for himself" ethics. Life is the standard of value for Objectivist ethics, not the goal of it.

Daniel Barnes said...

Thanks Richard, let's move along.

Returning to your original list of objections, which I itemise here:
1) the implication from the original post that the persistence of an ethical belief depends on the believers' genetic reproduction.
2) the idea that evolution has a "plan."
3) the notion that if these claims were true, it would "disprove selfishness as virtue."
4) Pernar's acceptance of the core of Rand's metaethical argument (albeit reaching a different conclusion), which goes against the stated rejection of that argument by most other contributors here.
5) Apparently almost anything goes here if it is seen as anti-Rand, nevermind consistency or plausibility.

I think we have now disposed of 2) as a misunderstanding due to ambiguity. I have already given a thorough reply to 5) explaining our editorial reasoning.

Let us now look at 1), (we'll return to the others later) which you have restated as follows:
Richard:
>In regard to what I did say, let me pose a simple question to you: Do you believe that the spread of Objectivism has been primarily due to the biological fertility of the Rosenbaum clan? ... If the answer is no, then I assume you admit that ideas can propagate by means other than genes. At which point the major thesis of the post become highly questionable.

The fact that ideas can propagate by means other than genes - which of course I fully agree with -does not however entail the falsity of the major thesis. Recall Pernar's "Fully selfish groups would be out-competed over the course of evolution..." (my emphasis) So naturally ideas can and do spread by other means, but Pernar is saying that the Price equation suggests in the long run those with a genetic predisposition to adopt ideologies of pure selfishness will be selected out.

So that seems to be Pernar's argument as I understand it. Now, as to whether it is plausible, as opposed to true or false, there does indeed exist research that strongly suggests a genetic basis to many ethical mores - I have already suggested such examples. We should also note that Pernar's argument defines altruism, and by extension, as a genetic predisposition to certain behaviour (eg adopting certain ideas):

Pernar: In this context altruism is defined as the genetic predisposition to any behavior which decreases individual fitness while increasing the average fitness of the group to which the individual belongs.

So I suppose we should look at this basic premise. Now I don't think anyone pretends to fully understand the relationship between ideas and biology, but it seems to me there is emerging evidence that there is a strong link (but of course as a Popperian I am not a full determinist) However, to now put a question to you, what do you think of the possibility that there are genetic tendencies towards behaviour such as altruism or selfishness? Do you view it as plausible?

Daniel Barnes said...

Note: word missing above -
>...Pernar's argument defines altruism, and by extension *selfishness*, as a genetic predisposition to certain behaviour...

Xtra Laj said...

If you want to debate ideas with someone else, never let them get away with placing the burden of justification purely on you - make them advance some positive evidence for their positions too. Otherwise, you will be made to look silly because any complicated idea, at the bottom of it all, relies on statistical inferences, intuitive guesses and, unfortunately, emotional prejudices that can always be questioned.

Cavewight said...

Xtra wrote:
If you want to debate ideas with someone else, never let them get away with placing the burden of justification purely on you - make them advance some positive evidence for their positions too. Otherwise, you will be made to look silly because any complicated idea, at the bottom of it all, relies on statistical inferences, intuitive guesses and, unfortunately, emotional prejudices that can always be questioned.

Are you talking about Ayn Rand? Your advice is definitely applicable to her.

Stefan Pernar said...

Richard, glad we cleared that up and no hard feelings. I have in the meanwhile bought two of the books that you recommended and will make sure to read them and add them to my collection of the other 10 books on Rand and her philosophy ;-)

PS: This is the second time that my comment gets swallowed by the system.

Cavewight said...

Stefan wrote:
I instead focus on solving the 'if/ought' problem. If you want to reproduce you ought to find young girls sexy.

(That is not a moral problem, but at best a technical one, and usually not a problem at all.)

Rand's meta-moral argument boils down to a more basic if/ought proposition: "No, you do not have to live; it is your basic act of choice; but if you choose to live, you must live as a man—by the work and the judgment of your mind." (Galt's Speech)

This is also where Rand failed to bridge the is/ought gap, the so-called pre-moral choice which makes the rest of our moral choices possible.

Otherwise, Rand's supposed answer to the is/ought problem boils down to a miserable tautology. What a thing is determines what it ought to do - because that's what it is. There is, in that case, no dilemma to contend with which merely concerns the appropriate application of the "ought" in some general case.

For example, you wrote: If you want to reproduce you ought to find young girls sexy. But if it's already the case that a young man finds young girls sexy, then 'ought' follows naturally from 'is.' No moral strictures are necessary here, it is not even a moral dilemma.

If, on the other hand, the young man is gay, I still don't see any moral dilemma involved in your question itself, it only involves a technical problem: merely how it is possible to procreate in the absence of sexual attraction.

In any case, where ought (usually) follows naturally upon is, as it is with your example, morality isn't the correct category to apply to the question. Only a gay man would find an issue involved with your example, and not a moral one anyway, only a technical one (the question of how to find young women attractive in order to procreate).

What's more interesting to me here is how Rand claimed to have solved the is/ought dilemma, produced instead a miserable tautology, and then went on to invent a pre-moral choice which only goes to show that she did not bridge the gap at all, but only created a new problem: how is a man supposed to want to live, that is, want to live up to Rand's idealistic terms regarding the man qua man? And since this is a pre-moral choice, does failing to do so make a person morally bad?

Stefan Pernar said...

Cavewight said: Rand's meta-moral argument boils down to a more basic if/ought proposition: "No, you do not have to live; it is your basic act of choice; but if you choose to live, you must live as a man—by the work and the judgment of your mind." (Galt's Speech)

This is also where Rand failed to bridge the is/ought gap, the so-called pre-moral choice which makes the rest of our moral choices possible.


I agree 95% with Rand on how she deals with the is/ought problem. Sure, you can make a personal choice not wanting to exist, but that would be absolutely irrational. At least in the absence of an equal or greater offsetting evolutionary benefit as we see e.g. in the Price equation.

As I wrote above - and probably need to restate again - as long as you properly answer 'why is', or longer 'What are the evolutionary dynamics that allow us to exist in the first place?' anything but following the gained insights from answering this question will lead us not to exist, which would undeniably be the end of the discussion.

Where I disagree with Rand, on what still seems to be a fundamental level, is what enables us to be. I ask the question: What are the dynamics that caused us not to go extinct (or be marginalized) in our evolutionary history? Rand merely says, that we have to preserve individual life and thus have to be selfish to protect our being. Rand does not go deep enough though and fails to identify what lies at core of what allows us to exist and will continue to allow us to exist.

I say we have to realize the illusion of separateness and dissolve our egos in order to maximize our chance for future existence. This difference between Objectivism (focused on what seems to be faux common sense selfishness or rational self interest) and my own flavor of rational morality however, could very well dissolve itself in a cloud of deceptive linguistics as I pointed out above.

Cavewight said...

Stefan,

I'm quite certain Rand would have seen your theory as part of the irrationalist/altruist/collectivist axis. As for me, I'm not prepared to debate it. All I know is that Rand did not invoke individual survival as a moral principle. She only said that biological pain and pleasure force life upon men and animals as an unchosen principle. (VOS 18)

The mistake she made, in my view, lay in avoiding the teleological implications of the idea that life involves goal-directed action. The goal of life for her is - more life, the goal of life is life, which is a tautology. But then in the context of man she mentions progress, but without any specifics regarding progress toward what. It is not however individual progress she's referring to, therefore your complaints are unwarranted:

Capitalism is the only system where such men are free to function and where progress is accompanied, not by forced privations, but by a constant rise in the general level of prosperity, of consumption and of enjoyment of life. (VOS 97)

Notice the word "general," which in this social context does not include every single individual.

And so while I am not prepared to contend with your theory, I can say that in order to contend with Objectivism it is first necessary for you to understand it.

Stefan Pernar said...

Cavewight said: The goal of life for her is - more life, the goal of life is life, which is a tautology.

I agree with you that this is in essence what she is doing, but fail to see why one would have a problem with that. Only that which affirms life will live. Only that which lives can do anything.

Certainly you do affirm your life personally, otherwise why would you hang in there? What is wrong with that? I think nothing at all. Anything but affirming life would lead to suicide. I really fail to see why affirmation of existence should be an issue. Yes - it is a choice - conditional if you want. So what if the is/ought problem remains unanswered? Isn't that absolutely insignificant in comparison to your very existence?

Why would any philosopher value the proper solution to the is/ought problem above his existence? It would be absurd. Just imagine:

"Sorry Sir, I have first to solve the is/ought problem and will have to concern myself with my existence another time."

Existence is the ultimate prerequisite without which any other pursuit is simply impossible and consequentially and literally mute. Anything you could ever want to do - including addressing the is/ought problem - requires your existence. Rand had that just spot on.

[...] in order to contend with Objectivism it is first necessary for you to understand it.

Point taken and thanks for the clarifications. I think I am making some progress.

Cavewight said...

Stefan:

You do tend to agree with parts of Rand's argument. So my question for you is: If the pain/pleasure mechanism forces life upon men and animals as a principle,

He has no choice about it, and he has no choice about the standard that determines what will make him experience the physical sensation of pleasure or of pain.(18)

Then why is it necessary to, as you said, affirm life at all?

Daniel Barnes said...

Stefan:
>I agree 95% with Rand on how she deals with the is/ought problem.

Hi Stefan,

I've refrained from commenting on "is/ought" as yet mainly because I'm taking some of the issues raised by Richard point by point, and we haven't got to that one yet.

However, I will chime in briefly. Rand on "is/ought", and ethics in general, is problematic from any number of angles, but one which is relevant here is whether Hume's "is/ought" a "meta-ethical" problem in the first place - in which case, any so-called "meta-ethical" solution is simply beside the point. Quite to the contrary, Hume argues that "It is full time [men] should attempt a...reformation in all moral disquisitions, and reject every system of ethics, however subtle or ingenious, which is not founded on fact and observation." In other words, Hume's logical critique applies to moral specifics, built empirically, not vague meta-generalities.

Rand's ethics are, in contrast to Hume, expressed mostly in fictional terms via her moral apogees such as Howard Roark or John Galt. As these figures are regarded as most unrealistic pictures of actual men, her ethical aim might be better expressed as an attempt to close the "isn't/ought" gap...;-)

Cavewight said...

Daniel,

To give Rand the benefit of the doubt here, I think what she was trying to say amounts to the formula "what a man ought to be determines what he ought to do." And what a man ought to be is the best that he can strive for. Sometimes this is interpreted individually (a man), and sometimes collectively (just "man"). But most often she was referring to the best among men which she called "man." This conception Rand got from Jose Ortega y Gasset who distinguished the Noble Man and the Mass Man.

[T]he apparent enthusiasm for the manual worker, for the afflicted and for social justice, serves as a mask to facilitate the refusal of all obligations, such as courtesy, truthfulness and, above all, respect or esteem for superior individuals. I know of quite a few who have entered the ranks of some labor organization or other merely in order to win for themselves the right to despise intelligence and to avoid paying it any tribute. [In regard to] Dictatorship, we have seen only too well how they flatter the mass-man, by trampling on everything that appeared to be above the common level. (The Revolt of the Masses)

Cavewight said...

"Collectively" is no doubt the wrong word to use there. There is no real referent for the term "man" as Rand used it. There are, as Daniel indicated, no Roarks or Galts in reality. The term "man" expresses only an ideal which Rand never found in her lifetime, although her novels were to an extent attempts to reach out to this "man" wherever he may be.

Anon69 said...

Cavewight, then what do you make of Rand's pronouncement in her postscript to Atlas Shrugged: "I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don’t exist. That this book has been written- and published- is proof that they do." ... ?

Cavewight said...

Anon69,

Taken literally, I would say she was dreaming. And anyway, according to The Passion of Ayn Rand, that statement was intended as a compliment aimed at her publisher.

Anon69 said...

I am sure that Rand would have disagreed with the idea that there were no real referents for her concept "man". She called a concept with no referents in reality a "floating abstraction".

Cavewight said...

Anon69,

Like any such abstraction, it is real to the extent that you make it real. But it has been stated elsewhere that after the publication of Atlas Shrugged Rand went through a period of severe depression which was partially due to bad reviews. But she was also disappointed that the ideal man had failed to reveal himself. She despaired of the idea that perhaps he didn't exist after all.

Cavewight said...

Ayn Rand, as usual, got the argument wrong. The is/ought problem is not about deriving an ought from an is. It only says two things: oughts do not exist in external reality; and, oughts cannot be derived purely from reason. Moral oughts are therefore neither empirical nor rational. So Rand's statement "what a living thing is determines what it ought to do" misses the mark. While it's certainly true that if I want to build a house I have to hammer in a few nails, that does not convert the proposition into a moral prescription. It is just as true that if I want to live (as a rational being or otherwise) then I ought to do this and that. That is to say, it is true on the same level as building a house, and it is equally a-moral; building a life is in the same category of thought as building a house.

As far as I can tell, the category of morality has yet to be broached in this discussion. All points have missed the mark by precisely the same amount.

Rand's moral theory is only moral to the extent that it prescribes an ideal to attain. It cannot be fully understood until the 'man qua man' is properly appreciated. Rand makes this understanding difficult by feigning a scientific, empiricist perspective - beginning her argument with certain biological facts and what-not. Since this effectively undercuts her idealistic approach (which is necessary to building a moral theory), it is best discarded completely.

It is, rather, a circular argument. Rand wanted to build her moral theory toward an ideal, and has opportunistically directed her arguments regarding reality toward that end. In other words, she began with a conclusion (which began, I believe, as what Rand herself called an "instinct"), and then constructed an argument directed toward that conclusion.

The 'conclusion,' however (as Daniel pointed out), doesn't exist in reality. But I say that is not a flaw. The flaw lies in arguing circularly. But choosing an ideal is the proper approach for a moral systematizer such as Rand. Her ideal just happened to be "man," so hers was a variation on secular morality.

Anon69 said...

Cavewight, do you think that there is a difference between Rand's concept "man" and "man qua man"? I hadn't thought that there was, but perhaps I was mistaken.

Rand did considerably more than just begin her ethical argument with biological facts in order to feign an empiricist perspective. She constructed a whole epistemology of concept-formation, measurement-omission, "solution" to the Problem of Universals, definition by essentials, and so on - which *demands* that concepts follow from a process of observation and abstraction. Where that epistemological argument ends, her ethical argument begins (in transitioning from epistemology to ethics). There can be only one conclusion, namely, that Rand wanted us to think that she had based her concept of man in real, concrete referents. Not hoped-for referents, but *real* people that she had observed in her lifetime prior to forming her concept of "man". Now, if Rand's "man qua man" means something besides Rand's plain-old regular "man", it might make sense that "man qua man" is an unattained ideal, but rather odd, and definitely very confusing.

Stefan Pernar said...

Cavewight said: Then why is it necessary to, as you said, affirm life at all?

Firstly, I must say I am genuinely perplexed right now. True, on an intellectual level I understand the 'benign indifference of the universe' in regards to the human condition, fate and even our very existence.

True, evolution favored certain cognitive and physiological illusions biasing us if you will towards affirming our existence i.e. chocolate tastes good and young women are sexy. Granted, there is nothing that is intrinsically 'tasty' about chocolate, or 'sexy' about young women.

If there was, dung beetles and chimpanzees would be in trouble as Dennet puts it.

However, a) us recognizing the illusion for what it is does in no way dampen its effect and b) it is in fact not arbitrary, rather there is an underlying pattern which aims to maximize fitness. And I am not anthropomorphizing evolution here: human ancestors evolved all kinds of preferences in our evolutionary past in regards to food, however only a narrow band of these preferences turned out to enable them to leave reproducing offspring that were your and my direct ancestors. All the others either failed to do so or continued to develop in their specialized niche and ended up being dung beetles and chimpanzees.

On this basis let me try to answer your question.

Things became way more complicated when human ancestors evolved cognitive abilities that caused memetic (cultural) content to be a greater net fitness contributor in intraspecies competition than those on the genetic level. Before that point individuals were predominantly directed by unalterable genetic content. This realm is where I consider Rand's quote to be applicable:

He has no choice about it, and he has no choice about the standard that determines what will make him experience the physical sensation of pleasure or of pain.

All that changed however after humanity crossed the cognitive Rubicon of cultural dominance over genetic content. Now we have pain killers and mood enhancers of various types and non of our genetic predispositions for pain and pleasure is strictly applicable any longer.

We are now able to take matters in our own hands and unless we affirm life by adopting an evolutionary advantageous belief system - we will simply perish and be erased from the memory of the world as Turchin puts it.

That is why a) the underlying mechanisms of evolutionary dynamics need to be understood so that the gained insights can then b) be integrated into an evolutionary advantageous belief system based on reason instead of faith.

Stefan Pernar said...

Daniel Barnes said However, I will chime in briefly. Rand on "is/ought", and ethics in general, is problematic from any number of angles, but one which is relevant here is whether Hume's "is/ought" a "meta-ethical" problem in the first place - in which case, any so-called "meta-ethical" solution is simply beside the point. Quite to the contrary, Hume argues that "It is full time [men] should attempt a...reformation in all moral disquisitions, and reject every system of ethics, however subtle or ingenious, which is not founded on fact and observation."

I think that is a very interesting quote you bring up here. But is it possible that you mistyped?

In other words, Hume's logical critique applies to moral specifics, built empirically, not vague meta-generalities.

It seems to me that Hume's logical critique applies to moral specifics derived from vague meta-generalities, not to those built empirically. After all Hume advocates to reject every system of ethics [...] which is not founded on fact and observation

Please clarify.

Daniel Barnes said...

Stefan:
>It seems to me that Hume's logical critique applies to moral specifics derived from vague meta-generalities, not to those built empirically...Please clarify.

Apologies I have probably confused the situation by compressing it overly - trying to kill to many birds with one stone. To clarify: While Hume rejected vague meta-ethical generalities, usually rationalised from religious teachings, and hoped to derive morality from empirics instead, his own logical insight ultimately thwarts this aim. The "is/ought" problem turns out to be the dichotomy between facts and decisions. That is, you can't derive a decision from a fact, or any other set of facts. Of course, decisions pertain to facts, and are made in the context of facts, or are limited or permitted by facts; but they can't be logically derived from facts.

Does that clarify?

Cavewight said...

Stefan wrote:
However, a) us recognizing the illusion for what it is does in no way dampen its effect and b) it is in fact not arbitrary, rather there is an underlying pattern which aims to maximize fitness.

After this quote you say you are not anthropomorphizing. I wouldn't call it that anyway. There is indeed an underlying pattern which we impute to nature, that is, to the evolutionary process within nature. Such imputation is satisfying to our reason, it both informs us that nature is also intellectual pleasing (not only to the senses) and that our desire to bring systematicity to the natural process is indeed reflected in reality itself.

The pain/pleasure mechanism informs each of us originally that things can be good or evil for us. To that extent it is still strictly applicable. What you are talking about anyway is consequentialism, and there is still no distinction between two errors of judgment: errors of fact (forgetting to put gas in your car, and having to walk or being stranded as a consequence), and errors of character (putting sugar in someone's gas tank in an act of revenge). I don't see how taking away some of the consequences in life has detracted from the need to build moral character. Even if we have "crossed the cognitive Rubicon of cultural dominance over genetic content," character building is still an issue.

I also question the reference to cultural memes, since no such entity has been established as existing in reality, even though it has been established as a rather dominant theory in certain circles.

Daniel Barnes said...

Cavewight:
>The pain/pleasure mechanism informs each of us originally that things can be good or evil for us.

We should also remember that while we have inbuilt mechanisms, such as pain/pleasure, they too can err. For example, it may hurt a little to exercise, but it's good for you. Or it may be pleasurable to eat a lot of sweets, but it's bad for you. So "innate" tendencies can also be fallible ones.

Cavewight said...

Daniel,

I have no problem with that. Rand only claimed we originally learned to distinguish good and evil through the pain/pleasure mechanism. And whether that's true or not, we will always mentally react against things that hurt although we know they are good for us in the long run, even if we have pushed that reactive part of the psyche into the background, and even then not always very successfully. If you break your leg in the wilderness while hiking or cross-country skiing, and your only chance for survival is to set the broken leg with a splint, you will definitely react negatively even while another part of your mind knows it's for the best in the long run. We will never completely dull the part of the mind that simply reacts. It always treats events on tv or in the movies as real, even though we are fully aware that these are just people acting and the special effects are only there to fool the senses. The reason the senses are easily fooled has to do with that deeper, seemingly innate, level of the psyche that always believes in the stimulus first then responds to it immediately and automatically like an instinct.

Stefan Pernar said...

Daniel Barnes said "Of course, decisions pertain to facts, and are made in the context of facts, or are limited or permitted by facts; but they can't be logically derived from facts. Does that clarify?"

Yes it does - thank you. Personally I do not find the problem unsoveable and belief that my earlier explanations do a good job showing the irrationality of certain moral beliefs over others. In another attempt to bring my point across please consider the following: A debate over the question 'non-existence is preferable over existence' can never leave the theoretical plane. For as soon as the one arguing the affirmative moves ahead and acts on his belief, it would always leave the remaining existing opponent uncontended. Not acting would make the proponent's stance irrational since he argues for non existence yet exists, acting on his stance and committing suicide would remove him from the debate. Either way existence 'wins' - either by pointing out the inconsistency between the existence of the one arguing against existence or by rationally dictated self elimination of the opposing view.

Stefan Pernar said...

Cavewight said: "I don't see how taking away some of the consequences in life has detracted from the need to build moral character. Even if we have "crossed the cognitive Rubicon of cultural dominance over genetic content," character building is still an issue.

Oh - absolutely.

I also question the reference to cultural memes, since no such entity has been established as existing in reality, even though it has been established as a rather dominant theory in certain circles.

I will have to disagree with you here and point you to the work of Boyd and Richerson especially their book Culture and the Evolutionary Process among others. In it they do an admirable job to expand Dawkins concept of the meme and give it a theoretical foundations.

Further, memes do exist all around us in the form of language which is transmitted exclusively by cultural processes to name but one example.

Onar Åm said...

After having observed the mode of thinking of some of the Rand-critics in here, I find it best to minimize the amount of reasoning put into words, because they fall on deaf ears.

Is/ought:

To whomever it may concern, consider the following scenario of "is"'es:

1. You are standing in the middle of railway.
2. A train is heading your way at great speed.


My question is then: can you from these *facts* (and other facts accumulated from experience) plus *reasoning* conclude what you *ought* to do *if* you want to survive?

Or do you, following Hume, claim that you are using some non-factual, non-reasoning method in order to reach a decision? If so, what does this method amount to? Prayer? "Instinct"? Numerology? Astrology?

Dragonfly said...

Onar Åm:
"1. You are standing in the middle of railway.
2. A train is heading your way at great speed.


My question is then: can you from these *facts* (and other facts accumulated from experience) plus *reasoning* conclude what you *ought* to do *if* you want to survive?"

The fallacy in this example is that the number of alternatives is very limited, there is in fact only one way to survive: get out of the way (ignoring the fact that there are still many ways of getting away: walking, running, jumping, rolling, etc). But you cannot translate this simple binary choice to life in general: there are gazillions of ways of surviving in general, and many of them are quite the opposite of the Objectivist way, so any attempt to derive the Objectivist ethics from the principle of survival is doomed. The trick that Objectivists use to save their theory is of course the substitution of "survival" by "survival as man qua man", which is merely begging the question (as countless critics already have observed).

Stefan Pernar said...

Dragonfly said: "The fallacy in this example is that the number of alternatives is very limited, there is in fact only one way to survive: get out of the way"

I would disagree here. The fallacy is that Onar introduced an 'if' in the form of survival thus moving beyond a strict is/ought scenario. That makes the solution very simple, namely get out of the way and Hume would not disagree here.

Further, I find your claim that basing an ethic on survival or in my case evolutionary dynamics and thereby dooming it missing the point of is/ought. I am starting to get a feeling what Rand meant with 'death worship' and 'whim worship'.

There is no rationale whatsoever arguing against existence. Existence does exist and if someone prefers not to exist then why the Pete is that someone still here arguing his point? Should you not be busy non-existing or striving for non-existence? If you really think that non-existence is preferable over existence I am beginning to think it would be better you started turning your rhetoric into action, opened a window and take the next step.

Time out here :-) am just trying to bring my point across and am not actually agitated, alright? ;-)

I want you to exist of course, but just the same I wish you saw the utter irrationality in what you are saying by sitting on the fence on existence vs non-existence.

Anon69 said...

Lurking on the sidelines of Rand's ethics is the following idea: observe that it is in the nature of man to choose life under normal and satisfactory (sufficient?) conditions. The decision to live is a variety of fact: this is what men have done under normal conditions, we can reason inductively ('all swans are black') to the general case. But there's 'the problem of induction', you say. But that problem wasn't a problem per se for Rand, she would simply claim contextually absolute certain knowledge and move on. So the statement would be a perfectly Randian way to bridge is/ought. So why didn't Rand do it? Her extreme idea of free will meant that she had to stop with 'it is the nature of man to choose ...' and omit the key conclusion '... life under normal and satisfactory conditions' (or substitute '... where there is a reasonable prospect of success', whatever describes it best) - why did he choose it? "There can be no such why..." and turn to sophomoric escapes like "well if YOU think non-existence is so great, why don't YOU get started non-existing" etc. ;-)

Cavewight said...

Anon69,

I agree that the "if you don't like it then jump in front of a train" approach is intellectually dissatisfying question-begging, and anyway, as a response it has gotten old. (It sounds like something Rand would have said during a Q&A session at the NBI church, which is one reason Nathaniel and Barbara decided to remove her from those sessions.)

I still see no evidence that Rand understood the is/ought problem. And anyway, Hume would have demolished the train problem easily. As an empiricist, he would simply state that there is no "ought" to be found anywhere in the example of standing in front of a speeding train. And that if you do think to "see" one, it was already in your head to begin with and not taken from reality. It is found, not in the situation itself, but in your sense of impending doom at the prospect of being run down by a train. So if you had absolutely no feeling of terror, no instinct to escape, then no "ought" would be possible to you. Therefore, the proposition "one ought to jump out of the train's way" is neither true nor false, it is not a problem for reason at all which is concerned only with empiricals. It is simply a matter for reason to take its cues from your feelings, and then decide the best route for escape.

gregnyquist said...

Onar Åm said...

"My question is then: can you from these *facts* (and other facts accumulated from experience) plus *reasoning* conclude what you *ought* to do *if* you want to survive?"

Putting the question this way misses Hume's point entirely. The term "facts" is ambiguous; for it could refer to the emotional state of the individual on the railroad tracks. If the individual has an emotional commitment to remaining alive, that itself can be construed as a fact which would be pertinent to any decision. Hume's point is that without an emotional commitment, no decision can be made at all. For Hume, it is psychologically impossible for "reason" to control volition (that is, to originate motives). All moral decisions, for Hume, must be based on some sentiment or emotion (what Rand would caricature as a "whim"). For if the individual were completely indifferent to what happened to him, if he experienced no emotions at all, it would impossible for him to find a reason to step out of the way of the train. State any reason why an individual should get out of the train and it will include an emotional commitment.

The acceptance of Rand's conditional presupposes an emotional commitment to life. But that emotional commitment in itself must render any ethics based on it as "subjective." That is one of the reason why I have trouble taking the notion that Rand's ethics is based on a conditional all that seriously.

Cavewight said...

Randroid examples such as this only go to show that Objectivism is basically an emotion-backed theory. Randroids can't prove themselves without emotionally-charged arguments, they are in the long run dependent upon them, usually in the face of an opponent who seems to be questioning their fundamentals. Walk in front of a train... or a car... or something similar to that is bound to be the response. But Hume is there waiting to stop their emotionalist argument in its tracks, and then Kant finishes them off.

Cavewight said...

Greg,

Well, I see you taking issue with the possibility of proving induction, but then you generalize to moral theories as all being emotionally-based - as if perhaps you concluded this by induction. Or am I wrong?

Xtra Laj said...

Greg,

Thanks for making that point which I think that Daniel's responses to Stefan, while generally excellent, didn't make clear enough.

Stefan Pernar said...

Cavewight said: "I agree that the "if you don't like it then jump in front of a train" approach is intellectually dissatisfying question-begging, and anyway, as a response it has gotten old."

and

Anon69 said: "turn to sophomoric escapes like "well if YOU think non-existence is so great, why don't YOU get started non-existing"

Absolutely agreed, but to be fair, I tried the non-sophomoric approach first. See above:

"A debate over the question 'non-existence is preferable over existence' can never leave the theoretical plane. For as soon as the one arguing the affirmative moves ahead and acts on his belief, it would always leave the remaining existing opponent uncontended. Not acting would make the proponent's stance irrational since he argues for non existence yet exists, acting on his stance and committing suicide would remove him from the debate. Either way existence 'wins' - either by pointing out the inconsistency between the existence of the one arguing against existence or by rationally dictated self elimination of the opposing view."

gregnyquist said: State any reason why an individual should get out of the train and it will include an emotional commitment.

Imagine a purely rational robot with an arbitrary utility function (or goal). That robot will realize that maximizing his utility will require it to remain functional. As a result it will establish a sub goal of remaining functional and thus take appropriate steps to ensure its proper functioning. This would include avoiding trains hitting it etc. Emotions are but an evolutionary mechanism keeping us around long enough to create reproducing offspring. Hume lived before Darwin and way before evolutionary psychology. Sure you can hypothesize that an individual is absolutely goal less and or unemotional. Sure - that individual would remain on the tracks or decide randomly to step off, but how realistic is that really for our daily lives?

Considering that this blog is called Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature I find it ironic that such a highly inhuman interpretation of Hume is thought of as acceptable in refuting a Randian position. Would human nature not dictate to take three steps to the side? Think about it.

For Hume, it is psychologically impossible for "reason" to control volition (that is, to originate motives).

If that is Hume's position then I will have to disagree with him. As long as an individual is rational it will have the intrinsic desire not to contradict itself. That being the fundamental drive of reason can and ought control volition. What would be more self contradicting then committing senseless suicide? Since a reasoning being does exist and would have to act in order not to exist such an act would contradict its existence.

Richard said...

Greg wrote:

The acceptance of Rand's conditional presupposes an emotional commitment to life. But that emotional commitment in itself must render any ethics based on it as "subjective." That is one of the reason why I have trouble taking the notion that Rand's ethics is based on a conditional all that seriously.

In increasing order of long-windedness:

"Ethics is conditional..." (Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 248)

"Moral 'imperatives' are thus all of them hypothetical. ... Morality rests on a fundamental, pre-moral choice." (Gotthelf, On Ayn Rand, p. 84)

"To live is his basic act of choice. If he chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course.
"Reality confronts man with a great many 'musts,' but all of them are conditional ..." (Rand, "Causality Versus Duty" in Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 99)

"[T]he choice to live is not subject to rational appraisal. It arises in a context devoid of the values that provide the standard for determining what a person should do. In this sense, the choice to live is primary. It is not justified by any prior ends. ... We cannot say that a person ought, rationally, to choose to live because we have no preexisting standards to underwrite the 'ought.' .... Nothing logically necessitates the wish to live. At the deepest point, the embrace of life is beyond argument." (Smith, Viable Values, p. 107. Smith makes this point eight ways to Sunday, including several that I've cut.)

So take it seriously or not, but this is the nature of Rand's ethics. As to whether this makes ethics "subjective," Peikoff, Gotthelf and Smith clearly disagree and give their explanations as to why, but ultimately it doesn't really matter. Even if we assume arguendo that you are right about that, all it proves is that you can attach a term to Rand's ethics that her supporters would find embarrassing. That's rhetorically useful, but doesn't show that the thusly-labeled argument is wrong.

Cavewight said...

Stefan wrote:
A debate over the question 'non-existence is preferable over existence' can never leave the theoretical plane. For as soon as the one arguing the affirmative moves ahead and acts on his belief, it would always leave the remaining existing opponent uncontended. Not acting would make the proponent's stance irrational since he argues for non existence yet exists, acting on his stance and committing suicide would remove him from the debate. Either way existence 'wins' - either by pointing out the inconsistency between the existence of the one arguing against existence or by rationally dictated self elimination of the opposing view."

That is an a priorist view of the debate seen from the standpoint merely of reason. However, it begs the question of reason having anything to do with the actual outcome of the debate. You are standing outside of the debate determining the outcome for one side. And so you are falling into Hume's hands. For he would point out that all you are doing is determining logically, which is in his view reason's only pursuit.

Xtra Laj said...

Stefan Parnar,

I'm not quite clear on how your response answers Greg's. The problem with Rand is not that life is worthless or is not a standard of value. It is the idea that it is *the* standard of value and that from this standard, we can derive and refute all kinds of ethical systems or acts of which Rand approved/disapproved.

After all, Hume could just as well say something like, "Sentiments are standards of value" (no, to my knowledge, Hume never said this) and the desire to preserve one's life is one such sentiment and it will on occasion compete with others. What would be wrong with such a formulation when contrasted with Rand's and which is the more realistic?

Now, the simplest way, IMO, to understand the claim that it is impossible for reason to create volition is to ask oneself what drives are fundamental to human nature (things like happiness, life preservation, sex, hunger etc.) and to ask whether reason creates them or satiates them.

If this is not your understanding of greg's description of Hume's view, then you might not understand Hume's argument that reason helps satisfy but does not create human drives.

Richard said...

Daniel wrote:

The "is/ought" problem turns out to be the dichotomy between facts and decisions. That is, you can't derive a decision from a fact, or any other set of facts. Of course, decisions pertain to facts, and are made in the context of facts, or are limited or permitted by facts; but they can't be logically derived from facts.

Cavewight wrote:

Ayn Rand, as usual, got the argument wrong. The is/ought problem is not about deriving an ought from an is.

Cavewight, as usual, got the argument wrong. Daniel's is the more accurate portrayal of the traditional "is/ought problem."

Now, I think there is a very good case that Rand did not "overcome" Hume's objections in any direct sense. Her argument is more a finesse of Hume's point than a refutation of it. If we got in our time machine and took Hume to see Rand presenting "The Objectivist Ethics," he could have jumped up in middle to say, "You didn't really derive an 'ought' from an 'is.' You introduced 'ought' in the form of a conditional." To which Rand could have responded, "You're right. My 'oughts' only apply to those who affirm the first part of my conditional. Those who don't choose to live needn't listen to the rest of my presentation. Could I get a show of hands from those who don't choose to live? Our hosts will want to get the right count for lunch."

My guess about the "sentiments" of most people tells me that the lunch table would have been full.

Xtra Laj said...

So take it seriously or not, but this is the nature of Rand's ethics. As to whether this makes ethics "subjective," Peikoff, Gotthelf and Smith clearly disagree and give their explanations as to why, but ultimately it doesn't really matter. Even if we assume arguendo that you are right about that, all it proves is that you can attach a term to Rand's ethics that her supporters would find embarrassing. That's rhetorically useful, but doesn't show that the thusly-labeled argument is wrong.

Richard,

Greg's point was that if you cannot call an ethics "objective" if you do not argue that it is not binding on all people in a way that is independent of how any one particular person feels about it. If someone can choose not to be bound by the ethics, making the issue of whether the ethics is binding or not conditional on something *subjective* about that individual, and the ethics still continues to call itself "objective", it can do so, then it should note that it is not "objective" in the sense of the term that most people use it.

Greg is not denying your or Peikoff's characterization of Objectivist ethics as being based on a conditional. It's just not in line with what people have called objectivist ethics, a term that had use and meaning before Rand (it was synonymous with moral realism), to base such an ethics on something clearly subjective (in this case, the choice to live).

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

Cavewight wrote:
>Daniel wrote:
>Cavewight, as usual, got the argument wrong.

No I didn't....;-)

Cavewight said...

Then I'll delete it and start again.

Cavewight said...

Richard wrote:
Cavewight, as usual, got the argument wrong. Daniel's is the more accurate portrayal of the traditional "is/ought problem."

I see you have been reduced to flaming. At least you didn't say "as always."

The traditional is/ought problem originated with Hume. He dissected it into two categories in his work A Treatise of Human Nature, the rational and the empirical. The rational (which he called "pure reason") simply determines truth-values without considering reality; the empirical bases its judgments in correspondence with reality.

When someone like Rand states the problem as "deriving an ought from an is," that is only one pole of Hume's critique. And anyway, there is nothing about the speeding train that indicates whether or not you ought to jump out of its way. You can if you feel like it. Most people do, but not everybody does. It would seem difficult to derive an ought when in fact not everybody jumps out of the way, when indeed their preference is suicide (or sometimes making a political statement, or any variety of reasons). And then there is the mystery of those people who feel like jumping out of the way, yet refuse to do so.

As usual, Cavewight got the argument right.

Richard said...

Xtra Laj wrote:
Greg's point was that if you cannot call an ethics "objective" if you do not argue that it is not binding on all people in a way that is independent of how any one particular person feels about it.

I don't think Rand ever opened the door to ethics not being "binding" on you because of how you feel about those ethics. They are binding on you if you choose to live. After you make that choice, Rand would say that the rest follows quite objectively.

That caveat aside, the rest of my reply to you would be exactly what you quoted from my reply to Greg.

Richard said...

Cavewight wrote:
Ayn Rand, as usual, got the argument wrong.

To which I replied:
Cavewight, as usual, got the argument wrong.

To which he said:
I see you have been reduced to flaming.

So if I parallel your own comments about Rand, that's flaming? "Hello, Pot, I'm Kettle."

The rest of your comment adds nothing useful to the debate that hasn't been said better by someone else (and goes on about an example that I have nothing to do with), so I'll leave it at that. If you want to argue about whether Hume talked about deriving 'ought' from 'is', perhaps Daniel will take up that debate with you.

Cavewight said...

Richard wrote:
So if I parallel your own comments about Rand, that's flaming? "Hello, Pot, I'm Kettle."

Rand cannot be flamed, she is not on this forum, and last I heard she was still dead.

The rest of your comment adds nothing useful to the debate that hasn't been said better by someone else (and goes on about an example that I have nothing to do with), so I'll leave it at that. If you want to argue about whether Hume talked about deriving 'ought' from 'is', perhaps Daniel will take up that debate with you.

I'm not arguing about whether Hume discussed it, I can quote straight from his Critique proving that he did. What I'm arguing is that Rand's statement "what a living being is determines what it ought to do" misses the mark if her target was Hume.

Rand cannot argue why one ought to jump out of the train's path without employing the conditional. She would simply state that those who don't agree that choosing life is the right thing to do should find another philosophy such as existentialism.

But that misses the point, not only of Hume or any other philosopher, it misses the point of philosophy itself, which is to an extent to question basic assumptions. The Objectivist "choice to live" is merely one of them, it assumes that an advocate of her philosophy has chosen it.

Anon69 said...

Richard said:
"Could I get a show of hands from those who don't choose to live?"



Rand's approach is noteworthy not so much for the gap that it fails to bridge as for the vast swath of human nature that it willfully ignores. Why and under what conditions man chooses the first part of Rand's conditional contains within it a number of facts about human nature that are extremely inconvenient to Objectivism, and Rand's only solution is to pretend that they don't exist or don't matter to a rational philosophy - which proves nothing more than the limited utility of a "rational" philosophy, so lacking is it in explanatory power on issues of fundamental importance. It might turn out, for example, that the source of the choice to live is a Nietzschean Will to Power, that man must continually satisfy such Will, reason and Rand be damned. It might turn out there is a physiologic basis to achievement involving sex drive and testosterone, reason and Rand be damned. It might turn out that man is in significant part an irrational animal after all, contra Rand's equivocal invocation of the term "rational being" ... reason and Rand be damned. In closing her mind and philosophy to the unpleasant and irrational nature of man, we are left with a groundless, largely empty ethics, ill-suited to the needs of man.

Richard said...

Daniel wrote:

So naturally ideas can and do spread by other means, but Pernar is saying that the Price equation suggests in the long run those with a genetic predisposition to adopt ideologies of pure selfishness will be selected out. ...

We should also note that Pernar's argument defines altruism, and by extension selfishness, as a genetic predisposition to certain behaviour (eg adopting certain ideas):

Pernar: In this context altruism is defined as the genetic predisposition to any behavior which decreases individual fitness while increasing the average fitness of the group to which the individual belongs.

There are several problems to deal with, but I'll try to keep my comments to a readable length. While I don't reject out of hand the idea that genetic predispositions might have some influence on the acceptance of an idea, the relationship is at best a complicated one. Note people can and do change their ideas quite substantially over time. Directly to the issue of Objectivism, most Objectivists are not raised by Objectivist parents, and many people accept Objectivism for a time and then reject it later. So the correlation between a genetic predisposition and the acceptance (much less practice) of particular ideas seems on a superficial analysis to be weak. The strongest cases for genetic influence on ideas are in matters directly related to reproduction (such as the incest taboo you mentioned earlier), which are a small subset of the ideas that a person has even in the specific realm of ethics.

Also, I would not accept a simple equivalence between "adopting certain ideas" and behaving in a particular way. There's obviously some relationship, but behavior inconsistent with explicit ideology is common enough. Or the ideology might make the behavior optional, in which case different specific behaviors would be consistent with it. For example, a person might reject the idea that incest is inherently immoral, but still have no desire to practice it.

The weakness of the relationship between genetic predispositions and ideas is compounded by the ways that ideas spread differently than genetic traits. Ideas can spread laterally among a cohort with various genetic traits (not just down a reproductive line). This isn't just hypothetical: the most common ideological groupings, such as churches and political parties, are groups where the genetic relationships among members are very weak. Ideas can even skip generations by being preserved in books and other non-biological forms.

Another major issue is that while Pernar may define altruism and selfishness in relation to evolutionary fitness, Rand did not. My point is not that one needs to accept the definitions of the other. Rather, we should accept that they aren't directly related. A behavior that is called "selfish" by Rand may be one that "increase[s] the average fitness of the group," and thus not selfish at all by Pernar's standards. There might be some overlap, but understanding what that overlap is would require substantive analysis of the behaviors recommended by Rand, and what effect (if any) those have on group evolutionary fitness. And to be clear, the Price equation does not pass judgment on whether any particular behavior increases or decreases evolutionary fitness. Rather, it says that if certain genetic attributes have known (or presumed) impacts on fitness, then here is how it will play out over the course of evolution. Given the lack of any defined relationship between Randian 'selfishness' and Pernarian 'selfishness', we simply don't have the inputs needed for the equation.

So, in short, I think that any case for the persistence of an idea being dependent on its contribution to evolutionary fitness is weak, and the application of any such relationship to Objectivism is entirely hypothetical.

Richard said...

Cavewight wrote:
Rand cannot argue why one ought to jump out of the train's path without employing the conditional.

Nor would she try. That was the point of the multiple quotes I disgorged in response to Greg. The Objectivist ethics is explicitly dependent on the conditional choice to live.

The Objectivist "choice to live" is merely one of them, it assumes that an advocate of her philosophy has chosen it.

Yep. You are welcome to choose not to live, and in that case Objectivists have no ethical advice for you. However, your repeated appearances in discussions over the years suggest that you have in fact made that choice.

Daniel Barnes said...

Richard:
>"Could I get a show of hands from those who don't choose to live?"

I have some comments to make on this, like Onar's train example. But as I'm trying to reply to your original post point by point I'd prefer not to skip ahead. Have you had a chance to consider my question from there? Do you think the possibility that there are genetic tendencies towards behaviour such as altruism or selfishness is plausible?"

Richard said...

Stefan wrote:
Where I disagree with Rand, on what still seems to be a fundamental level, is what enables us to be. I ask the question: What are the dynamics that caused us not to go extinct (or be marginalized) in our evolutionary history? Rand merely says, that we have to preserve individual life and thus have to be selfish to protect our being. Rand does not go deep enough though and fails to identify what lies at core of what allows us to exist and will continue to allow us to exist.

When Rand offers the conditional of choosing to live, she knows that the choice to live is one that is nearly universal. Moreover, there is no apparent need for ethics for those who don't choose to live. (There are specific actions that one could recommend to a person who chooses to die, but the options aren't so complex as to require the development of an ethical system.) So she can easily write off "non-lifers" as irrelevant to the development of ethics. If their choice is sincere and not quickly reversed, they will be out of the picture soon enough.

Choosing group evolutionary fitness doesn't have the same stark contrast. Most people have probably never thought about their contribution to group evolutionary fitness, and if asked the assent to aid in it could be far from universal. If a person does reject the choice to pursue evolutionary fitness, the impacts of that choice may not be seen for generations, if ever. That person still faces his own life with all the detailed choices that involves, so ethics is still useful to him. He can't simply be dismissed as a non-participant in the development of ethics.

In short, we know what Rand's reply is to any individuals who do not choose to live. What is your response to those who do not choose to aid group evolutionary fitness? If they don't care about it already, why should they?

Richard said...

Daniel wrote:
Have you had a chance to consider my question from there?

Keep reading, you should get to it soon enough. Probably before you read this comment, if you're going sequentially.

Cavewight said...

Richard wrote:
Yep. You are welcome to choose not to live, and in that case Objectivists have no ethical advice for you. However, your repeated appearances in discussions over the years suggest that you have in fact made that choice.

Which means you failed to grasp or evaded my point which is that Rand could not contend with Hume without resorting to a straw man.

How do you know what my discussions over the years have been like anyway?

Richard said...

Cavewight wrote:
Which means you failed to grasp or evaded my point which is that Rand could not contend with Hume without resorting to a straw man.

I already gave my opinion on the relationship between Hume's argument and Rand's. I will not respond to you further on the matter.

How do you know what my discussions over the years have been like anyway?

"Cavewight" = "MalKantent" = I'll be polite and not post your real name

And even if you deny that connection (obvious as it is to anyone who reads both your blog and HPO), your own blog has posts back into 2008. If you didn't choose to live, you wouldn't still be able to post after more than a few days.

Stefan Pernar said...

Richard said: "In short, we know what Rand's reply is to any individuals who do not choose to live. What is your response to those who do not choose to aid group evolutionary fitness? If they don't care about it already, why should they?"

Well - I would say that ignoring group fitness will over short or long make individual life impossible since it would lead to the extinction of the group. Reason being that any group that does concern itself with its group's fitness will out compete a group that does not do so in the long term.

This in my view is the reason that compassion evolved in all major world religions in the period of what is known as the axial age. Karen Armstrong's book The Great Transformation gives a good account of that period.

I also recommend the book Religion is not about God, by Loyal D. Rue. I am not finished reading it yet so the recommendation is provisional but it looks like it approaches religion from a purely naturalistic perspective as being evolutionary advantageous.

Cavewight said...

Richard:

As always, that was most irrelevant to the discussion at hand. But my hat's off to you for pointing out the facts of my "identity" (A is A); I'm proud of all my posts, everybody is free to look them up. Of course you are that Objectivist Center dude. I am very excited to see you here, and look forward to seeing more of the same old - what "Bob" recently referred to back on good ole hpo - "randing."

Richard said...

Stefan wrote:
I would say that ignoring group fitness will over short or long make individual life impossible since it would lead to the extinction of the group.

But it doesn't make the life of the individual you are responding to impossible. Given certain assumptions about the impact of ideas on evolutionary fitness (which I don't necessarily grant, as per my discussion with Daniel), it may make life impossible for some future individuals who don't even exist yet. That seems a significant distinction from the situation Rand has with the choice to live. The individual has an obvious and powerful motivation to care about his own existence. The motivation to care about distant future generations is less clear.

Onar Åm said...

Dragonfly,

I deliberately chose my example to make it so bleedingly obvious that oughts follow from facts given the conditional "I choose to live." Also note that I could specify a completely different conditional ("I choose to die") from which a different ought can be dervied from reason and facts. That life is not so simple that a single solution can be derived in all instances only means that humans actually have a lot of alternatives to choose from. (freedom!) There is not *one* single correct way to live. However, regardless of how many alternatives there are for living you need to employ a certain method in all cases: thinking (either directly, or indirectly through sedimented "intuition"). That is, you need to evaluate the facts and through the process of reason find out which alternatives further your life and which do not.

In other words, Ayn Rand nails another ought that follows from the choice "I choose to live," namely reason. Although most people here have ridiculed her "man qua man" as taken completely out of thin air, it is her non-technical way of arguing for an evolutionary evaluation of man. Most people have also laughed at this connection between evolution and "man qua man" as "ridiculous," without presenting any form of arguments against it, simply ridicule.

It really isn't that hard to understand, even for loghead philosophers: Ayn Rand noted that we are born without big claws, sharp teeth, large bones, big muscles, speedy legs, warm fur or a natural camouflage. In short, we are born absolutely helpless into this world from a physical point of view. Yet we dramatically compensate for this by having the biggest and smartest brain in the history of life on earth. From an evolutionary point of view it is *obvious* that our brains have evolved at the expense of of other organs. This can only mean one thing: the brain and the mind are our primary survival tools.

There is nothing ridiculous about this, and it does not place you guys in a particularly flattering light that you are incapable of understanding such a simple argument.

Cavewight said...

Onar wrote:
Although most people here have ridiculed her "man qua man" as taken completely out of thin air, it is her non-technical way of arguing for an evolutionary evaluation of man.

I second that motion. Rand's thinking was guided by an end, call it a moral or teleological end, that stood as an ideal for man to strive toward.

Daniel Barnes said...

Richard:
>Keep reading, you should get to it soon enough.

Ah yes, I see we crossed in the post...;-)

The reason I asked specifically about the plausibility of altruistic tendencies having a genetic basis is that, like the incest taboo, altruistic behaviours exist across almost all societies. Of course man-made laws or codes regarding altruism, like laws against incest, vary somewhat between societies, but the bedrock of these laws if you like is conjectured to be this basic natural tendency.

So on that basis, do you think it plausible that tendencies to adopt this or that altruistic code might have a genetic basis?

Xtra Laj said...


There is nothing ridiculous about this, and it does not place you guys in a particularly flattering light that you are incapable of understanding such a simple argument.


_________________

There is something very sad and not flattering about your return to this childish mode of argument, especially when Greg gave you a detailed response and pointed out that if someone chooses to live, he must have made that decision on the basis of a sentiment/value, and that this is an aspect what Hume's point was about - choice is impossible unless guided by values on Hume's account, though of course, this is a claim that can be denied, though to my mind, implausibly. This is another reason why I find Rand's ethics to be problematic.

The idea that some choice can be pre-moral is ridiculous in itself, but even if we grant that, we have not evaded Hume's fork, because Hume's fork was not that moral facts to not exist. It was that

1) you cannot derive moral conclusions from arguments that do not contain moral premises (any argument that concludes with an "ought" *must* have premise with an "ought".

2) moral principles are derived from sentiments.

Therefore, if an individual says "I ought to live" or "I want to live", on Hume's account, that is a fact. On Hume's account it is at the very least given, but it is is derived, it cannot be derived from any statement that doesn't contain an evaluative or prescriptive bent, but it is still a fact, and a fact that can go into the argument.

The fact that such desires motivate the individual who possesses them and do not necessarily motivate other individuals is in part the problem with trying to derive an objectivist ethics.

Which part of this doesn't register?

Xtra Laj said...

I don't think Rand ever opened the door to ethics not being "binding" on you because of how you feel about those ethics. They are binding on you if you choose to live. After you make that choice, Rand would say that the rest follows quite objectively.

Why would any choice be pre-moral? I think that the concept of choice, and I'm not being verbalistic here, involves assessing the value of different options and valuing one over the other. So maybe I'm missing the sense in which a choice can be premoral. Calling a choice premoral is another way of saying, if you don't share my sentiments, I cannot debate morality with you. But isn't that obvious? And isn't that Hume's point?

As far as I can see, all Rand is ducking here is the fact that moral laws are not the same as physical laws and that people can break moral laws and often escape the purported consequences of doing so.

I don't think that Rand's ethics is better or worse than any other from a meta-ethical perspective. It is another set of rationalizations to explain what Rand favors and would like most people to behave like.

gregnyquist said...

Richard: "Even if we assume arguendo that you are right about that, all it proves is that you can attach a term to Rand's ethics that her supporters would find embarrassing. That's rhetorically useful, but doesn't show that the thusly-labeled argument is wrong."

Perhaps I stated my case poorly when I implied that I can't take the theory seriously because it attempts to be an objective theory while being based on a conditional. I have other very serious problems beyond that.

One problem has to do with pronouncing moral judgment on people. "One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment," says Rand. I don't find this consistent with ethics being conditional on choosing life. For if we follow the logic of Rand's position, we would have to assume that someone who chooses not to live will die. So they are taken care of. There won't be any reason to condemn those people: they won't even be around. But if you condemn somebody that is still alive, what exactly are you condemning them for? If they are still alive, doesn't that suggest they are following the Objectivist ethics? Or are they being condemned for some act that imperils their life? Well, perhaps that makes some sense: but I don't think that's the actual reason Rand pronounced moral judgment in most cases. When Rand judged N. Branden, for instance, it had nothing to do with behavior that imperilled his life (or even her life). Moreover, there are instances where life may be "imperilled" (even if in negligible way), and yet Objectivists make no averse judgment at all. Is sky diving a moral evil to an Objectivist? Or how about smoking? And what about those individuals who are judged as evil yet who don't have the decency to die (accept in old age, when everyone dies)?

This leads to yet another difficulty. When Rand presents us with the conditional, If you choose to live, then... what exactly is supposed to follow? If we want to live, must we then follow the Objectivist ethics? If so, does this mean that the Objectivist ethics is the only means to survival? Well that certainly can't be true, because most people aren't Objectivists, and yet most people survive well into old age. So people can clearly survive even when they follow other ethical systems. Why, then, should they choose Objectivism?

But perhaps what Rand really meant to say is If you choose life, you must follow an "objective" (or "reason" based) ethics. Yet this implies there are other "reason"-based ethics besides Objectivism (what ethics are those?), and so we are again left with the question: why choose Objectivism over these other systems? (Even more troubling: suppose it is found (which is not improbable) that Kantians life as long, if not longer, than Objectivists? Doesn't this imply that Kant's system of ethics is "reason"-based? After all, Kant himself (who lived to old age) thought so.)

Cavewight said...

And it's not about "choosing to live," but choosing to live qua man, qua rational being. There is a difference. Rand's argument did not end at the point where she noted that man's distinct mode of survival was his big brain.

Cavewight said...

Greg:

All that stuff about condemning those who fail to choose life (even granted that meshes with Rand's ethical theory) is better approached from the pre-moral choice vantage. Those who have never made the pre-moral choice to live simply cannot be morally condemned precisely because it is pre-moral. However, Rand had no problem with judging them morally, and she did so with intense frequency.

Stefan Pernar said...

Richard said: "The individual has an obvious and powerful motivation to care about his own existence. The motivation to care about distant future generations is less clear."

Well - if your ancestors would have felt this way we would not have this discussion since you would not have come into being. And it seems that our descendants will neither, since my descendants will exist and yours wont :-)

It is just a different train on different tracks. But the same fundamental choice remains: existence or non-existence.

Cavewight said...

Stefan wrote:

Well - if your ancestors would have felt this way we would not have this discussion since you would not have come into being. And it seems that our descendants will neither, since my descendants will exist and yours wont :-)

I was hoping you would respond in some such vein, and I agree with it as far as it seems to mesh with my own idea.

I wholly believe that previous generations of humans, particularly in developing countries such as 19th century USA, consciously and conscientiously worked to improve the lot of future generations and not just their own lives. They worked and slaved knowing that this was the best they could ever have for themselves, but kept in mind that they were also working to improve future generations of children, grandchildren, etc.

Since we, the future generations, are now reaping the rewards of their labor, the thought of improving life for future generations would seem very foreign to us or at least unnecessary.

Rand never had children, but it is my firm belief that she desired to use her philosophy to better society for future generations, knowing with full consciousness that she herself could never hope to reap the rewards of pure capitalism in her own lifetime.

It was not about her or her non-existent children, it was always about man.

Now the issue with modern society becomes more clear. It is not about improving future generations, it is simply about improving ourselves. This is more egocentric than Rand would have desired. Because if we do not work toward the future of man, then there can be no hope for mankind. Previous generations set an example which we (except for a precious few such as Ayn Rand) are ignoring.

Onar Åm said...

I am still perplexed at how it is possible to ignore the elephant in the room. Ayn Rand asks the metaethical question "why does ethics exist at all?" In other words, why did we humans evolve a moral sense? The answer is bleedingly obvious: because ethics is in our SELF-INTEREST. And there you go. That's the objective biological function of ethics: self-interest.

How on earth is it possible to ignore something so obviously important and relevant as this? The mind boggles.

Onar Åm said...

Daniel,

no altruistic genetic tendencies exist in human nature because this would be incompatible with the selfish imperative of natural selection. To the degree that truly altruistic tendencies exist in some individuals it is a fluke that will quickly be wiped out from the gene pool.

There does however exist genetic selfish tendencies in humans, and in all living organisms. In the long term there can only exist selfish tendencies.

Stefan Pernar said...

Onar said: "I am still perplexed at how it is possible to ignore the elephant in the room. Ayn Rand asks the metaethical question "why does ethics exist at all?" In other words, why did we humans evolve a moral sense? The answer is bleedingly obvious: because ethics is in our SELF-INTEREST. And there you go. That's the objective biological function of ethics: self-interest.

and in another post:

"no altruistic genetic tendencies exist in human nature because this would be incompatible with the selfish imperative of natural selection. To the degree that truly altruistic tendencies exist in some individuals it is a fluke that will quickly be wiped out from the gene pool."

I feel the need to remind you that 'self-interest' and 'selfishness' in this context applies to the species/group - not the individual.

The concept - on the genetic level - is explained well in Dawkins' The Selfish Gene.

From the Wikipedia article: "An organism is expected to evolve to maximize its inclusive fitness—the number of copies of its genes passed on globally (rather than by a particular individual)."

On the cultural level please see my earlier references above.

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

1) you cannot derive moral conclusions from arguments that do not contain moral premises (any argument that concludes with an "ought" *must* have premise with an "ought".

This is blatantly false. Rand metaethically asks why morality exists *at all*, and the reason is that it has evolved because it is in our self-interest. Hence self-interest is the FUNCTION of morality, the reason for its existence. Morality is built on the premise of *existence*, not on any moral premises.

2) moral principles are derived from sentiments.

No, they are not. It requires ZERO sentiments to observe that morality evolved in humans by the process of natural selection because it furthered our existence. Morality has a biological function, a purpose, and that function is to further the life of the individual. Understanding this requires just as little sentiment as understanding that the function of the heart is to pump blood in order to further our existence.

Daniel Barnes said...

Onar:
>no altruistic genetic tendencies exist in human nature because this would be incompatible with the selfish imperative of natural selection.

It seems you are now trying to use "selfish" in the Richard Dawkins sense, not the Randian one. What is the difference between them? From the Wiki's Selfish Gene page, this pithy summary:

"An organism is expected to evolve to maximize its inclusive fitness—the number of copies of its genes passed on globally (rather than by a particular individual) (emphasis DB). As a result, populations will tend towards an evolutionarily stable strategy."

Clearly this has little to do with Rand's theories, which revolve around the individual, not the individual's gene. So you are simply equivocating here.

Daniel Barnes said...

Oh look I see a couple of comments above Stefan has already made the same point to you, Onar.

You are equivocating, my friend....;-)

Onar Åm said...

Daniel and Stefan,

there is no conflict between evolutionary selfishness and Rand's concept of selfishness. They are virtually the same.

There is no such thing as group/species selection. Richard Dawkins goes to great length in his book The Selfish Gene to show this. His selfish gene theory is utterly incompatible with group/species selection.

On this Dawkins and I agree completely. However, I disagree with him on what is the fundamental unit of selection. He claims it is genes, whereas I claim it is the individual. Dawkins would agree that in the majority (95%?) of the cases the interests of the individual and the gene are aligned. His book focuses on the few strange cases in which apparently the interests of the gene are favored over the individual, implying that the gene is the true biological existent, not the individual.

These rare cases of apparent conflict of interest between the gene and the individual arise from an illusion: the gene as some sort of independently existing entity. The gene does not exist independently of the individual in which it resides. It is an organ, just like the heart or the lung. It is by treating the gene as an independent alien that the conflict arises. In reality the gene is nothing but a commonality between different *individuals*. So an individual does not "pass on" its genes, it creates a new *individual* which is similar to itself. There is no conflict between the individual and the gene, but between the individual and *other similar individuals*. The gene is simply a precise way of describing and measuring the degree of similarity between individuals.

The individualistic interpretation of maximum reproductive success is maximum likelihood of coming into existence. Traditional evolutionary theory places zero value on "coming into existence." (CIE) If you set the value of CIE to zero then apparently an individual can behave altruistically, but if you set the value of CIE to a high value then a lot of apparently altruistic behavior can result even though the net result is selfish.

Example: suppose that an individual has a gene which makes it give up its life on certain occasions. Further suppose that this act of sacrifice viewed in isolation reduces the lifespan of the individual by 5 years on average. Then in order for this to be a selfish act the individual must on average gain more than 5 years of life from similar acts of sacrifice by similar individuals (presumably a parent or a sibling) The net result is then a longer lifespan on average than without this behavior.

Now, for some reason some philosophers love viewing actions in isolation, so to them it is inconceivable that one can view the action of an individual in context with other actions. Hence, the silly notion that trade is "mutual self-sacrifice."

Dragonfly said...

There is an essential difference between the selfishness of the genes and the selfishness of the individual. Selfishness of the individual refers to actions of the individual to enhance his own fitness, and not to actions that decrease his fitness, even if such actions might in general increase the fitness of the group with shared genes. Therefore real altruism does exist, which isn't necessary a life-or-death altruism, kin selection being a common example.

Xtra Laj said...

I wrote:

1) you cannot derive moral conclusions from arguments that do not contain moral premises (any argument that concludes with an "ought" *must* have premise with an "ought".

to which Onar replied:


This is blatantly false. Rand metaethically asks why morality exists *at all*, and the reason is that it has evolved because it is in our self-interest. Hence self-interest is the FUNCTION of morality, the reason for its existence. Morality is built on the premise of *existence*, not on any moral premises.


Can anyone help me out here? Did I mistype or misrepresent Hume's fork? And does Onar make a criticism of it that is anything but empty philosophical blather?

I wrote

2) moral principles are derived from sentiments.

to which Onar responded:

No, they are not. It requires ZERO sentiments to observe that morality evolved in humans by the process of natural selection because it furthered our existence. Morality has a biological function, a purpose, and that function is to further the life of the individual. Understanding this requires just as little sentiment as understanding that the function of the heart is to pump blood in order to further our existence.

Again, does this address the point that morality is based on valuation, and valuation must be based on how one feels about something?

Let me take an empirical approach here. Maybe Onar should actually educate himself and read the works of Antonio Damasio and see what happens to people when their emotional faculties are destroyed. Even when their simple reasoning faculties are intact and they can pass IQ tests, they are totally incapable of many of the long term decisions that Objectivists worship as rational.

Stefan Pernar said...

Onar Åm said: "There is no such thing as group/species selection.

David Sloan Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould, Charles Darwin and I beg to differ. The case for multilevel selection - especially on the cultural level - is very strong. See my earlier references.

I am increasingly getting the impression that you are not only bending but twisting evolutionary dynamics to fit to your philosophy. That however is a very slippery slope and I prefer to agree to disagree at this juncture as I begin to see the futility of us coming to a common understanding.

Cavewight said...

Onar wrote:
I am still perplexed at how it is possible to ignore the elephant in the room. Ayn Rand asks the metaethical question "why does ethics exist at all?"

Ayn Rand never asked this question.

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "And it's not about 'choosing to live,' but choosing to live qua man, qua rational being."

Then why isn't the hypothetical, If you choose to live qua man, qua rational being, then ...? I think the answer is obvious: because "choosing to live qua man, qua rational being" is not nearly as convincing as merely "choosing to live." It's not even clear what "life qua man" means! What is the difference between a life qua man and a life non-qua man? And why should we accept the former rather than the latter?

Another consideration: it is not as easy to intimidate people into accepting Rand's so-called "pre-moral" choice if the alternative is not in fact death. One may easily "write off 'non-lifers' as irrelevant" to ethics, as Richard puts it, but if the hypothetical choice is between "life qua man" and all other types of life, rather than just between life and "non-life," suddenly it's not so easy to write off those who don't accept your conditional. In short, there exists a very damaging equivocation between how the term "life" is used in the "pre-moral" hypothetical and how it is used in "life qua man."

Onar Åm said...

Cavewight,

it is very hard to lead any meaningful form of debate when you appear to be unaware of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/morality.html

"What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.

The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values?

Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all—and why?"



Now, perhaps what you meant is that Ayn Rand did not use the *exact* wording that I paraphrased, but if so you are deliberately heckling, knowing full well that she said something that was equivalent to what I said.

Onar Åm said...

Greg,

it is very obvious what the difference between merely being physiologically alive and living as man is. The extreme example is someone who lives his whole life in a bed in coma, getting nutrition from doctors through tubes. Contrast this to someone who uses his mind and body to his fullest to achieve his values using reason. Both are physically alive, but only the latter is alive as man qua man. Isn't that bleedingly obvious?

dragonfly said...

Onar Åm: "Contrast this to someone who uses his mind and body to his fullest to achieve his values using reason."

Criminals and parasites can do that too. The hidden implication that only people who live according to Objectivist principles do that is flat-out wrong. The culprit is of course the elastic term "life as man qua man", which can be taken very broadly as any way of life in which the person can flourish, or very narrowly as the life according to Objectivist principles (which is of course Rand's implied meaning). This equivocation is the trick that is used to cover up the huge is-ought gap.

Cavewight said...

Onar wrote:
why does ethics exist at all?"

I'm looking for that quote in the stuff you quoted from your Objectivist Bible, and it's not there. Am I not crossing my eyes hard enough to make it appear?

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote:
Then why isn't the hypothetical, If you choose to live qua man, qua rational being, then ...? I think the answer is obvious: because "choosing to live qua man, qua rational being" is not nearly as convincing as merely "choosing to live." It's not even clear what "life qua man" means! What is the difference between a life qua man and a life non-qua man? And why should we accept the former rather than the latter?

I completely agree with your statement of confusion over the "qua man." As I understand it, the ARI recommends reading Rand's novels for a more complete understanding of such issues. It is certainly not to be found in any of her essays, although clues are to be found in her journals. You can see that Onar has confused the 'qua man' with using our bigger brain merely to survive. That however contradicts the purpose of Rand's morality which is the attainment of happiness.

The qua man amounts to nothing more than striving to live up to the lives of Rand's fictional heroes. But here's an interesting point that should go along with this understanding of the qua man. It is, literally, man, and not woman, Rand is referring to here. The following quote has been attributed to Rand herself, although some are skeptical about her being the actual source of it: A man defines himself in relationship to the universe, a woman defines herself in relationship to a man.

Another consideration: it is not as easy to intimidate people into accepting Rand's so-called "pre-moral" choice if the alternative is not in fact death. One may easily "write off 'non-lifers' as irrelevant" to ethics, as Richard puts it, but if the hypothetical choice is between "life qua man" and all other types of life, rather than just between life and "non-life," suddenly it's not so easy to write off those who don't accept your conditional. In short, there exists a very damaging equivocation between how the term "life" is used in the "pre-moral" hypothetical and how it is used in "life qua man."

Your comment about not leading to death brings up an interesting point. In fact, Rand was not literally referring to death, but only to living death, that is, the life of the parasite or the moocher. They are not, in the Randian sense, truly "alive."

And the alternative is that state of living death which you now see within you and around you, the state of a thing unfit for existence, no longer human and less than animal, a thing that knows nothing but pain and drags itself through its span of years in the agony of unthinking self-destruction. (Galt's Speech)

And so your comment above applies here also. One cannot very well know what Rand meant by "the choice to live," when the alternative is not literally to die.

That's why I'm here to explain all this for you.

At the end you accused Rand of equivocating, but I'm fairly certain she expected people to simply understand her distinction between "life" (a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action) and "life qua rational being."

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote: Then why isn't the hypothetical, If you choose to live qua man, qua rational being, then ...? I think the answer is obvious: because "choosing to live qua man, qua rational being" is not nearly as convincing as merely "choosing to live."

Upon taking a second look at your question here, I too think the answer is obvious: it is a matter of convincing potential readers of Rand's novels who are considered potential Objectivists. It is a matter of using emotionally-charged plot-lines to try to convince potentials of the potency of Rand's ideas for their own lives. It is a matter of convincing people that they can become heroes in their own lives, and come out winners.

gregnyquist said...

Onar Åm: "The extreme example is someone who lives his whole life in a bed in coma, getting nutrition from doctors through tubes. Contrast this to someone who uses his mind and body to his fullest to achieve his values using reason. Both are physically alive, but only the latter is alive as man qua man. Isn't that bleedingly obvious?"

The contrast between the individual coma and the individual who uses "his mind and body to his fullest" is clearly unfair and gratuitous and fails to solve the chief difficulty confronting Rand, which is: how do you explain all those individuals who are not Objectivists who live well into old age and who are not comatose? Obviously very many such individuals exist. How do you explain that? And why, if non-comatose, non-Objectivist individuals can live well into old age, why should any of them become Objectivists?

You suggest that it has something to do with using one's mind and body to the fullest to use reason to achieve his values. Are you then suggesting that only Objectivists use their minds and bodies to the fullest to use reason to achieve values? What does it mean to say one has used one's mind and body to the fullest or to use reason to achieve one's values? How does one empirically determine whether one has in fact done so? And why is such a life to be prefered to a life that doesn't do these things? And if there is some reason for prefering the "full" life using "reason" to achieve one's values, isn't that one's real "ultimate" value, and not one's life? If a specific type of life is considered better than another type, then it doesn't make sense to consider life as one's ultimate value, or even as one's standard of value, since, in this case, one is not pursuing life in the sense of mere survival, as an alternative to death, but, on the contrary, one is pursuing a particular type of life, a qualified life which can be contrasted to other types. There are, potentially, let us assume, several types of life from which to choose from, but Rand wants you to choose the type she prefers. Well, obviously, that choice should not be confounded with the choice to live. The choice between various types of life and the choice between life and death are very different, and to suggest or imply that they are one and the same is to be guilty of a glaring equivocation. So then doesn't this prove that all of Rand's fine talk about her ethics being based on the hypothetical "if you choose to live" is merely so much rationalistic window dressing?

Cavewight said...

Onar:

I see the story has changed now. At first it was "bleedingly obvious" that morality is about survival. Now suddenly it is "bleedingly obvious" that it's about living to one's fullest capacity. And you've also introduced the "qua man."

I'm glad to see I've had so much influence on your thinking in this thread although I realize you will never acknowledge it.

Anon69 said...

Let me posit that "survival qua man" means something like "sustainable in principle". Non-Objectivists may survive for a while without using reason fully, but that departure is risky in principle. The only manner of surviving in a sustainable manner, as a matter of principle, is to use one's rational faculty to its fullest - that that is what is meant by "qua man" - and for that reason, a choice to live as such (conceptually, that is, in principle) means, for man, a choice to live "qua man", in principle. Discuss.

Daniel Barnes said...

Onar:
>Both are physically alive, but only the latter is alive as man qua man. Isn't that bleedingly obvious?

No it isn't obvious at all actually, Onar.

Firstly, people who have lived in a drastically enfeebled physical state such as you describe can be heroic - prime examples of living their lives to the fullest despite every conceivable disadvantage. See for example the famous case of Jean Dominique-Bauby, among many others. At least they are heroic according to my principles. Or would you denounce them as "a thing unfit for existence, no longer human and less than animal, a thing that knows nothing but pain and drags itself through its span of years in the agony of unthinking self-destruction", as Cavewight quotes?

Secondly, and further to the above point, whether someone is physically incapacitated or not is hardly an indication of moral standing; the fact that you introduce this as somehow favourable to your argument indicates, as we've already tried to point out, that you don't really understand the problem.

Thirdly, given that Rand provided no clear explication of the term herself, I believe that by "man qua man" Rand simply means being an Objectivist. If so, this is a straightforward petitio. If not, what other philosophies (including the unconscious ones all people have according to Objectivist doctrine) are equally "man qua man"?

Fourthly, and on a broader point, if choosing personal death is non-moral, surely this almost completely destroys the Objectivist ethics' ability to morally critique any action by non-Objectivists. For what's the difference between a fast-motion suicide (jumping in front of a train) and a slow-motion one (choosing a non-Objectivist ethical system)? Both are anti-life, pro-death choices. It's just that one is quicker than the other. If so, seems that Rand's own "solution" simultaneously almost completely paralyses its ability to make moral judgements - which then creates something of a difficulty regarding Rand's insistence that we must always make moral judgements...

Finally for now, it is important to note that like most philosophers, a good deal of what Rand wrote is confused, vague, and even contradictory. It is not clear exactly what she thought regarding the ethics of particular actions - in fact she coins one of her most blatant oxymorons in her ethics, which is "contextual absolute", thus making all particulars potentially undecideable anyway. One of the few particulars she ever dealt with is the act of risking one's life for a stranger, which she decried as "immoral" in her "Ethics of Emergencies" (I should note that not even this position seems consistently maintained throughout the essay, but it is clearly articulated at least once). I have already outlined the logical consequences of this, and they lead to a seeming absurdity. It seems that in the few places (like the EOE essay) where she actually applies her vague "meta-ethical" generalities to create specific judgements of specific actions, the results, while somewhat original, are not promising. This does not bode well to say the least.

Cavewight said...

Anon69 wrote:
Let me posit that "survival qua man" means something like "sustainable in principle". Non-Objectivists may survive for a while without using reason fully, but that departure is risky in principle. The only manner of surviving in a sustainable manner, as a matter of principle, is to use one's rational faculty to its fullest - that that is what is meant by "qua man" - and for that reason, a choice to live as such (conceptually, that is, in principle) means, for man, a choice to live "qua man", in principle. Discuss.

Ok. You're wrong.

Just kidding!

The distinction between "living" and "not living," for Rand, is quite idiosyncratic and not easily resolved through positing something that even remotely appears as common-sense. It is the distinction between living as one of her fictional heroes and living as one of her fictional parasites and moochers. This latter was called a "living death" by Galt himself in his speech.

Richard said...

Daniel wrote:
So on that basis, do you think it plausible that tendencies to adopt this or that altruistic code might have a genetic basis?

I think it is plausible that genetic factors influence our emotional reactions, which in turn influence the adoption of various ideas. An incest taboo or an "altruistic code" might be among the ideas thus influenced, along with any number of others, such as belief in gods; racist, nationalist, and other xenophobic tendencies; the subjugation of women; etc.

Onar Åm said...

As someone who lives in a fascist country (Norway) I get the unfortunate "honor" of seeing in practice what Ayn Rand meant by the living dead, because the fascist welfare state fosters people who most certainly do not live as "man qua man." They do not explicitly live in a coma, but they do live in a Matrix world, pacified by some virtual reality created by the allknowing, allcaring state. This Matrix welfare state creates material security for all, or that at least is the goal.

What this means in practice is that people do not have to take responsibility for their own lives. They do not have to think or to plan. No matter what they do the government will come and save them.

By removing risk and achievement from an individual's life one is only left with untempered greed and numbness from having been insensitized by undeserved material goods that comes raining down from welfare heaven.

As a consequence I see people all around me that live like zombies. They sense that something is wrong, that their lives are empty somehow, but usually they blame it all on capitalism, i.e. on "consumerism." These people are the living dead that Ayn Rand talked about. In effect they live like the humans in the Matrix movies, fed welfare through governmental tubes hooked into their bodies.

For all other animals living as "X qua X" comes naturally because they are instinctual beings. (It simply means living according to one's nature) We humans however are equipped with free will and hence we have the ability to choose *not* to live according to our nature. A man can willfully commit suicide for no other reason than pure self-destruction. (Some actions such as drug addiction are indeed slow suicides.)

Onar Åm said...

(continued)

consider our muscles. They need to be actively used in order not to atrophy. Therefore standing up and using our own energy to walk and move around is natural to us humans. Living as "man qua man" (i.e. according to our nature) requires the usage and maintenance of our bodies (assuming this is physically possible for the individual). For a healthy person to willfully placing himself in a wheelchair and letting his muscles deteriorate to the point where he can no longer walk is an example of something that (normally) would be acting against human nature.

The brain is also a kind of "muscle" that needs to be used in order not to atrophy. It is human nature to think, produce, observe reality (that's why we have eyes and ears) and through reason act accordingly.

Our mind has evolved and adapted to a certain kind of environment: peaceful coexistence. We humans are social animals, and the essence of sociality is peaceful coexistence. We do this because we derive a whole lot of values from such mutual relationships. So sociality is in human nature. Now, sociality implies a certain set of behaviors: being peaceful, having integrity, telling the truth, being reasonable and being benevolent. It is against human nature to be anti-social. Living "man qua man" means being social -- peaceful coexistence with other men.

Notice that even though Ayn Rand said a whole lot of these things about human nature, we need not turn to Ayn Rand to find out what "man qua man" (i.e. a man who uses his free will to choose to live according to his nature) means. Observing human nature is available to all of us, and we can use evolutionary theory and other scientific evidence to further flesh out our knowledge of human nature to find out what "man qua man" means.

R said...

Greg wrote:
"One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment," says Rand. I don't find this consistent with ethics being conditional on choosing life.

Nor do I. The primary role of ethics is to guide one's own actions, not to evaluate the actions of others. When such evaluations are relevant (such as when one must consider the character of a person with whom one has regular personal dealings), it is often neither necessary nor appropriate to "pronounce" them.

This leads to yet another difficulty. When Rand presents us with the conditional, If you choose to live, then... what exactly is supposed to follow?

That is a very broad question, and I will politely demur from pursuing it in this venue.

Richard said...

That last comment was me. I accidentally hit "enter" before all my info was typed in.

Richard said...

Stefan wrote:
Well - if your ancestors would have felt this way we would not have this discussion since you would not have come into being.

I don't accept the premise that one must consciously intend to benefit one's descendants in order to do things that benefit them. Nor do I accept that most people concern themselves with benefiting "distant future generations" (as opposed to their own direct relations).

Onar Åm said...

(continued)

"survival qua man" means furthering one's life by choosing to live according to human nature. A human who stops producing and starts thieving and parasiting on other humans has ceased to behave like a human. Our great mind evolved to produce, to self-sustain, not to be a parasite and be sustained by others. We evolved as social beings, not to be anti-social.

We are equipped with the most fantastic gift of nature: our wonderful ability to abstract and derive principles about reality. These principles allow us to live as thinkers and producers, not like animals and brutes. So important is our ability to abstract that much of our physical body has been punied by natural selection in order to create a bigger and more powerful abstraction machine -- our brain. To abstract and live according to principle is therefore to live according to human nature.

Cavewight said...

Onar,

That was a long post with some marvelously broad abstractions. But the reality of what you're saying is depicted in her novels.

To be a rational human being (not necessarily a heroic type), one must either be a Roark, a Galt, a Dagny, a Reardan - or an Eddie Willers.

The best that most of us can hope for is to be like Eddie.

I interpret these character examples this way: either we live some extraordinary kind of existence, or we are simply to shut up and do our jobs like average, mundane Eddie Willers, who only goes to work, and then goes home.

Stefan Pernar said...

Stefan wrote:
"Well - if your ancestors would have felt this way we would not have this discussion since you would not have come into being."


Richard said:
"I don't accept the premise that one must consciously intend to benefit one's descendants in order to do things that benefit them. Nor do I accept that most people concern themselves with benefiting "distant future generations" (as opposed to their own direct relations)."

You are of course right that there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. But the point remains: those that did not walk the path - consciously or unconsciously hidden in their genes/culture - of considering future generations went either extinct or got marginalized by groups that did.

And now that we know about these dynamics it does in fact become a conscious choice. You can not un-read our exchange. You can of course choose to deny the premises or ignore it etc. However, the ones that recognize the path better and more fully and consequently are more able to follow the path closer and more precise with out-compete those that don't.

In my view Randian Objectivism has some good starting points but makes some very mistaken turns on the way by not incorporating evolutionary dynamics and their existential implications. Compassionate Objectivism - and I realize that many will cringe at the thought - will very likely be the way to go :-)

gregnyquist said...

Anon69: "Let me posit that "survival qua man" means something like "sustainable in principle". Non-Objectivists may survive for a while without using reason fully, but that departure is risky in principle. The only manner of surviving in a sustainable manner, as a matter of principle, is to use one's rational faculty to its fullest."

While this is obviously a more plausible description of the position than even Rand herself made, it depends on assertions concerning matters of fact that I am inclined to question because they are difficult to support empirically. In the first place, if it were true that using reason fully lowers the risk of mortality, you would still expect (all things else being equal) that Objectivists would live longer than non-Objectivists. Although there's no detailed empirical studies on this score, I believe it is something that would be noticed if it were true.

But there is a further difficulty: what is meant, in empirical terms, by the phrase "using reason fully"? How does one distinguish between an individual who uses reason fully and one who doesn't? For if one cannot establish a scientific description of "using reason fully," it becomes impossible to test empirically whether the failure to use reason fully actually involves a risk of mortality.

This is hardly an idle objection, particularly given the research in cognitive science providing evidence for the important role of unconscious cognition in human life, and the limited role of logic.

Onar Åm said...

Cavewight,


all the examples I gave og "man qua man" were of evolutionary origin, i.e. based on REAL people. Sure they were perhaps Howard Roarks in their time, but those who were most like that also managed to procreate most. The Howard Roarks of tens of thousands of years ago is the average guy today.

You do not need to look to Atlas Shrugged in order to abstract from real people an ideal to reach for. All my examples were of evolutionary origin, not recitations from Atlas Shrugged.

Xtra Laj said...

Charles Murray has a view of Europe vs. America that is in line with some, but not all of Onar's complaints about Norway. At least, Murray's views are informed by experience, wisdom and a mild religious agnosticism (he might actually be a Christian of sorts) about history and science in a way that Onar's are not.

http://www.aei.org/speech/100023

Cavewight said...

Onar wrote:
A human who stops producing and starts thieving and parasiting on other humans has ceased to behave like a human.

A human who thieves and parasites on other humans is behaving the way humans behave sometimes. Man is a rational animal, so animality (thieving, killing, etc.) is part of his nature. And of course animals will steal or whatever they have to do to survive.

Humans who steal are not, however, behaving according to any kind of moral ideal of how humans should behave. It is this moral ought, and not his reason, which distinguishes man from the animals. Otherwise you could reasonably say that man's reason only gives him the edge in cleverness when it comes to stealing.

You will then claim that the moral ought was derived from man's rational nature, but in fact it was only derived BY someone's reason, although that reasoning may have been influenced by emotion.

That is why Rand's argument from reason and survival cannot sustain her later "ought" approach to happiness or the man qua man. Nor is there any argument regarding longevity in Rand's moral theory, although for some reason that idea continually comes up in this thread.

Rand failed to justify the qua man and why men should try to be happy. It is true that men have a universal need to find happiness, but that does not in itself justify it as a moral end that one ought to pursue. Rand's theory of happiness was, in effect, only appealing to man's natural inclination to pursue happiness - as a kind of moral bribery with the uncertain pay-off existing in some unknown distant future.

Rand failed to justify the connection between happiness and the state of being a man qua man. She failed to justify using reason to be productive rather than thieving. She failed to give a good idea of what the qua man looks like in reality. Rand failed to define happiness in a coherent way. "Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values....But neither life nor happiness can be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whims." So who says values can't be achieved through pursuing irrational whims? If I had an irrational whim to play the lottery, and won a huge amount of money, why shouldn't that make me happy?

And furthermore, Rand failed to exemplify in her own life the principle of happiness.

By the way, Norwegians are boring because Norwegians have always been boring. Socialism did not make them that way. So your statement about your fellow Norwegians was a classic post hoc fallacy.

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote to anon69:
what is meant, in empirical terms, by the phrase "using reason fully"?

I can't pass this one up. I know you intended it as a rhetorical question. Even though, I would just like to state that "using reason fully" has in the years following the 1960s cult transformed from "reason" to "focusing." This latter term does shed a bit more light on what Rand intended.

Unfortunately, "focusing fully" means always being fully aware of your surroundings, meaning as an Objectivist you are never allowed to engage in daydreaming or letting your mind drift away in any manner even for one second.

Psychologically, focusing also means being aware of every state of emotion rather than repressing. So your focus of attention, in order to be fully focused, must always be internally and externally oriented at the same time. In effect, it means being a "focusing machine."

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "Even though, I would just like to state that "using reason fully" has in the years following the 1960s cult transformed from "reason" to "focusing." This latter term does shed a bit more light on what Rand intended."

The emphasis on focusing is needed by Rand to explain why people are predisposed against Objectivism. For Rand, people are the product of their premises. But where do these premises come from and how do people choose them? Rand's emphasis on focusing allowed her to come up with a theory that comes dangerously close to cultural determination. Rand assumed that, if a person doesn't focus, any stray premise that they are exposed to can become integrated into their subconscious, where it will help determine their personalities and traits of character. So if a person wants to control what kind of person they become, they have to be in a state of constant focus. Otherwise, if they aren't keeping vigilant attention, they may accept premises they wouldn't accept if they chosen to be completely focused. (Unfortunately for Rand and her followers, most people don't seem to be all that vigilant.)

One wonders where she came up with such notions. In any case, one must grant that she had an original imagination. But I do suspect that, as Nietzsche said of German philosophers, she failed to distinguish between finding and inventing.

Onar Åm said...

Xtra Laj,

unlike Charles Murray I have actually *lived* in Norway my entire life and felt fascism directly. Norway has a compulsory public Unification School. (Yes, that's really its name) Its stated goal is to make everyone alike, which means to spend most of the resources on lifting the weak students up to the average, and then actively holding back and crushing the smart students in order to push them down to the average. Norway has a law that states that all children with special learning needs have a right to an adapted education -- except gifted children. Gifted children are explicitly mentioned as exempt from the law because allowing the smart children to prosper would violate the code of unification.

I have also lived in the US and while there are some troubling aspects with America it most certainly is less fascistic than Norway.

What I am describing is not merely that Norwegians are boring, because there is a very distinct generational difference. It is very easy to see the difference in character between the elders and the young adults.

So why you think that Charles Murray somehow knows my country better than I do who have actually lived through it is beyond me, although I do suspect it is intended as a gross insult.

Onar Åm said...

Cavewight,

yes, theft and parasitism is within the realm of *possibilities* of human behavior. Indeed, that's Ayn Rand's point. All organisms are unities, and when in harmony all facets of that unity act optimally in concert. However, man has evolved an organ that far exceeds the capabilities of any organ in the history of life, namely our self-aware, superintelligent mind equipped with conceptual free will. All other organisms are just robots with genetically programmed behavior in comparison. So powerful is our mind that we are able to behave in a manner which directly contradicts the harmony of our body. Plants can't do that but *we* can. This means that we humans must actively choose to limit our behavior to the set of actions that is in harmony with the rest of our body. A plant simpluy lives as a plant qua plant automatically, but we must choose actively to live as man qua man.

Finding out what plant qua plant means is easy. Every gardener does this, namely to find out what the optimal growing conditions for plants are so that they prosper. He knows that the plant has many different needs that must be satisfied: water, CO2, minerals, sun, a certain temperature etc. He knows that even though the whims of nature forces a plant to live outside its optimal zone, there really does exist such an optimal parameter setting in which the plants grow optimally.

Similarly it is possible to study man's biological nature and find its basic needs and from these needs it is possible to calculate what is the optimal living conditions for man. These living conditions are optimal even though most people live sub-optimally because they are dictated by their bodies.

Stealing is sub-optimal. Sometimes you have to steal to survive. Shit happens, but we can still say that people who are able to live a life without theft, lies, murder, rape and pillaging live a more prosperous, more optimal life.

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "Nor is there any argument regarding longevity in Rand's moral theory, although for some reason that idea continually comes up in this thread. "

While there's no specific argument, it is an obvious implication of arguments Rand makes. That she doesn't accept the impliction only serves to prove an inconsistency (or incoherence) on her part.

Xtra Laj said...

Onar wrote:


So why you think that Charles Murray somehow knows my country better than I do who have actually lived through it is beyond me, although I do suspect it is intended as a gross insult.




If I wasn't used to your single-minded, uncharitable way of interpreting things, I would actually take this seriously. Anyone can read what I wrote, read what you wrote and see if they are the same thing.

Have the day you deserve.

Daniel Barnes said...

Shorter Onar:
Because Norway is wrong, Ayn Rand is right.

Stefan Pernar said...

Well - I sure hope they speak Norwegian in hell :-)

hahaha

Sorry - could not resist...

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote:
(Unfortunately for Rand and her followers, most people don't seem to be all that vigilant.)

One wonders where she came up with such notions.


From her "instincts," according to my quote of the week from last year.

Rand never expected everybody to become Objectivists. They only need Objectivists manning the right areas in society.

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote:
While there's no specific argument, it is an obvious implication of arguments Rand makes.

Where?

Cavewight said...

Onar wrote:
yes, theft and parasitism is within the realm of *possibilities* of human behavior.

Nope, I am saying that they are part of human nature. Human nature makes the behaviors possible.


Indeed, that's Ayn Rand's point. All organisms are unities, and when in harmony all facets of that unity act optimally in concert.

Rand said that, in a sense. She was concerned with unifying reason and emotion (or reason and instinct in her early journals), sometimes she stated it as mind and body.

This unity you referred to therefore consists of a plurality (a duality in this case), the unity itself serving only as an ideal, or as you would have it, "all facets acting in concert" is the ideal. The organism is not a unity if those various facets are in conflict. Reason can be in conflict with itself.

I can't find any reference to an organism being a unity, only Rand stating that man is an organism while society is a "disembodied aggregate of relationships" when viewed as an organism. (That was a theory extant in Russia when Rand attended university.)

Xtra Laj said...

http://hassers.blogspot.com/2009/06/norway-most-atheist-country-in-world.html

That is a link to the cartoon Stefan linked to, but which freethoughtpedia refuses to provide.

It's a hilarious read when you compare it to Onar's description of Norway, though of course, it doesn't mean that Onar is wrong - just displays what I mean by Onar's uncritical view of these issues (he never presents the tradeoffs - just his biased view of reality),

Anonymous said...

Being a Norwegian, I'll have to object to Onars statements about e.g. the Norwegian school system. It's not stated anywhere that it's all about making all pupils equal, but all about giving pupils equal possibilities. That's quite different.

After having followed his blog for a few years, I believe that this stems from his perception of himself as a genius that was held back by his teachers.

Just so that you are warned, Onar will claim that you do not give his ideas sufficient thought to understand them. It's either that or that you are an evil socialist.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>Just so that you are warned, Onar will claim that you do not give his ideas sufficient thought to understand them. It's either that or that you are an evil socialist.

Thanks Anon, that seems to be indeed the general pattern...;-)

Xtra Laj said...

Anon wrote:

Just so that you are warned, Onar will claim that you do not give his ideas sufficient thought to understand them. It's either that or that you are an evil socialist.

Oh, of course Onar says that. But we're used to that here - many Objectivists and similarly uncritical fans of Ayn Rand say similar things. They don't understand how people can honestly disagree with their brilliant, coruscating exposes of the blatant irrationality of Kant, Hume, Russell, Hayek and Marx.

Once a minor Rand fan myself and related to some major Rand fans, I can empathize with what drives the mindset. The title of this blog says it best.

Cavewight said...

Anonymous wrote:
>Just so that you are warned, Onar will claim that you do not give his ideas sufficient thought to understand them. It's either that or that you are an evil socialist.

Of course. Every religion has to have its version of Hell.

Onar Åm said...

hoartibNorway's unification school is about creating equal opportunities *when entering adulthood*. In order to achieve this every student must be equally good (or bad) at the end of school. In other words, it IS about making all the students equal.

Notice that "anonymous" blatantly rejects the possibility that I was actually held back in school and insinuates that my belief is the result of a delusion. However, I am not alone in this "delusion." Martin Ystenes is a well-known chemistry professor in Norway who has actively campaigned against the supression of smart children. He has a web-page called "children in dire straits" where he has collected the stories of governmental violation of dozens of gifted children who have contaced Ystenes and told their stories:

http://www.nt.ntnu.no/users/ystenes/vitenskap/barn/

Here is one of the comments:

"But the worst is what happened in math. At first she was having fun, even it was very easy, and she therefore solved far more problems than she was assigned. This was strictly forbidden, she was repremanded and held back - it was not allowed to proceed faster than the rest of the class. The result: she lost all her math joy and started becoming uncertain. Today she is certain that math is hard, and that she has no abilities at all in this area. Today it is uncertain if she will ever complete high school, her desire to learn was efficiently killed during her first years of school, and she now consider herself "dumb." "


The violations of gifted children are massive in Norway, myself being only one of thousands. Notice that "anonymous" say that I "perceive myself as a genius." In Norway, openly stating that one is mentally gifted is considered very rude, delusional and/or narcissistic. A Norwegian author once wrote a novel about this and summarized the scandinavian culture of envy in the "Jante law."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jante_Law

"Anonymous" claims that gifted children are not held back or supressed. Well, Norway has a law that makes special schools for gifted children illegal. I repeat: schools that allow gifted children to gather and to develop in their natural pace are explicitly BANNED BY LAW. From time to time certain right wing parties push for removing this law, and the response of the left is almost unanimously outrage.

This is reality in the "wonderful" socialdemocratic country of Norway.

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

Here is a more comprehensive explanation of the Jante Law:
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/nordic-faq/part2_NORDEN/section-5.html

Anonymous said...

@Onar:

I will meet you half way on some of your points. Giftet children do not always get the follow up they deserve. That's a fact, and it's a sad one. But private schools are not illegal in Norway, as long as they teach what is required by law. Upon that, they are free to expand the curriculum.

As for yourself, I can't see any signs of a genius. If you are such a smart guy, why didn't you get high scores in math at uni? It can't be because school left you thinking that math is hard and you are stupid since you obviously think you are a genius? With your assumed skills, you should be able to achieve maximum score without even attending classes.

Further expanding on your perception of yourself as a genius, I have seen quite a few threads at the Norwegian Mensa blog. Most of the discussions in which you participate, you end up telling the other participants that they are stupid and do not give your ideas sufficient thought. It's a striking pattern, and it repeats itself even in this here blog.

So all I'm left with, is the impression of a guy with a higly inflated self-image. Possibly a case of Dunning-Kruger.

Onar Åm said...

Anonymous,

first of all, private schools are in general illegalized in a very cunning manner. 1) Everyone MUST pay for public school, whether they use it or not. Very few people can afford to pay for a public school that they do not use AND for the private school that they want to send their kids to. This is a soft/virtual of private schools. 2) private schools CAN get subsidies from the government so as to lower their tuition fees substantially, but in order to do so the private schools must satisfy a host of governmental criteria, including:

- the government decides the curriculum in detail
- for profit schooling is not allowed

Thus, in practice private schools aren't really private at all, but hampered versions of public school. Pertaining to gifted children it is particularly §3-1 of the Pivate Shool Law that is damning:

http://www.lovdata.no/all/tl-20030704-084-003.html#3-1

It states that any private school that wants government subsidies MUST be open to ANYONE. In other words, it is strictly illegal to formulate an exclusive attendance requirement based on IQ. A school for gifted children is thus illegal.


second, I have not stated that I am a genius but simply that I have a high IQ (~3 standard deviations above normal). "Genius" is a non-technical term that can mean a lot of things and has a lot of connotations.

third, what makes you believe that I did not get good math grades in university? These grades are not public knowledge. There is no way you can know what grades I have.

Finally, I find it perplexing that someone would focus their efforts on doubting my IQ, rather than focusing on facts and arguments. Anyone who understands the nature of intelligence has zero problems recognizing me as an unusually intelligent person, whether they agree with me or not. But lefties are so religiously convinced that they are right that for them there can only be one explanation to why someone who claims to be very intelligent does not agree with them: he is not really intelligent at all! No, he must be mentally ill!

Cavewight said...

Anonymous wrote:
As for yourself, I can't see any signs of a genius.

What are the signs of genius?