Thursday, June 20, 2013

Open Thread

Oi, you lot with a bunch of unresolved topics to discuss.

Over here.

174 comments:

Daniel Barnes said...

Question for the panel: Does using the common term "thread hijack" signal "anti-randism"?

Similarly, is the order in which "black and white" are used in common speech psychologically revealing?

Daniel Barnes said...

Gordon, to your comment on the other thread, it's a bit like telling someone talking during a movie to shut up, and them taking that as an indication that you're interested in what they have to say...;-)

ungtss said...

see, i'm impressed by the obvious shifting of responsibility here. far from telling me to "shut up" (which you certainly could) you asked me substantive questions, responded, and asked more questions. then when you didn't like what happened, it became "hijacking."

i think one of the most powerful things i learned from ayn rand was not necessarily her substantive philosophy, but her observations of how people behave when they're trying to create answers they want to believe. like claiming somebody's hijacking a thread while he's talking openly with people who are substantively responding. and then pretending it's like telling someone in a theatre to shut up. when it's more like talking with that person for quite a while, then blaming him for interrupting the movie. which people do, believe it or not. just not mature people.

ungtss said...

Samadhir:

"If you want to work at that company, you are indeed compelled to accept whatever wages they offer you. It's the same thing with a government, where you have to abide by its rules if you want to live on its territory - governments simply tend to control larger territories than private companies. I don't see how one case is more "coercive" than the other."

I think it's profoundly more coercive to tell a person they cannot remain where they are than to tell them they won't trade with you. The former says "you literally must pick up and leave the country or do what i say." the latter says "you can stay right where you are. i just don't want to trade with you." The former tells you you must obey or leave what you have. The latter does not require you to leave what you have. It simply refuses to offer you something else you might want.

i'm fascinated by how this distinction, which seems so obvious to me, doesn't seem to impress others.

Samadhir said...

ungtss:
"I think it's profoundly more coercive to tell a person they cannot remain where they are than to tell them they won't trade with you. The former says "you literally must pick up and leave the country or do what i say." the latter says "you can stay right where you are. i just don't want to trade with you." The former tells you you must obey or leave what you have. The latter does not require you to leave what you have. It simply refuses to offer you something else you might want."

If by "more coercive" you mean it's more difficult and requires more effort on your part to leave the country you live in than to have to choose between accepting a bad paycheck or leave the company you work at, the former is generally more "coercive" (though that greatly depends on the person and situation). I just don't think they're that different in principle.

Look at it this way: if you rent an apartment, you have to agree to the terms the landlord sets. If you break those terms, the landlord has a legal right to oust you from the apartment, no matter how long you've stayed there or how much rent you've payed, in essence forcing you to either obey or pick up your stuff and leave. That is something that most objectivists/libertarians would regard as a voluntary arrangement.

Of course, there are major differences between governments and the landlords of small apartment blocks (and you might question whether a certain goverment has a legitimate claim to a certain territory to begin with), but again, same principle: a certain entity has a claim to a certain area that most people recognize, and you have to agree on certain terms in order to live there.

ungtss said...

"If by "more coercive" you mean it's more difficult and requires more effort on your part to leave the country you live in than to have to choose between accepting a bad paycheck or leave the company you work at, the former is generally more "coercive" (though that greatly depends on the person and situation)."

By "more coercive" i mean it requires you to leave what is rightfully yours. The house you bought. The friends you have. The family you know. You must _surrender what is yours_.

A business, on the other hand, requires you to surrender nothing that is yours. The apartment is not yours. It's the landlord's. My house is mine. I bought it. The landlord kicking me out of his house is very different from the government kicking me out of mine.

ungtss said...

maybe that's a clue to it. i'm defining "coercion" as "taking what's yours." it's premised on property rights. a thing that doesn't violate my rights to my life, my liberty, my property, is not coercive.

the alternative view, at least as you're articulating it and i'm understanding it, seems to be premised more on "difficulty." it's coercive if it's hard. is that a fair assessment?

Samadhir said...

ungtss:

"By "more coercive" i mean it requires you to leave what is rightfully yours. The house you bought. The friends you have. The family you know. You must _surrender what is yours_.

A business, on the other hand, requires you to surrender nothing that is yours. The apartment is not yours. It's the landlord's. My house is mine. I bought it. The landlord kicking me out of his house is very different from the government kicking me out of mine."

Yes, if you are fortunate (and rich) enough to own a personal home and surrounding land that's not subject to any homeowner associations that you've paid for all by yourself, it can be said to be your personal property in a way a rented apartment wouldn't be.

But your house isn't sovereign territory - it still sits on land that is under the jurisdiction of government. If you cheat on your taxes in that house, or install giant loudspeakers on your lawn that play loud music all night if you live in a neighbourhood, society can still bring legal force against you. If you commit flagrant enough violations of the law and refuse to stop, you will simply have to move out - and sadly, it probably entails selling your house, since unlike most of your possessions it would be rather tricky to bring with you. You COULD pay to have it dismantled and reassembled at your new location if the deed restrictions allow it, but it would be quite costly...

As for friends and family, I'm uncertain whether they could be considered "rightfully yours" by objectivist standards. In any case, you would have to separate from them if you move far enough for any reason, including private ones, and they're unwilling to follow or visit you.

ungtss said...

"But your house isn't sovereign territory - it still sits on land that is under the jurisdiction of government. If you cheat on your taxes in that house, or install giant loudspeakers on your lawn that play loud music all night if you live in a neighbourhood, society can still bring legal force against you. If you commit flagrant enough violations of the law and refuse to stop, you will simply have to move out - and sadly, it probably entails selling your house, since unlike most of your possessions it would be rather tricky to bring with you. You COULD pay to have it dismantled and reassembled at your new location if the deed restrictions allow it, but it would be quite costly.."

Yes, but that gets back to government coercion, as opposed to business dealings:). the government can force me out of my house for failing to follow its rules, whether its rules are fair or not. a businessowner cannot force me out of anything:). a businessman just says he doesn't want to trade with you. a government sets the rules and uses force if you break them. those are fundamentally different arrangements i think:).

if a factory does not want to give me a job, nothing tells me i have to leave. i'm free to do whatever i want with whatever i have. that's not the same as a tax sale:).

"As for friends and family, I'm uncertain whether they could be considered "rightfully yours" by objectivist standards."

My relationship with them is mine in an objectivist sense. Nobody can rightly tell me i can't associate with them.

Samadhir said...

"Yes, but that gets back to government coercion, as opposed to business dealings:). the government can force me out of my house for failing to follow its rules, whether its rules are fair or not. a businessowner cannot force me out of anything:). a businessman just says he doesn't want to trade with you. a government sets the rules and uses force if you break them. those are fundamentally different arrangements i think:)."

Landlords or homeowners associations (i.e. businessowners) can force you of your home, whether their rules are fair or not. If your landlord doesn't think you're following his terms properly, he can evict you, and call on the police if your refuse (and yes, it isn't that different for a private home, as you still have to agree with the terms of the local government even after all money has been paid for it). You might've grown really attached to your apartment and consider it your cherished home, but the landlord can still throw you out and it would be considered a voluntary arrangement. Or you might hate the place and his terms are totally unfair and arbitrary, but you're dirt poor and this is the only place you could afford, which would technically make it voluntary. Because he holds the deed to the place, he can set whatever rules he wants and it's the occupants' obligation to follow them if they want to live there, according to Objectivism.

Also, while you might not have to give up anything other than potential prospects if you're refused a job, if you do have a job you are also expected to follow whatever rules your employers sets for you. Unless there was special provisions in your contract, they can even change the rules whenever they want, and it's your duty to adjust or get the hell out of their building, essentially forcing you out of your job. You might not call that coercion, but if you think that business owners have a right to determine the "laws" in their private sphere, I think the government has a certain right to determine the laws in the public sphere. Whether it DOES have such a right, and how far it stretches, is a matter of debate.

Of course you can still associate with your friends and family - they can either move with you or visit you periodically. Sure, it might be inconvienient, but that's not the government's problem. No more than it's the landlords problem if you'll survive after he kicks you out of your home.

ungtss said...

"Landlords or homeowners associations (i.e. businessowners) can force you of your home, whether their rules are fair or not. If your landlord doesn't think you're following his terms properly, he can evict you, and call on the police if your refuse (and yes, it isn't that different for a private home, as you still have to agree with the terms of the local government even after all money has been paid for it)."

In order to evict you, they need to show you violated a term of the lease you agreed to. if they violate the lease, you can sue them and make a boatload of mone.

when you sign a lease, you agree, as an individual, to comply with its terms. the lease is the law between you. you agree to it, individually. if he can't prove you violated the lease, he can't evict you. the same thing with HOA. you individually agree to your HOA terms. if they try and fine you, they have to prove you violated the terms you agree to. if they don't prove it, you win.

that doesn't happen with the law of the government. i don't agree to the law. i'm just born here. a majority of people elect representatives, and then those representatives do whatever the hell they can get away with. i'm not consulted. i don't agree to the law. i don't sign any contracts. i don't make any promises. The State just sends me a letter once a year telling me what my taxes are. it decides one year alcohol is illegal, and another year it's legal. it tells me what schools i have to finance, what those schools are going to teach, and how much i'm going to pay to finance them.

and if i don't comply with these terms i didn't agree to, my stuff will be taken away, and i could potentially be thrown in jail.

that's the key difference. leases and employment arrangements are voluntary. you enter them by choice. law is not voluntary. it's imposed by the representatives of a mob of idiots.

Samadhir said...

"that doesn't happen with the law of the government. i don't agree to the law. i'm just born here. a majority of people elect representatives, and then those representatives do whatever the hell they can get away with. i'm not consulted. i don't agree to the law. i don't sign any contracts. i don't make any promises. The State just sends me a letter once a year telling me what my taxes are. it decides one year alcohol is illegal, and another year it's legal. it tells me what schools i have to finance, what those schools are going to teach, and how much i'm going to pay to finance them. and if i don't comply with these terms i didn't agree to, my stuff will be taken away, and i could potentially be thrown in jail."

I have several things to argue here, but before I do so, perhaps I should ask you a question: since you dislike this system of government so much (and I should make it clear here that I definitely agree that a lot of the governments' laws are senseless and unfair and should be fought against), what is your alternative? Since you're an objectivist, I presume you aren't an anarchist, given that Rand despised them, so you probably still want some form of government.

If you had a magic wand that gave you the ability to transform society into whatever shape you chose, what sort of government would you create? If you led a second revolution and drew up plans for a new type of state, what would it be like? How would laws be passed, what would the government have the authority to do, how would it protect individual rights and relate to the will of the majority?

Incidentally, the "mob of idiots" you refer to are the ones that make the free market work and who own the business that are examplars of voluntary social relations. As much as I can get frustrated with them myself, I think a more a respectful term would be appreciated.

Jzero said...

It has taken me a bit to thread through all the intervening events since I looked in last. While Samadhir may be in the neighborhood of some of my arguments, he's not quite where I'm coming from.

First let me point out that ungtss was doing precisely what the other Objectivists I'd had this discussion with before were doing: using "you can leave" and "it's voluntary" to smokescreen what I declared to be an unethical act by an employer - namely, paying less than a man needs to sustain his life.

If you want a man to expend his life in your service, I feel it behooves you to pay at least as much as it takes to keep him alive. To not do so is to be, in my view, as much of a parasite as any "moocher" Rand despised.

The only reason the issue of a small town with a bad economy came up, back then, is that in a robust economy, it's difficult to get away with this and keep employees. If one has other viable prospects, an employer who pays under sustainable wages must settle for the very dregs of the employable, people who can't find honest work elsewhere for some reasons. A business in this position may find itself out of business for lack of any workers of value.

But where prospects are poor, an employer can leverage a man's desperation and his very need to feed himself so as to pay him, well, desperation wages.

Regardless of whether you can call this "voluntary", I find it to be highly unethical. You disagree? Fine.

However, by the same token, the same arguments one could use to tell the poverty-stricken worker that they could "just move" apply to the person who complains about the society in which they live.

Ungtss said that the employee could quit and start a subsistence farm. Indeed he could, if he had the know-how and ability to do so.

But so could ungtss. If income tax is such an immoral burden, one could withdraw to some remote area, and start a farm, out where no one could effectively tell them what to do. If all you do is farm to keep yourself alive, you don't have to pay income taxes. How can they tax an income you don't make? (It's even in the tax code that they don't tax incomes under a certain yearly level.) How can they enforce any law when they're nowhere around to see you break it?

If the standard for "voluntary" in the case of the employee is that ANY OTHER POSSIBILITY AT ALL is open, then that applies to the tax-hater as well.

Aside from abandoning society, though, the notion that any place you live has requirements and thus coercion is a specious one. As Samadhir points out, the only alternative is anarchy - and I'm pretty sure even Rand wanted SOME laws in place. Any law, from forbidding murder to banning jaywalking is ultimately coercive, which is inherent in the nature of law itself. One might as well complain that water is wet.

But, one might argue, what if you don't LIKE the laws a place has?

This might be an issue if one lived in a walled dictatorship like the Soviet bloc in the middle of the '70s, but it's harder to take seriously when you live in a democracy like the US. There is at least a chance for one to change the laws, even if the deck is stacked against you. The US also doesn't prevent you from leaving to seek better conditions.

Even if it weren't the case, the fact that there isn't an available option that satisfies a person's every desire does not, by itself, count as coercion.

Jzero said...


Suppose that you decided that the perfect food for you was panda eyeballs. BABY panda eyeballs. You go to all the stores, and can't find any. (At least I sure hope you can't find any.) And you tell all the store managers that you want baby panda eyeballs, but they all say back, "no, because that's horrible, and nobody else wants that, anyway."

But, you must eat SOMETHING. You must settle, and choose whatever the next-best food for you is, probably elk spleens or something.

It's true you were unsatisfied, and did not get what you wanted. But coerced? Only so far as you having to live dictated that you ate a less-than perfect food.

One must live SOMEWHERE, and sadly there does not appear to be any government-less habitable territory left on Earth. You will have to obey some form of rules, as do we all.

Once you reach the age of majority, it's up to you whether you remain in whatever society you're in or select another that appeals to you (and then try to get them to accept you). You can't play the "I have no choice" card, because you have at least as many choices (if not more) than the poverty-stricken worker. But nobody is obliged to offer you the perfect choice.

ungtss said...

samadhir,

"If you had a magic wand that gave you the ability to transform society into whatever shape you chose, what sort of government would you create?"

Representative democracy with a defined scope limited to government's proper function -- protecting life, liberty, and property from all threats, foreign and domestic. within that scope, representative democracy to operate as normal. outside that scope, government activity illegitimate.

"Incidentally, the "mob of idiots" you refer to are the ones that make the free market work and who own the business that are examplars of voluntary social relations."

In that context -- the context of trading in their individual lives and relationships and the free market created by them -- they're not idiots at all. by and large they know how to arrange their lives voluntarily with their co-humans. it's in the scope of politics where they are idiots. and i'll stand by it. political discourse and action shows people at their most petty, immoral, and ignorant.

jzero,

i've noticed that all the analogies seem to take one item of comparison, and omit the others. let me put them all together:

a) contract is individually voluntarily entered into. state law is not.
b) under a contract, you owe only what the contract you agreed to says you owe, after it can be proven you owe it under the terms of the contract. under state law, you owe whatever the state says you owe, without regard to any agreement or proof.
c) under a contact, you can only lose what you've put at stake under the contract. under state law, you can lose your life, liberty, and property without limitation, except those placed on the government by itself.
d) if a factory says he doesn't want to hire you, nothing else in your life changes except that you don't get the job you wanted. if you don't want to submit to a state's laws, you have to pack up and leave.
e) under the contract, the only "compulsion" you face are from metaphysical facts like "i need something to eat." it is not personal, and it is not arbitrary. it is an inescapable fact of being a human being. under the state, you face whatever compulsion the _people_ in the state decide they want to impose.

Your example draws extra emphasis onto this last point of comparison. You say:

"But, you must eat SOMETHING. You must settle, and choose whatever the next-best food for you is, probably elk spleens or something."

The question is, who dictates the "must?" in the case of eating, the "must" is dictated by your body, not some government official. it's an inescapable aspect of being human. there's nothing inescapable about government decrees. they are made by people, and can be changed, and can be right or wrong. there's nothing right or wrong about "humans gotta eat." it just is. it's not up for debate.

In any event, if we could, let's limit analogies to those which either encompass or discredit all of these points of comparison. because by picking an analogy that contains one point of comparison, but omits others, we're continually going around saying "but that analogy doesn't address this." etc.

ungtss said...

"First let me point out that ungtss was doing precisely what the other Objectivists I'd had this discussion with before were doing: using "you can leave" and "it's voluntary" to smokescreen what I declared to be an unethical act by an employer - namely, paying less than a man needs to sustain his life."

This misrepresents what happens in the marketplace. one does not "pay somebody else less than he needs to survive." one does not _know_ what another needs to survive. one simply pays what it takes to get the kind of workers you want. the _worker_ decides whether the pay is enough to survive on. it behooves the _worker_ to determine whether the work is worth it, and whether he has any better options available. that's not the employer's job. the employer's not suited to make that determination. and he _doesn't_ decide whether the arrangement will be made. he simply offers pay for work. the employee decides whether the job is worth it. because he's the only one who can.

you might say $15,000 is not enough to live on. by your standard. but it's plenty to live on by my standard. i've lived on far less, happily. worked for tips at TGI Fridays as a white guy in a black neighborhood on the south side of atlanta, and got paid shit for tips. i was happy to have a job, because it gave me a platform to look for better jobs. which i found. and in the intervening 10 years, i've increased my income 10x.

was it "unethical" for that employer to give me a job where i got paid that little? why would it be? i decided the work was worth my time. i lived within my means. under the circumstances, it was plenty. if it hadn't been, i wouldn't have taken it.

no, you're putting the responsibility for determining "what's enough to live" on an employer, who cannot and need not make that determination. only the employee can make that decision. and when he does, he sends the message to the employer by taking the job or not, or by leaving the job, or by staying. and an employer that wants good employees to stay will have to raise his wages and improve his conditions until that happens, while an employee that wants good pay will have to improve his skills until he can demand more pay to stay.

Anonymous said...

Why is the discussion set around limits of what is owned and what is not? In any of the previous mentioned scenarios there are implicit trades that society has no longer put into written contraçt, because as it evolved from uncivilized animals, has come upon the general agreement that certain trades and property need not be entered into written form (and even these have evolved over time).

For example, when you work at a comoany, there is no mention in the contract of the usage of bathrooms, or even the air filtered through AC units. Unless the employer is mentaly challanged to participate in society, he will not detail everything that he may trade with you into a written contract. This aplies to everything else.

Why this is imoirtant? Because when an employer terminates a contract with you, it is much more than the trade of money for explicit written services that is terminated. There is much which the employee has generated, for himself, and for the company, that he loses. Business relations he developed over time, are also affected. (Well they can come and visit, if you are not to far in business sense, they may even be as much around as before). These are usuallyadmited as part of the job, even though it isnt explicity written in contract.

In dealings with a government, be it local or national, there is also these implicit trades. If one does have a property, it is because, at a time, he bought it (or someone did, and passed it to him). In that purchase there is an implicit agreement that you will adhere to the rules of society in which you are doing the purchase. The agreement, not written because civilized humanity has understood that it isnt necessary, is different from country to country, and has also evolved differently over time (and to different classes within it).

The government through law, enacts and enforces more laws than just the ones regarding taxes, and many i'm sure objectivists don't complain about and accept without saying they are imposed by idiots. Going around and choosing which ones are wrongly imposed is breaking the unwritten agreement that you will live and participate in society you made when you purchased that property. Because we are civilized, and intelligent, and dont need everything on a piece of paper. Just like you can go and find a place where taxes are voluntary, (try antartica), staying here and participating in the trade exchanges as set by society such as purchasing a property you are agreeing on the rules society has agreed upon on the making and enforcing of the rules themselves.

Questioning the imposition and enforcement of taxes, is a valid as questioning the imposition and enforcement of property ownership rights... (Yes, the enforcement or protection on property is as made up as the enforcement of payment of taxes. Both didnt exist before society made it up)

Dont agree, well either try to change it through the way everyine agreed to change it, or no one is forcing you to stay in society and the right we all agreed upon.

.

Anonymous said...

Living in a Society with a certain State Law IS voluntary.

If you lived in a state without the state enforcement of property ríghts, does that mean that:
1 - If you disagree with the lack of property rights and its enforcement you should be able to own a property through your own personal êxception, because you wanted to even though the state and Society disagreed?
2 - you would have to live in that state without having the freedom to pursue a better option? (like moving to a state that enforced property rights)
3 - the Law should be changed even though everyone else who voluntarily accepted to live in that Society but because you disgareed?

No one is forcing you to live in a Society that hás agreed upon certain rules and certain organization of the state. You voluntarily accepted this Society.

What if I disagreed with the fact that I can't go and take your property for myself? Does that mean that the state enforcement of property rights is wrong because I don't have the freedom to do that?

Unfortunatly you are living in a Society that almost unanimously disagrees with you. You are free to voluntárily accept that, or change and move. (this isn't after All north korea)

ungtss said...

"No one is forcing you to live in a Society that hás agreed upon certain rules and certain organization of the state. You voluntarily accepted this Society."

So fairness and morality play no role in this? if the government says people of my race can't sit in the front of a bus, I've implicitly accepted this? if they say I go to jail for having sex with people of my own gender, I have nothing to complain about? if they say because my parents were slaves, i'm a slave, I can take a hike? if the government says because i'm a jew, i get to live in a concentration camp, i accepted that?

I "implicitly agree" to comply with whatever BS the government decides, just because i show up?

Jzero said...

"one does not _know_ what another needs to survive."

I find it hard to believe that one can be an employer without being aware of the costs of living in the area where one conducts business. An employer may not want to DEAL with that reality, but I don't think that excuses them.


"a) contract is individually voluntarily entered into. state law is not."

"The question is, who dictates the "must?" in the case of eating, the "must" is dictated by your body, not some government official. it's an inescapable aspect of being human. there's nothing inescapable about government decrees."

I disagree.

You MUST live somewhere - or die. You can't choose to exist and keep living and not have to exist in some place. Which means that you must either live where other people live, or live in isolation. This is every bit as inescapable as having to eat.

If you live anywhere where there are other people, you are going to butt up against the inevitable fact that anyone who arrived before you is going to have some kind of system in place, some kind of society with its laws and restrictions. No, you don't get to choose which laws a society has when you come onto the scene. Few people do. Nobody asked your permission to set it up - nobody was obliged to, either. And nobody is required to accede to your desires just because you exist. So in that sense, you MUST either live in a pre-existing, imperfect society, or somehow forge your own society out in the wilderness, if you can.

(Theoretically it is possible that a society might arise that only has laws X, Y, and Z but not laws A, B, or C, arranged to a person's every desire. But only theoretically. In reality, a person has to deal with what actually exists in the world when they live in it.)

If the society you live in traps you, you can make a case that they compel you.

If they merely make an unfair law, though, as long as you can move to the next society over, you can't be compelled any more than the poor worker. What's more, you have the chance to change the unfair law by working within the system. If you feel that strongly about it, you probably SHOULD attempt to change it. (Instead of confining one's political activities to endless message board debates, as many Objectivists seem to do.)

But what you don't get to do is count any and all laws you don't happen to like as some kind of immoral coercion - on the basis of that coercion ALONE ("I don't want to and they're making me!") - if you insist on remaining in a society in order to partake of its benefits.

"You are a corrupt den of collectivists! But please, don't stop letting me share in your prosperity!" Do you see how that rings hollow?

Galt, at least, had enough strength and courage of conviction to remove himself from an offensive society, or only partake of it in the most minimal way when necessary. True, he had to be a genius inventor, and had to have a group of equally improbably perfect and like-minded friends to make it happen.

But by comparison, complaining about a society's income tax even as one suckles at that society's teat seems kind of weak.

ungtss said...

Well, we’re certainly not going to change each other’s minds. But I’ve gained valuable insight into the premises underlying your beliefs. Here’s what I’ve found:

1) You see “the cost of living” as a discrete, definite amount, which can be determined from the outside. It is not relative. It does not vary by person. And it is the employer’s job to figure out what that is and give it to people. And if a person is willing to work for less than this, in place of those unwilling to be paid less, because he wants a job, he should be deprived of that opportunity, and the job should remain with those who demand to be paid more. These costs should be passed on to others.

2) You see the fact that we must live in an imperfect society as equally metaphysically given as the fact that we must eat. We must accept the necessity of this imperfect society as we accept the necessity of our biological functions. Any challenge to the imperfection in our imperfect society is as pointless as a challenge to our biological function.

3) A government is only at fault if it prevents you from leaving to go to a country with government you like better, and such a government exists. If there is no such government, your government is never at fault. For anything.

4) No government policy can be objectively good or bad, moral or immoral. Our preferences regarding the law are subjective and arbitrary. A government is not “wrong” for engaging in policies that violate individual rights. So long as the people can leave.

5) However, a private individual or company has an absolute moral duty to pay whatever is necessary for another person to live. And also to figure out what that amount is. And refuse to hire anybody willing to work for less.

Jzero said...

" But I’ve gained valuable insight into the premises underlying your beliefs. Here’s what I’ve found:"

I have to leave for a while, and so I don't have time to fully get into this now, but you are straw-manning up a variety of stances that do not follow from the things I have said.

This is one of the most eye-rolling things about debating with Objectivists, and at this point I haven't decided if there is still a point to try and continue an honest debate, or if you're just slipping into some kind of ad hominem "well, you do THIS" abuse.

We'll see how I feel when I get back.

ungtss said...

maybe instead of accusing me of straw-manning, you can show me where I've missed the mark. I see those premises are necessarily undergirding your position. I don't see how your position can stand without them. If I'm wrong, show me how. And show me how your position can stand with your "real position." whenever you get back.

Samadhir said...

I see Jzero has taken over much of the discussion and made many of the points I could've made, so I don't think I need to enter that discussion just yet. However, I still want to speak with ungtss about his ideal society, as well as to ask a few other questions.

1. So, a representative democracy solely devoted to the protection of individual rights. Sounds like what most Objectivists would want.

Now, as with the US, this society would presumably have a written Constitution establishing what the role of the government is and what it's allowed to do, and be as clear, explicit and specific about it as possible? As an Objectivist, you would probably have it include strict prohibitions against "socialist" institutions like Medicare, Social Security, Food and Drug Administrations, public funding of infrastructure, or anything but the bare necessities (police, military, courts) to keep the government functioning? Furthermore, once this Constitution has been written and established, it would be in place for all time and could never be legally changed, no matter how great a majority of the people want, say, public healthcare or how many judges in the Supreme Court agreed with them?

2. This is really an aside, but you seem to regard government laws as involuntary in part because you had no choice where you were born (it must indeed have been frustrating that your parents didn't live in Galt's Gulch) and therefore never had any say in whether you agreed with those laws.

Now, this would seem to apply only to native-born citizens of a country. Any immigrants, if they emigrated of their own choice, would have the ability to see how the country was run and decide whether they agreed with its laws. Would it therefore not be coercive to ask them to submit to the rules of the government?

Also, if being born in a country means its coercive to be expected to follow its laws, wouldn't this also apply to, again, the apartment? If your parents lived in that apartment long enough and raised you there, you had no say in the landlord's terms either. If you grew up and decided you wanted to stay there, would that mean you could then order the landlord to change his terms, and he would trespass on your rights if you refused?

3. When I think about your vision of the ideal society and how government should be run, I keep thinkin of the term "libertarian". Would you object to being labeled a libertarian, or at least have your ideas called that? It would make it simpler for me if I could place your ideas in that category.

ungtss said...

Samadhir,

“As an Objectivist, you would probably have it include strict prohibitions against "socialist" institutions like Medicare, Social Security, Food and Drug Administrations, public funding of infrastructure, or anything but the bare necessities (police, military, courts) to keep the government functioning? Furthermore, once this Constitution has been written and established, it would be in place for all time and could never be legally changed, no matter how great a majority of the people want, say, public healthcare or how many judges in the Supreme Court agreed with them?”

Objectivism would not seek to impose such a government on a population that did not already see its necessity, because such a government would not work. A population demanding SSI under an objectivist political regime would quickly overthrow the government. That is why Objectivism is solely a philosophical movement, and not a political movement. The purpose is to understand and to educate, not to unilaterally impose. If I could “wave my wand” and create a society that understood reality well enough to see the value in a state limited to the defense of individual rights, of course, that would not be an issue. However, I’m well aware that such wand-waving is ineffectual in the real world:).

“Now, this would seem to apply only to native-born citizens of a country. Any immigrants, if they emigrated of their own choice, would have the ability to see how the country was run and decide whether they agreed with its laws. Would it therefore not be coercive to ask them to submit to the rules of the government?”

Well, coercion is morally neutral. It can be good or bad. It is coercive to keep a proven child molester behind bars, and coercive to force all the residents of africville to move out, and drive them away in dumptrucks. In the context we were discussing, the question was the difference between a businessman and a government. And the point was that the government is coercive, and the business man is not.

Now in this context, you seem to be presuming I believe that coercion is somehow inherently bad. But it isn’t. coercion is only bad when it’s unjust.

So would it be coercive to ask immigrants to submit to the rules of the government? Of course. The relevant question in this context is whether that coercion would be just or unjust. To some extent it would be. To some extent it wouldn’t. Depending on the substance and purpose of the coercion itself.

“If your parents lived in that apartment long enough and raised you there, you had no say in the landlord's terms either. If you grew up and decided you wanted to stay there, would that mean you could then order the landlord to change his terms, and he would trespass on your rights if you refused?”

No, because I have no right to live in his apartment. It’s his. I have a right to live in this country. The government does not have a proprieter's right in a country the way a property owner has a proprieter's right in his apartment complex.

“Would you object to being labeled a libertarian, or at least have your ideas called that? It would make it simpler for me if I could place your ideas in that category.”

Well, it’s a fuzzy word. Objectivism and libertarianism certainly have a lot in common when it comes to politics. But the differences are significant enough – at least as the words are commonly use -- that I think it’s worth distinguishing. Libertarianism is largely premised on moral subjectivism. Objectivism is premised on moral absolutism.

Samadhir said...

"Objectivism would not seek to impose such a government on a population that did not already see its necessity, because such a government would not work. A population demanding SSI under an objectivist political regime would quickly overthrow the government. That is why Objectivism is solely a philosophical movement, and not a political movement. The purpose is to understand and to educate, not to unilaterally impose. If I could “wave my wand” and create a society that understood reality well enough to see the value in a state limited to the defense of individual rights, of course, that would not be an issue. However, I’m well aware that such wand-waving is ineffectual in the real world:)."

This answer honestly surprised me, and it's a position that I can definitely respect and admire. I tip my hat off to you for that. I do believe that it raises other questions (for instance, from where does a government's/society's authority to impose its rules derive from) but I think we can leave that aside for now and focus on other things.

In fact, it surprised me enough that I was actually thrown for a loop, and much of the path I planned to go with my line of argument has been derailed. As such, I think I'll try and pursue a different one and see where we'll end up.

I certainly agree that coercion, in and of itself, is morally neutral and that it only becomes good or bad, just or unjust, in the way it's applied. Where we differ is what specific forms of coercion are just or unjust.

Also, there are indeed many differences between Objectivism and Libertarianism. The reason my question was relevant to this discussion was because I wondered whether, if you set about creating your ideal, free society, you would consider co-operating with libertarians of various stripes despite your disagreements? I know many Objectivists would consider that as unthinkable as co-operating with communists.

"I have a right to live in this country. The government does not have a proprieter's right in a country the way a property owner has a proprieter's right in his apartment complex."

This is the line that I think is most interesting and where I would like to move on now, because it seems to suggest that we agree on something: namely, that the issue isn't whether an entity, private or government, has a right to impose rules on its rightful territory. The issue is whether the government DOES have a rightful claim to its territory, and whether any entity could have that.

To start off, let's get back to the hypothetical landlord. You claim that any occupants in his complex, including people born and raised there, have no claim to it except what his contract states, because the apartments are rightfully his in a way the territorial US isn't to the government (and here I would agree that there are indeed, and should be, significant differences between the two).

Now, let's make this example a little more ambitious. Let's say that a large island that has somehow escaped our notice was suddenly discovered in the middle of the Pacific, that was roughly the size of California. It is a lush and resource-laden island that anyone would like to possess, and is uninhabited by any humans. Now let's say that no existing government makes a claim upon it. Instead, let's say that this landlord, who is now a multi-billionaire, buys up this huge territory, or simply sails there first and lays claim to it, and establishes it as his own private fiefdom. This private island is outside the jurisdiction of any government and is for all intents and purposes a sovereign territory.

Before we continue with this, would you agree that this billionaire could legitimately do such a thing, establishing this island as his own private territory that he has complete rights over?

ungtss said...

At the risk of speaking prematurely, I must say I really like you Samadhir:). You think and speak rationally to a degree I haven’t yet seen in this forum, or largely in this country:). It causes my heart to rise up a little in my chest to read an honest, logical argument based on rational premises, anywhere, from any ideological standpoint, because I experience it so rarely these days. That includes “objectivists.” Your handle leads me to believe you might hail from somewhere in South Asia?

“The reason my question was relevant to this discussion was because I wondered whether, if you set about creating your ideal, free society, you would consider co-operating with libertarians of various stripes despite your disagreements? I know many Objectivists would consider that as unthinkable as co-operating with communists.”

This is an area where I think rand and her followers got it wrong:). The fundamental premise underlying the market structure is that people with opposing interests can work together to mutual profit. Thus a grocer wants to have more apples and sell at a higher price, and a consumer wants to have more apples and buy at a lower price, but through the market mechanism, they come to an arrangement that is mutually profitable. By which both win.

In a consistent objectivism, this fundamental principle would be applied across all areas of human endeavor. Thus when people with different ultimate goals are able to arrange their affairs so as to achieve mutually profitable goals, they should do so. Which means that insofar as my interests coincide with those of a libertarian or a communist, absolutely we should cooperate. And where our interests diverge, we should not cooperate.

The question is, of course, what are those goals? In our system, my personal opinions regarding policy are consummately irrelevant in the strictly political sphere. That is to say, nobody really cares what I think about anything when it comes to deciding what policy should be. I’m not sure, exactly, what political goals I might “cooperate” with a libertarian on. Since I am politically powerless in a very real sense:). I’d certainly cooperate with a libertarian when discussing issues upon which we agree – exchanging arguments and ideas, and sharpening each other’s communication skills. As I do. I’ve learned a great deal from Hayek and Von Mises, and from their followers. Notwithstanding the fact that I disagree with their moral philosophy, they provide a great deal of input in other realms of inquiry.

Rand, of course, saw things differently. She did not apply her market ethic to the realm of ideas. It was all or nothing. Totalitarian. And as such I think it conflicted with her more fundamental premises – essentially, opposing self-interests arranging themselves to mutual profit. She failed to consistently apply her own basic premises. And I think she paid for it.

ungtss said...

“Before we continue with this, would you agree that this billionaire could legitimately do such a thing, establishing this island as his own private territory that he has complete rights over?”

He could certainly do such a thing practically, and legally. The question is upon what basis his claim of “ownership” would be premised. In a country with a government, “ownership” is defined by law. Governmental law. You own it because the government says you own it. Hopefully, the government’s definition of property coincides with fundamentally just moral principles. If not, people will suffer needlessly and unjustly. But in any event, it’s the government that defines property and provides the means to protect it.

But according to what country’s law would this billionaire lay claim to “ownership?” what would ownership mean without a government to create and define it? It would not mean what it means here, in the united states, or in the other civilized countries. It would mean, essentially, what he alone said it meant. Which means he would have to back his claim to ownership up with force against anyone who might try and take it from him by force.

So the short answer is, “yes, he could do that, but he would have to back his claim to ownership up with a gun for it to mean anything.”

Samadhir said...

I'm really beginning to enjoy this exchange too, ungtss, and I'm glad you've come to like me. I hope we can keep this up :)

I actually live in Sweden, so I'm afraid I've been brainwashed by the social democrats and consider myself rather leftist, but I hope we can still carry on in a respectful manner :)

I appreciate that you recognize some of Rand's more, well, totalitarian tendencies when it came to dealing with contrary opinions, even when they were sympathetic to hers. It's also nice that you feel it's worth co-operating even with people you strongly disagree with if your goals intersect. What goals those would be are another matter, of course, but they're also a matter for another time.

Now, as for that billionaire and his island...

ungtss said...

pleasure to meet you:). for some reason i can't yet define, it's gotten to the point where i can almost sense when a person is not from this country. there's a particular pattern of thought in america ... whether on left or right ... almost universal in some way i can't quite grasp yet. hearing a different pattern of thought is like gongs and flashbulbs. notwithstanding our differing conclusions, which are largely irrelevant:).

sometimes i think ayn rand's totalitarian approach to ideas was driven by the same experience. she was born and raised a european. moving to the united states in later life can be extremely culturally shocking, because there is something of a distinctly american thought pattern, and at it not a particularly rational one. i can imagine chronic cultural isolation leading to all sorts of things. in fact i don't have to imagine.

Samadhir said...

You are of course right that there are many issues related to how his claim to the island would be recognized and how he would back it up (that is, if such a huge island was suddenly discovered in the first place), but that's not important to this discussion. Maybe there's an international treaty saying that private individuals can buy and own newly discovered islands as their own territory, even at such size.

Anyway, the billionaire has bought this island and settled down in it, the whole place being in essence his own private home. However, he's not content to live there all by himself. After all, if he wants to exploit its natural resources, he needs lots of workers for it, and having them commute thousands of miles each weekend might not be practical.

As such, he sends out the call all over the world inviting prospective workers to come and settle on his island permanently, sort of like a landlord advertising his new high-rise apartment complex, and many people take him up on it. Within a couple of years, hundreds of thousands live on the island, forming a fairly large little society.

However, this island is his personal property, the arriving workers merely rent it from him, and he is the one who dictates all the terms and rules - in effect, the laws - for living on this island. He openly advertises these rules and makes it clear that they can be changed at any time as determined by economic circumstances or simply by his own personal whims. No one is forced to come here, and no one is forced to stay if they want to leave, so the arrivals have no reason to cry foul over those terms if they don't like them. He is the supreme authority on the island, and what he says goes.

Samadhir said...

Now, given that these people live on his island, he feels it's only fair to have them pay a certain... we wouldn't want to call it a tax, but a residence fee would be appropriate. Also, to make it more appealing to the poorer arrivals and to derive greater profit from rich denizens of his home, this will not be a fixed amount but a percentage of their income that is declared at a local fee office he has set up. This percentage might change as circumstances dictates. If any of his residents are discovered cheating on this fee to pay less, he reserves the right to boot them off the island for breach of contract.

Also, he determines what objects and possessions people are allowed to bring with them. Maybe he bans alcohol on his island, or all forms of recreational drugs - he doesn't want people getting buzzed and high while they work for him, after all. Maybe he's a racist and only allows white people to arrive, or at least prohibits miscenegation (again, no one's forced to be here and if blacks don't like it, go live on another private island, you chicken-eating, rapping bastards!)

He also doesn't want any competition to his own industries on the island - Microsoft probably wouldn't want an Apple store in their headquarters, so why should he tolerate rival companies sapping his profits by offering alternate means of employment to the people on his island that he bought and owns by honest, lawful means. As such, within his own home, which happens to be the size of California, he has a legal monopoly on all economic activity.

If he is of a more totalitarian bent, he might also prohibit the tenants (not inhabitants or citizens - they're not living in a regular country, but on his private land that is outside governmental jurisdiction) to voice any criticism of his policies in public. He might prohibit any media advocating views he disagrees with, even for private consumption. Yes, all people have a right to their own opinions, but they'll have to voice them in their personal homes and, well, this isn't their homes, it's his that he magnanimously allows them to rent from him.

If he's a more left-leaning kind of billionaire, he might try to create his own ideal society for the tenants, and builds hospitals and schools and public museums with the residence fees he collects. Don't like that? Well, it's his money which you gave him as part of the contract for residing on his island, so he'll spend it however he wants! You don't have to make use of those places but you still have to finance them if you wish to live in his home.

If he's an eccentric, he might require all tenants to paint their ears green on the first Wednesday of each month. Why? None of your damn business! You follow my terms or get the hell off my island!

Samadhir said...

To protect this island both from other jealous billionaires or governments who'll try to take it from him or from angry mobs who might try to overthrow him, he also creates his own private security force that provides defense and acts as the police. If any of the tenants break his terms, he'll send these men with guns, not to force them to follow any government dictates, but simply to enforce the contract they voluntarily signed with him upon arrival. If he finds that, for various reasons, it's not possible to send any tenants away for these breaches (and having them drown in the ocean might be a little harsh), he might create penitentiary institutions on the islands where they'll reside for an amount of time determined by him (and clearly displayed on the documents new tenants have to sign) as punishment.

When he dies, he'll leave over ownership of the island to a family member, or perhaps to the board of his company, and allow them to rule how they see fit.

Also, unless he prohibits residents from having children, any child born and raised on his island is expected to follow the same terms and rules as their parents, even though they never chose to be born there or signed any contract with him. If they don't, they'll be subject to the same penalties as everyone else.

Now, if you take a look at this island and it's situation, you can make out two things. First, this island is a private territory owned by a single individual and his family or company, that he acquired with his own money fair and square, and that all residents are there by their own choice (immigrants) or fall under his terms by where their parents live (native-borns), and they're all there because he allowed them onto his private island, his personal home where he has every right to dictate what rules apply. It's what you might call a voluntary transaction done between businessman and customer.

Second, how is this in any way distinguishable from a government? The island is, for all intents and purposes, ruled by a single individual who claims final authority over everything that happens, who funds his society via a form of taxation, and who can change the rules and terms of his society without any input or agreement from the residents aside from the tacit one they're supposed to have accepted by choosing to reside or continue to reside on his territory, and by the ability to "vote with their feet" by leaving. And this is an island the size of California, remember - leaving it is just as complicated a process as moving to a different country, if not moreso.

There are some differences though between this island and a democratically elected government of, say, the US or Sweden. First, the billionaire and his descendants rule perpetually and are subject to no restrictions to their power, because the island isn't a public society like most countries - it's their privately owned fiefdom. They can never be voted out of office, becaue they don't allow their workers to choose who should be their representative. They can restrict their freedom of speech as long as they reside there and if anyone tried to protest or speak out anyway, THEY would be trespassing on the billionaire's rights, not the other way around. By holding private authority over this island, outside the jurisdiction of any public sphere that could gainsay them, they have far greater power over the island's inhabitants than any publically elected government in a modern, "socialized" democracy could ever have.

And, if this arrangement is to be considered voluntary by everyone choosing to reside there, why is it so unthinkable that the same principles could apply to a regular government, where people ARE allowed to have a say in how society is run and do have the ability to legally change the status quo if they can get enough people to agree with them?

ungtss said...

i'm not sure how you reconcile a "voluntary arrangement" with his throwing people in jail. at the moment he decided to throw them in jail against their will, or take the property they had acquired through trade, would the arrangement not become non-voluntary?

Samadhir said...

"i'm not sure how you reconcile a "voluntary arrangement" with his throwing people in jail. at the moment he decided to throw them in jail against their will, or take the property they had acquired through trade, would the arrangement not become non-voluntary?"

He could argue that he already told them about the jails and they accepted them when they came to live on his island. Also, you weren't against jails either as you thought it was acceptable to, say, put a child molester away even though that would in a sense be coercion, so maybe he'd only use for truly serious cases. And he would only use those jails if it was impossible to send them away to another country (the question of citizenship could be rather tricky at such a place, after all).

(Btw, the whole issue about "sending people who don't want to follow the government's rules away" is admittedly not very applicable in most cases - exile is rather impractical in modern times. Even if the government would like to send away criminals beyond their borders and make them someone else's problem, almost all territory on earth is controlled by one government or another, and they usually don't want to have to accept the criminals from other countries. As such, a government usually has to deal with lawbreakers within their own borders).

Also, what "property aqcuired through trade" did you think this billionaire illegitimately took from his tenants?

ungtss said...

I suspect we are combining the issues of coercion and legitimate coercion again. Even if he told them he would put them in jail, and put them in jail for just reasons, at the point he puts them in jail, he is acting coercively. They do not want to be there. He is putting them there. That is coercion.

Perhaps he takes their wages, or something they acquired before they came to the island, or something that acquired with trade from one of the other tenants on the island.

Samadhir said...

And if he simply boots them off the island, wouldn't that be coercion too? If they didn't leave by themselves, they probably wanted to remain where they were, or at least had no better alternative. If someone goes into a corporate office on a busy workday and loudly encourages the workers to revolt against their bosses, the company would call security to boot him off the premises, despite him wanting to remain inside, which is technically coercion.

You said yourself that you don't think coercion is bad in and of itself, it's bad when used for unjust purposes. Now you seem to say that if the billionaire used coercion for any reason, even for reasons that were perfectly just and legitimate which he announced clearly in advance, it would invalidate the whole arrangement with the island as being voluntary? Would you apply the same standard to any real-life company?

As for taking the tenants property, 1. Taking part of their wages as residence fees was what they agreed to before entering the island, just as any exclusive club might charge membership fees - having it be a percentage of wages rather than a fixed amount is merely an unorthodox method which, again, they agreed to.
2. If he declares ahead of time what objects were illegal, the tenants should've left them at home. Many companies prohibit workers from, say, bringing pornographic magazines with them to work. Even if they declare that they're no longer allowed to people already working there, they're still expected to comply.
3. Most companies usually don't allow workers to exchange porno mags either during work. They'll have to do that at home/off island.

ungtss said...

Yes, if he kicked them off, it would be coercion. Whether or not it was just coercion would depend on the circumstances. Did he kick them off for violation of the contract, properly proven? Or because he changed the law to give him sleeping rights with everybody's wife?

I don't know that identifying something as coercive "invalidates" it. It simply identifies what it is. The question of the legitimacy of the coercion is separate.

That's why a businessman's choice to hire you and the government's laws are fundamentally different. One is coercive and the other isn't.

Samadhir said...

Yes, it would be coercion, but if he did it in accordance with the explicit contract he had all arrivals sign, it was a legitimate thing to do and doesn't make the whole arrangement "involuntary" by Objectivist/libertarian standards, just like they would say with any company or private association doing the same thing.

As for changing the contract, many real life corporations have provisions in their contracts saying that they're allowed to unilaterally change the terms in certain situations. If the billionaire did change his rules to give himself sleeping rights to everyone's wives, he probably wouldn't have many workers remaining on his island, but he would still be allowed to do so as long as he didn't force anyone to agree to the new changes (and remember, this island scenario is just a hypothetical example to see how far you can take the principle of voluntarism).

And again, the question I wanted to raise with this scenario was: if this arrangement that the billionaire has instituted on his island can be classified as "voluntary" while it resembles a repressive government in everything but name, why would a democratically elected and publicly accountable government instituting social safety nets with overwhelming public support be considered coercive (or "unjustly coercive", if you will)?

ungtss said...

"Yes, it would be coercion, but if he did it in accordance with the explicit contract he had all arrivals sign, it was a legitimate thing to do and doesn't make the whole arrangement "involuntary" by Objectivist/libertarian standards, just like they would say with any company or private association doing the same thing. "

Indeed, that would be legitimate. But as citizens of governments, we don't sign contracts agreeing to comply with the law:). Some idiot decides we're going to war in viet nam, and they start drafting people, and that's it. Nobody signed a contract that said "if some chicken shit president decides to go to war in a foreign country, for any reason, he can draft me and send me off."

My issue at this point is that the analogy between our businessman and our government isn't working:). As soon as we get the analogy ironed out, I agree that a representative version of the same thing would be equally moral, if not more. But we haven't gotten there yet:).

Samadhir said...

"Indeed, that would be legitimate. But as citizens of governments, we don't sign contracts agreeing to comply with the law:). Some idiot decides we're going to war in viet nam, and they start drafting people, and that's it. Nobody signed a contract that said "if some chicken shit president decides to go to war in a foreign country, for any reason, he can draft me and send me off."

So, this whole issue would be resolved if the government DID in fact issue physical contracts that every immigrant or 18-year old would have to sign? Somehow, I think it's a bit more complicated than that...

ungtss said...

I agree that it's more complicated -- I don't think contracts are doable in the context of government. But that doesn't change how different government is from voluntary contract. Which is the point. Contractual principles don't apply. Can't apply.

ungtss said...

Essentially, because you do not voluntarily enter into a contractual relationship with government, government is _only_ legitimate insofar as it is just. There is no room for the arbitrary. It must be fair. Precisely because it is unilateral.

Jzero said...

"maybe instead of accusing me of straw-manning, you can show me where I've missed the mark."

Very well. However, let me preface with this: in the past, when I've read you saying something to the effect of "here's what I've learned", what it really seems to indicate is "here's what I've DECIDED about you, all learning is over." To me, it indicates a certain elevation of contention.

If we are going in that direction, where you condescendingly tell me how I think, our conversation will rapidly draw to a close.

Now then.

"1) You see “the cost of living” as a discrete, definite amount, which can be determined from the outside. It is not relative. It does not vary by person."

It can be relative, and it can vary by person. But statistically, it will be within a range. Rent will be fairly consistent, utilities more so, food prices will fall in certain ranges, gas prices, everything.

"And it is the employer’s job to figure out what that is and give it to people."

Again, it seems hard to fathom that an employer could invest enough in a business in a particular location and somehow remain unaware of it. To do so, they would have to make it their "job" to purposefully ignore it.

"And if a person is willing to work for less than this, in place of those unwilling to be paid less, because he wants a job, he should be deprived of that opportunity, and the job should remain with those who demand to be paid more. These costs should be passed on to others."

No, I did not say that. That's what you WANT me to say, so you can lump me in with some predetermined notion of yours. All I am saying is that IF an employer does NOT pay enough to cover an employee's costs of living, they are, in my view, unethical.

I am not forbidding them from acting unethical, in other words.

Assuming one works at something they do not enjoy, why does one work? To survive. If the work cannot provide sustenance, it fails the purpose. If one knowingly offers such a job, they are knowingly devaluing a person's life, the life that is being expended in their service.

You seem to be really bothered that I would consider that unethical.

"2) You see the fact that we must live in an imperfect society as equally metaphysically given as the fact that we must eat."

I don't know why it's necessary to plop "metaphysically" in there. It's an obvious fact of existence. There is no perfect society, and there are no places where you have a significant collection of other people that is not a society of some sort.

"We must accept the necessity of this imperfect society as we accept the necessity of our biological functions."

Well, you certainly must DEAL with it. I've known people that don't "accept" that they have to eat, they find it a time-consuming bother and apparently don't enjoy it overmuch. But they have to deal with it.

They also don't declare it immoral simply because they don't want to do it.

"Any challenge to the imperfection in our imperfect society is as pointless as a challenge to our biological function."

I don't know where you get this kind of crap from, except you seem to want to put words in my mouth. It's one thing to debate an actual issue, it's another to have to defend myself from shit you just make up.

"3) A government is only at fault if it prevents you from leaving to go to a country with government you like better, and such a government exists. If there is no such government, your government is never at fault. For anything."

See above.

Jzero said...


"4) No government policy can be objectively good or bad, moral or immoral. Our preferences regarding the law are subjective and arbitrary."

Arbitrary? No, I don't think so. Subjective? Certainly.

Despite what Rand may say, any moral stance is about as subjective as it gets. The closest anyone gets to "objective" for morals is, essentially, majority rule - that is, things that are touted as objectively morally good (say, the right to life) are only such because a vast majority of people believe it to be so.

I have yet to see a claim to objective morality that succeeds without an appeal to emotion, which is not what objective IS.

"A government is not “wrong” for engaging in policies that violate individual rights. So long as the people can leave."

More precisely, a government is not wrong for engaging in policies that "violate" individual rights simply because you declare them to be immoral. (Certainly you cannot be said to have the only moral frame of reference in town.) Nor are they at fault if, by your willingness to tolerate those policies, you concede to them. And you display your willingness to tolerate them - by tolerating them! By staying! By not resisting them!

What is more important: Your principles or your possessions? Well, if we use you as a benchmark, it's your possessions. Because though you protest income tax, you endure it for fear of having your stuff taken away. Which I wouldn't at all fault you for, except I can't take seriously your protests about the myriad evils of income tax when you stand there and take it year after year like every other joe. I can't see it as the black-or-white-all-or-nothing-anti-life THREAT you want to make it out to be when your "individual rights" take a backseat to comfort and convenience.

Like the impoverished employee, you CAN leave, you have options. They are UNCOMFORTABLE options, to be sure, but you have them. If that employee is not under duress, by reason of having his options, neither, then, are you.

"5) However, a private individual or company has an absolute moral duty to pay whatever is necessary for another person to live. And also to figure out what that amount is. And refuse to hire anybody willing to work for less."

Covered by 1). It is only their duty if they choose to operate in what I consider an ethical manner. Certainly they are free to consider themselves as ethical as they please.

Again, this seems to bother you (since you reference it twice in your list), that I can make an ethical evaluation independent from your particular values.

Lloyd Flack said...

Ungtss,

You seem to support the government's role as protector, providing services such as the police and military. But without taxation how is it to provide these services? This is something Rand never successfully dealt with. She wrote an essay giving some speculations about how a government might obtain the necessary finance without coercion. None of her suggestions were plausible. This was an issue where she seemed to be engaging in wishful thinking and evasion.

There is no reason to believe that there will be practicable means of financing a government without coercion. Why should there be? Why should the Universe permit you to survive without compromising a simple moral code. Human beings after ll are complex. Why should morality be simple.

Now ta morally correct set of principles might well be one which in most circumstances agrees with her “No initiation of force.” principle. But it will not agree with it in all circumstances. So what do you believe is the actual principle involved. Under what circumstances is taxation justified and why? And if it is not then how do you finance the the provision of protection, provision of justice and defence of liberty?

ungtss said...

"It can be relative, and it can vary by person. But statistically, it will be within a range. Rent will be fairly consistent, utilities more so, food prices will fall in certain ranges, gas prices, everything."

This only includes independent people supporting themselves and living alone. What about people living with their parents? Or people working part time while going to school? They don't bear the full cost of living. am i unethical to offer them less than it would take to live alone, when they don't? what about an unpaid internship? an apprenticeship? Am I unethical to offer $20 a week to mow my lawn? Obviously nobody can live on that. But they might take it on as a second job. Or they might take it for pocket money while going to school.

What if a person needs no money to live at all, because he's married to a woman with a job?

Doesn't your "range" really extend down to zero in the case of people who don't need to work but want to anyway for extra income?

Am I unethical for offering pay only what such a person would take?

And since such people exist, how am I to know what their living expenses are except when they refuse to take the job?

"Again, it seems hard to fathom that an employer could invest enough in a business in a particular location and somehow remain unaware of it. To do so, they would have to make it their "job" to purposefully ignore it."

See above.

"All I am saying is that IF an employer does NOT pay enough to cover an employee's costs of living, they are, in my view, unethical."

Okay, unethical but legal, got it.

"Assuming one works at something they do not enjoy, why does one work? To survive. "

Pocket money? Extra income? Experience?

"Well, you certainly must DEAL with it [imperfect societies]. I've known people that don't "accept" that they have to eat, they find it a time-consuming bother and apparently don't enjoy it overmuch. But they have to deal with it."

Can I deal with this imperfect society by trying to change it? If so, then why must I "take it or leave it," as you've told me I should do if I don't like certain government policies?

"I don't know where you get this kind of crap from [accepting imperfection] , except you seem to want to put words in my mouth. It's one thing to debate an actual issue, it's another to have to defend myself from shit you just make up."

From your insistence that if I don't like what the government is doing, I can take a hike. The government is what it is, I'm told. If I don't like it, I can leave. Which means it's somehow wrong of me to complain and try to change things.

"Arbitrary? No, I don't think so. Subjective? Certainly."

What's the difference?

" The closest anyone gets to "objective" for morals is, essentially, majority rule - that is, things that are touted as objectively morally good (say, the right to life) are only such because a vast majority of people believe it to be so."

So one person's views are subjective, but 51% of people's views are somehow more objective? Why? The sum of opinions is somehow less of an opinion?

"I have yet to see a claim to objective morality that succeeds without an appeal to emotion, which is not what objective IS."

And why on earth must objectivity exclude an inescapable part of being human and thinking? Why is emotion inconsistent with objectivity?

ungtss said...

"More precisely, a government is not wrong for engaging in policies that "violate" individual rights simply because you declare them to be immoral. (Certainly you cannot be said to have the only moral frame of reference in town.) Nor are they at fault if, by your willingness to tolerate those policies, you concede to them. And you display your willingness to tolerate them - by tolerating them! By staying! By not resisting them!"

So in order to resist them, I must abandon or disobey? I can't work through the democratic process? By educating people about a different set of ideas that show what the government is doing is wrong?

" I can't see it as the black-or-white-all-or-nothing-anti-life THREAT you want to make it out to be when your "individual rights" take a backseat to comfort and convenience."

And there's something inconsistent about responding to such threats through the democratic process, rather than leaving, as I am doing?

ungtss said...

" Under what circumstances is taxation justified and why? And if it is not then how do you finance the the provision of protection, provision of justice and defence of liberty?"

Taxation is justified insofar as it is necessary to protect personal property, because if one refuses to pay the price necessary for the government to protect your property, one has no basis for complaining when the government declines to protect those rights. In other words, if you won't pay the price of protecting your stuff, then the government has no duty to protect it, and you're on your own when the government comes and tries to steal it like any other thug.

Samadhir said...

Okay, I think we've gone as far as we can with the island scenario as, surprisingly, we seem to agree with most issues around it, merely differing in some of our definitions like what is coercive. As such, I would later like to move on to another issue brought up in your recent discussions with Jzero and Lloyd Flack, namely the issue of changing government policies through peaceful democratic means:

"From your insistence that if I don't like what the government is doing, I can take a hike. The government is what it is, I'm told. If I don't like it, I can leave. Which means it's somehow wrong of me to complain and try to change things."

"So in order to resist them, I must abandon or disobey? I can't work through the democratic process? By educating people about a different set of ideas that show what the government is doing is wrong?"

"And there's something inconsistent about responding to such threats through the democratic process, rather than leaving, as I am doing?"

Now, this was another point of yours that honestly surprised me (positively, I might add) because it really differs from what I would expect most Objectivists, or most libertarians for that matter, to say. I'll explain why later, being a little busy now, but I would very much like to have this discussion with you as it seems we can talk about it from similar standpoints.



Jzero said...

"Am I unethical to offer $20 a week to mow my lawn?"

Does it take a whole week to mow your lawn? Suppose it takes an hour, maybe two. You are then paying either $10 or $20 an hour, which as it stands now, is well above the national minimum wage.

You are not requiring that, in order to get that $20, a person must be on call for the bulk of their daylight hours, and if you paid that rate for a full-time job, you could make the case that it could be sufficient for survival. So probably ethical.


"What if a person needs no money to live at all, because he's married to a woman with a job?

Doesn't your "range" really extend down to zero in the case of people who don't need to work but want to anyway for extra income?"

Would it be ethical to offer someone zero dollars for their work?

The cost of life - what it takes to keep someone alive - in this case is being supplemented by some other agency - parents, a wealthy spouse, etc. But the cost of life does not change. That money still comes from somewhere.

And whatever the job, or whoever takes it, it is still life that is being expended, and it is still devaluing that life to pay less than it costs to sustain it - even if the person does not need it because they get it elsewhere.

I still find that unethical.

"Can I deal with this imperfect society by trying to change it?"

Of course! I HAVE SAID AS MUCH REPEATEDLY.

"If so, then why must I "take it or leave it," as you've told me I should do if I don't like certain government policies?"

But I haven't told you that. You're just half-reading what I've actually said and putting your own bias on it and accusing me of some stance that, I dunno, is easier for you to bitch about.

What I'm telling you is: that's not coercion.

Suppose you were locked up in prison. You are given free meals, but your movement is restricted and every day the guards come by and make you exercise for a while. You are coerced. You have no choice.

Then one day, the cell doors open. The guards tell you that you may leave at any time, the prison is no longer shut in any way.

"Hmmm, but, I like free meals," you say. "Can I still get free meals?"

"Well, okay," they say, "but if you stay, we're still going to come by each day and make you exercise."

You may leave. You may find that the prison gate simply opens up into another different prison. You may stay. If you stay, you are agreeing to abide by a system that requires you to exercise whether you want to or not. You might petition the guards to change their minds and let you just sit around all day with the free meals. You can complain about the injustice of having to exercise while you eat your free meal.

But what you can't do is claim that you have no choice, that you are fully coerced. The only compulsion is whether you value your free meals over being made to exercise.

Jzero said...

""Arbitrary? No, I don't think so. Subjective? Certainly."

What's the difference?"

Arbitrary to me seems to denote some kind of randomness, that it is just sheer chance or whim that some moral stance (or the law that enforces it) is brought into being.

I don't think that's the case. I think most humans share enough of an emotional similarity that there are predictable reasons why one moral stance or another becomes accepted, I don't think it's simply random. But that does not mean it isn't entirely subjective.

"So one person's views are subjective, but 51% of people's views are somehow more objective? Why? The sum of opinions is somehow less of an opinion?"

Again, you aren't paying close attention to what I'm saying.

I'm saying that any time anyone makes the case for saying "this is an objectively moral stance", they are not relying on objective facts, but instead that a majority of people will feel the same way. It is the illusion of objectivity, by appealing to a broadly common human emotion, something that a lot of people simply FEEL to be true.

"And why on earth must objectivity exclude an inescapable part of being human and thinking? Why is emotion inconsistent with objectivity?"

By its very definition.

Objective: Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

Emotion has its place in human thinking, but it can not be considered in any way "objective" any more than fire can be considered stone.

"Objectivism" is one of the biggest misnomers around.

ungtss said...

JZero,

“Would it be ethical to offer someone zero dollars for their work?”

Of course! I took unpaid internships during college – one was half time. I worked my butt off because I wanted a good rec. or a job. Under those circumstances, the work was worth a helluvalot more than the pay to me. The company got high quality work for free. I got experience. Win win. What could be unethical about that?

Of course, some people do think it’s unethical. They say the company should pay me. But they don’t know or don’t care that I’m not worth the money at that point in my career, because of lack of experience. So through ignorance or malevolence, they try to destroy the opportunity that got my career going. Screw them. They don’t know me. Don’t know my life or my interests. Who are they to tell me a company is “unethical” for giving me the sort of work I want on terms I want?

“And whatever the job, or whoever takes it, it is still life that is being expended, and it is still devaluing that life to pay less than it costs to sustain it - even if the person does not need it because they get it elsewhere.

I still find that unethical.”

It is devaluing life despite the fact that both parties agree it’s better than the alternative?

“Suppose you were locked up in prison. You are given free meals, but your movement is restricted and every day the guards come by and make you exercise for a while. You are coerced. You have no choice.

Then one day, the cell doors open. The guards tell you that you may leave at any time, the prison is no longer shut in any way.

"Hmmm, but, I like free meals," you say. "Can I still get free meals?"”

Free meals:)? Are you kidding me? The government doesn’t give free meals to me. Try this analogy: you’re not in jail, you work in a town. And you work your ass off for a living. Then the tax man comes and takes half your earnings, to blow on multimillion dollar, narcissistic family trips to Africa. While you’re left trying to pay my bills every month. And when you question the tax man about this, he points to the roads, and says “hey look, your taxes pay for the roads!” you naturally respond, “um, you take a hell of a lot more from me than I get. You’re paying for some jackass to take a multimillion dollar trip to Africa with his family so he can feel like a big strong man.”

Tax man says, “I don’t care, dude. You live in my town, you pay up. Otherwise you go to jail.”

You pay up, of course. But your pissed. Then somebody else comes along and tells you that the taxes aren’t coercive because you could always move 8000 miles away, to another town. That also charges taxes. For more ridiculous, wasteful, bullshit. And he tells you because you can choose between paying the fruits of your labor to one shithead instead of another, you’re actually free.

See, your prison analogy omits where the wealth comes from. It comes from me. Working like a dog. 6 days a week. And you want to call that “free meals.” Maybe you live like that. I don’t. I work my ass off and pay through the nose, and get 10 cents back on the dollar from what I give the government.

And they can’t shut up about the 10 cents on the dollar I back, like it’s a “free meal.”

“I'm saying that any time anyone makes the case for saying "this is an objectively moral stance", they are not relying on objective facts, but instead that a majority of people will feel the same way. It is the illusion of objectivity, by appealing to a broadly common human emotion, something that a lot of people simply FEEL to be true.”

Well, that’s not what objectivists are doing:). Objectivists don’t appeal to “majority feeling.”

ungtss said...

“Emotion has its place in human thinking, but it can not be considered in any way "objective" any more than fire can be considered stone.”

And that’s the root of the problem. Once you accept that premise, the non-existence of objective morality is the logically necessary conclusion. Of course this premise is demonstrably wrong. But I don’t think we’re going to cross that bridge on this forum:).

ungtss said...

Samadhir,

I look forward to it!

Jzero said...

"Of course! I took unpaid internships during college – one was half time. I worked my butt off because I wanted a good rec. or a job. Under those circumstances, the work was worth a helluvalot more than the pay to me. The company got high quality work for free. I got experience. Win win. What could be unethical about that?"

Nothing at all! Because you're being paid, if not in dollars, than in something else of value. For some, the value of contacts and recommendations one can get in the case of an unpaid internship can more than compensate for the life expended, particularly in the long term.

I must admit that as a kid, the first time someone told me about unpaid internships I was scandalized, seeing it as a scam to get free work out of people. But if there is a demonstrable value in exchange for such work, I find that far more palatable than saying "I do not value your work enough than to even keep you alive".

"It is devaluing life despite the fact that both parties agree it’s better than the alternative?"

I'm not super-dogmatic about it, I'm open to exceptions under some circumstances. Suppose a depressed economy puts a business in jeopardy. In order to keep in business and also keep the same employees working, they approach the workers and ask if they'll accept a pay cut until the economy improves. There's a mutual arrangement from a position of equality - both must cooperate or suffer worse, together.

But simple agreement does not necessarily mean an arrangement is ethical. A man might decide to kill another man. They might mutually agree that shooting the victim in the head would be preferable to a slow lingering gut shot. That doesn't mean the head shot is ethical.

Jzero said...

"Free meals:)? Are you kidding me? The government doesn’t give free meals to me. Try this analogy:"

No no no. You're missing the point: "Free meals" is a stand-in for whatever you value so much that you are willing put up with whatever it is you despise. Call it, I dunno, "economic prosperity and gainful employment opportunities". Nobody is literally saying you get free meals - and you should know better than that.

Again, the fact that there are no options you LIKE does not mean you are left trapped and choiceless. As example:

You brought up racism and civil rights earlier. A lot of folks thought institutionalized racism was pretty bad, particularly when it was being used against them. They could have left - gone to Canada or anywhere else that would have had them. But, they didn't want to leave their homes and friends and family just so they could be treated equally, even if it was possible elsewhere.

So they got out and demonstrated and marched. In defiance of authority, they braved water cannons and dogs and thugs and some of them even got murdered for it. They were willing to sacrifice comfort and convenience for the principle of not being consigned to sub-citizen status.

That's how you tell they were serious, how important the issue was to them. Their resistance was real and had consequences. They took one of the uncomfortable choices.

So what do we make, then, of the rhetoric that declares the very concept of income tax to be "anti-life"?

Where are the parades of income tax protestors? The resistance, the sit-ins, the people willing to go to jail and defy authority to live in accordance with their principles?

Even the Tea Party, as close as a modern movement as I can think of that had even a slightly sympathetic view, fractured as it was, did not protest income tax so much as what the tax was being used FOR.

We can infer two things: One, the idea that income tax itself is immoral (and not just unpleasant) is not one that is shared widely; and two, those that claim to fervently believe in that idea do not seem to be willing to devote serious energy to that moral cause, not in the same way people do for other critical matters.

In other words, it can't be really as bad as it is claimed to be.

"And that’s the root of the problem. Once you accept that premise, the non-existence of objective morality is the logically necessary conclusion. Of course this premise is demonstrably wrong. But I don’t think we’re going to cross that bridge on this forum:)."

I'll concur, since you're not likely to turn fire to stone.

It's not going to be "demonstrably wrong" unless you simply redefine what "objective" is.

ungtss said...

"Nothing at all! Because you're being paid, if not in dollars, than in something else of value. "

And a person who is able to find a job in the small town he wants to stay in is also being paid with something else of value: the ability to stay in his town. That's why he chooses the job. Because he wants to stay.

"They might mutually agree that shooting the victim in the head would be preferable to a slow lingering gut shot. That doesn't mean the head shot is ethical."

Umm ... i'm assuming the person being shot is not party to this agreement, in which case i'm not sure how the analogy carries:).

"No no no. You're missing the point: "Free meals" is a stand-in for whatever you value so much that you are willing put up with whatever it is you despise. Call it, I dunno, "economic prosperity and gainful employment opportunities"."

i'm not talking about "Free meals," literally i'm talking about how you think the wealth originates with the government. it doesn't. it originates with us. the government takes it, wastes a ton of it, and gives some small amount of it back to us as services. that's not a "free meal" or "economic prosperity" or anything else. it's a guy who takes a dollar, gives you a dime, and calls himself indispensable.

"So what do we make, then, of the rhetoric that declares the very concept of income tax to be "anti-life"?"

Those Jim Crow laws were in place for decades before the protests started. If one person had engaged in civil disobedience in the 1920s, he would have simply gone to jail and that would have been it. because the culture was not primed to understand, yet, why it was wrong. mass movements require mass support, which requires people to be educated about the reality of what they're dealing with. before that, "civil disobedience" is just a waste of time.

but you'd tell a person in 1930 who said Jim Crowe is wrong, "well, you're not serious, because you're not facing water cannons?" no, of course i'm not, because the culture isn't ready for that yet. you'd say "jim crow can't really be as bad as i claim it is," because i'm not out there, protesting alone, in a culture that overwhelmingly thinks as you do because their educational-media-political complex has propagandized them so very well? are you serious:)?

"It's not going to be "demonstrably wrong" unless you simply redefine what "objective" is."

Well, not "redefine" so much as point out that by your definition of "objective," no objective thought on anything of value is possible, because all human thought relies on emotions. and since your definition of "objective" makes objective thought impossible, it is not a useful or meaningful definition. just like a definition of "perfection" that cannot be achieved is not a useful or meaningful definition. on the contrary, it's an impossible standard that allows you to invalidate anything you like, because nothing can satisfy the standard.

which is the whole point of an impossible standard:). to invalidate ideas you don't want to deal with:)

Jzero said...

"Umm ... i'm assuming the person being shot is not party to this agreement,"

You assume wrong. If someone came up to you and told you they were going to kill you no matter what, but they could do it quick and merciful or slow and painful, then you might choose to spare yourself suffering - but of course, that doesn't mean your death is at all justified in either case.

"i'm not talking about "Free meals," literally i'm talking about how you think the wealth originates with the government."

No no no no no no STOP DOING THAT. How do you arrive at that being what I think? What words did I write that trigger you to conjure this out of thin air?

Do I have to explain each analogy in tortuous detail?

The prison doesn't represent "government", the prison represents society. Of which government is a part, sure, but so too does it include all the other people, including those whom you say make the wealth. They also make the government. Even you make the government to some extent, by how you vote (or don't), by what you tolerate (or don't).

You are born into a society, and about that you have no choice. Until you grow to a certain age, you are going to be constrained to a much greater extent than you will be once you achieve legal independence. At that point, you have more options: voting, leaving, protesting, et al.

One more time: If you choose to stay, you cannot claim government "forces" you to pay income tax, because what really forces you is your unwillingness to give up what you desire of society in order to avoid paying that tax. You want to live and participate in that society - which includes, but is not limited to its government - and in doing so you tacitly agree to abide by its terms - its laws, as expressed in the form of its government.

"mass movements require mass support, which requires people to be educated about the reality of what they're dealing with. before that, "civil disobedience" is just a waste of time."

I think you have that completely backwards. How do you suppose people got educated about it? By being confronted with the reality that people thought it was wrong enough to put their own lives at some risk. Rosa Parks took her chance, all by her lonesome, and got arrested for it (as did some before her). In doing so, she helped bring attention to the issue, and got larger support as a result.

Without protests, there's no real "education" to speak of, because the average man isn't going to need to see it or talk about it. Do you think this exchange between us constitutes "education"? Who does it educate? Is the news covering it? At this rate, you'll wait a thousand years, two thousand, before it ever trickles into mainstream consciousness sufficiently (assuming you can get anyone to see it your way in the first place).

Jzero said...

"Well, not "redefine" so much as point out that by your definition of "objective," no objective thought on anything of value is possible, because all human thought relies on emotions."

Well, one, not all human thought relies on emotions. Math, logic - we can purposefully take emotion out of the process, though we have to be able to distinguish between emotional and non-emotional thought - which, two, is one of the whole reasons a word like "objective" was created!

You call it "my" definition, but that is THE definition. Apart from "objective" (noun) as a goal, how else is objective defined?

And three, value IS an emotional, subjective judgement, as is morality, which brings us back to the whole is/ought problem, the one that Rand failed to solve. You can't derive an objective, logical reason for any moral position (or any action, in fact) without referencing some non-objective, subjective feeling to initiate it. That's the whole point of the is/ought question in the first place. Rand couldn't do it, but seemed to think she did. You seem to be approaching it from the angle of "since it's impossible to do it, you can fudge objectivity and emotion together and somehow still call it objective." Otherwise, I don't see how you can justify your claim. Your whole premise appears to be based on re-writing basic concepts of language so one can say something is what it isn't, that A does not in fact equal A.

If emotion is such a critical part of human thought that it cannot be separated out from the process at all, EVER, then human thought is NEVER objective - by definition.

Objective = objective.

ungtss said...

“You assume wrong. If someone came up to you and told you they were going to kill you no matter what, but they could do it quick and merciful or slow and painful, then you might choose to spare yourself suffering - but of course, that doesn't mean your death is at all justified in either case.”

There it is again, the slippery issue of coercion. A person telling you “I’m killing you one way or the other” is coercive. A person telling me “if you want to work for me, these are the terms of employment” is not. Your analogies for business continually slip coercion back into the equation. Your analogies for government continually slip it out.

“One more time: If you choose to stay, you cannot claim government "forces" you to pay income tax, because what really forces you is your unwillingness to give up what you desire of society in order to avoid paying that tax.”

So wait – you’re claiming the government isn’t coercive because I choose to enjoy the benefits of society? So if I live in a small town, trading freely with my fellow human beings, and then the government comes in and decides to confiscate all my gold [a la Roosevelt], that’s not coercive because I chose to enjoy the benefits of free exchange with free people?

Government action isn’t coercive because I choose to relate to people outside of government?

“I think you have that completely backwards. How do you suppose people got educated about it? By being confronted with the reality that people thought it was wrong enough to put their own lives at some risk.”

I’m afraid you’ve got it backwards:). It took a long long time to educate a critical mass of black folks that what they were experiencing was _wrong_, and why, in order to get folks ready to stand up for themselves. The civil rights had been working for decades to lay the groundwork. CORE was founded in Chicago in 1942 toward this end. Rosa Parks came after a lot of work had been done. If Rosa Parks had tried it in 1928, what do you think would have happened:)? Nothing. She would have been cited and released, end of protest.

“Well, one, not all human thought relies on emotions. Math, logic - we can purposefully take emotion out of the process, though we have to be able to distinguish between emotional and non-emotional thought”

Neuroscience says “no” to this:). The opening volley was “Descartes Error,” which laid out the early neuroscience showing that emotion is tied up even in our mathematical and logical knowledge. It’s just that people don’t understand how, because they don’t understand their own emotions:). Kind of like the stereotypical “unemotional man.” In reality, he’s just as emotional as anybody else. He just won’t let himself look at it, because he’s adopted your view of emotion.

Logic and math are deeply, powerfully emotional subjects, on many many levels. At a fundamental level, they’re driven by feelings of rightness and wrongness. But again, I don’t think this is the forum for that:).

“Apart from "objective" (noun) as a goal, how else is objective defined?”

rand laid this out in the objectivist epistemology. Emotion is only an agent of distortion if the values that determine your emotions are distorted. Objectivity does not mean “unemotional.” It means “properly emotional.” And proper emotions are inescapably intertwined with the logic we use to interpret our world to arrive at emotions. Emotion is impossible to us without logic. And logic is impossible to us without emotion.

“You can't derive an objective, logical reason for any moral position (or any action, in fact) without referencing some non-objective, subjective feeling to initiate it.”

This bit of nonsense is also premised on the non-objectivity of emotion. See how much can be accomplished with a single premise:)?

ungtss said...

“Otherwise, I don't see how you can justify your claim. Your whole premise appears to be based on re-writing basic concepts of language so one can say something is what it isn't, that A does not in fact equal A.”

you mean doing what Socrates did? Showing how utter nonsense had been smuggled into their word use? And offering a better alternative to permit clearer, more effective thought?

“If emotion is such a critical part of human thought that it cannot be separated out from the process at all, EVER, then human thought is NEVER objective - by definition.
”

And that’s exactly what the advocates of this piece of nonsense had in mind. To render all human thought non-objective. And thereby to snip the intellectual testicles off of their opponents.

Samadhir said...

Okay, I would like to get onto the subject of democracy now, if I may butt into the discussion.

Like I said yesterday, your points about changing governmental policies through democratic means surprised me because I didn't think an objectivist would consider that an appealing thing to do.

In fact, much of the reason that we have talked of government coercion vs. voluntarism in terms of leaving the country, rather than democratically changing it, may have been because we mistakenly thought you would've been against such a thing. Here's why...

You see, most objectivists and libertarians (their positions on this issue is largely similar) are opposed to democracy, because to them it's simply another form of dictatorship. If you go on most websites run by them, you will find articles strongly condemning democracy as "mob rule" and "the tyranny of the majority", where the system is defined as the majority having absolute legal power to do anything and if 51 percent of the people voted to make murder or rape legal that would make it legal (never mind that not a single modern democracy works that way...)

This also means that many objecto-libertarians (if I may use that term for simplicity's sake) are also opposed to participate in the democratic process by, say, voting or putting up candidates for election, because they regard that as giving what they see as an unjust system their tacit approval. This is one of the major controversies surrounding the Libertarian Party in the US. After all, if you participate in a democratic election, even with the goal of ultimately changing the system, you are in effect saying that this system is a valid way to run society. This point is particularly pushed by anarchist libertarians (anarcho-capitalists).

ungtss said...

No butting in at all:). This was one of rand's primary disagreements with libertarians ... And I'm sure many libertarians have adopted the name "objectivist" without fully understanding her views:).

The key distinction, I think, is between democracy has a moral sanction, vs. democracy as a process. By moral sanction I mean the idea that a thing is just if the representatives of a majority of the people say it is. By a process, I mean the idea that democracy is the only peaceful means of accomplishing political change. And the first step of the democratic process is of course advocacy of ideas among regular people.

Libertarians are opposed to both democracy as a sanction, and democracy as a process. Rand (and I) was (and am) against it as a sanction, but not as a process. By which is meant that right and wrong have nothing to do with what democracy say they are, but democracy is the only effective means of implementing the right.

Samadhir said...

What they tend to promote as a just system instead (at least those who still want a government at all) is a republic, which they define as a system founded on a constitution establishing certain laws as being eternal and not subject to change, no matter how many people want to, with the goal of protecting individual rights. (Many non-libertarians would define it differently, as simply being any state where rulership is non-hereditary).

Now, most modern democracies have something similar to this - even in Sweden where I live, where we have a royal family and are therefore not a republic, there is a form of constitution that establishes the most important rights of citizens, such as free speech, free assembly and so forth, that can only be amended or changed by a supermajority in parliament under specific circumstances. As such, even a democratic constitutional monarchy (constitutional meaning here that the monarch only has ceremonial functions) are not in general run by unlimited majority rule, but have constraints on just how much can be decided on by popular vote. So I don't think the differences between a democracy and a republic are as great as many objecto-libertarians claim.

However, most objecto-libertarians seem to want to go much further with the idea of a constitution than the limits most democracies place on majority rule. What these ideas entail I will go further into in a future post.

ungtss said...

Just making sure you saw my post above:).

Bryan M. White said...


If by "more coercive" you mean it's more difficult and requires more effort on your part to leave the country you live in...


No one seems to be pointing out the glaringly obvious fact that, historically, countries that don't respect your rights also seem to have no problem putting up big concrete walls and shooting you on sight if you try to leave. At least, I haven't noticed this in the 60+ comments here (I admit I haven't read it all.)

Bryan M. White said...

Aside from that, I can see how one could draw a parallel between simply leaving a company or leaving a country if you don't like how they do things.

However, the thing to remember to is that a company is someone's property. They own it and you work for them. A country, on the other hand, is not owned by its government. Properly speaking, a government is just supposed to be an administrative body that keeps the peace and order. The government is there to serve the interests of the people, not the other way around.

So in that sense there a HUGE difference between a company that someone owns and that you work for dictating terms to you, and a government dictating the terms in which they're going to allow you to live in your country.

Samadhir said...

"No one seems to be pointing out the glaringly obvious fact that, historically, countries that don't respect your rights also seem to have no problem putting up big concrete walls and shooting you on sight if you try to leave. At least, I haven't noticed this in the 60+ comments here (I admit I haven't read it all.)"

That is very much true. However, I felt I didn't need to point that fact out because it's something both me and ungtss would agree is blatantly unjust and coercive. I chose to limit the discussion to democratic, open societies because that's where our disagreements lie.

"... there a HUGE difference between a company that someone owns and that you work for dictating terms to you, and a government dictating the terms in which they're going to allow you to live in your country."

Again, I would agree. There are indeed major differences between the two and I don't think a country is the government's private property, so there is a limit to how far you can draw the analogy.

However, while I could get more into this, I want to focus on the discussion of democracy with ungtss right now. I will leave one point about the matter behind though: yes, a country should ideally belong to the people (though this too is a point I think many objecto-libertarians would argue against) and the government should simply be their servant rather than master. However, the people don't speak with one voice that the government can easily follow - people have widely differing views on how society should be run, and what exactly is right and wrong. The government has to balance all these differing viewpoints against each other, and that's where politics and all it's associated complications come from.

ungtss said...

From a somewhat neoobjectivist standpoint (although I'm sure she'd agree if she'd been asked), the virtue of democracy is not that it gets it right, but that it keeps anarchy at bay long enough for people to discover what "right" is.

Jzero said...

"rand laid this out in the objectivist epistemology. Emotion is only an agent of distortion if the values that determine your emotions are distorted. Objectivity does not mean “unemotional.” It means “properly emotional.”"

Well, every dictionary disagrees with her.

Look, even if I were to accept the premise that logic and emotion are always intertwined and constantly inseparable, that does not change the basic fact about what the word "objective" means, and I'll repeat the very first Google entry:

Objective: Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

Once you put emotions in the mix, you are by definition making it something OTHER than objectivity. What you do in that case is you say, "an objective viewpoint is therefore impossible", and if you don't want to call it "subjective", you make up some other word to describe this state, like, I dunno, "polyjective".

But you don't hijack a word that means a specific thing and say it means something else entirely just because, what? it has a more authoritative, reasoned sound to it that you want to claim?

I'm beginning to think something has come unmoored here. Some of your responses (some of which I've replied to but others I've let slide) are tracking more and more off-kilter. I don't know if I can continue under these conditions.

Bryan M. White said...

@Jzero: There is a difference between, say, having a desire to fly and saying, "Okay, I have to look at the facts with prejudice or whim or bias and figure out how to do this" and saying "I want to fly and I should get whatever I want. To hell with the law of gravity. It's my feelings that matter".and then strpping on some paper wings and jumping out a window. That's an extreme example, but the point is that there's a difference between bring driven by an emotion and letting an emotion cloud your judgment, between being passionate and being in denial. The one is being objective; the other is being a moron. If you can't tell the difference, then good luck with those paper wings.

ungtss said...

JZero,

We're in the context of philosophy, which means that we're in a context where the meaning of words -- and there implications -- are the subject of debate, and complex, nuanced disagreement.

in the context of philosophy, there is no consensus on the meaning of objectivity:

"Objectivity is a central philosophical concept, related to reality and truth, which has been variously defined by sources"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objectivity_(philosophy)

"There are also philosophical questions regarding the nature of objective reality and the nature of our so-called subjective reality. Consequently, we have various uses of the terms “objective” and “subjective” and their cognates to express possible differences between objective reality and subjective impressions."

http://www.iep.utm.edu/objectiv/

"there is no universally accepted articulation of objectivity"

http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Objectivity_(philosophy).html

I'm afraid your effort to claim the objectivity means something definite, such that i'm trying to "redefine the word" simply doesn't fly. the meaning of the word "objectivity" is the subject of debate. there's hardly some sort of consensus on the matter.

punting to a non-existent consensus is nothing more than a popular way to avoid dealing with issues, in philosophy as in politics, ethics, and everywhere else.

Lloyd Flack said...

Ungtss,

You miss the point. A government cannot just protect one person and not another. Whatever it does to protect one group will end up protecting others as well. Without taxation there will be a free loader problem. The protection that a government provides is collective. Any attempt to provide individualized protection will end up providing less protection for even those individuals that it tries to protect. Some goods can only be provided on a communal basis. Why should you expect that the individualist solution will always be the most effective one? Why should the universe back your preferences?

ungtss said...

"A government cannot just protect one person and not another. Whatever it does to protect one group will end up protecting others as well."

I've spent the majority of my life in countries where the government is very adept at protecting one group at the expense of another :( .

"Any attempt to provide individualized protection will end up providing less protection for even those individuals that it tries to protect."

What is a call to the police if not "individualized protection?"

"Why should you expect that the individualist solution will always be the most effective one? Why should the universe back your preferences?"

Since i'm not a rationalist, my conclusion that the individualist solution is the correct one is not a supposition, but a conclusion from the evidence:).

Jzero said...

@Bryan M. White:

Okay - but what does any of that have to do with what I was talking about?

I haven't read the book ungtss referenced, and considering how he's misunderstood/misrepresented a number of things I've said, there's every chance he's read it wrong and leapt to some erroneous conclusion (assuming that the author's work is itself correct). I don't know, and am not likely to buy the book just to argue the point in an internet debate.

But what ungtss is implying with his words is not emotion as some kind of motivator (which I and the is/ought problem itself would agree with, and in fact demand) but that somehow, emotion is actually part of the logical process. That you are using emotion when you add 2 and 2 together, that you use emotion to find out the best way to fly, as you put it, etc. That saying "the ball is red" is somehow on a par with "red is good".

Because what I'VE been saying is that there are times when you set aside emotion to perform logical thinking, or to make truly objective judgements. (Not that you turn emotion off, per impossible, but that it does not factor in the reasoning itself.) Which is something ungtss apparently objects to, considering he's told me essentially that the is/ought problem is some kind of "nonsense" and that logic is all wrapped up in emotion and somehow "neuroscience is on his side".

I can only see a few possible options: One, it's as I said, and ungtss is proposing that emotion is an integral part of logic itself, not just a driver. Or two, ungtss actually believes something more along the lines of what you describe, which is what the is/ought problem points out, which is what this blog has gone into detail to say, neuroscience and all - which would mean that ungtss is actually agreeing with me and others but just being contrary for some reason.

I'm not sure any more, you tell me.

Jzero said...

@ungtss:

"in the context of philosophy, there is no consensus on the meaning of objectivity:"

I note that in all the examples you cite, you conveniently fail to note that each refers to a general concept of objectivity more along the lines of what I quoted, and that where there IS difference in ideas of objectivity, they are denoted with qualifiers - "ethical objectivism" as opposed to "objectivity" - so even then they don't just fully commandeer the word to serve their own theories (on which there is no universal agreement as to their validity).

One of your examples is even just a cut-and paste of another, so it's not like you've come up with a huge groundswell of support for your claim.

There's no good reason to insist that "objective" contains emotions except that perhaps you want to gain some kind of verbal advantage from it. And if we are to the point where you're jockeying for debate points by redefining words, I think we may be at the point where constructive debate has become unlikely.

ungtss said...

"I note that in all the examples you cite, you conveniently fail to note that each refers to a general concept of objectivity more along the lines of what I quoted,"

Now that we're talking about "general concepts" that are "along the lines of what you quoted," you might consider whether the objectivist definition of objectivity might fit "along those lines." or whether you even want to know what it is.

as to descartes' error, here's a good summary:

http://www.edbatista.com/2011/07/antonio-damasio-on-emotion-and-reason.html

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>Objectivity does not mean “unemotional.” It means “properly emotional.”"

Jzero:
>Well, every dictionary disagrees with her.

This is no surprise. Your friendly ARCHNblog explains the confusion:
Understanding Objectivist Jargon: Objective

Bryan M. White said...

@Jzero: If's that's really what he's saying, then I suppose I would agree with you then. Even Rand herself sat that "emotions are not tools of cognition." However, I have to wonder if there isn't just a miscommunication here. It seems to me (trying to look back over the relevant comments) that he's trying to say that the commitment to being objective itself requires an emotional commitment, not that it takes emotion to figure out that 2+2=4 but rather that that fact would be insignificant to a truly indifferent person.

Who know, though? I could be wrong. I try to speak plainly and clearly in these situations. Not everyone does the same.

For my part, I would say that being objective simply means not letting emotions cloud your judgment. It's doesn't mean not having emotions, or even shutting them off or setting them aside, which as you point out, would be impossible anyway. Nor would it be necessary or desirable.

In fact, when it all it all comes down to, I think this is primarily what Rand was trying to say in the first place: That being objective means not letting emotions cloud your judgment, but that you can still be a passionate person and live a passionate life.

But then she expanded this point by a few thousand pages, created a number of wooden characters and made several egregious errors in reasoning, and slapped a few people before she was done, and somewhere along the way the point got lost in repression, cult-like reverence for Rand herself, and a judgment clouded to the point of downright murkiness all in the name of "objectivity." Quite ironic.

ungtss said...

"It seems to me (trying to look back over the relevant comments) that he's trying to say that the commitment to being objective itself requires an emotional commitment, not that it takes emotion to figure out that 2+2=4 but rather that that fact would be insignificant to a truly indifferent person."

That's part of it. Also, to rand, emotions were simply "lightning calculators" by which we assess what is good or bad for ourselves, on a logical basis. thus we become frightened by a snake not on some "purely emotional" grounds, but because our knowledge of the world tells us that snakes are a threat to our bodies, and that threats to our bodies are undesirable. the only difference between an emotion and a thought, therefore, is the speed at which it occurs. Emotions are lightning fast thoughts. I tend to agree with this, to some extent.

damasio also largely agreed. he spoke of emotions as "somatic markers" which allow us to quickly assess good and bad. whether he was influenced by rand, who can know. but it's the same argument. he noted that much of our logical thought relies on emotional responses to quickly assess correct and incorrect answers. when you see 2+2=5, for instances, you don't just logically analyze its mathematical correctness. you have a quick, almost instinctual, "that's not right!" response.

I don't think this theory can account for all emotions, but I think it can account for a great many of them.

as another example (my own), if you see a dead person on the street, how does it make you feel? well, that depends on who it is, and what your values are. is it somebody who raped your child? then it might make you happy. is it your beloved mother? then it might make you sad. etc. your emotions depend on what you know about your environment, and how you logically connect that knowledge to your values. they don't come out of nowhere.

so logic depends on emotions in the shape of "somatic markers," and emotion depends on logic to interpret our realities and tell us how we ought to feel. either way you look at it, they're largely two sides of the same coin, from a human perspective.

you talk of "letting emotions cloud your judgment." this could be rephrased as "allowing your automatized thoughts to override your deliberate thoughts." thus you have an automated thought that causes you to distrust people of a certain race. and you choose this automated thought instead of assessing the character of the person in front of you. because, at least to damasio and rand, emotions are to some large extent automated thoughts.

Daniel Barnes said...

That is the charitable reading Bryan. However, there is a pattern here.

Bryan M. White said...

For example, suppose you had two alcoholics faced with the temptation to fall off the wagon. One says, "I want to live a better life, and having this drink would screw up all the progress I've made.", while the other says, "One little drink won't hurt." Emotions play an integral part in both decisions, but the first is clearly facing their problem in a more objective and realistic way than the latter.

ungtss said...

that's a great example. and an objectivist would say that the person who feels "one little drink won't hurt" is in fact engaged in an automatized pattern of thought -- one they may have automatized so long ago that they don't even remember where it came from. and automatized thoughts come out as feelings.

this is not just objectivism, of course. it's also much of psychotherapy.

Bryan M. White said...

@Daniel; I know. I'm try to give her the benefit of the doubt. It gets rough some times ;)

Bryan M. White said...

@ungtss: I get what you're saying about "lightning calculators", but that can also be dangerous territory to tread. I believe that's the crack in the foundation where Rand allowed herself to rationalize a lot of ridiculous nonsense in her personal life. She became so convinced of her own rationality and objectivity that she assumed that all of her emotions were prompted by "good premises" that she reached a point where she stopped bothering to verify them against a sober and impartial consideration of the facts, which I believe jzero is trying to point out as an indispensable element of true objectivity.

In other words, the "lightning calculators" can both reveal and obscure the truth, and it takes a moment of sober consideration and an overall ruthless honesty with yourself to tell the difference. Few of us are up to that task without EVER making a mistake.

ungtss said...

"In other words, the "lightning calculators" can both reveal and obscure the truth, and it takes a moment of sober consideration and an overall ruthless honesty with yourself to tell the difference."

I agree completely, and I think that rand was missing the other half of the "intertwining" -- that your animal nature -- your anxiety, your anger, your fear, your loneliness, feed their way back into your lightning calculator, and unless you identify that input, you're going to get back wrong answers. I think that happened to her more and more as she got older, and her real world anxieties started altering her thinking because she didn't identify them.

Lloyd Flack said...

Ungtss,
An army protects a whole country, not just particular people scattered amoong other people. When the police capture a criminal the protect not just those they were attacking right now but those they would have attacked in the future.

Without taxation there is no way to protect a society that does not lead to an insuperable free rider problem. Further, I think most people want some services available that are best provided though the government. And that includes the infrastructure that you want it not to provide. You claim the mArket will provide optimum solutions but in what way are they optimal? Consider that in some cases they may not be.

ungtss said...

i'm not opposed to taxation per se. a person can't complain about having his property rights violated unless he's willing to pay the cost of protecting them. but income tax is only one type of tax. a particularly unjust, onerous type. because it taxes you for what you produce, rather than what you consume. it punishes you for the goods and services you provide, rather than for the goods and services you consume. there are many other types of taxes available that would be more just.

Bryan M. White said...

@Ungtss: I think it's important too to remember that emotions are ends not means. They're what we live for, not how we do the living. And I'm not sure I buy the idea that emotions are merely prepackaged "automatized" thoughts. I believe that emotions may often be PROMPTED by such unexamined and subterranean ideas -- leaving us in a position where we aren't sure quite WHY we have that sudden feeling -- but I think it's a grave error to suggest that's what emotions themselves are: mere unpacked little parcels of logic. That just strikes me as bizarre.

You may see a child in the park poking at a mud puddle with a tick on a rainy day and you may find yourself overwhelmed with melancholy. Your may even tear up a little bit. And there may be all kinds of connections and memories and ideas and even logic hidden deep beneath that tear, but the tear itself isn't an automatized thought. It's a FEELING. People have them occasionally.

If you stub your toe it PROMPTS a feeling of pain. That feeling isn't the lighting-calculated-atoumatized-whatyawhojit of toe stubbing. It's a feeling that's a CONSEQUENCE of stubbing your toe. Likewise, emotions are response, not to be confused with the stimulus.

ungtss said...

“@Ungtss: I think it's important too to remember that emotions are ends not means.”

That’s certainly a fair position, although it’s one I disagree with:). By analogy to pain, your pain reactions help you survive, by telling you instantly and insistently that something is wrong. Your body simply won’t shut up. “don’t touch hot stuff!” Your body does everything it can to keep you from hurting yourself, by telling you in an undeniable way that whatever is happening right now is wrong.

So it is with emotions, I think. Happiness – and the promise of happiness – are rewards that keep us doing what we need to do to survive and thrive. They’re also guides to success. If one accomplishes one’s goals, and finds one is still unhappy, that’s a clue that one might have adopted the wrong goals. Just like stubbing your toe – a clue that you’ve made a mistake. “I made it to the top and I’m still sad. What am I doing wrong?” "I'm in this relationship with this person I think I love, but i'm unbelievably unhappy around them. what's going on?"

of course in our culture, this divide between "logic" and "emotion" causes us to miss these clues. "oh, you're just being emotional. get over it." no way, dude. your emotions are critical survival tools. ignore them at your peril.

“but I think it's a grave error to suggest that's what emotions themselves are: mere unpacked little parcels of logic. That just strikes me as bizarre.”

Fair enough:). My personal experience, however, and the viewpoint of much of psychotherapy, is that many of them are little parcels of thought. Ingrained patterns of response that go all the way back to infancy. And under the guide and expert care of someone who is able to untangle those responses, you can figure out where they came from, and literally figure out how to rewire them.

“You may see a child in the park poking at a mud puddle with a tick on a rainy day and you may find yourself overwhelmed with melancholy. Your may even tear up a little bit. And there may be all kinds of connections and memories and ideas and even logic hidden deep beneath that tear, but the tear itself isn't an automatized thought. It's a FEELING. People have them occasionally.”

It’s true the tear isn’t the automatized thought. But neither is the emotion. The emotion is what drives the tear. What is “beneath it,” as you say.


“If you stub your toe it PROMPTS a feeling of pain. That feeling isn't the lighting-calculated-atoumatized-whatyawhojit of toe stubbing. It's a feeling that's a CONSEQUENCE of stubbing your toe. Likewise, emotions are response, not to be confused with the stimulus.”

The pain from a stubbed toe is a very powerful stimulus. It prompts you to take care of your injured body. The effects of a lack of pain can be seen in the many diseases which destroy our body’s capacity of pain, and therefore eliminate the promptings that cause us to protect our bodies. If you don’t feel pain, you can break your arm and not realize it. Or burn off your hand. Those are terrible conditions. Pain is an essential lightning-fast calculator for the maintenance of life. It just happens to be one we come hard-wired with, claims to “tabula rasa” notwithstanding.

ungtss said...

many people of course honestly believe that emotions are ends, rather than means. I disagree with them, but it's all good. However, I do think that these ideas do not originate from an objective view of the facts. Rather I think they are inculcated in us when we are young, when powerful figures in our lives use them to control us.

a child's unhappiness is a clue that something is wrong in the child's world. however, a parent lacking in empathy will see it not as a clue, but as an annoyance. "shut up kid!" the parents therefore treat the emotion as an annoyance, rather than a clue. and the kids picks it up. and passes it onto the next generation.

I don't agree with this. I think emotions are critical tools to survival. that doesn't mean they're always right. in fact they can be wrong. but they can only be _wrong_ because they are the products of _thought_ which can be right or wrong.

in my experience, treating emotions in this way causes a radical shift in how one relates to oneself, one's children, and the world at large. very positively, in my case.

Bryan M. White said...

"It’s true the tear isn’t the automatized thought. But neither is the emotion."

I was using the tear as a metaphor for the emotion. Technically speaking, a tear is a salt water discharge from a tear duct, but I didn't think I needed to be quite so literal.

At any rate, I get what you're saying about emotions and feelings being useful cues. I'm sure you've heard of cases of people who were unable to feel pain and how they were in constant danger of hurting themselves. So no, I'm not discounting that.

However, my point is that no matter how useful a person's feeling of happiness or unhappiness might be to tracking underlying problems, ultimately we live to pursue happiness, not because we find it useful but rather we look for things that might be useful in our striving for happiness.

If happiness isn't the goal to which we put things to use, then what is? If you think emotions are just tools and clues, then what do think the point of living is? I ask this as sincere question, not a rhetorical one.

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

“However, my point is that no matter how useful a person's feeling of happiness or unhappiness might be to tracking underlying problems, ultimately we live to pursue happiness, not because we find it useful but rather we look for things that might be useful in our striving for happiness.”

I agree about the ultimate goal being happiness, but I also think happiness is a critical means toward all our goals. For instance, if you want to have a financially successful career, a critical consideration is “what makes you happy?” a person is very unlikely to succeed financially at what one is not happy doing.

Does one want to be financially successful in order to be happy? Sure. But the fact that happiness is an end does not mean it’s not also a means to an end. Because I think it is. You want your employees to do a good job and stick with you? Give them the tools to be happy. Etc.

“I was using the tear as a metaphor for the emotion. Technically speaking, a tear is a salt water discharge from a tear duct, but I didn't think I needed to be quite so literal.”

Oh, I understood the metaphor – I was pointing out that the metaphor compared “emotion” to a superficial symptom of emotion – and that in the context of determining what an emotion is, and whether it is actually a rapid-fire thought-pattern, comparing emotion with the superficial symptoms of emotion kind of begged the question:).

“If you think emotions are just tools and clues, then what do think the point of living is?”

Not just tools and clues. Both the end and the means to all ends. My view is that you can’t separate logic and emotion. They’re just two sides of the same coin. Rand hinted at this in some of her non-fiction, but ultimately came down on the side of logic as the “base.” I don’t think that’s correct. I think logic and emotion are intertwined all the way to the bottom.

Tad M Jones said...

ungtss said
Not just tools and clues. Both the end and the means to all ends. My view is that you can’t separate logic and emotion. They’re just two sides of the same coin. Rand hinted at this in some of her non-fiction, but ultimately came down on the side of logic as the “base.” I don’t think that’s correct. I think logic and emotion are intertwined all the way to the bottom.



I think I agree, to a point, emotions seem always to be a response, so a response to what?

Jzero said...

Having browsed through the review of Descartes' Error, it seems that it covers things that have already been discussed at great length by Nyquist in this very blog, who has referenced other recent works from the field of neuroscience. (It may be that he has even referenced this very book, but I can't recall. Some ideas and theories do seem fairly familiar.)

As you might guess, the neuroscience is referenced in a refutation of many of Rand's notions about how the mind supposedly works.

But I note that the actual quote from the author at the bottom of the review never claims that reason (by which I assume he means logical thinking) and emotion are one and the same, or that you can call a blend of logic and emotion "objective". They are still separate things, though linked in many ways. A motivating force? Sure. A factor that enhances or impairs our ability to use reason? Quite probably. But an ingredient in actual logic or objectivity? Highly unlikely.

What's more, I don't see any way that this contradicts or makes nonviable the is/ought question. To some extent it strengthens its validity. One can not reason one's way to a truly objective morality with simply objective facts; some emotion must be present to provide the initial impetus and direction. This book simply indicates how deeply embedded in the mind these emotional drives are, and how effective non-rational means of thinking can be in getting one through daily life. (Meaning, it is possible to carry on quite successfully without using pure logic overmuch.)

At least, that's what I get from the review.

ungtss said...

"As you might guess, the neuroscience is referenced in a refutation of many of Rand's notions about how the mind supposedly works."

Yes, but a) that depends on the validity of those arguments, and b) that has nothing to do with what this book has to say about your view that emotion and logic can be separated.

"But I note that the actual quote from the author at the bottom of the review never claims that reason (by which I assume he means logical thinking) and emotion are one and the same, or that you can call a blend of logic and emotion "objective"."

Well, if you want to test the extent of his hypothesis, you'll need to read the book. but the title, "Descartes error," refers to the error of dualism -- the idea that mind and body are separable. and throughout the book, he's pointing to the interlinkages.

"But an ingredient in actual logic or objectivity? Highly unlikely."

As I've said above, that is exactly the argument damasio is making. he refers to emotional-type reactions as "somatic markers" -- and shows how they are indispensable to human thinking, because they allow us to draw conclusions much more rapidly than would be possible if we had to labor through every premise to every conclusion every time.

"One can not reason one's way to a truly objective morality with simply objective facts; some emotion must be present to provide the initial impetus and direction. This book simply indicates how deeply embedded in the mind these emotional drives are, and how effective non-rational means of thinking can be in getting one through daily life. (Meaning, it is possible to carry on quite successfully without using pure logic overmuch.)"

Yes, this article is not targeted at is/ought. the problem with is/ought is that it sets as a standard for "objectivity" something that cannot be achieved by any human under any circumstances. which makes it a useless -- indeed a deceptive -- criterion for thought.

all this article shows is that humans are incapable of thinking unemotionally. the question of why only unemotional thinking -- impossible to human beings -- is valid for purposes of moral thought -- is a second question entirely.

the answer is that people demand "unemotional thought" in the context of morality so that they can invalidate any thought they want to invalidate, simply by finding the emotional component. and then they can validate any thought they want to validate, simply by failing to find the emotional component. it's a cute trick. people have been doing it for centuries. its time has come though.

Jzero said...

"but the title, "Descartes error," refers to the error of dualism -- the idea that mind and body are separable."

So you are equating "the body" with "feelings" or "emotion", then? And "mind" with "logic", I suppose, would be the corollary...

(Incidentally, I had earlier attempted to search the book and found its Wikipedia page, and under "criticism" was the claim that the author uses Descartes as a straw man... that he may not have actually held the belief the author attributes to him.)

"and shows how they are indispensable to human thinking, because they allow us to draw conclusions much more rapidly than would be possible if we had to labor through every premise to every conclusion every time."

Again, Nyquist has referenced as much in this blog - only there's no pretense at trying to define that kind of process as logical or rational. The fact that such a mode of thinking is both useful and largely effective doesn't change its essential nature.

"the problem with is/ought is that it sets as a standard for "objectivity" something that cannot be achieved by any human under any circumstances. which makes it a useless -- indeed a deceptive -- criterion for thought."

That wouldn't be a problem with "is/ought" so much as it would be a problem with objectivity itself. The definition of objectivity is what sets the standards for objectivity.

Remember, the is/ought question only arises when one contends that they have an objective - non-emotional - reason to behave in some manner. You cannot say, "because these objective facts about the world exist, I therefore must logically do X."

If you're contending that one cannot actually be objective (which seems unlikely - I can still make an objective statement like "the ball is red" regardless of any emotional state I may have or whether I like or dislike the shape of a ball or the color red), then as I said, the proper solution is to declare objectivity impossible, not to try to insert some kind of emotional content into a new definition of objectivity so you can use the word freely without having to actually MEAN "objective".


"the answer is that people demand "unemotional thought" in the context of morality so that they can invalidate any thought they want to invalidate, simply by finding the emotional component."

Well, they CAN do that, because there is no universal emotional component. If your morality derives from your feelings, then someone who feels differently about things than you can have a much different moral perspective, making morality mostly a matter of opinion, and a matter of majority rule as to which moral stances get enforced by society. Cf: income tax. You believe it is immoral. I don't. I recognize my stance as an opinion. Objectivism attempts to present moral opinions as facts.

"and then they can validate any thought they want to validate, simply by failing to find the emotional component. it's a cute trick. people have been doing it for centuries. its time has come though."

And Rand's Objectivism would be the first to fall, under that standard.

ungtss said...

"The fact that such a mode of thinking is both useful and largely effective doesn't change its essential nature."

True, but it's essential nature is what's at issue, and I've been illustrating that it is, essentially, a lightning fast analysis of conditions deemed good and bad for one's life.

"The definition of objectivity is what sets the standards for objectivity."

The consensus around here is that starting with definitions -- rather than the reality they encapsulate -- is not a wise policy:).

" I recognize my stance as an opinion. Objectivism attempts to present moral opinions as facts."

Yes, that's the goal. Render moral stances into opinions at will. Then render then into facts at will. Based on a false premise that, if followed consistently, destroys objective morality.

Jzero said...

"True, but it's essential nature is what's at issue, and I've been illustrating that it is, essentially, a lightning fast analysis of conditions deemed good and bad for one's life."

Which begs the question: so?

""The definition of objectivity is what sets the standards for objectivity."

The consensus around here is that starting with definitions -- rather than the reality they encapsulate -- is not a wise policy:)."

Well, I don't know where that "consensus" comes from, but a definition does not necessarily "encapsulate reality", whatever that means. The word "unicorn" refers to a mythical, imaginary animal. Nothing real about that. And you don't suddenly say, "well, now let's say a unicorn can have two, three, or what the heck twenty horns, because now I want to use "unicorn" to refer to something else."

"Objective" was coined to describe a particular type of thinking. You can claim that kind of thinking is impossible, but that doesn't mean the definition of "objective" changes. "Objective" does not refer to any just old kind of thinking, but one with a specific condition. The only reason to claim otherwise is to appropriate the word for aesthetic reasons or purposes of equivocation.

"Yes, that's the goal. Render moral stances into opinions at will. Then render then into facts at will. Based on a false premise that, if followed consistently, destroys objective morality."

You can't destroy something that never existed.

ungtss said...

""Objective" was coined to describe a particular type of thinking. You can claim that kind of thinking is impossible, but that doesn't mean the definition of "objective" changes."

This is premised on our earlier discussion about whether there is in fact agreement on what "objective" means. Notwithstanding your efforts to claim to have the "right" definition, there is no consensus on the meaning of that word. It is a word loaded with philosophical implications. You can just claim your definition is the "right" definition and everybody else can take a hike, but that's pretty much the end of fruitful discussion.

it is also premised on a certain understanding of "definitions" -- to you, a concept is its definition. clearly. but within objectivism, concepts refer to their referents, not their definitions. the definitions can change as our knowledge expands, but the concept itself is stable, because it refers to the thing, not our definition of the thing.

so your conclusions depend on your premises. I've said I disagree with those premises, and explained why. we either address the validity of the premises, or we go around and around in circles endlessly:).

"You can't destroy something that never existed."

We're talking about a concept here, not a physical entity. "Objective" is an idea, not a thing. And because it is an idea, you can destroy it by defining it in a way that precludes its application.

ungtss said...

as a better analogy, consider defining a "Triangle" as a two-dimensional geometric shape with 3 sides and 4 interior angles. Such a thing does not exist. Then consider someone saying, "Hey, let's define a triangle as a two dimensional geometric shape with three sides, and forget about the limitations that make it non-existent."

and you say "no no no! a triangle is what I say it is! non-existent! you can't change the definition! it was coined to define a non-existent thing!"

sounds like you just don't want any triangles around. which in the context of objective morality is unsurprising.

Gordon Burkowski said...

"Note to self: it is perfectly okay to accuse dead people of all sorts of personality flaws and nefarious motives, but don't you dare refer to them by the wrong last name."

I'm moving my comment to the open thread - doesn't really belong in the other discussion. :)

Two points.

1) This is skating on the edge of a personal attack. I thought we had a deal.

2) Names are a serious matter. Ask Muhammad Ali or Karim Abdul Jibbar what their "real name" is. Be prepared for action.

ungtss said...

"1) This is skating on the edge of a personal attack. I thought we had a deal."

Certainly not intended as a personal attack. It said nothing about you, focusing on the discrepancy i see between attacking rand on all sorts of fronts as all sorts of bad things, but then attacking an objectivist because he uses her given last name.

"2) Names are a serious matter. Ask Muhammad Ali or Karim Abdul Jibbar what their "real name" is. Be prepared for action."

Names are a serious matter. Personality characteristics and philosophies are even more serious. Why describe her and her fans in all sorts of uncharitable ways and then concern yourself with something so superficial as a name?

ungtss said...

needless to say, i can see the behavior you've been describing in the context of this silly "tabula rasa" issue. even the objectivist answers guy who answered the question clearly dodged the mistake she made. reminds me of the old days in fundamentalism, when the focus was on who was right and who was wrong, instead of what could be learned.

Gordon Burkowski said...

"even the objectivist answers guy who answered the question clearly dodged the mistake she made. reminds me of the old days in fundamentalism, when the focus was on who was right and who was wrong, instead of what could be learned."

Amen. :)

ungtss said...

this will be an interesting test for my hypothesis that behavior in ideological organizations has less to do with the ideology itself, and more to do with the individual minds interpreting and applying it. i've seen that to be quite true in fundamentalist religious and statist organizations. bet money it applies to objectivism too.

that was another mistake rand made. she thought the ideas themselves were sufficient. but she forget that ideas are interpreted and applied uniquely in each individual, such that no two people hold exactly the same ideas.

this is of course nothing more than her basic premise of individualism applied more broadly. another instance of her failing to apply her own principles all the way through.

the sort of "movement" she envisioned depends on the assumption that everyone else will interpret and judge her ideas exactly as she did. which is nonsense of course. once the idea leaves your mind, and enters into the mind of another, you've lost control of it completely.

ungtss said...

to an extent, it also seems as though this reflects falling into a version of descartes' error -- treating the ideas as independent of the body absorbing the ideas. no matter what you pour into a container, you can't change the container's shape or volume. it is what it is. a narrow-minded person will be narrow-minded, regardless of what ideology he adopts. he'll just transform the ideology into the image of his own mind.

Gordon Burkowski said...

"Why describe her and her fans in all sorts of uncharitable ways and then concern yourself with something so superficial as a name?"

A few points here.

1)With regard to Rand herself, I think that the best answer is: Sister, you asked for it! Take a look at the "About the Author" at the end of Atlas Shrugged. Look at her famous remark that she never had an emotion she couldn't account for. Consider that fact that no one can point to a case where she ever admitted being wrong about a single ethical, political or artistic issue. And that's from about the age of five.

I think it's perfectly fair to suggest that there's more going on here than just supercharged egoism. There are some pretty obvious tie-ins between her personal characteristics and some of the philosophical positions that she espoused. Is it an ad hominem attack to point this out? I don't think so.

2) With regard to fans, a lot of uncharitable things certainly do get said. But let's face it: this is a two-way street - big time. One of the irritating things about many Objectivists is that they present their own vicious and spiteful attacks as a just response to irrational views - while whining about being hated when they get answered in kind.

3) And finally, Objectivism often does results in a host of unpleasant behaviours (dogmatism, persistent moralizing among others). Branden's essay on The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand is of course relevant here.

That's not to say that such behaviours are the inevitable result of being an Objectivist; but they do occur with disturbing frequency. The term "Randroid" isn't just a piece of abuse: it's often an apt description of what people see.

ungtss said...

I can understand criticizing ... What I cannot understand is criticizing while insisting that others "respect her choice" about her name.

ungtss said...

I wonder how many people criticizing objectivism have been in fundamentalist religious organizations. I wonder if they had, if they might be more open to the idea that dogmatism can arise in any ideologically driven organization, as can "founder's syndrome." This all seems quite ordinary to me.

Gordon Burkowski said...

"What I cannot understand is criticizing while insisting that others 'respect her choice' about her name."

I really believe that you need to think a little more deeply about the examples of Muhammad Ali and Karim Abdul Jibbar.

Names are a person's way of saying who they are. They are the ultimate form of private property. I expect that Rand would make that point very, very clear if she was alive to make it. . .



ungtss said...

I think if you told jabbar Islam was a crock of shit, and most of what he believed was nonsense, and he was more than an ego maniac, and then got up in somebody's grill who loved Islam and thought jabbar was awesome because that person called him mr Alcindor, jabbar might be a little confused too.

Gordon Burkowski said...

". . . dogmatism can arise in any ideologically driven organization, as can 'founder's syndrome'".

In the case of Rand, I think the parallel is not with religious fundamentalism but with the Bolsheviks.

Rand thought Communism was an abomination - but throughout her life the Communists kept winning. That's an easy point to forget today, now that the Soviet Union is gone.

Both Burns and Heller make it clear that Rand felt that Communist methods of propaganda and indoctrination were effective even though the ideology was evil.

That fact sheds a revealing light on the character of the Objectivist movement during the 50's and 60's: the pressure against deviationism; the contempt for competing right-wing movements; the "trials" of those judged ideologically unsound; and (of course) the personality cult surrounding Rand herself.

That style remains alive and well at the Ayn Rand Institute. And I suspect that that's how it will remain as long as Peikoff and the Brandens are alive. . .

ungtss said...

"In the case of Rand, I think the parallel is not with religious fundamentalism but with the Bolsheviks."

I guess i was under the impression that the bolsheviks learned all their tricks from the religious totalitarians that came before:).

Jzero said...

"This is premised on our earlier discussion about whether there is in fact agreement on what "objective" means. Notwithstanding your efforts to claim to have the "right" definition, there is no consensus on the meaning of that word."

So you say, but your offerings of evidence on that score were pretty weak, as I've already pointed out. I'm willing to bet that most non-philosophers take "objective" to mean, well, what Google said it meant - and that many philosophers take it that way as well, leaving a small percentage of alternate theorists to interpret it in some other way.

There may not be any true consensus in the unanimous agreement sense of the word, but just because some trivial fraction of people insist on using a definition absolutely contrary to the original meaning of the word does not mean they get to have their "idiot's veto" considered seriously.

"as a better analogy, consider defining a "Triangle" as a two-dimensional geometric shape with 3 sides and 4 interior angles. Such a thing does not exist. Then consider someone saying, "Hey, let's define a triangle as a two dimensional geometric shape with three sides, and forget about the limitations that make it non-existent."

and you say "no no no! a triangle is what I say it is! non-existent! you can't change the definition! it was coined to define a non-existent thing!"

sounds like you just don't want any triangles around. which in the context of objective morality is unsurprising."

Wow, you really telegraph this analogy business, don't you? "Hey, let's pretend that we use a word that already exists to describe something that doesn't exist, then pretend that we "adjust" the word to fit it's original meaning, so as to imply that the way we're trying to re-purpose a word we like is entirely reasonable!"

Well, why don't you use a real name that DOES describe something that can't exist - a Klein bottle, for example? "Klein bottle" describes a particular type of mathematical construction that cannot exist in 3D space. But it has applications in mathematics, and refers to a particular kind of theoretical thing.

Now come along and say, "well, Klein bottles can't actually exist, so why don't we just take that name and use it to describe this bottle we made that has two necks? You shouldn't mind that, right?"

The proper response is, of course, "why the hell do you want to take this phrase we are already using for this one concept and use it for some other thing? Get your own damn word!" It turns out not that anyone wants "triangles" to not exist, but it's you that is trying to obscure an existing concept with one you like better.

This is really baffling to me, because obviously you're dead set on this notion, and there's no good reason I can see for it. Either you just like the sound of "objective" and want to claim it, or you're actually trying to create some kind of dishonest verbal subterfuge, where you use "objective" to mean something loaded with emotions, but hope that all the people who think "objective" means "without emotion" will be fooled into thinking that's what you mean too.

Seriously, I can't imagine one solid reason for it. At best it's loopy, at worst it smacks of deception.

Jzero said...

"We're talking about a concept here, not a physical entity. "Objective" is an idea, not a thing. And because it is an idea, you can destroy it by defining it in a way that precludes its application."

Nonsense. The idea of "unicorn" isn't "destroyed" by its inability to be manifested in the world.

Your whole argument is nonsensical. You want to take an established word and use it in a way that is entirely contrary to how it is commonly used, and when faced with protest against this notion, you claim it is some kind of linguistic conspiracy to "destroy" your idea. Well, if that's all it takes, your idea was pretty weak, wasn't it? If the idea can't survive using words without requiring new, special definitions, then is the idea really that great or noteworthy? It's almost quasi-mystical, as if on a quest for the hidden power of the word "objective".

ungtss said...

"There may not be any true consensus in the unanimous agreement sense of the word, but just because some trivial fraction of people insist on using a definition absolutely contrary to the original meaning of the word does not mean they get to have their "idiot's veto" considered seriously."

Observe how you're making objective, normative claims here. You're not limiting this to your subjective opinion. You're claiming I don't "get" to have my "idiot's veto" taken seriously, because some "trivial fraction of people insist" on using a word differently than it was "originally" intended.

Where's your objective/subjective distinction now? What basis do you have for saying when others "get" to be taken seriously?

Simple. As I explained, you don't actually believe in this objective/subjective distinction. You just pull it out when it's useful to you, and put it back away when it's no longer useful to you. When your opponents make a normative assertion, you cut the knees out from under it by claiming there are no valid objective normative claims. But when you want to tell other people what they "get" to do, all that magically vanishes into thin air.

Of course, this is a very useful tool. It allows you to tell me what I "get" to do, and then give the appearance of defusing any claim about what you "get" to do.

That is why your notion is popular. And why people are committed to it.

As to the rest of it, of course, your argument defeats itself. Who are you to tell me what I "get" to do? By your own theory, these are just your opinions, resting on your emotions, which are themselves ultimately non-rational.

Except when you don't want them to be.

Xtra Laj said...

I couldn't help but comment here seeing how Ungtss is bastardizing Damasio's work to defend Rand.

Damasio argued using various experiments that all complex judgments operated under the influence of emotions.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=feeling-our-emotions

Damasio makes a distinction between emotions and feelings. For the most part, emotions are automatic responses of the nervous system without the influence of the brain. Feelings occur after the brain processes the automatic responses and makes judgements to regulate the body.

The examples in Damasio's book describe people who could solve IQ puzzles, but when asked whether to stay with or leave their wife, were unable to do so. Or even whether to buy a house or save their money, things that would seem to be rational decisions, but were complicated enough to be suffused with emotions/feelings and left the people, who had brain issues of various sorts related to emotions/feelings, unable to take action.

So how does this affect objectivity in the sense that Jzero/Ungtss are discussing it? It hardly does. Yes, Jzero is not right that thought process occur without the influence of emotions, but as he has pointed out that is besides the point. When I saw the definition Jzero provided, I could see how someone who read Damasio might have issues with it, but I also realized that such a person would be able to see that "personal feeling" really means "bias" such that distorting the facts would in some manner favor the person distorting them.

But Jzero's point is on target. Consider the judgement: "This room is hot." This is very different from saying "This room is 95 degrees", as 95 degrees might feel hot to one person and not so hot/cold to another person. But if we believe that the room is objectively not, it is not because it is, but because the large majority of people would agree with us in considering it so. This argument extends to most moral considerations in society - they are socially validated more than anything else. They aren't objective in the sense that they are irrefutable, or that one cannot reasonably disagree with them.

Moreover, the involvement of emotions in long term decision making has another implication - it raises the importance of the validation/verification process. Testing one's ideas in a way that makes them immune to error is just going to lead to confirmation bias. There is a reason why most Objectivists are philosophers and not scientists. It's easy to philosophize, but hard to test ideas beyond reasonable doubt.

ungtss said...

Xtra,

That's not only wrong, but painfully wrong. He theorized that "somatic markers" create an _affective state_ that simplifies decision making in _all_ areas, even mathematical ones. You "feel" that something is wrong with your performance of a math problem, based on prior experience.

"It is as if we are possessed by a passion for reason, a drive that originates in the brain core, permeates other levels of the nervous system, and emerges as either feelings or nonconscious biases to guide decision making...

Knowing about the relevance of feelings in the processes of reason does not suggest that reason is less important than feelings, that it should take a backseat to them or that it should be less cultivated. On the contrary, taking stock of the pervasive role of feelings may give us a chance of enhancing their positive effects and reducing their potential harm. Specifically, without diminishing the orienting value of normal feelings, one would want to protect reason from the weakness that abnormal feelings or the manipulation of normal feelings can introduce in the process of planning and deciding...

[T]he mention of feelings often conjures up an image of self-oriented concern, of disregard for the world around, and of tolerance for relaxed standards of intellectual performance. That is, in effect, the very opposite of my view...

The idea of the human organism outlined in this book, and the relation between feelings and reason that emerges from the findings discussed here, do suggest, however, that the strengthening of rationality probably requires that greater consideration be given to the vulnerability of the world within. "

I find it much more plausible that you simply haven't understood either damasio or rand, such that you think they somehow contradict one another. because of course everything must contradict rand on this site. The two go together beautiful. In fact she anticipates him in many respects, albeit partially and with errors.

ungtss said...

"Consider the judgement: "This room is hot." This is very different from saying "This room is 95 degrees", as 95 degrees might feel hot to one person and not so hot/cold to another person. But if we believe that the room is objectively not, it is not because it is, but because the large majority of people would agree with us in considering it so."

When we say "This room is hot," we may mean all sorts of different things by the word "hot." do we mean "i feel hot in this room?" or do we mean "it's generally understood that temperatures above 80 degrees in a room are 'hot'" or do we mean "everybody in here agrees it's hot" or do we mean something else?

"Hot" is simply a label. It means nothing more than what you put into it. And what you put into it can be objective or subjective. for instance, defining "hot" within a particular temperature range. or speaking of your own perceptions. or the perceptions of those around you. these are facts. objective facts.

ungtss said...

once the word "hot" is unpacked into one's basis for saying it is not, the failure in the analogy becomes clear. morality is not so arbitrary as one's personal temperature preferences. it is about harm.

as such it is more like "this stove is hot." hot enough to harm you. another objective fact, derived from physics, chemistry, and biology.

of course, you might be pedantic and say "well why shouldn't I hurt myself?" and the objectivist answer is, "go ahead. just make sure you understand all the objective facts around it, and all the objective logical connections between those facts. if you still want to burn your hand, that's your call. I choose to live."

Jzero said...

"Observe how you're making objective, normative claims here."

Objective and normative are not the same thing.

"You're not limiting this to your subjective opinion. You're claiming I don't "get" to have my "idiot's veto" taken seriously, because some "trivial fraction of people insist" on using a word differently than it was "originally" intended."

That's right. You don't get to upend what "objective" means just because you get the whim into your head to use it for some other concept, just as you don't get to start calling dogs "cats" or aircraft carriers "teddy bears".

You don't get to claim there's some kind of widespread, nebulous, debated, unfixed definition of "objective" when the very sources you cite show its general definition to be CERTAINLY NOT the definition you want to propose.

Is that my opinion? Sure. It's a reasonable opinion based on the idea that there is no good reason to re-define "objective" (certainly you haven't provided any kind of convincing argument in favor of it).

"Where's your objective/subjective distinction now?"

Still here and intact. Are you losing it or something? Do I declare that each sentence out of my keyboard is a fully objective statement? Why do you continually leap to unfounded conclusions?

"What basis do you have for saying when others "get" to be taken seriously?"

In the case of using this word, I say it because everything else EXCEPT YOU uses the word in a particular way, and if the goal is clear communication, then one party can't just on a whim declare a word to mean something it heretofore has not meant.

"Simple. As I explained, you don't actually believe in this objective/subjective distinction."

Claiming is not explaining (or establishing). And when did you make this case about me?

This is why I was earlier saying that your responses have been getting more off-kilter. You're starting to pull stuff out of thin air, and I suspect some kind of agitation at work.

Perhaps it is, in fact, time to withdraw. If you can't hold it together enough to be coherent, I don't see why I should keep up with this.

Xtra Laj said...

Ungtss,

Leaving aside the tangential Damasio issues for a moment, do you think that there are cases where Rand advocated that emotions/feelings be protected from the biasing influences of reasoning and if so, can you share them?

I think answering this question honestly, as well as remembering that Rand famously said that emotions were not tools of cognition might make it clear who is really guilty of selective interpretation. We might conclude that Rand was very inconsistent on this point, as is her trademark on most issues where common sense sometimes slips into her writing.

Let's deal with this issue before discussing any others.

ungtss said...

"Objective and normative are not the same thing."

That's why I included both words. Because they're not redundant.

Your claim about what I "get" to do is both objective and normative. It's essentially saying what I'm "allowed" to do. By what standard? Your own. That's the magic trick you're engaged in. You tell me I don't "get" to do things because you, subjectively, don't agree with them. Your subjective views are projected as some sort of objective, normative standard.

You could say, subjectively, that you don't like it when I do that. Or that you don't approve. Or that you don't choose to do the same. But you don't. You state your opinion about what you want me to do, in the form objective, normative claim about what I "get" to do.

"Do I declare that each sentence out of my keyboard is a fully objective statement?"

No, but when you start telling people what they "get" to do, you're speaking in the language of objective, normative claims about what other people are "permitted" to do. It's not a statement about you or your feelings or your views. It's a statement about me, in relation to some sort of standard you haven't identified, but are using anyway.

"If you can't hold it together enough to be coherent, I don't see why I should keep up with this."

I love these sorts of things, because they show exactly what your dichotomy gets you. You don't deal with the possibility that my "incoherence" is simply your failure to comprehend. The only possibility you consider is that I'm "losing" it. You know nothing about me, of course. Nothing about my state of mind or what I'm doing. But because you can't understand my arguments, I'm "off-kilter."

I'm sure it's much more pleasant to imagine me pounding away madly at my computer than it is to imagine yourself failing to understand what you're reading. So much so that you don't trouble yourself to foreclose the latter possibility.

"Claiming is not explaining (or establishing). And when did you make this case about me?"

Not you personally. I made the case about why people in general use your objective/subjective dichotomy, and the impossible standard of "unemotional thought," to allow themselves to invalidate whatever they like. I said:

"the answer is that people demand "unemotional thought" in the context of morality so that they can invalidate any thought they want to invalidate, simply by finding the emotional component. and then they can validate any thought they want to validate, simply by failing to find the emotional component. it's a cute trick. people have been doing it for centuries. its time has come though."

Xtra,

I agree she was inconsistent on this point. She didn't get there. But she was headed in that direction. As I said, she anticipated much of what damasio had to say, albeit with some inconsistency and error.

Examples where she advocated protecting feelings from biased reasoning? In one of her non-fiction essays (and also in a branden essay she approved of), she described emotions as logically deriving from one's selected values. Thus, she explained, if your logic is bad or your values are improperly selected, your emotions will cause you to feel pleasure when you are harming yourself. That's as close to what you're describing as I can recall. It's not quite there, but it's close.

Xtra Laj said...


Examples where she advocated protecting feelings from biased reasoning? In one of her non-fiction essays (and also in a branden essay she approved of), she described emotions as logically deriving from one's selected values. Thus, she explained, if your logic is bad or your values are improperly selected, your emotions will cause you to feel pleasure when you are harming yourself. That's as close to what you're describing as I can recall. It's not quite there, but it's close.


Please could you find this essay? First of all, it seems to miss the point that I am making. But even then, it would be nice to see.

Have you ever had a case where you felt something was wrong with a scenario you were dealing with but you couldn't tell what it was? In those situations, you have a choice to disregard your gut feelings (which you may or may not be able to identify their triggers) or to accept them and just leave the situation. You can even rationalize the gut feelings away as just being gut feelings if you have sufficient motive to do so. For some people, believe it or not, that gut feeling is very reliable and has been built by years of experience. Rand, requiring that one always identify their premises, like any true rationalist would, could not admit that this was possible and say that for some people, emotions might be more reliable that conscious reasoning for making certain decisions.

Sometimes, scientific/statistical experiments can establish the level of reliability of such gut feelings for actual individuals. That is the scientific empiricist solution to this - such empiricism establishes the degree of reliability of such process while seeking causes, but does not dismiss them because it can't fully identify the causal mechanism.

As one example of this from Rand's life, consider her decision to continue smoking despite the mounting statistical evidence that smoking was linked to cancer. After all, correlation was not causation and Rand enjoyed smoking, so she never gave the data much credibility. Until of course, she was diagnosed with cancer and never smoked again.

Once one admits that conscious reasoning is not infallible and neither are the judgements influenced largely by emotions, or once one even agrees that all thought is influenced by emotion, it comes down to reliability of those judgments and how they are verified. And objectivity means in essence that what is true for you is what is true for me ("The temperature of the room is 15 degrees Celsius.") and subjectivity means that what I feel and what you feel may not be consonant ( I say "I feel hot" and you say "I feel cold", though we are both in a room with roughly the same temperature across the board).

The idea that ideas influence feelings and that changing ideas can change how one feels was not unique to Rand and was actually the basis of various kinds of therapy back in the 1960s and earlier, from Cognitive Therapy (I think Aaron Beck) to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (Albert Ellis). Similar stuff is found in prior philosophers, whether it be the Stoics or Spinoza, but I return to the therapists. Those guys actually worked with lots of patients to understand the benefits and limits of their views so they were much on much sturdier ground than Rand and actually appreciated that some of the bad judgments that people arrived at on the basis of emotions were not fully bad and the key was to decide whether they were still in line with the larger goals of the individual.

ungtss said...

“Please could you find this essay? First of all, it seems to miss the point that I am making. But even then, it would be nice to see.”

Sadly I’m unable to find it in full on the web. However, the Lexicon seems to make the point from a variety of sources, albeit not the Branden one:

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

“Rand, requiring that one always identify their premises, like any true rationalist would, could not admit that this was possible and say that for some people, emotions might be more reliable that conscious reasoning for making certain decisions.”

I don’t think this is correct:). Consider in AS, the relationship between Reardon and d’Anconia. Reardon despises d’Anconia with his conscious reasoning, but his “gut” tells him he loves d’Anconia. We’re told repeatedly that Hank wanted to hate d’Anconia, but couldn’t make himself do it. Because in his gut, he loved d’Anconia.

In exactly the same way, Reardon’s values told him he should be faithful to his wife and love her, but his gut told him he did not, could not, should not.

The whole Reardon character arc is based around his realization that his “gut” was right and his conscious values were wrong.

“And objectivity means in essence that what is true for you is what is true for me ("The temperature of the room is 15 degrees Celsius.") and subjectivity means that what I feel and what you feel may not be consonant ( I say "I feel hot" and you say "I feel cold", though we are both in a room with roughly the same temperature across the board).”

That’s one definition of objectivity, but I don’t think it’s correct. The challenge is to identify the proper context for objectivity. For instance, “I feel cold” is an objective statement about the nervous status of my body.

I can also say “you feel cold” as an objective statement about the nervous status of your body. Maybe I base it on your statement, if your blue skin and shivering. It's still possible for me to make both of these claims, objectively, based on a rational evaluation of the evidence.

Of course, if I were to say “this room is cold,” without defining what “cold” means in the context, my statement would not be “subjective,” but silly:). In actual fact, temperature is measurable by objective means, and experienced by a nervous system. Therefore I can legitimately and objectively say “this room is 68 degrees” or “Joanne feels cold in this room,” but I cannot say “this room is cold,” without reference to a temperature or a person, because such a statement is undefined, acontextual, meaningless garbage:).

What’s often understood as “subjective” is merely “acontextual,” vague, or otherwise meaningless.

As is the attempt to impose an undefined measure of temperature on a room:). What does "hot" mean? I don't tell you. I just apply that undefined label to the room. How silly:).

But when one introduces a proper context, a person’s feelings and values can be objectively defined and understood. It just takes work:).

Again, "X is cold in this room" is an objective fact. It's verifiable. The fact that X is cold and U is hot does not change the objective truth of the two statements.

ungtss said...

fwiw, the branden article is in the january 1961 issue of the objectivist newsletter. the title is "reason and emotion." it doesn't appear to be available online.

Xtra Laj said...


Sadly I’m unable to find it in full on the web. However, the Lexicon seems to make the point from a variety of sources, albeit not the Branden one:

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


Quote the lines that you interpret in this way.


I don’t think this is correct:). Consider in AS, the relationship between Reardon and d’Anconia. Reardon despises d’Anconia with his conscious reasoning, but his “gut” tells him he loves d’Anconia. We’re told repeatedly that Hank wanted to hate d’Anconia, but couldn’t make himself do it. Because in his gut, he loved d’Anconia.

In exactly the same way, Reardon’s values told him he should be faithful to his wife and love her, but his gut told him he did not, could not, should not.


Quote the lines that you interpret in this way. Remember that there is a difference between conflicting premises (which is what I say defined the Rearden character for Rand) and saying that emotions are tools of cognition, and that the emotional judgment can be correct when the conscious premise is wrong, which is what I am pointing out. What I am asking you to do is to point out a situation where Rand asks you to explicitly trust your emotions, rather than analyze them because as she says, "emotions are not tools of cognition".


That’s one definition of objectivity, but I don’t think it’s correct.


This is what the common notion of objectivity means/implies. Whether you think it is correct or not is your prerogative, but you are deviating from common usage so don't be surprised if people are as confused about your claims as they are about the values of selfishness.

The challenge is to identify the proper context for objectivity. For instance, “I feel cold” is an objective statement about the nervous status of my body.

That would be a true subjective report, but most people would call the claims subjective truths (ever heard the common saying it might be true for you, but not true for me?). For many people, self-reports are true in a way that most people would not consider objective unless there is common agreement on them (which is what Jzero was pointing out).

Objectivity applies to a certain kind of invariance. It is the key to realism. One person can report that an object is green, and the other person can report that an object is red, and they can both be right (as color blind people sometimes find themselves doing), but it is because color is an interaction with the mind, not something that sits on the object. The wavelength of light that hits both eyes is objective. It should be invariant to both observers.

This is one of the traditional reasons why morality is not considered objective. The man is 6 feet tall is an objective fact. If I say that I disagree, then we can resolve it without relying on the different value systems that we both possess. Obviously, the issue is far more complicated than I am making out and there are dualist issues at work, but ultimately, anyone who thinks through the issue will see that realism about the external world is hard to deny, even if solipsism can be held onto somewhat consistently.

On the other hand, subjective statements, while they can seem objective because human beings are similar enough to empathize reasonably, may very well not be. Moral judgments often fall into this category, though it is a complex issue where one has to distinguish between statements about personal values and statements about objective values. Values are tied to the nature of the valuer to such a degree that sometimes variances in the nature of the valuers precludes the kind of invariance we tend to think of when we want objectivity. And it forces us to think about how to harmonize our goals, as opposed to just making universal prescriptions for all people, something that doesn't fail when something is truly objective.

Gordon Burkowski said...

"What I am asking you to do is to point out a situation where Rand asks you to explicitly trust your emotions, rather than analyze them because as she says, "emotions are not tools of cognition"."

I don't think such a situation can be found - but there is something very close to it: Roark's first meeting with Hopton Stoddard in The Fountainhead.

As you may recall, he just can't stand Stoddard. But Stoddard has been programmed by Ellsworth Toohey to say just the right things to draw Roark in. Roark therefore concludes that his gut must be wrong.

You could interpret this as showing that Rand was sometimes aware that the emotional appraisal is more accurate than the conscious, thinking one. But in the end, Roark goes against the emotional appraisal. To his cost.

ungtss said...

“What I am asking you to do is to point out a situation where Rand asks you to explicitly trust your emotions, rather than analyze them because as she says, "emotions are not tools of cognition".”

I’d agree that she doesn’t say to trust emotions without analysis. However, she does illustrate repeatedly that emotions can be right when the conscious values are wrong, because the subconscious can be aware of things that the conscious mind has abandoned. It of course requires analysis to untangle the contradiction. But at least to the point where “emotions can be right where one’s conscious thought is wrong,” she’s all over it.

Hank/ Francisco quotes:

(You should know, I actually bought the kindle version of AS just so I could find these quotes – all I had previously was the audiobook. I found 2 that are illustrative. These are by no means exhaustive. It’s quite a task, pulling illustrative quotes from a tome without an index:).

Anyway, here are two:

“Of all those who live by the ability of others,” said Rearden, “you’re the one real parasite.”

“I have given you grounds to think so.”

“Then what right have you to talk about the meaning of being a man? You’re the one who has betrayed it.”

“I am sorry if I have offended you by what you may rightly consider as a presumption.”

Francisco bowed and turned to go. Rearden said involuntarily, not knowing that the question negated his anger, that it was a plea to stop this man and to hold him. “what did you want to learn to understand about me?”

Number 2:

"I wish--" Rearden began and stopped abruptly.

Francisco smiled. "Afraid to wish, Mr. Rearden?"

"I wish I could permit myself to like you as much as I do. "

Of course, it turns out that his “gut” is right about Francisco, and his explicit beliefs about him are wrong. It just took him a while to figure out why.

“This is what the common notion of objectivity means/implies. Whether you think it is correct or not is your prerogative, but you are deviating from common usage so don't be surprised if people are as confused about your claims as they are about the values of selfishness.”

Since my purpose in philosophizing is my personal edification, not indoctrination of others, I’m not concerned with whether other’s are initially confused by my word use. My purpose is personal clarity. Anybody interested in understanding how I think is welcome to learn how I use my words:).

I of course spend a great deal of energy learning how others use their words. So it isn’t a one-way street:).

“Objectivity applies to a certain kind of invariance. It is the key to realism. One person can report that an object is green, and the other person can report that an object is red, and they can both be right (as color blind people sometimes find themselves doing), but it is because color is an interaction with the mind, not something that sits on the object. The wavelength of light that hits both eyes is objective. It should be invariant to both observers.”

That is why you can make three objective claims in that context.

1) It appears red to X.
2) It appears green to Y.
3) It is of Z wavelength.

All those statements are objective facts about reality. No subjectivity involved.

The _appearance_ of subjectivity arises from one’s failure to understand things in context. Specifically, the context of him as a human being with a particular perceptual faculty. Thus he claims “it is red” but drops the context that “red” is a perceptual event. But if he introduces the perceptual aspect, the statement is rendered objective again.

ungtss said...

“Values are tied to the nature of the valuer to such a degree that sometimes variances in the nature of the valuers precludes the kind of invariance we tend to think of when we want objectivity.”

Yes, and the trek to objectivity is the trek of untangling those notions of invariance, and our various ideas about reality, to figure out how to frame our values objectively. Which is quite possible. They just have to be framed in the proper context.

One of the key contextual facts about values that objectivism brings to light is that a value presupposes a “to whom” and a “for what.” A value outside of that context is not a value at all. So any objective value must identify those two facts. And then those two facts must be integrated into the remainder of one’s knowledge about reality. For instance, if I say “I value crappy food because it makes me feel better,” one needs to ask a) if it makes you feel better in the long run or only in the short run, b) how one wishes to balance long run and short run concerns, and c) how one defines “feeling better.”

These values, when integrated into the immutable facts of being human, lead to a system of values which is grounded not in arbitrary whim, but in facts about us.

Xtra Laj said...

Thanks for the quotes. Further evidence that Objectivist texts are like the Bible -support for just about anything you are looking for can be found in the right context.

Now for once, if she had carried what she intuitively knew into her personal relationships, she might have had a far richer view of human nature. On the other hand, she would still have been handicapped by her tabula rasa view of human nature.


sub·jec·tive
[suhb-jek-tiv] Show IPA
adjective
1.
existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective ).
2.
pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation.
3.
placing excessive emphasis on one's own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric.
4.
Philosophy . relating to or of the nature of an object as it is known in the mind as distinct from a thing in itself.
5.
relating to properties or specific conditions of the mind as distinguished from general or universal experience.


"I feel hot" or "This looks red to me" are all subjective statements along the lines of definitions 1,2,4 and 5. They are dependent upon the nature of the subject for their veracity. So you see, most definitions of subjectivity assume that events are perceptual or mental in nature. All assume something about the subject is causing the variance. So this statement:


The _appearance_ of subjectivity arises from one’s failure to understand things in context. Specifically, the context of him as a human being with a particular perceptual faculty. Thus he claims “it is red” but drops the context that “red” is a perceptual event.


is just another example of what happens when someone, rather than understanding the common definition that he is criticizing, just imagines what it means and starts making creative arguments where none are necessary.


That is why you can make three objective claims in that context.

1) It appears red to X.
2) It appears green to Y.
3) It is of Z wavelength.

All those statements are objective facts about reality. No subjectivity involved.


Sure, they can be viewed as objective in a context. However, the first two are dependent on the differing natures of X and Y and can be considered subjective. They are both looking at the same object but are having different experiences because X, one subject, has one set of properties that create one experience while Y, the other subject, has another set that create a different experience.

Are moral judgments governed by the same kind of invariance that characterizes physics and chemistry? Or are moral judgments characterized by the same kind of variance that governs statements like "It appears red to X" and "It appears green to Y"?

One reason why subjectivity is important is that it allows us to maintain objectivity/realism without assuming that people are being malicious liars from the start. It creates a place for hallucinations, errors, etc. which one is honestly convinced about the truth of. Does this mean that we can't get closer to some objective explanation for why things are happening as in the case of color blindness? Even if we can, this aspect of subjectivity has great philosophic importance for the reason given - it lets us place things in the nature of the subject while maintaining a stronger view on what we consider invariant.

Subjectivity is not a dirty word.

Xtra Laj said...

One of the key contextual facts about values that objectivism brings to light is that a value presupposes a “to whom” and a “for what.” A value outside of that context is not a value at all. So any objective value must identify those two facts. And then those two facts must be integrated into the remainder of one’s knowledge about reality. For instance, if I say “I value crappy food because it makes me feel better,” one needs to ask a) if it makes you feel better in the long run or only in the short run, b) how one wishes to balance long run and short run concerns, and c) how one defines “feeling better.”

Thoroughly subjective morality in the traditional philosophy. Once you make a statement dependent upon the particular subject in question (values to the valuer), it is traditionally considered subjective. Objective moral edicts would be claims that the statement should be adhered to by all people like "Everyone should pray to God".

There is nothing wrong with a subjective morality. Humean ethics is very rich because it is based on understanding the goals and values of the subject, taken those as largely given, before prescribing what is appropriate.

ungtss said...

“Further evidence that Objectivist texts are like the Bible -support for just about anything you are looking for can be found in the right context.”

Perhaps. But I don’t see how the fact that emotions can be right when conscious thought is wrong contradicts anything else she had to say. Remember, she held that emotions were lightning calculators of what is good or bad for the individual, according to the person’s values and logical assessment of the facts. So when emotion conflicts with logic, all that means is that one set of thoughts you have conflicts with another. It doesn’t tell you which is right or wrong.

“"I feel hot" or "This looks red to me" are all subjective statements along the lines of definitions 1,2,4 and 5.”

There are two claims implicit in the phrase “This looks red to me:”

1) That the thing is red, and my basis for believing it is red is my perception.
2) That the thing known as me has a perception and belief that the thing is red.

The first is a claim about the thing and its color, premised on my perception. The second is a claim about me and my experiences and beliefs. These are very different things:).

“They are dependent upon the nature of the subject for their veracity.”

And the key insight of objectivism is that the subject has an objective nature. If I am color blind, that is an objective fact about me. That fact may cause me to perceive things differently than you. But the fact of the altered perception is an objective fact about me. Something that can be identified and factored into one’s understanding. As she put it, Man is a being with a specific nature.

“They are both looking at the same object but are having different experiences because X, one subject, has one set of properties that create one experience while Y, the other subject, has another set that create a different experience.”

Yes, but the fact that X is having one experience and Y is having one experience is an objective fact.

“Are moral judgments governed by the same kind of invariance that characterizes physics and chemistry? Or are moral judgments characterized by the same kind of variance that governs statements like "It appears red to X" and "It appears green to Y"?”

They derive from facts that have that same kind of invariance. Once one learns to identify those facts. Things always look hazy and arbitrary before you understand them. With regard to our own moral natures, we’re at the level of savages, first grasping that plants grow according to definite laws, and not according to the whim of the gods.
“One reason why subjectivity is important is that it allows us to maintain objectivity/realism without assuming that people are being malicious liars from the start. It creates a place for hallucinations, errors, etc. which one is honestly convinced about the truth of.”

Objectivity allows for such a place as well, because one recognizes that one has a nature that may cause you to perceive things to be other than they are under particular circumstances. The difference is, objectivity drives you to identify what those circumstances are, according to your objective nature. Subjectivity leaves you with a sort of vague, undefined “well I could be wrong” …

“Once you make a statement dependent upon the particular subject in question (values to the valuer), it is traditionally considered subjective.”

Traditionally, that’s true. But if one conceptualizes the subject as an object in the universe with a particular nature, then the statement depends on that objective nature, and becomes an objective statement. The phrase “I like cheese” is just as objective as “this apple weighs .25 pounds.” Both facts about things in the universe.

Jzero said...

"Observe how you're making objective, normative claims here."

"That's why I included both words. Because they're not redundant."

But when you say "objective, normative" in that way instead of "objective AND normative" you are implying that they are similar. How you use that comma matters.

In any case, there's nothing about my assertion that you don't "get" to repurpose a word that is objective as such - unless you're trying for yet another different definition of "objective".

As to whether the actual facts support my assertion, I guess time will tell as to whether they add more definitions into the dictionaries. That more than anything is your real opponent in this fight - whether anyone but you and maybe a handful of others ever accepts the definition.

You still haven't presented anything close to a viable reason why anyone SHOULD accept a change to the definition of "objective". Once more, even if objectivity in the classic sense is impossible, that doesn't mean the word stops referring to that concept, or should on your say-so. You don't "get" to do it because ultimately you are trying to tell EVERYONE ELSE what they have to mean when they say "objective".

Jzero said...

"You don't deal with the possibility that my "incoherence" is simply your failure to comprehend."

As you're not dealing with the possibility that my failure to comprehend is a result of your incoherence?

Look, I'm not exactly sure what you think I'm referring to, with all that - but frankly, I've been noticing that some of your responses to my posts have been, well, not exactly on target. For example, when we were discussing wars and income tax, and I said that we might have well gone to war with or without income tax in the cases of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor (contrary to your implication that we would not have gone to the wars that happened after income tax was established), you launched into a couple of slams against both situations that seemed to have nothing at ALL to do with any relation between those wars and whether they would not have been fought without income tax.

You mentioned that Pearl Harbor was an attempt to break an oil blockade. Then you pointed out that it was "that oil again", seemingly referencing our related highway discussions. But in none of your words did you give any reason whatsoever why we might not have gone to war. Would we have stood by and said, "oh well, guess we'll start shipping barrels to Tokyo again, our bad"? And it was OUR oil, not any mid-east import, so it's not like we were yet under the grip of the oil dependency you claim the interstate (built in the '50s) fueled. So any way you look at it, that had nothing to do with the issue at hand. (Plus what happened to it being a "clear case of self-defense" as you said, earlier?)

Similarly with 9/11, instead of providing any plausible reason history might have gone differently in the case of no income tax, you criticized the way Osama Bin Laden was blamed for the attack. (Even so, eventually he claimed responsibility, so it's not like anyone was completely barking up the wrong tree there.) If there's a link to that and not going to war due to lack of income tax, you don't do much of a job of presenting that link.

I'm to this day not entirely sure whether you were perhaps agreeing that we WOULD have gone to war. If so, it was a real oblique way to do so, and the scornful, disdainful way you made your points gave them the appearance of being in disagreement. But if you were in fact disagreeing, then the complete lack of any connection between your comments and the actual issue being discussed makes it seem like you were just filling up space with angry words not because you had any valid point, but you wanted to appear to be in opposition for the sake of opposition.

Things like this, and some other instances where you have come out of left field and just put words in my mouth that can't reasonably be construed from anything I've actually said, have left me wondering how well you're actually tracking these arguments. Because in my experience, when someone starts veering that far away from the actual issues being discussed, it is a sign of frustration or anger, and it won't be too long before outright abuse and insults follow.

I mean, if you count as your evidence for "anti-life" all the implications of things people do, that their actions "show" you their real, inner motivations, what am I supposed to make of it when you argue - to me - against things I'm not even talking about?

ungtss said...

“In any case, there's nothing about my assertion that you don't "get" to repurpose a word that is objective as such - unless you're trying for yet another different definition of "objective".”

Then why not answer my question – what exactly were you saying when you said “I don’t get” to use language the way I want? According to what standard? What enforcement mechanism? Why did you say that instead of “I don’t like it” or “I disagree.” ???

“That more than anything is your real opponent in this fight - whether anyone but you and maybe a handful of others ever accepts the definition.”

You’re assuming I’m in some sort of a fight to tell other people how to think. On the contrary, I don’t care how you think, or what words you use, or how you use them. That’s your business. I’m in it for me. And if you want to use words in self-contradictory ways, go right ahead:).

“Once more, even if objectivity in the classic sense is impossible, that doesn't mean the word stops referring to that concept, or should on your say-so.”

As I’ve explained, my philosophy is that impossible standards are bad things. When it comes to morality, “Objectivity” is a standard. So in the context of morality, defining “objective” in such a way that it creates an impossible standard is a bad thing.

“You don't "get" to do it because ultimately you are trying to tell EVERYONE ELSE what they have to mean when they say "objective".”

Are you kidding me? Where did you get the idea that I’m telling anybody else how they have to use words? You’re the only one telling me how I need to use words. I’m just telling you how I use them. How you get from “J tells U he has to use words this way” to “U is telling everything they have to use words his way” is beyond me.

“Look, I'm not exactly sure what you think I'm referring to, with all that - but frankly, I've been noticing that some of your responses to my posts have been, well, not exactly on target.”

More objective claims. Unless when you say things are not “on target” you’re just stating your opinion, and not making any objective claims about reality?

“But in none of your words did you give any reason whatsoever why we might not have gone to war. Would we have stood by and said, "oh well, guess we'll start shipping barrels to Tokyo again, our bad"?”

Or not impose the embargo in the first place. Had we not imposed the embargo, they would have had no reason to attack us.

“And it was OUR oil, not any mid-east import, so it's not like we were yet under the grip of the oil dependency you claim the interstate (built in the '50s) fueled.”

I don’t recall claiming we were at that time. The point is that oil dependence qua oil dependence has been driving wars. In that case, it drove the Japanese to war. Later, it would be us.

“Similarly with 9/11, instead of providing any plausible reason history might have gone differently in the case of no income tax, you criticized the way Osama Bin Laden was blamed for the attack.”

That’s because I wasn’t drawing that connection. You’re making that up. My argument was that we went to war in Afghanistan because our president flagrantly violated the most basic principles of extradition: that you present evidence of guilt. The Afghanis offered to extradite him if we presented evidence. In line with the most basic principles of international law. We couldn’t be bothered. We went to war instead. This “income tax” argument is a straw man.

ungtss said...

“I mean, if you count as your evidence for "anti-life" all the implications of things people do, that their actions "show" you their real, inner motivations, what am I supposed to make of it when you argue - to me - against things I'm not even talking about?”

Depends how I respond. If you explain that you’re not arguing a point, and I say “okay, I get it,” and address what you’re actually talking about, then it’s an honest misunderstanding. If you explain that you’re not arguing a point, and I stick with arguing against what you didn’t say, then I’m using a straw man.

You see, it’s normal for people coming from widely different perspectives on things to have some misunderstandings in the process of learning to understand one another. That’s how our brains work. Attempting to short-circuit that, by accusing me of “losing it” is what causes people to close their minds off from understanding what’s actually going on, so they stop learning.

Jzero said...

"Then why not answer my question – what exactly were you saying when you said “I don’t get” to use language the way I want? According to what standard? What enforcement mechanism?"

The enforcement mechanism is built into language; if you unilaterally attempt to force your definition on others, you will have to provide a compelling, sensible reason why the meaning should change or face its rejection.

That is also, in a way, the standard: you want to radically redefine a word but there is no apparent gain to the language and its users in doing so, and doing so might well simply spread confusion. It's one thing to propose a truly useful change, it's another to propose major change to satisfy some small faction's quibble over whether the concept is actually possible.

"Are you kidding me? Where did you get the idea that I’m telling anybody else how they have to use words?"

When you intend to change how a word is defined, what else can you mean? That five people only use the word in that way amongst themselves? Unless you're actively trying to make it the common definition - for everyone - then it's a useless exercise, isn't it?

After all, you precede that with:

"As I’ve explained, my philosophy is that impossible standards are bad things. When it comes to morality, “Objectivity” is a standard. So in the context of morality, defining “objective” in such a way that it creates an impossible standard is a bad thing."

-- so instead of abandoning "objectivity" and coining some new phrase to describe your non-impossible standard, you feel a need to twist the word around to suit you, because that's "bad", according to whatever. (Bad for who? Everybody else has been getting along fine using the word as is.)

You could declare "objectivity" impossible and move on, but you don't want to. Why not? You must value something about that specific word, its cachet, its common use, something. Which leads me to the whole "intentional obfuscation" theory.


"I don’t recall claiming we were at that time. The point is that oil dependence qua oil dependence has been driving wars. In that case, it drove the Japanese to war. Later, it would be us.

[...]

That’s because I wasn’t drawing that connection. You’re making that up. My argument was that we went to war in Afghanistan because our president flagrantly violated the most basic principles of extradition"

Do you want me to go locate those posts? Or are you the kind to go scrub evidence?

We were talking about income tax. You asserted that having the funds from that tax enabled the USA to fund wars and go adventuring, implying that the wars since income tax was started would not have happened. I offered the opinion that in a couple cases, they probably would have happened anyway - which is when you presented the arguments already detailed.

Again, you did not bother to respond to whether the wars would have happened regardless, you just apparently did not like how they came about, which in context of the conversation we were actually having was about as big a "so what?" moment as one could imagine. I let it drop then because it was such a non sequitur I couldn't even guess what the point was.

I don't even have to go look at the posts to throw cold water on your "straw man" accusation: if we weren't talking about income tax and whether those wars would have been avoided, what the hell WERE we talking about? I'd really like to know what you think I said that made you leave the trail - why, in the middle of a discussion on taxes and their benefits or faults, you went off to argue something else entirely.

Xtra Laj said...

Perhaps. But I don’t see how the fact that emotions can be right when conscious thought is wrong contradicts anything else she had to say.

Pretty forgetful, aren't we?

Rand writes:

Emotions are not tools of cognition . . . one must differentiate between one’s thoughts and one’s emotions with full clarity and precision. One does not have to be omniscient in order to possess knowledge; one merely has to know that which one does know, and distinguish it from that which one feels. Nor does one need a full system of philosophical epistemology in order to distinguish one’s own considered judgment from one’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.

But according to you, she should have written something like: emotions are tools of cognition - one should try to understand them and see if they are more reliable than one's conscious reasoning as they embody a lifetime of integrated value judgments. But she never writes such a thing. That's an example of her bias for conscious reasoning.

Here is another one:

A man who is run by emotions is like a man who is run by a computer whose print-outs he cannot read. He does not know whether its programming is true or false, right or wrong, whether it’s set to lead him to success or destruction, whether it serves his goals or those of some evil, unknowable power. He is blind on two fronts: blind to the world around him and to his own inner world, unable to grasp reality or his own motives, and he is in chronic terror of both.

Again, is this about emotions, or about individuals with poor self-control? Again, there are individuals whose emotions guide them better than their considered thoughts under at least some circumstances. Where are the similar caveats around the use of conscious reasoning? That ignoring your emotions and looking at only what you can consciously reason with might lead to repression and encourage you to do things that are not in line with your pursuit of happiness or self-development?


And here is the worst one:


An emotion that clashes with your reason, an emotion that you cannot explain or control, is only the carcass of that stale thinking which you forbade your mind to revise.


Again, the "stale thinking" is not ascribed to the "reason" in some circumstances - it is assigned to the "emotion" without caveat. On this reading, Rearden's involuntary and emotional responses were just dumb and he should have trusted his conscious reasoning.

So there it is - let's stop this charade that Rand didn't stack the deck in favor of conscious reasoning over emotions.

Xtra Laj said...


Objectivity allows for such a place as well, because one recognizes that one has a nature that may cause you to perceive things to be other than they are under particular circumstances. The difference is, objectivity drives you to identify what those circumstances are, according to your objective nature. Subjectivity leaves you with a sort of vague, undefined “well I could be wrong” …


I think the difference that you claim between "objectivity" and "subjectivity" are false - they are the ying and the yang of analysis. In the first place, by distinguishing between what we consider invariant (objective) and what we do not (subjective), we've identified a place to begin investigation. If we considered every part of the system invariant, then we are using language to disguise the problem and will end up with no avenues for investigation.

Subjectivity doesn't leave you with anything vague. Vagueness results from a failure to find good answers (which may or may not exist), and has little to do with subjectivity.

What I really think you are saying is that people who accept the importance of subjectivity are more tolerant of differences or diversity than objectivists are. And there is nothing wrong with that, in my view.

ungtss said...

“Emotions are not tools of cognition . . . one must differentiate between one’s thoughts and one’s emotions with full clarity and precision. One does not have to be omniscient in order to possess knowledge; one merely has to know that which one does know, and distinguish it from that which one feels. Nor does one need a full system of philosophical epistemology in order to distinguish one’s own considered judgment from one’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.

But according to you, she should have written something like: emotions are tools of cognition - one should try to understand them and see if they are more reliable than one's conscious reasoning as they embody a lifetime of integrated value judgments. But she never writes such a thing. That's an example of her bias for conscious reasoning.”

X, that’s not quite what I’d say:). Let’s examine this more closely.
“A man who is run by emotions is like a man who is run by a computer whose print-outs he cannot read. He does not know whether its programming is true or false, right or wrong, whether it’s set to lead him to success or destruction, whether it serves his goals or those of some evil, unknowable power. He is blind on two fronts: blind to the world around him and to his own inner world, unable to grasp reality or his own motives, and he is in chronic terror of both.

Again, is this about emotions, or about individuals with poor self-control? Again, there are individuals whose emotions guide them better than their considered thoughts under at least some circumstances. Where are the similar caveats around the use of conscious reasoning? That ignoring your emotions and looking at only what you can consciously reason with might lead to repression and encourage you to do things that are not in line with your pursuit of happiness or self-development?”

Let’s pay careful attention here:). She is saying a man who is run by emotions is like a man who is run by a computer whose print-outs he cannot read. Thus by “run by your emotions” she means “not _understanding_ your emotions.” Not understanding what they mean, where they’re coming from, what they are.

She’s not saying “being run by your emotions” means “letting your well-considered and understood emotions guide you.” She’s saying “being run by your emotions” means “not understanding the nature and roots of your emotions, so that you allow yourself to be run around by whatever incomprehensible whim flits across your radar screen.

The issue here is not about emotions as such, but emotions as irreducible tools of cognition, separate from the logic and values that create them.

ungtss said...

“An emotion that clashes with your reason, an emotion that you cannot explain or control, is only the carcass of that stale thinking which you forbade your mind to revise.”

Well, this has been taken out of context. It’s from galt’s speech. The context is:

“Those irrational wishes that draw you to their creed, those emotions you worship as an idol, on whose altar you sacrifice the earth, that dark, incoherent passion within you, which you take as the voice of God or of your glands, is nothing more than the corpse of your mind. An emotion that clashes with your reason, an emotion that you cannot explain or control, is only the carcass of that stale thinking which you forbade your mind to revise.”

In that context, she’s speaking of a particular type of emotion – “irrational wishes” which “you worship as an idol, on whose altar you sacrifice the earth, that dark, incoherent passion within you, which you take as the voice of God or of your glands.”

Because she’s clearly talking about a specific type of emotion within a specific context, I don’t think it’s fair to extrapolate from that some sort of claim about all types of emotion in all contexts. Writers create context as they go, and their meaning can only be properly understood with respect to the context. It’s impossible to write every word in every book so as to be universally true in all contexts.

When this statement is limited to the context in which it was written, it does not conflict with the emotion rearden was experiencing – there was no sacrificing of the earth, no dark, incoherent passions taken as the voice of God or his glands. He simply liked a person. A lot.

“In the first place, by distinguishing between what we consider invariant (objective) and what we do not (subjective)”

I don’t see any fundamental different between the subjective and objective worlds as far as “variance” goes. The universe is constantly varying, within the bounds of the invariant natures of its objects. That includes the physical universe outside us, and our bodies, and our minds. The solar system varies, according to the nature of the objects within it. Our thoughts and perceptions vary, according to our nature.

Why then would one call the subjective realm “variant” and the objective realm “invariant?” simply to discredit our perception and thought:). “Oh, well that’s just your opinion.” Etc.

ungtss said...

"You asserted that having the funds from that tax enabled the USA to fund wars and go adventuring, implying that the wars since income tax was started would not have happened."

Our initial disagreement was over whether the income tax was necessary to hold our society together. My initial argument was that the income tax would not be necessary if it weren't for the wars, such that our society could get along just fine without the income tax if it would stop killing people.

As support for that argument, I pointed out that the income tax enabled wwi and wwii. but that was not my only subordinate point.

in fact, any argument showing that these wars were unnecessary would support my broader point that our society could get along just fine without the income tax.

you are zeroed in on my subordinate argument, and lost track of my broader argument.

The fact that our war in Afghanistan was both unnecessary and unjust goes to the broader point -- that our society could get along just fine without the income tax, because we wouldn't get into stupid wars if our leaders would simply comply with principles of international law.

You see, to understand what's going on, it's helpful to take some time to grasp the other person's arguments. just because you don't understand what he's saying doesn't mean he's "come unhinged." you should look for other evidence that he's come unhinged before making claims like that:).

Jzero said...

"in fact, any argument showing that these wars were unnecessary would support my broader point that our society could get along just fine without the income tax."

Let's roll tape.

---

U: The question is whether the income tax actually “supports our society.” You’re assuming that. But that’s the issue. As I said, this society was doing just fine before the income tax showed up. The left sold it as being only for the rich. It then funded our involvement in our first European conflict, [and then stuff about Spanish flu]

Now, of course, our country has been in a constant state of war for decades. And if it weren’t for that constant state of war, we wouldn’t need the income tax, because our finances would be much more manageable.

J: The same with any wars. You say taxes enabled us to fund them. But you also presuppose that we would have refused to enter those wars if we hadn't had that readily-available source of funds. Even if you can make some case for some wars being avoided, it seems unlikely that all would have been - certainly after Pearl Harbor, we would have gone to war. Though Iraq was a useless diversion, 9/11 would surely have had us in some kind of war regardless. We would have gone to war and simply found funding on the spot somehow - or just created income tax later.

U: [You quote my Pearl Harbor statement directly and then say] Pearl Harbor was in retaliation for an oil embargo we imposed on japan. Catch that? Oil embargo? Japan attacked to break the embargo. Now take oil out of the picture. No oil embargo. No pearl harbor. See how this works?

U: [You quote my 9/11 statement directly and then say] Are you familiar with how the war in afghanistan started? We accused Bin Laden of involvement in the attacks. But we had no evidence of his involvement. [edit for brevity]

So would we have ended up in a war “regardless?” not if our president had concerned himself with “innocence or guilt,” and silly little things like “international law.”

---

So it is quite obvious from this exchange that I've been talking about taxes, and what they do or don't cause, and in the case of war, whether not having taxes would have kept us from going to war. You do briefly state that without wars we wouldn't need taxes - but my response to that was, in fact, that we would probably have gone to war in some cases ANYWAY. Far from me missing some broader point, you're steamrolling over what I said to talk about something fairly unrelated. Your statement about the oil embargo in no way contradicts what I said - that we probably would have gone to war - it just seems to cast your disapproval of the reasons. (Didn't we have a right to withhold oil in response to Japanese aggression in Asia?) And in the case of the 9/11 statement above it's obvious I used "regardless" meaning "regardless of income tax and its funds", not "regardless of anything at all" (as if having the WTC destroyed would have ever had us avoiding conflict) - certainly we had not before this point been discussing anything like the overall causes of wars or whether any were actually justified - so this is a tangent you fled down all on your own.

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

"Far from me missing some broader point, you're steamrolling over what I said to talk about something fairly unrelated."

It's not unrelated to the issue we were discussing; it's unrelated to an irrelevant and undisputed straw man you introduced. Nobody's claiming that "if you went back in time and got rid of the income tax, none of these wars would have happened." I did not respond to your argument on that point because there's nothing to be said about it. It's a straw man. You're arguing against a point nobody's making.

The issue we were discussing was -- and is -- whether we need income taxes to hold our society together. the question of whether erasing taxes would avoid wars is an irrelevant straw man you introduced. that's why I ignored it, and returned to the actual issue we were discussing -- whether we need income taxes to hold our society together.

this is more of whether your objective/subjective premise gets you. you start thinking that just because you brought up a refutation of an argument nobody was making, it was "the issue." you're confusing the objective and the subjective. which is the only possible outcome when one relegates the objective to impossibility.

acknowledging the possibility of objective thought -- according to specific, defined rules and principles -- binds and limits your capacity to make claims about reality. eliminating the possibility of objectivity eliminates any need to follow the rules. which is what you're engaged in right now.

Jzero said...

"the question of whether erasing taxes would avoid wars is an irrelevant straw man you introduced"

YOU introduced it. You cited income tax as a source of our ability to wage war, implying that if we didn't have it, we wouldn't have - otherwise, what was the point of you mentioning it in the first place?

"Well, income tax allows us to wage wars which we would have waged anyway!" Yeah, great point there. Do you want to try some OTHER spin?

ungtss said...

"YOU introduced it. You cited income tax as a source of our ability to wage war, implying that if we didn't have it, we wouldn't have - otherwise, what was the point of you mentioning it in the first place?"

That "implication" is the straw man.

the issue, again, is whether we could get along without the income tax. a relevant consideration there, is "what is the additional income used for?"

because if the additional income is used for something we don't need to hold is together, that supports a conclusion that we don't need it.

just like if I get a raise, and spend it all on lap dances, that supports a conclusion that I didn't need the raise.

by showing that we went to war in europe for the first time immediately after emplacing the income tax, i'm showing what the additional income was used for.

war.

that is still the case today, of course.

your response is, of course, that we would have gone to war anyway. but that doesn't change the fact that we could get along fine without both the taxes and the stupid, often-illegal foreign wars we have no business entering.

which is my point. we don't need an income tax. we don't need the wars. we only need the tax to fund the wars. therefore we don't need the tax to "hold our society together." we only need it to fund little napoleons.

Gordon Burkowski said...

Moving over to the open thread. . .

"I did notice the quality of her writing -- both in depth and in quality of editing -- seemed to deteriorate over the course of the novel."

Especially true of the last chapter, which is hard to read without an incredulous smile.

First, there's the rescue. Get real. Suppose John Galt is being guarded by the SEALs who took out Bin Laden. When Dagny, Ragnar, Francisco and Hank storm the place, what do you get? My answer would be: 4 dead millionaires.

2) Then there's the final end of James Taggart, who's reduced to a catatonic state unknown to science by the peerless logic and implacable glance of John Galt. Surely one of the silliest incidents ever included in a serious novel.

ungtss said...

objectivity, of course, wouldn't allow you to make a jump like that, concluding that my evidence was intended to support a claim I hadn't made. such an inference would break the rules of parsimony.

Essentially, "why on earth would this person cite evidence to support an absurd contention he didn't make?"

to an objectively thinking person, this would raise an eyebrow.

but you weren't thinking objectively. you weren't following the rules of objective thought.

you simply concluded that I had done that, and that I was therefore "coming unhinged."

that's what happens when you follow this definition of "objectivity" that leaves objectivity outside the realm of human possibility.

that's why the word "objectivity" is worth fighting for.

ungtss said...

"Especially true of the last chapter, which is hard to read without an incredulous smile."

Indeed. Not unusual, however. Many creative endeavors suffer the same fate. Seems to be a fairly universal symptom of taking shortcuts as one gets to the end.

Jzero said...

"by showing that we went to war in europe for the first time immediately after emplacing the income tax, i'm showing what the additional income was used for.

war.

that is still the case today, of course.

your response is, of course, that we would have gone to war anyway. but that doesn't change the fact that we could get along fine without both the taxes and the stupid, often-illegal foreign wars we have no business entering."

Again, for someone who once called WWII a clear case of self-defense, you've sure done a turnaround.

But if you want to get into "objective/subjective dichotomies", how about the way you say you "show" things when actually all you do is claim or assert them? You can speculate that we didn't need to enter this war or that, but you don't really have more than a general hypothesis in that regard, so it's a pretty thin "showing". Not that such speculation can ever be all that solid, but for someone taking me to task for presenting things as facts, somehow you sure do your own share.

Was the income tax money used for war? Sure. Did it cause us to go into those wars, or just fund what would have happened anyway? That's harder to say. Could we get along without income tax if we weren't fighting wars? Maybe once, but it's doubtful today. Defense accounts for 20% of the government budget - a sizable chunk, to be sure, but that's about as much as is spent on Social Security and Medicare, each. WHICH DOES NOT MEAN YOU SHOULD NOW LAUNCH INTO AN IRRELEVANT TIRADE ABOUT HOW BAD THOSE THINGS ARE, it's just for a point of reference, showing that if we completely axed all defense, not just war spending, we'd still have a lot of programs left over that use income tax money. So THIS:

"which is my point. we don't need an income tax. we don't need the wars. we only need the tax to fund the wars."

--isn't actually true, or at least you haven't irrefutably established it.

Jzero said...

"that's why the word "objectivity" is worth fighting for."

All right then, riddle me this: In your new, supposedly better definition of "objectivity", how would it differ from "subjectivity"? And would you have to redefine THAT word, as well?

Because it sounds to me like you want to (as the earlier ARCHN entry Barnes linked to stated) define "objective" to mean about the same thing as "subjective". Which means you're "fighting" to swap an already commonly-used word with another commonly-used word. There's already a perfectly serviceable word to describe what you seem to want to mean, but for some reason using that word isn't good enough, you want to appropriate a complete antonym.

I've yet to hear a justifiable reason for doing so.

Xtra Laj said...


Let’s pay careful attention here:). She is saying a man who is run by emotions is like a man who is run by a computer whose print-outs he cannot read. Thus by “run by your emotions” she means “not _understanding_ your emotions.” Not understanding what they mean, where they’re coming from, what they are.


Again, where are the similar caveats against people who are run primarily by reason? Where are the criticisms of their repression, or the instructions to learn to empathize? This is not balanced at all - it seems that emotions can be criticized, but what Rand construes as "reason" cannot be.


“Those irrational wishes that draw you to their creed, those emotions you worship as an idol, on whose altar you sacrifice the earth, that dark, incoherent passion within you, which you take as the voice of God or of your glands, is nothing more than the corpse of your mind. An emotion that clashes with your reason, an emotion that you cannot explain or control, is only the carcass of that stale thinking which you forbade your mind to revise.”

In that context, she’s speaking of a particular type of emotion – “irrational wishes” which “you worship as an idol, on whose altar you sacrifice the earth, that dark, incoherent passion within you, which you take as the voice of God or of your glands.”


I disagree with this interpretation. Even if we were to limit this to just the emotions that Rand is mentioning here, they are regular emotions which are found in some form across human nature (though there is, if I remember rightly, something of a jab against behaviorism in the use of the word "glands"). Even Rand expressed an emotion that she thought was similar to divinity in one of her writings (not sure it was a journal). And even if the emotions she is piling on can lead one to make wrong decisions, is she really claiming that those emotions, which have sustained human communities for many years, never lead to right decisions? Or is she simply trying to clear the path for reason, which is man's ONLY way of possessing knowledge, according to Rand?

You can whitewash this all you want, but one of the worst things about Objectivism is how often it encourages emotional repression because it doesn't encourage one to get in touch with their emotions and sometimes accept them but asks people to consciously revise them using "reason".


I don’t see any fundamental different between the subjective and objective worlds as far as “variance” goes. The universe is constantly varying, within the bounds of the invariant natures of its objects. That includes the physical universe outside us, and our bodies, and our minds. The solar system varies, according to the nature of the objects within it. Our thoughts and perceptions vary, according to our nature.

Why then would one call the subjective realm “variant” and the objective realm “invariant?” simply to discredit our perception and thought:). “Oh, well that’s just your opinion.” Etc.


No, it's because perspective and individuality can influence how one perceives nature. In some cases, "that's just your opinion" is a perfectly valid way of responding to someone who has not met the justificatory standard to convince others that their opinion can be considered objective (as in true for other people). It seems to me that you don't understand what I mean by "invariant". "Invariant" means what you consider to be the same regardless of who is perceiving it (the Kantian "thing-in-itself"). People who perceive it will be influenced by their knowledge, their organs, their history, their position etc. So we can consider certain aspects of their perception (if not all of it) subjective, while trying to look at aspects of it that are invariant to arrive at how to think about the real world objectively. It's just plain realism. Perception by its nature is subjective. If not, we would have to find a place in the physical world for all the things people misinterpret or hallucinate about.

ungtss said...

“Again, where are the similar caveats against people who are run primarily by reason? Where are the criticisms of their repression, or the instructions to learn to empathize? This is not balanced at all - it seems that emotions can be criticized, but what Rand construes as "reason" cannot be.”

That’s where the intertwining comes in. Good reason does not cause you to repress. Bad reason does. Repression is driven by mistaken beliefs about the relationship between your emotions and your well-being and your moral status. As with empathy. Empathy is an extremely reasonable capacity, provided one empathizes with the right things and not with the wrong things.

When you see those emotions arising not from some arbitrary non-rational place, but in fact from one’s reason and values, those emotions become critically important to understand and respect.

I repressed before I became an objectivist, not after.

“Even if we were to limit this to just the emotions that Rand is mentioning here, they are regular emotions which are found in some form across human nature (though there is, if I remember rightly, something of a jab against behaviorism in the use of the word "glands").”

She’d certainly agree with that. The whole point of that speech is that these emotions dominate the human experience. She just believed that they need not and shouldn’t.

“You can whitewash this all you want, but one of the worst things about Objectivism is how often it encourages emotional repression because it doesn't encourage one to get in touch with their emotions and sometimes accept them but asks people to consciously revise them using "reason".”

That was not my experience. To the extent a person wants to take certain objectivist ideas out of context in order to justify repression, I’d argue they already wanted to repress. I took the MMPI when I was 20, and my “repression” was off the charts. I discovered ayn rand 2 years later, and really came to understand her over the next decade. Here’s the reality:

When you see emotions as the results of thought, it’s not logical to repress them. It’s logical to identify them – their roots, their effects, and their appropriateness – and then to integrate them back into your life.

The idea that emotions are not derived from thought, however, leaves you with no guide to understanding them. “where did this homicidal impulse come from? I don’t know. Better push it down and drink another beer.” That’s the real threat. And it comes from the idea that emotions are distinct from reason, not the idea that they derive from emotion.

“It seems to me that you don't understand what I mean by "invariant". "Invariant" means what you consider to be the same regardless of who is perceiving it (the Kantian "thing-in-itself").”

By this definition, nothing is invariant. Everything can be perceived differently by at least somebody. A thermometer measuring the temperature of a room is one thing to me, another thing to an infant, and another thing to a blind person. The temperature, although unchanged, feels different before and after I’ve jumped in a hot tub or an ice pool.

If nothing is invariant by a particular definition, how is the definition a useful criterion?

ungtss said...

J,

“Because it sounds to me like you want to (as the earlier ARCHN entry Barnes linked to stated) define "objective" to mean about the same thing as "subjective".”

Within objectivism, objective means “according to proper rules of thought.” Objectivism starts with the premise that humanity has a certain nature, and that a certain means of thought is proper to humanity. For instance, deduction. Deduction is a proper, human way to think. And it operates according to certain rules. And if you follow those rules, you will come to right answers. That doesn’t mean omnisciently, absolutely, comprehensively right. It means right within the scope of your knowledge. But the fact that our “rightness” must be limited to the scope of our knowledge is another inherent part of our nature. As non-omniscient beings, we can’t be absolutely, comprehensively right. But we can be right within the scope of our knowledge, if we follow the proper rules of thought.

Xtra Laj said...

I will address your other comments later, ungtss, but I would like you to carefully read how you have made invariance dependent on perception, when I pointed out that it is considered to be what the object is like, regardless of who is perceiving it (or whether it is perceived or not, I might add). Your objection has no bearing on the concept.

ungtss said...

"Your objection has no bearing on the concept."

I've been thinking about this since J and I went around and around on it, and I think I figured out why this is a significant point.

The words "Objective" and "invariant" have not only an objective definition, but also a normative connotation. In other words, objective means not only "separate from perception" or "according to rational rules," but it also connotes universality, reliability, trustworthiness, unquestionability. It's something you can justifiably believe and act on.

That connotation is what's being fought for. Under your definitions of "objective" and "invariance," of course, nothing fits the bill. And therefore nothing is entitled to the benefits of the connotation. In other words, because none of our ideas are "objective," we can't act on them in the way "objectivity" connotes.

in the same way, "variant" implied unreliability, untrustworthiness, change. "invariant" connotes constancy and reliability. if nothing is invariant, then nothing is entitled to the connotation "invariance" brings.

ultimately, i'd say that's why I think "usefulness" is a critical criteria in these context. because they do act as criteria. they connote reliability. and depriving _everything_ of inclusion deprives _everything_ of the reliability connoted by the words.

ungtss said...

as I apply this hypothesis more broadly, it seems plausible that much of her concern over words was indeed a fight over connotations. "Selfish," for instance. Connotes "bad." In that case, she wanted to fight that connotation head on, by defining it as "Good." In other cases, she wanted to use the connotation. As in the case of "objectivity."

Actually pretty sophisticated, as I think about it.

Jzero said...

" In other cases, she wanted to use the connotation. As in the case of "objectivity."

Actually pretty sophisticated, as I think about it."

I must admit I haven't really been following the discussion between you and Xtra Laj too closely, but this jumped out.

This was in fact one of my own points, that far from needing the definition of "objective" to be changed for any practical reason, any attempt to change it could be seen as a sideways grab for "legitimacy" (the "cachet" of the word).

But while you may consider it sophisticated, I see it as bordering on dishonest - at the very least, it's on the order of propaganda and doublespeak. And it benefits no one to make the change (except perhaps Objectvists looking to obtain that cachet).

As it stands now, the current dictionary definition of "objective" is a fairly brief sentence. Were it to be defined the Objectivist way, I imagine it would take a lengthy paragraph to properly convey the concept.

That would not be (to use a word used often lately) parsimonious.

"Deduction is a proper, human way to think. And it operates according to certain rules."

And those rules are logical and, well, objective in the classical sense. Emotion does not enter into those rules. Is not, then, deductive reasoning just as impossible as objectivity (as non-Objectivists define it)?

In fact, it sounds almost like you're describing abductive, not deductive, reasoning.

ungtss said...

"But while you may consider it sophisticated, I see it as bordering on dishonest - at the very least, it's on the order of propaganda and doublespeak. And it benefits no one to make the change (except perhaps Objectvists looking to obtain that cachet)."

I don't think it is dishonest at all. If it's dishonest, why did she say so explicitly, in response to people who asked her why she used the word selfish despite its connotations, "for exactly the reason it offends you" or something along those lines. and here i am, admitting it too. It's simply fighting to get the word back from those that have coopted it for their own rotten purposes: to slip subjectivism into our minds without our realizing it.

your definition takes all the legitimacy of objectivity and throws it into a dungheap. _nothing_ gets that "cachet" as you call it. _No_ values deserve that legitimacy.

which is the _point_ of the definition. which is _dishonest_.

No, between somebody who says you must follow rules to be objective and somebody who says no matter what you do you can never be objective about any normative statement, the latter is the dishonest one. he's trying to impose subjectivism on a civilization through words. before the kid even knows it's being done to him.

and notwithstanding how insistent you are that yours is the "right" definition, there's simply no such thing. language is fluid. it changes constantly, and is used differently by different people in different contexts. i suspect you want to lay claim to your definition of this word so as to give subjectivism some illusion of legitimacy. but unlike me, you won't admit it. you just want to pretend yours is the [objectively] right definition. when there is no such thing, and you know that.

see, again pops up the results of your premise. In order to prove values are non-objective, you have to treat a "dictionary definition" as objectively correct, and me as objectively wrong for rejecting it.

the only result of your view is to jetison any rules associated with objectivity. you claim it doesn't exist, and therefore "consensus" is the best alternative we have. and of course "consensus" means whatever you say it means.

"And those rules are logical and, well, objective in the classical sense. Emotion does not enter into those rules. Is not, then, deductive reasoning just as impossible as objectivity (as non-Objectivists define it)?"

One of your patterns, i've noticed, is discrediting one premise of objectivism with reference to a non-objectivist premise. you're doing that here. within objectivism, emotion derives from thought, which derives from logic. therefore the rules enter into emotion, because emotion derives from one's exercise [or not] of the rules. therefore the phrase "emotion does not enter into deduction" is a straw man in which you mix an objectivist premise with a non-objectivist premise.

if you want to legitimately criticize objectivism, you have to do it against its own premises, or against the facts. you can't do it against your own premises.

ungtss said...

there's nothing wrong with stealing a word back from those who coopt it for their own nefarious purposes. "liberal," for instance, is the classic example. liberal originally meant an advocate of laissez faire. then, in order to get that "cachet," the left redefined it to mean a person in favor of government regulation of industry. the exact opposite of its meaning.

why?

because they needed the cachet the word carried with it.

there's nothing wrong with fighting to get that word back. the left dishonestly took it. it's fair to honestly take it back.

but of course by your standards, once the dishonest people manage to get their definition into the dictionary, all debate must stop. they're allowed to steal until they win. then it's over.

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

Here's an article about the historical debate over the word "objectivity" by a person who agrees with your definition, but is at least honest enough to note that it is subject to debate.

https://gustavus.edu/philosophy/judy.html

Xtra Laj said...

That’s where the intertwining comes in. Good reason does not cause you to repress. Bad reason does. Repression is driven by mistaken beliefs about the relationship between your emotions and your well-being and your moral status. As with empathy. Empathy is an extremely reasonable capacity, provided one empathizes with the right things and not with the wrong things.

The same could be said about good use of emotions in making decisions vs. bad uses. But my point, and you've danced around it while admitting it, is that Rand had nothing close to the balance that Damasio had when it came to praising the use of emotions in decision making. Given her bent towards homogenizing her associates, she used her view of reason vs. emotion not to encourage people to find their passions, but to criticize various passions that she disagreed with, even when they were innocuous to her and valuable to those holding them.

And to show that you are still truly an Objectivist, you say "provided one empathizes with the right things and not with the wrong things". Unless you are confusing sympathy with empathy, how does one know what is right or wrong when one is not empathizing?


When you see those emotions arising not from some arbitrary non-rational place, but in fact from one’s reason and values, those emotions become critically important to understand and respect.

I repressed before I became an objectivist, not after.


The word "arbitrary" is used pretty loosely, but another issue here is that there are many causes of emotions, including ideas related to objective judgments. Chemical/hormonal imbalances, inherited dispositions etc. can all contribute. But ultimately, emotions can be reasonably good tools for judging a situation and one doesn't need to fully understand them to trust them.

I can understand your repressing less after Objectivism - the road to self-expression is not the same for everyone and depends on temperament as well as other decisions. In the book "The Road Less Traveled", Scott Peck describes situations where people's psychological outlooks improved when taking up different world outlooks that contrasted what they originally held on to. Anecdotal, yes, but believable.

Xtra Laj said...

She’d certainly agree with that. The whole point of that speech is that these emotions dominate the human experience. She just believed that they need not and shouldn’t.

On the basis of what evidence? Rand often did this without trying to understand what others found valuable in what they were doing (or caricaturing that value in the worst way possible). Anthropologists who have analyzed the issue have found that these emotions are key to building societies and are likely linked to a desire for purity.


That was not my experience. To the extent a person wants to take certain objectivist ideas out of context in order to justify repression, I’d argue they already wanted to repress. I took the MMPI when I was 20, and my “repression” was off the charts. I discovered ayn rand 2 years later, and really came to understand her over the next decade. Here’s the reality:

When you see emotions as the results of thought, it’s not logical to repress them. It’s logical to identify them – their roots, their effects, and their appropriateness – and then to integrate them back into your life.

The idea that emotions are not derived from thought, however, leaves you with no guide to understanding them. “where did this homicidal impulse come from? I don’t know. Better push it down and drink another beer.” That’s the real threat. And it comes from the idea that emotions are distinct from reason, not the idea that they derive from emotion.


Again, I've asked you repeatedly to point out where Ayn Rand encouraged one to sometimes trust their emotions. The best you've done is show parts of her fiction where her characters had gut reactions that turned out well. How can you say that without this balance in weighing reasons and emotions, or at least not contrasting them as harshly as she did, that it is her fault? It's really more to your credit that you read Damasio. His is the far more balanced position.

Finally, Rand was not the first or the last thinker who argued for a link between ideas and emotions. And she used it in a way that was fairly destructive, as she often pushed it to a point where she thought that reason could be used to override our base animal drives completely. Hence, for example, her challenge in understanding why it was not a good idea for her to have an affair with Branden even if her husband and Branden's wife "agreed" to it.

Xtra Laj said...


By this definition, nothing is invariant. Everything can be perceived differently by at least somebody. A thermometer measuring the temperature of a room is one thing to me, another thing to an infant, and another thing to a blind person. The temperature, although unchanged, feels different before and after I’ve jumped in a hot tub or an ice pool.


"Invariant" is about what is held as constant. For example, a solipsist hold constant his existence and consciousness and ascribes all change to happenings within both. An external realist holds the external world (or most aspects of it) as being a constant or the same for everyone and internal experiences as being the causes of differing judgments.

Invariance has nothing to do with perception per se, but more about what frame of reference is chosen as being the same for observers. Assumptions about how the real world operates are built into that. One could just as well say "I see a red ball, you see a green ball", the balls we are looking are at not the same. But when we believe the balls are the same ball, then we say that is objective and the differing perceptions are subjective. Again, nothing to do with the perception but your examples all have to do with the perception. Are there limits to achieving objectivity? Sure. Is it what it is hyped up to be? Depends on many things, including what value is placed on truth and success.

That connotation is what's being fought for. Under your definitions of "objective" and "invariance," of course, nothing fits the bill. And therefore nothing is entitled to the benefits of the connotation. In other words, because none of our ideas are "objective," we can't act on them in the way "objectivity" connotes.

First of all, I still don't think that any of this displays an understanding of "objectivity" as the dictionary defines it and some of the surrounding assumptions/implications.

Secondly, I don't think the problem comes from "objectivity", but from whether you think that "subjectivity" and "objectivity" are completely disparate rather than linked. That an idea is subjective doesn't mean it is false. It just means that it has elements that are inherently dependent on the attribute of the subject.

The real question is what are the claimed implications of how you conceive of objectivity. If they are not any different from how I conceive of the same, we are playing games with words. If there are differences, then we should see how your view addresses the problems that my view was designed to avoid and the implications for handling actual issues.

Jzero said...

"One of your patterns, i've noticed, is discrediting one premise of objectivism with reference to a non-objectivist premise. you're doing that here. within objectivism, emotion derives from thought, which derives from logic. therefore the rules enter into emotion, because emotion derives from one's exercise [or not] of the rules."

So Objectivism CLAIMS, but this entire blog exists to demonstrate how Rand was mistaken about a lot of things like this. The very neuroscience you cite as proof that there can be no true objectivity free of emotion also works against the notion that all emotion derives from logic, which was a shaky claim with questionable evidence to begin with.

"therefore the phrase "emotion does not enter into deduction" is a straw man in which you mix an objectivist premise with a non-objectivist premise."

Really? You're the one who would continually post links to Wikipedia to back up your claims, and I just looked up "deductive reasoning" there to find a whole page full of logical rules of reasoning and NO EMOTIONAL CONTENT.

So are Objectivists defining "deductive" in their own special way, now, too?

Is that how it works, to take all language and shuffle it into a special Objectivst "code" as to insulate it from criticism? "You can't talk bad about Objectivism! You're not using proper Objectivist premises!"

"if you want to legitimately criticize objectivism, you have to do it against its own premises, or against the facts. you can't do it against your own premises."

I'm sorry, but what utter rubbish. Objectivism has no qualms about using its own premises to criticize every last damn thing on Earth that didn't meet with Rand's approval - I don't see how the rest of the world should be constrained to keep its criticism within some kind of boundary for "legitimacy" when there's no such limit on the other side.

Samson Corwell said...

Anyone ever noticed how what Ayn Rand called collectivist doesn't really seem collectivist? I mean, compulsory taxation doesn't really seem to, you know, squash anyone's identity. I think a new word is in order.

Daniel Barnes said...

Good observation, Samson.

Viewed through an economics lens, taxation is actually a way of solving the problem of providing non-excludable (or what is known as "public") goods. Hence the decision to tax is not necessarily a decision made on the basis of ethical purposes such as trying to bring about collectivism. It can be decided on the basis of practicality.

Samson Corwell said...

Yes, I'm sure it is decided on the basis of practicality, too, Daniel. I do, however, also think that it can be a matter of ethics as well. For instance, someone such as myself may believe that capitation taxes are immoral.