Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Brief Re-visitation of Is-Ought Problem

Below is a response to an email request concerning an answer to Patrick Neil's essay on Rand's morality:

 Neil's article refutes the view expounded in Rand's article "Objectivist Ethics." In that article, Rand attempted to refute the is-ought gap by claiming that Hume denies that morality has anything to do with facts. This is just wrong. In a later article, Rand pursued a different tactic. She suggested that ethics is conditional on choosing life. Now logically this does allow Rand to skirt around Hume's is-ought gap, because instead of reasoning from "is" premises to an "ought" conclusion, the line of reasoning goes, "if x, then y," or: "if life, then the ultimate value is life."

While this mode of procedure may solve, or at least mitigate, the logical problem presented by the is-ought gap, it is questionable that it provides an "objective" code of values. The argument is so vague and abstract that it's difficult to logically generate a specific moral code that can guide everyday decisions. How does saying that life is the ultimate value help a person choose their career, or their life-mate, or how to spend their free time? Well, it doesn't help with any of these things. It's not even clear what it means, in terms of practical decision making. If life is the ultimate value, does that mean you should act to survive as long as possible? But that's not the principle Objectivists follow in their own decision making. Objectivists make use of the argument to "prove" the objectivity of their morality. Then they ignore the argument and follow their natural hard-wired and socially fine-tuned proclivities like everyone else. As a point of fact, human beings don't follow articulated moral systems derived from abstract philosophical reasoning. Everyday decision-making involves too much complexity for articulated systems of morality to work and be effective. Our brains have evolved complex motivational systems that help us survive and breed. These systems are hardly perfect and can perhaps be improved here or there through conscious reasoning (although that's not always the case), but it's impossible to entirely replace them with a "code of morality" based on a philosophical system of ethics like Objectivism. The Objectivist Ethics is little more than an ex post facto rationalization scheme to justify behavior Rand and her followers approve of and to provide a moral rationalization for the Objectivist politics. It doesn't provide a guide for how people should behave; it provides tools to rationalize types of behavior approved of by the broader Objectivist community.

For info (and scientific evidence) on how morality works in the real world of fact, see James Q. Wilson's The Moral Sense, Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind, and/or Jordan Peterson's YouTube lectures on "Personality" and "Maps of Meaning."

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://www.jailbase.com/en/arrested/mo-scso/2015-08-05/gary-leonard-hull-15-080501

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

Daniel Barnes said...

THAT will teach him to violate the Law of Identity.

gregnyquist said...

According to a commentator named "Anna":

"Gary Hull ... was recently arrested in Galena, Missouri for identity theft and a felony fugitive out of state. Arrest number 15-080501. The fugitive charge is from NC where he fled from Duke after being charged with embezzlement. I am sorry to have to tell you that you are among the many that were duped by him. The only person at "Voltaire Press" has always been Gary. There has never been anyone else involved. You misrepresent his motives for publishing as brave when, in fact, it was merely a vehicle for self-promotion and a marketing ploy. He has always twisted the ideas and ideals of Objectivism to suit his own personal interests and desires trying to justify even his own immoral and, now, criminal behavior. Gary Hull believes his own intellect to be so superior to others that the world owes him. If you are truly aware of everything going on, you would not continue to promote his false personna. Those involved with Founders College know better the extent to which his delusions of grandeur led to massive misrepresentations and outright lies."

I actually met Hull years ago. All I can remember is that he complained about the length of von Mises' books, which suggested he regarded them as too long to read. For years he was a protege of Leonard Peikoff. He used to sub for Peikoff on Peikoff's mid 90's radio show on KIEV in Glendale.

Gordon Burkowski said...


The case of Gary Hull should be no surprise. Remember Dr. Lonnie Leonard? See Ellen Plasil's book "Therapist" - an account by one of his victims.

Anonymous said...

Small correction: Hull CLAIMED to be LP's protege. When LP found out Hull was making that claim, LP (finally) got wise to Hull's scamming and denounced him.

gregnyquist said...

If Hull was LP's protege, he was certainly a close younger colleague. The two men co-edited a book together (i.e., "The Ayn Rand Reader").

Gordon Burkowski said...


The Objectivist notion that knowing people's "basic premises" tells you every essential thing you need to know about them means that Objectivists can be all too easily scammed by a Gary Hull or a Lonnie Leonard. As Nathaniel Branden correctly observed in his essay on "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand": ". . .most students of objectivism are pathetically helpless when faced with the task of carrying their ideas into the real world and seeking to implement them. They do not know what to do, most of the time. Objectivism has not prepared them. There is too much about the real world, about social and political institutions, and about human psychology, of which they have no knowledge."

Anonymous said...

You guys are missing a lot of juicy objectivist gossip recently. Is that Jay Snider - son of Ed Snider, David Kelly's first patron - I see on this year's list of OCON speakers? Speculate!