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Critique of Objectivist ethics theory


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#21 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 06 March 2007 - 10:08 PM

Ellen,

Perigo's scramble has always been to gather a following where he is top dog, but his basic initial orientation is as an investigative journalist (he likes to trip people up in public). He was a red-blooded communist before he converted to Objectivism. (I once wrote a review of his biography when we were still communicating and he was "grooming" me as a writer. I called it The Troublemaker. Of course, I left out certain issues back then, and included others that I did not want to...)

There are seeds of true-believer in all red-blooded communists (the ideological kind). Perigo's history in the Objectivist subcommunity is that he wanted to get the lay of the land before laying the cornerstone of his own church and he cultivated friendships on both sides of the TAS/ARI divide (TOC/ARI back then). As he received an either/or letter from Hull about his relationship with David Kelley, he came out solid against ARI. They made the first strike so they were the enemy he needed. Remember that all true-believers need to demonize someone. ARI fit the bill perfectly back then. This was a total about-face from his previous position on ARI.

His biggest frustration with Rand back then was that she had those darn defects, so she was not really worship material. (Perigo himself was worship material, or at least he thought he was, but it was too early for godhood at that time. Subsequent events have not been very kind to that end.)

The one thing Perigo would never tolerate is someone from the outside sticking their noses in New Zealand politics, especially in the places where he was making his move (Libertarianz party and policies). For example, he finagled a job out of David Kelley, but fell out with him when he could not impose his will on their statistical analyses with respect to New Zealand. He also could not bash people in NZ when the organization he worked for praised NZ for being a good place to live. So he quit before he even got underway in his job.

Jim Peron came into NZ, but instead of bowing down before Perigo and becoming a minion, he did his own thing and became far, far more successful in implementing libertarianism. So out came Perigo with that pedophile business from several decades ago (indirectly through the Locke Foundation) and some really nasty behind-the-scenes screwing Peron over. Barbara would not jump on the bandwagon back then and trash her friend. This was the real source of her split with Perigo. I even tried to mediate a truce in the wings. Things got nasty (especially after the Drooling Beast episode) and then, out of pure spite, Perigo read PARC.

BINGO.

With PARC, he finally got an Ayn Rand he could worship, he could exact revenge on Barbara for refusing to bow before him over Peron (including revenge for the scare he got from the public discussion of his heavy drinking—he actually told me that being branded as an alcoholic could damage his image as an Objectivist leader, so he already thought of himself that way back then), and he got a real live, honest-to-Galt scapegoat he could demonize (to restore Rand as a heroine, of course) all in one fell swoop. There were some other issues like trying to justify his baby-bawling temper tantrums and running a rusty nail through Joe Rowlands (actually getting Rowlands to agree to pay him a salary to write a daily article on the website which Perigo defaulted on continuously), but these were secondary to establishing his goddess as worship-worthy and himself has head priest and protector of Her Honor. (His lack of erudition in Objectivism is not really a problem. How many backwater preachers have read the full Bible?)

All he had to do was turn off that little voice inside saying, "something still doesn't sound right," and betray everything he ever said about Barbara. But hell, who needs integrity with an opportunity like that?

:)

(I can go on about this all day and still not run out of stories.)

Michael

Know thyself...


#22 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 02:08 AM

His biggest frustration with Rand back then was that she had those darn defects, so she was not really worship material.

[....]

(I can go on about this all day and still not run out of stories.)

Michael,

Your hypothesis that all along Perigo wanted Rand to be a worshipable icon is intriguing, and maybe you're right, although the hypothesis doesn't entirely square with things I've heard about him from people who have known him a long while. I think you are right about his desire to be top dog in New Zealand and about various hassles which that desire has engendered. At any rate, maybe examining the Perigo dirty linen gets into more than is necessarily where one wants to go in regard to the original subject of the extent to which a Rand influence is damaging to the young person, especially, who comes under her spell.

Ellen

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#23 Victor Pross

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 03:23 AM

Quote: Why do I think Objectivism is dangerous to younger folks? The ideas themselves (though I disagree with many) I must admit are not particularly dangerous in and of themselves, but there's more to the story - much more. When young, discontented, malleable minds find Objectivism they tend to embrace much more than the ideas, they embrace the leader (Rand) lock, stock and barrel , and will usually emulate the behaviour and attitudes etc. of the leader and her followers and herein lies the danger.




Bob,

I believe you are making a grave error. There are self-proclaimed Objectivists who are already given to bad behavior, but they are random individuals who have brought their inner baggage to Objectivism. It is not Objectivism that instigated it. There are self-proclaimed Christians who bring their inner baggage to the religion, but one can clearly argue that religions have inherent garbage—in that they are fundamentally wrong. The same cannot be said with Objectivism. Whatever its flaws and errors, it is a philosophy that is fundamentally correct. That is to say, it is true and right. Therefore, such a philosophy will yield more positive results to those who undertake to understand and apply it to their lives.

In her article, Barbara Branden’s philosophical indictment of the “true believer” mentality that infiltrates Objectivist circles is as cogent as anyone as ever written. She has identified the typical power monger and manipulator mentality all too common in actual cults.*(1) Too often Objectivist circles have been plagued with backbiting, hysterical denunciations, zealous sectarianism and unjust inquisitions.**(2) (Being the “cult of one” that I am, I try to distance myself from the party-line types).

Mind you, I do not agree with the idea that if one is to accept the benefits of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, then one must also be prepared to accept its “hazards.” (Insofar, that is, that those hazards are allegedly said to be inherent in the philosophy itself).

What are Objectivism’s hazards? It doesn’t matter to me if some proof-reader counted the number of times Rand used the word “contempt” in her writings. And generally speaking, I don’t agree with the injustice of saddling Ayn Rand with blame for the ill-behavior of her supporters. God, how tired I grow of listening to people who blame Ayn Rand for their own shortcomings!

I believe that fighting the problem of what has been identified in some other post as “Objectivism’s plague” starts with actually proscribing to the philosophy—and in this case, I mean this: Individual responsibility.

If I blame Ayn Rand for my mindless decisions to brand someone “irrational” merely because they have offended me---I am not taking responsibility. If I blame Objectivism for my choice to practice the virtue of justice, but misunderstand or purposely contort its application---I am not taking responsibility. If I blame a certain organization’s teachings because I thoughtlessly recycle ideas without applying first-handed independent judgment---I am not taking responsibility. And by blaming mommy or the devil or Rand, certain individuals are seeking scapegoats, which are not offered to explain poor choices, but to justify them. Why not focus some of your fire on those philosophies that deride or underplay individual responsibility, that downplay the pursuit for excellence to submission and resignation---that sacrifices the individual to some collective cause, that...well, you know where I am going with this.

Bob, what I want to say in a nutshell is this: Ayn Rand is not the bad guy in the history of philosophy. In the end, it's the individual that must take responsibility. Objectivism recognizes this more than any philosophy that you’ll ever come across. If you know of some other philosophy that does, please, I ask you, bring it to our attention.

-Victor

NOTE FROM ADMINISTRATOR:

** Plagiarized from Post 29 by Michael Stuart Kelly from the "Objectivism's Plague: Questions" thread on OL. The original passages read as follows:

(1)
Another type is the typical power monger and manipulator who can be found in all cults.

(Note: This is a borderline plagiarism since it is short and there is some paraphrasing, but it qualifies for the present context since the plagiary pattern is so well established.)

** Plagiarized from Post 21 by Barbara Branden from the "Objectivism's Plague: Questions" thread on OL. The original passage reads as follows:

(2)
The spectacle of people whose most fundamental dedication is not to the spread of important philosophical ideas, but to backbiting, hysterical denunciations, fanatical sectarianism, and inquisitions.

(Note: This is a borderline plagiarism since it is short and there is some paraphrasing, but it qualifies for the present context since the plagiary pattern is so well established.)

OL extends its deepest apologies to Barbara Branden.

Edited by Michael Stuart Kelly, 04 August 2007 - 05:27 PM.

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#24 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 03:34 AM

At any rate, maybe examining the Perigo dirty linen gets into more than is necessarily where one wants to go in regard to the original subject of the extent to which a Rand influence is damaging to the young person, especially, who comes under her spell.

Ellen,

LOLOLOLOLOLOL...

Whazza matter? Don't like the raunchy smell?

Dayaamm! I was just filling the wash tub...

:)

Michael

Know thyself...


#25 Victor Pross

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 05:43 AM

I've no time to answer all the points, I'll just take the last one as an example:


Well, he built a giant strawman right there and it still doesn't have a brain. He managed to completely leave the "ethical" out of the ethical egoism. In order to say that you have the right to torture and kill 500 people you must also grant other people that same right

Why? You're missing Huemer's point, which is not that Rand's conclusions are necessarily wrong, but that the claim that she can prove them is wrong. This is an example of begging the question. The fact that your life is valuable to you does not automatically imply that you have to respect the lives of others.

Also, you must ignore the right to life. Both of those things are against your own rational self-interest.

That is no proof. The question is: how do you know what your rational self-interest is? Presupposing the answer is no proof. The clearest example is Rand's surreptitious switch from "life qua existence" to "life of man qua man". The first refers only to life as such, survival as a living being, and Rand's argument is that man's ultimate value is his life. But then her argument fails, because someone who lives as a parasite or as a criminal can be very succesful in prolonging his life, and sometimes a quite comfortable life as well. Obviously this is not what Rand wants to prove, so now she suddenly switches from "life qua existence" to "life of man qua man" (read: life according to the Objectivist ideal). But that is just putting the desired answer into the argument which constitutes no proof at all, so the whole argument breaks down. The problem is that many people like Rand's answers so much that they blindly believe her claim that she can prove them, but that is an illusion. You cannot prove an "ought" from an "is".



Dragonfly,

Regarding your last paragraph, what do we have here? To use the Objectivist lingo, have we a stolen concept or context dropping? Parasites, by definition, cannot live except by feeding off a host—a host that is, we can presume, rational! A criminal, meaning one where victims are involved, also lives the life of a parasite —especially career criminals. Such people could not live a “comfortable” life where it not for those who are living ethically. Somebody is getting it right for these parasites and criminals to get by--these creatures who suck the life blood of moral men for their own survival (such as it is and for how long it'll last). Tell me, who is really getting it right---at root?

Yes, this post doesn't answer all the objections you bring up in your post, but I just wanted to touch on what I did for now. :turned:

-Victor

Edited by Victor Pross, 07 March 2007 - 06:48 AM.

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#26 Brant Gaede

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 10:41 AM

Also, you must ignore the right to life. Both of those things are against your own rational self-interest.

That is no proof. The question is: how do you know what your rational self-interest is? Presupposing the answer is no proof. The clearest example is Rand's surreptitious switch from "life qua existence" to "life of man qua man". The first refers only to life as such, survival as a living being, and Rand's argument is that man's ultimate value is his life. But then her argument fails, because someone who lives as a parasite or as a criminal can be very succesful in prolonging his life, and sometimes a quite comfortable life as well. Obviously this is not what Rand wants to prove, so now she suddenly switches from "life qua existence" to "life of man qua man" (read: life according to the Objectivist ideal). But that is just putting the desired answer into the argument which constitutes no proof at all, so the whole argument breaks down. The problem is that many people like Rand's answers so much that they blindly believe her claim that she can prove them, but that is an illusion. You cannot prove an "ought" from an "is".


Perhaps you can't "prove" it, but you sure can get it. Where else would one get an "ought" from? And if there ought not be oughts there ought not be philosophy and morality. (?)

--Brant

Rational Individualist, Rational self-interest, Individual Rights--Libertarian--objectivist Objectivist, not an Objectivist Objectivist


#27 Jeff Kremer

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 11:21 AM

Dragonfly,
If you claim to have the right to life, you must ask "What gives me the right to life?" The answer is that what makes you human gives you the right to life (we can debate exactly what/why that is later). If being human gives you the right to life then you must grant the right to life to all those that share the trait. So you couldn't torture and murder anybody without violating their rights.
The belief in the morality of altruism is the belief that you should use tires without treads on a rainy day so that you don't cause a crash by kicking water into another driver's windshield; you'll definitely crash, but you may have saved someone else. Government enforced altruism is just forcing the treads off everyone's tires. This will ensure that everyone will crash, but at least they will be helping others while they do it.

#28 Dragonfly

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 11:22 AM

Regarding your last paragraph, what do we have here? To use the Objectivist lingo, have we a stolen concept or context dropping? Parasites, by definition, cannot live except by feeding off a host—a host that is, we can presume, rational!

So what? Does that make the parasite any less rational? You've fallen in the Randian trap of equating "rational" with "according to Objectivist principles" (which makes many Objectivists so insufferable, as they maintain that only they are thinking and acting rationally). However, rationality has nothing to do with what your purpose is, but how you try to realize it. So parasites or murderers can be very rational in planning how to live off other people or how to kill someone. That certainly doesn't mean that we have to approve their choices or methods (I don't). Neither can we prove that the choice of their goals is irrational by relating it to the striving towards to some ultimate goal. If that ultimate goal is to survive, many of them certainly succeed in doing so. You can claim that their goal should be to survive as "man qua man", but then we're back to square one, as we presuppose the answer without proving it.

#29 Dragonfly

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 11:37 AM

Perhaps you can't "prove" it, but you sure can get it. Where else would one get an "ought" from? And if there ought not be oughts there ought not be philosophy and morality. (?)

I'm not saying that "oughts" can't be useful, I'm only refuting the claim that you can prove them scientifically. Where do they come from? I think a lot can be explained by evolutionary psychology, some strategies work better than other ones, and they may evolve in the course of time, fashions come and go. But the result is not unequivocal, different people may arrive at different "oughts", and it's therefore an illusion that we can convince every rational person to adopt our "oughts", merely by some logical argument. For example, there will always be socialists (be it under a different name) and criminals. We can only try to persuade as many people to adopt our viewpoint in this.

#30 Dragonfly

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 11:58 AM

If you claim to have the right to life, you must ask "What gives me the right to life?" The answer is that what makes you human gives you the right to life (we can debate exactly what/why that is later). If being human gives you the right to life then you must grant the right to life to all those that share the trait. So you couldn't torture and murder anybody without violating their rights.

I agree with your sentiments, but not with your argument as a logical proof. Try thinking outside the Randian box. Logically seen, I may very well claim my right to life while denying that right to others, if survival is my ultimate goal. Or I even don't have to claim that right to life, I just take the appropriate actions to ensure my survival. No, that's not your system (and neither is it mine), but disapproval is no proof. That's my whole point: I may agree with many of the "oughts" of Objectivism, but I'm not accepting the pretension that these can be derived in a quasi-scientific way, that is a typical case of rationalization, which always consists of putting the desired answers somewhere into the argument.

#31 Victor Pross

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 12:37 PM


Regarding your last paragraph, what do we have here? To use the Objectivist lingo, have we a stolen concept or context dropping? Parasites, by definition, cannot live except by feeding off a host—a host that is, we can presume, rational!

So what? Does that make the parasite any less rational? You've fallen in the Randian trap of equating "rational" with "according to Objectivist principles" (which makes many Objectivists so insufferable, as they maintain that only they are thinking and acting rationally). However, rationality has nothing to do with what your purpose is, but how you try to realize it. So parasites or murderers can be very rational in planning how to live off other people or how to kill someone. That certainly doesn't mean that we have to approve their choices or methods (I don't). Neither can we prove that the choice of their goals is irrational by relating it to the striving towards to some ultimate goal. If that ultimate goal is to survive, many of them certainly succeed in doing so. You can claim that their goal should be to survive as "man qua man", but then we're back to square one, as we presuppose the answer without proving it.


Dragonfly,

No, I have not fallen to the “trap” of equating rational with “according to Objectivist principles”. That is your tacked on assertion. I object to it on two accounts: A, even if it were a simple case of my putting forth anything “according to Objectivist principles” I hardly see this as a “trap”; that is merely an expression of your enmity to Objectivism, and it does not address my post. B, the word “rational” is not a Randian concoction. It is an actual word in the philosophical lexicon. So is Objectivity. Generally speaking, and out side of the “Randian box as you would prefer, “rationality means containing or possessing reason or characterized by reason. Intelligible. Sensible…" [Dictionary of philosophy, Peter Angeles].

Questions: Is there an objective (little ‘o’) definition for rationality? Does such a state of mind exist? What is your definition? Should man live by this?

-Victor

Edited by Victor Pross, 10 March 2007 - 02:49 AM.

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#32 Brant Gaede

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 12:56 PM


Perhaps you can't "prove" it, but you sure can get it. Where else would one get an "ought" from? And if there ought not be oughts there ought not be philosophy and morality. (?)

I'm not saying that "oughts" can't be useful, I'm only refuting the claim that you can prove them scientifically. Where do they come from? I think a lot can be explained by evolutionary psychology, some strategies work better than other ones, and they may evolve in the course of time, fashions come and go. But the result is not unequivocal, different people may arrive at different "oughts", and it's therefore an illusion that we can convince every rational person to adopt our "oughts", merely by some logical argument. For example, there will always be socialists (be it under a different name) and criminals. We can only try to persuade as many people to adopt our viewpoint in this.


I agree with your first sentence. I am not prepared now to comment on the rest. But is your philosophy "scientificism?" Pragmatism? (?)

--Brant

Rational Individualist, Rational self-interest, Individual Rights--Libertarian--objectivist Objectivist, not an Objectivist Objectivist


#33 Dragonfly

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 01:15 PM

No, I have not fallen to the “trap” of equating rational with “according to Objectivist principles”. That is your tacked on assertion. I object to it on two accounts: A, even if it were a simple case of my putting forth anything “according to Objectivist principles” I hardly see this as a “trap”; that is merely an expression of your enmity to Objectivism, and it does not address my post. B, the word “rational” is not a Randian concoction. It is an actual word in the philosophical lexicon. So is Objectivity. Generally speaking, and out side of the “Randian box as you would prefer, “rationality means containing or possessing reason or characterized by reason. Intelligible. Sensible…" [Dictionary of philosophy, Peter Angeles].

Well, this definition does at least not imply that a parasite or a criminal is not behaving rationally.

#34 Dragonfly

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 01:25 PM

I agree with your first sentence. I am not prepared now to comment on the rest. But is your philosophy "scientificism?" Pragmatism? (?)

I don't know what these philosophies exactly imply. Maybe I would agree with some of it, but I could as well disagree with other points. Therefore I see no use to associate myself with some kind of "ism". In the past I've been accused too often of being all kinds of "ists" to attach much value to such labeling.

#35 Victor Pross

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 01:27 PM


No, I have not fallen to the “trap” of equating rational with “according to Objectivist principles”. That is your tacked on assertion. I object to it on two accounts: A, even if it were a simple case of my putting forth anything “according to Objectivist principles” I hardly see this as a “trap”; that is merely an expression of your enmity to Objectivism, and it does not address my post. B, the word “rational” is not a Randian concoction. It is an actual word in the philosophical lexicon. So is Objectivity. Generally speaking, and out side of the “Randian box as you would prefer, “rationality means containing or possessing reason or characterized by reason. Intelligible. Sensible…" [Dictionary of philosophy, Peter Angeles].

Well, this definition does at least not imply that a parasite or a criminal is not behaving rationally.


That is because it is a dictionary of philosophy, not a treatise on ethics. The conclusion that “men ought not to act like parasites” would come from an ethical principle, it is true, and that requires a long chain of reasoning calling for a treatise on the subject. But I am still interested to know what guides you life in the ethical department and what guides you to come to sound conclusions on anything in the epistemological department. Would it have something to do with the “scientific method”, of reason and rationality?
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#36 Dragonfly

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 01:48 PM

That is because it is a dictionary of philosophy, not a treatise on ethics. The conclusion that “men ought not to act like parasites” would come from an ethical principle, it is true, and that requires a long chain of reasoning calling for a treatise on the subject. But I am still interested to know what guides you life in the ethical department and what guides you to come to sound conclusions on anything in the epistemological department. Would it have something to do with the “scientific method”, of reason and rationality?

In the ethical department? Just my gut feeling, which I could rationalize of course as well as anyone else, only I'm not inclined to do so. The scientific method seems to work quite well, so I like to use it in the epistemological department, in that sense I'm a pragmatist (not implying that I belong to the philosophical school with the same name, I just know too little about that).

#37 Bob_Mac

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 02:29 PM

To me, I think it's pretty simple.

Man can CHOOSE what he values including his ultimate value, and this can even change with time and according to certain situations etc.

Rand's ethic's are not derived as she would have you believe. There is no firm footing in asserting the "ought" in Objectivism or anything else for that matter.

As I see it, it's fine to say that IF you value A, then you ought to do B. But there's no teeth in the "You ought to value "A" argument.

Bob

#38 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 03:14 PM

Dragonfly, in #32 you remarked:
"I'm not saying that 'oughts' can't be useful, I'm only refuting the claim that you can prove them scientifically." Nor quasi-scientifically, you add later.

Here are some assertions of Rand and two nineteenth-century philosophers about the nature of life. These are statements about all organisms, from a single-cell organism to a human being.

Rand
"Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action."
"An organism's life depends on two factors: the material or fuel which it needs from the outside, from its physical background, and the action of its own body, the action of using that fuel properly."
"The automatic functions of living organisms are actions whose nature is such that they result in the preservation of an organism's life."
"The definition of organism (in general terms) would be: 'An entity possessing the capacities of internally generated action, of growth through metabolism, and of reproduction'."

Nietzsche
"The essential thing in the vital process is precisely the tremendous shaping force which creates forms from within and which utilizes, exploits the 'external circumstances'."

Guyau
"Existence and life imply nutrition, consequently appropriation, transformation for itself of the forces of nature. Life is a kind of gravitation upon itself. But a being always needs to accumulate a surplus of force to ensure the amount necessary to maintain life. Thrift is a very law of nature. What will become of this surplus force? . . . . Life has two sides. By the one, nutrition and assimilation; by the other, production and fecundity."

Each of these three philosophers developed a theory of value in general, and human chosen values in particular, around those various general features of living activity. All three knowingly relied on the science of biology in their own age. All were trying to be sensitive to that science in their theories of value and of what one should or should not do.

Both Rand and Guyau described their theories as the first true ethical theories based only on scientific facts. The casting of certain values as norms based on biology and psychology need not be nothing but a scientific casting in order to be a wholly rational casting. Which features of the biologically given and the psychologically given are stressed by a value theorist needs to be watched and remembered by the consumer. But there is no reason to presume that rationality in consumption or in any other venture is a willy-nilly norm that can only be rationalized rather than rationally inferred from facts.

Stephen

#39 R. Christian Ross

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 03:22 PM

As I see it, it's fine to say that IF you value A, then you ought to do B. But there's no teeth in the "You ought to value "A" argument.


I disagree. For example, if you are a human being then you ought to value water (unless you don't want to live at all). Given existence and the desire to live, one can not choose or not choose to value water. Rand's reasoning is just an extension of this biologically/life based logic.

Rand was simply asserting that WHAT we are (as human beings) determines, in part, what kinds of abstract values we ought to hold. Rand (and many others) would say that it is contrary to the actual nature of a human being to value being enslaved...



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#40 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 03:27 PM

Man can CHOOSE what he values including his ultimate value, and this can even change with time and according to certain situations etc.

Bob,

I have a problem with this when we get to certain fundamental things like nutrition. Man can usually choose his values (not always), but when he does choose, it is always within parameters if he is to attain a result (such as survive). The whole point of deriving the "ought" from the "is" (as I understand it) is to include that qualification "if." There is always some condition being met with obtaining/holding a value.

The very basic "ought from is" statement would be "man ought to choose to act in accordance with his nature under normal circumstances if he wishes to fully realize his inherent potential." The "is" is man's inherent potential and it is derived from his nature (Rand often calls this "the given") and the "ought" was specified. There is even an "ought" derived from an "is" in that statement. "Man ought to learn what his real nature is if he wishes to choose correctly to act in accordance with it."

Michael

Know thyself...





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