starrynightlife

Reconsidering Rand's Ethics

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Hello OL folks!

I'll start with a short introduction. I suppose I'd say I've been a student of Objectivism and philosophy for 7 years. I've read most of Rand's books, and several books on the philosophy. For reasons I won't get into, I've had to do some premise-checking, desiring to clarify and ensure the objectivity of my beliefs. I've run into some issues and would much appreciate help. I hope you'll enjoy the challenge.

Objectivism observes that life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generating action and builds its ethics on this insight. The meta-ethics concludes that an organism's life is its ultimate value. Objectivism holds a special place for entities, rather than populations or cells composing an entity. In a real sense, Objectivism is egoistic because of its methodological individualism. But is this tenable?

Cells are living things with values in their own right. A collection of cells become an organism when they specialize and form structures that function to sustain a body. In time they will specialize to effectively value the life of the whole above their own. I believe this is Objectivism's justification for giving primacy to organisms rather than the cells they are composed of. But what are we to make of structures with functions that can't be understood as sustaining the life of the whole? Two phenomena serve as counter examples: cancer (which can be easily dismissed as mere disease) and sexual cells and structures.

Sexual cells, structures, and their counterpart impulses strain the idea that life is an organism's ultimate value or that organisms can be granted a unified purpose. The pathetic plight of the male Anglerfish (see here for a hilarious explanation) serves as a dramatic example. The Anglerfish is an organism with objective needs for life and Objectivist ethics says that if it had a choice it should pursue only values conducive to that end. Yet its sense organs and impulses seem entirely bent on living only to mate; this mating ritual consists of a slow death while melting into the female. A spectrum of less extreme examples appear allover the world of life. Cells and structures can be understood as having ends of their own even within bodies. Sexual organs sometimes compromise the organism's ability to live by growing large and nutritionally expensive. Sexual cells release hormones that create impulses that often put the organism's life at risk. Indeed, evolution has invoked the cocept Cost and Group Selection (an out-dated concept, perhaps) to help comprehend life's deadly behaviors.

Objectivism's understanding of life would be totally compelling if organisms weren't partly made for costly procreative interests that do not work to the organisms overall benefit. This is arguably true even of humans. It is a wonderful fact that the act of sex enhances our life, but the same case for procreation is dim. Human babies make life harder and less happy (according to a study I can reference if needed. Happy may be used in too narrow a sense). Procreation is costly to women and may make later life harder. Yet even if organisms are made up of incompatible ends, humans are uniquely capable of unifying these ends through reason.

Objectivism argues life needs an ultimate end, because a mess of ends is a metaphysical, epistemological impossibility. In a sense this is right. When an organism's "ultimate ends" conflict, it might die. But it seems that two ultimate ends coexist in living entity long enough to count.

The same argument can be applied at the level of populations by way of analogies. Are values so tidy and discrete that they don't apply to populations in unique ways? This is already overly long, and I think you can make the connections.

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Rand equivocates between life as a self-sustaining process and the life of an individual. Individuals do not spring into existence from nothing. They are the offspring of their ancestors. And what is the only truth that we know is absolutely true of every one of our ancestors without exception? They each lived to reproduce.

That being said, none of us owes nature anything. She cynically manipulates our desires, not caring for us as individuals. We are free to follow whatever path will lead us to happiness. For many, if not the vast majority of us that will include reproductive sex and child rearing. For those of us who find that our natures, due to the shuffle of the nucleic acids and the vicissitudes of development, lead us elsewhere, there is no duty to reproduce.

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Hello OL folks!

Cells are living things with values in their own right. A collection of cells become an organism when they specialize and form structures that function to sustain a body.ady overly long, and I think you can make the connections.

Rand equivocates between life as a self-sustaining process and the life of an individual. She cynically manipulates our desires, not caring for us as individuals.

Rand exalted the individual-if you want to be validated as a worm - there are tons of places to assuage your sentiments.

They all in the .gov domain

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The following "quote" of me by Pippi is either blindly stupid, or dishonest as hell. I suspect maybe both:

Rand equivocates between life as a self-sustaining process and the life of an individual. She cynically manipulates our desires, not caring for us as individuals.

Rand exalted the individual-if you want to be validated as a worm - there are tons of places to assuage your sentiments.

Don't quote someone without showing the ellipsis when you omit intervening words. In case you don't know, ellipsis is what you may call the dots.

Here is the original text, with the parts you excerpted in different paragraphs and referring to different subjects entirely:

Rand equivocates between life as a self-sustaining process and the life of an individual. Individuals do not spring into existence from nothing. They are the offspring of their ancestors. And what is the only truth that we know is absolutely true of every one of our ancestors without exception? They each lived to reproduce.

That being said, none of us owes nature anything. She cynically manipulates our desires, not caring for us as individuals. We are free to follow whatever path will lead us to happiness. For many, if not the vast majority of us that will include reproductive sex and child rearing. For those of us who find that our natures, due to the shuffle of the nucleic acids and the vicissitudes of development, lead us elsewhere, there is no duty to reproduce.

You need to learn to read, write and think. As Phil so charitably told you, your looks won't last.

Edited by Ted Keer

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You need to learn to read, write and think. As Phil told you, your looks won't last.

Ted are you an objecivist? Is Phil an Objectivist?

I haven't come across one person who will tell me they are an Objectivist here and that is kind of scary considering the title of this website.

I have heard from socialists and non comittals all over the place here-what is the point?

Pure Objectivism is basically undoable-the proof is in this forum

If some one starts talking about cells and organisms I shut down-cells and plasma aren't people

You all should rename this forum Academic Living and take it from there.

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You need to learn to read, write and think. As Phil told you, your looks won't last.

Ted are you an objecivist? Is Phil an Objectivist?

I haven't come across one person who will tell me they are an Objectivist here and that is kind of scary considering the title of this website.

I have heard from socialists and non comittals all over the place here-what is the point?

Pure Objectivism is basically undoable-the proof is in this forum

If some one starts talking about cells and organisms I shut down-cells and plasma aren't people

You all should rename this forum Academic Living and take it from there.

Even if I weren't an Objectivist (and Phil and I both are) you would owe me the courtesy of not blatantly misrepresenting what I said. Nor does my being an Objectivist mean that I will ignore your egregious errors out of solidarity.

Consider why I constructed two separate paragraphs. To what does the pronoun "she" refer in my second paragraph, Pippi? Don't evade the question. Think. And answer. To what does the pronoun she refer in the second paragraph?

Do you even realize your mistake?

Edited by Ted Keer

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.

Welcome to Objectivist Living, Epi.

The issues in your first post are of interest to me also. Here are a couple of related threads of mine: Rand’s Morality of Life and (without drawing implications for ethics) Thank Your Lucky Cells.

The coupling between the life of the individual organism and its species seems far stronger than the coupling between the life of the individual organism to functional systems above the species, such as deme and ecosystem. Biological relationship between human individual and species (species through family, tribe, clan, etc.) is the big one for moralities based on biology (cf. Nozick 2001).

The human species is found in such a wide range of environments on the planet because of the human mind. As Rand stressed, the human mind and its creativity is a feature of the individual human. We need to assess the import for ethics the circumstance that the individual has a mind suited to survival only due to its ontogeny in a social surround. Then too, I notice, the biological function of mind is survival not only of the individual, but of the species.*

You may like to read also Ronald Merrill’s essay Objectivist Ethics: A Biological Critique.

Hi Ellen,

In his essay, Ronald Merrill argued that Rand's conception of life was not entirely correct and that her ethical theory based on the concept of life therefore stood in need of renovations. He indicated some areas where he expected revisions and extensions would be necessary in Rand's ethical system in order for it to be fully attuned to modern biology. He had not yet formulated specifically what those revisions and extensions ought to be.

In the Remarks section in V2N6 of Objectivity (the issue of Objectivity following the one in which Ron's essay had been published) there were two responses to his essay: one from Phil Coates and one from Marsha Enright. Ron had died before seeing them.

My "True Searcher" piece opening that Remarks section was a remembrance of Ron through our exchanges. We had never met, but as with most of my writers, we had a substantial correspondence concerning essays submitted for publication in Objectivity. I recounted some of that correspondence, including some of our correspondence concerning his "Objectivist Ethics: A Biological Critique."

Here is that portion from "True Searcher."

In May 1997, Ron sent me his "Objectivist Ethics: A Biological Critique." This elicited a seven-page letter, and enclosures, from the Editor and a six-page letter from the Assistant Editor. Let it not be said that Ronald Merrill's ideas were not stimulating. There was one important criticism that he did not address in his revision of the article, but which he hoped to broach in future work.

I had commented that revision of Rand's definition of life to include reproduction could well have profound implications for her basic theory of value. If reproduction is an essential, fundamental part of the philosopher's definition of life, if reproduction is on a par with survival, if reproduction is as much the standard of value as survival of the organism is the standard of value, what becomes of the proposition that every man is an end in himself? What becomes of egoism? Should not interests other than the individual's---interests of the family or the population or other biological systems beyond the individual organism---then be appropriate moral criteria, perhaps alongside self-interest?

Ron had hoped to address this line of questioning in a future article or series of articles in Objectivity. To that end, he proposed to dig further into contemporary biology and to issue in the end a revised egoism, one explicitly harmonizing organism and gene, survival and reproduction.

In autumn 1997, . . . [Ron wrote to me] "My next project will be the paper on reproduction and Objectivist ethics. (Tentative title: 'Reproduction and Egoism'.) To my mind, this will mean examining, at a deeper level of rigor than is usually adopted, Rand's metaethical argument. Already I am beginning to see that a key issue will be her parable of the 'indestructible robot'." He evidently did not then know that the cancer he had fought for nine years was making its final assault. Who will take up Ron's unfinished work in basic ethical theory?

I am pleased to say that another of the Objectivity writers, Kathleen Touchstone, has risen to that challenge. Her answer is set out in her mighty tome Then Athena Said (2006).

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Objectivism observes that life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generating action and builds its ethics on this insight.

This contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. No system is self sustaining. Even the cosmos is running out of usable energy. Entropy increases over time with any closed system and any open system gets its energy from the outside which contradicts the assertion that life is self generating. It isn't. It requires an external energy source.

Any ethical system built on a false premise is dubious.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Objectivism observes that life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generating action and builds its ethics on this insight.

This contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. No system is self sustaining. Even the cosmos is running out of usable energy. Entropy increases over time with any closed system and any open system gets its energy from the outside which contradicts the assertion that life is self generating. It isn't. It requires an external energy source.

Any ethical system built on a false premise is dubious.

A comment based on a false premise is also dubious.

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.

Yes, further to #9,

Bob,

The premise that life is self-sustaining (which is a proposition not originating with or peculiar to Rand, but is widespread among biologists and philosophers of biology) is not the proposition that life is a perpetual-motion organization of matter. (Neither a perpetual-motion machine of the first kind nor of the second kind, if you are familiar with that division.) Life as self-sustaining, in the individual organism (or individual colony) as well as in its species, is conceived as eventually ending due ultimately to the second law. The contrast category of living things as self-sustaining is the category of inanimate things. By its form of organization, the living thing (quite vulnerable in the case of the individual organism) actively sustains itself and its organized development, over some interval of days or years, against its termination under the second law.* That is starkly different from the passive endurance of a rock, or even a flame, against its eventual termination in accordance with the second law.

.

Edited by Stephen Boydstun

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Objectivism observes that life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generating action and builds its ethics on this insight.

This contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. No system is self sustaining. Even the cosmos is running out of usable energy. Entropy increases over time with any closed system and any open system gets its energy from the outside which contradicts the assertion that life is self generating. It isn't. It requires an external energy source.

Any ethical system built on a false premise is dubious.

A comment based on a false premise is also dubious.

The second law of thermodynamics is well supported by empirical evidence. Rand was a science ignoramus.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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.

Yes, further to #9,

Bob,

The premise that life is self-sustaining (which is a proposition not originating with or peculiar to Rand, but is widespread among biologists and philosophers of biology) is not the proposition that life is a perpetual-motion organization of matter. (Neither a perpetual-motion machine of the first kind nor of the second kind, if you are familiar with that division.) Life as self-sustaining, in the individual organism (or individual colony) as well as in its species, is conceived as eventually ending due ultimately to the second law. The contrast category of living things as self-sustaining is the category of inanimate things. By its form of organization, the living thing (quite vulnerable in the case of the individual organism) actively sustains itself and its organized development, over some interval of days or years, against its termination under the second law.* That is starkly different from the passive endurance of a rock, or even a flame, against its eventual termination in accordance with the second law.

.

I know the difference between P.M.M of the first and second kind.

In the long run all things living and dead will be cold and dead.

2LOT is as close to True as any scientific principle.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Pure Objectivism is basically undoable-the proof is in this forum.

If some one starts talking about cells and organisms I shut down-cells and plasma aren't people

Plants aren't people either, but according to Rand, they can "seek values".

In the long run all things living and dead will be cold and dead.

2LOT is as close to True as any scientific principle.

The 2LOT gave the Randian heroes something to chew on, as is apparent in the conversation between Dagny and Rearden in AS. One of them even called it a mere "story".

It is understandable why they are so upset though. For the 2LOT goes against the idea of a 'benevolent' universe.

The meta-ethics concludes that an organism's life is its ultimate value.

The conclusion is a non-sequitur in view of the fact that there exist enough human organisms to whom their life is not the ultimate value. Those who commit suicide for example, choose non-existence over existence.

There exists no "ought" from an "is". Which is why from the fact of being alive it cannot be deducted that one "ought to" value it.

Edited by Xray

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Objectivism observes that life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generating action and builds its ethics on this insight.

This contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. No system is self sustaining. Even the cosmos is running out of usable energy. Entropy increases over time with any closed system and any open system gets its energy from the outside which contradicts the assertion that life is self generating. It isn't. It requires an external energy source.

Any ethical system built on a false premise is dubious.

A comment based on a false premise is also dubious.

The second law of thermodynamics is well supported by empirical evidence. Rand was a science ignoramus.

What exactly is your point, Bob? That life doesn't exist, because it violates the second law of thermodynamics? Or that living beings do not act to maintain and reproduce themselves? Rand did not say that entropy decreases in a closed system. Why are you so desperate to prove your pseudo-scientific superiority by attributing to Rand arguments that she did not make?

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What exactly is your point, Bob? That life doesn't exist, because it violates the second law of thermodynamics? Or that living beings do not act to maintain and reproduce themselves? Rand did not say that entropy decreases in a closed system. Why are you so desperate to prove your pseudo-scientific superiority by attributing to Rand arguments that she did not make?

What is the difficulty? Rand's statement about life being a self generated self sustaining process taken literally is nonsense.

Any principle that contradicts 2LOT is just plain wrong (until such time as 2LOT is falsified empirically)..

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Thanks Stephan, for responding with like seriousness. You've offered much food for thought.

Thanks Ted, for the only other helpful bit.

If I have further questions I'll resort to personal messaging. Looking forward to constructive correspondence.

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What exactly is your point, Bob? That life doesn't exist, because it violates the second law of thermodynamics? Or that living beings do not act to maintain and reproduce themselves? Rand did not say that entropy decreases in a closed system. Why are you so desperate to prove your pseudo-scientific superiority by attributing to Rand arguments that she did not make?

What is the difficulty? Rand's statement about life being a self generated self sustaining process taken literally is nonsense.

Any principle that contradicts 2LOT is just plain wrong (until such time as 2LOT is falsified empirically)..

This is Biology 101, Bob. Living organisms are not closed self-contained systems. Surely, as such an eminent scientician, you are aware that within a wider system, entropy can decrease locally.

This is not rocket science.

For someone so quick to tar Rand as ignorant you sure are clueless. Once again, your claims of superiority are shown to consist of straw men and sloppy pretense.

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What exactly is your point, Bob? That life doesn't exist, because it violates the second law of thermodynamics? Or that living beings do not act to maintain and reproduce themselves? Rand did not say that entropy decreases in a closed system. Why are you so desperate to prove your pseudo-scientific superiority by attributing to Rand arguments that she did not make?

What is the difficulty? Rand's statement about life being a self generated self sustaining process taken literally is nonsense.

Any principle that contradicts 2LOT is just plain wrong (until such time as 2LOT is falsified empirically)..

This is Biology 101, Bob. Living organisms are not closed self-contained systems. Surely, as such an eminent scientician, you are aware that within a wider system, entropy can decrease locally.

Exactly. Which means the energy that runs a living system comes from the outside. Hence the system is NOT self contained. You seem to have difficulty distinguishing energy and entropy. Entropy is energy over thermodynamic temperature. dQ/T

Why don't you learn some physics before you shoot your mouth off?

Ba'al Chatzaf

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We need to assess the import for ethics the circumstance that the individual has a mind suited to survival only due to its ontogeny in a social surround. Then too, I notice, the biological function of mind is survival not only of the individual, but of the species.*

Yes I agree.

I've always thought that Rand's take on this was one-dimensional and rather weak.

Humans, like other animals, are gene-replicating machines. The incredible diversity we see in the animal (and plant for that matter) kingdom are simply variations on this singular theme. Different organisms evolved very different strategies to this end. Different means, same end. Humans occupy a cognitive niche, or at the very least we occupy the highest level of this niche.

But, the locus of ALL life, the central driving factor that basically everything revolves around is the GENE, and not the individual human life. The gene-centric view explains rather nicely a huge range of both animal and human behaviour including kin relationships, tribal dynamics and many, many other things. In fact, a little education/research in this area and one realizes very quickly that Rand's view is simply flat out wrong.

Rand's ethics/morality and politics are completely doomed based on this - fatally flawed and nowhere near close to reality. Start with the premise that one's GENE survival and replication is at the top of the value hierarchy (which are present in others - especially close relations) and ethics development leads to a very different, more correct, place.

Bob

Edited by Bob_Mac

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We need to assess the import for ethics the circumstance that the individual has a mind suited to survival only due to its ontogeny in a social surround. Then too, I notice, the biological function of mind is survival not only of the individual, but of the species.*

Yes I agree.

I've always thought that Rand's take on this was one-dimensional and rather weak.

Humans, like other animals, are gene-replicating machines. The incredible diversity we see in the animal (and plant for that matter) kingdom are simply variations on this singular theme. Different organisms evolved very different strategies to this end. Different means, same end. Humans occupy a cognitive niche, or at the very least we occupy the highest level of this niche.

But, the locus of ALL life, the central driving factor that basically everything revolves around is the GENE, and not the individual human life. The gene-centric view explains rather nicely a huge range of both animal and human behaviour including kin relationships, tribal dynamics and many, many other things. In fact, a little education/research in this area and one realizes very quickly that Rand's view is simply flat out wrong.

Rand's ethics/morality and politics are completely doomed based on this - fatally flawed and nowhere near close to reality. Start with the premise that one's GENE survival and replication is at the top of the value hierarchy (which are present in others - especially close relations) and ethics development leads to a very different, more correct, place.

Bob

Yes, that's the selfish gene hypothesis. It happens to be false. See Ernst Mayr's criticisms in What Evolution Is. The gene is not the level of selection, the organism is. If the gene were the object of selection, there would be no way to explain such phenomena as the frequency of the sickle-cell anemia gene. Children who bear one copy of the gene are resistant to malaria without significantly suffering the effects of anemia. Those that carry no gene suffer significant morbidity from malaria. Those who bear two copies typically die of accute sickling before reproducing. The gene itself can neither be described as good or bad, only the state of having one copy of the sickle and non-sickle variant of the gene can be described as beneficial. The fact is that this is true for all genes. None of them act in isolation, physiologically or epistatically (in interaction with other genes). What is selected are successful phenotypes, successful body types.

Consider the K/T event which killled the dinosaurs. This event can be taken as an example of selection par excellence. No non-aquatic animal larger than a cat or a chicken survived it. This cannot be explained in terms of selection for a specific "smallness gene." The notion is absurd. Yes the surviving animal's sizes were in part an effect of their genetic compliments. The organism cannot be separated from its genes. But just as one could build a functional basket out of legos or a functional basket out of tinker toys one could not describe specific lego pieces or specific tinker toy pieces as well adapted to basket building on their own, or build a functional basket out of half basket-adapted tinker toys and half basket-adapted legos just because they were successfully used to build a basket in a earlier, different context.

In the end, the confusion is metaphysical. The entity, the organism, is an emergent unity of matter and form, of parts arranged as a whole. Apart from the context of the whole, bricks have no houseness, tinker toys no basketness, genes no fitness.

Edited by Ted Keer

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The organism cannot be separated from its genes. But just as one could build a functional basket out of legos or a functional basket out of tinker toys one could not describe specific lego pieces or specific tinker toy pieces as well adapted to basket building on their own, or build a functional basket out of half basket-adapted tinker toys and half basket-adapted legos just because they were successfully used to build a basket in a earlier, different context.

In the end, the confusion is metaphysical. The entity, the organism, is an emergent unity of matter and form, of parts arranged as a whole. Apart from the context of the whole, bricks have no houseness, tinker toys no basketness, genes no fitness.

Ted,

And how!

It is mind-boggling that such fallacies have crept into regular currency.

When it is self-apparent that the entity is *collosally* more that the sum of its parts - Man particularly.

As for one being responsible, or subservient, or whatever, to one's genes - and that morality stems from this - who really gives a damn for long-term survival of one's lineage or tribal gene pool? This is 'genetic collectivism',imo - or genetic authoritariansm, perhaps? - so is in essence anti-individualist, and anti-life.

Doesn't it become clearer to you every day, like me, that science needs philosophy more than it ever did? Physics and biology are reductionist by their nature (in my layman's opinion), and as those fields narrow increasingly, so an objective metaphysics, epistemology and ethics become ever more crucial.

Tony

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At the cellular and atomic level of organism and matter final cause has no place. Only efficient cause. Final cause only makes sense when intention happens.

Two cheers for reductionism. Reductionism is what makes technology possible.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Exactly. Which means the energy that runs a living system comes from the outside. Hence the system is NOT self contained. You seem to have difficulty distinguishing energy and entropy. Entropy is energy over thermodynamic temperature.

Why don't you learn some physics before you shoot your mouth off?

Ayn Rand did not say living things are self contained. That is simply your straw man. Stephen explained it to you in post #10.

Why don't you learn and understand what she actually said before shooting your mouth off and creating straw men?

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Exactly. Which means the energy that runs a living system comes from the outside. Hence the system is NOT self contained. You seem to have difficulty distinguishing energy and entropy. Entropy is energy over thermodynamic temperature.

Why don't you learn some physics before you shoot your mouth off?

Ayn Rand did not say living things are self contained. That is simply your straw man. Stephen explained it to you in post #10.

Why don't you learn and understand what she actually said before shooting your mouth off and creating straw men?

She did say life was self generating. That is wrong. Nothing is self generating. Life IS self regulating. Homeostasis is one of the characteristics of living system. Rand did not no one syllable of thermodynamics.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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She did say life was self generating. That is wrong. Nothing is self generating.

She did not say "life was self generating", whatever you intend by it.

Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action.

Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. (VOS 16)

It's fairly obvious what she meant by "self-generated" here. An organism initiates action to pursue its goals, e.g. a lion pursues its prey or an elephant goes to a water hole to drink. Is that so hard to understand? Whatever bizarre interpretations you make of "self generating" or "self-generated" are irrelevant straw men.

Edited by Merlin Jetton

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