syrakusos

Is Objectivism Falsifiable or Merely Explanatory?

Recommended Posts

"Babies are born blank slates more or less, they have to choose to learn everything - knowledge, morals, everything. Even if this isn't exactly right, what's the big deal??" The problem is the extension of her argument here that places the responsibility of moral development entirely on the individual. Hey, I think we could use a great deal more of individual responsibility and accountability in just about every walk of life. However, she's wrong to be at the total far end of the spectrum. Personality, intelligence and morality are more inherited than they are self-directed and self-created. We need to understand this reality and deal with it, and not accept Rand's deceptive and erroneous utopia of the 100% self-made man. This is a fantasy, it ain't real. Bob

"She's wrong to be at the total far end of the spectrum" - well, I suppose that depends where one stands.

If one starts in the middle, one stays there - I believe I've seen/experienced. Just drifting a little, one way, or other

according to "the flow".

Start at the end you think reality lies - and you can always adjust yourself to what life throws at you, but with

firm ground to step back on.

I don't know what this means. What I mean is that Rand is scientifically wrong to argue that man is tabula rasa and bears all responsibility in developing his own character. One can always improve in these areas within limits, but no matter how hard we try we all cannot be 6'6'' and 350 lbs of muscle just like we all cannot be her moral/character ideal either. We are powerfully genetically pre-programmed.

From Galt's speech:

"As man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul."

No he's not. Only partially so, but 'partially' doesn't sound as good though does it? Truth nonetheless.

The best way to predict a man's wealth is to look his parents, even if he was separated from them at birth.

Bob

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Andrew,

I think you gave a pretty good description of part of the problem and approaches with Popper.

I, myself, have noticed some similarities between Popper and Rand based on his article on definitions, and I would agree that he is very clever, but I have a problem when a philosopher denies that induction exists, even calling it a myth.

Here's the product of that kind of thinking--and I have encoutered this frequently.

Or to put it another way Man is born tabula rasa because Man is born tabula rasa,

What is true is true because it is true. That is true, but it tells us nada.

Bob is just doing the buzz whrrrr automatic mouth movements that people who have learned the standard jargon and arguments of this kind of thinking do, so it's not offensive. But some of Popper's followers get real nasty and condescending--even worse than fundy Objectivists over this very point. (I have argued with a fiew.)

When you try to replace induction with deduction and try to turn basic identification into a syllogism (or, on a deeper level, try to replace concept formation with a proposition), you get this "tautology argument."

To be more colorful, you are in the woods. A bear is charging at you. You look at your friend, point to the bear and say, "That is a bear."

He asks, "So?"

You yell, "Run!"

He asks, "Why?"

You start to run. "Because it's a bear, dammit!"

He replies, "A bear is a bear because it's a bear. Ha!. That is a tautology. Circular reasoning. You have told me nothing about it."

You escape and later have some sporadic nightmares about ostensive definitions. Your friend is not heard from again.

:smile:

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Andrew,

I think you gave a pretty good description of part of the problem and approaches with Popper.

I, myself, have noticed some similarities between Popper and Rand based on his article on definitions, and I would agree that he is very clever, but I have a problem when a philosopher denies that induction exists, even calling it a myth.

Here's the product of that kind of thinking--and I have encoutered this frequently.

Or to put it another way Man is born tabula rasa because Man is born tabula rasa,

What is true is true because it is true. That is true, but it tells us nada.

Bob is just doing the buzz whrrrr automatic mouth movements that people who have learned the standard jargon and arguments of this kind of thinking do, so it's not offensive. But some of Popper's followers get real nasty and condescending--even worse than fundy Objectivists over this very point. (I have argued with a fiew.)

When you try to replace induction with deduction and try to turn basic identification into a syllogism (or, on a deeper level, try to replace concept formation with a proposition), you get this "tautology argument."

To be more colorful, you are in the woods. A bear is charging at you. You look at your friend, point to the bear and say, "That is a bear."

He asks, "So?"

You yell, "Run!"

He asks, "Why?"

You start to run. "Because it's a bear, dammit!"

He replies, "A bear is a bear because it's a bear. Ha!. That is a tautology. Circular reasoning. You have told me nothing about it."

You escape and later have some sporadic nightmares about ostensive definitions. Your friend is not heard from again.

:smile:

Michael

You left out the -synthetic- proposition: Bears can be dangerous to humans.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But some of Popper's followers get real nasty and condescending--even worse than fundy Objectivists over this very point. (I have argued with a fiew.)

I absolutely agree. Then again, you can find nasty and condescending followers of any philosophy. Not that the nasty Popperians are justified in being nasty; but the fact that nasty Popperians exist does not mean Popper should be tossed out entirely.

I think you gave a pretty good description of part of the problem and approaches with Popper.

I, myself, have noticed some similarities between Popper and Rand based on his article on definitions, and I would agree that he is very clever, but I have a problem when a philosopher denies that induction exists, even calling it a myth.

Is Popper saying that induction as a process is a myth? Perhaps he was using hyperbole (and no Objectivist should be unfamiliar with hyperbolic philosophical statements). I'd at least be tempted to suggest a more charitable reading here, and propose that Popper meant "it is a myth that empirical certainty can come from induction."

Alternatively, he might have been saying that one cannot formulate hypotheses from inductive material alone.

I am no expert on Popper, I concede. Just suggesting the possibilty that a charitable reading, in full context, may result in Popper's arguments sounding far less extreme than "induction does not exist."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You left out the -synthetic- proposition: Bears can be dangerous to humans.

Bob,

I agree.

But that's because I don't need no stinkin' proposition to know a big hairy animal running at me with sharp pointy teath is all the understanding I need to get the hell out of there.

Oh...

Did I just tell you something about the bear that needed no proposition?

Hmmmmm...

I'll let you guys sit around and talk tautology with the bear.

:)

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Always hike in the woods with someone who can't run faster than you.*

--Brant

I've been saved three times by this simple rule

*if you want to hike with me send me a pm (Alaska is next)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You left out the -synthetic- proposition: Bears can be dangerous to humans.

It need not be synthetic. If one's definition of bear includes it being dangerous, then it is an analytic proposition. This is one reason why the analytic-synthetic distinction is such a feeble, subjective principle.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"However, she's wrong to be at the total far end of the spectrum."

Every being, including man, is completely self made. Every cell division and specialization of cells in the womb is the result of the being in question. Right decisions result in birth, wrong ones miscarriage. Once born every movement, every sound you make, every thing you put in your mouth, everything is the result of an individual decision. Everything you become is your decision. You can have a dream, focus all your energy on it and achieve it or you can decide "it's too hard", "I didn't get the right breaks", and fail. The dreams you have are your decision, they can be based on fantasy or realities. In the end, no one makes you except you. All of the accidental conditions in your life and your environment are not decisive. The decision making being at your center is. You are either self made or you are nothing. This is extraordinaryly obvious.

Except you're wrong...

"Right decisions result in birth, wrong ones miscarriage. "

You have a very "interesting" definition of decision....

I do not deny the influence of self on one's character development, intelligence etc., nor do I deny the influence of the environment either. It is an objective and empirically answerable question how much influence each exerts. Best answer right now looks like about 3/4 genetics with variations depending on which trait you examine. Just facts...

Bob

Everything that happens to a living being is a result of the decisions the being makes in response to the environment it finds itself in whether the response of the a clump of cells in the womb or a man deciding whether to plant his ass on a couch eating doritos or get up and make a decent meal or go out and exercise. There are no forces aside from internal ones driving these decisions. To nature, the universe, you are no different than a pile of dust. To other living beings you are either a symbiote (trader) or a potential consumable source of energy. If not self made, then what? There is nothing else. If you can't see this you are a fool.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"However, she's wrong to be at the total far end of the spectrum."

Every being, including man, is completely self made. Every cell division and specialization of cells in the womb is the result of the being in question. Right decisions result in birth, wrong ones miscarriage. Once born every movement, every sound you make, every thing you put in your mouth, everything is the result of an individual decision. Everything you become is your decision. You can have a dream, focus all your energy on it and achieve it or you can decide "it's too hard", "I didn't get the right breaks", and fail. The dreams you have are your decision, they can be based on fantasy or realities. In the end, no one makes you except you. All of the accidental conditions in your life and your environment are not decisive. The decision making being at your center is. You are either self made or you are nothing. This is extraordinaryly obvious.

Except you're wrong...

"Right decisions result in birth, wrong ones miscarriage. "

You have a very "interesting" definition of decision....

I do not deny the influence of self on one's character development, intelligence etc., nor do I deny the influence of the environment either. It is an objective and empirically answerable question how much influence each exerts. Best answer right now looks like about 3/4 genetics with variations depending on which trait you examine. Just facts...

Bob

Everything that happens to a living being is a result of the decisions the being makes in response to the environment it finds itself in whether the response of the a clump of cells in the womb or a man deciding whether to plant his ass on a couch eating doritos or get up and make a decent meal or go out and exercise. There are no forces aside from internal ones driving these decisions. To nature, the universe, you are no different than a pile of dust. To other living beings you are either a symbiote (trader) or a potential consumable source of energy. If not self made, then what? There is nothing else. If you can't see this you are a fool.

A clump of cells makes a meaningful decision. I'm the fool? Fuck off.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Fuck off.

Bob,

If this were anybody but you, I would let it slide. But in the past, you have shown to be a bully at heart. so I believe you will take silence to mean that you can get away with it, thus you can get away with getting worse. And it will keep growing.

Knock it off.

That is not a request.

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"However, she's wrong to be at the total far end of the spectrum."

Every being, including man, is completely self made. Every cell division and specialization of cells in the womb is the result of the being in question. Right decisions result in birth, wrong ones miscarriage. Once born every movement, every sound you make, every thing you put in your mouth, everything is the result of an individual decision. Everything you become is your decision. You can have a dream, focus all your energy on it and achieve it or you can decide "it's too hard", "I didn't get the right breaks", and fail. The dreams you have are your decision, they can be based on fantasy or realities. In the end, no one makes you except you. All of the accidental conditions in your life and your environment are not decisive. The decision making being at your center is. You are either self made or you are nothing. This is extraordinaryly obvious.

Except you're wrong...

"Right decisions result in birth, wrong ones miscarriage. "

You have a very "interesting" definition of decision....

I do not deny the influence of self on one's character development, intelligence etc., nor do I deny the influence of the environment either. It is an objective and empirically answerable question how much influence each exerts. Best answer right now looks like about 3/4 genetics with variations depending on which trait you examine. Just facts...

Bob

Everything that happens to a living being is a result of the decisions the being makes in response to the environment it finds itself in whether the response of the a clump of cells in the womb or a man deciding whether to plant his ass on a couch eating doritos or get up and make a decent meal or go out and exercise. There are no forces aside from internal ones driving these decisions. To nature, the universe, you are no different than a pile of dust. To other living beings you are either a symbiote (trader) or a potential consumable source of energy. If not self made, then what? There is nothing else. If you can't see this you are a fool.

You both deny and affirm determinism and free will in every living thing under the useless rubric of "decision."

--Brant

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You both deny and affirm determinism and free will in every living thing under the useless rubric of "decision."

--Brant

Not at all. I simply object to the extension of the word "decision" into the realm of involuntary biology. A decision implies responsibility, so it's only a matter of time before the typical randian bait-and-switch happens. In fact I indeed reject the treatment of "decision" as useless.

Bob

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just deleted a disrespectful post by Bob Mac and put him under moderation.

I would not do this with a newbie or even (or especially) a regular who contributes value, but this guy has done this bullying crap too many times in the past here on OL for me to waste much mental energy trying to get through to him.

All he wants to do is say Rand is full of shit and the posters here are, too. That's where every discussion goes with him.

To be fair, I already know he was provoked in this last exchange. I'm aware of that and I even disagree with Mike's argument. But after all the crap this dude has done here on OL, I don't respect him enough to care. The best way to get the bad vibes and childishness to stop is to literally stop him.

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You both deny and affirm determinism and free will in every living thing under the useless rubric of "decision."

--Brant

Not at all. I simply object to the extension of the word "decision" into the realm of involuntary biology. A decision implies responsibility, so it's only a matter of time before the typical randian bait-and-switch happens. In fact I indeed reject the treatment of "decision" as useless.

Bob

I was addressing Mikee. I should have edited out your comments. Sorry.

--Brant

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just deleted a disrespectful post by Bob Mac and put him under moderation.

I would not do this with a newbie or even (or especially) a regular who contributes value, but this guy has done this bullying crap too many times in the past here on OL for me to waste much mental energy trying to get through to him.

All he wants to do is say Rand is full of shit and the posters here are, too. That's where every discussion goes with him.

To be fair, I already know he was provoked in this last exchange. I'm aware of that and I even disagree with Mike's argument. But after all the crap this dude has done here on OL, I don't respect him enough to care. The best way to get the bad vibes and childishness to stop is to literally stop him.

Michael

Your fuse has gotten shorter. This is an observation, not a critique.

--Brant

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Your fuse has gotten shorter. This is an observation, not a critique.

Brant,

Maybe.

I'll keep an eye on this. But here is how I play it. When people have a history, I take that into account.

I cut my friends--and people who have helped me--a lot of slack.

But a repeat troll? A rather nasty one at that when he gets wound up? Am I supposed to go back to zero every time I see an old pattern from someone like that emerge? That's just playing games--being technical without looking at reality in context. Trying too hard to be morally correct. Observing a principle to the point of sanction of the victim.

My fuse with people like that is shorter and I openly acknowledge it. The more a person acts like a jerk, the more I believe he is a jerk. It's cumulative. And that particular jerk has never apologized for any of the jerk crap he has done. (At least, I don't recall anything.)

After this much time it's reasonable to conclude that he is a jerk because he thinks being a jerk is good for his life. Or that he can't not be one--he's just wired that way. However, people who are wired that way have moments of kindness and he never does. So I seriously doubt it with him.

But my fuse with others? I don't know. How long did it take for me to say enough with Phil? That took years. But, you see, Phil is a friend. (Maybe not after I deleted a couple of his posts, but cutting the friendship will be from his side if it happens, not mine.)

George and I go at it sometimes. And it can get heated. But never to the point of trolling. I won't say it's fun, but it's not all that big a deal, either. We are both busy with other stuff, so taking time off from bickering with each other is a good idea at times. If I had a short fuse, I believe it would emerge with him.

And the crazy lady? Did you see how many posts she had made and how many bogus accounts before I got rid of her?

So I'm not so sure my fuse is shorter. It's just shorter with trolls who have trolled here before.

But like I said, I will keep an eye on it.

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bob Mac,

Once again, your temper has been a hazard to your coherence.

Judging from #118 and #126, what you're up in arms about this time is Rand's "Man is a being of self-made soul" and her using "tabula rasa" as a premise to that claim. I grant you that she does use the latter as a premise to the former. I'd also grant -- had you made the accusation of non-sequitur instead of circular -- that this is a non-sequitur from "tabula rasa" in relation to knowledge. However, as I've pointed out before, she was far, far from alone at the time when she formed her theories of human nature in believing, contra your claim in #126, that we are NOT "powerfully genetically pre-programmed."

Return, though, to two of the three quotes you provided -- out of context and with no source cited -- in your #100:

"He [man] has no automatic course of action, no automatic set of values. His senses do not tell him automatically what is good for him or evil, what will benefit his life or endanger it, what goals he should pursue and what means will achieve them, what values his life depends on, what course of action it requires. His own consciousness has to discover the answers to all these questions—but his consciousness will not function automatically."

"Since man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values; since he has no innate ideas, he can have no innate value judgments."

Those come from "The Objectivist Ethics." Rand is contrasting "man" to other animals, which she says do function by automatic knowledge and values. A problematic fit with her defining "knowledge" -- pg. 35 ITOE -- as  "a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation" (your #70, quoted from "knowledge" in the AR Lexicon).

Here's the context of the first quote you gave:

link

[boldface emphasis is added.]

A plant has no choice of action; the goals it pursues are automatic and innate, determined by its nature. Nourishment, water, sunlight are the values its nature has set it to seek. Its life is the standard of value directing its actions. There are alternatives in the conditions it encounters in its physical background—such as heat or frost, drought or flood—and there are certain actions which it is able to perform to combat adverse conditions, such as the ability of some plants to grow and crawl from under a rock to reach the sunlight. But whatever the conditions, there is no alternative in a plant’s function: it acts automatically to further its life, it cannot act for its own destruction.

The range of actions required for the survival of the higher organisms is wider: it is proportionate to the range of their consciousness. The lower of the conscious species possess only the faculty of sensation, which is sufficient to direct their actions and provide for their needs. A sensation is produced by the automatic reaction of a sense organ to a stimulus from the outside world; it lasts for the duration of the immediate moment, as long as the stimulus lasts and no longer. Sensations are an automatic response, an automatic form of knowledge, which a consciousness can neither seek nor evade. An organism that possesses only the faculty of sensation is guided by the pleasure-pain mechanism of its body, that is: by an automatic knowledge and an automatic code of values. Its life is the standard of value directing its actions. Within the range of action possible to it, it acts automatically to further its life and cannot act for its own destruction.

The higher organisms possess a much more potent form of consciousness: they possess the faculty of retaining sensations, which is the faculty of perception. A “perception” is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism, which gives it the ability to be aware, not of single stimuli, but of entities, of things. An animal is guided, not merely by immediate sensations, but by percepts. Its actions are not single, discrete responses to single, separate stimuli, but are directed by an integrated awareness of the perceptual reality confronting it. It is able to grasp the perceptual concretes immediately present and it is able to form automatic perceptual associations, but it can go no further. It is able to learn certain skills to deal with specific situations, such as hunting or hiding, which the parents of the higher animals teach their young. But an animal has no choice in the knowledge and the skills that it acquires; it can only repeat them generation after genera tion. And an animal has no choice in the standard of value directing its actions: its senses provide it with an automatic code of values, an automatic knowledge of what is good for it or evil, what benefits or endangers its life. An animal has no power to extend its knowledge or to evade it. In situations for which its knowledge is inadequate, it perishes—as, for instance, an animal that stands paralyzed on the track of a railroad in the path of a speeding train. But so long as it lives, an animal acts on its knowledge, with automatic safety and no power of choice: it cannot suspend its own consciousness—it cannot choose not to perceive—it cannot evade its own perceptions—it cannot ignore its own good, it cannot decide to choose the evil and act as its own destroyer.

Man has no automatic code of survival. He has no automatic course of action, no automatic set of values. His senses do not tell him automatically what is good for him or evil, what will benefit his life or endanger it, what goals he should pursue and what means will achieve them, what values his life depends on, what course of action it requires. His own consciousness has to discover the answers to all these questions—but his consciousness will not function automatically. Man, the highest living species on this earth—the being whose consciousness has a limitless capacity for gaining knowledge—man is the only living entity born with out any guarantee of remaining conscious at all. Man’s particular distinction from all other living species is the fact that his consciousness is volitional.

Just as the automatic values directing the functions of a plant’s body are sufficient for its survival, but are not sufficient for an animal’s—so the automatic values provided by the sensory-perceptual mechanism of its consciousness are sufficient to guide an animal, but are not sufficient for man. Man’s actions and survival require the guidance of conceptual values derived from conceptual knowledge. But conceptual knowledge cannot be acquired automatically.

More later.

Ellen

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Judging from #118 and #126, what you're up in arms about this time is Rand's "Man is a being of self-made soul" and her using "tabula rasa" as a premise to that claim. I grant you that she does use the latter as a premise to the former. I'd also grant -- had you made the accusation of non-sequitur instead of circular -- that this is a non-sequitur from "tabula rasa" in relation to knowledge. However, as I've pointed out before, she was far, far from alone at the time when she formed her theories of human nature in believing, contra your claim in #126, that we are NOT "powerfully genetically pre-programmed."

Ellen:

You are correct. I have been waiting for someone here to point out the error in Bob's attack on Ayn's argument.

Adam

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If there is a dominant human instinct it is the instinct to imitate. I don't know if Rand dealt with that, I've only read her novels so far.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If there is a dominant human instinct it is the instinct to imitate. I don't know if Rand dealt with that, I've only read her novels so far.

You might find this interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neurons

Ba'al Chatzaf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=12022&view=findpost&p=162249

I can't get it to add up to this:

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/ultimate_value.html#order_2 The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. To hold one’s own life as one’s ultimate value, and one’s own happiness as one’s highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement. Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one’s life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness. It is by experiencing happiness that one lives one’s life, in any hour, year or the whole of it. And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: “This is worth living for”—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself.

If we as humans have volutation then we don't have it if we can't choose our individual ultimate value, but if we can choose our individual ultimate value, then we can have anotherindividual ultimate value than our own individual lives.

Mikkel

BTW http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octopus#Reproduction

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Welcome to Objectivist Living, Mikkel.

Rand observes that "the choice of the beneficiary of moral values . . . . has to be derived and validated by the fundamental premises of a moral system" (VoS x). Rand offers arguments and a conception of morality in support of the conclusion that "the actor must [should] always be the beneficiary of his action" (VoS x).

"Ethics is an objective, metaphysical necessity of man's survival," and this is the case "by the grace of reality and the nature of life" (VoS 23). "By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man—every man—is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose" (AS 1017).

Rand argues that "man's actions and survival require the guidance of conceptual values derived from conceptual knowledge" (VoS 20); that conceptual thought is an activity of individual minds (AS 1017); that "thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness" (VoS 20); that "the act of focusing one's consciousness is volitional" (20–21); that "the men who choose to think and to produce . . . . are pursuing a course of action proper to man" (23); "that just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself . . . and, therefore, that [each] man must [should] live for his own sake" (27).

The individual's own life "is the source, not only of all his values, but of his capacity to value. Therefore, the value he grants to others is only a consequence, an extension, a secondary projection of the primary value which is himself" (VoS 47).

Furthermore: "Since life requires a specific course of action, any other course will destroy it. A being who does not hold his own life as the motive and goal of his actions, is acting on the motive and standard of death. Such a being is a metaphysical monstrosity, struggling to oppose, negate, and contradict the fact of its own existence . . ." (AS 1014 [hb], boldface added).

. . .

Mikkel, in the preceding, the abbreviation AS means Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged (1957) and VoS means her nonfiction book The Virtue of Selfishness (1964).

. . .

I want to begin to review Rand's arguments for her type of ethical egoism. Within the 1957 exposition of her ethics, Rand writes:

"Since life requires a specific course of action, any other course will destroy it. A being who does not hold his own life as the motive and goal of his actions, is acting on the motive and standard of death. Such a being is a metaphysical monstrosity, struggling to oppose, negate and contradict the fact of its own existence, running blindly amuck on a trail of destruction, capable of nothing but pain" (AS 1014).

"The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live" (AS 1014).

"To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-Esteem . . . . These three values imply and require all of man's virtues . . . : rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride" (AS 1018).

"Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value . . .—that of any achievements open to you, the one that makes all others possible is the creation of your own character . . . —that to live requires a sense of self-value, but man . . . has no automatic sense of self-esteem and must earn it by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man, the rational man he is born able to create, but must create by choice—that the first precondition of self-esteem is that radiant selfishness of soul which desires the best in all things, in values of matter and spirit, a soul that seeks above all else to achieve its own moral perfection, valuing nothing higher than itself . . ." (AS 1020–21; see also 1056–58).

In the 1964 Introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand observes that "the choice of the beneficiary of moral values . . . . has to be derived and validated by the fundamental premises of a moral system. / The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action . . ." (x). I discern three intertwined strands in Rand's defense of ethical egoism. I will be focusing on her arguments that move from agent egoism to beneficiary egoism. It is only when the latter is joined to the former that the theory should be called ethical egoism.

Strand One

In Rand's 1957 presentation, the first move to beneficiary egoism is in the first paragraph of her text that I quoted above. It is there asserted that if one does not hold one's own life as the motive and goal of one's actions, one is acting in a self-destructive way. In The Fountainhead Rand wrote that "[man's] moral law is never to place his prime goal within the persons of others" (740 [hb]). One illustration of the self-destructive path set upon by doing otherwise is Peter Keating's being dissuaded by his mother from marrying the woman he loves. It will be argued, however, that there are some moral choices in which one's immediate motive is the good of others, yet that choice is not self-destructive. In ordinary circumstances, I tell people the truth. My immediate motive is often their self-interest, not mine; I don't want them to be taking up falsehoods.

. . .

Strand Two

The first strand in Rand's move from agent egoism to beneficiary egoism was the thesis that if one does not hold one's own life as the motive and goal of one's actions (at least indirectly), one is acting in a self-destructive way. The second strand, wound together with the first, is that if one does not hold one's life as the motive and goal of one's actions, one is acting in a disintegrated way, and integrated life is better life.

All living organisms are engaged in continual integrated actions suited to their individual survival or the survival of their species. Deterioration of an organism's ability to perform its integrated repertoire of actions is a loosening of the tight organization required for its continued life or the continuation of its species. Rand draws attention to the overarching value of the survival of the individual organism that is served by its integrated repertoire of actions suited to its kind. (She leaves out of the frame of attention the overarching value of the propagation of the species that is served by the repertoire of the individual organism.)

Consider the repertoire of the marine snail Pleurobranchea. The nervous systems of these animals are much simpler than the mammalian central nervous system, but they are sufficiently complex to coordinate the behavioral sequences known as fixed action patterns. Those are inherited stereotypical patterns of behavior (such as egg-laying) consisting of several distinct steps that either together form a coordinated sequence or do not take place at all. It has been determined that the fixed action patterns characteristic of Pleurobranchea are organized neurologically into a definite hierarchy: feeding is dominant over righting, gill and siphon withdrawal, or mating; episodic egg-laying is dominant over feeding; escape swimming is dominant over all other behaviors.

Humans have sensations of pleasure and pain. These are signs of the body's welfare or injury. In addition to bodily pleasure-pain systems, we have emotional systems. Rand conceives joy and suffering as fundamental emotions that estimate whether something furthers one's life or threatens it. Which particular things emotions will signal as good or as bad will be shaped by one's unique past experience and value judgments. If one has taken up values opposing one's self-interest—not only self-sacrifice as a value, but values contradictory, values impossible, or values sheltered from rational assessment—then suffering and destruction will be the results. On the other hand, if one chooses to value the full use of one's rational mind, to value the possible, the productive, and the self-beneficial, then there is fair promise of life and happiness (AS 1020–22).

Just as the organs and systems of the human body must act in a properly coordinated way if they are to effect the end-in-itself that is the life of the individual organism, so one's consciously directed actions must be properly organized if one is to achieve well the end-in-itself that is the conscious life of the individual human being. Rand identified seven coordinated patterns of volitional actions necessary for one's realistically best life. Those are her seven cardinal virtues I listed above. (David Kelley has argued that an eighth cardinal virtue, sister to productivity, naturally issues from Rand's ethics and conception of human existence. That virtue is benevolence. This addition is argued in his essay "Unrugged Individualism" [1996]). These virtues are defended as general principles, good guides for any individual. Ethical theory, on Rand's account, tells one what are the main right values and virtues and their rationale. It tells one also who is rightly the primary beneficiary of one's agency.

. . .

Strand Three

Rand writes that "man's life is the standard of morality, but your own life is its purpose. If existence on earth is your goal, you must choose your actions and values by the standard of that which is proper to man—for the purpose of preserving, fulfilling, and enjoying the irreplaceable value which is your life" (AS 1014).

If one aims to live and live well, then man's life must be one's standard of morality. Part of the nature of man's life, in Rand's conception, is that it is life of individuals in which each is organized to be an end in himself existing for his own sake. That is how human beings are outfitted by biological nature, and in the ways that are open to their choice, that is how they should organize themselves. The third strand in the cord by which Rand ties beneficiary egoism to agency egoism is the stress she lays on the self-sufficiency of organisms in general and individual humans in particular.

. . .

Have you read The Fountainhead? In that novel (1943), Rand argues that various ways of holding others as one’s primary value lead to incoherence for oneself and destructiveness for everyone. She also argues that there are various ways of holding oneself as one’s primary value that are in fact false, they do not correctly hold oneself as primary value, and these lives too are a mess and create a mess for others. She also offers a character holding himself as his primary value, doing so truly, coherently, and with vital effectiveness in the world. This novel contains an argument, in sum, for choosing oneself as one’s primary value.

That we choose to value and to live does not mean that life gets its value from that choice, only that the value structures of life become operative, animating possible alternatives for us to realize. Rand and I concur that far. Further on I have some disagreements with her over ethical egoism.

Again, welcome to OL, and if by chance you have not read Fountainhead, I warmly recommend it.

Stephen

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Welcome to Objectivist Living, Mikkel.

Snip...

. . .

I want to begin to review Rand's arguments for her type of ethical egoism. Within the 1957 exposition of her ethics, Rand writes:

"Since life requires a specific course of action, any other course will destroy it. A being who does not hold his own life as the motive and goal of his actions, is acting on the motive and standard of death. Such a being is a metaphysical monstrosity, struggling to oppose, negate and contradict the fact of its own existence, running blindly amuck on a trail of destruction, capable of nothing but pain" (AS 1014).

Snip...

All living organisms are engaged in continual integrated actions suited to their individual survival or the survival of their species. (My bold)

Snip...

Hi Stephen.

Thanks for welcoming me.

Why the part of - or the survival of their species - in "All living organisms are engaged in continual integrated actions suited to their individual survival or the survival of their species."? Further shouldn't it be that - all all living organisms are engaged in continual integrated actions suited to their individual survival - and nothing more?

Mikkel

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
[....]

All living organisms are engaged in continual integrated actions suited to their individual survival or the survival of their species. ([Mikkel's] bold)

Snip...

Why the part of - or the survival of their species - in "All living organisms are engaged in continual integrated actions suited to their individual survival or the survival of their species."? Further shouldn't it be that - all all living organisms are engaged in continual integrated actions suited to their individual survival - and nothing more?

I second the question, Stephen. Looks to me as if you're shifting from Rand's views to your own.

Repeating the part Mikkel quoted with the rest of your paragraph included, you wrote:

All living organisms are engaged in continual integrated actions suited to their individual survival or the survival of their species. Deterioration of an organism's ability to perform its integrated repertoire of actions is a loosening of the tight organization required for its continued life or the continuation of its species. Rand draws attention to the overarching value of the survival of the individual organism that is served by its integrated repertoire of actions suited to its kind. (She leaves out of the frame of attention the overarching value of the propagation of the species that is served by the repertoire of the individual organism.)

Indeed, Rand does "[leave] out of the frame of attention the overarching value of the propagation of the species that is served by the repertoire of the individual organism." This is just the Achilles Heel of her supposed derivation of ought from is: that the actual biological ever-receeding "goal" of "the blind watchmaker" isn't the individual organism's continued life -- or, actually, "the propagation of the species" either -- but the replication of the "selfish gene." Thus the supposed logic of her basing her ethics on the facts of biology doesn't really scan, since there isn't biologically the supposed "end-in-itself that is the life of the individual organism" which she posits. (The "end-in-itself" quote is from the fifth paragraph of your "Strand Two" section.)

Ellen

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...