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Marcus

Is it Just Me or is Objectivist Value Theory Confusing?

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One aspect of Objectivism I struggle to understand completely is it's theory of values. Mostly because it seems to contradict everyday observation.

According to Objectivism, values are chosen. A value is something you wish to gain or keep. There are no innate ideas. Since values are chosen, what we find "pleasurable" or "good" varies by individual.

The problem is, this flies in the face of observed facts about human nature. While it is true there are no innate ideas and while it is true there is great variation in personal likes and dislikes, there are observed constants in human behavior that do not change and don't seem to be chosen. I call them "innate values".

Nearly everyone for example, likes and values sex (barring brain injuries or psychological dysfunction). This is not really a choice and no "decision" is made about it at an early age, it's just there. The number of men between a certain age, who have never watch porn is zilch. Zero.

Nearly everyone, in every culture, values family and marriage (ex. 80% of Americans are married by age 40)

Art is another universal value. We all like sweets (chocolate etc).

There are gender specific values such as the male need for youth, fertility and beauty or the female need for physical strength, height or resources. Study after study has been done on this (and even sexual orientation doesn't seem to dent it).

What is see that Objectivism seems to take these "innate values" as the given.Throughout the Objectivist corpus these "innate values" are talked about in an assumptive tone. These are all things we wish to "gain or keep", but they are not chosen.

This raises some interesting questions about the nature of choice and what is and isn't available to choice. Some things apparently aren't.

Did I get something wrong or is Objectivism flat out wrong about values?

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Did I get something wrong or is Objectivism flat out wrong about values?

Everything you said above was reasonable. Not speaking of Objectivism, but the wider universe of values...

The American Revolutionary patriots cared more for liberty than personal survival. They were willing to risk everything, including their families, to free themselves from a tyrant. Heroism is not just a myth; people really do lay down their lives for values like freedom and justice. [COGIGG, p.26]

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One aspect of Objectivism I struggle to understand completely is it's theory of values. Mostly because it seems to contradict everyday observation.

According to Objectivism, values are chosen. A value is something you wish to gain or keep. There are no innate ideas. Since values are chosen, what we find "pleasurable" or "good" varies by individual.

The problem is, this flies in the face of observed facts about human nature. While it is true there are no innate ideas and while it is true there is great variation in personal likes and dislikes, there are observed constants in human behavior that do not change and don't seem to be chosen. I call them "innate values".

Nearly everyone for example, likes and values sex (barring brain injuries or psychological dysfunction). This is not really a choice and no "decision" is made about it at an early age, it's just there. The number of men between a certain age, who have never watch porn is zilch. Zero.

Nearly everyone, in every culture, values family and marriage (ex. 80% of Americans are married by age 40)

Art is another universal value. We all like sweets (chocolate etc).

There are gender specific values such as the male need for youth, fertility and beauty or the female need for physical strength, height or resources. Study after study has been done on this (and even sexual orientation doesn't seem to dent it).

What is see that Objectivism seems to take these "innate values" as the given.Throughout the Objectivist corpus these "innate values" are talked about in an assumptive tone. These are all things we wish to "gain or keep", but they are not chosen.

This raises some interesting questions about the nature of choice and what is and isn't available to choice. Some things apparently aren't.

Did I get something wrong or is Objectivism flat out wrong about values?

Since it seems so important to you, why didn't you start out with Rand's definition of value instead of a paraphrase?

--Brant

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Since it seems so important to you, why didn't you start out with Rand's definition of value instead of a paraphrase?

--Brant

I did start out with her definition, but here is it direct from the source:

“Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep."

- Aynranlexicon

The form in which we experience the reality of our values is pleasure (Rand). Since nearly everyone values sex, everyone finds it pleasurable. In a sense, we need "innate values" to help to tell us what is worth valuing in the first place. And sex is part of the reason we value a number of other things, such as beauty or marriage or even money.

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Since it seems so important to you, why didn't you start out with Rand's definition of value instead of a paraphrase?

--Brant

I did start out with her definition, but here is it direct from the source:

“Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep."

- Aynranlexicon

The form in which we experience the reality of our values is pleasure (Rand). Since nearly everyone values sex, everyone finds it pleasurable. In a sense, we need "innate values" to help to tell us what is worth valuing in the first place. And sex is part of the reason we value a number of other things, such as beauty or marriage or even money.

Not to quibble, but pleasure is an idiotic measure of value, no better than pragmatic utilitarianism.

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Since it seems so important to you, why didn't you start out with Rand's definition of value instead of a paraphrase?

--Brant

I did start out with her definition, but here is it direct from the source:

“Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep."

- Aynranlexicon

The form in which we experience the reality of our values is pleasure (Rand). Since nearly everyone values sex, everyone finds it pleasurable. In a sense, we need "innate values" to help to tell us what is worth valuing in the first place. And sex is part of the reason we value a number of other things, such as beauty or marriage or even money.

Not to quibble, but pleasure is an idiotic measure of value, no better than pragmatic utilitarianism.

What makes it "idiotic" in your view?

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Pleasure is a killer (alcohol, drugs, porn, first-person shooter fantasy role play) and at best a rake's progress to sloth and penury. Work is called work for a reason. In simple language, I told my pre-teen daughter that it's harder to go uphill than downhill. But that's not the full extent of what value means. Pleasure is irrelevant to ambitious adult goals.

Values are abstractions: to love and obey God (Moses), to establish justice (Madison), to respect others (Kant), to win by any means necessary (Machiavelli). I won't urge you to pick any of these as your standard of value. But consciously or unconsciously, every one of us is seeking an abstract goal in life. Yours may be petty or profound, the result of fear or fortitude, knowledge or guesswork. [COGGIG, p.32]

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Pleasure is a killer (alcohol, drugs, porn, first-person shooter fantasy role play) and at best a rake's progress to sloth and penury. Work is called work for a reason. In simple language, I told my pre-teen daughter that it's harder to go uphill than downhill. But that's not the full extent of what value means. Pleasure is irrelevant to ambitious adult goals.

Values are abstractions: to love and obey God (Moses), to establish justice (Madison), to respect others (Kant), to win by any means necessary (Machiavelli). I won't urge you to pick any of these as your standard of value. But consciously or unconsciously, every one of us is seeking an abstract goal in life. Yours may be petty or profound, the result of fear or fortitude, knowledge or guesswork. [COGGIG, p.32]

So you are saying, in effect, that we should not expect our chosen career (work) to be pleasurable? Work is to be a a 9 to 5 endurance course until we drop dead? Am I wrong?

It seems like the other extreme of the hedonist/pragmatic viewpoint. (How very un-Aristotelian of you.)

(There are a lot of parallels between Objectivism and Japanese culture. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaman_(term)

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My glibness in the last post aside, I don't neccessarily disagree with Objectivist virtue ethics (though maybe with a little more moderation) the point of this thread is does Objectivism recognize or agree there are some innate values common to all human beings? Or does it reject this and follow to total "blank slate" path?

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So you are saying, in effect, that we should not expect our chosen career (work) to be pleasurable? Work is to be a a 9 to 5 endurance course until we drop dead? Am I wrong?

1. You didn't ask about work.

2. Qualifying to be a doctor or engineer is not pleasant.

...does Objectivism recognize or agree there are some innate values common to all human beings? Or does it reject this and follow to total "blank slate" path?

Food, shelter, clothing, medicine, sanitation. The stuff that babies need to survive. Whether you're a blank slate depends on childhood and family, the rule of law, public policy, and individual effort to go forward in life or swim with the tide.

Some people remain blank slates.

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One aspect of Objectivism I struggle to understand completely is it's theory of values. Mostly because it seems to contradict everyday observation.

According to Objectivism, values are chosen. A value is something you wish to gain or keep. There are no innate ideas. Since values are chosen, what we find "pleasurable" or "good" varies by individual.

The problem is, this flies in the face of observed facts about human nature. While it is true there are no innate ideas and while it is true there is great variation in personal likes and dislikes, there are observed constants in human behavior that do not change and don't seem to be chosen. I call them "innate values".

I think you may be confusing two separate things here.

As you said, a value is something a person wants to gain or keep. Any individual is free to choose their own values (remember every person is free to work towards their own destruction). This part has nothing to do with Objectivism.

Objectivism then defines what kind of values one should choose. A person living according to Objectivism would value anything which furthers their life and happiness. And place a negative value on anything which brings them closer to death or unhappiness.

Nearly everyone for example, likes and values sex (barring brain injuries or psychological dysfunction). This is not really a choice and no "decision" is made about it at an early age, it's just there. The number of men between a certain age, who have never watch porn is zilch. Zero.

I think it is wrong to consider sex as a whole, and I would rather judge every individual situation separately. Does it work towards your life or your death? If, for example, there is a high risk of catching a serious STD, it would probably not require a lengthy process of reasoning to conclude that it is a non-value. And as for happiness, do not consider the merely physical pleasure at the spur of the moment. The real measure is whether you feel good about it the next day.

If I remember a consistent theme from Ayn Rand's books, it was that sex is only a value when practiced with an equal partner. Only sex with a person whom you admire and respect is capable of making you truly happy.

Nearly everyone, in every culture, values family and marriage (ex. 80% of Americans are married by age 40)

Just because a majority of people do something, does not mean it is objectively a value. In fact, I think a strong case could be made that the majority of people are not living their lives according to objective values.

Art is another universal value. We all like sweets (chocolate etc).

No, there is no universal agreement of what art to value. I do not value the same art that you do.

If I eat a lot of sweets and become horribly obese as a result, what value have I gained? That should give you a hint. Just because something feels good, does not mean it is actually objectively good. In fact many times it is the opposite. That is why living according to objective values requires self-discipline above all.

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I think it is wrong to consider sex as a whole, and I would rather judge every individual situation separately. Does it work towards your life or your death? If, for example, there is a high risk of catching a serious STD, it would probably not require a lengthy process of reasoning to conclude that it is a non-value. And as for happiness, do not consider the merely physical pleasure at the spur of the moment. The real measure is whether you feel good about it the next day.

If I remember a consistent theme from Ayn Rand's books, it was that sex is only a value when practiced with an equal partner. Only sex with a person whom you admire and respect is capable of making you truly happy.

You don't seem to get my overall point. What I am referring to is "innate values" (aka animal values) that are biologically set desires/responses to stimuli. There is research that indicates humans have some values that are not "chosen", a remnant of our ancient past. While it is true sex could be evaluated as a risk, that does not mean sex as such becomes a non-value. We still want sex, just not risky sex.

In 1954, the limbic cortex was described by neuroanatomists. Since that time, the limbic system of the brain has been implicated as the seat of emotion, addiction, mood, and lots of other mental and emotional processes. It is the part of the brain that is phylogenetic ally very primitive. Many people call it “The Lizard Brain” because the limbic system is about all a lizard has for brain function. It is in charge of fight, flight, feeding, fear, freezing-up, and fornication.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/where-addiction-meets-your-brain/201404/your-lizard-brain

We have a small part of our brains dedicated to 3 basic needs/responses: sex, food and danger.

No, there is no universal agreement of what art to value. I do not value the same art that you do.

I am not talking about whether we value particular kinds or styles of art, but art as such. Art is a human universal, found in all societies and throughout human history. We don't have a "choice" whether we value art or not, but only what type of art to value.

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You don't seem to get my overall point. What I am referring to is "innate values" (aka animal values) that are biologically set desires/responses to stimuli. There is research that indicates humans have some values that are not "chosen", a remnant of our ancient past. While it is true sex could be evaluated as a risk, that does not mean sex as such becomes a non-value. We still want sex, just not risky sex.

You are right, I don't get your point. What exactly is your question? Do you disagree with the definition of the word "value"?

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From Ayn Rand Lexicon:

“Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep.

Observe the word 'acts'. Not 'wants', not 'wishes'. To value something means to act to gain and/or keep it. If you merely wish or want to gain and/or keep money or health or whatever, that is not valuing it. To value something you must act.

Wants and wishes might be in some cases builtin. To act is a choice.

There is no confusion if you quote Ayn Rand correctly.

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Marcus,

There is a distinction within Objectivism between basic sensory responses of pleasure and pain, and cognitive responses of joy and suffering. Our pleasure and pain responses are innate. They result from the stimulation of nerve endings in a particular way. We have no choice about our experience of sensory pleasure or pain and Objectivism doesn't claim that we do. Sex, at the most basic level leads to pleasure at a sensory level while hitting one's thumb with a hammer leads to pain.

It is the fulfillment or loss of our values that lead to the emotional responses of joy and suffering. Values are held at a conceptual level and are the result of a process of reason. A man who holds his life as his standard of value, holds those things that are conducive to his life as valuable and those things that are destructive of it as disvalues. Thus, an immediate sensation of pleasure or pain is not as important as the long term consequences of his actions in relation to the attainment of his goals. A man may be willing to stay up late studying though that will cause him to experience tiredness, fatigue, and possible muscle, joint, and other forms of pain if it helps him to achieve his goal of learning as much as possible and graduating with a high GPA. He may also forego the opportunity to experience the pleasure of sex with a woman if that woman has no value to his long term goals of running a successful business and having bright, successful children.

As for your last few points, they actually serve to undermine your original contention. You said that 80% of people are married or have been married by age 40. Yet, not everyone has been and it seems reasonable to guess that some of them have not been married because they do not value marriage highly. That is, those people have not chosen marriage as a value.

Now, if a high percentage of people do get married, it may be because marriage is objectively valuable to most people. Although people aren't always reasonable --- certainly most people are not Objectivists --- people tend to do a pretty good job over time of determining what is valuable to them --- to their lives --- and a high percentage of them have concluded that marriage would be beneficial to them. In other words, marriage is not an innate value, but rather an objectively positive value for most people. That is why it is chosen with such high frequency.

--- Darrell

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Marcus,

There is a distinction within Objectivism between basic sensory responses of pleasure and pain, and cognitive responses of joy and suffering. Our pleasure and pain responses are innate. They result from the stimulation of nerve endings in a particular way. We have no choice about our experience of sensory pleasure or pain and Objectivism doesn't claim that we do. Sex, at the most basic level leads to pleasure at a sensory level while hitting one's thumb with a hammer leads to pain.

It is the fulfillment or loss of our values that lead to the emotional responses of joy and suffering. Values are held at a conceptual level and are the result of a process of reason. A man who holds his life as his standard of value, holds those things that are conducive to his life as valuable and those things that are destructive of it as disvalues. Thus, an immediate sensation of pleasure or pain is not as important as the long term consequences of his actions in relation to the attainment of his goals. A man may be willing to stay up late studying though that will cause him to experience tiredness, fatigue, and possible muscle, joint, and other forms of pain if it helps him to achieve his goal of learning as much as possible and graduating with a high GPA. He may also forego the opportunity to experience the pleasure of sex with a woman if that woman has no value to his long term goals of running a successful business and having bright, successful children.

As for your last few points, they actually serve to undermine your original contention. You said that 80% of people are married or have been married by age 40. Yet, not everyone has been and it seems reasonable to guess that some of them have not been married because they do not value marriage highly. That is, those people have not chosen marriage as a value.

Now, if a high percentage of people do get married, it may be because marriage is objectively valuable to most people. Although people aren't always reasonable --- certainly most people are not Objectivists --- people tend to do a pretty good job over time of determining what is valuable to them --- to their lives --- and a high percentage of them have concluded that marriage would be beneficial to them. In other words, marriage is not an innate value, but rather an objectively positive value for most people. That is why it is chosen with such high frequency.

--- Darrell

That actually cleared things up quite a bit, thanks.

So basic sensory responses = pleasure, pain, sex, food etc

Values = joy, suffering, etc

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