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Reason Papers (Summer 2017)

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The latest issue of Reason Papers (Summer 2017) is now out. The individual articles can be accessed here. Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen’s The Perfectionist Turn is reviewed. I don't know if the book even mentions Ayn Rand, but the authors are familiar with her. Rasmussen's biography says he was involved in the Ayn Rand Society, and he has spoken at past Atlas Society events. One reviewer, Neera Badhwar, is also very familiar with Ayn Rand and has spoken at past Atlas Society events. Her review does not mention Ayn Rand.

Of course, the authors and reviewers are all academics, and Ayn Rand gets very little attention in academia.   

Roger Bissell is one of the reviewers on Amazon.

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5 hours ago, merjet said:

The latest issue of Reason Papers (Summer 2017) is now out. The individual articles can be accessed here. Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen’s The Perfectionist Turn is reviewed. I don't know if the book even mentions Ayn Rand, but the authors are familiar with her. Rasmussen's biography says he was involved in the Ayn Rand Society, and he has spoken at past Atlas Society events. One reviewer, Neera Badhwar, is also very familiar with Ayn Rand and has spoken at past Atlas Society events. Her review does not mention Ayn Rand.

Of course, the authors and reviewers are all academics, and Ayn Rand gets very little attention in academia.   

Roger Bissell is one of the reviewers on Amazon.

Does one have to be named  "Douglas"  to work at Reason?

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Neither Douglas Den Uyl nor Douglas Rasmussen works at Reason. They use reason quite frequently, in both the theoretical and practical varieties, but their official places of employment are Liberty Fund and St. Johns University, respectively. :wink: 

And yes, their book does mention Rand, but they don't spend much time on her ethics or meta-ethics. I personally think that an essay should be written comparing their ethical frameworks. I think it could be very clarifying to people who think that the Objectivist ethics is fundamentally a form of egoism (which it is not, as Rand herself points out, and despite the implication of the subtitle of her book, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism.

REB

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17 hours ago, Roger Bissell said:

Neither Douglas Den Uyl nor Douglas Rasmussen works at Reason. They use reason quite frequently, in both the theoretical and practical varieties, but their official places of employment are Liberty Fund and St. Johns University, respectively. :wink: 

And yes, their book does mention Rand, but they don't spend much time on her ethics or meta-ethics. I personally think that an essay should be written comparing their ethical frameworks. I think it could be very clarifying to people who think that the Objectivist ethics is fundamentally a form of egoism (which it is not, as Rand herself points out, and despite the implication of the subtitle of her book, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism.

REB

Wow Roger Bissel knows Douglas. Peter

From “On the Fine Art of Thawing out Frozen Abstractions: an Essay in Mental Economics,” by Roger E. Bissell:  [1] This essay, first published in 1973 in Equitas (a publication connected with a 1970s Midwest organization called Equitarian Associates) is organized around identifications I made during March and April of 1971. The identifications concern Ayn Rand's concept of 'society', Tibor Machan's view of government, and Morris Tannehill's view of value--all of which I believed at the time to be based upon a common fallacy. The essential nature of this fallacy became clear to me when I discovered the paradigm instance of it: Plato's theory of the Forms. This discovery was a byproduct of discussions I had with Douglas Rasmussen while we were attending a course on Plato at the University of Iowa. I then discovered it was Ayn Rand who gave a name and definition to this fallacy. It is because of this, as well as her identification of the principle of unit-economy (of which this fallacy is in violation), that I dedicate this essay to Miss Rand. Despite the irony of her committing the fallacy at least twice herself, her identification of it is a significant milestone in the understanding of how to properly form normative concepts. end quote

From: PaleoObjectivist To: atlantis Subject: Re: ATL: Speaking of logic Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2002 00:33:27 EDT

Andrew Taranto wrote: >Several years ago, I was checking out the HPO newsgroup, where I discovered a startling contention -- apparently an Objectivist one -- that formal logic makes for a useless discipline. Apparently Peikoff made some harangue or other about this: I recall it had to do specifically with him counseling graduate philosophy students to take whatever logic course(s) was(were) required and proceed to forget the subject. Is this true? Is there some objection to formal logic generally present in the Objectivist movement.

I think that Peikoff was probably referring to modern, mathematical logic a la Russell et al. Kelley appears not to be adamantly opposed to modern logic, at least not nearly to the extent that Peikoff is.

Personally (assuming I have characterized their views accurately), I tend to side with Peikoff on this. I think there is a lot of very nasty, obfuscatory -- if not outright destructive -- stuff going on in modern logic. I saw it firsthand in a recent debate on Analytic (one of the [now defunct?] Enlightenment website's discussion lists).

Two excellent and ~very~ helpful books comparing traditional Aristotelian logic with modern, mathematical logic (there are other names for them, such as "term logic" vs. "predicate logic") are both written by the late, great neo-Aristotelian philosopher, Henry B. Veatch. The earlier book, written in the early 1950s and apparently cribbed from though not cited by Harry Binswanger in a QA piece in ~The Objectivist Forum~, is ~Intentional Logic~. The later book, written in the 1960s, is ~Two Logics~. Either one would teach you a great deal about what is wrong (and some of what is right) about modern logic, as well as teaching you a lot about concepts, propositions, and meaning from an enhanced Aristotelian viewpoint. I have yet to find anything blatantly un-Objectivist in them (though I have found one or two rather arcane errors in interpretation, about neither of which I have been able to convince my Veatch-sponsor, Douglas [not David!] Rasmussen).

The drawback to these books is a practical one: they are currently out of print. Even from such excellent sources of used books as Advanced Book Exchange, there are seldom copies available -- and although there presently is a copy of each available, they are selling at astronomical prices, viz., between $200 and $300. Ouch. The only sensible alternative is to check them out of your friendly neighborhood university library or get them on Interlibrary Loan, drive to the nearest copy center, and make yourself a photocopy version. But sensible, though probably moral in this case, isn't necessarily legal, so let your conscience and prudence be your guide.

All 4 now, Roger Bissell

From: Achilles To: atlantis Subject: Re: ATL: Of Blacks and Whites (was: Of Dogs and Men) Date: Sun, 26 Mar 2000 23:24:31 EST

Ellen Stuttle wrote: >Possibly this example might help in clarifying the dispute between Barbara and Will:

>Suppose I'm a restaurant owner and I'm prejudiced against blacks.  Do I have a right not to serve blacks?  Certainly. Am I acting in accordance with an objective value system which squares with the rational requirements of human life?  Hell no.

Ellen, that is not necessarily the case. If the restaurant owner came by his prejudice through evasion and maintained it by that means, then yes, he is acting against an objective value system &c., because the objective value system requires that he base his actions on his ~awareness~ of reality, not on the evasion of it. But this is the primary, not prejudice or absence of prejudice. The latter depends on ~context~. If he came by his prejudice through the culture and upbringing he experienced, and he had no good reason to challenge his prejudice or any of the rest of his values, then you simply cannot judge him for acting against his own rational self-interest. Unless you want to interpose ~your own~ judgment of what his rational self-interest ~would~ be, if he had good reason to challenge his existing values and prejudices. But I don't think that is legitimate and never have -- and I've gone several rounds over this with Bill Dwyer and others in past years. Also, "good reason" means ~his~ good reason, not yours. See, it's all a matter of context. There are errors of knowledge, after all, and acting according to them is not irrational -- though refusing to examine them when one has good reason to do so ~is~. And for us to sit up on our thrones and to pronounce what is or is not in someone else's rational self-interest, out of context of their values and lives and experience, is not legitimate. It is intrinsicism.

Let's leave that to God and/or Ayn Rand...

Subject: A little more on context (was Re: ATL: Of Blacks and Whites) Date: Sun, 26 Mar 2000 23:35:57 EST

I wrote: >  ...for us to sit up on our thrones and to pronounce what is or is not in someone else's rational self-interest, out of context of their values and lives and experience, is not legitimate. It is intrinsicism.  Let's leave that to God and/or Ayn Rand...

Let me concretize this a bit. If I have an infection and need an antibiotic, you could say -- out of context – that a dose of penicillin is in my rational self-interest. But if I have an allergy to penicillin, it most definitely is ~not~ in my rational self-interest! (I almost died a couple of times when idiot doctors wouldn't take my word for it that I was allergic.)

One more example: who can argue with the claim that water is a survival need and thus in one's rational self-interest to have it? Well, again, context is all- important. I need to ~drink~ water, not have 50,000 gallons of it dumped on me.

These examples are not subtle, whereas the racism example is more so. But I hope you all can see the need to refrain from making sweeping generalizations about what people ~should~ do or seek, out of context of their lives and experience. The good for individual human beings -- to paraphrase Rasmussen and Den Uyl --  is not something that can be read off of reality like the Minimum Daily Requirements can be read off a cereal box. That is why central planning doesn't work in a nation's economy -- and why god's-eye-view judgments aren't valid in ethics. Values are agent-relative not absolute. That is, they are objective in the sense of "to whom and for what", not in the sense of "to all human beings, regardless of context."

Hope this helps. Roger

Ari Armstrong's essay:

_______________________________________________

MAN-QUA-MAN DEONTOLOGY

So far, I have explained Rand's "correspondence" theory of ethics and I've tried to show why this theory prompted the development of three off-shoot, but distinct, theories that give progressively more important status to "happiness."

The final theory (deontology) does not stem from the same theoretical tension (between life and happiness).  Rather, it comes primarily from the tension some see between egoism and respecting "natural rights." Members of the "deontology school" include Chris Cathcart, Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, and Eric Mack.

A "deontological constraint" is a principle of ethics which defines a proper range of action which does not aim at any  further goal, but is in some respect seen as good in itself.  Thus, the deontological view is  not wholly egoistic, whereas the other four theories are completely egoistic.

"The Dougs" (R&D) argue that, just as Aristotle defines entities according to their purpose, so Rand defines human life according to its rational purpose.  "[Rand] does seem to be committed to the idea that a good x is one that conforms to its nature or fulfills its natural function" (Den Uyl and Rasmussen '84, 68).  So far, many can accept the case.  However, R&D claim that the particular "rational" nature of human beings injects life (and ethics) with certain deontological constraints.  For instance, according to R&D, we must respect rights merely because of the fact that we are rational, not, as Will Thomas argues, because it is rational to believe that respecting rights is in our egoistic interests.

The Survivalists interpret "man qua man" (man qua rational organism) to mean that rationality is of great instrumental value to survival.  I believe Rand can sensibly be interpreted to mean this, and this is what I take Leonard Peikoff to believe (219).  To the extend that rationality "bleeds" into the "end" as well, it is only because it is first a means to life.

R&D, however, take "man qua man" to mean that the very type of "life" which is the "standard of value" includes ethical prescriptions which are not of themselves useful for life.

In their _Liberty and Nature_, they write: <Quote> Since we need to conceptualize principles for successful living (flourishing), it is important to understand the general nature of these principles, or at least the ones most properly associated with ethics.

The principles we have designated as ends in themselves are also known as 'virtues.' These principles or virtues share a characteristic which transcends the usual consequentialist/ deontological way of considering rules: actions which instantiate the principles not only contribute to the achievement of our natural end (consequentialism), but the very performance of the action is itself what constitutes our natural end (deontologism). Aristotle was clear that eudaimonia was an *activity*. (59) <End Quote>

The important part to note is that some *principles* are ends-in-themselves.  This is not Rand's view, for within her original framework all principles must further the final end of life.  R&D try to

say that their deontological standards are a part of the "end" of life, but this is merely to arbitrarily inject life with something that doesn't assist life.  (Rationality and volition, on the other hand, are demonstrably part of the human condition and obviously useful for furthering life.)

Contrary to their assertions, then, R&D's deontology does not "transcend" the "consequentialist/ deontological" dichotomy.  Rather, it merely attempts to define the proper "consequence" to be pursuing a deontological constraint.  In the same way, Kant's deontological theory could be said to be "consequentialist," in that presumably Kant wants us to achieve the "consequence" of being people who act from deontological constraints. There is nothing *fundamentally* "consequentialist" about either view, as there is with Rand's egoistic ethics.

The main problem with deontological standards is that they are hard to justify.  Why say that "rationality" entails, automatically, without considering the egoistic benefit, respecting others' rights?  This is just arbitrarily dubbing particular actions "rational" or "irrational."  For the other four ethics, an action is "rational" if and only if it furthers the end of life (or happiness or whatever combination).  There is *some* standard.  R&D would have us judge actions "rational" absent any view to ends.  But, then, what is wrong with the deontological standard, "blow your nose with blue napkins on Tuesdays?"  I don't see any way to evaluate it, within R&D's framework.

As I've noted, rationality, volition, and happiness can be argued to "bleed" into the end of life because they are first and fundamentally necessary conditions for the attainment of life (for humans).  However, nothing about deontological constraints can be said to be fundamentally necessary for life, and thus deontology cannot "bleed" into the end as can the other qualities.

To be sure, the deontology camp has tried to argue precisely the point that deontological constraints are a necessary part of (human) life.  Lance Neustaeter offered an anology in a post to the  Objectivism-L list on May 13, 1998:

<Quote> Why does a bacteria metabolize? In order to live. But "to live" is partly *constituted* by "metabolizing."  Metabolizing is not *merely* instrumental to achieving some state called "life"- it is a part of life itself...<End Quote>

Douglas Rasmussen suggested another analogy May 18 to Objectivism-L: <Quote> Ackrill notes that there is a difference between buying golf clubs 'for the sake of' playing golf and putting 'for the sake' of playing golf. The latter has already the end of playing golf present in it. Life is like playing golf. It consists of activities that constitute or express it.

It is not an end that is external to these activities. These activities are for their own sake, since life is done for its own sake. Life's status as an ultimate, inclusive end should not be reified. Further, since life is not denatured; it is also life of a certain kind or sort. The justification for what virtues constitute living the life the is proper to a human being is based on causality, but it is not simply efficient causality. It is formal and final--which for living things dovetail into the same thing. <End quote>

However, these analogies fail to support deontological constraints as part of the "end" of life.  Metabolizing really *is* part of the life-process of a bacteria; putting really *is* part of the process of golf.  Are deontological activities such as respecting rights (for the sake of respecting rights) really a necessary part of human life?  Reason is, volition is, even happiness arguably is.  But is respecting rights?  I think not, and I certainly haven't seen an argument to such effect.  To get to rights, it seems to me that we have to follow Will Thomas's road, and justify them according to our egoistic interests.

* * *

Eric Mack comes right out and admits that his ethical theory is dualistic; he doesn't try to hide his deontology inside "man *qua* man."  However, the nature of Mack's deontology is similar to R&D's.  Mack writes: <Quote> [T]he second task of ethical theory, viz., the determination of the means by which value may be attained, is *not* directly governed by an identification of what is of ultimate value.  This second task requires the identification of an independent (albeit not utterly detached) dimension of morality - a dimension that delineates moral constraints on the acceptable means for attaining the good.  What we need is a theory of rights... that is independent of the theory of the good...  (Machan and Rasmussen 44) <End quote>

However, such an "independent" justification of rights is for Objectivists impossible.  For the Survivalists, respecting rights must be shown to be in one's egoistic interests of life.  For the Happiness camp, rights must be shown to be in one's egoistic interests of happiness.

Mack suggests that rights theory is independent of the "theory of the good," and yet, if rights cannot be justified AS "good," what business have we in respecting them?  In his language Mack tries to avoid the consequence that his theory posits dual foundations of value, but he cannot hope to succeed in this task.

Remember that, for Objectivists, all actions carry moral weight.  An action not taken to further one's egoistic interests is immoral, not just a-moral. Thus, any action taken to respect others' rights is immoral, UNLESS it can be justified to be in one's egoistic interests.  I believe that such an egoistic justification of rights is possible and strong as a theory. Unfortunately, the deontological views point us away from the "facts of reality" that give rise to a robust theory of rights.

* * *

Judging from some of his comments at the '98 IOS conference, Mack believes that his theory of rights is consistent with Rand's position or at least a plausible interpretation of that position.  (See Mack's "The Fundamental Moral Elements of Rand's Theory of Rights," Den Uyl and Rasmussen '84, 156-157.)  Similarly, Den Uyl, Rasmussen, Cathcart and others seem to believe that their deontological constraints are compatible with Rand's theory.

I'm not sure who first interpreted Rand's ethics in a deontological light, though the tendency seems to go back at least 20 years.  In my view, any claim that Rand's ethics contains or permits deontological standards is a misinterpretation of her work.

It seems that the most troublesome passage, the one in which some claim to see deontological leanings, is in "The Objectivist Ethics:"

 

<Quote> The basic *social* principle of the Objectivist ethics is that just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others - and, therefore, that man must life for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.  (Rand 27) <End quote>

Various commentators have taken this to mean that the *reason* we are to respect the rights of others is fundamentally that they are ends in themselves.  If this is Rand's meaning, then surely it is distinct from her egoistic theories.

However, I do not think this interpretation is correct.  Rand discusses the "social principle" directly after discussing the various virtues – of rationality, productiveness, and pride.  She is going through a list of the various principles it takes to live a good life, and one of these principles, the social principle, is that nobody is supposed to be sacrificed to any other person.  Rand is *not* attempting to *justify* the social principle in this passage, however, but merely to note its existence.

Her justification of rights-respecting behavior comes later.  Toward the end of the essay (31), Rand introduces the "Trader Principle" and explains that, within a civil (rights-respecting) society, people gain knowledge, material goods, and spiritual values from other people.  This is, in brief, the grounding of rights-respecting behavior in egoistic ethical theory.

In subsequent essays, Rand makes fairly clear her view that rights grow out of and become a part of the egoistic framework.  In "Man's Rights," Rand says that the concept of rights "provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual's actions to the principles guiding his  relationship with others" (92).  In order for rights to be a "logical transition" from egoism for the lone person, they must describe egoism in a social context.  In "Collectivized 'Rights'," Rand says of rights that a person "needs moral principles in order to organize a social system consonant with man's nature and with the requirements of his survival" (101).  Thus, rights, as with all of Rand's moral principles, aim to further the actor's life.

The deontologists can attempt to uphold their theories, but they can't properly claim support in Rand's works.

SUMMARY. As I've suggested, I do not think that any of the dualist ethical theories are viable.  Neither the "life-happiness" duality of value nor the "egoism-deontology" duality can withstand criticism, in my view.

Dismissing such dualistic theories is, I believe, wholly consistent with Rand's tendency to reject dichotomies.

That leaves us with Survivalism (for no one really buys into the "correspondence" theory) and Happiness.  Both theories are purely egoistic, both seek to root value in one phenomenon.  The point of disagreement, then, is whether life is the ultimate value and happiness is instrumental to life, or vice versa.  I have made some beginning attempts to ground happiness as the ultimate value, and I look forward to considering the future arguments of the Survivalists which attempt to ground life as the ultimate value.  I would urge the dualists to turn from their bifurcated ways and embrace the "Survivalist-Happiness" debate as the most promising key to a wholly true and more complete ethical theory.

REFERENCES

David B. King, _Guide to Objectivism_, Athens/Olympus/7695/.

Tibor Machan and Douglas B. Rasmussen, Ed.,  _Liberty for the 21st Century_, Rowman & Littlefield 1995.  Includes "Moral Individualism and Libertarian Theory" by Eric Mack.

Ronald Merrill, _The Ideas of Ayn Rand_, Open Court 1991.

Leonard Peikoff, _Objectivism:  The Philosophy of Ayn Rand_, Dutton 1991.

Ayn Rand, _The Virtue of Selfishness_, Signet Books 1964.

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19 hours ago, Roger Bissell said:

Neither Douglas Den Uyl nor Douglas Rasmussen works at Reason. They use reason quite frequently, in both the theoretical and practical varieties, but their official places of employment are Liberty Fund and St. Johns University, respectively. :wink: 

And yes, their book does mention Rand, but they don't spend much time on her ethics or meta-ethics. I personally think that an essay should be written comparing their ethical frameworks. I think it could be very clarifying to people who think that the Objectivist ethics is fundamentally a form of egoism (which it is not, as Rand herself points out, and despite the implication of the subtitle of her book, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism.

 

18 hours ago, Brant Gaede said:

Where does she point this out, Roger?

--Brant

Nathaniel Branden, The Virtue of Selfishness, chapter 5, "Isn't Everyone Selfish?" (Sep. 1962), pp. 66-67, "Egoism holds that, morally, the beneficiary of an action should be the person who acts..." [Also, Webster's New World Dictionary, 3rd College Edition: "3. Ethics the doctrine that self-interest is the proper goal of all human actions: opposed to altruism.]

Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, Introduction (Sep. 1964), p. x, paragraph 5: "The choice of the beneficiary of moral values is merely a preliminary or introductory issue in the field of morality. It is not a substitute for morality nor a criterion of moral value, as altruism has made it...The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest. But his right to do so is derived from his nature as man and from the function of moral values in human life..."

In other words, egoism follows from the fact that ethics is founded on the nature of human beings and of how moral values function in human life, and the first conclusion to be drawn from this is the primary principle of the Objectivist ethics, its standard of value, by which one judges what is good or evil: "man's life, or: that which is required for man's survival qua man." (p. 25, VOS) And by "survival," of course, we mean not your physical survival, but flourishing, one's fullest life, as a rational being.

ONLY THEN do we come to the question of beneficiary. Once you know that your rational self-fulfillment or flourishing, your fullest life, should be the aim of your actions, THEN you have to determine how best to achieve that purpose. Suppose it were true that you could only rationally flourish and fulfill yourself by making the well-being of others the aim of your actions - i.e., that doing things for others were the means to the end of your flourishing. In that case, altruism would be the necessary "practical" means to your survival qua man. It would be secondary altruism for the primary purpose of rational flourishing, since the latter is your ultimate aim, not just the well-being of others apart from any concern for yourself. (Sounds a lot like Christianity, since the end goal is your eternal life.)

The same is true if it is instead egoism (self-as-beneficiary) that is the necessary "practical" means to your survival qua man. And in fact, on a desert island, egoism is the necessary "practical" means to your survival and flourishing. Further, this does not essentially change when other people enter the mix, as in a group, a family, a community, or a society. People cooperate and trade, they voluntarily give up things they value in exchange for other things they value more - and they put up with UN-voluntary, forced relationships and exchanges, to a point, in order to keep getting the other, unforced, voluntary values.

Even when it appears that they are "sacrificing," many rationally self-interested, flourishing-minded people consider what they give up to be "worth it," in terms of the "spiritual value" they receive.* (Raising children can involve this to quite an extent.) But secondary "altruism" in service of flourishing is not infinitely elastic, any more than is one's willingness to continue to be exploited by redistribution schemes so long as one has a decent amount of freedom otherwise.

Some Objectivists (not ARI-oriented, to be sure) have tried to argue that Objectivism's ethics involves more than egoism, and I agree that it does, but whatever "altruism" or "unselfishness" that is required for survival is a secondary, contextual matter, just as are those situations where grabbing-all-the-goodies-for-oneself is the right thing to do. There is great responsibility required in identifying and taking the right actions to help you live the fullest, most rationally flourishing life, and as Rand said, self-as-beneficiary is NOT a moral criterion. It's only a secondary issue - which, again, is why her ethics is not primarily an egoistic theory.

REB

* For anyone for whom this still isn't sinking in, I strongly recommend you read or re-read chapter 3 of The Virtue of Selfishness, "The Ethics of Emergencies," and (with pencil in hand) circle each of the NINE instances of the word "should" in that essay, and ponder why Rand would use the term if benevolence/helping others were not a contextual/non-sacrificial virtue.

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3 hours ago, Peter said:
20 hours ago, Roger Bissell said:

Neither Douglas Den Uyl nor Douglas Rasmussen works at Reason. They use reason quite frequently, in both the theoretical and practical varieties, but their official places of employment are Liberty Fund and St. Johns University, respectively. :wink: 

And yes, their book does mention Rand, but they don't spend much time on her ethics or meta-ethics. I personally think that an essay should be written comparing their ethical frameworks. I think it could be very clarifying to people who think that the Objectivist ethics is fundamentally a form of egoism (which it is not, as Rand herself points out, and despite the implication of the subtitle of her book, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism.

REB

Wow Roger Bissel knows Douglas. Peter

1

You betcha. I've known both Douglases for over 40 years. I met Douglas Den Uyl in the early 1970s at some of the Equitarian Associates conferences in Wisconsin and Michigan. And I met Douglas Rasmussen in September 1969 when I arrived at the University of Iowa (Iowa City) for graduate school.

That same evening I met the young lady who later became my third wife (and we have been happily married now for 27 years). She and I occasionally get together with Douglas Rasmussen and his wife Pam in Omaha, near where we all grew up in the early 60s.

I was also their philosophical and editorial assistant for about a year in the preparation of The Perfectionist Turn. It was a fascinating project - and a lot of work!

REB

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4 hours ago, Roger Bissell said:

Nathaniel Branden, The Virtue of Selfishness, chapter 5, "Isn't Everyone Selfish?" (Sep. 1962), pp. 66-67, "Egoism holds that, morally, the beneficiary of an action should be the person who acts..." [Also, Webster's New World Dictionary, 3rd College Edition: "3. Ethics the doctrine that self-interest is the proper goal of all human actions: opposed to altruism.]

Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, Introduction (Sep. 1964), p. x, paragraph 5: "The choice of the beneficiary of moral values is merely a preliminary or introductory issue in the field of morality. It is not a substitute for morality nor a criterion of moral value, as altruism has made it...The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest. But his right to do so is derived from his nature as man and from the function of moral values in human life..."

In other words, egoism follows from the fact that ethics is founded on the nature of human beings and of how moral values function in human life, and the first conclusion to be drawn from this is the primary principle of the Objectivist ethics, its standard of value, by which one judges what is good or evil: "man's life, or: that which is required for man's survival qua man." (p. 25, VOS) And by "survival," of course, we mean not your physical survival, but flourishing, one's fullest life, as a rational being.

ONLY THEN do we come to the question of beneficiary. Once you know that your rational self-fulfillment or flourishing, your fullest life, should be the aim of your actions, THEN you have to determine how best to achieve that purpose. Suppose it were true that you could only rationally flourish and fulfill yourself by making the well-being of others the aim of your actions - i.e., that doing things for others were the means to the end of your flourishing. In that case, altruism would be the necessary "practical" means to your survival qua man. It would be secondary altruism for the primary purpose of rational flourishing, since the latter is your ultimate aim, not just the well-being of others apart from any concern for yourself. (Sounds a lot like Christianity, since the end goal is your eternal life.)

The same is true if it is instead egoism (self-as-beneficiary) that is the necessary "practical" means to your survival qua man. And in fact, on a desert island, egoism is the necessary "practical" means to your survival and flourishing. Further, this does not essentially change when other people enter the mix, as in a group, a family, a community, or a society. People cooperate and trade, they voluntarily give up things they value in exchange for other things they value more - and they put up with UN-voluntary, forced relationships and exchanges, to a point, in order to keep getting the other, unforced, voluntary values.

Even when it appears that they are "sacrificing," many rationally self-interested, flourishing-minded people consider what they give up to be "worth it," in terms of the "spiritual value" they receive.* (Raising children can involve this to quite an extent.) But secondary "altruism" in service of flourishing is not infinitely elastic, any more than is one's willingness to continue to be exploited by redistribution schemes so long as one has a decent amount of freedom otherwise.

Some Objectivists (not ARI-oriented, to be sure) have tried to argue that Objectivism's ethics involves more than egoism, and I agree that it does, but whatever "altruism" or "unselfishness" that is required for survival is a secondary, contextual matter, just as are those situations where grabbing-all-the-goodies-for-oneself is the right thing to do. There is great responsibility required in identifying and taking the right actions to help you live the fullest, most rationally flourishing life, and as Rand said, self-as-beneficiary is NOT a moral criterion. It's only a secondary issue - which, again, is why her ethics is not primarily an egoistic theory.

REB

* For anyone for whom this still isn't sinking in, I strongly recommend you read or re-read chapter 3 of The Virtue of Selfishness, "The Ethics of Emergencies," and (with pencil in hand) circle each of the NINE instances of the word "should" in that essay, and ponder why Rand would use the term if benevolence/helping others were not a contextual/non-sacrificial virtue.

 

Thanks for this. Off this foundation I now think Rand was too binary because altruism seems to be a way to getting and holding moral and political power and as such is a big step down from human nature and Objectivism's idea of selfishness--that is it degrades Objectiivsm through inappropriate equivalence, quite understandable in her time when ideas seemed to matter to the leftists. As individuals we are thinking beings. Independent judgment is pure individualism. But from there we are social beings. If the politicians and priests are removed from that matrix selfishness expands into generosity and benevolence and can-I-afford-this and/or is there a profit? That profit doesn't have to be material, of course--to state the obvious. Throw in human variability and one man's actions can be considered selfless by another man since they would be such to him (because of ignorance). All valuing is subjective. All values to any man are subjective as experienced. For man--man as the concept--all values are objective, but the concept doesn't value or do anything. But men can determine what man qua man needs and they did so determine that and philosophically created human rights which grow out of egoism which grows out of human nature.

--Brant

no time to write better

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3 hours ago, Brant Gaede said:

I now think Rand was too binary because altruism seems to be a way to getting and holding moral and political power and as such is a big step down from human nature and Objectivism's idea of selfishness--that is it degrades Objectiivsm through inappropriate equivalence, quite understandable in her time when ideas seemed to matter to the leftists. As individuals we are thinking beings. Independent judgment is pure individualism. But from there we are social beings. If the politicians and priests are removed from that matrix selfishness expands into generosity and benevolence and can-I-afford-this and/or is there a profit? That profit doesn't have to be material, of course--to state the obvious. Throw in human variability and one man's actions can be considered selfless by another man since they would be such to him (because of ignorance). All valuing is subjective. All values to any man are subjective as experienced. For man--man as the concept--all values are objective, but the concept doesn't value or do anything. But men can determine what man qua man needs and they did so determine that and philosophically created human rights which grow out of egoism which grows out of human nature.

--Brant

no time to write better

Well said, Brant. No need to write better. ;-)

REB

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