trying to think

Applying the virtue of selfishness

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Hi,

I have watched this movie trailer, and it got me thinking.

In the movie trailer (I have not watched the movie), a situation is described where a group of teenagers (in Berlin, 1956) hold a minute of silence in solidarity with the Hungarian Uprising. The teachers learn of this, and want to know the names of the leaders of the group; so do the state officials. The group members are threatened to tell who the leaders are. 

 

It seems to me that not giving the names of the group leaders in such a case is a more virtuous choice.

 

Assuming that you agree, can this be justified by an ethics of selfishness?

If so, how?

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4 hours ago, trying to think said:

Hi,

I have watched this movie trailer, and it got me thinking.

In the movie trailer (I have not watched the movie), a situation is described where a group of teenagers (in Berlin, 1956) hold a minute of silence in solidarity with the Hungarian Uprising. The teachers learn of this, and want to know the names of the leaders of the group; so do the state officials. The group members are threatened to tell who the leaders are. 

 

It seems to me that not giving the names of the group leaders in such a case is a more virtuous choice.

 

Assuming that you agree, can this be justified by an ethics of selfishness?

If so, how?

You tell us. What do you think, and why?

J

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7 minutes ago, Jonathan said:

You tell us. What do you think, and why? 

J

I will start the discussion and Trying can chime in later.

Trying wrote: In the movie trailer (I have not watched the movie), a situation is described where a group of teenagers (in Berlin, 1956) hold a minute of silence in solidarity with the Hungarian Uprising. The teachers learn of this, and want to know the names of the leaders of the group; so do the state officials. The group members are threatened to tell who the leaders are. end quote

I am assuming you mean East Berlin and not West Berlin in 1956. The West was liberated by the allies in 1945 while the East was consumed by a communist dictatorship. When you are under a dictatorship it is NOT moral to cooperate with them to harm another citizen. But just as with soldiers, if you are captured, locked up and then tortured or otherwise harmed, you are morally obligated “to yourself and family” to reveal enough to get yourself off the hook to the evil authorities, but without being treasonous.

When I was a soldier in training I was told to only give my captors my name, rank and serial number but then the hour long lecture in basic training started to explain the nuances of torture and morality.  The James Clavell novel “King Rat” explores this issue well, and there is also that dramatic moment in film when the actors all yell out in defiance, “I am Spartacus!”        

So . . . . what would the consequences be if all or none of the teenagers said they were the ringleader?

Roger Bissell once wrote: . . .  At the sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of “Atlas Shrugged”, Ayn Rand presented the essence of her philosophy "while standing on one foot."

She said: 1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality ("Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed" or "Wishing won't make it so.")

2. Epistemology: Reason ("You can't have your cake and eat it, too.")

3. Ethics: Self-Interest ("Man is an end in himself.")

4. Politics: Capitalism ("Give me liberty or give me death.") Do you agree with these principles? end quote

If so, you may be a little “o” objectivist. However, the above, brief formulation merely explains the basics of philosophy and morality. I would not rat out my friends, unless they had committed a heinous crime and were no longer my friends. A moment of silence, like a prayer, is not a reason for The State to swoop in like a bird of prey. Peter      

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17 hours ago, Jonathan said:

You tell us. What do you think, and why?

J

I'll explain where am I coming from :

As far as I understand, an ethics of selfishness implies that an ethical action is in the rational self-interest of the acting agent (short-term or long-term).  Not giving the names of the leaders' to the authorities in East Berlin seems like a moral act to me. But I have a hard time explaining how it is moral from the point of view of rational self-interest.

If one asserts that not giving the names of the leaders to the authorities is the rational self-interest of a person in such a situation, I would love to hear how.

 

In case that you are interested in my own intuition on the subject - intuitively, it seems to me that thinking about rational self-interest in such a situation would cause one to give away the names of his friends rather than the other way around. 

If one gives away the names of the leaders, there are lots of benefits to it, material as well as those related to social status.  On the other hand, if one withholds the names, reprecussions can be very severe.

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17 hours ago, Peter said:

I will start the discussion and Trying can chime in later.

Thanks.

17 hours ago, Peter said:

I am assuming you mean East Berlin and not West Berlin in 1956.

Yes.

17 hours ago, Peter said:

The West was liberated by the allies in 1945 while the East was consumed by a communist dictatorship. When you are under a dictatorship it is NOT moral to cooperate with them to harm another citizen. But just as with soldiers, if you are captured, locked up and then tortured or otherwise harmed, you are morally obligated “to yourself and family” to reveal enough to get yourself off the hook to the evil authorities, but without being treasonous.

Ok, you assert that being treasonous is morally wrong. If so, I can ask how can the value of loyalty (opposite to treason) can be justified from rational self-interest?

 

17 hours ago, Peter said:

I would not rat out my friends, unless they had committed a heinous crime and were no longer my friends. 

It seems moral, but my question is one of justification. 

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The relevant Rand essay to read is "The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy" in The New Left

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1 hour ago, 9thdoctor said:

The relevant Rand essay to read is "The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy" in The New Left

Can you link to this, ND?

tnt, self-value and value are indisputably crucial concepts to rational selfishness. One's life is one's supreme value, so the values one upholds, looks for and finds (in this case, a rational cause and your friends/compatriots in the cause) are inseparable from that supreme foundation. Valuing doesn't only apply from moment to moment pleasure and benefit, but is anticipated "long-term". One has to live with one's choices, actions and their consequences for a whole life. Alluded to by Peter, in short, could one (the "rat") live at peace with oneself afterwards, after betraying an important value? 

I think one must be careful also not to view morality as ongoing scenarios in emergency ethics, as Rand wrote in that essay in VOS. They are the favorite package-deal argument made by sacrificers.

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25 minutes ago, anthony said:

Can you link to this, ND?

I don't see it available online for free; good chance the whole book is available somewhere, The Virtue of Selfishness is.  The OP ought to buy it, it belongs in the library of anyone studying Rand.  The essay is about a demonstration in Red Square in solidarity with the Prague Spring uprising in 1968.  The people involved went to prison.

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TTT wrote: Ok, you assert that being treasonous is morally wrong. If so, I can ask how can the value of loyalty (opposite to treason) can be justified from rational self-interest? end quote

I am not sure I understand. I think bringing *treason* into the equation makes the answers too easy in a way. The patriotism I feel (and rationally think about) is the system of government described in the constitution. In "Atlas Shrugged" paperback version, page 1073.

Rand wrote of the character Judge Narragansett acting in this way: The rectangle of light in the acres of a farm was the window of the library of Judge Narragansett. He sat at a table, and the light of his lamp fell on the copy of an ancient document. He had marked and crossed out the contradictions in its statements that had once been the cause of its destruction. He was now adding a new clause to its pages: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade . . ." end quote

I live in Stephen Decatur country. My wife and girls all went to Stephen Decatur High School.  Commodore Stephen Decatur, in the early 1800's was in Norfolk, Virginia. He was in the company of many of his shipmates and friends. He stood up gravely and gave a toast: "Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong." end quote

Justification? I suppose it is the same answer a patriot gives when one “serves one’s country” or risks one’s life to save another human being. I may not agree with government regulations or the use of force abroad but I support my country and our Constitution. I rarely need to balance one goal against another because I have already picked one goal subconsciously and I have set out to achieve it. Everyone has a hierarchy of values and mine guides my choices.   Peter

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Just now, Peter said:

Justification? I suppose it is the same answer a patriot gives when one “serves one’s country” or risks one’s life to save another human being. I may not agree with government regulations or the use of force abroad but I support my country and our Constitution. I rarely need to balance one goal against another because I have already picked one goal subconsciously and I have set out to achieve it. Everyone has a hierarchy of values and mine guides my choices.   Peter

I am too not sure that I understand your position.

Do you say that some values require no justification?

I tend to believe that all values require justification.

I am not saying that I am able to justify rationally the idea that all values require a justification. But it does seem true to me. 

Frankly speaking, there seems to be very little grounds of discussion amongst us, if so. Between a person that feels that values require a justification (though cannot rationally justify this ;)  ), and a person who does not feel so, there is almost no common ground for discussion.

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OK. No discussion so close to the holidays, and I am no expert or especially fluent in Objectivism either. Some oldies but goodies. Peter

From: "William Dwyer" To: <atlantis Subject: ATL: Objectivism's values and virtues Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2003 16:11:18 -0700: Very little if any mention is ever made on this list of Objectivism’s values and virtues, so I thought they might be worth a brief discussion for those who are not especially familiar with them.  There are three cardinal values and seven cardinal virtues in the Objectivist ethics. The values are: reason (as one's only means of knowledge), purpose (as the choice to pursue happiness), and self-esteem, (as the belief that one is able to achieve happiness and worthy of achieving it). The virtues are understood as the principled _means_ of gaining and keeping these values.  As Rand puts it, "'Value' is that which one acts to gain and keep, 'virtue' is the action by which one gains and keeps it."  [FNI, 147' pb 121]  "Virtue," she says, "is not an end in itself. Virtue is not its own reward... [Rather] _Life_ is the reward of virtue -- and happiness is the goal and the reward of life."  [FNI, 156, pb 128]

For Rand, virtues involve a relationship between existence and consciousness and therefore entail the recognition of certain facts. Accordingly, Objectivism's virtues are: 1) Rationality, which is the recognition that existence exists and that nothing can take precedence over the act of perceiving it; 2) Independence, which is the recognition that you must think independently and not subordinate your judgment to that of others; 3) Integrity, which is the recognition that you must remain true to your convictions; 4) Honesty, which is the recognition that the real is (and the) unreal can have no value and, moreover, that respect for truth is not a social duty but a selfish virtue. 5) Justice, which is the recognition that you must judge other people as conscientiously as you judge inanimate objects, condemning their vices and praising their virtues; 6) Productiveness, which is the recognition that productive work is the process by which your consciousness controls your existence, and that you must choose a line of work that is commensurate with your abilities; and 7) Pride, which is the recognition that you are your own highest value, that a virtuous character has to be earned, and that the result of earning it is self-esteem.

The difference between pride and self-esteem may not always be clear and is admittedly a subtle one, but for Objectivism, pride consists of recognizing the importance of a good character and what it takes to earn it.  When someone says, "Take pride in your job," he is saying, consider it important enough to do well.  By the same token, when someone says, "Take pride in yourself or in your character," he is saying, consider a good character important enough to be worth acquiring.  Self-esteem, on the other hand, is the _consequence_ of earning a good character; it is the experience of efficacy and self-worth that comes from having earned it.

Of course, these virtues offer a very general guide for living one's life; they don't give a detailed blue-print, but they do provide an indispensable foundation for "gaining and keeping" Objectivism's cardinal values of reason, of purpose (defined as one's own happiness) and of self-esteem (defined as a sense of personal efficacy and self-worth). It should be noted that Rand gives a more elaborate definition of these virtues in _For the New Intellectual_, starting on page 157; pb, p. 128). -- Bill

From: Ellen Moore To: Atlantis Subject: ATL: Re: Objectivism's values and virtues Date: Tue, 01 Jul 2003 12:31:43 -0500. Bill, this is a well-presented summary. Do you think you could present a challenging ethical issue that would be a challenge for discussion on Atlantis - one which is not reducible to isolated physical particles?  🙂 What about the ethics of parental lack of responsibility - those who refuse to learn how to parent objectively?  Or anything else that is ethical and controversial that has not been discussed ad nauseum? Ellen

From: "William Dwyer" To: <atlantis@ Subject: ATL: RE: Objectivism's values and virtues Date: Tue, 1 Jul 2003 15:07:29 -0700. Ellen Moore wrote, "Bill, this is a well-presented summary." Thank you.

 

S

he asked, "Do you think you could present a challenging ethical issue that would be a challenge for discussion on Atlantis - one which is not reducible to isolated physical particles?   :-)"

 

Actually, I thought I might present some questions on the seven virtues that were originally included in "A Study Guide to the Ethics of Objectivism" by Leonard Peikoff and revised by Leonard Peikoff and David Kelley (1977). For example, on the primary virtue, which is RATIONALITY, the authors asks:  "What, in essence, does the virtue of rationality consist of and require.  In particular, make clear the relationship between the exercise of rationality and the policy of being "pro-effort." References which may help in answering this question are: _For the New Intellectual_ (Galt's speech), 146-147, and 89-101; _The Virtue of Selfishness_ ("The Objectivist Ethics"), 13-14; _Atlas Shrugged_, 738-741).

(Unfortunately, all page numbers refer to the hardback editions, and I haven't had time to cross-reference them with the paperback editions, so if you don't have the hardbacks, as I do, then you may have to do some hunting, but it will at least give you an idea of where to look.) If anyone would like to attempt an answer onlist, feel free.  But do your homework. -- Bill

From: PaleoObjectivist To: atlantis Subject: Re: ATL: Objectivism's values and virtues Date: Tue, 1 Jul 2003 18:55:38 EDT. Monart forwarded the following from Starship Forum, where he replied to Bill's post on "Objectivism's values and virtues." >I thank Bill for his review of the objectivist values and virtues as described by Rand. I find Bill's posts always clear, orderly, and instructive. He also recently, in postings at OWL, defended with adeptness the absoluteness of principles. Bill should write a objectivist philosophy textbook to surpass Peikoff's, if Bill isn't doing so already, and if he's wealthy enough to finance such a monumental endeavor.

I agree with Monart's assessment of the quality of Bill's writing and thinking, and that he ought to write a book on Objectivist philosophy. I have plans of my own along those lines, and I could use the help, so if I were wealthy enough, I would hire Bill to help with the writing. In fact, I have already approached Bill to co-write a book with me, for free, but he wisely deferred such efforts to a later time. He is quite busy now finishing a degree program and looking for work, so I will be twisting his arm again once he has settled into his new routine. 🙂

 > Some questions: Bill, I wonder if you believe that Rand's 3/7 Credo is exhaustive, such that any other value/virtue is merely derivative of the first 3/7. (Rand has stated that there's really only one primary value: Reason, and one primary virtue: Rationality; all other values and virtues are derivatives and expansions.)

Monart, while it's true that Rand viewed ~Rationality~ as the primary ~virtue~ of the Objectivist ethics, I don't think it's correct that she said that ~Reason~ was the one primary ~value~. If you'll check out "The Objectivist Ethics" in ~The Virtue of Selfishness~, you'll note that she said that Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem were, together, the three ~cardinal~ values of the Objectivist ethics.  Also, there were three virtues which corresponded to them: Rationality, Productiveness, and Pride. This means that Rationality is the virtue by which man achieves the value of Reason, Productiveness is the virtue by which man achieves the value of Purpose, and Pride ("moral ambitiousness") is the virtue by which man archives the value of Self-Esteem.

However, it is unclear from Rand's writing exactly how she viewed the relationship between the values and the virtues. In ~Atlas Shrugged~, she said: "These three values [Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem] imply and require all of man's virtues" (p. 936), but in ~The Virtue of Selfishness~, she said: "Rationality is the source of all [man's] other virtues" (p. 33). This suggests that Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem ~together~ "imply and require" Rationality, which in turn is the "source" of the rest of the virtues -- and thus that Reason, Purpose, and Self- Esteem are the source (of the source) of the rest of the virtues. Yet, as noted in the previous paragraph, the three cardinal values and virtues are paired, each virtue being the means by which the corresponding value is achieved.

I think the way to resolve this apparent confusion is to realize, as Rand points out, that the ~results~ of exercising the virtue of Rationality are the additional (in this case, ~concomitant~) virtues of Productiveness and Pride ("Reason is the source, the precondition of his productive work -- pride is the result." VOS, p. 25). So, achievement of the value of Purpose requires the exercise of the virtue of Productiveness, which requires the exercise of the virtue of Rationality. Similarly, achievement of the value of Self-Esteem requires the exercise of the virtue of Pride, which requires the exercise of the virtue of Rationality. And since you are exercising Rationality in order to achieve the values of Purpose and Self-Esteem, you are concomitantly achieving the value of Reason. Thus, as Rand says, the three cardinal values of the Objectivist ethics really ~do~ work together as "the means to and the realization of one's ultimate value, one's own life..." (VOS, p. 25)

For this reason, I don't agree with you that Reason is the "primary value." Reason is not the ~source~ of Purpose and Self-Esteem, but their ~concomitant~. It is ~Rationality~ that is their source. Again, ~together~ they are "the means to and the realization of one's ultimate value, one's own life..." That is why Rand calls them the "cardinal" values of the Objectivist ethics; they are the values that are ~most important~ in achieving one's ~fundamental~ value, one's life.

As for where Rand got these three cardinal values for Objectivism, I think that the best explanation is found, oddly perhaps, in her esthetics essay, "The Psycho-Epistemology of Art" (~The Romantic Manifesto~). Rand says there are certain "metaphysical questions," i.e., questions about "man's fundamental view of himself and of existence." (TRM, p. 19) The answers to these questions determine a great deal about one's life, not only one's sense of life and one's preferences in art and human relationships, but also "the kind of ethics men will accept and practice; the answers are the link between metaphysics and ethics." (TRM, p. 19) (Note, here, that Rand says the ~kind~ of ethics, not all the details or nuances that distinguish, for instance, one form of egoism from another.) So, what are those questions, and how do they relate to the cardinal values of Objectivism? Refer to the first full paragraph of p. 19 in VOS:

1. "Is the universe intelligible to man, or unintelligible and unknowable?" Objectivism's answer is: The world is intelligible, and my mind is competent to gain knowledge of the world. Plus, life/survival is my standard of value. Plus, I need to gain knowledge in order to survive. Plus, being rational is my means to gaining knowledge. So, because I want to survive, I should value reason (i.e., exercise rationality in order to achieve reason and thus survive).

2. "Can man find happiness on earth, or is he doomed to frustration and despair? Does man have the power of ~choice~, the power to choose his goals and to achieve them, the power to direct the course of his life -- or is he the helpless plaything of forces beyond his control, which determine his fate?" Objectivism's answer is: Man can find happiness and choose and achieve values and direct the course of his life. Plus: life/survival is my standard of value. Plus: I need to be happy and choose and achieve my values and direct the course of my life. Plus, being purposeful is my means to becoming happy and to choosing and achieving my values and to directing the course of my life. So, because I want to survive, I should value purpose (i.e., exercise productiveness in order to achieve purpose and thus to survive).

3. "Is man, by nature, to be valued as good, or to be despised as evil?" Objectivism's answer is: Man by nature is to be valued as good. Plus, life/survival is my standard of value. Plus, I need to feel that I am good and worthy in order to be motivated to survive. Plus, esteeming myself is my means to feeling that I am good and worthy. So, because I want to survive, I should value self-esteem (i.e., exercise pride aka moral ambitiousness in order to achieve self-esteem and thus to survive).

Note that it is possible for a person to adopt all three, or just any two, or any one, or ~none~ of the cardinal values (and their corresponding virtues) in their explicit philosophy (if they have one). However, it is a fact that, in order to survive, they must either smuggle them in to their actions at least to ~some~ extent and/or exist parasitically off of those people who do accept them. It might be interesting to evaluate the various other ethical philosophies in such terms, but the important point here is the general form of one's ethics being a derivation of one's general view of the relationship between man and existence. [Historical note: I presented this insight during a question-answer session at the 2001 Objectivist Center Advanced Seminar in Johnstown PA, which was moderated by Will Thomas. The following month, on 7/29/01, I presented a short paper "The Metaphysical Source of the Cardinal Values of Objectivism" in a discussion at Nathaniel Branden's apartment. Some time later, Will Thomas present similar thoughts in a short piece in TOC's ~Navigator~, so this somewhat obscure view of Rand's is finally receiving proper attention.]

> What about David Kelley's argument that Benevolence is an 8th, distinguishable objectivist virtue (as presented in his _Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence_)? Or is Benevolence merely an application of the virtue of Justice, as is claimed by some objectivists, like the ARIans?

I think that Benevolence is a corollary of Justice. It is an aspect of "giving each man his due." This means judging them and treating them accordingly. As Rand points out in "The Ethics of Emergencies", "a rational man regards strangers as innocent until proved guilty, and grants them that initial good will in the name of their human potential. After that he judges them according to the moral character they have actualized....If he finds them to be virtuous, he grants them personal, individual value and appreciation, in proportion to their virtues. It is on the ground of that generalized good will and respect for the value of human life that one helps strangers in an emergency -- AND ONLY IN AN EMERGENCY." (VOS, p. 47) For people one knows and values personally, however, one helps them because and to the extent that doing so is a "practical implementation of friendship, affection and love," i.e., one incorporates "the welfare (the ~rational~ welfare) of the person involved into one's own hierarchy of values, then act accordingly." (VOS, p. 46) This are applications of the virtue of benevolence, which clearly seems to be a corollary of the virtue of justice.

> What about (moral) Courage, having the strength of will to do the right deed? Should that be another distinctive virtue, or should courage remain implicit and embedded in each of the main seven?

Although Rand did not speak explicitly of courage in "The Objectivist Ethics," she did in "Galt's Speech" in ~Atlas Shrugged~. There, in a paragraph expounding on the virtue of integrity, she said that "courage and confidence are practical necessities, that courage is the practical form of being true to existence, of being true to one's own consciousness." (AS, 937) She also, in that paragraph, made a comparison between integrity and honesty: "Integrity is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake your consciousness, just as honesty is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake existence..." (AS, 936-7) For that reason, (moral) courage is a essential moral/emotional attribute of both integrity and honesty. Consistent integrity and honesty require moral courage. In this respect, courage is a subsidiary virtue to integrity and honesty.

> The objectivist ethics is not yet being widely accepted and practiced, even though Rand's books continue to be bestsellers. Is that still because of lack of knowledge, or because of cowardice, or because of evil intent, or because of political disincentives, or what?

It is easier and less risky to buy and read than it is to put into practice what one learns and accepts from what one has read. The latter takes ~work~ and has ~consequences~, each of which can be unpleasant. Also, people can misinterpret Rand's ethics and thus misapply it. And many people read and ~reject~ Rand's ethics. So, I'd say it's a combination of all of the above.

> Is there a direct proportionate relationship between consistent practice of objectivist ethics and achieving financial wealth, a la Hill's "Think and Grow Rich"? How significant a factor is the predatory government and its beneficiaries upon an objectivist's creation of wealth? Or, should one's rational intelligence be capable of overcoming any predation, a la Ragnar Danneskjold?

>From my own perspective, all you need is one or two significant screw-ups in your personal life to set you back years, if not decades, in achieving financial wealth. By the time you crawl out from underneath the emotional and financial rubble, you're older and have less energy and fewer years left in which to make your pile. But suppose you ~don't~ make any bad mistakes, and still don't end up rich. The reason is that there are no guarantees in life. Wealth is not an inexorable consequence of Rationality.

>While there are some objectivists who are wealthy from being successful in one business or another, are there any objectivists who are wealthy *qua* objectivists, except for Rand herself? (and maybe Peikoff, via inheritance, and perhaps Branden, too). Considering that objectivism is a philosophy that should radically benefit all human beings, there are very few professionals who have even made a successful living from teaching or selling objectivism -- just a handful at TOC and at ARI.  Why?

It's a market problem. You have to identify customers and present them with a superior product. Not everyone will succeed in that marketplace, whether as an artist (Rand's novels are the only financially significant esthetic product of the Objectivist movement, to date) or as a teacher/author of Objectivist philosophy Having said all that, I must say that my life has been ~enriched~ by Objectivism, both in my personal relationships (I wouldn't have the wonderful wife and two of my absolute best friends, if it weren't for Objectivism) and in my career and hobbies (especially writing in the areas of philosophy and psychology). While I would not turn up my nose at an ethically acquired mound of moolah, I am much more concerned with the spiritual riches that come from the satisfaction of a personal and productive life well lived, and O'ism has helped me to do that. I hope these comments are helpful to you and others on the list, Monart. Thanks for posing such an intriguing set of questions! Best 2 all, REBRoger E. Bissell, musician-writer

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4 hours ago, 9thdoctor said:
4 hours ago, anthony said:
5 hours ago, 9thdoctor said:

The relevant Rand essay to read is "The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy" in The New Left

Can you link to this, ND?

I don't see it available online for free; good chance the whole book is available somewhere, The Virtue of Selfishness is.  The OP ought to buy it, it belongs in the library of anyone studying Rand.  The essay is about a demonstration in Red Square in solidarity with the Prague Spring uprising in 1968.  The people involved went to prison.

In the essay, Rand quotes heavily from and praises a 1968 New York Times article by Henry Kamm, "For Three Minutes I Felt Free,' which is available to subscribers via the NYT's digital-archives.

 

Buy this book!

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No body seems to be interested in this topic so I will pollute it further with something else in a hierarchy of values: the family. Peter

From: "J. Gregory Wharton" To: <family@wetheliving Subject: FAM: RE: Dividing Labor in the Household Date: Sun, 5 Aug 2001 17:48:15 -0700. Luke Setzer brings up an interesting question in two parts. In the first part, he notes that the legally "collectivized" nature of the family structure is contrary to the important principle of the unity of authority and responsibility in individual action.  To a certain extent, I see his point.  At the same time, I also perceive something of a category error here. Families are not political organizations, but rather social ones.  That being said, the family as a social unit provides the core building block of most political systems.  For most of human history, political systems have been grappling with families and how best to treat them. This may sound a note of dissonance with objectivist notions of individualism in politics, but it acknowledges an inescapable historical fact: where family units are undermined by the political structure, societal order weakens in proportion.  The family is the smallest and most stable element of any self-organizing socio-political order.

It is interesting to note that the more tyrannical a political system is, the more strenuously it works to undermine familial structures and relationships.  The Nazis and the Soviets both strove to break the bonds by which members of families hold themselves together. This is primarily because the family, as a self-generated, self-organizing social order, represents a direct threat to the loyalty and obeisance any family member might feel toward the state.  Given the choice, people will nearly always put family before king and country.

To go off on another relevant historical tangent, one of the reasons that the Roman republic and empire lasted as long as it did was due to the Roman recognition of the importance of family, and the extent to which this was institutionalized in their society. The Romans believed that families were not simply defined by consanquinity (blood ties), though this was certainly a part of any family structure. Family, to the Romans, was a group of people who bound themselves together in such a way as to directly pledge each other to serving common interests. It was quite common for outsiders to become part of a family unit by being adopted, even though the adoptee might be in middle age and have a family of his or her own.  The head of the family unit, the Paterfamilias (father of the families), literally had the dictatorial power of life and death in his own household (though this power was rarely used).  The Imperial state, even at the height of its power, dared not trespass against the prerogatives of the Roman familial order. [1]

Because the family is the most fundamental self-organizing unit of social order, there are as many ways in which families are organized as there are families.  We can easily argue that the power of a Paterfamilias to deny life at his word violates fundamental individual rights.  Physical abuse or other overt acts of violence would also be proscribed on moral grounds. However, beyond simple issues of fundamental individual right, there is no justification for political interference in the order of the family unit, whether to dictate behavior or structure.

I

n the United States at present, the nuclear family is recognized as deserving of special legal protections and privileges.  The ways in which this is put into practice vary widely.  In Washington State, where I and my family live, the legal presumption is of unity.  In other words, the law considers my wife and myself to be the same person for nearly all legal purposes.  Everything I own (with some minor exceptions) is presumed to be hers and vice versa.  Either one of us may act on behalf of the other without express permission.  The law considers the marriage agreement to effectively be a binding, mutual, unlimited power of attorney for both parties.

There are some good reasons for this, but the main one has to do with the legal recognition of the family as the basic unit of social order.  Now, in our society, that recognition is strictly limited to the nuclear family (as embodied by the marriage agreement between one man and one woman), and we could argue whether or not this is just (I argue that it is not--but we'll have to save that for another day)

This obviously opens to door for the potential abuse of that relationship. I could easily enter into agreements which would obligate my wife to responsibilities of which she did not want any part and vice versa.  To a certain extent, what the law is saying is this:  How we work that out is our own affair and not the concern of the State (this is over-simplified, but it gets the point across). This is reasonable.  The internal organization of our family is none of the State's business.  We choose to act as a social unit in a formal way, and our political system recognizes that choice to the extent that nobody's rights are abrogated. So, that leaves the second part of Luke's question: how do we actually go about organizing ourselves as a family?

My wife occasionally finds herself in conversation with one of the minions of Political Correctness, who inquires as to her "partner" (hoping to avoid such incendiary phrases as "husband" or "lover").  This raises the question: is our relationship really a partnership?  (Kate jokes that it's more of Limited Liability Company than a true partnership). The answer, I think, is "sort of." Do we share in everything we do in equal parts as befitting an equal partnership in all things?  The answer most emphatically is no.  We do not.

Do we combine our strengths to offset each others' weaknesses?  Do we pool our talents to act more effectively?  Do we divide our labor to act more efficiently toward our common goals and purposes?  Definitely yes on all counts. And, of course, we love each other dearly and deeply enjoy each others' company.  We also put up with each others' idiosyncrasies and overlook each others' occasional failings thereby. Our children fit into this relationship as best they can according to what they can do.  We don't insist that they do chores in order to tally up work points in a partnership agreement.  We do insist that, so long as they are a part of the family, they respect, cherish and help out family members as they can. We all love each other, and usually act toward common goals.  That, in itself, pretty much defines what family is all about. ~g J. Gregory Wharton, AIA Architect | Philosopher Seattle, Washington USA.

[NOTE 1]  As an even further ranging aside, it occurred to me long ago that if we members of the objectivist diaspora were really serious about fomenting the rise of a new spontaneous order in our society, the best way to go about doing it would be to create a large extended family. When I was a teenager at summer camp, we used to play this game called (strangely enough) "family."  It would start about a week into the four-week session with a few boy-girl pairs who had formed amorous relationships. Their friends would jokingly tease them, and at some point the couples would respond to the teasing with a further joke about their friends being their "children" or some such.  Pretty soon, the whole camp full of kids had mapped out a giant, convoluted tree of fictitious family relationships. This little girl might be a cousin, that little boy might be my uncle.  A tent-mate of mine (who was 13 years old) wound up calling a 9-year-old girl "Grandma."  It brought us all closer together and built bridges.  It also put us in a frame of mind to automatically assume that we had something in common with these complete strangers.  It's funny, but I still remember many of those children, according to those fake family trees, two and a half decades after those summer sessions.

That was just a long-ago game, but I can't help wonder if it would really work to build our ideal society from the ground up as an extended family. I've observed, and heard this observation from many others: that objectivists have a hard time coming together.  We get so caught up in our individualism that we forget the importance of cooperation among individuals.  Families provide a built-in and powerful structure for bringing people together in a cooperative way which also recognizes their inherent individuality.  We should embrace that, rather than be puzzled by it.

From: "William Dwyer" To: <atlantis Subject: RE: ATL: Is Child Support Self-evidently Right Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 10:02:48 -0800/ Jeff Olson wrote, "Does everyone here believe it is self-evident that parents "owe" their children a certain amount of money and/or labor for a specified period?  I certainly don't."

Jimbo replied, "You don't believe it is self-evident, or you don't believe it at all?"

Perhaps, JO is simply expressing grave doubts about it!  For it could be argued that since the parents are not initiating force against their child by not supporting him, they have no obligation to support him under libertarian principles. But it was Roger's rejoinder that by bringing a child into the world, you place him in a position of helplessness and therefore incur a positive obligation to help him survive.

For example, suppose that I invite you to see my walk-in freezer, and after you are inside, shut the door behind you such that you can't get out without my opening it.  In doing so, I place you in a position in which you are helpless to survive on your own; I, therefore, incur a positive obligation to open the door and allow you to exit before you freeze to death. Similarly, if I bring a helpless child into the world, I place him in similar position, one in which is helpless to survive on his own.  I, therefore, incur a positive obligation to support him until he becomes self-supporting. It is this argument that Jeff will have to answer if he believes that a failure to support one's own offspring does not violate their rights. Bill

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A sliding scale of values. I might change my scale after 17 years.  Peter

Sourav K. Mandal wrote in 2001: "My current position, based on what little I know about the metaphysical nature of embryos, fetuses and infants, is that abortion should not be restricted in any way prior to the third trimester."

I agree with your basic message to keep third trimester infants alive, with certain restrictions, if the infant is normal. However, I think that the nature of a human embryo endows it with more importance than any other life form and if it is to be aborted at any time, I think the abortion should be given due consideration. Humans, from the instant after fertilization should be given more consideration than inanimate matter and more consideration than the vast majority of the animal kingdom. I prefer a sliding scale of value to be used with all life culminating, in full rights for adult humans near the apex of the rights / values pyramid. The following Bengali, sometimes whimsical, sliding scale of Values, keeps Ayn Rand's fully integrated definition of Man's Rights intact at 75 points.

POINTS. 100 to 1,000,000 - family and other people you would die for.

90 - a toddler you see wandering around in traffic and other entities that cause within your innermost being, an immediate, explosive "Call to Action."

85 - Barbara Branden is given one more point than the deceased AR

84 - AR, though deceased :O) All Objectivists, Students of Objectivism, Fans of Rand, Libertarians (except the Crazies).

75 -  HUMAN RIGHTS TO ALL ADULT HUMANS, WHO RECOGNIZE HUMAN RIGHTS, AS DEFINED BY AYN RAND.

74 - other humans.

50 - children, one nano-second after the cord has been cut

45 -(26 week to near full-term fetuses as described in Roger E. Bissell's 1981 article in "Reason Magazine,"- A Calm Look at Abortion Arguments: My personal turning point away from Orthodox Objectivism.)

44 - retarded humans

22 - previously violent criminals, if no longer a threat to anyone but they still can't vote or own a fire arm.

21 – human embryos one second after they come into existence.

20 - pets (I have a feeling this category will be moved higher in points)

15 - food animals

10 - other animals

1 - single-celled organisms

0 - Above this point, Thou Shalt Not Kill anything, except with due cause (to be defined by ME. Below this point, kill as needed. Let your conscience be your guide :O)

-10     germs that cause minor illnesses

-15     animals that attack, kill or eat people, i.e., mad dogs, grizzlies, leopards.

-25     major germs that cause death or diarrhea.

-45     The murderously, criminally insane.

-50     murderers and tyrants. They have reason, but are evil, so they are lower than animals.

-75     mass murderers. Adolph Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot etc.

-100    the lowest rung of Hell

Any additions or changes will be considered.

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Subject: FAM: RE: Dividing Labor in the Household: Sun, 5 Aug 2001

On 12/23/2018 at 2:06 PM, Peter Taylor, quoting J Gregory Wharton, said:

Luke Setzer brings up an interesting question in two parts. In the first part, he notes that the legally "collectivized" nature of the family structure is contrary to the important principle of the unity of authority and responsibility in individual action.  To a certain extent, I see his point.  At the same time, I also perceive something of a category error here. Families are not political organizations, but rather social ones. 

Luke has a wife, but I do not know if he has spawned, or whether he may have left previous  spawn overnight in the woods at too early an age. Self-reliance!

Joking aside, Peter, is Luke's two-part question still topical, without bringing his personality into it?  If so, I'd like to see what the query was for Objectivism and Randian ethics.

On 12/23/2018 at 2:06 PM, Wharton said:

The head of the family unit, the Paterfamilias (father of the families), literally had the dictatorial power of life and death in his own household (though this power was rarely used).  The Imperial state, even at the height of its power, dared not trespass against the prerogatives of the Roman familial order. [1]

All roads lead to Rome, if not to Empire.  Rome is such a powerful Western symbol, it reminds me of hundreds of Objectivist lessons given for its fall.

The dictatorial aspect of a paterfamilias is found in the stricter sects of the Abrahamic religions today. One of the sects I follow from recent knowledge is the grouping of folks/non-denominational churches that group into cultures called the "Quiverful" movement (which overlaps with Independent Fundamentalism Baptist churches and a formal education system as well as particular home-schooling programs. key phrase: 'biblical patriarchy'). It has its own pathologies built around using women primarily as broodmares, and not surprisingly, carries a stain of unwanted sexual activity -- including with minors --  perpetrated by leadership, covered up,  denied and minimized (see eg, the Atlantic's look at Bill Gothard, "Another Major 'Biblical Patriarchy' Organization is In Crisis Because of a Sex Scandal").

[I follow a Youtube account named "John Cedars," run by British former Jehovah's Witness Lloyd Cedars. You may have seen him on the Leah Remini "Aftermath" show on cable, as part of the premiere episode of the third season. Evans is a warhorse of ex-JW programming, and has recently explored parallels with other "totalizing" sects/cults, first with Scientology. His episode with a former 'broodmare' in training is kinda chilling in its matter-of-factness. Good story-eliciting and telling]

I wonder what Rand would contribute to a round-table on child-emancipation in totalistic systems. Where is it appropriate for the state, or the monopoly on force to protect a child from harm (whatever withered aspect of the state remains in the New Era)? Is it time to completely eradicate child marriage in North America?

[Insert several meaningful Rand quotes on parental and 'state' responsibilities to children. Last posted somewhere here on OL!]

On 12/23/2018 at 2:06 PM, Wharton said:

As an even further ranging aside, it occurred to me long ago that if we members of the objectivist diaspora were really serious about fomenting the rise of a new spontaneous order in our society, the best way to go about doing it would be to create a large extended family. When I was a teenager at summer camp, we used to play this game called (strangely enough) "family."  It would start about a week into the four-week session with a few boy-girl pairs who had formed amorous relationships. Their friends would jokingly tease them, and at some point the couples would respond to the teasing with a further joke about their friends being their "children" or some such.  Pretty soon, the whole camp full of kids had mapped out a giant, convoluted tree of fictitious family relationships. This little girl might be a cousin, that little boy might be my uncle.  A tent-mate of mine (who was 13 years old) wound up calling a 9-year-old girl "Grandma."  It brought us all closer together and built bridges.  It also put us in a frame of mind to automatically assume that we had something in common with these complete strangers.  It's funny, but I still remember many of those children, according to those fake family trees, two and a half decades after those summer sessions.

That was just a long-ago game, but I can't help wonder if it would really work to build our ideal society from the ground up as an extended family. I've observed, and heard this observation from many others: that objectivists have a hard time coming together.  We get so caught up in our individualism that we forget the importance of cooperation among individuals. 

I wonder where the discussion subsequently went on any side-topics of "cooperation among individuals." I'd have to classify aspects out -- like coerced from voluntary and traditional forms of cooperation; contractual, work-related, public-spaces, stuff like that.  I also love Wharton's memories of camp 'family' are still fresh. 

Did anyone go off on an interesting tirade about cooperation, Peter?

Is Child Support Self-evidently Right: Wed, 30 Oct 2002

On 12/23/2018 at 2:06 PM, Peter said:

From: "William Dwyer" To: <atlantis Subject: RE: ATL: Is Child Support Self-evidently Right Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 10:02:48 -0800/ Jeff Olson wrote, "Does everyone here believe it is self-evident that parents "owe" their children a certain amount of money and/or labor for a specified period?  I certainly don't."

Jimbo replied, "You don't believe it is self-evident, or you don't believe it at all?"

Perhaps, JO is simply expressing grave doubts about it!  For it could be argued that since the parents are not initiating force against their child by not supporting him, they have no obligation to support him under libertarian principles. But it was Roger's rejoinder that by bringing a child into the world, you place him in a position of helplessness and therefore incur a positive obligation to help him survive.

For example, suppose that I invite you to see my walk-in freezer, and after you are inside, shut the door behind you such that you can't get out without my opening it.  In doing so, I place you in a position in which you are helpless to survive on your own; I, therefore, incur a positive obligation to open the door and allow you to exit before you freeze to death. Similarly, if I bring a helpless child into the world, I place him in similar position, one in which is helpless to survive on his own.  I, therefore, incur a positive obligation to support him until he becomes self-supporting. It is this argument that Jeff will have to answer if he believes that a failure to support one's own offspring does not violate their rights.

Bill

Bill makes his point with a metaphorical action-consequence moral reckoning.  

This is sort of interesting as argumentation:  

JO: "Does everyone here believe it is self-evident that parents "owe" their children a certain amount of money and/or labor for a specified period?  I certainly don't."

JW: "You don't believe it is self-evident, or you don't believe it at all?"

WD: Perhaps, JO is simply expressing grave doubts about it! 

I don't know to what purpose the 'parents owe X amount of money and Y labour for period Z' got smuggled in. Is this a false-dilemma or an unrepresentative sample, or a strawman?

Did Jeff Olson clarify his position? 

 

Edited by william.scherk
"Moral reckoning" ... the search for Rand quotes; porporse

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On 12/23/2018 at 5:41 AM, trying to think said:

I'll explain where am I coming from :

As far as I understand, an ethics of selfishness implies that an ethical action is in the rational self-interest of the acting agent (short-term or long-term).  Not giving the names of the leaders' to the authorities in East Berlin seems like a moral act to me. But I have a hard time explaining how it is moral from the point of view of rational self-interest.

If one asserts that not giving the names of the leaders to the authorities is the rational self-interest of a person in such a situation, I would love to hear how.

 

In case that you are interested in my own intuition on the subject - intuitively, it seems to me that thinking about rational self-interest in such a situation would cause one to give away the names of his friends rather than the other way around. 

If one gives away the names of the leaders, there are lots of benefits to it, material as well as those related to social status.  On the other hand, if one withholds the names, reprecussions can be very severe.

Hi trying,

I don’t think of your As far as I understand that way. It sounds like you are looking for each and every action considered in isolation to serve one’s interests. Rather, I think of choosing principles and values that generally serve rational interests and then making decisions based on adhering to the chosen principles.

Rights are moral principles that work that way. One wants their rights respected and understands that that implies respecting other’s rights. Respecting them, not just on those occasions when doing so directly and immediately serves one’s interests (which isn’t even respecting other’s rights it’s just doing what is in one’s interests) but also when doing so will not immediately serve one’s interests and may even bring costs. So, for example no stealing, even if one certainly will get away with it in this case? Correct, no stealing even though one certainly would get away with it in this case. You can call it thinking long instead of short term, or thinking and acting on principle instead of circumstances of the moment.

I would say to my fellows, “They want to destroy us and all resistance. Let us not be naive and believe they will be nice to the one among us who helps destroy us. Handing tools, info., or weapons to your destroyer is foolish. It will never end, you will be forced to spy on our side, or be exposed. You’ll be forced to do worse and worse against your fellows, each time them threatening exposure of your previous treasons to get you to commit “one more,” and on, and on it will go.”

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Just for the record, if there's a wolf pack around you can abandon your baby and let the wolves  raise him.

--Brant

let us know how that works out

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On 12/23/2018 at 6:01 PM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Peter,

I love it when you post these old comments. This is a form of preserving the history of our subcommunity, but in a dynamic way.

Michael

Of course, everybody knows who Jimbo Wales is. Peter

From: Jimmy Wales To: atlantis Subject: ATL: David Kelley on civility Date: Tue, 4 Mar 2003 08:33:13 -0800. Here's a fairly long quote from David Kelley that is directly applicable to questions about why a civility policy is a good idea on a mailing list which makes an effort to be creative, open, and intensely intellectual.

From “Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence,” p. 38: The forms of civility, and the broader realm of manners, are therefore dismissed by some people as arbitrary. "Why should I confirm to arbitrary social standards?  I am an individualist."  But while the forms are conventional, what is conveyed through those forms is not. If my argument so far has been correct, then it *is* objectively important to acknowledge each other's independence in some way or other, whether by saying 'please,' or 's`il vous plait," or by some gesture understood to have that meaning.  It doesn't matter which forms we use to convey this, any more than it matters which sounds we use to express a given concept in language.  But insofar as civility has a communicative function, it does matter that we use the same forms.  Someone who does not practice these forms is rude.  We can assume that his failure to comply reflects indifference to what the forms express (unless he is ignorant, as in the case of a foreigner).

A similar answer can be given to the complaint that the forms of civility are inauthentic.  "What if I don't like the present Grandma gave me and I don't really feel any gratitude?  Am I not falsifying my feeling if I say “thank-you” nonetheless?"  The purpose of that thank-you is not to convey one's specific feelings about the gift, or the person who gives it.  Its purpose is to acknowledge that it was a gift, from an autonomous person, not something owed one by an underling.  (If Grandma wants more than this, and makes it clear that she really wants to know whether one liked the gift, then one should tell her, as tactfully as possible.)

Civility, then, may be defined as the expression -- chiefly through conventional forms -- of one's respect for the humanity and independence of others, and of one's intent to resolve conflicts peacefully.

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Hi @Jon Letendre,

Thanks! It was very valuable to me. 

Quote

 

Hi trying,

I don’t think of your As far as I understand that way. It sounds like you are looking for each and every action considered in isolation to serve one’s interests. Rather, I think of choosing principles and values that generally serve rational interests and then making decisions based on adhering to the chosen principles.

I think you nailed it. 

Quote

. You can call it thinking long instead of short term, or thinking and acting on principle instead of circumstances of the moment.

Ok, a few questions :

1) Can you recommend me something to read on this issue (acting on principle rather circumstances of the moment and long term vs short term) ?

2) I would assert that thinking long-term only makes sense in the case that the death of the physical body is not the death of our consciousness (a proposition which I personally find probable). 

In the case that the death of the physical body is also "death" of our consciousness, thinking "long-term" does not make literal sense. Since if so, in the really-long-term, there is no consciousness, and since without consciousness there is no value, in the really-long-term, for oneself, there is no value.

So it personally interests me how objectivists are able to think long-term without thinking "really-long-term". I do think that in the quote bellow (beginning with "I would say to my fellows"), you have demonstrated excellent long-term-thinking, far beyond my personal capabilities. So, assuming that you probably believe (correct me if I am wrong) that annihilation and lack of values is the end of everything, can you reflect how is it possible to think long-term?

 

Personally, I believe that it is not possible to prove that death of the physical body is annihilation of consciousness as well.  Of course, we observe that embodied consciousness depends upon the material body and the brain. However, a disembodied consciousness is not something that we have the tools to observe. Since we lack the tools, we cannot successfully determine the proposition of complete annihilation to be true.    So, for me, real-long-term thinking is something which can exist, at least theoretically. But this theoretical possibility does not leave me with enough tools of application in concrete human-life situations. 

 

c) Regarding the question on acting on principles rather than on the circumstances of the moment :

Would you assert that one should always act on principle? 

Quote

 

I would say to my fellows, “They want to destroy us and all resistance. Let us not be naive and believe they will be nice to the one among us who helps destroy us. Handing tools, info., or weapons to your destroyer is foolish. It will never end, you will be forced to spy on our side, or be exposed. You’ll be forced to do worse and worse against your fellows, each time them threatening exposure of your previous treasons to get you to commit “one more,” and on, and on it will go.”

Excellent, and describes what actually happened in the 20th century to a much better extent than my scenario. 

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2 hours ago, trying to think said:

Hi @Jon Letendre,

Thanks! It was very valuable to me. 

I think you nailed it. 

Ok, a few questions :

1) Can you recommend me something to read on this issue (acting on principle rather circumstances of the moment and long term vs short term) ?

2) I would assert that thinking long-term only makes sense in the case that the death of the physical body is not the death of our consciousness (a proposition which I personally find probable). 

In the case that the death of the physical body is also "death" of our consciousness, thinking "long-term" does not make literal sense. Since if so, in the really-long-term, there is no consciousness, and since without consciousness there is no value, in the really-long-term, for oneself, there is no value.

So it personally interests me how objectivists are able to think long-term without thinking "really-long-term". I do think that in the quote bellow (beginning with "I would say to my fellows"), you have demonstrated excellent long-term-thinking, far beyond my personal capabilities. So, assuming that you probably believe (correct me if I am wrong) that annihilation and lack of values is the end of everything, can you reflect how is it possible to think long-term?

 

Personally, I believe that it is not possible to prove that death of the physical body is annihilation of consciousness as well.  Of course, we observe that embodied consciousness depends upon the material body and the brain. However, a disembodied consciousness is not something that we have the tools to observe. Since we lack the tools, we cannot successfully determine the proposition of complete annihilation to be true.    So, for me, real-long-term thinking is something which can exist, at least theoretically. But this theoretical possibility does not leave me with enough tools of application in concrete human-life situations. 

 

c) Regarding the question on acting on principles rather than on the circumstances of the moment :

Would you assert that one should always act on principle? 

Excellent, and describes what actually happened in the 20th century to a much better extent than my scenario. 

Hi trying,

1) I can recommend Nathaniel Branden’s The Six Pillars of Self–Esteem. This book digs right into the things you seem to be grappling with.

2) Lifetspan suggests an extent of and the contours of planning and thinking, but I don’t agree that mortality makes them impossible. One can act for the future by say, fixing a leak in one’s roof. The happiness comes later, living with a perfect roof. Yet one contemplates that future happiness and is happy right then, while performing the work.

And one can envision the future and be happy or unhappy with how things will be even after death. If one has friends, loved ones, children, then one can have definite, present–day preferences for the future even though one will not themselves be there. So, one might replace their roof although they will enjoy only a fraction of said new roof’s lifespan — knowing this will be their children’s home and having preferences for how things will be for their children.

But human lifespan does suggest a limit. If we and our friends lived for a thousand years then we could know our great, great, great, (insert about 40 more greats) grandchildren. We would care how the world is going to look in 3019, even though the doctor says we will certainly die in 2019.

c) No, not always. For example, the principle of avoiding theft is overcome by self–preservation when I am lost in the woods and find your stocked cabin.

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Hi @Jon Letendre

My argument (perhaps it wasn't clear enough) was that it only makes sense to think "middle-long-term", not "really-long-term", since if in the long-term consciousness doesn't survive, then values cannot apply in the really-long-term.  I don't think that your points negate that.

 

Quote

2) Lifespan suggests an extent of and the contours of planning and thinking, but I don’t agree that mortality makes them impossible. One can act for the future by say, fixing a leak in one’s roof. The happiness comes later, living with a perfect roof. Yet one contemplates that future happiness and is happy right then, while performing the work.

Even if this is correct, it rests on the notion that future happiness will come. If consciousness doesn't survive the death of the body, then there is no future happiness to contemplate. 

Quote

 

And one can envision the future and be happy or unhappy with how things will be even after death. If one has friends, loved ones, children, then one can have definite, present–day preferences for the future even though one will not themselves be there. So, one might replace their roof although they will enjoy only a fraction of said new roof’s lifespan — knowing this will be their children’s home and having preferences for how things will be for their children.

But human lifespan does suggest a limit. If we and our friends lived for a thousand years then we could know our great, great, great, (insert about 40 more greats) grandchildren. We would care how the world is going to look in 3019, even though the doctor says we will certainly die in 2019.

In the above paragraphs you do not refute my point, but just extend the length of the "middle" period. Perhaps the "middle" period does not end with one's immediate life, but ends with the life of friends and relatives. It is nevertheless true that with their death, meaning does end. So it doesn't make sense to think "really-long-term".    

Quote

c) No, not always. For example, the principle of avoiding theft is overcome by self–preservation when I am lost in the woods and find your stocked cabin.

1) A question from daily-life : how do you decide in daily-life when to act by principle and when not?

2) A philosophic question :   how do you define "a principle"? If a principle is not something to always abide by, what is the demarcation between a principle and between something you adapt for convenience's sake?

 

Suppose I assert that there is just a difference of degree between the scenario in the OP, and the scenario of being lost in the woods and finding a cabin.    It is not easy to fight alone against the state; not everybody can do it. And some people would be able to survive in the woods in a Robinson-Crusoe style without stealing.  Is there anything you could reply to that?

 

I understand what the definition of an absolute principle would be. An absolute principle would apply in each and every situation. I understand how would not having absolute principles be defined. But you seem to assert that a principle is something you sometimes abide by.

Let's go again to the scenario in the OP. Suppose a person gave the name of the leaders to the authorities. He would argue that he does act on principles, only in this specific case it did not apply. What would you say to him \ to us?

 

I think the idea of acting by principle is a good one. But its philosophical justification is very unclear to me.  I will read sometime the book by Branden, perhaps then we can discuss it further. 

 

 

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