Dragonfly

Critique of Objectivist ethics theory

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GS,

While this will work out fine for me, it won't work out for an Objectivist since the claim that "objective values" exist is the root premise on which the whole philosophy rests. Every belief in "objective value" naturally leads to all other values being devalued as "non-objective".

If that root premise is refuted, it reduces Rand's "objective value" claim to a personal set of values and beliefs held.

But something can only become "a value" if a volitional entity attributes value to it. Which is why there can't exist any values "out there" awaiting objective discovery.

Do you believe that objective values exist? If my memory is correct, your position is that values can't be anything but subjective.

Whereas Rand verbatim wrote that e. g. plants "seek values". No kidding. Source: AR, "The Virtue of Selfishness", page 19 pb.

You said you have not read much of Rand, but studying the primary source would serve as an eye-opener.

I think at this point I would try to discuss it without using the word 'objective'. The beauty of language is that things can expressed in many different ways and perhaps some other ways would lead to agreement instead of incessant arguing. I believe that organisms require things to survive and flourish and these things can be observed and measured in an manner so as to minimize the idiosyncrasies of the observer.

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Sure a plant can seek values and those are objective values. It will seek them. It can't value those values except by using them and benefiting from the soil, light and moisture. And it can't choose. Where choice is possible is where morality begins. Now we are into people.

--Brant

Martian anthropologist, assignment Earth

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Sure a plant can seek values and those are objective values. It will seek them. It can't value those values except by using them and benefiting from the soil, light and moisture. And it can't choose. Where choice is possible is where morality begins. Now we are into people.

--Brant

Martian anthropologist, assignment Earth

Value those values?? That's downright confusing I value food, I don't value "value". :) But I agree that the higher forms of life have more choice of what they might value, including things that are not necessarily good for them.

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Sure a plant can seek values and those are objective values. It will seek them. It can't value those values except by using them and benefiting from the soil, light and moisture. And it can't choose. Where choice is possible is where morality begins. Now we are into people.

--Brant

Martian anthropologist, assignment Earth

A plant can't value at all since it does not have the mental capacity to attribute value. A biological program is something else than choosing something as a value. A plant can't choose not to seek sunlight. A stomach can't choose not to digest, etc.

Rand herself pointed out that where no alternatives exist, no values are possible.

Edited by Xray

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A plant can't value at all since it does not have the mental capacity to attribute value. A biological program is something else than choosing something as a value.

But theoretically, all our choices are decided at a molecular/quantum level, it's just that it is much more complicated for us humans.

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This is of course just a semantic quibbling about definitions (what is the "true" definition?). But when we're talking about "values" in a philosophical context, the interesting aspect is of course that we humans can choose our values and the fact that different people do have different values and what the effects of those choices and differences are, and therefore it seems more useful to limit the notion of values to that category, to avoid confusion with universal automatic functions for which no consciousness is needed. Just as it is useful to make a distinction between our autonomic functions and our consciousness.

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Sure a plant can seek values and those are objective values. It will seek them. It can't value those values except by using them and benefiting from the soil, light and moisture. And it can't choose. Where choice is possible is where morality begins. Now we are into people.

--Brant

Martian anthropologist, assignment Earth

A plant can't value at all since it does not have the mental capacity to attribute value. A biological program is something else than choosing something as a value. A plant can't choose not to seek sunlight. A stomach can't choose not to digest, etc.

Rand herself pointed out that where no alternatives exist, no values are possible.

A plant certainly does "have the mental capacity to attribute value." It just doesn't have a brain or consciousness as we know it. And if Rand said what you say she did she contradicted other things she said. Choice has to do with morality, but is not necessary with some basic values. All basic values are objective values, but not all objective values are basic albeit likely problematic and arguably subjective. Most human values are subjective and all human valuing subjective but from the brain, not the body. In that sense a person can be said to be like the plant with the body attributing value objectively and the mind attributing value subjectively. Now my chocolate Lab attributes value objectively through both his mind and body because he lacks free will. (I asked him if he wanted free will and he bared his teeth and shook his head. I asked him if he wanted me to rebut Xray and he jumped up and down with joy.)

--Brant

and the beat goes on: woof! woof! woof! take me for my walk!

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Precisely. She contradicted herself. For in one instant, she connects the term, value, to an volitional entity while at the same time connecting the term value to a non volitional plant.

BG: Choice has to do with morality, but is not necessary with some basic values. All basic values are objective values, but not all objective values are basic albeit likely problematic and arguably subjective. Most human values are subjective and all human valuing subjective but from the brain, not the body. In that sense a person can be said to be like the plant with the body attributing value objectively and the mind attributing value subjectively. Now my chocolate Lab attributes value objectively through both his mind and body because he lacks free will. (I asked him if he wanted free will and he bared his teeth and shook his head. I asked him if he wanted me to rebut Xray and he jumped up and down with joy.)

--Brant

and the beat goes on: woof! woof! woof! take me for my walk!

Have to log out but will get to the dog issue tomorrow. Mine can't woof right now - she's sound asleep. I'll do some little tests tomorrow as to what she values over what. :)

Edited by Xray

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She [Rand] contradicted herself. For in one instant, she connects the term, value, to an volitional entity while at the same time connecting the term value to a non volitional plant.

The last sentence is correct. The first sentence is hogwash.

1. Do plant roots seek water? Yes or no?

2. Do heliotropic plants seek sunlight? Yes or no?

How long are you going to evade answering these questions?

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She [Rand] contradicted herself. For in one instant, she connects the term, value, to an volitional entity while at the same time connecting the term value to a non volitional plant.

The last sentence is correct. The first sentence is hogwash.

1. Do plant roots seek water? Yes or no?

2. Do heliotropic plants seek sunlight? Yes or no?

How long are you going to evade answering these questions?

to 1. plants do not have purposes. They move their roots (or the roots move) toward water from purely electrochemical causes.

to 2. plants do not seek light in the sense of purposeful movement. Again it is electrochemical causes at work.

Plants do not seek anything anymore than a dropped stone seeks the ground.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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1. Do plant roots seek water? Yes or no?

2. Do heliotropic plants seek sunlight? Yes or no?

It's the use of terms like 'seek' and 'value' that pose the problem. They suggest the presence of an "intelligent" agent. I see a recurring problem in these discussions, namely, referring to things like food, water, sunlight etc. as values. I think the term ''values' should be restricted to mean a statement of values , and not the things themselves. In other words, 'values' represents descriptions of what it is we value.

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Plants do not seek anything anymore than a dropped stone seeks the ground.

seek v.

3. to bend one's efforts toward; aim at; pursue

(source)

Stones don't make efforts; plants do.

Edited by Merlin Jetton

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It's the use of terms like 'seek' and 'value' that pose the problem. They suggest the presence of an "intelligent" agent. I see a recurring problem in these discussions, namely, referring to things like food, water, sunlight etc. as values. I think the term ''values' should be restricted to mean a statement of values , and not the things themselves. In other words, 'values' represents descriptions of what it is we value.

Valuing is a relationship, involving a valuer and what's valued. Why try to sever the relationship?

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She [Rand] contradicted herself. For in one instant, she connects the term, value, to an volitional entity while at the same time connecting the term value to a non volitional plant.

The last sentence is correct. The first sentence is hogwash.

1. Do plant roots seek water? Yes or no?

2. Do heliotropic plants seek sunlight? Yes or no?

How long are you going to evade answering these questions?

to 1. plants do not have purposes. They move their roots (or the roots move) toward water from purely electrochemical causes.

to 2. plants do not seek light in the sense of purposeful movement. Again it is electrochemical causes at work.

Plants do not seek anything anymore than a dropped stone seeks the ground.

Ba'al Chatzaf

You can use "electrochemical" to describe a brain too. Your comparative gravity metaphor is therefore nonsense.

--Brant

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It's the use of terms like 'seek' and 'value' that pose the problem. They suggest the presence of an "intelligent" agent. I see a recurring problem in these discussions, namely, referring to things like food, water, sunlight etc. as values. I think the term ''values' should be restricted to mean a statement of values , and not the things themselves. In other words, 'values' represents descriptions of what it is we value.

Valuing is a relationship, involving a valuer and what's valued. Why try to sever the relationship?

I'm not trying to sever the relationship I'm simply suggesting we do not refer to the things we value as 'values'. I think this is where the confusion surrounding "objective values" arises. It's the things we value that are objective, not the fact that we value them. It is a fact that we all value objective things but the things we value vary from one person to the next. It seems that objectivist theory states that we should all value the same things and refers to this as objective values.

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You can use "electrochemical" to describe a brain too. Your comparative gravity metaphor is therefore nonsense.

--Brant

My claim is literal fact. If you want to call a natural process a manifestation of purpose, go right ahead. I prefer to call things what they really are.

Everything in the Cosmos is physical.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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She [Rand] contradicted herself. For in one instant, she connects the term, value, to an volitional entity while at the same time connecting the term value to a non volitional plant.

The last sentence is correct. The first sentence is hogwash.

1. Do plant roots seek water? Yes or no?

2. Do heliotropic plants seek sunlight? Yes or no?

How long are you going to evade answering these questions?

to 1. plants do not have purposes. They move their roots (or the roots move) toward water from purely electrochemical causes.

to 2. plants do not seek light in the sense of purposeful movement. Again it is electrochemical causes at work.

Plants do not seek anything anymore than a dropped stone seeks the ground.

Ba'al Chatzaf

You can use "electrochemical" to describe a brain too. Your comparative gravity metaphor is therefore nonsense.

--Brant

I know I don't have to point out that in the brain those electro-chemical processes can and are being self-regulated and directed. (but I have anyway :) )

I thought Ba'al's metaphor/comparison with gravity was much truer than 'plants seek', 'plants value', etc., or any other anthropocentric activity.

Gravity is natural fact, just as is photosynthesis, and they are both 100% automatic.

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It's the things we value that are objective, not the fact that we value them.

Per Ayn Rand objectivity "pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence." (my bold; source)

It is a fact that we all value objective things but the things we value vary from one person to the next. It seems that objectivist theory states that we should all value the same things and refers to this as objective values.

Where did you get that notion? It might help if you read some more Ayn Rand. :)

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It's the things we value that are objective, not the fact that we value them.

Per Ayn Rand objectivity "pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence." (my bold; source)

It is a fact that we all value objective things but the things we value vary from one person to the next. It seems that objectivist theory states that we should all value the same things and refers to this as objective values.

Where did you get that notion? It might help if you read some more Ayn Rand. :)

Verily!

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She [Rand] contradicted herself. For in one instant, she connects the term, value, to an volitional entity while at the same time connecting the term value to a non volitional plant.

The last sentence is correct. The first sentence is hogwash.

1. Do plant roots seek water? Yes or no?

2. Do heliotropic plants seek sunlight? Yes or no?

How long are you going to evade answering these questions?

No evasion.

1. No.

2. No. Plants do not seek anything.

To say a volitional individual seeks nourishment to survive refers to a conscious action, a choice, whereas, to say that a non volitional plant seeks nourishment is a metaphor, not representing a metaphysical fact. There is no consciousness. There is no volition. There is no choice.

I just read Ba'al's post which refers to the same fact:

Ba'al Chatzaf:

to 1. plants do not have purposes. They move their roots (or the roots move) toward water from purely electrochemical causes.

to 2. plants do not seek light in the sense of purposeful movement. Again it is electrochemical causes at work.

Plants do not seek anything anymore than a dropped stone seeks the ground.

Indeed, plants can't seek anything in pursuit of a goal.

Merlin: If a riverbank is eroded by running water, do you say the water "seeks" to erode the riverbank?

If you release a lead ball in earth's gravity, it will fall. Do you say the lead ball "seeks" to fall?

Do you say conscious action and unconscious reaction are the same?

If not, where do you find a conscious plant that "acts" as opposed to reacts?

A human individual is a volitional, valuing, goal-seeking entity. A conscious choice is made. A conscious decision is made. Value is consciously attributed. Action is taken to achieve the goal valued. This is identity.

Situation 1:

A volitional entity consciously decides to try to acquire food necessary for survival. The volitional entity seeks food.

It is volitional consciousness, volitional valuation and volitional action which are the elements incorporated in the term, seek. This is what provides definition for the term, seek.

In the absence of these elements, the term, seek, is not connected to reality.

Which is why a figure of speech in reference to non volition, such as "seeking water" with regard to plant, does not have a literal connection to reality.

Situation 2:

An insentient plant does not possess the characteristics which determine the definition of the word, seek. There are two separate identities with two separate sets of characteristics.

Using the same term for opposite conditions does not make them the same.

In the former, words are used to describe reality.

In the latter, words are used in the illusion of creating reality, an illusion denying a difference which does exist while pretending a sameness in identity which does not exist.

GS: "It's the use of terms like 'seek' and 'value' that pose the problem. They suggest the presence of an "intelligent" agent. I see a recurring problem in these discussions, namely, referring to things like food, water, sunlight etc. as values.

I think the term ''values' should be restricted to mean a statement of values , and not the things themselves. In other words, 'values' represents descriptions of what it is we value." (GS)

Indeed, this would help a lot for clarification.

"A value" is the noun form of the verb "to value". Therefore "values" at the result of these subjective, conscious choices.

Ayn Rand was wrong in stating that insentient plants can seek and have values.

GS: It is a fact that we all value objective things but the things we value vary from one person to the next. It seems that objectivist theory states that we should all value the same things and refers to this as objective values.

MJ: Where did you get that notion? It might help if you read some more Ayn Rand. :)

Merlin: What GS stated is exactly the message conveyed by Rand.

Edited by Xray

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Indeed, plants can't seek anything in pursuit of a goal.

Merlin: If a riverbank is eroded by running water, do you say the water "seeks" to erode the riverbank?

Of course not. Water isn't living.

If you release a lead ball in earth's gravity, it will fall. Do you say the lead ball "seeks" to fall?

Of course not. A lead ball is not a living thing.

Do you say conscious action and unconscious reaction are the same?

Of course not. Are living or not living irrelevant?

If not, where do you find a conscious plant that "acts" as opposed to reacts?

Do you deny that your eating (conscious action) and your digestive system and/or immune system (unconscious action) have the same purpose -- keeping you alive?

An insentient plant does not possess the characteristics which determine the definition of the word, seek. There are

two separate identities with two separate sets of characteristics.

Using the same term for opposite conditions does not make them the same.

A cheetah runs to catch its prey. A shark swims. The motions differ, but the goal of eating is the same.

That is your subjectively chosen meaning of "seek". See the definition of seek I gave here. It didn't include "sentient".

In the former, words are used to describe reality.

In the latter, words are uses in the illusion of creating reality, an illusion denying a difference which does exist while pretending the sameness in identity which does not exist.

Do you deny that your eating (conscious action) and your digestive system and/or immune system (unconscious action) have the same purpose -- keeping you alive?

"A value" is the noun form of the verb "to value". Therefore "values" at the result of these subjective, conscious choices.

Ayn Rand was wrong in stating that insentient plants can seek and have values.

Assert all you want. You have proven nothing, except your stubborn rejection of any word meanings you don't subjectively like.

Merlin: What GS stated is exactly the message conveyed by Rand.

That is another of your subjective inferences. Neither you nor GS cited Rand's own words to justify it.

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Ms. Xray:

I can use your own words to prove that you cannot think! [sATIRE]

However, can you prove that a plant does not "think"?

I know that Ninth Doctor can provide us with the Little Shop of Horrors Venus Fly Trap, but I prefer the famous Darrow cross examination of William Jennings Bryant as represented in Inherit the Wind:

At about 2:50 he asks..."Or do you think that a sponge thinks?"

Enjoy. It is a great cross examination.

Adam

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Merlin Jetton]:
Of course not. Water isn't living.

Are you saying that a living volitional individual and a living plant are the same just because the term, living, is applied to both?

How do you arrive at choice without awareness of alternative? How do you arrive at alternative without volitional consciousness necessary to be aware of choice?

Does water or a plant have volition? Does water or a plant calculate and determine its own destiny?

Of course not. A lead ball is not a living thing.

Neither is a lead ball or a plant a conscious thing. "Living" is a subjectively created category based on arbitrarily selected similarities, not an objective identity which is always by difference.

For example, if I refer you to a specfic post on a specific thread here at OL, the identity of the post is established by differentiating it from all other posts.

Of course not. Are living or not living irrelevant?

Living what? Plant? Volitional animal? Are not sets of differentiation characteristics relevant?

Do all living things have the same identity? Is identity by similarity? Or by difference?

A cheetah runs to catch its prey. A shark swims. The motions differ, but the goal of eating is the same.

So? Does a cheetah run to catch its prey without conscious awareness of its prey and choice to pursue?

That is your subjectively chosen meaning of "seek". See the definition of seek I gave here. It didn't include "sentient".

"seek v.

3. to bend one's efforts toward; aim at; pursue (source)"

The reason why your source [http://www.yourdictionary.com/seek] didn't specifically mention sentient is because sentient is so clearly included in the examples given for "seek":

1. to try to find; search for; look for

2. to go to; resort to to seek the woods for peace

3.

1. to try to get or find out by asking or searching to seek the answer to a question

2. to request; ask for

4. to bend one's efforts toward; aim at; pursue seeking perfection

5. to try; attempt: used with an infinitive to seek to please someone

6. Archaic to explore

Stones don't make efforts; plants do.)

Plants make no more effort than a stone. Neither are capable of effort since they are not volitional entities.

Do you deny that your eating (conscious action) and your digestive system and/or immune system (unconscious action) have the same purpose -- keeping you alive?

I certainly do deny it. A digestive system has no mind of its own which is needed to have a purpose.

Merlin: What GS stated is exactly the message conveyed by Rand.

That is another of your subjective inferences. Neither you nor GS cited Rand's own words to justify it.

Rand's words on this have been cited so much that it is redundant.

The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between "is" and "ought". (Rand)

Wrong. There exist no "ought to" derived from an "is", neither in biology, nor in philosophy.

"It is only an ultimate goal, an end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action." (Rand)

Wrong again. As for the Objectivist position that "life is en end in itself" - life is no more an end in itself than e.g. a galaxy is an end in itself. All what one can observe is a constant transformation of matter, whether it is of living entities, or of non-living systems which are continually being transformed as well. Stars will collapse into black holes etc.

We are volitional beings who make choices; an "ought to" merely indicates subjective preferene and is irrelevant.

What we deal with is "if - then" situations having certain consequences.

For example: It's not "I ought to" do my tax declaration. It's "if I don't make it, then the consequence will be such and such".

This goes for every decision.

Whether it is that one "ought to" clean up one's desk/exercise more/be more punctual/tell one's partner he/she "ought to" be more thrifty, whatever - "ought is" an expression of subjective preference, and from what I have observed, pretty ineffective.

I don't know about you, but whenever I have told myself that "I ought to" do something, this was certain not to get me into action.

I may tell myself I "ought to" weed out my paper files, sure, but tomorrow is another day; I "might" start then. Know what I mean? :)

As for telling others what they "ought to" do, this is often conceived as oberbearing and intrusive by them.

Over the years, I have come to eliminate the fudgy "ought to" (which translates as 'sollte' in German) almost completely from my active vocabulary, and can't say I have missed it ever since.

Selene:

At about 2:50 he asks..."Or do you think that a sponge thinks?"

Enjoy. It is a great cross examination.

It's great cross examination and the excellent question asked "Or do you think that a sponge thinks?" was addressed to the Creationist. Your point being? :)

In Bill Bryson's "A Walk in The Woods" (1997, pb. p. 145), he mentioned the Nashville Tennessean informing its readers about the state of Tennessee

"being in the process of passing a law banning schools from teaching evolution.

Instead they were to be required to instruct that the Earth was created by God, in seven days, sometime before the turn of the century. The article reminded us that this was not a new issue in Tennessee.

The little town of Dayton - not far from where Katz and I now sat, as it happened - was the scene of the famous Scopes trial in 1925, when the state prosecuted a schoolteacher named John Thomas Scopes for rashly promulgating Darwinian hogwash. As nearly everyone knows, Clarence Darrow, for the defence, roundly humiliated Wiliam Jennings Bryan, for the prosecution, but what most people don't realize is that Darrow lost the case. Scopes was convicted and the law wasn't overturned in Tennessee until 1967. And now the state was about to bring the law back, proving conclusively that the danger for Tennesseans isn't so much that they may be descended from apes as that they may be overtaken by them." :D

Bryson's book was written in 1997 - has this law been brought back?

Edited by Xray

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