Critique of Objectivist ethics theory


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On 3/8/2007 at 2:13 PM, Ellen Stuttle said:

The problem in regard to ethics for biologists isn't how people -- as products of evolution -- could act for their own self-interest; it's how any animal could act in a way which endangers its own survival while conferring some survival benefit upon another or others of its group. Why would the individual organism ever risk its own skin in a way that benefits another or others of its kind? That's the question hard to answer from a Darwinian standpoint.

I hope I haven’t posted these before but we are on a slow boat to ‘Wellville.” Stay well, Objectivist living. Here are a few old letters about “volition.” I picked and chose because the thread was huge. Say that three times, fast. And since Ellen is posting here now I picked a couple extra of hers to reread. Ellen Moore, George, BB, Merlin, Michael Hardy are contributors. Peter

From: Ellen Stuttle To: atlantis Subject: ATL: Re: Ellen [Moore] and Nathaniel Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2001 18:59:16 -0500. We have here one of those debates which is becoming so bogged down in the details of particular words, it's hard to tell what anyone is saying, but I'd like to make a stab at clarifying what I think Ellen Moore is saying.

As I understand her, her view is that there's a "choice to focus" which has to be made BEFORE a person can begin to think about anything in particular. I'd be appreciative if Ellen Moore would say in so many words if that's her claim.

If it is, then it's subject to a criticism Morganis raised some while ago:  it's like claiming that *first* a person must focus a person's eyes and only then can a person see anything. But in fact, the process of focusing one's vision and focusing ON what one is seeing are indivisible -- which is analogous to what I understand Nathaniel Branden and George to be saying. (There are other points at issue; but could we try to get this first point clarified first?) Ellen S.

From: Ellen Stuttle To: atlantis Subject: ATL: A Word on "Choice to Focus" Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2001 18:07:35 -0500. A term which I think is much better than "choice to focus" is "commitment to being aware."  I think this is more accurate phenomenologically, as it includes the fact that awareness has to be *sustained* and *directed*, and that this sustaining and directing is continuous. Ellen S.

From: Ellen Stuttle To: atlantis Subject: ATL: Question for Ellen Moore Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2001 11:58:23 -0500.  Ellen M., I remain persistently unsure as to exactly what you're saying about volition.  Sometimes I get glimmers, and then I lose them.  The one point on which I do agree with you is in disliking the term "focus," since I also consider this metaphorical and misleading.

However, you do seem to have the idea that there are *two separate acts*, first initiating consciousness, and then, only second, starting to think.  I'm left with the impression that what you believe is that consciousness is *blank of content* prior to the exercise of volition. Could you please say if this is what you're saying? Ellen S.

From: Ellen Stuttle To: atlantis Subject: ATL: Re: General Comment on Volition Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2001 21:14:34 -0500. George writes: >Although I don't have the particular passages in hand, I recall reading passages from Ayn Rand (or possibly Nathaniel Branden) that seem to suggest that volition, properly considered, applies *only* to the primary choice to focus and to think -- and that, beyond this point, all of our subsequent actions, mental and physical, are "determined" by this choice. (I may have misunderstood such passages, but that is my recollection.) And if this is the case, then Objectivism amounts to a kind of "soft determinism" with one fundamental exception -- the choice to focus.

I don't have time now to look up and quote "the particular passages," but there are passages which gave me exactly the impression George describes -- and that's an important reason why I always had trouble, from the start, with the Objectivist theory of volition (by that I mean here Rand's sparse comments and Branden's early presentations).

> Hence the Randian soft determinists, after interpreting this choice as tantamount to an unmotivated, inexplicable "whim" (which I believe is a fair characterization of Ellen's Moore's interpretation), simply pick up on the deterministic implications of what they regard as the remainder of Rand's theory.

Agreed.

>I don't think this is a correct view of the choice to focus, however.

Well, as I've pointed out, I don't even like the term "choice to focus."

> And to call this the *primary* volitional act is not to say that it is the *only* volitional act.  In brief, I would adopt a more expansive view of volition that some Objectivists do. I think volition plays a role whenever we deliberate about various means (or alternatives) that may be appropriate to a given goal. (This is essentially the Aristotelian view.) Although the choice to focus is indeed fundamental, it is by no means our only exercise of volition.

What I think is that volition is operative *every instant* we are conscious -- it's our capacity for self-aware regulation (within limits) of what our minds are "up to"; it's continually ongoing.

>Nathaniel Branden has observed that Ayn Rand did not work out her theory of volition in much detail, and I think this accounts for some of the disagreements that we have recently witnessed on Atlantis.

Agreed, agreed, agreed -- Rand's theory is so sketchy, it doesn't really qualify as "a theory," and there's room for disagreement trying to interpret what she meant.  This is one of the reasons why I think we'll remain stuck if we keep focusing (ha!) on the question  "Is the Objectivist theory of volition correct?"  I still think that the question "What IS a correct theory?" would get us farther.  (Or at least I like to believe it would get us farther.) Ellen S.

From: BBfromM To: atlantis Subject: Re: ATL: Re: General comment on volition Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2001 02:46:07 EST. Ellen Moore wrote: << volition, as actions of consciousness, are operative continuously and are ongoing even at lower levels of awareness (such as sleep when we are at low-level conscious).   >>

How can volition be operative when we are asleep? As an attribute of consciousness, volition does not cease to exist when we are asleep, just as all our other capacities don't go out of existence. But they are not functioning in sleep.  I see the state of sleep as one in which the subconscious takes over and the consciousness is quiescent. It appears that sleep is the state in which the subconscious has the opportunity to do its incredibly complex acts of integration.

Ellen Stuttle wrote: <<What I think is that volition is operative 'every instant' we are conscious -- it's our capacity for self-aware regulation (within limits) of what our minds are 'up to'; it's continually ongoing.>>

I agree. Many people speak as if volition were like a car: we turn on the ignition, the car goes, and it won't stop until we turn off the ignition. But the regulation of the actions of consciousness has to be constant and ongoing, or it will stop. Barbara

From: Ellen Moore To: Atlantis Subject: ATL: Re: General comment on volition by Barbara Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2001 15:28:56 -0600. Barbara asked, "How can volition operate when we are asleep?"

I ask, Why do you think that volition is not active, or cannot function, when we are asleep? Perhaps we have a different ideas about volitional consciousness and sleep?

In my view, even when consciousness is "quiescent" in sleep, I do not regard it as inactive or non-functioning.  I view sleep as a process of naturally lowered awareness.  I also think that the ~sub consciousness~ is continuously, actively integrating and storing the material transmitted into it, instant to instant, all the time, awake or asleep, and it is not reserved to sleep time alone to do its active work of integration.  I understand that the subconscious functions automatically, but that does not mean that when it is active, consciousness ceases to exist or to be unaware.  Human consciousness is volitionally active at different levels; both it and the subconscious work automatically at the same time, all the time.

Consciousness is an ongoing state, or processing of physical and mental events.  There are degrees of conscious awareness.  Even in sleep consciousness is functioning.  Volition, in Objectivism, is the view that consciousness acts to raise or lower awareness by degrees, and I am sure Rand's view is that volitional actions are a function of this attribute in the nature (identity) of human consciousness.  So, consciousness is continuously in action at various levels and degrees of awareness.  Sleep is not "unconscious", and unconscious does not mean that awareness "absolutely inactive".  An absolutely inactive consciousness is dead.

I agree, I do not think that volitional consciousness works like turning on the key of a car.  (I really dislike analogies and metaphors which do not add enlightenment, but merely confuse and require additional explanations - ad infinitum). Consciousness is volitionally active.  I suspect that this misunderstanding is caused by viewing volition as "choices", and that these choices are viewed as "concretes" of conscious "contents", either perceptual or conceptual.

I intend to work out an example that will differentiate (concretely and clearly) between a primary volitional action, and a choice of thinking about something, and an actual physical action in external reality.  I will do this, but later when I have more time. Ellen Moore

From: "George H. Smith" To: "*Atlantis" Subject: ATL: Re: Objectivism's theory of volition Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2001 16:08:12 -0600. I wrote: "Rand clearly understood the difference between a reason (or motive) and a necessitating cause.  To say that I had a reason for focusing my mind is manifestly *not* to say that I had no choice but to focus my mind."

And Bill Dwyer replied: "But to say that I had a reason to focus is to say that I had a reason to focus rather than what?  Rather than not focusing.  To make any sense, a reason has to be preferential.  It has to favor one alternative over the other."

The term "reason" is used in many difference senses, but I'm not sure what Bill means in saying "a reason has to be preferential." As often used, the term "reason" does not refer to a preference; it refers to something we *ought* to do rather than to what we *prefer* to do in fact.

Thus, I may have a good reason for staying at home to write, but I may nonetheless prefer to go to a movie. This is where I must make a choice: Do I follow my best judgment and do what I think I ought to do? -- or do I follow my feelings, and do what I prefer to do?

Of course, Bill might reply that, if I choose to go to the movie, I must have had a "reason" for this choice. Yes, the "reason" in this case I that I decided to follow my strongest desire rather than do what I think I should have done. This "reason" emerged from my decision and therefore did not necessitate it. Reasons, in other words, are the results of *judgments* -- so they manifest themselves only after the judgments on which they depend have been made.

Thus, as I have said before, "reasons" are not pre-existent "things" bouncing around in our minds, which then necessitate our actions. Instead, "reasons" are simply the name we give to the products of our judgments, so we don't really know which reason will be acted upon until *after* a judgment (i.e., a decision) has been made. To say, therefore, that I acted on the basis of a "reason" is merely to say that I acted on the basis of my judgment -- and I don't deny this in the least.

Bill wrote: "Therefore, if one has a reason to choose focusing over non-focusing, then it must also be true that one does ~not~ have a reason to choose non-focusing over focusing, in which case, one's choice will not be free.  One will necessarily choose to focus.

"If, on the other hand, one does not have a reason to choose one alternative over the other, then one's choice will be arbitrary, which is not the Objectivist view of free will.

We are often faced with conflicting reasons, which emerge when we judge different aspects of the same situation, and in such cases we must choose from among those reasons. Hence, contra Bill, to say that one had a reason to focus is not necessarily to say that one had no reason not to focus. There might well be reasons for either decision, so a choice must be made.

Bill wrote: "So, I don't see how Objectivism can hold that one choice to focus is free but not arbitrary.  If it's free, then it's arbitrary; if it's not arbitrary, then it's not free."

This argument applies only if "reasons" are necessitating causes -- which of course is the very issue being contested. "Free," in the context of free will, means "not necessitated by antecedent causes." It manifestly does not mean acting without a reason. If I have misunderstood Bill, then perhaps he can clarify what he means by "a reason." If he defines this, in effect, as a necessitating cause, then it is clear where the difference between us lies. Ghs

From: Michael Hardy To: atlantis Subject: ATL: Re: Objectivism's theory of volition Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2001 18:32:32 -0500 (EST). I stopped following this volition thread a while ago; now I look at it and find this from Bill Dwyer:  > But to say that I had a reason to focus is to say that I had a reason to focus rather than what?  Rather than not focusing.  To make any sense, a reason has to be preferential.  It has to favor one alternative over the other.  > Therefore, if one has a reason to choose focusing over non-focusing, then it must also be true that one does ~not~ have a reason to choose non-focusing over focusing,   I agree with all of the above.  Here's the rest of the sentence:  > in which case, one's choice will not be free.  One will necessarily choose to focus.

This looks like a HUGE leap of faith to me. Anyway, one thing this seems to miss is that reasons are fully visible only when you "focus".  This position seems to be based on a spurious symmetry between focusing and non-focusing, and between existence and non-existence -- a "reification of the zero" -- as if the choice to focus were a choice between two existents.

> So, I don't see how Objectivism can hold that one choice to focus is free but not arbitrary.  If it's free, then it's arbitrary; if  it's not arbitrary, then it's not free.

I'm very much inclined to agree with Bill Dwyer's statement to the effect that he does not see this.  Unfortunately, I don't think I can explain it any better than by saying that the perceived symmetry is clearly spurious.  And that's clearly not a good enough explanation that I can rely on it's being understood by those who read it carefully, unless they already understand this point before they read it.  Which is why this discussion can be frustrating. Mike Hardy

From: Ellen Moore To: Atlantis Subject: ATL: Re: Focusing, thinking, volition Date: Sat, 24 Mar 2001 12:42:40 -0600. Merlin questions, "Isn't the infant "programmed" to focus when awake?"

No.  The infant "perceives" when awake, and so do children and adults. Perception is an automatic process that operates at lower level degrees during sleep and in states we refer to as "unconscious" (i.e., one may feel disoriented, faint, or remain in a deep coma for months).  Merlin, are you missing the fact that humans have a "Volitional Consciousness" - which means it may act volitionally in different ways and to different degrees.

The "primary" actions of raising or lowering awareness is not "motivated" by antecedent causes because the action is "irreducible" - it cannot be reduced to any prior cause.  The action of raising awareness enables one to think about something.  Lowering awareness is an action that inhibits thinking.  Evasion is an action that actually is a choice of refusing to be conscious of specific things in reality. A human consciousness, of any age may initiate the primary action of raising awareness.  It may initiate the primary action of lowering awareness. And it may initiate the action of evasion - which means a conscious refusal to be aware of specific things it does not wish to acknowledge or deal with. Subsequent to the primary, "first cause", irreducible action of raising, or lowering, of awareness, all higher choices to think about something, either concrete or abstract/conceptual, may be the cause of, or ~influence~, the efficacy or inefficacy of that thinking process. Regards, Ellen Moore

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Let me add my two cents to Peter's post above on the discussion of choosing to focus. There are functions humans do that are automatic, but can be volitional. Breathing is a great example. We bre

Alan Watts was big on pointing that out, re breathing, how it was both volitional and automatic (in relation to the voluntary vs. the involuntary). Talking about polarities and how they're two sides o

I'm not all that familiar with Watts, but I like what I heard just now. I think like this. A metaphor for axiomatic concepts I came up with way back in the SoloHQ days was that they were like fac

Let me add my two cents to Peter's post above on the discussion of choosing to focus.

There are functions humans do that are automatic, but can be volitional. Breathing is a great example. We breathe automatically. But we can choose to breathe or hold our breath, too.

We focus our minds automatically (especially when tracking movement and things like that). But we can choose to focus on specific things.

It's not either-or. We do both.

Michael

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30 minutes ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Let me add my two cents to Peter's post above on the discussion of choosing to focus.

There are functions humans do that are automatic, but can be volitional. Breathing is a great example. We breathe automatically. But we can choose to breathe or hold our breath, too.

We focus our minds automatically (especially when tracking movement and things like that). But we can choose to focus on specific things.

It's not either-or. We do both.

Michael

Alan Watts was big on pointing that out, re breathing, how it was both volitional and automatic (in relation to the voluntary vs. the involuntary). Talking about polarities and how they're two sides of the same coin. Not unlike the way Peikoff was fond of quoting Hegel's "The true is the whole."
 

 

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35 minutes ago, ThatGuy said:

Talking about polarities and how they're two sides of the same coin.

I'm not all that familiar with Watts, but I like what I heard just now. I think like this.

A metaphor for axiomatic concepts I came up with way back in the SoloHQ days was that they were like facets of a gemstone. You could look at a facet, but you could not isolate it from the gemstone to make a separate whole. You could only do that mentally based on the facet part of the whole stone. Ditto for existence, identity, and consciousness.

Later I came up with a great metaphor to illustrate wholeness and looking at different parts, but I haven't fit it well enough to reality and epistemology to make it cool. :) The metaphor is a circle. Any point along a circle is both the starting and end point. And it works that way going in the opposite direction.

Now all I have to do is somehow wed it to "oneness of being" and I'm all set.

:) 

Michael

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Ethics from the viewpoint of BB, ES, Jimbo, Ghs and others. What if you found out you are dying from cancer. Would your “ethics” change? Peter

From: BBfromM To: atlantis Subject: ATL: The Hallmark of the Objectivist Ethics Date: Mon, 3 Apr 2000 01:44:54 EDT I scarcely know where to begin responding to what  seems like the infinite number of posts that have come in about the Objectivist ethics. I shall try to handle the most relevant posts one at a time, unless some of them overlap and can be answered together. Let me say that Bill Dwyer gave me my first laugh during all of this discussion by referring to me as "someone who considers herself a pillar of Objectivism."  Somehow, I've never seen myself as a pillar of anything. Besides, Ayn Rand would say that I disagree with too many of her ideas for her to appoint me a "pillar."

Luka, I'll begin with your comments. You wrote, "My point is that if a person is acting in a way that they think will best promote their self-interest, then they cannot be morally condemned. Not from their perspective. "

You said this--and I appreciate it--in response to my question about whether or not one should morally condemn the actions of a Nazi, or a White Supremacist, or a bank robber if they thought their actions to be serving their self-interest. And you are here acknowledging what logically follows from Consequentialism. We cannot judge such people, we cannot judge anyone, we cannot object to any action, so long as the actor feels or thinks or believes that he acted in the service of his self-interest.

This makes morality totally subjective, a function only of the internal mental or emotional processes of the actors. But, in fact, what does it matter what their "perspective" is?  What horrors have ever been perpetrated among men that the initiators did not consider to their self-interest? And, of course, in the immediate sense--in terms of the consequences of their actions for them -- the initiators of these horrors are usually quite correct. If what they wanted  was power, or money, or the respect and admiration of those who saw the world as they do, then it certainly was in their self-interest to act as they did. The Hitlers and Stalins of this world wanted power; and they surely got it. Should we then consider them the moral equals of the Roarks and Reardens, who also believed they were a citing in their self-interest? According to what you've said, according to the theory of morality you're espousing, we should so consider them.

You asked, "So do you think that she {Ayn Rand} was a deontologist? Because that {and Consequentialism} pretty much covers all the bases." No, they don't cover all the bases. The Objectivist morality is neither Consequentialism nor is it deontological. Ayn Rand was  indeed an originator, and the heart of her ethical system can be found in her overturning of the usual philosophical categories. She said--and demonstrated--that morality was OBJECTIVE. That it arises from the nature of man and the requirements of his survival as the kind of species he is.  In order to survive as a man, he must BE rational, he must BE objective, he must act in the service of what is IN FACT his long-range self-interest.

 . . . It's now 11:30 PM my time, and I was up until 6:00 AM this morning. To be continued sometime tomorrow. (I think all this must be a vast  conspiracy to keep me from writing.)

Barbara From: BBfromM To: atlantis Subject: ATL: The Objectivist Ethics Date: Tue, 4 Apr 2000 17:22:42 EDT I had said that I would respond to each of the posts disagreeing with my position on ethics. That clearly has become impossible. It has also become unnecessary, since so many of you who agree with my position have advanced arguments for it that I would have made. So I shall here present the essence of my position, and leave it at that. If any of you think I've failed to respond to questions or objections in your posts, that is not my intention; but these last weeks are all the time I have to give to the issue.

The defenders of Consequentialism (which I see as a species of Utilitarianism applied to individuals) do appear to grant that human rights supersede considerations of short or long-range benefits to individuals. But why is that?  It's because the concept of rights derives from the nature of man. And so does the Objectivist moral code.  Morality, according to Objectivism, derives from the fact that we survive to the extent that we exercise reason. The monsters of this earth are not evil because they misperceive their self-interest, but because they are anti-life, anti-reason, anti-man.

(It's relevant to add, in response to I forget whom, that the word "evil" is one I almost never use, except for axe-murderers and their equivalents.  I always intensely disliked the fact that the word was thrown at people so recklessly and unfairly in the early days of Objectivism, and sometimes in the not-so-early days.)

Morality is not a function of what I think is good for me or you think is good for you. The Consequentialist argument approaches the issue of morality in midair, not at its root; its root, as Ayn Rand made so clear, is the nature of human life and survival.  The Consequentialist argument contains the same internal contradiction as Utilitarianism: after one says that one should choose the greatest good for the greatest number, how does one establish what IS  the greatest  good  for the greatest number? Similarly with Consequentialism: after one says that morality requires that one follow one's self-interest, the question becomes: What IS to one's self-interest? Ayn Rand pointed out that when we say "This is good for me" or "This is bad for me," we must be prepared to answer the question "BY WHAT STANDARD?" And the standard is the life of the kind of being we are. This formulation is Ayn Rand's enormous contribution not just  to the content of a moral system but to the entire approach to morality.  It bypasses and goes far deeper than either Consequentialism or deontologicalism. How do we decide what  is good or bad for us except with reference to our survival as man? I have said before that Nazis, Communists, bank robbers and chi . . . .

From: Ellen Stuttle To: atlantis Subject: ATL: A Last Word for the Moment on Rights Date: Sat, 10 Jun 2000 03:27:51 -0500 Trying to analyze my emotional reactions to the prudent predator scenes we've been discussing, I've realized that part of what bothers me here is that sneaking into movie theaters, etc., seems so ignoble.  If there's one thing the early Objectivist movement did have, despite its numerous and acknowledged flaws, it had an emphasis on trying to lead a heroic life, a life of high character. Thus it seems to me so antithetic to the *spirit* of everything Ayn Rand stood for to think of her work being interpreted as sanctioning a lifestyle of "prudent" predating.  I find this esthetically offensive.

I probably won't make any friends on this list by saying that, but it's something I had to get off my chest. And now I'm going to have to drop out of the rights discussion again for the next month or thereabouts: other demands on my time are looming. Ellen

From: "George H. Smith" To: "*Atlantis" Subject: ATL: Re: Why be moral when you have cancer? Date: Fri, 19 Jan 2001 14:01:49 -0600 Gayle Dean wrote: "George, I think Luka is trying to get someone to ground their arguments in egoism.  For all you or I know, Luka is a Fundamentalist Christian who is simply trying to get Objectivists to look at what their principles imply.  In fact, Rob Bass made these same arguments and Rob is not a Sternerite either.  .Perhaps, Luka believes we are all evil and wrong --  in any case I don't think it is quite fair to assume someone's argument is their own belief, in the way people on this list try to do."

On the contrary, "to assume someone's argument is their own belief" is quite reasonable, especially when they fail to indicate anything to the contrary. Some time ago Luka was promoting, in the name of self-interest, the notion that we should sneak into movie theaters without paying when we can get away with it. And this approach is consistent with his more recent pronouncements about killing innocent people in the name of egoism. And even if Luka is mounting some kind of reductio argument against egoism, this does not make his arbitrary assertions about egoism any less arbitrary.

Gayle wrote: "For Objecticists, principles must derive from egoism."

Exactly where does Rand say this? On the contrary, in the introduction to VOS, she specifically criticizes the notion that "the *beneficiary* of an action is the only criterion of moral value" (p. viii). She goes on to say (p. x):

"The choice of the beneficiary of moral values is merely a preliminary or introductory issue in the field of morality. It is not a substitute for morality nor a criterion of moral value, as altruism has made it. Neither is it a moral *primary*: it has to be derived from and validated by the fundamental premises of a moral system." Thus Rand's egoism is derived from more basic principles about the nature of values and their role in human life. She manifestly does not "derive" her moral principles from egoism, as Gayle asserts. If Luka (or anyone else) wants to take issue with Rand's egoism, then they should deal with her actual arguments rather than absurd caricatures.

Gayle wrote: "And it won't do to say that anything that is good for society as a whole (and thus good for the individual) is an egoistic principle.  That is working from the top down...from what is good for the group is necessarily good for the individual.  That is not egoism." This is not my position, nor was it Rand's. Ghs

From: Johnny Wales To: atlantis Subject: Re: ATL: Re: Insane Morality (re: Why be Moral?) Date: Sat, 20 Jan 2001 16:00:34 -0600 (CST)  > My main point is that I think that it is possible that people exist who SHOULD steal and or kill. People whose psychological make-up is just very different from normal. And that's something that Objectivists should probably have an answer for.

Such a person can be seen in an upcoming movie "Hannibal". Hannibal is about Hannibal Lechter, of Silence of the Lambs fame, who is really really nuts. He's brilliant and got away with killing and eating several people. Eventually, he was caught and thrown in prison in one of the more bizarre looking prison cells anyone has ever seen. :)

Personally, I think this is precisely the Objectivist answer to things. Generally speaking, I'd say if you planned it you could get away with one murder of a random innocent. Find a homeless person, convince them you want to help them, convince them to come back to your house for some food, a shower, and a change of clothes. When you get there, close the blinds and whip out a knife. Realistically, the police and neighbors would have no idea that anything at all was going on in there, nor would they have any right or capability to find out. Then, you'd just have to be careful about where it was in the house you killed them, so you didn't get blood on the carpet, etc. There is plenty of evidence that people can get away with this type of crime for quite a long time. Dahmer and other serial killers did it for quite a while, and without being nearly this discreet about the killing or being this selective in their victims.

Now, what should be done with someone who derives huge amounts of pleasure from this? (Most serial killers seem to derive sexual pleasure from it...) Can they be considered moral because it's within their nature to do this?

-->No<--

They are still violating the rights of others, no question about that. And that, really, is the only question we need ask. The same thing should happen to anyone who does this sort of thing, crazy or not, for pleasure or not: If we ever catch them, we toss them in jail or execute them because they are clearly too much a danger to all of us. To do otherwise would be the equivalent of letting loose a tiger on the street. It might just become. someone's pet, but far more likely it'd just eat someone. :) That, my friends, is wrong, and these people (independent of their nature) must be locked up or otherwise removed from the population.--Me

From: Ellen Stuttle To: atlantis Subject: ATL: Why be moral when you have cancer? Date: Sat, 20 Jan 2001 16:24:17 -0500 I, too, lack the time to get into this again, but I would point out to Gayle that the possibility of pursuing *rational* self-interest -- which is the only form of "self-interest" pursuit which Rand's ethics upholds -- is rendered inoperative in a social context where the principle of rights is not honored. Turn the thing around, Gayle: what you're saying is that your pursuit of *your* *rational* self-interest is legitimately at the mercy of anyone who happens to feel like killing you. Some ethics! Ellen S

From: Ellen Stuttle To: atlantis Subject: ATL: Re:  Why be moral when you have cancer? Date: Sat, 20 Jan 2001 16:35:37 -0500 Bill, as he has multiple times before, quotes Rand as saying: "The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action...."

She does say this, but I notice, Bill, that you *always* leave out of consideration the full context (read the WHOLE Introduction to VOS!) and *always* leave out the "but" which immediately follows.

Here's the quote including the "but." "The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action.  BUT [my emphasis] his right to do so is derived from his nature as man and from the function of moral values in human life -- and, therefore, is applicable ONLY [her emphasis] in the context of a rational, objectively demonstrated and validated code of moral principles which define and determine his actual self-interest."

Let's not delete the part of a Rand quote (or of any quote) which happens to be inconvenient for one's thesis. ES

From: BBfromM To: atlantis Subject: Re: ATL: Re: Insane Morality (re: Why be Moral?) Date: Sat, 20 Jan 2001 17:07:58 EST Wales wrote, << Can they {serial killers} be considered moral because it's within their nature to do this? >>

Johnny answered: No. But his mere formulation of the question reveals the error of this discussion about murderers and self-interest. It is NOT in the killer's nature to kill. His basic nature, whatever he may have done to himself, is to be a human being -- which means he must be guided by a code of ethics if he is to survive. Barbara

From: "George H. Smith" To: "Atlantis" <Atlantis Subject: ATL: Re: Why be moral when you have cancer? Date: Sat, 20 Jan 2001 16:32:31 -0600 Gayle Dean wrote: "...I interpret all such arguments that try to base rights-respect in "rationality" (which is where the above is grounded isn't it?) rather than egoism, to be deontological."

This is a highly idiosyncratic notion of deontologism, which has traditionally stressed the primacy of moral duty without regard to purpose. But it should be noted that there is a crucial difference between the purpose of a cognitive discipline, such as ethics, and the personal purpose that may impel a person to study ethics or to adopt a moral code. A person may become a doctor because his primary purpose in life is to become rich, and he may regard medicine as a means to this end, but this doesn't mean that the acquisition of wealth is somehow the "purpose" of medicine qua discipline. Similarly, I may study ethics because it amuses me, but this doesn't mean that the purpose of ethics, qua discipline, is my personal amusement. And, likewise, I may adopt an moral code because I believe it will make me happy, but this doesn't mean that my personal happiness is the disciplinary purpose of ethics. Aristotle did not write his Nicomachean Ethics with me in mind. There is no such thing as a *theory* of ethics" that address me, me alone, and no one else. This was part of my earlier point about the universal nature of ethics.

In one sense, I do agree (as did Rand) that rationality is more fundamental than egoism -- for how can egoism be justified, if not by appealing to rational principles? And since when is abiding by a rational principle contrary to one's self-interest? Ghs

From: "George H. Smith To: "*Atlantis" <atlantis Subject: ATL: Re:  Why be moral when you have cancer? Date: Sat, 20 Jan 2001 16:59:01 -0600   I wrote: " I sometimes wonder if some people who profess basic agreement with Rand's views ever bother to read essays like "Man's Rights," "The Nature of Government," and "What is Capitalism?" In these and other essays Rand states her position with a clarity that cannot be misunderstood."

And Gayle Dean replied: "Now, George that is a bit condescending.  I think you know-- and if not, let me assure you-- that both Bill and I can quote page numbers off the top of our heads, for most of this stuff.  So, give us a break:-)"

Okay, so rather than citing Ari or some other interpreter of Rand, please quote a passage *directly* from Rand where she says that the rights of others are contingent on my personal assessments of "self-interest," and that I can legitimately violate the rights of others when I deem it in my "self-interest" to do so. And while you're at it, please explain what Rand meant when she expressly repudiated, as a tenet of statism, the notion that "the good of *some* men takes precedence over the good of others, with those others consigned to the status of sacrificial animals" (CUI, p. 21). For if I ignore or violate the rights of others in the name of my solipsistic "self-interest," am I not treating them as "sacrificial animals" whose interests may legitimately be subordinated to my own? Are you saying that Rand, by her own definition, was an advocate of statism and collectivism? I suspect you are con . . . .

From: "George H. Smith" To: "*Atlantis" Subject: ATL: Re:  Why be moral when you have cancer? Date: Sat, 20 Jan 2001 16:59:01 -0600 I wrote: " I sometimes wonder if some people who profess basic agreement with Rand's views ever bother to read essays like "Man's Rights," "The Nature of Government," and "What is Capitalism?" In these and other essays Rand states her position with a clarity that cannot be misunderstood."

And Gayle Dean replied: "Now, George that is a bit condescending.  I think you know-- and if not, let me assure you-- that both Bill and I can quote page numbers off the top of our heads, for most of this stuff.  So, give us a break:-)"

Okay, so rather than citing Ari or some other interpreter of Rand, please quote a passage *directly* from Rand where she says that the rights of others are contingent on my personal assessments of "self-interest," and that I can legitimately violate the rights of others when I deem it in my "self-interest" to do so.

And while you're at it, please explain what Rand meant when she expressly repudiated, as a tenet of statism, the notion that "the good of *some* men takes precedence over the good of others, with those others consigned to the status of sacrificial animals" (CUI, p. 21). For if I ignore or violate the rights of others in the name of my solipsistic "self-interest," am I not treating them as "sacrificial animals" whose interests may legitimately be subordinated to my own? Are you saying that Rand, by her own definition, was an advocate of statism and collectivism?

I suspect you are confusing what some interpreters regard as the logical *implications* of Rand's egoism with what she actually said. Of course, this can be a perfectly justified procedure -- for many philosophers have not fully understood the inner logic of their own ideas -- but this is *not* the issue I am currently addressing.

Ghs fusing what some interpreters regard as the logical *implications* of Rand's egoism with what she actually said. Of course, this can be a perfectly justified procedure --  for many philosophers have not fully understood the inner logic of their own ideas -- but this is *not* the issue I am currently addressing. Ghs

From: Ellen Stuttle  To: atlantis Subject: ATL: Re:  Why be moral when you have cancer? Date: Sun, 21 Jan 2001 00:58:08 -0500 Bill responded to a post of mine today with basically the answer I expected, but, fact is, I don't think Bill's answer holds in the context of his own previous posts about rights.  (See his full reply below; for his earlier presentations see the archives.)

We're seeing here a repeat of an argument which long-standing list members have gone round and round on, the argument as to whether or not "egoism" is the foundation of Rand's ethics. Bill has argued in the past that the sentence "[t]he Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always by the beneficiary of his action" is the "hallmark" of the Objectivist ethics.

I disagree, and I think that even her Introduction to VOS can't correctly be interpreted thus.  Precisely the central thrust of this Introduction is that a beneficiary criterion of ethics is *wrong*.  This applies to *any* beneficiary criterion, whether altruist or egoist.  Everything Rand says against altruists adopting a beneficiary criterion applies equally against egoists doing so. What I think Bill's view comes down to, as I've explained in the past (please read the archives if interested), is that sometimes it's ok to sacrifice others to oneself.  But I don't read Rand's analysis even of emergency situations as supporting this conclusion. The whole subject is one which is obviously very troublesome for interpreters of Rand.  It's also a subject which I'm not desirous of debating at length (psychology, where I *don't* see eye-to-eye with Rand, is my area of major concern).  Thus I'm going to step back out of a debate which I stepped into against my better judgment. I'll merely add that I agree so strongly with George Smith's interpretations of Rand, I feel safe in adding "ditto" to his posts. Ellen S.

Ellen Stuttle  To: atlantis Subject: ATL: Re:  Why be moral when you have cancer? Date: Sun, 21 Jan 2001 17:04:26 -0500  > From: "William Dwyer" <wdwyer@california.net> Ellen wrote, "What I think Bill's view comes down to, as I've  explained in the past (please read the archives if interested),  is that sometimes it's ok to sacrifice others to oneself. But I don't read Rand's analysis even of emergency situations as supporting this conclusion." > Is that what you think she believes? > Bill

hell no, and we've been over this a million times (or at least it seems to me like a million times).  The issue is the details of how you analyze emergency situations -- or at least the details of how you analyzed them as of March 2000 – and the implications which can be drawn from your analysis.

(Those implications, BTW, are exactly what Luka is drawing. Luka keeps asking you to be consistent in what you take "egoism" to mean.  On that score, though not on any other, I think he has a point:  he's seeing more consistently than you did the implications of things you've said in the past.  There's a sense in which he's your philosophic son.)

In March 2000, I wrote a quite long (20K) post analyzing the specifics of your arguments about emergency situations.  I'd assume the post can be found in the archives:

 Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2000 08:23:35 -0500 From: Ellen Stuttle Subject: ATL: (Magnum Opus on) Granted rights vs. natural rights... There are a few details in the last paragraph which reflect my un-clarity at the time on the historic meaning of "consequentialist" and "deontologist."  I was getting my notion of these terms from list discussion and didn't know their proper academic meaning. But the bulk of the article, I'd stand by. Of course maybe you've changed your views since then.  For instance, you write: <<  "I'm not interested in pressing this point [about the hallmark of Oism].  The term "hallmark" is subject to so much interpretation and is so context dependent that arguing over it is sure to get us nowhere. Forget that I ever said it."  >>

Hard to forget you said it, since you argued it for a couple months, though I sure can agree that the arguing didn't get us anywhere!! Ellen S.

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Quoting Ellen from Peter's post above after a poster changed his mind and said to forget something he formerly held:

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Hard to forget you said it, since you argued it for a couple months, though I sure can agree that the arguing didn't get us anywhere!!

That sounds close to what I think when I see the fake news media correct itself on a hoax or other fake news it has been promoting.

:) 

Michael

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