Letter from Nathaniel Branden on Morality


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Hi Rich:)

Makes sense to me that moral indignation towards the person avoiding the starving child could be from loving this world and identifying with human beings, generally.

Unfortunately my post focused upon straight child identification and losing context, rather than the natural outgrowth from loving kids and identifying with living things, generally. I would modify it, were I to remake it, by identifying healthy urges as well as mistakes!

best always,

Mike R

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Nathaniel's argument misses the point that it takes more than one meal to help an abondoned, starving child. What would the man do, feed the child and then walk on, knowing that the next day the chil

Mike R.,

Thanks for the correction. I like to get people’s names right.

I don't want to sound like I'm being disagreeable, but my ideas were not about “the making of personality.” They were about one particular causal path to moral development; the one that is predominant in me.

My main point was that we can affect our moral responses to situations either by changing our understanding of the causation that underlies the things we experience or by changing our value system. What we have far less, or at least less direct, control over is the content of our experience and our emotional responses. We can attempt to control which experiences we encounter and we can use behavioural techniques to modify our reactions but we can’t will these things to be other than they are. Existence exists regardless of what we wish or will it to be.

We can, however, assert our will in exploring and developing our causal understanding of the world and our rational value system. Our causal inferences and our value system are based on mental constructs that are malleable and definitely play a large role in moral behaviour. Even the nature of causality itself is open to exploration and development. Change a person’s view of causality and you change everything about his understanding of how the world works and about his rational value system.

It is the view of causality at the foundation of Objectivism that has captured my imagination and my thoughts for the last two decades: What a thing is determines what it does. I think this notion of causality, presented by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden (with roots in Aristotle’s writings), is the single most important, and possibly least understood, concept to come out of Objectivism. It is the concept at the base of the Objectivist understanding of the nature of existence, of human nature, of moral behaviour, and of politics.

Objectivism can be considered a system of thought based on and shaped by the identity-to-action view of causation. This is why I now consider myself an Objectivist again even if I might disagree with some aspects of what Ayn Rand called Objectivism. Once Ayn Rand defined Objectivism as being based on objective reality, independent of anyone’s beliefs or wishes, and rooted it in identity-to-action causation, she made Objectivism an open system within the limits of these principles. Everything else follows. Even Ayn Rand’s beliefs or wishes cannot hold domain over the Objectivist interpretation of reality without self-contradiction. Her view of Objectivism and of the world must be held accountable to the basic principles she defined. If new information comes to light, if valid new integrations are made, if contradictions are found, then Rand’s original view of Objectivism may need to be adjusted.

The identity-to-action view of causation is at the root of my understanding of how the world works. It is also at the root of my rational value system. This view makes me interpret the causation of an event differently than I would if I had an action-to-action view of causation. Identity-to-action causation also has affected the development of my value system differently than an action-to-action view would have. Action-to-action causation cannot be the foundation of an ethic of self-interest because identity– e.g. self– is excluded from the formulation.

When I experience an event, it is interpreted through the lens of identity-to-action causation. This gives the event meaning. I then have an emotional response to my causal interpretation of the event. This gives the event meaning to me and creates an impulse to action. Then the event, with its meaning to me, is set into the context of my value system derived from identity-to-action causation (the ethic of rational self-interest). My rational value system gives form and direction to my impulse to action. This is how I understand extreme moral indignation to arise and find expression through me.

Mike, I hope this makes my meaning a little clearer.

Paul M.

What a thing is determines what it does. And so should it.

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What a thing is determines what it does. And so should it.

True in spirit, but not the whole story to me. A holon always came from, and continues to associate with, another holon. If the holon exhibits enough pathology (separates it self fully from what it integrated out of- over distinguishes/over differentiates) it simply ceases to exist.

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It is the view of causality at the foundation of Objectivism that has captured my imagination and my thoughts for the last two decades: What a thing is determines what it does. I think this notion of causality, presented by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden (with roots in Aristotle’s writings), is the single most important, and possibly least understood, concept to come out of Objectivism. It is the concept at the base of the Objectivist understanding of the nature of existence, of human nature, of moral behaviour, and of politics.

This definition by Rand of causality is an empty tautology and therefore for all practical purposes meaningless. You can't derive anything about the real world from it.

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Anybody want to suggest a moral principle?

Or is proper Objectivism being guided only by feelings in this case?

My moral principle: if I can save a life that wants to keep on living, why not? Why hesitate to contribute to the world? Why hesitate for progress, why hesistate to do something worthwhile? I might end up being a doctor-- and while I know that no one owns my mind or my work-- I'm there because I choose to be there, I do value life, I value helping those who actively wants to get better, and I'm there to teach about how beautiful life can be. That's my moral principle. I'm just not into debating this; I don't like theoretical "what if's", and I'm going right on ahead to put myself in these situations to really *know* it. I'll let you know in 10 years how this has held up for me. :)

By the way, has anyone nearly lost their life, and/or who have seen anyone lose/almost lose theirs? I just want to know how this makes a difference in perspective, because hell, it surely did with me. I don't debate life anymore. Not after that.

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I cried when I read that. I don't usually cry, but this week I've cried twice. Your piece touched me; I think I could connect. And I read your piece after needing to write my piece about life. Eventually, I'll write the whole story. It's coming out bit by bit... and my site is a way for me to cobble the bits together. I'm not tooting my horn per se, because I think more along the lines of that I'm learning how to write.

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What a thing is determines what it does.

I've seen this one before. But what if we know the thing but not always what it does? Does it mean the nature of the thing is off? Or just that we might discover a thing, but we must always keep an eye out that we might not know everything that it does? If so, then what happens to the thing's definition? What if we don't know all that a thing does? Then it's not a thing until we do know all its prop­er­ties? What if what it does is changed by new know­ledge? Then does the thing change? ARGH. Makes no sense to me.

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Jenna,

I think you may be over-analyzing this or trying to read too much into it. It just means that what a bowling ball is determines that it can't fly to the moon, what a man is determines he can breathe, think, etc. but not run a mile in two minutes, what a gamma ray is determines what it can do and what particles it can and cannot interact with - even if we haven't yet discovered all the properties of men and gamma rays. The properties or actions of anything in the universe are limited and determined by what kind of things it is. It's just meant to be simple common sense...unless someone is a postmodernist or a relativist or a philosophical skeptic.

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Jenna,

This is the second personal thing of yours I read today (after that highly moving article). All I can say is:

You know.

I don't know how else to say that. I do not believe in the no-need-to-explain or futile-to-explain school, but I have tried to little avail to describe things I have seen in a manner that would make people see them, i.e., allow them to be able to look at the long shot on Dr. Venter's face in the video you saw, for instance, and see what you saw - see the death and devastation that he saw.

And then see how very precious this makes life.

(That is why I get so angry thinking about the starving child. I am one who "knows.")

Some people know. I have interacted with them. Others, they just aren't interested.

Too much remote control in today's culture, maybe. Too much insulation from actual life experiences, maybe.

I haven't figured it all out yet. I only know that it is a crucial issue and that I am not done thinking about all this by a long shot.

Michael

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I said previously:

What a thing is determines what it does. And so should it.... I think this notion of causality, presented by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden (with roots in Aristotle’s writings), is the single most important, and possibly least understood, concept to come out of Objectivism.

I received a number of responses:

True in spirit, but not the whole story to me.

(From Rich)

This definition by Rand of causality is an empty tautology and therefore for all practical purposes meaningless. You can't derive anything about the real world from it.

(From Dragonfly)

I've seen this one before. Makes no sense to me.

(From Jenna)

It's just meant to be simple common sense...unless someone is a postmodernist or a relativist or a philosophical skeptic.

(From Philip)

Clearly, people do not agree with my assessment of the importance of the identity-to-action view of causation. But I am not going to go away that easily because I do think it is important. I think it is of vital importance to understanding where Objectivism comes from and to understanding where Objectivism needs to go. So, either I am wrong– in which case I have something to learn– or I am right– in which case I have some explaining to do. As I said previously, I think identity-to-action view of causation is possibly the least understood concept to come out of Objectivism.

Dragonfly says, “You can’t derive anything about the real world from [identity-to-Action causation].” I think this comment really points the way to why this concept is so trivialized. Its value cannot be found in association to deductive reasoning. If one tries to derive any understanding about the nature of reality from this statement of causality, one will arrive at nothing but empty space.

The value of any statement of causality is found first in its use as an epistemological principle that can be applied two ways. Firstly, it processes the information from our experience by fitting it into a causal template. How a person interprets his experience is determined by his underlying view of causality applied as an epistemological principle. The same event can be interpreted as being caused by: an act of ghosts or Gods; an act of human will; an reaction to an antecedent action; the action of an interconnected field; the action of random fluctuations; etc. The important thing to note is that the notion of causation precedes and determines the interpretation. So our causality statement is important because it shapes how we understand the world we experience.

The second, and equally important way our statement of causality can be applied as an epistemological principle is for building causal models of the world. We not only process our experience through a causal lens but we actively create causal models of the world. Every religion is based on a causal model of the world. Science builds causal models of the world. Every philosophy, even the philosophy of Objectivism, is based on a causal model of the world. And the notion of causality one applies, combined with the information that is identified and integrated, determines the causal model of the world that is constructed. Again note that the notion of causation one accepts precedes the model one constructs of the world. Our causality statement is again important because it shapes the constructs that guide our thinking about the world and our actions in it.

Off the top of my head, I can think of five different notions of causality that I have witnessed being applied: Identity-to-action; action-to-action; agent-to-action; inter-nodal dynamics (field theory); and random event. For now, I just want to name the above causal concepts with a little explanation on the one’s readers might not recognize.

Agent-to-action causation assumes mind, or spirit, is supernatural (unextended) stuff that initiates action and can bring a causal chain to an end. When combined with action-to-action causation, agent-to-action causation can account for the scientist who believes in God.

Inter-nodal dynamics is based on the idea that the action of an entity can be determined by its relation to the field of which it is a part. Quantum physics and Post-Modernist/Feminist philosophy apply this type of causation to understand how there can be an interrelationship between the action of an entity and the action of the field.

I welcome feedback. If you disagree, let me know. If you agree, let me know. If you find any of this remotely interesting, let me know. If you have anything to add, let me know. If you don’t find any of this interesting, well, maybe you should ignore my posts in the future. I have found causality too important not to think about it and I find I can’t help but talk about it. I see causality at the foundation of just about every discussion. As long as anyone is interested, I will come back to say much more.

Thanks,

Paul Mawdsley

(Michael, I know I've stepped outside of Ethics here but it will eventually come back. If you think it should be moved elsewhere, that's fine.)

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I'm not debating whether causality exists or not. I'm debating whether the statement itself makes sense to everybody equally. To me, the statement itself doesn't make sense. Because I think in such a nonlinear way, sometimes simple statements just doesn't do it for me. I prefer the extended version on the metaphyiscs section more, also I'm also an example type-- I look around in reality for examples of all different sorts to see how statements hold. To re-iterate: I'm not debating the existence of relationships between cause/effect. However, due to my field, I am taking this to the brain/mind level by myself, by using the word "consciousness", with my current understanding of neuroscience-- reading articles & textbooks--, to see *how* causlity applies. But that's something I'm doing on my own. So thank you for clarifying.

Michael & Kat (whose response is on another section): Thank you for understanding, and I'm so glad to meet others who understand what I'm trying to say. I'm sorry that this thanks is so short-- I have to deal with MCAT, philosophy essay, history class, and financial trouble right now... will come back when the dust settles.

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Paul,

I'm finally getting around to this. You wrote:

When I experience an event, it is interpreted through the lens of identity-to-action causation. This gives the event meaning. I then have an emotional response to my causal interpretation of the event. This gives the event meaning to me and creates an impulse to action. Then the event, with its meaning to me, is set into the context of my value system derived from identity-to-action causation (the ethic of rational self-interest). My rational value system gives form and direction to my impulse to action. This is how I understand extreme moral indignation to arise and find expression through me.

Within the context of the starving child scenario, this identity-to-action causation provokes an emotional reaction far before it reaches the individual's conscious value system. I find that this is the way it works for me for the example. But what is weird is that I have a reaction of moral indignation BEFORE the identity-action process gets to my morality. Something has been learned or is built-in on a pre-verbal basis.

There are two areas where I am constantly moving on in my inquiry in Objectivism. The first is what I call cognitive identification. One must properly identify something before one understands the causation that emanates from it. And one must properly identify something before one evaluates it. I have found in the online Objectivist community (and in writings) that evaluations are usually made instantly, without first looking to see what the noise is all about.

The second area I find really lacking in Objectivism is a fleshed-out identification of human nature - one without value judgments - simply the facts. You get the initial admonition that "man is an end in himself," but just what man is gets fudged a bit. A rational mind with volition is given, together with a subconscious and emotions. Most of the rest has to come from between the lines in Rand's works.

For example, she sometimes talks about people protecting their families and does so with a high emotional charge in favor of those people, so it is clear that she recognizes family as a value, but she does not discuss why this is so. Nobody can look at human history and simply state that family is not a basic human value. Exceptions (like some of the fictional characters she created, Roark for instance) do not make the rule. A good question to ask is if Roark would value a family. We know that he valued his love for Dominique. Would he have kids? Rand never did.

Another part of human nature is how children fit in. The traditional Objectivist position of treating them like property does not even begin to address the nature of children. I often get the feeling (reading or interacting with Objectivists) that Objectivism is a philosophy for adults and that children are some kind of inconvenient "something" that miraculously become full human beings when they get to a proper stage of development.

The fact that adults reproduce themselves in them and that they are the ONLY means of the continuation of our species is not even on the table in Objectivist philosophy - at least I haven't read anything so far.

Isn't the continuation and survival of our very species a value? I have encountered some Objectivists who consider such a question to be "collectivist" thinking.

There is so much more in human nature that is being ignored. I am doing a lot of thinking these days about human nature and the more I think about it, the more I believe that two words Rand constantly wrote need to be emphasized in future Objectivist thought:

THE GIVEN

I don't believe that the Objectivist concept of man's nature is complete. Not that it is wrong. Essential parts have been properly identified. The given has not been completely identified. The whole picture has not been presented yet.

This is one of the reasons I think that the starving child issue struck such a strong chord and why some people even went to the extreme of getting nasty and closing off their minds. Most Obectivists so far merely say that morally, it is an issue, but you can't do anything about it in reality as regards the indifferent adult. Well here's the million dollar question:

What use is a moral principle that does not result in getting or preserving a value?

What I see is that a standard based on one part of human nature (rationality and individuality) is being used to cover a part that has not been properly identified (human nature as regards children).

Getting back to your identity-causation thing, notice that the example produces an immediate identity-causation reaction of moral outrage in most everybody. Yet Objectivist ethics has nothing of importance to say about it except "tough luck." Using your chain of reaction, the initial immediate outrage gets to the conscious values level, and then a person gets stuck. A bewildered "what can you do?" (at best) is the result.

The existence of this immediate reaction is more than enough proof that something critical has not been properly identified.

Michael

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:-({|=

~~ A lot of the responses have been interesting re the source of what appears to be a 'natural inclination' (or evolutionary psychology) of moral conscience, empathic identification, emotional sensitivity, etc, but none really seem to have anything to do with Mike's original (as I see it) question, re an ETHICS/MORALITY regarding

>>a.)-justification for doing something about a clearly UN-empathic 'adult' turning their back on a starving child,

>>b.)-obligation by an UN-empathic to NOT turn their back,

>>c.)-option (with limits) for how a 3rd party may treat the UN-empathic one.

--- These original concerns seem to have been mostly forgotten about in all the analyses which seem at best to merely skip across or talk around them.

~~ As I mentioned before, I see empathy/compassion/'emotional'-identification, etc as something that not all necessarily grow up with. One can 'see' things from others' perspectives, but one cannot 'decide' to be emotionally-empathic about such. --- So, it's an UN-empathic 'adult' that the ethic-prob is inherently about, albeit one who does go by a moral code...such as O'ist Ethics. Assume the 'child' is an OBVIOUSLY UNDEBATABLE ONE (ie: not going to be '18' next week) who's expectably around 4->6 yrs old, and the crux is:

>>d.)-does O'ism have any base to derive an ETHICAL/MORAL obligation-relation 'twixt the UN-empathic adult and the starving child?

~~ Kelly's 'virtue' of trader/utilitarian-benevolence I find very lacking in meaning on its own, much less having any application here. One doesn't 'trade' out of the usual meaning of 'benevolence'; non-malevolence expectations is more accurate re 'trade' relations.

~~ I've pointed out before that Mike's scenario implies that O'ism may have what NB long ago referred to as a 'gap', and Mike's recent letter from NB (which started this new thread) confirms this viewpoint as THE one to be considered. The letter ends with

"Something here screams out: 'This is wrong!' Yes, wrong, but by what standard? by what moral principle? --- Some new thinking is required, folks!"
(like, some of us haven't been working on that...especially Mike.)

~~ Keep in mind that, if it's rationally morally establishable that the UN-empathic one is wrong to ignore the other, then they have no right to ignore...therefore it then IS right for one to force some food away from them to give to the 'child'. (Further: if it's NOT a 'child', would it STILL be 'wrong'? Ah-h-h, leave that for another thread; let's stick with l'il kids for now.)

~~ How to establish that it's 'wrong', definitely requires some new thinking, about 'force', 'rights', and maybe even 'virtue.'

~~ Myself, I have no answers to the questions a->d...yet; but, they are the ONLY ones to focus on in this context. :-({|=

LLAP

J:D

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It seems to me that a lot of this is a lack-of-integration problem.

Using the example, and what NB brought up (by what moral principle)...

Sure, there can be a moral principle put into place that instructs you. And obviously, there are some that will instruct one way (help) and others that won't (serve your own survival first/foremost). But, in this case, we also know that something that sophisticated is not required, it is coming a great deal out of nature. What MSK (and I am the same way) are triggering off is a much deeper, more visceral, primal kind of thing.

Instinct can function right along with rationality. Instinct is faster, rationality is more tactical. Both are invaluable. They can even operate simultaneously. It's an integration issue. If you totally separate rationality from instinct, you are separating something that grew out of the other, and that causes pathology. Not a smooth integration.

Objectivism, it seems to me, is a top down system. Integrated, but linear. And not smoothly integrated in all places, particularly in how it subserviates emotions and instincts, which I find tremendously valuable.

I like all the cylinders banging at once.

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Rich:

~~ The prob with relying on 'instinct' is that it's too easy to jump to conclusions that the 'adult' had no excuse, ergo, one acts according to whatever emotionally-based 'instincts' one has (and we know that not all of us would have the same instincts...nor with the same limits ). That's what trials, courts, official-apprehension-of-suspects are supposed to be all about. If we instinctually ignore that, then where are we?

~~ If we accept going 'primal', then any discussion of an Ethical/Moral justification for actions (your 'top-down' concern) is clearly considered irrelevent, hence, there's no point to all these thread-discussions in the 1st place.

~~ Getting back to the non-primal orientation, on the one hand, I distinctly remember a Q&A session at the FHF after some lecture where Rand had answered someone who asked if children had rights, and she said "No." Unfortunately there was no elaboration, situational/age-context-reference or anything else hinting at a delimitation of meaning or even if 'moral' vs 'justification-for-legal' contexts were meant. Yet, there must have been some non-all-encompassing context meant there since, as others have pointed out already, she saw parents having 'obligations' to children and that there was some place for even laws to back them up. --- None of this territory has been delineated officially within O'ist philosophy as there being any derivative implications for the territory from O'ism. However, if there is any, and, Rand wasn't speaking 'non-philosophically' (as say, she had about a female President/CIC), I'd say that once the logic is spelled out, then THAT would be the fertile base to THEN draw conclusions about the ethics/morals of an UN-empathic 'adult' and a 'lost, starving' child...as well as what a 3rd empathic-party discovering how the UN-empathic one acted may, or should, and may not, or should not, do.

~~ In short, until the ethical-base of the nature of the 'obligations' of parents/'guardians' to children gets spelled out, then there'll be nothing to top-down ethically work out re obligations between anonymous-adults meeting anonymous children in child-crisis situations.

LLAP

J:D

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Michael,

I too do not want to skim when it come to your post. Everyone here has a story as to why their time is a limited resource. Mine has a lot to do with my wife, my three year old girl, and my six year old boy being the highest values in my life. I'm already paying for my desire to read and write here with a certain amount of sleep deprivation. I have to seek balance. Not a strong point for me.

On the other hand, reading and writing on this and Branden's forum is having a fringe benefit. I become so engrossed in the ideas that I loose track of my physical being. If I was sitting in front of the TV, I would have cravings for snack foods. Doing this, I have lost 5 lbs in the last 2 weeks. It's The Mawdsley diet. I'm at a point now where I'm going to have to build in a reminder to eat some cookies and chips.

I'm not sure exactly how this fits into Ethics but I'm a rebel.

Paul

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John-

In reference to instinct did I say "rely"? As in priority to it, or solely?

If I did, let me be clear. I mean "use". You don't sacrifice one for the other.

Objectivists repress emotions because they think eventually, they will basically generate/control all of them, and I know that is b.s. It may be with good intention, but that causes repression.

Emotions are one of the primary centers. The key is to have the centers all harmonious with one another. That is what a full person has. If you stick any of the centers over the others (intellectual over emotional, say), you ~will~ repress, and you ~will~ create pathology. I have no doubt that that is where a lot of the funky behavior you see in Objectivism comes from- it is a particular type. The rest of the behavior is more or less because, following what has been said here, an a-hole will often remain an a-hole, but now be an a-hole O'ist, like anything else. O'ism can and does elevate people, but it is not the universal tool of redemption. What is? I think I know, but I'm not going there at the moment.

The eye of the mind is not the king. None of them are, not eye of mind, of flesh, eye of contemplation, or eye of spirit, if you believe in that. They are built and bound together, they each contribute a different uptake from the universe.

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Michael,

I agree with your description of the internal processes in reaction to the starving child scenario:

...identity-to-action causation provokes an emotional reaction far before it reaches the individual's conscious value system. I find that this is the way it works for me for the example. But what is weird is that I have a reaction of moral indignation BEFORE the identity-action process gets to my morality. Something has been learned or is built-in on a pre-verbal basis.

When we witness the event, it is processed automatically through a causal lens. When we experience the event, we experience it with causal meaning. Part of what generates that causal meaning is the empathic perspectives that are generated within us. What is important to notice is the fact that causation is built into our perception. This is why it should be considered a causal lens. Information has already been causally filtered before it reaches our awareness and we have an emotional reaction to it.

I’ve noted you have an interest in the physiological functions of the brain that are related to the processes you witness introspectively. That makes sense if what a thing does is determined by the actions and interactions of its physical components. Looking at the actions and interactions of the physiological components of the brain should give us a parallel perspective to the causal model we are able to develop of the underlying nature of our mental processes (provided our guiding concept of causality is relevant to reality). It’s been a while since I spent a lot of time focussed in this area but, as I recall, it would make sense to look to the anterior portion of the temporal lobe and its connections to the limbic system to locate automatic causal processing in perception and the connected emotional response system.

That you have a reaction of moral indignation before the process gets to your morality makes sense in the context of what we know about psychology. The behaviourists didn’t get everything wrong. There is conditioning and learning. Our moral conditioning can come from our parents or teachers. We can be operant in the learning process, interacting with our environment. We can absorb our values observationally. Or we can self-program (or reprogram) it rationally. However it is programmed, it becomes automatic. We do not sit and think rationally in the heat of the moment, “Oh, this is what I should do.” Our emotions give us an impulse to action and our programmed value system gives form and direction for the action. It is a non-verbal process that has the appearance of action-reaction.

As I said before, I would have an impulse to hit the Passerby but my value system would probably tone it down to a good shaking and a scream to “wake up and see what’s in front of you!” That is, I think, the proper response of the Observer relative to the Passerby.

Why is the Child a value to the Observer? Why should the Child be a value to the Passerby? All the rational explanations in the world are fine but they are not why I experience the child as a value. They are not why I experience an impulse to act. I experience an impulse to act because I am open to an awareness of MY EMPATHIC PERSPECTIVE of the child’s reality in the context of my values. I am moved by MY PERSPECTIVE and MY RESPONSE to it. It is a matter of self-respect to act on what I experience. It is action in the here and now based on the experience of my values in the here and now. Abstract, disconnected principles do not move me. I am more than rational principles. Who and what I am determines what I do. And so should it. I think this is “The Virtue of Selfishness.”

Paul M.

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Paul, you wrote:

Why is the Child a value to the Observer? Why should the Child be a value to the Passerby? All the rational explanations in the world are fine but they are not why I experience the child as a value. They are not why I experience an impulse to act. I experience an impulse to act because I am open to an awareness of MY EMPATHIC PERSPECTIVE of the child’s reality in the context of my values. I am moved by MY PERSPECTIVE and MY RESPONSE to it. It is a matter of self-respect to act on what I experience. It is action in the here and now based on the experience of my values in the here and now. Abstract, disconnected principles do not move me. I am more than rational principles. Who and what I am determines what I do. And so should it. I think this is “The Virtue of Selfishness.”

This is very good. Right on, Paul. It is an empathy-flavored re-writing of what Rand said about the obligation to help others in an emergency. I see in general a more cerebral phrasing of the issue by Rand, and a more holistic, reason-emotion phrasing by you, but they are essentially making the same point. Rand talks not about empathy, an emotionally-oriented process, but "identification" (we are the same species).

She also does this, interestingly enough, in her discussion in (I think) "Art and Sense of Life," where she suggests that we have a personal stake in stories and dramas because we "identify" with the dramatic characters. Well, this "identification" Rand talks about is merely a more intellectualistic way of describing the same thing you refer to by "empathy." In fact, it is really empathetic identification.

I wrote about this issue in my 1999 JARS essay, "Music and Perceptual Cognition." My wife, Becky, really raised my consciousness about this issue in regard to the arts -- especially the point about Rand's expression of the issue being too dry and intellectualistic and the connection to empathy and the emotions was harder to latch on to because of it -- and I applied the insight I got from her (Becky) to the question of our emotional response to dramatic music, too, as in my 2004 JARS essay, "Art as Microcosm...". I later found out that the Blumenthals in their 1974 lectures on music were working along the same track. (I realize this is straying a bit from the topic, but you can see how what you are stressing here has relevance beyond the lifeboat issues of ethics, right?

Again, good thoughts!

REB

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  • 2 weeks later...

Roger,

Thanks for your positive assessment. I have great respect for your perspective. Better late than never with my acknowledgement. As you might have noticed, I have become distracted by another thread.

I agree with your assessment; what Rand is saying on the subject of ethics is parallel to what I'm saying. It is approaching the same existents from two distinct orientations of consciousness. Rand's is very cerebral, an objective, logical reasoning orientation. Mine is more experiential, a more intuitive, causal reasoning orientation. If we assume the same existents in the same reality, viewed from different orientations, with valid premises and sound reasoning we should reach the same answers.

Causal reasoning is a means of processing experiential information without first converting it to some sort of symbolic language. It is more primitive from an evolutionary stand point. It is the mode of consciousness that is operative in intuition. Of course, the soundness of the reasoning is largely dependent on the specific premise of causality that is acting as a guiding epistemological principle.

The concept of causality that is operative in intuition is not typically identified by the individual explicitly. In fact, this is the level at which I am suggesting Rand, N. Branden, Einstein, Bohr, etc. carry their unidentified causal biases that first shapes their intuitive understanding of the world, and then directs their explicit identifications.

Going back to the use of parallel perspectives from different orientations; I find this strategy to discovering and identifying elements of existence a profoundly powerful tool. I remember some years ago, when I first realized that this parallel processing was a strategy I was using to tease- out insights from various parallel modes of information and thought, I was struck by the ease with which this strategy cut through road blocks in understanding.

I was 24 years old and was studying for an introductory Psych exam. As was common, I was reading the text for the first time the week prior to the exam. I had been reading Honouring the Self again and had been struck by how Branden had structured the psyche.

Branden wrote:

Ego (the Latin word for "I") is the unifying center of consciousness, the irreducible core of self-awareness-- that which generates and sustains a sense of self, of personal identity. Our ego is not our thoughts, but that which thinks; not our judgements, but that which judges; not our feelings, but that which recognizes feelings; the ultimate witness within; the ultimate context in which all our narrower selves or subpersonalities exist.

(In my mind, Branden is at his best when he gets metaphysical. This passage is the result of his highly evolved intuitive perspective; developed under the guiding principle of his implicit and quite sophisticated concept of causation; isolated, identified and integrated by explicit logical reasoning)

I was trying to read and study for my exam while this passage was echoing in my head. One of the chapters was on the physiological functions of the brain. I was struck by the parallel of Branden's description of the "I" and the description of the function of the reticular activating system. I then spent about two years-- concurrent with my early explorations of theoretical physics-- driven by a passion to explore the parallels between my evolving view of the psyche, grounded in Branden's concept of the "I" and its distinction from the "Me," and the physiological functions of the brain.

I was impressed by two things: how well Branden's fundamental identification of the psyche and entity-to-action causation worked together to guide further integrations of the psyche; and how a parallel investigation of physiological functions of the brain allowed for insights from one orientation to drive insights in the other.

Parallel perspectives can work reciprocally to drive insights. This is true in metaphysics, in epistemology, in ethics, in politics, in aesthetics, or in science. We have two fundamentally different ways of rationally processing information: explicit, objective identification connected by logical relationships; and typically implicit, intuitive identification connected by causal relationships. These two orientations are reflected in the different processes that science has identified in the left and right cerebral hemispheres. When the latter remains implicit it can often be out of alignment with our explicit understanding, especially if our explicit understanding is fed by other people's concepts rather than concepts developed from, or grounded in, our own authentic experience.

If we are able to identify and make explicit the intuitive processes, we bring them under conscious control. If we bring the intuitive processes under conscious control, we can we can apply them in parallel to our objective process. If we can apply the two processes in parallel, information from each can feed the insights of the other. This might be an addition for Objectivist epistemology. And here I go writing in the wrong category again. I tell you, I'm a rebel.

Roger, I guess what I'm trying to say is, I do see "how what [i am] stressing here has relevance beyond the lifeboat issues of ethics."

Thanks again for your interest and positive appraisal,

Paul Mawdsley

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