Objectivist ethics: Life as the Standard.


Victor Pross

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Objectivist ethics: Life as the Standard.

(Note from MSK:

Article removed for plagiary of "Ayn Marx" (pseudonym) and Robert Bass. See here for the intitial identification and here for the full text with the plagiarized parts compared against the original texts.

OL extends its deepest apologies to the person calling himself or herself Ayn Marx and to Robert Bass.)

LATER NOTE (July 12, 2007): Apparently "Ayn Marx" was also plagiarizing. Her posts on other forums are from Ronald E. Merrill's The Ideas of Ayn Rand (see here). OL extends its deepest apologies to the heirs of Ron Merrill.

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1) is a truism.

2) is open to strong attack from determinists, obviously. You can't just make up arguments for people who already agree with you, you know....;-)But even granting you this,

3) is clearly false. You may in fact have a variety of values, or a variety of ends, and these may change. That humans have values does not necessitate any single "ultimate end." For humans err - they have imperfect knowledge. As a result, they may easily choose the wrong ends. (And who would ever have sufficient knowledge to make such a judgement as to the rightness or wrongness of "ultimate ends" anyway? Surely this would require "ultimate knowledge"?)

4) is just a vague assertion, and does not follow from the proceeding. Some people choose to die. And "end in itself" means it does not require any other justification anyway. It is what it is.

5) Therefore: philosophic fame and fortune have sadly eluded your grasp :)

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Daniel,

More fat chewing with specks of meat in it, huh? Yes, you dealt with but one section from this post, and not very effectively to my mind. You have trotted out these same objections and they will be answered. :turned:

Victor

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Oh puhlease!! Can you name one entity that's non-living that is pursuing goals?

Laure,

I don't know if Bob adheres to a recent scientific theory that all things, including inanimate and even subatomic things, have volition. I once got into an argument on RoR with a young man who claimed that each die of a pair of dice is endowed with volition (albeit very little, so he claimed).

I became even more incredulous when he was supported by several people. But there it is. I don't understand that one. I don't think I ever will.

But maybe Bob even has another reason altogether.

Michael

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Michael,

The below section, does this sound reasonable to you?

>This line of reasoning puts the Objectivist ethics on very strong grounds. Rand has demonstrated that life is at the root of all values, but then she goes on to specify the standard of value as “the life of man qua man.” We have made a transition from ‘life’ (meaning pure biological survival) to “life of man qua man”. The critics protests that something other than life (pure survival) is being tacked on, hence all the charges of Rand’s “fudging.” The critic has demanded classification and identification for this seemingly added quality that makes life the “life of man qua man.”

Rand has met up to the challenge: there is no distinction between the ‘simple biological survival’ of a human being and the “life of man qua man” She applies an Aristotelian metaphysical principle: to exist is to have identity. To survive as a living organism IS to live the kind of life appropriate to that type of organism. To survive as a man IS to live the life of man qua man. There is no generic survival which comes in a box. A human being cannot survive like a fish or wolf. To survive as a man is to live the life of MAN QUA MAN.

-Victor

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Victor,

It sounds reasonable to me as an Objectivist. Sure. But in this form, it plays right into the critics' hands and actually vindicates them. You make no indication at all about what "man qua man" means except to say that it means that man has identity. The closest you came to providing any kind of reference to reality was your statement: "A human being cannot survive like a fish or wolf."

In my post below from another thread, I began to address this issue.

I submit that any standard that admits such a wide range of behaviour, right through to its opposite is not much of a standard. Imagine if I set a standard like "thou shall not steal" but then in the next breath said "stealing is also ok." This is effectively what Rand is doing by admitting suicide is morally acceptable.

To get round this, in her essay on The Objectivist Ethics Rand simply equivocates . She starts out with "life" as in survival, which something like suicide obviously conflicts with; but then shifts her meaning to life as "man qua man", which is so vague one can blur out such problems. One simply needs to read the text to see this shift. Unfortunately this dilution, while saving her from such objections, does so at the price of destroying the usefulness of such a standard.

Daniel,

As a matter of fact, I did read the text many times long ago and I have started rereading it again recently. You oversimplify when you say that "man qua man" is a vague term. Rand spent a great deal of time explaining what she meant by human nature. (I find myself in disagreement with some of it for being incomplete, especially when she claimed otherwise, but that does not mean she does not address it.)

For instance, the biological foundation of ethics she gave in her opening essay in The Virtue of Selfishness is not only survival, but also the pleasure-pain mechanism. This, obviously, is included in her concept of "man qua man." There is a whole bunch of things like that. If you choose to ignore those things when you claim vagueness (and I am discussing Rand qua Rand), you are committing a classic case of the fallacy of the stolen concept. You are using a general concept, but pretending that the concepts on which it is based do not exist. The argument is something like this:

  1. Rand predicated her view of human nature on a series of observations, affirmations and deductions.
  2. Rand simplified all of these observations, affirmations and deductions to a single phrase: "man qua man."
  3. Other philosophers, in using the same phrase, mean different observations, affirmations and deductions, even among themselves.
  4. Rand's phrase does not include their view of human nature, but it should (for whatever reason).
  5. Rand's phrase is too vague to be useful.

Can you detect the fallacy here?

Rand's words, if they didn't mean what they do mean, actually would be too vague to be useful. This is the case when they are transposed by themselves, and only by themselves, to see if they work as the foundation of another philosopher's thinking. The fact is, however, that those words in Rand's writings are tied to a concept that is derived from a specific set of observations, affirmations and deductions.

So if you steal the concept and merely use the catchphrase for it in other contexts, yes it is vague. If you take the whole conceptual package, i.e., the integration, it is not vague at all. It actually collides with the meaning other philosophers give to it (if they ever used it).

I think it would be far, far clearer, if your purpose is to disagree with Rand, to contest her view of human nature than make a false observation about her writing. Claiming that she was vague about human nature is simply not true, but that is precisely what you do claim when you say that the phrase "man qua man" is vague.

If your purpose is to defend Rand from a criticism of fudging or vagueness, this approach is more to the point. In essence, your critic says he doesn't understand what Rand meant by "man qua man" and simply tacking it on as an empty phrase to simple survival seems to be a sidestep. In your post above, you used a rejection of false dichotomy approach (which Rand uses often) without there being a real dichotomy to begin with. You denied that there was any difference at all. Look at what you said:

Rand has met up to the challenge: there is no distinction between the ‘simple biological survival’ of a human being and the “life of man qua man”.

Now if you had said: "Rand has met up to the challenge: she discussed human nature 'here' and 'here' and she included 'this' and 'that' as part of what she meant," you would be proving that the phrase is not empty at all.

You are trying to answer a charge of circular reasoning, which is called an analytic truth in their language, with more circular reasoning (adding on identity, which, to the critics, is purely analytic since it is an axiom) and trying to relate that to reality through generalities. Never mind, at this point, that fundamental axioms are derived from reality. That is another issue entirely and it is contested by those same critics (and requires a whole other argument).

You are answering a charge that Rand's phrase doesn't mean anything beyond an abstract redundancy used to camouflage the lack of any real substance. They also call this a tautology. So by pointing to where Rand identified aspects of human nature, you provide the critics with some "synthetic" meat to chew on and essentially show where their charge of fudging or the vagueness of that phrase is false.

Michael

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Daniel,

Regarding the issue of “life as the standard" and suicide, there would seem as though there is a difficulty at a cursory glance, as it is known that Rand approved of suicide under certain circumstances. Cheryl Taggart, in Atlas Shrugged, commits suicide rather than live with James Taggart or in a world of James Taggarts, and Rand did not regard her as immoral. John Galt explicitly states his intention to kill himself if Dagny is used against him as a hostage.

So the challenge is this: Can this be consistent with Rand’s position that life is the standard of value? Or to put it as you did: “a standard that allows for its opposite can’t be much of a standard.” Several of her critics have cited it as a contradiction, and so it is not an original objection at all. In essence, the argument is thus:

If sustaining the “life of man qua man” may, under certain conditions, require one to seek death, then “life Man qua Man” must be a rather strange type of life.

We can resolve the seeming contradiction if we recall Galt’s argument with Mr. Thompson. “Don’t you want to live?” asks Mr. Thompson. Galt replies, “I do want to live. I want it so passionately that I will accept no substitute.”

That is a very interesting line. Let's repeat it: “I do want to live. I want it so passionately that I will accept no substitute.”

Rand challenges the reader to look at the fundamental question: What is life? What does it mean to live? Philosophers and scientists have long haggled over the question over the definition of life, (and I’m not going to launch into a boring scholastic debate over that question) but one thing is certain: essentially to every known form of life, be it man, a wolf, a fish, or a sentient super-computer, is goal directed behavior. And goals imply, essentially, values. So there is an ineffaceable connection: living beings, and only living beings, have values. Those who have no values, or no possibility of acting to achieve values, are dead.

So John Galt, according to his hierarchy of values, will kill himself if Dagny is tortured. Somebody else, say, Dagny’s potential torturer, would not kill himself; Dagny means nothing to the torturer. But for Galt, it is very meaningful: “There will be no values for me to seek.” Or as Galt put it to Thompson: “The offer not to kill me is not an inducement. Life is not merely the absence of death.”

But, of course, I have been giving some extreme examples. Generally, there is a vast range of human beings to observe in how they regard their own existence and that of their fellow human beings. It is commonplace to regard certain lackluster, lethargic people who seem to have been defeated by the challenges of existence as being less than alive. And then there are those, like me, who awaken on a gorgeous summer morning, full of zest and ready to face life head on, passionately in love with their work-- and for me, to speak more personally, in love with my new lady love. “I feel so alive!” is the closest I can come to express the feeling. Or, to put it as my lady love has said, “to reach a state of Atlantis.” This is meant to communicate much more than simple happiness. (Perhaps she means eudaimonia; the word is a compound of the prefix "eu-" [well] and the noun "daimōn" [spirit].) Either way, I love her for the value-seeker she is, and I see in her much of myself.

To speak even more personally, (for the sake of illustrating my point) I was already in love with my life, but the value that I have obtained—in the person who is Angie—has made me feel so much more alive. If you have browsed around OL, you can see how neither of us can contain how we feel. And why should we? We don’t live in our minds. We live in the world. Now I know this may sound like “stirring talk” to you, and I may not be very "philosophical" in a dry, technical sense, but the feeling of that “lust for life” cannot be denied, especially for those who feel it.

The point boils down to this: if one increases one’s values and one’s ability to attain them, one actually becomes more alive. A healthy and happy person is very much more alive than a Karen Ann Quinlan. A free man is more alive than a slave. A young person looking forward to their life is more alive than an old person who has, to their mind, “seen enough” and is ready to die. And, on the other hand, an old person, who is young at heart and still pursuing values and objectives, is much more alive than the depressed angst-ridden teen who is suicidal. And a moral man (in the sense of the meaning I give it) is more alive than an immoral man. The moral man's existential remuneration is life and his emotional reward is happiness. Because the individual is the proper beneficiary of his own moral action, happiness is the individual's only moral purpose in life. Morality is not just about preserving life (Man qua Man) but of maximizing life (Man qua man). The goal of ethics is not simply to maintain one’s ability to pursue values, but to optimize it.

-Victor

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Michael,

Thank you for the feed-back. Now, does the THE ALPHA AND OMEGA OF ETHICS section stand up. And, as you can see, there is a post directed to Daniel in which I wanted to take on the question of 'life as the standard of value' and 'suicide' considering this was brought up as being problematic. I never thought it was, but I answer to it in that post.

Victor

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Victor:

>Morality is not just about preserving life (Man qua Man) but of maximizing life (Man qua man).

Victor, as I have said before, ' maximising' life as "man qua man" simply means "upholding Objectivist values". As such, as the answer to the question "why should we hold Objectivist values?" it is circular, thus a fallacious argument.

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Victor,

Be careful with statements about maximizing life as the reason for ethics. You are still debating within the context of deriving ought from is. Ethics can be used for optimization, but the choice to maximize your life does not automatically derive from any fact except to say that it is an alternative. Not a commandment. You still choose and the contexts are too varied for "maximizing life" to be a universal commandment.

Ethics is not the end and the means at the same time like you said life is. And to be precise, a single life is only part of the means anyway since it depends on receiving fuel from outside itself. A code of ethics is a means only and never an end (when used as a code).

Daniel,

I am going to give you a small present for Rand criticism, but it is something that I think needs to be faced and resolved. Upholding Objectivist values could be considered the meaning of "man qua man," as you said, except once you start looking deeper, things like goal-directed behavior, pleasure-pain mechanism, etc., are not issues that apply only to Objectivist values. They are more universal than that. (Here "universal" means that they can be applied with validity to other systems of thought, not "universal to man." Obviously, I hold that the core principles of Objectivism are universal to man.)

The present I am going to give you pertains to Rand's definition of man. As you know, she defined him as a rational animal, with "animal" being the genus and "rational" being the differentia. I have always had a bit of a problem with this definition because I see a marked increase in the intelligence of some other animal species and I consider it well within the range of possibilities that one day a conceptual faculty will evolve in one or more of them. Actually it already has to a very low degree, like that chimp that is able to choose the correct answer to simple mathematical problems. When and if the day arrives that a dog is born with a conceptual faculty, obviously it will not be a human being, yet it will be a "rational animal."

This led me to think that "rational primate" would be a much better concept for man.

Before getting to that, here we come to one of the real flaws in Rand's thinking that appears at times in her writing. Rand was so passionately involved in defending the rational part of man that she almost held the animal part in contempt. For instance, she flat-out claimed that man has no instincts at all when the simple pleasure-pain mechanism is nothing if not an instinct. Rand discussed "automatic operations," even mental ones, (which ultimately means automatic behavior) when it suited her, yet by denying instinct, she denied automatic behavior. The truth is that when you tap the newborn on the butt, he cuts loose with a highly sonorous automatic value judgment. Pure instinct. Steve Shmurak (who I keep plugging) shows here that our affects, including the behavior in expressing them, are pure instinct from which we develop emotions.

So one would think that the rational dog idea would occur to Rand and she would consider refining the genus. Here is what she stated about it in her Epistemology workshop (ITOE, 2nd ed., pp. 233-235):

Prof. B: This question pertains to the discussion of definitions on page 44. You say that the ultimate definition of man is "a rational animal." I take it then that it would be wrong to define man as "a rational primate."

AR: Oh yes.

Prof. B: Is that because man's distinctive form of consciousness makes him a basic subdivision of "animal" rather than just a minor subcategory? In a sense, all other animals are limited to sensory forms of consciousness, but man is rational. That means you can make a basic subdivision of "animal" into "man" and "non-man" on the grounds of whether the consciousness is rational or just perceptual.

AR: Yes, but what would be the purpose of this? Here you have an evaluative consideration entering. Is the distinction by type of consciousness more important than, let's say, the distinction between animal and bird, by feathers and ability to fly? You see, it wouldn't necessarily be important formally, as you formed the concept, whether the characteristic by which you subdivide is of a tremendous, momentous kind or merely the only one you can observe that is at all significant. After you have formed the concept, it is a separate intellectual pursuit to find out whether that distinction is really enormously important, which [in the case of man versus animals] it is. But that fact is not of significance to the subdivision, to the classification of man as a rational animal.

Prof. E: I was wondering whether you would agree with the following, which is my understanding of why the genus of man for a general definition would remain "animal."

Definitions and conceptualization always have to take into account the cognitive context. The normal adult does not deal with subdivisions like "primate." And, therefore, for a general literate adult, "rational animal" would be appropriate, even if for a more specialized degree of knowledge you need the further subdivision.

I can give this parallel: suppose a normal adult were defining "amnesia." I think a valid definition would have as its genus something like "mental illness" or "mental disorder" (with the differentia indicating loss of memory). Whereas the psychiatrist, who subclassifies mental ailments, could say its genus was something narrower, I think they call it a "dissociative reaction" or something of the sort. But that would not affect the validity of the genus "mental disorder" for a generally educated adult.

AR: Yes, that is correct. I would add one thing of a more general nature. Philosophical problems have to be solved on a level of knowledge available to a normal adult at any period of human development; so that philosophical concepts are really not dependent on the development of individual sciences. And "primate" or "mammal" would be a very specialized subdivision of a concept according to a particular science.

Prof. A: Then would it be wrong for a biologist to define man as "a rational primate," or would that be correct in his context?

AR: It would be correct in his context, if he remembers that he is speaking here from a professional context. And, as you know, they subdivide even further. Any subdivision within a given science is proper provided it is not substituted for the basic philosophical definition which is valid for all men in all stages of knowledge.

So, concerning the nature of man, "primate" can be a genus for a scientist but not for a philosopher? Am I the only one who sees something wrong here?

If Rand wants to trace concept development from developmental psychology, I would say that the concept of "biped" or "two-legged thing that holds me and feeds me" comes to a child much earlier than "animal." How's that for a "cognitive context" (as Rand says is essential)? Also, Rand's sudden evaluative consideration, "enormously important," is a pretty vague indicator for differentiation and integration (the components of concept formation in Objectivism). Like I mentioned with the cognitive context of the developing infant, "two-legged," "really really big," "food source" and "bringer of comfort" are "enormously important" in the formation of what man is. This comes way before "rational" and even way before "animal."

Even on Rand's terms, one of the beefs I have with her concept of human nature is that you simply cannot lop off the animal (the genus) when it suits you no matter how much you love the rational part (the differentia). And a genus holds a hell of a lot of information.

Think how empty "man qua man" sounds when you say "rational being" (ARI's misguided improvement on Rand's genus-contempt in dealing with the concept of man—see under "Human Nature" in the link), then think how much more specific it sounds when when you define man as a "rational primate." Here, "man qua man" comes loaded with a lot of specific information and "rational" is the "distinguishing characteristic" within a context that actually contains some other essential information for the concept ("distinguishing characteristics" for the genus).

OK, supposing an adult does not remember too much about anthropology from school and "primate" does not conjure up any images in his mind. The genus for his concept of man will still be much more specific than "animal" or "being." It will include "two-legged creature with head, trunk and two arms," "something essentially like him," "reproductive organ arrangement that works like and/or with his," and so on. All of this information is general enough to be a genus, but does not apply to all animals or beings.

The only context I can think of to insist on maintaining "animal" as the genus to the exclusion of a more refined one (even for a person without specialized knowledge, as Rand claimed is proper to philosophy) is when a person wants to compare man to the rest of the animal kingdom specifically. For instance, note the similarity of man to a bird or reptile, but highlight the crucial difference.

So part of the task for Objectivists, if the purpose is to get the ethics more widely accepted and solidly within a logical framework, is to refine the genus and man's nature in general so that "man qua man" means something more than a tautology, but not so much that it becomes overly specialized.

If one accepts the fact that Rand held general contempt for the animal part of man's nature and sometimes went overboard to the point of actually trying replace it with reason, and isolates those parts from the rest of her thinking, there are other times in her writing where she provides some very important essentials of the genus in the concept of man (man's nature). In this manner, a more specific and correct view of human nature based on canonical Objectivism can be devised. And then that can be further refined and still stay within the bounds of Objectivist principles (once again, see Shmurak), albeit it will no longer be canonical.

Once again, when I have a problem with Rand's thinking, the problem is scope. The distinguishing characteristic of man actually is "rational." That does not mean that "rational" extends to all the rest to the point of replacing it. On the contrary, "rational" means nothing in human terms without the rest. "Rational" sits on it.

I like to keep Rand's insights and delimit the scope where they exceed validity. That work really well for me.

Michael

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Daniel,

In better trying to understand your stance and reasoning on the is-ought issue (aside from reading the works you suggest) I would like to ask straight-up questions that will shed some light on some issues for me regarding the ethics discussion:

It would seem that you invest some considerable stock in David Hume and his position on causality, or so I think.

Okay, a few questions:

I was wondering if you think that determinism (in human beings) is logically entailed by the law of causality?

And, without wishing to speculate, could you summarize your views on causality? Is it that of Hume’s?

And if so, does this (at least in part) fuel the issue of the is-ought issue of where you stand on it? (This last question is key to me).

Victor

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Forgive a possibly naive intervention here.

At its most literal level, Rand could be taken as saying that living beings prefer to be alive rather than dead. There might be the odd exception, but in general I can't argue with that. Nor can I argue with the proposition that, if you seek to achieve goals, being alive is pretty important. (Hence the phrase, which is common at the moment and crops up occasionally on this board, about things to do/see "before you die" is rather redundant!)

In other places, though, the argument is that man should seek to live a life as "man qua man". I take this to mean not merely staying alive, but living a life which involves pursuing and achieving goals which Rand would regard as worthy of man as a rational being. You could make a case for this too, but it's a distinctly different proposition from the first one.

I suspect (and am happy to debate) that some Objectivist theory flips just a little too easily between the alternatives of the pretty unarguable value of "continuing to breathe" and the value of "living" (in someone's view) "a worthy life", which may also be right, but is distinctly more debatable.

Also, perhaps alas, I'm not really sure there's any evidence that those who live worthy lives do in fact live any longer than those who don't. There may be examples which suggest that in AS, but then AS is a moral parable rather than an objective scientific study.

Am I missing something?

Best regards

Adrian

PS - I see, having re-read Victor's original post (which perhaps I should have done before) that he addresses this issue at the end. I still can't help feeling that a view about what sort of life is "appropriate" to a particular organism is a pretty subjective judgement. At least, I'm not at all clear how you could objectively support it.

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Am I missing something?

No, you're quite right. But perhaps you'd better read the following threads first: "Critique of Objectivist ethics theory" and "Why does man need a code of values?", both in the "Ethics" section, as there has already been a lot of discussion about these points.

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Thanks Victor, good post.

Just to re-iterate I would add that while one can certainly value something more than their own life (even if life is required to have values, we know things perpetuate beyond our own existence). If life was the only and highest standard of value, than any torture or discomfort could be elucidated in order to get someone to give up any other value, that person is much less principled and always acts at the expediency of the moment, not to protect the things he values most, but to save his own hide. Maybe, someone would say, his hide is what he values most, but to abandon all other principles, ideals, and values for the sake of the pragmatic saving of one's own hide is to eventually abdicate any 'self' at all, taken to it’s literal extreme it is voluntarily locking one’s self up in an underground padded room left barely conscious and fed intravenously. That’s why, I think, there is a clear distinction to be made between being alive and living.

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Am I missing something?

No, you're quite right. But perhaps you'd better read the following threads first: "Critique of Objectivist ethics theory" and "Why does man need a code of values?", both in the "Ethics" section, as there has already been a lot of discussion about these points.

Thanks - I'll check these out.

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Victor,

Be careful with statements about maximizing life as the reason for ethics. You are still debating within the context of deriving ought from is. Ethics can be used for optimization, but the choice to maximize your life does not automatically derive from any fact except to say that it is an alternative. Not a commandment. You still choose and the contexts are too varied for "maximizing life" to be a universal commandment.

Ethics is not the end and the means at the same time like you said life is. And to be precise, a single life is only part of the means anyway since it depends on receiving fuel from outside itself. A code of ethics is a means only and never an end (when used as a code).

Michael,

It was not my attempt to hurdle over the head of the is-ought issue or to pretend that the “quality of life” is a primary to grounding an ethical system in reality, but rather this post was written to deal with the apparent contradiction of Rand’s “life as the standard of value” and suicide. I wanted to illustrate that, under certain circumstances, suicide confirms the value of life, and it is not necessarily some inconsistent double standard as Rand has been charged with. But no need to repeat it here, I said it all already in the post.

-Victor

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Victor,

To tell you the truth, the accusation that Rand held a double-standard because she accepted suicide as morally valid under certain conditions is so superficial that I never really paid any attention to it. I always understood the argument to be slightly different, i.e., that Rand stated that life was the ultimate value, then changed this to life as man qua man when the first became messy.

A very interesting addition to the suicide idea is when life has become too painful to endure, like with certain diseases. At this point, there is no real comparison with another other view of life any longer. There is only suffering and pain and the only way to stop it is with death. Who can even think straight in intense pain?

As a former crack addict, you might be surprised to hear me say that I agree with something I read once about when taking crack is a good idea. It is here: In Search Of The Big Bang: What is Crack Cocaine?. If you scroll down, you come to a part called "When Is It Best To Take Crack Cocaine?". Obviously, it is a really bad idea to take it—period—and the article says so. But then there is a highly interesting passage citing one exception:

There is perhaps a single predictable time of life when taking crack-cocaine is sensible, harmless and both emotionally and intellectually satisfying. Indeed, for such an occasion it may be commended. Certain estimable English doctors were once in the habit of administering to terminally-ill cancer patients an elixir known as the "Brompton cocktail". This was a judiciously-blended mixture of cocaine, heroin and alcohol. The results were gratifying not just to the recipient. Relatives of the stricken patient were pleased, too, at the new-found look of spiritual peace and happiness suffusing the features of a loved one as (s)he prepared to meet his or her Maker.

Drawing life to a close with a transcendentally orgasmic bang, and not a pathetic and god-forsaken whimper, can turn dying into the culmination of one's existence rather than its present messy and protracted anti-climax.

There is another good reason to finish life on a high note. In a predominantly secular society, adopting a hedonistic death-style is much more responsible from an ethical utilitarian perspective. For it promises to spare friends and relations the miseries of vicarious suffering and distress they are liable to undergo at present as they witness one's decline.

A few generations hence, the elimination of primitive evolutionary holdovers such as the ageing process and suffering will make the hedonistic death advocated here redundant. In the meanwhile, one is conceived in pleasure and may reasonably hope to die in it.

I see nothing wrong with this whatsoever. In the face of the alternative, it is actually life-affirming to do this.

Michael

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Michael:

>To tell you the truth, the accusation that Rand held a double-standard because she accepted suicide as morally valid under certain conditions is so superficial that I never really paid any attention to it.

It may indeed be trivial, but it is just this point, along with other trivial and obvious objections (like putting a loved one's interests ahead of one's own now and again) that make the situation "messy", and forces her to equivocate between her two positions: 1)her pure ethics as code for "survival" stance at the beginning of her essay, and 2)her ethics-as-code-for-living as man qua man" stance at the end of it.

I repeat: Her initial position 1) at least had some deductive force at first, although the contradictions as above soon eliminate it. Her position 2) has no merit whatsoever, as it is a circular argument.

Your discussion below is fine, BTW, but is not does not seem to be from a noticeably Objectivist viewpoint - merely a curious and interested one. After all, Aldous Huxley famously dropped acid on his deathbed.

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Michael:

>Even on Rand's terms, one of the beefs I have with her concept of human nature is that you simply cannot lop off the animal (the genus) when it suits you no matter how much you love the rational part (the differentia).

Rand's emotional reluctance to accept our animal heritage accounts for a lot of her abstract rationalising about the way people behave, and her avoidance of empirical science in the study of human beings. (There is a book that I vaguely recall has been written about this subject :) )

This also accounts for her refusal to accept the theory of evolution.

>So part of the task for Objectivists, if the purpose is to get the ethics more widely accepted and solidly within a logical framework, is to refine the genus and man's nature in general so that "man qua man" means something more than a tautology, but not so much that it becomes overly specialized.

I don't know how one would go about that.

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Your discussion below is fine, BTW, but is not does not seem to be from a noticeably Objectivist viewpoint - merely a curious and interested one.

Daniel,

LOLOLOLOL...

Here is exactly where my approach is different from the orthodoxy. I use Objectivist principles, but my standard of value is my own life first, second, third, fourth and fifth. (Kitten is in there somewhere, too.)

So Objectivism is part of me, just like musical principles or the vocabulary I have learned are part of me. I am not part of it. That is why I try to refine the parts that don't suit me when they conflict with my reason (after I have made an honest attempt to understand properly, of course).

The ortho approach, despite protests to the contrary, is that Objectivism is the primary value and the person exists to serve the spread of that throughout the world.

As far as my comment on the triviality of suicide thing, I am going on the premise that the double-standard itself (as expressed by Rand, but qua meaning, not qua words) was the problem. I consider the examples to be mere illustrations, not the problem per se.

What this means is that if her meaning can be seen as more or less the same in both cases, the problem vanishes since it is semantics—merely a poor or confusing choice of words. One merely has to note that in such-and-such passages, her wording was such that it is necessary to qualify it and note that her meaning was X or Y for reasons A and B. If she actually meant to exclude man's nature in the first formulation ("man's life"), then sidestep and include it later ("man qua man") to get out of a contradiction, that is another issue. From my understanding of her writing and approach, I don't think she did. That doesn't sound like her at all.

Thus, my triviality remark. With you in particular, I think you are interested in arriving at Rand's actual meaning and verifying if there are inconsistencies, not in trying to debunk her merely on a game of semantics. This last is what I consider trivial and, from my appraisal of your intellect, beneath you. That is why I never addressed this to you on the basis of words alone.

I presume we are on the same page here.

I see Rand's errors coming more from over-extending the importance of certain things (scope), not from willingly engaging in double-speak in order to fake it.

Michael

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Victor:

>Okay, a few questions: I was wondering if you think that determinism (in human beings) is logically entailed by the law of causality? And, without wishing to speculate, could you summarize your views on causality? Is it that of Hume’s? And if so, does this (at least in part) fuel the issue of the is-ought issue of where you stand on it? (This last question is key to me).

Woah, there tiger.

Before we rush off down these particular rabbit-holes, let's just stay focussed for a moment.

We've had a long discussion, with plenty of ideas bouncing round. And, unlike many internet debates, I think we actually have a pretty conclusive result on at least two issues.

1) Did Rand solve the problem of logically deriving "ought" from "is"?

The answer here appears to be almost certainly "no". No one has managed to provide any verbatim example of her doing this successfully from any of her works. Only you have fronted up with a possible interpretation (which appears quite accurate, BTW) of her logical chain, and this unfortunately does not come close to succeeding (If you disagree, I invite you to submit it to a logic forum on the net and see what others say). The only other attempts to defend Rand on this point have been basically a) an appeal to some "other form of reasoning" that is not logic, but is still called logic (!?!) and b. logic doesn't matter ultimately, introspection does. Obviously neither of these defences touch on the original issue. (apologies if I've missed any other counter arguments, but I simply don't recall any)

So, until some better defence emerges - and if indeed we love the search for truth better than we love Ayn Rand - we must face up to the fact that all the evidence suggests Rand did not solve this problem, and that there is no sound evidence at all to suggest she did.

2) Did Rand think she solved the problem of logically deriving ought from is?

Once again, the answer is clearcut. Rand could not be referring to any other problem with her remarks in her "Ethics" essay, because there is no other philosophical problem of "ought" and "is" to solve. So clearly she thought she did, but in fact did not.

I will add a final point:

3) Do most Objectivists believe, purely on the basis of Rand's brief but very confident-sounding remarks, that Rand resolved this long standing philosophic dualism? I believe we would have to answer "yes". We can simply visit one of the usual Objectivist forums and ask the question to find out, but I think we know what highly...errr...passionate...answer we'd get!

Yet as far as anyone who has followed this discussion can now see, this extremely passionate belief is held on the basis of no reasonable evidence whatsoever, and in fact flies in the face of all the available evidence to the contrary.

If you were looking to agree with Hume - and incidentally I do not - that reason is necessarily the "slave of the passions", no more perfect example could be found.

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Michael K

>So Objectivism is part of me, just like musical principles or the vocabulary I have learned are part of me. I am not part of it.

But not fully you. I'm shocked...shocked!! You mean you exercised your personal choice as to what you take and reject from Objectivism!?Are you suggesting you don't want to be "fully integrated"! You evil compromising sinner! :)

>The ortho approach, despite protests to the contrary, is that Objectivism is the primary value and the person exists to serve the spread of that throughout the world.

Yes, they could hardly do otherwise, given that Objectivism is inserted as primary to all "proper" intellectual disciplines! I personally have never cared to much about propriety :devil:

>With you in particular, I think you are interested in arriving at Rand's actual meaning and verifying if there are inconsistencies, not in trying to debunk her merely on a game of semantics.

Yes. While I will often point out where words are used confusingly (Rand is not the only philosopher to do so by any means) I will never get into an argument over their "true meanings". I'm interested in theories, proposals, plans, statements etc which can be true or false. The words that make them up cannot be so decided, any more than the letters that make up the words, so I will not get into debates over words any more than I will get into debates over spelling!

>I presume we are on the same page here.

I presume the same.

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