What is Morality and what are Rights?

Humans are not like animals. It is not our level of intelligence that differentiates us from animals; it is the nature of our intelligence. Humans think and reason on a conceptual level, whereas animals no matter how higher their brain functions, operate at the perceptual level. Without the ability to abstract and form concepts, rational thought is not possible.

Animals act on instinct, and have the necessary behaviour that allows them to survive. An animal will hunt, and prey, flee, or build a nest, based on instinctive behaviour. Humans are not like this; we must discover how to survive. We must think, create, produce. To live as a man means to live as a rational being. Man cannot live as a man without thinking. A man who rejects reason surrenders himself to life as an animal, with only luck ensuring his survival.

How does man think his way to survival? He must discover what is good for his life or not. He must discover what is of value to him or not. Implicit in this discovery is the reality that some things are good and some things are bad TO HIM. This is where the fact of morality appears. Good or bad, based on what? What is the objective standard for a man to determine what is good or bad; what is moral or immoral? His own life. A rational man necessarily holds his life as his highest value, and judges all other values against that objective standard. Some of these values are necessary and some are optional. What are the necessary values? Ayn Rand identifies them as Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem.

“Reason, as his only tool of knowledge—Purpose, as his choice of the happiness which that tool must proceed to achieve—Self-esteem, as his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means: is worthy of living. These three values imply and require all of man’s virtues, and all his virtues pertain to the relation of existence and consciousness: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride.” –
For the New Intellectual

A man must decide what is good or bad for his own life; whether he is alone or in a crowd; whether in the centre of a bustling metropolis or abandoned on a desert island.

From For The New Intellectual again:

You who prattle that morality is social and that man would need no morality on a desert island—it is on a desert island that he would need it most. Let him try to claim, when there are no victims to pay for it, that a rock is a house, that sand is clothing, that food will drop into his mouth without cause or effort, that he will collect a harvest tomorrow by devouring his stock seed today—and reality will wipe him out, as he deserves; reality will show him that life is a value to be bought and that thinking is the only coin noble enough to buy it.”

A common mistake made by some is that there is a difference between ‘good’ and ‘moral good’. This is patently false: nothing has intrinsic value. What is good, if it is not good FOR someone? What is bad, if it is not bad FOR someone? Value cannot be divorced from the valuer; value without consciousness is meaningless.

Since man must freely and rationally choose his own actions, morality is a personal system for every man, for all men. On a desert island or in a city, man needs to think: he needs to discover food, shelter, clothing. He needs purpose. He needs fulfilment. He needs those things that enrich his life and allow him to flourish. He needs to decide what is of value to his life, in other words, what is GOOD. So to talk of a kind of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ outside the context of morality is to steal the concept of good and bad from their source: a code of values to guide decisions, videlicet morality.

From this, we see that morality is not a social construct or mystical phenomenon that emerges magically whenever two or more people congregate. That way lies the path of moral relativism; can two people decide that poison is good? Can two people decide that man should not reason? Can two people decide that rape and murder are good? No.

Therefore, in order for man to act like a man; a reasoning volitional being, he needs a morality. Man, to be a man, must be a moral being. A man who is not allowed to act like a moral being is no man at all, but rather, an animal. In a social setting (two men or more) men must agree to allow each other to act like moral beings, otherwise coexistence and life would be impossible. How is the morality of man guaranteed? Rights. Whereas morality is an individual concept and guide to personal actions, rights only exist in a social context. A man on a desert island has no need for rights, but he still needs a morality.

It is man’s identity as a moral being that makes rights necessary. What are these rights? Specifically, a man’s right to his own life. The corollary of that is the right to sustain his life by any and all means necessary. This entails the right to property, and to pursue those values that give his life meaning and happiness. A rational being recognises the necessity of rights in a social context and respects the rights of others. (Incidentally, this is why animals have no rights). To do otherwise would be to invite the violation of one’s own rights, but since a rational being knows that his own rights are non-negotiable, he does not violate other’s. A man is free to violate the rights of others, of course, but in doing so he is not free from the consequences of doing so, and in doing so is not being rational.

The right to one’s one life does not grant any man the “right” to subsist off the life of another. Your right to exist and your right to sustain your own existence does not mean I have any duty to sustain your life. A man has a right to find food; he has NO right to demand food from others. A man has the right to create or find shelter, property, and love, but there is absolutely no obligation on any other rational being to provide these things for him. Note: I said obligation, which implies a compulsion, which means action coerced by force. Force is the only way to infringe individual rights; it is the only way to stop man acting freely, in other words, like a moral being. (Morality therefore becomes impossible when force is present.)

From this, we see that any collectivist/altruist theory of politics or ethics are deeply immoral because the only way these systems can function is to violate individual rights by violating man’s freedom over his own actions and his own property. What systems would this include? Communism, socialism, totalitarianism, democracy, any religion, and utilitarianism.

79 Responses to “What is Morality and what are Rights?”

  1. Ebonmuse Says:

    I happen to be a utilitarian, but you’re welcome to disagree with that if you like. What I find far more disturbing is your including democracy among these “deeply immoral” systems. What exactly are you proposing here?

  2. postdiluviandiaspora Says:

    I think by democracy, evanescent means “majoritarianism” whereby the majority rules at the expense of the minority.

  3. BlackSun Says:

    I agree. Tyranny of the majority is no less immoral than tyranny of despots. While I can see how it is in a society’s interest to take care of its weak and unfortunate members, utilitarians have never properly explained how this should be done without violating individual rights.

    If utilitarians or socialists want to create egalitarian conditions, they always have to do it by force. In an individualist society, the less capable must rely on philanthropists and volunteer charities. If there is not enough collected voluntarily to sustain those people, how does it become moral to apply coercion to make up the difference? Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is an unsolvable conundrum for collectivists–and that includes advocates of majority rule.

    For right now, it looks like the collectivists are winning globally. Two forces are at play: 1) Amoral corporations which externalize their costs, enriching the few while impoverishing the many and destroying the commons (environment), and 2) Governments which often are complicit with the corporations, but even when operating as they should, still seek to redress these imbalances through ever-increasing taxation. It’s a vicious cycle.

    The solution will come through renewable energy and sustainable free-market economics where all transactions are required to pass on their true costs to all stakeholders. This forces decisions to be made on a sound economic bases. Such a system has not yet been tried. The free market has gotten a bad rap precisely because externalities have never been priced into goods and services. So bad decision have been enshrined in the system and laid at the feet of so-called laissez-faire capitalism. But it’s never really existed. And unlike other individualistic options such as market anarchy, true Natural Capitalism still requires the use of the checks and balances of a (properly managed) governmental authority.

    Also Re: Democracy, see Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” which details how small numbers of people pull the strings of what we blissfully fantasize to be majority rule.

  4. John Morales Says:

    Humans are not like animals.

    Um, really? Humans are animals, admittedly with superior mental abilities to other species.

    Closely-related animals are quite clever, and the level of cognition is still being investigated, but there is no question many species are conscious beings.

  5. evanescent Says:

    @ Ebon: Hi, thanks for dropping by. postdiluviandiaspora is correct, by ‘democracy’ I mean “majoritarianism”.

    In matters where individual rights are not infringed, it is simply sometimes necessary to ‘take a vote’ in matters of negotiable policy.

    From the article above, the only legitimate role of government is to protect the individual rights of its citizens. In issues of policy where these rights are not infringed, a “democratic” vote may be necessary and I have no problem with this.

    @ Blacksun: totally agree with everything you said! Except this:

    true Natural Capitalism still requires the use of the checks and balances of a (properly managed) governmental authority.

    Are you pro laissez-faire or not?

    @ John Morales: I’m not sure why you said “Humans are animals”. I never denied this. I said, and you quoted me: “Humans are not like animals”.

    I would like to see a link or any research to prove that animals are truly conscious beings. They are conscious on SOME level; quasi-consciousness you might say.

    But anyway, that’s irrelevant. Humans are not at one end of an increasing scale of intelligence. It is not that our mental abilities are simply better. It is our TYPE of intelligence that makes us different. As explained above, animals operate at the perceptual level, whereas plants operate at the sensational level. Humans however, operate at the conceptual level. This gives us the identity of “rational being”, it is this identity that determines how we must survive as humans.

  6. RNB Says:

    Thanks for the comment on my similarly themed post, but although I was considerably less eloquent and comprehensive than this fine article above, I honestly have no disagreement with what I think you are saying.

    But on a practical level, until externalities can be effectively implemented on a global comprehensive level, some form of collectivist policy is an essential half-way house to prevent violation of your natural rights. Perhaps a few thousand years ago, religion provided a useful half-way house, I doubt it does today …

  7. Eric G. Says:

    First off, I’m thoroughly enjoying your posts on Objectivism, so please keep em’ coming. Like you’ve, I’ve started digging into the philosophy lately and find that a lot of it aligns with how I already view the world. But a lot of it runs quite contrary to how I’ve always thought of things. Animal rights, so far, has been my biggest hurdle, mostly for emotional reasons.

    Still, I do wonder if humans really are the only animals who operate at the conceptual level. Clearly we do so more than any other animal. However, I tend to think that if humans can think conceptually that other animals (particularly primates) might possess limited capability in this area. This study seems to suggest that even dogs are able to form concepts.

    Now that’s a far cry from being able to call dogs rational beings. But I guess I’m not convinced that it’s so easy (or will always be so easy, given our search for extra-terrestrial life) to draw a clean line with rational beings on one side and non-rational beings on the other. “Humans think conceptually, animals do not.” If some of our more recent evolutionary cousins were still on the earth, would we be able to make that claim? Homo Habilis has rights, but Australopithecus does not? I doubt it would be so black and white, and I wonder if the issue isn’t a little gray between us and the species at hand.

  8. evanescent Says:

    Hi Eric. A being only has rights if it has a moral capacity. Indeed, the rights afforded to a being are proportional to its capacity. This is why children and retards have limited rights. Criminals have limited to no rights.

    Rights exist in a social context to allow a moral being to function. Humans must act like moral beings because we are rational. So, in order to be people, we must have our rights protected. To violate another’s rights is to forfeit your own.

    I too was initially disturbed by the notion that animals have no rights. But this confusion arises because of misunderstanding what rights actually are and where they come from. Animals cannot have rights, because they are not morally responsible for their actions. Are we to make dogs and cat morally responsible for hunting and killing other forms of life? Should we lock magpies up so they can’t steal other birds’ nests? Do we intervene on the fields of Africa where the weak and fragile gazelles etc are ruthlessly killed? To give animals rights would necessarily be at the expense of human rights.

    Because animals cannot have rights, there can be no law protecting them; remember the only moral role of government is to protect human rights. That is not to say that someone who is cruel to animals is moral. Such is a person who takes delight in harming animals is deeply immoral, but immoral does not mean illegal. Another way animals are practically protected in an Objectivist society is their status as property of other humans. Your cat may not have rights, but YOU do, which means I cannot harm or kill it because that would be to violate a HUMAN’S rights.

    It is hard to get your head around this at first, as it was for me, but when the nature of morality and the source of rights is elucidated, you realise that to grant animals rights is actually deeply immoral.

  9. Ebonmuse Says:

    postdiluviandiaspora is correct, by ‘democracy’ I mean “majoritarianism”.

    So, what system of government is a moral one, then?

    Also, on rereading your post, I think there’s a fundamental contradiction between two of your basic principles. First:

    What are these rights? Specifically, a man’s right to his own life. The corollary of that is the right to sustain his life by any and all means necessary.

    and second:

    …any collectivist/altruist theory of politics or ethics are deeply immoral because the only way these systems can function is to violate individual rights by violating man’s freedom over his own actions and his own property.

    Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say I have a fatal disease that will kill me shortly if left untreated, and the only treatment is a medicine which you own and have refused to give to me. If I have the right to sustain my life by “any and all means necessary”, then surely I have the right to take that medicine from you by force if you won’t give it to me voluntarily. On the other hand, if the right to property is absolute and inviolable, then I don’t have the right to take it from you, even if it means I will certainly die.

    So, which is it? You can’t maintain both these principles at once. Either there are certain things which a man may not do, not even to sustain his own life, or else there are some situations where the right to property is not absolute but can be overridden by the needs of others.

  10. evanescent Says:

    Hi Ebon, I don’t think I contradicted myself at all. I man has the right to sustain his life by any and all means necessary, without violating the rights of others. There is a difference between having a right to sustain your life by your own ends, and having all the ends granted to you by fiat, at the expense of someone else’s means.

    Remember, no man has a DUTY to sustain the life of another. That is not to say that we cannot CHOOSE to; a rational being acts in accordance with his values. His optional values might be his wife, his family, his friends etc. A rational man who could freely give a cure to another human at little to no cost to himself (in other words, no SACRIFICE) would do so. Objectivism only opposes the sacrifice of greater values for lesser ones. Would this man be sacrificing a greater value for a lesser one if he saved another human life? Of course not. So the rational, MORAL, course of action would be to give the cure over, or charge him for it, whichever!

    But, whatever you want to say about the morality of a man who refuses to give over a cure he owns (such a man would not be acting in his own self-interest to alienate other people and be ungenerous), your solution is to take the man’s property by force, and violate his rights.

    Allow me to counter your extreme hypothetical scenario with a more mundane one: suppose there are ten starving people on your street. Your monthly wages would feed them all 10 times over, yet you go to work and drive your car and live in your flash centrally-heated apartment. Does anyone have the right to strip you of your property and apportion it to others? No. So the principle is the same. No man can be sacrificed to another man, and a man cannot sacrifice other men to himself. What we do to help others is an act of charity, in other words, FREELY GIVEN. Surely Objectivism ennobles humans by treating us as adults who must freely choose to look after people, instead of the unthinking ‘proletariat’ who have to be told (and forced) how to spend their money?

    So, what system of government is a moral one, then?

    One that forever limits the power of government over individual rights. Such a system of government has never truly existed in human history but the USA is the closest example of it that we have. I do not know what name you would give to this government, but such a society would have universal freedom with constitutional guarantees. Advocates of any other system cannot explain how they would enforce it without infringing individual rights, (the only rights that exist!), something that as explained in the article above is necessarily immoral.

  11. Ebonmuse Says:

    Does anyone have the right to strip you of your property and apportion it to others? No.

    I disagree. Society in general does have the right to redistribute its members’ wealth more equitably, so long as it’s done through a democratic process. This is because property is not a right generated by the individual’s existence, but a right that can only exist in a society that collectively provides for the needs of all its citizens. Guarantees against force and fraud, the establishment of a stable and just system of laws, the creation of a shared infrastructure, the maintenance of a fair system of government, providing for the common welfare and the common defense, and many other things I could name are services which society provides to all its members. In exchange for those services, it is not just right but necessary that a society enacts a tax on its residents to pay for their upkeep. That’s a fair trade of value for value.

    In fact, the principle of redistribution has been near-universally recognized in just about every country I can think of, both among those that exist now and among those that have existed in the past. If you’re disagreeing with this system of government, that’s fine, but please don’t present it as if it were a natural and obvious fact which everyone recognizes. In truth, it is a radical departure from virtually every system of government that has ever existed.

    Surely Objectivism ennobles humans by treating us as adults who must freely choose to look after people, instead of the unthinking ‘proletariat’ who have to be told (and forced) how to spend their money?

    That noble-sounding rhetoric conceals a license for unbounded selfishness and greed. As you say yourself, the rational, moral course of action is to help those in need. If people are already doing that of their own initiative, I see no need to tax them further. (I’m fully in favor of the common system where charitable donations count against the amount of income that’s taxed.) The only people whom this policy would affect are those who, by your own argument, are not being rational or moral, the ones who would rather possess unnecessary luxuries for themselves than provide for the basic needs of another.

    Advocates of any other system cannot explain how they would enforce it without infringing individual rights, (the only rights that exist!)…

    Your conception of rights is overly narrow and constricted. In fact, any system of enforcing individual rights necessarily affects what others can do with their own private property. I’ll give you two examples, neither of which are hypothetical.

    First: Let’s say I own a house built on chaparral, or some other ecosystem that’s adapted to regular fire. As we now know, trying to stamp out every fire in an environment like this only permits dead wood and brush to build up, until a truly massive fire starts that is impossible to contain and does far more damage than regular small burns would do. Let’s say I don’t want any fires on my property, since they put my home at risk, and therefore I insist on stamping out every one that starts. Now I’m causing tinder to accumulate on my property, and that puts not just me but also my neighbors at greater risk. How does Objectivism propose to deal with this dilemma?

    Second: Let’s say I’m a farmer and you’re a fisherman who lives downstream from me. Suppose I increase my land’s productivity with large, regular doses of nitrogen-based fertilizer. This works great for me. The problem is that those fertilizers leach into the groundwater, and as they wash downstream, they cause algae blooms that use up all the oxygen in the water and result in mass fish kills where you make your livelihood. My right to do as I wish with my property has impeded your right to do as you wish with yours. By a parallel argument, any law which guarantees your livelihood (by restricting the use of fertilizer) may adversely affect mine. How does Objectivism propose to deal with this dilemma?

  12. postdiluviandiaspora Says:

    Ebon: Ayn Rand deals soundly with your concept of “societal rights” in The Virtue of Selfishness as I’m sure evanescent will tell you.

    Let me say a couple of things about your proposed scenarios. With regard to the first: 1) Why would a rational agent buy a house that will very likely catch fire in the future? 2) Why would a rational agent insist on stamping out little fires which will ultimately put him at even greater risk? This seems to be anti-self interest. I think an Objectivist (or any rational person) would 1) not buy the house in the first place; 2) sell the house; or 3) buy lots of insurance.

    With regard to the second scenario: Since the farmer does not own the river, you cannot say that the farmer is doing as he wishes to his own property. His actions clearly impose a negative externality on others and would probably be restricted.

  13. Ebonmuse Says:

    Why would a rational agent buy a house that will very likely catch fire in the future?

    You might as well ask why a rational agent would buy a house that might be struck by a tornado, or destroyed by an earthquake, or blown down by a hurricane, or washed away in a flood. There’s no place on Earth that’s not subject to natural disasters of some kind. People buy houses in these environments for the same reason they buy houses anywhere else, because they consider the benefits of living in such an area to outweigh the risks.

    Why would a rational agent insist on stamping out little fires which will ultimately put him at even greater risk? This seems to be anti-self interest.

    The buildup of tinder is a process whose destructive effects may not be fully felt for decades. It doesn’t necessarily seem irrational to me for a landowner to conclude that allowing small, continual fires poses a serious present risk to his property; whereas constantly stamping out those fires poses only a possible future risk.

    But let’s step back here and consider the general principle. What we’re dealing with, in this case and in others like it, is a problem called the Prisoner’s Dilemma. A Prisoner’s Dilemma is a situation where there are two options: either cooperate, and act in the best interests of the group, or defect, and act in your individual interest. No matter what anyone else does, you as an individual are always better off cooperating than defecting. But if everyone defects, it produces a far worse outcome for all parties than if everyone had cooperated. There are many real-life situations fitting this description, and it seems to me that Objectivism cannot handle them without giving up at least one of its own key assumptions.

    Here’s another example. Let’s say you’re one of a fleet of fishermen all pursuing a certain kind of fish. No matter what everyone else does, you’re better off catching as much as you possibly can – you make more of a profit that way. But if all the fishers follow this logic, they’re likely to drive the species to extinction and then they’ll all lose their livelihood. (We’ve seen this very thing happen many times with different commercially fished species.) It’s better for the fishers in general to voluntarily agree not to catch too much, but it’s better for you as an individual to refuse to take part in that deal and continue to catch as much as possible, whether your competitors limit themselves or not, since your efforts alone won’t destroy the fishery. What would an Objectivist advise in that situation?

    Since the farmer does not own the river, you cannot say that the farmer is doing as he wishes to his own property. His actions clearly impose a negative externality on others and would probably be restricted.

    One can easily extend this scenario to postulate that the farmer does in fact own the stretch of river flowing through his property, but no matter. Do we then agree that the state can in fact restrict what people do with their own private property in order to prevent harm to others?

  14. evanescent Says:

    I disagree. Society in general does have the right to redistribute its members’ wealth more equitably, so long as it’s done through a democratic process.

    Wrong. Society has no rights. Rights only apply to individuals. Society is not an individual, it is a collection of individuals. What you’re saying is that MY wealth belongs to other individuals, which is patently false.

    This is because property is not a right generated by the individual’s existence, but a right that can only exist in a society that collectively provides for the needs of all its citizens.

    This isn’t correct either. Property is most definitely a right generated by the individual’s existence. In order to exist, a man must acquire the tools and sustenance to perpetuate his life. From crafting a knife from a sharp piece of flint, from building a mud hut, to running a banana farm etc. Whether on a desert island or in a city, a man MUST have control over the product of his own creative efforts in order to survive. The right to property is a NECESSARY corollary of the right to life.

    There is no difference between a man stealing the property of another man, and a group of men who decide by weight of numbers to call themselves a government and steal that man’s property.

    Guarantees against force and fraud, the establishment of a stable and just system of laws…

    Agree and agree with this.

    the creation of a shared infrastructure, the maintenance of a fair system of government, providing for the common welfare and the common defense, and many other things I could name are services which society provides to all its member

    Shared infrastructure? You mean taking from those who can create to those who can’t/won’t, by force? That’s stealing. Couching it in collectivist terminology does no good either because it reduces to moral subjectivism; if the masses of society decide that you should give over your house to a beggar, well that’s ok isn’t it? Once you waive individual rights you start down a slippery slope.

    In fact, the principle of redistribution has been near-universally recognized in just about every country I can think of, both among those that exist now and among those that have existed in the past. If you’re disagreeing with this system of government, that’s fine, but please don’t present it as if it were a natural and obvious fact which everyone recognizes. In truth, it is a radical departure from virtually every system of government that has ever existed.

    Perhaps, perhaps not. Either way, that doesn’t make it right. For most of human history owning slaves was an accepted practice until the last 100 years.

    On what grounds can you legitimately claim to redistribute wealth? At whose expense? Violating individual rights is ok as long as some others who are less fortunate benefit? Remember society has NO rights, only individuals do. So it’s ok to sacrifice the rights of some to help others by force? I don’t think so I’m afraid.

    That noble-sounding rhetoric conceals a license for unbounded selfishness and greed.

    First of all, it is not at all true that that would be the case. For starters, if by “selfish” you mean benefiting at someone else’s expense you are flat wrong. 1. Reaping the benefits of your own productive effort is not benefiting at anyone’s expense! It is enjoying the fruits of your OWN labour and trade. 2. Objectivism rejects this definition of selfish. If however by “selfish” you mean acting in accordance with YOUR OWN values, then you’re right it would lead to selfishness, rational selfishness, which is by no means a bad thing.

    It seems that your solution of the dilemma of “what to do with those less fortunate” is: “take more from those who have it, by force”.

    As you say yourself, the rational, moral course of action is to help those in need. If people are already doing that of their own initiative, I see no need to tax them further. (I’m fully in favor of the common system where charitable donations count against the amount of income that’s taxed.) The only people whom this policy would affect are those who, by your own argument, are not being rational or moral, the ones who would rather possess unnecessary luxuries for themselves than provide for the basic needs of another.

    It is moral to help those in need, if one freely chooses to do so, otherwise the choice is NOT moral! Doing something “good” because you are forced is not moral at all, no more than doing something bad is immoral because you’re forced. Morality cannot exist where force is present. Helping others is only moral, only rational, when it is not done sacrificially; that is when a higher value is not sacrificed for a lower value. Needless to say this is not rational.

    Providing for the basic needs of another is an act of charity. Taxing those who CHOOSE not to is blatantly unfair. The right to exist does NOT entail the right to parasitize off another person. Providing for the basic needs of those one VALUES, e.g. family and friends is of course rational and moral. But even here, there is no OBLIGATION to do so. A ‘moral obligation’ is a contradiction in terms; morality must be a free rational choice. One may or may not give away one’s hard-earned cash to strangers – you have no right to say that they SHOULD.

    Your conception of rights is overly narrow and constricted. In fact, any system of enforcing individual rights necessarily affects what others can do with their own private property. I’ll give you two examples, neither of which are hypothetical.

    On the contrary, my conception of rights is the only valid one that’s been presented so far. Rights are not enforced, they are PROTECTED. For example, nobody ENFORCES your right to live, or right to find your food or shelter, or your right to free speech. Such things should be protected by government.

    Your thought experiments are interesting but actually irrelevant. It is not necessary to imagine every possible scenario and solve it (I’m not saying your scenarios are unanswerable at all). There is no need to invent solutions to every corollary of Objectivism that you dislike. Let’s attack the snake at its head: the nature of morality and what Rights are.

    You might have valid problems that an Objectivist society might have to solve. You might not. Let’s solve them together. But before we even do that you must show why Objectivism’s premises fail. The problem is not mine to fix, it is your preferred system of government and morality that necessarily violates individual rights and is therefore immoral. Either individual rights are negotiable or they’re not.

    But let’s step back here and consider the general principle. What we’re dealing with, in this case and in others like it, is a problem called the Prisoner’s Dilemma. A Prisoner’s Dilemma is a situation where there are two options: either cooperate, and act in the best interests of the group, or defect, and act in your individual interest. No matter what anyone else does, you as an individual are always better off cooperating than defecting. But if everyone defects, it produces a far worse outcome for all parties than if everyone had cooperated. There are many real-life situations fitting this description, and it seems to me that Objectivism cannot handle them without giving up at least one of its own key assumptions.

    The Prisoner’s Dilemma is false and steals the concept of morality, that is: what is right and wrong. Morality cannot exist where force is present. Rand cutely points out in TVOS that those who invent hypothetical moral dilemma have not only missed a crucial point, that these instances are EMERGENCIES; Objectivism is a framework for living on this earth, day to day. We are simply NOT faced with these dilemmas every day so a moral structure that caters for specific emergencies and ignores everyday morality is virtually useless. They also don’t realise that these Moral Dilemmas steal the concept: they remove morality from its context and sneak another in the back door. In the case of the Prisoner’s dilemma, the people are IN PRISON! They are therefore acting under duress and are not the moral initiators of their actions. In emergency situations and/or where force is present, a man cannot be the moral initiator of his own actions. He must make the best judgment he can under the circumstances to return life to normal as soon as possible.

    It’s better for the fishers in general to voluntarily agree not to catch too much, but it’s better for you as an individual to refuse to take part in that deal and continue to catch as much as possible, whether your competitors limit themselves or not, since your efforts alone won’t destroy the fishery. What would an Objectivist advise in that situation?

    You’ve already answered that yourself: “It’s better for the fishers in general to voluntarily agree not to catch too much”. You cannot remove the concept of “right” and “wrong” from it’s origin: rationality. Since a rational person agrees to come to an equal agreement with other men, he recognises it is in his own rational SELFISH interest to be honest and “play by the rules”. Of course he might choose not to, but then he isn’t being rational and therefore isn’t being moral.

    Instead of Big Brother/God/The Government telling a man what to do (and therefore rendering morality useless), Objectivism identifies exactly the right and moral thing to do!

    I return to what I said earlier: there is no point posing moral dilemmas if you subscribe to an immoral system of politics/ethics yourself. A system that sacrifices the rights of some individuals so that others may benefit is not moral.

  15. Ebonmuse Says:

    I’m not going to draw this out too much further, but I have a few closing remarks.

    What you’re saying is that MY wealth belongs to other individuals, which is patently false.

    Your position presupposes that there is such a thing as “my wealth”. I don’t agree with that. As I said, wealth is a societal construct. It can only exist in a society of individuals who agree to work together for the common good of all, and as such, that society can lay a rightful claim on at least part of the wealth of every person.

    You mentioned chipping knives out of flint and building huts out of mud, and I think those are excellent examples – because if you don’t want to take part in a society of mutual cooperation, that’s about as far as you’re going to get. Who invented medicine, internal combustion engines, computers, space shuttles? It wasn’t a heroic capitalist who carved them out of the earth. These innovations and just about any others you’d care to mention were brought about by society as a whole, by people cooperating and working together for the common good, agreeing to share specialized knowledge, building on the progress made by others. No single person can take credit for bringing them about. All of society has a claim on them, and has a right to benefit from the gains they bring about. That’s not to say that the person who plays the crucial creative step shouldn’t be able to benefit from his labor. Of course he should. But let’s not indulge in the fantasy that he owes nothing to anyone.

    There is no difference between a man stealing the property of another man, and a group of men who decide by weight of numbers to call themselves a government and steal that man’s property.

    On the contrary, there is a very crucial difference: government is a collective agreement among the people. The citizens of a society consent to be part of that society, and consent to contribute toward its upkeep in exchange for all the benefits it offers them. This is so important and obvious a difference that I’m shocked you can’t see it. As I’ve said to libertarians in the past: If you don’t want to take part in the collective agreement that is society, if you don’t want to pay your dues, you’re free to leave. What you’re not free to do is live in a society and take advantage of the benefits it provides while refusing to pay for them, which is as it should be.

    Shared infrastructure? You mean taking from those who can create to those who can’t/won’t, by force?

    Actually, I was referring to roads, bridges, utilities, schools, and all these other institutions that benefit all members of society. It’s disappointing that you view this as “stealing”, or that you feel the need to phrase it in such vicious and spiteful language.

    Your thought experiments are interesting but actually irrelevant.

    They are not irrelevant because, as I pointed out, they are descriptions of situations that are actually occurring in the world right now. You can’t sweep them under the carpet by calling them “emergencies” – they are happening as we speak, and if you think society should conform to your vision of morality, I don’t think it’s at all unfair to ask how you’d have us deal with them. If Objectivism can’t adequately handle situations where people are acting under duress or are coerced by circumstance, then I venture to suggest that it is not a moral system with much application to the real world.

    Since a rational person agrees to come to an equal agreement with other men, he recognises it is in his own rational SELFISH interest to be honest and “play by the rules”.

    But it is not in any one fisherman’s self-interest to cooperate with the others. No matter what the other fishermen do, any single fisherman is better off refusing to abide by that agreement and catching as much as he possibly can. That is the whole point of the Prisoner’s Dilemma: it is a situation where following the logic of individual selfishness leads to group suicide. The plain fact, as I’ve endeavored to make clear, is that there are many situations that can only be dealt with by giving up one’s individual interest in the name of the common good.

    I return to what I said earlier: there is no point posing moral dilemmas if you subscribe to an immoral system of politics/ethics yourself.

    I can’t read this statement as anything other than a declaration that you will not debate with people who believe differently than you. That’s unfortunate, but it’s your choice. I have noticed that Objectivism tends to encourage this kind of nasty, dogmatic, black-and-white attitude among its adherents, unfortunately, and I don’t care to engage with it. In any case, I’ve said my piece. Goodbye; I doubt I’ll be returning.

  16. postdiluviandiaspora Says:

    Oh well. Strange, but I find this happens all the time. You either love Ayn Rand or hate her…there’s no middle ground (as she herself often argued).

    It’s ironic that Ebon used that last fisherman example, which is the “tragedy of the commons.” It’s frequently used by economists to argue in favour of private property. And it’s too bad he wasn’t convinced that private property is real while an entity called “society” isn’t.

    Anyways, I’m enjoying this series of posts. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about the history of Objectivism, i.e. Nathaniel Branden being kicked out and then the Peikoff/Kelley split. (And have you read Michael Shermer’s piece calling Objectivism a cult? http://www.2think.org/02_2_she.shtml)

  17. Mark Says:

    Ebonmuse,

    First of all, in no instance of a nation’s government does EVERYONE consent to be governed in any fashion, and people are born INTO these systems without having a choice in it. The people that are FORCED INTO these systems… why should THEY have to leave, instead of choosing which system of government they want to be in at the outset? Your “if you don’t like it, then leave” argument only applies when a choice was made in the beginning, BY the individual it affects.

    Second, you’re arguing that every single thing I do that COULD benefit people SHOULD benefit people. That is YOU making a choice for ME as to what to do with MY OWN BODY AND MIND.

    Third, honest and open transactions between people take place because both people are willing. It is a trade that leaves people better off than they were before, and neither feels they have a right to the other’s property, even if knowledge of how to get that was previously obtained from the other party.

    On this third point, consider the following scenario:

    John makes knives and Tim makes shoes.
    John buys shoes from Tim and Tim buys knives from John. Each wanted the other’s money more than the product they made, and so the trade was worth it. The money that was OWED for the shoes was PAID, and the money that was OWED for the knives was PAID.
    Now, suppose that Tim makes something really nice and useful with his knives, but John doesn’t know how to make it.

    Does Tim owe John anything for this new product? No. The reason is that what Tim did with the knives is his, because he used HIS property, HIS mind, and HIS hands to make this product. He owes John nothing, because the transactions between them–the only ones between them, involving money, shoes, and knives–were already completed to the satisfaction of both. Tim owns the knives and John owns the money Tim gave him for the knives. But John doesn’t own Tim, Tim’s mind, Tim’s hands, or what he sold Tim, so he is not owed anything, no matter how useful Tim’s new product is.

    Fourth–this deals with the above–does not the government force us to use the products of others’ labor? This product is usually at least tax money. It’s not like we say “hey, I want this, let me pay the provider”, it’s “hey, I’m forced to get this, now I’m forced to pay the provider, who forced people to give him money”.

    One doesn’t even have to be an Objectivist to realize these things.

  18. Mark Says:

    Evanescent,

    On the subject of your last post, did you disable comments or something? I can’t seem to post my response. I’ve tried several times… even got a message telling me it had already been submitted… yet nothing shows up.

  19. Lynet Says:

    I’m (basically) utilitarian, and I’m never going to agree with you; I’d rather die (flawless logic or powerful evidence could convince me, of course — “I’d rather die” is not as strong a statement as “I’d rather be knowingly and egregiously irrational” for me — but I find it hard to see how you could have that). Disclaimer aside, I’d still like to point out that the gender-specific pronouns that you seem to have borrowed from Ayn Rand’s outdated prose would prevent me from being able to (easily) sympathise with your position, anyway. Seriously, what excuse do you have for defining a social situation as “two men or more”? “Two people or more” reads just as well.

    The notion that there can be some sort of morality for the individual actually strikes me as reasonable, and a good point. Certainly there can be virtue for the individual, independent of society. Mind you, that’s not what you mean by ‘morality’ is it? Frankly, I find that definition of morality to be deceptive — does it refer only to a notion of good and bad as defined by the things that we need or like? If so, I’d have thought “needs and desires” would be a less confusing phrase. Otherwise, you’re artificially propping up your argument by borrowing the binding normativity that accrues to the word ‘morality’ without first demonstrating its justification.

    Once you waive individual rights you start down a slippery slope.

    No you don’t. Pretty well every society on this Earth waives ‘individual rights’ to some extent, as you define them. The slippery slope has yet to materialise. (Don’t point to a few isolated cases of communism. You need to show that every society is in grave danger of becoming less and less respecting of all rights as a result of some collective elements in order for this statement to play. Evidence doesn’t suggest that).

  20. evanescent Says:

    I’m going to start off this reply to you Ebonmuse by addressing your last remark first, and say I’m very disappointed with your idea that I am being nasty, aggressive, or dogmatic. We have known of each other for years and corresponded many times and have I ever came across that way to you? I doubt it. You’ve been an incredible inspiration to me and our viewpoints converge on so many other matters. So, if I came across the way you describe I can only apologise, but I genuinely don’t believe that I have.

    “What you’re saying is that MY wealth belongs to other individuals, which is patently false.”

    Your position presupposes that there is such a thing as “my wealth”. I don’t agree with that. As I said, wealth is a societal construct. It can only exist in a society of individuals who agree to work together for the common good of all, and as such, that society can lay a rightful claim on at least part of the wealth of every person.

    You said it yourself, society is not an entity in itself, it is a collection of individuals. This collectivist approach is inherently flawed. Society cannot lay claim to any individual’s property because who is doing the claiming? Other individual’s. And this makes no sense.

    How can there not be a thing as “my wealth”. Wealth is the accumulation of one’s own resource and property, that which one gains through one’s own personal work and merit, that is, it is not given by cannibalising the effort and produce of others.

    One gains that which one doesn’t have by free trade. Trade is the fundamental principle of all human interaction. Belonging to a society is of enormous personal benefit to an individual, because one can exchange the knowledge and skills of others for one’s own. Rationally selfish people do work together, but not for the “common good” which is a mystical concept, but for their own good and for the good of those one values. I cannot understand what your problem with this is. (I don’t mean that aggressively).

    You mentioned chipping knives out of flint and building huts out of mud, and I think those are excellent examples – because if you don’t want to take part in a society of mutual cooperation, that’s about as far as you’re going to get. Who invented medicine, internal combustion engines, computers, space shuttles? It wasn’t a heroic capitalist who carved them out of the earth.

    Actually, it was the free-est and most-capitalistic society in human history that did these things!

    Who said anything about not wanting to take part in a society of mutual cooperation?? This is surely a blatant contradiction: the forced redistribution of wealth is NOT mutual cooperation!

    These innovations and just about any others you’d care to mention were brought about by society as a whole, by people cooperating and working together for the common good, agreeing to share specialized knowledge, building on the progress made by others. No single person can take credit for bringing them about.

    That may be so, which only demonstrates the advantages of humans working together. I’m not denying that. A rational person knows there is immense personal benefit to belong to such a society and work together for goals that will benefit everyone, which by definition includes himself. The rational person doesn’t sacrifice his money and life for a reward he can have no part in. But, and here’s the kicker: that is EXACTLY what you’re demanding of all people.

    Let’s take the exploration of space for example. I think this is brilliant! I personally would donate money to private companies who did this (if I could afford to). However, Sally NoName down the street who’s struggling to feed her children would probably prefer the extra money taken by tax, instead of building another space shuttle. Why should her money be taken for a project she has no interest or desire in, and no personal benefit? You might say you indirectly benefits from the exploration of space. Says who? On what basis? Who is the judge of what benefits Sally or not? Again we return to the authority of the masses. The Majority decides that Sally’s money should be used to explore space, or build a new public monument, etc. This is moral subjectivism; what is right or wrong is whatever the majority decides.

    Even if you’re right about an aspect of tax investment that indirectly benefits her in some instances, you cannot guarantee it will benefit all people and/or in all instances. There is therefore something inherently wrong with the system: government can arbitrarily decide, in theory, to redistribute wealth as it pleases. So any one person can be sacrificed to the whims of the masses.

    All of society has a claim on them, and has a right to benefit from the gains they bring about. That’s not to say that the person who plays the crucial creative step shouldn’t be able to benefit from his labor. Of course he should. But let’s not indulge in the fantasy that he owes nothing to anyone.

    But, who does he owe something to? If he pays to go to school and university, he’s paid his dues. If he makes a fantastic invention and gets compensated, he’s been given his due.

    Let’s say Einstein discovers e=mc2. What does he OWE to Joe Bloggs down the road? Nothing. Society is a not an entity to be owed anything, only people can be owed. And Joe Bloggs can lay no claim to Einstein’s discovery. If he wishes to benefit from its significance, he is free to trade his talents and abilities for those of others. Again, I cannot see any problem with this.

    I said: “There is no difference between a man stealing the property of another man, and a group of men who decide by weight of numbers to call themselves a government and steal that man’s property.”

    On the contrary, there is a very crucial difference: government is a collective agreement among the people. The citizens of a society consent to be part of that society, and consent to contribute toward its upkeep in exchange for all the benefits it offers them.

    Well it depends which government you’re talking about. If you’re talking about a democracy, it’s an agreement between whoever has the most votes.

    The citizens of a society consent to be part of that society and recognise the need for government. No argument here. But from here, it simply does not follow that government can then violate the rights of individuals; have individuals consented to have their rights violated? No.

    There is nothing stopping, in your system of government, the collective majority agreeing that slavery should be legalised. How do you stop this? You need constitutional guarantees that protect something from the whims of the majority and from government. What do you protect? Individual rights.

    This is so important and obvious a difference that I’m shocked you can’t see it. As I’ve said to libertarians in the past: If you don’t want to take part in the collective agreement that is society, if you don’t want to pay your dues, you’re free to leave.

    I’m stunned by the irony. That is exactly the case I’m making! I’m saying that in a moral society you HAVE to pay your dues. I am saying that I WANT to live in a society. But we are disagreeing over what is DUE.

    What you’re not free to do is live in a society and take advantage of the benefits it provides while refusing to pay for them, which is as it should be.

    This is exactly the Objectivist case. It’s strange that you’re using my own argument against me. I am not the one taking advantage of the benefits whilst refusing to pay for them. I am saying that if one reaps benefits one SHOULD pay for them. (HOW we pay for them is another matter, one that we can get onto later).

    What you’re saying is that if some people cannot/don’t want to pay for those benefits, it is ok to take my money and give it to them so that they can! So, your position is fundamentally contradictory.

    Actually, I was referring to roads, bridges, utilities, schools, and all these other institutions that benefit all members of society. It’s disappointing that you view this as “stealing”, or that you feel the need to phrase it in such vicious and spiteful language.

    It’s disappointing that you take my rich use of emotive language to establish a point as ‘vicious and spiteful’. I was being nothing of the sort.

    They are not irrelevant because, as I pointed out, they are descriptions of situations that are actually occurring in the world right now. You can’t sweep them under the carpet by calling them “emergencies” – they are happening as we speak, and if you think society should conform to your vision of morality, I don’t think it’s at all unfair to ask how you’d have us deal with them.

    But what is the point addressing every scenario you can present whilst we disagree on whether individual rights can be violated or not?

    You may have valid scenarios and problems that need to be solved. I don’t debate that. Then the challenge for free-thinkers is to figure out how to solve them. But we cannot start that since individual rights are negotiable for you and not for me. What I’m saying is, let’s address this first before we move on.

    If Objectivism can’t adequately handle situations where people are acting under duress or are coerced by circumstance, then I venture to suggest that it is not a moral system with much application to the real world.

    No moral system can tell you what is “right” in a situation where you’re under duress because by definition, morality becomes impossible. You can only make the best rational decision possible, and not be the moral initiator of your actions.

    For example (borrowing from Leitmotif): you’re in prison and a man puts a gun to your head and says you must shoot your son or you will die.

    Whatever you choose, you aren’t the moral initiator of your actions. Why? Because you had a gun at your head. The moral initiator is the man with the gun. It is precisely the reason that force precludes morality that a man must be free in order to be a moral being. In order to be free of force he cannot be coerced in acting as YOU think he should. This is precisely why ‘moral’ does not equal ‘legal’. Redistributing someone’s property because a collection of other people thing is it right does not make it right, no matter how you look at it.

    But it is not in any one fisherman’s self-interest to cooperate with the others. No matter what the other fishermen do, any single fisherman is better off refusing to abide by that agreement and catching as much as he possibly can. That is the whole point of the Prisoner’s Dilemma: it is a situation where following the logic of individual selfishness leads to group suicide. The plain fact, as I’ve endeavored to make clear, is that there are many situations that can only be dealt with by giving up one’s individual interest in the name of the common good.

    If any one fisherman decides not to “play by the rules” and not cooperative, he invites the others to do the same, which obviously is not in his interest.

    It is precisely because the fisherman is free to act and in full possession of the facts that allows him to act like a moral agent (which is why the analogy to the Prisoner’s Dilemma is false). If all the fishermen decide to be irrational and not cooperate, they’re doomed to their own ruin.

    Your system of government would not only forcibly tell them how to make their livelihoods and remove all moral action from the equation, it would then step in and protect them when they go bankrupt with the hard-earned money of other people who had good business sense!

    I can’t read this statement as anything other than a declaration that you will not debate with people who believe differently than you. That’s unfortunate, but it’s your choice. I have noticed that Objectivism tends to encourage this kind of nasty, dogmatic, black-and-white attitude among its adherents, unfortunately, and I don’t care to engage with it. In any case, I’ve said my piece. Goodbye; I doubt I’ll be returning

    I addressed this at the start. This just seems to be attacking my manner of speech instead of what I’ve said.

    You haven’t presented an alternative definition of individual rights or where they arise from. You haven’t refuted the claim that individual rights are necessary because man is a moral being.

    I can only apologise if I’m came across aggressively. This genuinely was not my intent, and you should know I have the utmost respect for you Ebon. But it is you that seems unwilling to debate with a contrary viewpoint, not me.

  21. evanescent Says:

    Lynet said:

    I’m (basically) utilitarian, and I’m never going to agree with you; I’d rather die (flawless logic or powerful evidence could convince me, of course — “I’d rather die” is not as strong a statement as “I’d rather be knowingly and egregiously irrational” for me — but I find it hard to see how you could have that).

    Of course that’s your choice. But stating that you’ll never change your mind no matter what is the sort of thing I’d expect from theists. I understand you feel strongly about this, as I did before I read Rand, but I think you’re being pretty close-minded.

    Disclaimer aside, I’d still like to point out that the gender-specific pronouns that you seem to have borrowed from Ayn Rand’s outdated prose would prevent me from being able to (easily) sympathise with your position, anyway. Seriously, what excuse do you have for defining a social situation as “two men or more”? “Two people or more” reads just as well.

    You’re right. This is a habit I’ve picked up from Rand’s books and I should really say “people”. I don’t think it should be inhibitive to recognising the rationality behind Objectivism however. I will do better in future.

    The notion that there can be some sort of morality for the individual actually strikes me as reasonable, and a good point.

    I’m glad we agree on this; a proper objective morality applies to individuals, because morality applies to actions. Society (two or more people) is not a non-reducible unit, and only units can act, so only the individual is a moral unit. So a true moral system should apply to the acting unit, not a collective mass of units which treats humans as ingredients in some homogonous collective soup.

    Certainly there can be virtue for the individual, independent of society. Mind you, that’s not what you mean by ‘morality’ is it? Frankly, I find that definition of morality to be deceptive — does it refer only to a notion of good and bad as defined by the things that we need or like?

    Good or bad based on those things that are necessary and enriching for a rational being’s life. As soon as we use the words “good” or “bad” we’re talking about morality. So again, morality starts at the individual level.

    If so, I’d have thought “needs and desires” would be a less confusing phrase. Otherwise, you’re artificially propping up your argument by borrowing the binding normativity that accrues to the word ‘morality’ without first demonstrating its justification.

    I’ve justified the origin of morality in the original article above.

    Our needs and desires should be shaped by our rational values. It is this code of rational values that determines how we should act, viz our morality.

    No you don’t. Pretty well every society on this Earth waives ‘individual rights’ to some extent, as you define them. The slippery slope has yet to materialise. (Don’t point to a few isolated cases of communism. You need to show that every society is in grave danger of becoming less and less respecting of all rights as a result of some collective elements in order for this statement to play. Evidence doesn’t suggest that).

    Well, the fact that every society on earth waives individual rights to some extent is exactly the problem I am pointing out. I am saying it is wrong. What we need to do is come up with a society and system where rights are non-negotiable and go from there. It is hard to imagine what this is like because we’re so used to government meddling in so many private affairs, but that’s a healthy challenge to free-thinkers.

    I could say that every society on earth has been deeply religious for all human history. Does that make it right? Is that an argument in favour of it?

    Is it any coincidence that the freer a society is, the more prosperous it is? Consider Communist Russia and Nazi Germany and the Eastern Islamic countries today. Consider the worsening conditions here in Socialist England, and contrast them with the beacon that is America. America isn’t perfect, but it the country that MOST respects individual rights, the MOST capitalistic country in the world, and the freest, richest, most productive, and arguably the happiest. It was individual liberation and the flood of Capitalism in the 19th century that allowed American to flourish so quickly and become the best nation on earth today.

  22. Mark Says:

    “Trade is the fundamental principle of all human interaction.”

    I think this should be elaborated upon, since it is not the only sort of interaction that may occur among people.

    “The citizens of a society consent to be part of that society and recognise the need for government.”

    This must be proven.

    “No moral system can tell you what is “right” in a situation where you’re under duress because by definition, morality becomes impossible.”

    So no matter what I do in such a situation, I’m never right or wrong for doing it? I’ll have to mull this over, because it doesn’t sound plausible at first thought.

    “contrast them with the beacon that is America. America isn’t perfect, but it the country that MOST respects individual rights, the MOST capitalistic country in the world, and the freest, richest, most productive, and arguably the happiest. It was individual liberation and the flood of Capitalism in the 19th century that allowed American to flourish so quickly and become the best nation on earth today.

    It also seems to be due to pressuring and coercing other states, so while the U.S. may be a beacon superficially, under the surface it isn’t. And then we have things like the Patriot Act…. Yuck.

  23. evanescent Says:

    Hi Mark, thanks for the comment. Let’s look at what you said:

    I think this should be elaborated upon, since it is not the only sort of interaction that may occur among people.

    Well, I didn’t say it was the only one. I said it was the most fundamental sort of interaction between people, specifically rational people.

    Every human relationship begins with trade, well all moral ones anyway.

    This must be proven.

    Ok: rational people who want to live together in a society recognise that their rights must be protected. Sometimes this requires the counter of those who don’t respect rights (criminals) with force. Therefore, the government must be invested with the monopoly on physical force, otherwise there would be anarchy and people would be allowed to execute their own form of justice on whoever they wanted, however they saw fit. One of the legitimate roles of government is provide an objective and fair legal system to adjudicate. Another role is to protect its citizens from violation of their rights, whether that threat be foreign or domestic.

    So no matter what I do in such a situation, I’m never right or wrong for doing it? I’ll have to mull this over, because it doesn’t sound plausible at first thought.

    Mark, I think you missed the part where I said “a situation where you are under duress”. If are not under force then you are FREE to make a moral action. If you are under force then you’re not free to act like a moral being.

    Since man must be allowed to act like a moral being, it is precisely our Rights that prevent the use of physical force against us.

    It also seems to be due to pressuring and coercing other states, so while the U.S. may be a beacon superficially, under the surface it isn’t. And then we have things like the Patriot Act…. Yuck.

    The Patriot Act is a perfect example of what can happen in ANY society where individual rights are not TOTALLY respected! It is because laws that infringe individual rights can be passed that gives rise to things like the Patriot Act.

  24. Lynet Says:

    I’ll be back, not least because you seem convinced that this view is not merely consistent but rationally compelling and I’m sure I can poke a few holes in that, even if I can’t change your mind that you’re making the best choice (Are you familiar with Hume’s distinction between “is” statements and “ought” statements? If so, do you agree with it?). Right now, I don’t have enough time to dissect your statements.

    As for my disclaimer, well, it’s necessary. I can’t help the way I feel; best to get it off my chest. I’d rather acknowledge my biases than pretend they don’t exist.

  25. evanescent Says:

    You’re welcome to come back Lynet, and yes I’m familiar with Hume’s “is-ought” dichotomy. Objectivism actually rejects this dilemma, as it does most of what Hume (and Kant) had to say. I will quote from “The Virtue of Selfishness”, simply because it phrases it better than I could:

    It is only an ultimate goal, and end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “life.” To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.”

    In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.”

    I’d also like to point out to everyone that when I first studied Objectivism I was taken aback by how radical it seemed. I am still a newcomer to this. However, I have been unable to refute the axioms of Objectivism and the necessary corollaries of morality and rights. In much the same way that an atheist accepts the truth that god does not exist, whether that truth is comforting or not, I am arguing from an Objectivist worldview whether I like it or not! Even if I despised the consequences of Objectivism, I would still have to concede that it is true, at least apparently to me thus far. Fortunately, as a rational philosophy, I’ve found Objectivism so far to be incredibly mentally stimulating, and providing a solid objective foundation for morality, ethics, politics, epistemology etc. This is why I am confused by the staunch opposition I have found from those I usually agree with, like yourself and Ebonmuse. If Objectivism is false, it should be straightforward to point out which of its premises are wrong, instead of debating possible consequences of real or imagined scenarios.

    Please don’t mistake my passion for dogma, or my conviction for close-mindedness.

  26. Lynet Says:

    Please don’t mistake my passion for dogma, or my conviction for close-mindedness.</blockquote.

    Heard and respected.

    If Objectivism is false, it should be straightforward to point out which of its premises are wrong, instead of debating possible consequences of real or imagined scenarios.

    Most moral debates focus on consequences and Ebonmuse has been in a few. He may not even have noticed that you’re claiming to have impeccably grounded, reasoned truth here. It is, after all, a very unusual thing to claim in this sort of debate. As a result, we often focus on consequences and on values we might share, with the implicit acknowledgement that agreement is dependent on those shared values.

    . . . it should be straightforward . . .

    Well, forgive me if I am occasionally forced to employ less than straightforward subtle distinctions.

    . . . to point out which of its premises are wrong

    I’ll do ‘wrong’ if I can manage it; ‘questionable’ if I can’t.

    Now, let me stop you where you were getting carried away, a few posts up.

    I’m glad we agree on this; a proper objective morality applies to individuals, because morality applies to actions. Society (two or more people) is not a non-reducible unit, and only units can act, so only the individual is a moral unit. So a true moral system should apply to the acting unit, not a collective mass of units which treats humans as ingredients in some homogonous collective soup.

    I don’t actually agree with any of that. Sorry. All I was saying was, I think there is some sort of morality that could apply to a single human being. However, I would be inclined to think that using morality as it applies to a single human being as our basis for morality in general would be as silly as — well — can I give you a little abstract algebra here? It’s either that or pull out multivariate calculus or dynamical systems or something to show how generalising from the case with one to the case with many can be stupid. So here’s my analogy:

    A semigroup is a set of objects such that:

    (1) There is some sort of multiplication defined over the objects. That is, if a and b are in the semigroup, they can be multiplied together to produce an object ab. Moreover,

    (2) The set must be closed under multiplication — that is, for and a and b in the semigroup, ab is also in the semigroup.

    (3) The multiplication must be associate. That is (ab)c = a(bc) (don’t worry too much about this point).

    One example of a semigroup is the set of positive integers under ordinary multiplication. You can multiply any two positive integers and get another positive integer; ordinary multiplication is associative. However, allow me to draw your attention to the trivial semigroup, which contains only the number 1. We can multiply 1 by itself (all good there) to get 1 (which is in the trivial semigroup — hooray!) So the trivial semigroup is in fact a semigroup. However, of you wanted to guess some properties of semigroups in general, focusing on the trivial semigroup and trying to generalise from that would lead you wildly astray. There are completely new types of behaviour that come into play when you have more than one object. This is true all over the place in mathematics. I contend it is true for morality, too.

    As soon as we use the words “good” or “bad” we’re talking about morality.

    Not according to a dictionary. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ can refer to other things besides moral good — consider the statement ‘that’s a good painting’. That doesn’t mean the painting is morally good. It could simply mean that the painting appears beautiful to the speaker, or that the brushwork is well-executed, or whatever.

    Oh, and about that Rand quote:

    It is only an ultimate goal, and end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible.

    I’d be more likely to turn that on its head: it is only values that make goals possible. However, I have no idea why you’d need a single, “ultimate”, goal. Multiple goals is more my style.

    In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values . . .

    Values exist in our minds, yes. They are not always the same values, but there is always some overlap because of our similarities as human beings. So far, so humanist.

    Oh, wait. I caught the Randian straightjacket a little late, there. She’s confining us to values that support our continued functioning as living creatures, isn’t she? Why is she doing that? Why are further values that reflect our desire for happiness, fascination with the universe, compassion etc. not included?

    I realise this goes back to the previous paragraph:

    Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “life.” To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.”

    In other words, if we weren’t alive we couldn’t value anything, so if we value anything else, we must value life.

    Four things:

    1) That doesn’t follow. It’s possible to value something that can only be achieved by death. For example, an extreme environmentalist might value the Earth above all human beings and think it would be better if we were all dead so that the Earth could be in peace. The correct statement is to say that if we value valuing things, we must value life. But:

    2) If we value life only insofar as life allows our other values play, then we are valuing life not as an end in itself but as a means to an end. In other words, life in this case is not an ultimate value, it’s an intermediary one.

    3) If we didn’t value anything else, we wouldn’t have to value life either, right? If I’m correct about (1) then we need only not value valuing things. I realise nobody fails to value valuing things, but:

    4) If we the point is that we restrict ourselves to values we believe to be universal among human beings (and why should we do this?), I bet we could find multiple values beyond simply ‘life’.

  27. Lynet Says:

    Oh, and sorry about the typos in that awfully long post. Associate should be associative in that quote box, for instance.

  28. evanescent Says:

    Heard and respected.

    Thanks, and thanks for taking the time to comment. And don’t apologise for the long posts, I appreciate your time and effort and I hope you do mine! :)

    Most moral debates focus on consequences and Ebonmuse has been in a few.

    This is true but before we can solve a problem we must have a system to apply to it.

    I’m all too aware of Ebonmuse’s pedigree in debates and I have the utmost admiration and respect for him, as I have stated many times on my blog.

    He may not even have noticed that you’re claiming to have impeccably grounded, reasoned truth here. It is, after all, a very unusual thing to claim in this sort of debate.

    You’re right, it is. It is one of the more “radical” claims of Objectivism, the position that I am arguing on behalf of.

    But if reality objectively exists, which we agree on, and morality can be objective, which we all agree on, it shouldn’t be that radical to claim to have an objective morality and apply it. In fact, don’t utilitarianists claim to have an objective morality? We only differ in its nature and source.

    As a result, we often focus on consequences and on values we might share, with the implicit acknowledgement that agreement is dependent on those shared values.

    And this is exactly why I said Ebon’s thought experiments are irrelevant at this stage. Since both sides disagree on the nature of morality and source of Human Rights, it does no good to apply our differing systems of morality to hypothetical (or real) dilemmas – we will simply, obviously, disagree.

    I don’t actually agree with any of that. Sorry. All I was saying was, I think there is some sort of morality that could apply to a single human being.

    Well forgive me, but if we agree on this then we should agree on everything else. How can you have a morality that applies to individuals, but then morphs into something else that DOESN’T concentrate on the individual when several individuals are involved? That is hardly objective or sustainable.

    However, I would be inclined to think that using morality as it applies to a single human being as our basis for morality in general would be as silly as — well — can I give you a little abstract algebra here?

    You can, and go straight ahead. But before you do, let me just say that I think your reasoning is flawed from here on it, because if morality can apply to an individual then we have a morality here, at the lowest possible level of action. Individuals act, groups of individuals MAY act collectively, they might not. They certainly do not always think and act collectively; we are not Borg! A system of morality that is best for the individual should therefore be best for any individuals, in any quantity.

    It’s either that or pull out multivariate calculus or dynamical systems or something to show how generalising from the case with one to the case with many can be stupid. So here’s my analogy:

    A semigroup is a set of objects such that:

    (1) There is some sort of multiplication defined over the objects. That is, if a and b are in the semigroup, they can be multiplied together to produce an object ab. Moreover,

    (2) The set must be closed under multiplication — that is, for and a and b in the semigroup, ab is also in the semigroup.

    (3) The multiplication must be associate. That is (ab)c = a(bc) (don’t worry too much about this point).

    One example of a semigroup is the set of positive integers under ordinary multiplication. You can multiply any two positive integers and get another positive integer; ordinary multiplication is associative. However, allow me to draw your attention to the trivial semigroup, which contains only the number 1. We can multiply 1 by itself (all good there) to get 1 (which is in the trivial semigroup — hooray!) So the trivial semigroup is in fact a semigroup. However, of you wanted to guess some properties of semigroups in general, focusing on the trivial semigroup and trying to generalise from that would lead you wildly astray. There are completely new types of behaviour that come into play when you have more than one object. This is true all over the place in mathematics. I contend it is true for morality, too.

    Whilst I am not maths expert and won’t pretend to understand all of what you’ve presented here, although I appreciate the time you’ve taken to demonstrate it, I will contend that you are fundamentally wrong for one obvious but very important reason: we’re talking about human beings, not homogenous and indistinguishable units of measurement.

    Humans beings act and think independently. We are not herd of automations that does or even should think and act the same. A collection of ten people does not make a super-human consciousness. A collective CAN act in unison, at times, in certain matters. But it does not necessarily do so. A system that tells us what is right or wrong for collective actions or collective desires is useless.

    Not only is this collectivist view of society dehumanising, because it treats us as ingredients in a soup; that we would be nothing without the collective (notice the similarities to religious thinking that the individual is nothing without the “greater good”), it reduces to moral subjectivism; whatever the majority decides is the necessary course of action becomes the good. How is this any different to “might makes right”?

    I could also suggest that by treating humans as ingredients in a collective soup (it’s the best metaphor I can think of), you’re begging the question of utilitarianism in the first place. The truth is, humans are individuals and only individuals can act. If you accept this we move onto the next stage: morality is a code to guide decisions/actions. If you agree with this, it necessarily follows that morality is fundamentally a guide to how an individual should act, it can mean nothing else.

    Not according to a dictionary. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ can refer to other things besides moral good — consider the statement ‘that’s a good painting’. That doesn’t mean the painting is morally good. It could simply mean that the painting appears beautiful to the speaker, or that the brushwork is well-executed, or whatever.

    I think this is equivocation over the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Good and bad in this very lower level of context pertain to an individual’s personal tastes. It is easy to say “good” or “bad” but what we really mean is that we ‘like’ it. I understand what you’re saying and this was a good point to clarify, but this is not the higher level of concept I am talking about.

    “Good” or “bad” implies a value. Only a being that can value can have values. That is, only human beings can value anything, so we should act based on our hierarchy of values. In order to be objective, our values must be derived from reality, and in order to be consistent and objective and logical, they must be rationally derived or chosen (some of our values are chosen, some are necessary). Morality, according to Objectivism, is that code of values to guide actions. So, whilst a “good” or “bad” piece of art is a matter of opinion, we can say that art ITSELF is good, for man. We can say that food is good, MORALLY good, for man. That may sound strange at first, but it becomes clear for this reason (like I said in my original article): what is good if it is not good FOR humans? What is bad if it is not bad FOR humans? Food is not intrinsically good; there is no such thing as intrinsic value. Food is good for humans because it sustains our lives, and our lives are our number one VALUE. It is therefore not only good to eat, it is MORALLY good to eat; there can be no other meaning of the word.

    If our life is our number one value, and we act consistently with our hierarchy of values / subvalues etc, Objectivism defines morality as that code of values that guides our decisions. I hope so far, I have made sense; this certainly seems logical and reasonable to me.

    By being selfish, Objectivism means acting in accordance with YOUR values. That is, the ones that are objectively necessary for YOUR life (as a rational being), and any optional values that YOU choose (your cat, your car etc). Man’s identity as a moral being DEMANDS that we are free to do this. A value forced upon a person is NO value at all, it is a burden. What Objectivism is opposed to is sacrifice: the offering of a high value in exchange for a lower one. This again, is just pure rational common sense:

    Only a fool would suggest (for example) that sacrificing the life of someone you love (value) for someone you don’t (no value) is rational. This would be a contravention of one’s rational values, and therefore immoral. Yet, this is exactly what all forms of collectivism/altruism/and utilitarianism demand; the sacrifice of some values of some people for those of another. Not only that, they do so by force, which removes value and therefore morality from the picture.

    This is one of the reasons I disagreed with Ebonmuse above: even if it was MORALLY GOOD for people to pay to support the life of strangers, one cannot FORCE morality on people by forcing a value. Despite what Ebonmuse said, this is the exact opposite of “mutual cooperation”. You can’t force morality on somebody; this is a heinous contradiction, which means utilitarianism, democracy, forced taxation etc are fundamentally contradictory to treating man like a moral being. I cannot see a way out of this dilemma for you.

    I hope I’ve kept your attention through all that. Thanks for your patience. I know it was a slight detour but I think it needed to be said.

    I’d be more likely to turn that on its head: it is only values that make goals possible. However, I have no idea why you’d need a single, “ultimate”, goal. Multiple goals is more my style.

    But what are your multiple goals directed towards? In other words, since a rational person does not have COMPETING goals, it necessarily follows that there is a general direction in which one is moving, a general purpose to one’s actions; an ultimate purpose, or goal. To conclusively establish this, I ask you again to consider that rational people do not have competing goals; multiple goals must be compatible. But what is the ultimate purpose/goal? Why, happiness of course. And not just that, OUR OWN happiness. In other words, we cannot live other peoples’ lives for them, although of course we should help if we rationally can. And if we do help, we should freely choose to.

    (I think you should re-examine your last statement because I suspect if you think about it we will probably agree after all. Even humanists say that our goal should be to have a happy life don’t they?)

    Values exist in our minds, yes. They are not always the same values, but there is always some overlap because of our similarities as human beings. So far, so humanist.

    Actually that’s not true: as human beings there are necessary objective values that are good for all humans beings. For example: reason, purpose, self-esteem. All other values flow from these, especially the optional ones.

    Oh, wait. I caught the Randian straightjacket a little late, there. She’s confining us to values that support our continued functioning as living creatures, isn’t she? Why is she doing that? Why are further values that reflect our desire for happiness, fascination with the universe, compassion etc. not included?

    She isn’t confining us to values that support our continuation as living creatures. There is much more to it than that. Our values arise because of the TYPE of being we are: we are rational beings, and that dictates what our primary values should be. For a human, reason, self-esteem, purpose are necessary values. They aren’t necessary to an animal. In fact, an animal has no rational values.

    In other words, if we weren’t alive we couldn’t value anything, so if we value anything else, we must value life.

    Only thinking living beings can value, yes. But, if you choose to live your life you must hold it as your highest value. Otherwise you would not be acting in a way consistent with your implicit decision to live.

    Four things:

    1) That doesn’t follow. It’s possible to value something that can only be achieved by death. For example, an extreme environmentalist might value the Earth above all human beings and think it would be better if we were all dead so that the Earth could be in peace. The correct statement is to say that if we value valuing things, we must value life. But:

    2) If we value life only insofar as life allows our other values play, then we are valuing life not as an end in itself but as a means to an end. In other words, life in this case is not an ultimate value, it’s an intermediary one.

    I see what you’re saying, but such a person has placed another value above his own life, which means his life is then a means to another end. This person is therefore not living his/her life for its own sake, but for the sake of something else.

    The problem with this is that this person’s life is at the whim of whatever value is placed above it (they have become a parasite to that “cause”); this person’s purpose in life is not for the sake of his/her own life, it is not for his/her own happiness, it for the “good” of that which he/she thinks is the ultimate value. And if that “value” cannot be realised or disappears, such a person has no purpose in life anymore. So “happiness” cannot be this person’s goal in life. (Doesn’t this sound familiar again to religion: your life is a means to an end, not an end in itself – this is the kind of dehumanising notion that Objectivism rejects).

    You are free to talk about such people and their life-choices, but we must remove happiness and purpose from the equation; Objectivism is a philosophy for having purpose and happiness because of the fact of our life itself.

    4) If we the point is that we restrict ourselves to values we believe to be universal among human beings (and why should we do this?), I bet we could find multiple values beyond simply ‘life’.

    Life is our ultimate value, because it is an end in itself (by virtue of the fact we are alive and implicitly choose to live from each moment to the next), so we act in harmony with that goal: we pursue happiness and we value other things that are consistent with our ultimate purpose and goal: life.

    In order to live as a rational being, reality imposes certain values upon us, values that we cannot avoid. After that, there are other values that we can choose.

    Once again, I apologise for the length of this post, and I appreciate you taking the time with it! I hope I’ve been fairly eloquent.

    One quick point about (extreme) environmentalists: value is that which one acts to keep and/or gain. The earth has NO value in itself. And one cannot gain or keep the whole earth, therefore it makes no sense to value it in-and-of itself. We can only value that which affects us. We value the earth inasmuch as it supports our life; that is the very reason that we value it! That is why we value Earth instead of, say, Mars. So, the earth is only a means to an end (our lives), it is not an end in itself.

    The Earth is a ball of rock; it cannot experience anything, so it can certainly not experience peace. So a person who values the “peace” of the earth over humans is being irrational.

  29. Ergo Says:

    “1) That doesn’t follow. It’s possible to value something that can only be achieved by death. For example, an extreme environmentalist might value the Earth above all human beings and think it would be better if we were all dead so that the Earth could be in peace. The correct statement is to say that if we value valuing things, we must value life. But:”

    It is impossible to value something that can only be achieved by death. To achieve is to imply action in pursuit of goal. To achieve death is to achieve inaction, inactivity, stagnation. If death is the goal, then every living moment is a failure in pursuing the goal; thus, to such a person, life is a failure and no value can arise from that which is the antithesis of his goal (i.e., no value can arise from living when every waking moment is a frustrating failure of realizing one’s death–one’s ultimate goal). Besides, using the concept of value out of its heirarchy in life is a distortion of the concept of value. Since death requires nothing but stagnation and value implies action in pursuit, the two are antithetical and incompatible. Finally, on what standard of evaluation is something judged to be a value if it is not premised on life? Here, the only response is intrinsicism–like what religion offers you: value divorced from life, value in and of itself.

    “2) If we value life only insofar as life allows our other values play, then we are valuing life not as an end in itself but as a means to an end. In other words, life in this case is not an ultimate value, it’s an intermediary one.”

    One’s life is not an intermediary goal that we pursue; life sets the context and provides the background for the pursuit of all other values. Life and value logically entail each other in the sense that in the absence of either phenomena, the other does not exist. (1) The *pursuit* of values is internal in the *act* of living, (2) the choice to live makes the pursuit of values meaningful (undistorted and non-contradictory) and possible, (3) and the moral evaluation of the choice to live is implicit in the moral nature of the values one pursues.

  30. BlackSun Says:

    Are you pro laissez-faire or not?”

    Yes, with the following proviso: All externalities to any economic transaction must be considered. Otherwise, people who are not a party to the transaction are rewarded or penalized unjustly.

    My first concern is about environmental externalities, including but not limited to: negative impacts of anthropogenic global warming, other forms of pollution where the cleanup has to be paid for by non-stakeholders, health effects of environmental degradation, and loss of biodiversity.

    Then there is something else few people consider when looking at the free-market: depletion premiums. When non-renewable resources are taken and used to make products on which people depend, what is not factored in is the cost of replacing or substituting another resource when the first resource runs out. For example, in the case of petroleum, the only costs which were considered initially were the costs of drilling and pumping. Producers didn’t realize they were on a depletion curve, where the resource would get more and more expensive and finally run into physical limits of production. Taking a history lesson from petroleum, governments should look at resources as long-term endowments to be managed in perpetuity, rather than trying to produce them at maximum rates for the cheapest price.

    If the U.S. had collected higher leasing fees from oil companies starting in the early 20th century, and put that money into a depletion trust fund, there would be plenty of money available now for replacing petroleum with renewable energy. Instead, what’s going to happen is that we’re going to pay terribly high energy prices, as well as carbon taxes for 10-20 years until renewable fuels can be developed and fossil fuels can be slowly eliminated from the economy. This painful transition could have been prevented with proper planning.

    One of the best ways of internalizing costs is to force companies that make disposable products to take them back. That way, the entire lifecycle cost is factored in, since it will be in the manufacturers’ interest to recycle or reuse their old products.

    There is a whole philosophy of proper ecosystem management outlined in the book “Natural Capitalism” by Amory Lovins. It shows how society pays drastically increased costs for its current methods of doing business, and how there is vastly more money to be made and a higher quality of life to be had by embracing these principles.

    What most people consider laissez-faire capitalism is nothing but allowing people to steal each other blind, ruin the environment, and force others to pay for dealing with their waste.

    I would consider true laissez-faire capitalism to be where a government sets up a system for externality control, safety and health standards, and product quality standards, then leaves everything else to be run by the private sector. The control of externalities would be kind of like an economic constitution. Any transaction would be legal, so long as all stakeholders interests were protected.

    Now to Ebonmuse’ point about individuals. He said:

    “This is because property is not a right generated by the individual’s existence, but a right that can only exist in a society that collectively provides for the needs of all its citizens. Guarantees against force and fraud, the establishment of a stable and just system of laws, the creation of a shared infrastructure, the maintenance of a fair system of government, providing for the common welfare and the common defense, and many other things I could name are services which society provides to all its members. In exchange for those services, it is not just right but necessary that a society enacts a tax on its residents to pay for their upkeep. That’s a fair trade of value for value.”

    I basically agree. But I think that people should only be charged only for services they use, and be allowed to opt out of things they don’t. But this would have to be very carefully structured. For example, most people probably would not have voted to pay for the Iraq war. I’m not sure what to do when there is a need to set national policy on such things as defense. Maybe that would have been a good thing if there was no money to invade Iraq. But what if there had been weapons of mass destruction? That’s not something we can let people vote on. I think we need a military and a commander in chief who can make independent decisions within certain limits. So I guess I would have to say I would have to support a strictly accountable system of collecting limited taxes.

    But I am strongly against the “progressive” tax rate indexing, forcing people to pay greater portions of their income the higher it is. This destroys people’s incentive, and is at its heart a wealth redistribution scheme. I see no reason why a 10% (or so) flat tax couldn’t pay for everything a rational government needed. In my ideal world, raising taxes would be constitutionally prohibited, as would any deficit spending other than infrastructure bonds.

    In short, I’m for closing the loops of production and disposal, creating a cradle-to-cradle system of manufacturing, and for creating strict controls to prevent corruption and instability in the government, and allowing citizens a maximum of choice and economic freedom.

  31. BlackSun Says:

    Shoot, my blockquotes got totally screwed up.

  32. Ergo Says:

    Evanescent,

    This is besides the ongoing discussion so you can delete the comment if you wish: I’d be interested in hearing your views on what exactly about Objectivism did you find radical when you first read it–and why? Since I have been studying Objectivism for almost 6 years now, I think I may have become less appreciative of its radical nature over the years, and it would be refreshing to get a perspective from someone just discovering the philosophy. Ayn Rand published her fully developed philosophy in fiction form in the 1950s–although, the premature traces of her philosophy were apparent even much earlier, going back to Rand’s childhood. I can see how people at that time and age must have found her philosophy deeply disturbing, radical, and perhaps even revolting.

    Another note: the reason for the primary use of masculine pronouns has more to do with the nature of concepts and how we use them than with being politically incorrect or outdated; that said, being politically correct or incorrect is simply not a worthy goal to aspire in writing, thinking, or speaking.

  33. Lynet Says:

    I basically know what I want to say, but you have to excuse me — I’m too tired to write it today, so tomorrow will have to be good enough. See you then.

  34. Lynet Says:

    But if reality objectively exists, which we agree on, and morality can be objective, which we all agree on, it shouldn’t be that radical to claim to have an objective morality and apply it. In fact, don’t utilitarianists claim to have an objective morality? We only differ in its nature and source.

    Um, sort of. I don’t claim to be able to bridge the is/ought divide. I can’t tell someone that she is irrational for not seeing worth in utilitarianism. I can only hope that she values some of the same things as me.

    I know my way home from moral nihilism, and it is there that I intend to aim. I do not think that you can tell me that I am irrational to support a system that siphons off a certain percentage of my income for education, healthcare and the like. My aim is to show that you have not shown that I am rationally compelled to believe as you do.

    How can you have a morality that applies to individuals, but then morphs into something else that DOESN’T concentrate on the individual when several individuals are involved? That is hardly objective or sustainable.

    It doesn’t morph into something else. The rules are the same, they are just being applied to a different situation. Both utilitarianism and Objectivism reduce to self-interest when there is only one person. However, because the self-interest is derived from different rules, when those rules are applied to a situation with two or more people, we get different results.

    You have been saying, I think, that moral rules should be derived by generalising as ‘naturally’ as possible from the single-person case. I do not see why that should be so. There are many possible ways to generalise from the single-person case, and mathematics will always make you wary of assuming that one way of generalising must be the correct one.

    You cannot deny that people, as a rule, behave differently around others than they would if they were alone. It’s empirically true that new types of behaviour do come into play.

    Now, about values and goals:

    In other words, since a rational person does not have COMPETING goals, it necessarily follows that there is a general direction in which one is moving, a general purpose to one’s actions; an ultimate purpose, or goal.

    Nonsense.

    It’s true that, for any two goals which potentially conflict, there must, theoretically, be one that you would choose over the other. But in practice it doesn’t work like that. I might value my life very highly, but it doesn’t figure in the list of things I strive for, because it is too easy to achieve. Calling it my ultimate goal would be stupid. If life is the thing I value most highly (and I don’t know that it is; I haven’t ever been forced to test it against other possibilities), it is still not the direction in which I move, for I am already fairly secure in that goal, and very little movement is necessary. My other goals are not directed towards life; they go beyond it.

    (I wish you were a mathematician! There are so many cool Zorn’s Lemma jokes I could make about this argument. (I also wish you were a mathematician because I’m automatically translating this into mathematical language, and I can assure you I’m finding gaps in your reasoning all over the place, and if I was able to explain the exact errors to you you’d be able to tell me whether you can fill them in, but as it is I’m stuck attempting to determine if they can reasonably be considered to be implied or not. Did you know that ordering of values is a semiorder? I didn’t think so.))

    (I think you should re-examine your last statement because I suspect if you think about it we will probably agree after all. Even humanists say that our goal should be to have a happy life don’t they?)

    Ebonmuse and I had a cute little dispute about that last week, actually. Unfortunately, I wasn’t on the side of the debate that agrees with you here.

    I see what you’re saying, but such a person has placed another value above his own life, which means his life is then a means to another end. This person is therefore not living his/her life for its own sake, but for the sake of something else.

    The problem with this is that this person’s life is at the whim of whatever value is placed above it (they have become a parasite to that “cause”); this person’s purpose in life is not for the sake of his/her own life, it is not for his/her own happiness, it for the “good” of that which he/she thinks is the ultimate value.

    Are you assuming I have a problem with that?

    And if that “value” cannot be realised or disappears, such a person has no purpose in life anymore.

    That’s why you need more than one value, silly! As long as those values don’t conflict with each other in practice, it works fine, and if one fails, you still have the rest.

    You are free to talk about such people and their life-choices, but we must remove happiness and purpose from the equation; Objectivism is a philosophy for having purpose and happiness because of the fact of our life itself.

    I am such a person. And I find happiness and purpose in life. But I admit, I could never find happiness and purpose purely because of the fact of my life itself. Since I cannot find happiness and purpose purely because of the fact of my life itself, I am forced to go further afield. Perhaps you should pity me, being placed in such a bind! I have to admit, it doesn’t bother me very much :P

    *****

    Ergo, just a few, tired, frustrated points:

    It is impossible to value something that can only be achieved by death. To achieve is to imply action in pursuit of goal. To achieve death is to achieve inaction, inactivity, stagnation. If death is the goal . . .

    Death is not the goal in this hypothetical situation. Start again. Consider a specific example of self-sacrifice if you like — for instance, a mother stepping in the path of a bullet so that her child will live. It should be obvious that the goal is not death in this case. The goal is the child’s life. The mother’s death is merely a means to that goal that she values.

    value is that which one acts to keep and/or gain

    Is there some rule which says that Objectivists may not speak plain English but must instead redefine every word they use? Value is that which one wishes to keep or achieve. All this redefinition makes it much harder for me to be sure what your sentences mean. That goes for all of you.

    (Stupid f-cking Objectivists talking in their own language and complaining that no one wants to sort through their crazy definitions and argue with them . . .)

  35. Ergo Says:

    “Death is not the goal in this hypothetical situation. Start again.”

    You should try following your own advice. You started by saying, “It’s possible to value something that can only be achieved by death.”

    Remember your use of the word “only.” Now, your example of a mother stepping in front of a bullet to save her child is simply and absolutely *not* an instance of valuing something *only* by death. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Her value (child) is meaningful and real for her only because she immensely values *living* with her child *alive*! Dying is neither the goal nor any part of the equation for either the mother or the child, but merely–and tragically–the unfortunate circumstance the mother finds herself in–beyond her control, apparently.

    To be logically consistent (which I’m seeing you have difficulty in), you would have to say that the mother values her child only by and in dying, because as you said “it is possible to value something that can *only* be achieved by death.” Thus, the mother’s death would be a *necessary* requirement contained within the content of her valuation of her child.

    First, this is impossible (as I said in my previous comment, because valuation is impossible through and in death, and if death is accepted as the standard that permits valuation, it leads to a contradiction).
    Second, it is incoherent nonsense.

    “Value is that which one *wishes* to keep or achieve.”

    Wishes or desires are a necessary but not sufficient condition for valuation; action is. Desires without action is day-dreaming. Man is an integrated entity of mind and body; his survival as a man requires the integrated union of thought and action.

    Finally, regarding your prodigious insults of Objectivists, if you were on my blog, you would have been evicted in an instant; I wouldn’t have tolerated your nasty mouth for one moment. Your lack of decency only serves to worsen the already poor impression I have of your intellect; and it speaks volumes about your (lack of) ability to debate Objectivists on an intellectual level.

  36. Ergo Says:

    I noticed that these utilitarians, in various ways, hold that happiness is in itself an intrinsic value; that’s not too far from the mystical instrincism of religious morality; on what grounds of justification is happiness considered an intrinsic value? But to provide a ground of justification is to already nullify intrinsicism, because the doctrine of intrinsicism requires no justification–by definition. Which means, like religious dogma of say the doctrine of Heaven, a thing (heaven, God, or happiness) is a value in and of itself–beyond reason, beyond justification, and without any need of valuation from a valuing agent, i.e., agent-independent.

    Now, even if we grant that happiness is an intrinsic value, then it becomes a contradiction to state that one’s pursuit of happiness is (or should be) delimited by other considerations–whatever they may be, like global suffering, rights of other humans, etc.

    Either happiness is an instrinsic value, in which case it should be pursued relentlessly and unlimitedly by anybody (since intrinsic values are agent-independent), or one has to write treatises on the delimited boundaries of what proper pursuits of happiness can be, which would necessarily exclude some acts by some agents in pursuit of some forms of happiness. The latter case would then necessitate that happiness be *not* intrinsic but *contextual* and agent-dependent. A contradiction. A mess!

  37. Mark Says:

    Ergo,

    “Her value (child) is meaningful and real for her only because she immensely values *living* with her child *alive*!”

    Do you believe that to be the case with nonhuman parents that sacrifice themselves to save their offspring? If not, why not?

  38. evanescent Says:

    Hi Mark,

    nonhuman parents sacrifice themselves to save their offspring predominantly because of instinct, because evolution has selected for this kind of behaviour with parents. A mother animal does not love her offspring, although her behaviour is similar to the end result of what we would call “love” amongst humans.

    Value is a concept, one that must be a rational choice. Animals do not value anything, in the true sense of the word, because they are not rational and cannot conceptualise. ‘Value’ only applies to conscious beings.

  39. Mark Says:

    Evanescent,

    Humans are animals. The ability to create concepts does not tear away our biological foundations. It is true that humans can create nonbiological justifications, but convincing me that human parents don’t or can’t save their children out of instinct is going to be an incredibly hard sell.

    In addition, value is a concept, but doesn’t it mean, per Objectivism, “that which one acts to gain and/or keep”? Surely that applies to at least most organisms. Now, that’s quite obviously the noun, whereas you were speaking of the verb. How would you define the verb “value”?

    Lastly, what do you mean by “conscious”?

  40. Lynet Says:

    Finally, regarding your prodigious insults of Objectivists, if you were on my blog, you would have been evicted in an instant; I wouldn’t have tolerated your nasty mouth for one moment.

    I apologise that you took my wry admission of frustration so seriously. You’re right, I should have restrained my language. I’m just finding it difficult to deal with things like this:

    Wishes or desires are a necessary but not sufficient condition for valuation; action is. Desires without action is day-dreaming.

    Such specificity of perspective really does redefine the meaning of the word ‘value’. When you use the word it no longer means what it would mean when I use it. That’s confusing. It’s not confusing because I’m stupid, it’s confusing because I have to carefully examine every word you use to see if it’s one of the words you’ve given a new definition to.

    No doubt you think that such definitions are the only reasonable ones. However, until you have demonstrated that to me, naturally I prefer to keep a more standard definition. Keeping track of both requires a certain amount of effort.

    Your lack of decency only serves to worsen the already poor impression I have of your intellect; and it speaks volumes about your (lack of) ability to debate Objectivists on an intellectual level.

    I have no particular qualms about my intellect. The reason you have a poor impression of me is because you’ve only seen me in this argument, and in this argument I disagree with you. I do, however, apologise again for what you saw as a lack of decency.

    Now,

    Remember your use of the word “only.” Now, your example of a mother stepping in front of a bullet to save her child is simply and absolutely *not* an instance of valuing something *only* by death.

    Ah. We seem to have talked past each other there. Given that there is a bullet, and no other way to stop it than by stepping in its path, the child’s life can only be achieved by the mother’s death. Absent the specific example, however, I can see how you might have misinterpreted. My point stands, however: a mother in that situation would not necessarily value her own life above that of her child.

  41. Lynet Says:

    I noticed that these utilitarians, in various ways, hold that happiness is in itself an intrinsic value; that’s not too far from the mystical instrincism of religious morality; on what grounds of justification is happiness considered an intrinsic value?

    I’ve already admitted I can’t bridge the is/ought divide. As I mentioned above, I’m trying to show that you can’t, either.

    In short, I’m not unaware of the problems you bring up. I just live with them. Why would I live by utilitarian ideas if I know that the value I ascribe to them is only in my mind? Well, because all sorts of things I care about are only in my mind: happiness, love, hope, etc. I’ve come to the conclusion that just because something is only in my mind doesn’t mean I shouldn’t care about it.

    I want to live by utilitarian ideals. A large part of your argument seems to be that I could not possibly want that, but, given that I do, I can’t help but think that you must have made a mistake there ;)

    Now, even if we grant that happiness is an intrinsic value, then it becomes a contradiction to state that one’s pursuit of happiness is (or should be) delimited by other considerations–whatever they may be, like global suffering, rights of other humans, etc.

    Well, that’s easy to explain. Utilitarians value the happiness of others besides themselves, that’s all.

    Either happiness is an instrinsic value, in which case it should be pursued relentlessly and unlimitedly by anybody (since intrinsic values are agent-independent),

    I think the idea is, in fact, to aim for happiness (everyone’s, not just your own) relentlessly and unlimitedly. Does that explain it?

  42. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    evanescent,

    I saw this post a while back and decided to stay out of it. However, I am having a hard time continuing to do so. I think you have a very good set of human morals. However, I have to call you a speciesist based on your human-centric view of the world. Humans are differ in many ways from other animals. Yet, with very few exceptions, the differences are in magnitude, not in kind.

    Animals do have rights. Whether we choose to grant them rights in our laws and actions does not mean that they do not have them. The fact that humans have denied each other rights many times in history should prove this. Humans with full “inalienable” rights still have them denied again and again throughout history and into the present.

    So, the question is what the basis should be for granting rights to the other species with whom we share this incredible little microscopic dot of a planet. Perhaps animal species at immediate risk of extinction have rights over those of us that aren’t at risk at the moment. Perhaps certain key species in the ecosystem have greater rights. Perhaps a species like the sperm whale with a 20 pound brain, the largest in the world, has greater rights. Perhaps species that do not kill to eat have greater rights than species that do kill to eat. It is a difficult question.

    That said, you ask for some research on the subject of animal intelligence, as if intelligence were the only factor for determining rights, so here are a few books you may wish to read on the subject.

    The Third Chimpanzee – Jared Diamond: All about us, what’s unique in kind versus magnitude. This is one of my favorite books of all time.
    Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think – Marc D. Hauser
    The Animal Mind – James L. and Carol Grant Gould
    Kanzi – Sue Savage-Rumbaugh: The incredible story of Kanzi, a bonobo at the Yerkes Primate Research facility that learned language the way we do, just by being around it.
    The Parrot’s Lament – Eugene Linden: Amazing anecdotes of animal intelligence. The author makes no claims about this being scientific only that the sheer number of these amazing stories indicates a need for further study of animal intelligence.

    The last book has an amazing story that serves as the title story of the book (as well as many other amazing anecdotes pertaining to animal intelligence.

    Spoiler warning: I’m going to do my best to relate the title story for those who have no intention of reading the book. Skip from here down if you want to read the original without the ending of that particular anecdote spoiled. There is a point at the end though that may be worth reading even though it will spoil that anecdote when you read the book. Your call.

    A woman owns three parrots, one is an African Grey named Bongo Marie. Bongo Marie hates both of the other parrots, but especially hates Paco. Bongo Marie must be kept in her cage in the dining room, separate from the other two in the kitchen due to her hatred of the other parrots.

    One evening, the owner comes into the dining room with a roasted chicken on a plate for dinner. Bongo Marie exlaims, “Oh no!! Paco!”

    The owner walks Bongo Marie into the kitchen saying, “No. No. Paco’s fine. He’s right over here.”

    Bongo Marie, disappointedly, “Oh no. Paco … ” and begins laughing hysterically.

    So, does a parrot who can understand that a cooked chicken is a dead bird about the right size to be a parrot have enough mental capability to be granted rights? How about a parrot who can then make sick jokes at the expense of a hated individual?

    Lastly, given that microbial life is more than half the biomass on the planet, and, given that microbial life has been here for nearly 4 billion years while multicellular life has been here less than 500 million year, and given that by far the vast majority of the species on this planet are unicellular life unconcerned with morals or with the passing fad of multicellular life (except the relatively few species that make a home in and on us), perhaps none of this really matters. But, it does to me. And, I would grant rights to many other species, possibly greater rights precisely because they are innocent of the deliberate and wanton and senseless destruction we cause every day.

  43. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    Of course in the penultimate sentence of my first paragraph, I meant either “Humans are different” or “Humans differ”. I probably went back and forth and left it in a bad state.

  44. Ergo Says:

    Mark,

    To Evanescent’s reply, I’d like to add that animals (for the purpose of this discussion, I will only use “animals” to refer to non-human living beings) do not reflect on the nature and goal of their actions; that is, they are neither capable of rationality nor volition.
    Animals do have *values* in the sense that they act to gain, protect, and keep that which is beneficial to them; here, benefit to animals denote the biological necessities required for their own survival and that of their progeny–their need to sustain their species. This act of valuation (this act to gain and keep) stems from their automatic and sufficient knowledge of the requirements of survival qua the species they are.

    To man, this knowledge about the task of survival is neither automatic nor sufficient. We have to *discover* our values and disvalues, pursue the former and avoid the latter, and do this whole process using the only competent tool we have: our faculty of reason. However, using our faculty of reason is a matter of choice open to us; Objectivism identifies volition and free will with this act of focusing the mind, i.e., bringing the perceptual to the level of the cognitive and conceptual.

    Thus, yes, fundamentally, it is different when an animal self-sacrificially protects its offspring than when a mother does the same. It is in the instinctual nature of some animals to protect their group, their progeny, their herd; this is an automatic act of survival. However, some animals do not fight to protect their herd, but abandon them at the slightest hint of risk. Both kinds of animals do not function on a process of volitional deliberation over the cost-benefit analyses of the risks involved, but act according to their own essential identities as specific beings endowed with natural survival motivations and strategies (what the identity of an entity is determines how it will act).

    The mother, in contrast, can choose to let the child die–even if she loves the child immensely. Nothing compels her to save her child except her own rational committment to her values. If she let the child die despite valuing it immensely, she is being irrational by choice.

  45. Ergo Says:

    “Utilitarians value the happiness of others besides themselves. I think the idea is, in fact, to aim for happiness (everyone’s, not just your own) relentlessly and unlimitedly. Does that explain it?”

    No it doesn’t. Are you willing to relentlessly and unlimitedly pursue the fulfillment of *my* happiness as well? Or do you place limits on your efforts expended in helping me achieve my happiness? How far do you go to help in me my pursuit of happiness? Do you consider it a moral obligation to help me achieve my happiness?

    And do you place boundaries (normative or ethical) of what I can legitimately be allowed to pursue as my own happiness? Do you differentiate between immoral and moral pusuits of happiness? But isn’t that a contradiction of “happiness as intrinsic”–unless your entire moral system is intrinsic, like theism. But then, a non-theistic moral system that’s instrinsic is like dogma without an authority figure; which means, it ultimately will necessarily have to collapse into subjectivism (incidentally, which utilitarianism is–a form of collective subjectivism).

    For example, would you refuse to help me call homosexuals “unnatural faggots” even if that makes me immensely happy–even if I’m not actually spouting this in the presence of a homosexual? My point is, are there any objectively moral considerations in what can be legitimately considered rational pursuits of happiness, for which you would be willing to help me pursue–actually, regard it as your duty to help me pursue, and immoral or irrational pursuits of happiness, for which you would refuse to help me pursue?

    And what if the majority of the people in this world were like me, i.e., they wanted to simply mutter “bloody faggots” under their breath because it made them happy. Would you–a person in the minority situation–consider it part of your utilitarian duty to maximize the happiness of the greatest number by reserving your moral condemnation of such an utterance or even joining us in our chant?

    (Oh, for full disclosure, I am gay.)

  46. Lynet Says:

    incidentally, which utilitarianism is–a form of collective subjectivism

    I know that. I’m not sure that Objectivism (despite the name) does better.

    Are you willing to relentlessly and unlimitedly pursue the fulfillment of *my* happiness as well? Or do you place limits on your efforts expended in helping me achieve my happiness? How far do you go to help in me my pursuit of happiness? Do you consider it a moral obligation to help me achieve my happiness?

    Not to the point where asking everyone to do that would hobble us all to the point where we couldn’t make ourselves happy. There are some things you can only do for yourself. There are other things that require group effort.

    For example, would you refuse to help me call homosexuals “unnatural faggots” even if that makes me immensely happy–even if I’m not actually spouting this in the presence of a homosexual?

    Yes, because I think such attitudes cause more harm than happiness, in general. Helping you to do that perpetuates a system that will cause greater unhappiness in the long run.

  47. Ergo Says:

    I wonder if you see the contradiction in the following two statements of yours:

    1) Not to the point where asking everyone to do that would hobble us all to the point where we couldn’t make ourselves happy.

    2) I think such attitudes cause more harm than happiness, in general. Helping you to do that perpetuates a system that will cause greater unhappiness in the long run.

    In 1, you implicitly support the view that everyone has a right to pursue their own happiness–unhindered. And you draw the line where your duty to help me in my pursuit hinders your own ability (would call it a right?) to pursue your happiness.

    In 2, you support the view that some people’s whimsical pursuit of happiness should be *actively* hindered and discouraged–and therefore, their right (or ability) to pursue their happiness denied–because (by some as yet undefined standard) you hold that their pursuit creates harm in general presumably for a greater number of others. Thus, in some cases, you do you have a duty to hinder others’ the pursuit of happiness.

    Therefore,
    1) Happiness is not an intrinsic value: it depends on what is the content of the value being pursued.
    2) Happiness is agent-relative: it requires a sufficient number of people (not clear how much is “greater” for “greater good”–a majority or a plurality?) to decide that a pursuit will legitimately produce happiness.
    3) Happiness cannot be the standard of morality: It is a contradiction to claim that (a) even if a majority derived happiness from muttering “bloody faggots” under their breath they shouldn’t be allowed to or encouraged to do so and (b) to claim that happiness (or the maximization of happiness) is the standard by which an act is considered either good or bad, moral or immoral.

    The contradiction arises because (a) implies a standard of morality that is neither happiness nor the maximization of it (majority happiness); but (b) implies that whatever engenders the greatest number of people’s happiness is good or moral. Happiness (or the maximization of it) cannot be both the standard and not the standard. This is a contradiction.

  48. evanescent Says:

    @ Ergo, thanks for taking part in the discussion so far, your comments have been incredibly eloquent and well-structured!

    @ M. Scott, I don’t really want to side-track the discussion here by talking about animal rights, but if you read the original article I explain where Rights come from and why humans have them. This necessarily excludes animal rights. I’ll post a separate article about this in the near future (and I’ll include your comment above in it).

  49. Lynet Says:

    In 1, you implicitly support the view that everyone has a right to pursue their own happiness–unhindered.

    Not so. I support the view that people have the right to pursue their own happiness up to a certain point, but I never said no hindrance should be allowed. I have no idea where you got that from. Some hindrance is inevitable. I guess I hope that in nearly all cases it is possible to achieve a certain amount of happiness without stopping others from being able to do the same. You do realise that (1) is basically saying that people should be allowed to pursue their own happiness to some extent because none of us will be happy if we do not? It’s a conclusion derived from the principle of utility; it’s not meant to be a basic moral law of itself.

    Evanescent, if you have no response to my responses, I may stop here. I am more interested in the question of whether you can logically force me to abandon everything I hold dear than in defending utilitarianism, not least because I am only approximately utilitarian; my views on morality are a work in progress. Needless to say, I do not intend to progress in your direction.

  50. evanescent Says:

    Hi Lynet,

    I haven’t replied to your previous comments because I thought Ergo had done a good job of addressing everything.

    However, as for causing you to ‘abandon everything you hold dear’ because of sheer logic, I believe the discusson thus far has shown that utilitarianism is not a sound system for morality, and reduces to contradictions and/or subjectivism. So if your interest is in having an objective moral foundation, you should logically abandon utilitarianism, based on this discussion. Whether you do or not is your choice.

    For an intelligent person, one who identifies as an atheist and, I assume, someone whose primary interest is logic and reason, your explicit refusal to consider an alternative such as “my direction” is surprising and confusing, and perhaps disappointing.

  51. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    #49 – evanescent,

    I did read that in your original post. I simply choose to disagree with it quite vehemently. IMNSHO, humans are not special, or at least, not more so than any other species doing what biology dictates in order to survive in the short term. And, yes, that is exactly what we do, despite any supposed greater understanding of our actions. Would that we as a species could think about the truly long term. But, you’re right. We should not derail this discussion on a relative side point.

    For all who wish to continue a discussion of rights and to whom they apply including non-humans, please go to my post on Moral Considerability. Thank you.

  52. Ergo Says:

    Like Evanescent, I had the same thoughts. Logically, Lynet, a free and honest thinker in your position should adopt moral agnosticism or moral skepticism on principle. Although, if you think carefully enough, you will realize that moral agnosticism or skepticism on principle is impossible in practice–simply impossible.

    Nevertheless, your adamant refusal to even consider the principles of Objectivism as a plausible alternative while insisting on subscribing to utilitarianism (even in its mildest forms) despite acknowledging its inherent weakness of being subjectivist–and while being shown its contradictions–belies your claim that your “morality is a work in progress.”

    I think some atheists still hold on to the epistemological method of theism (i.e., acceptance on faith, intrinsicism, and inarticulated and prejudicial feelings rather than reason), even while they embrace metaphysical naturalism.

  53. Lynet Says:

    I do adopt moral agnosticism on principle. And then I go and do what I like, which is create morality out of nothing in conjunction with other human beings. Since I’m (ultimately) morally agnostic, I know of no reason why I shouldn’t do this.

    Objectivism fails to be a compelling alternative because it relies on a questionable assumption, namely that, because human beings make decisions as individuals, we should exclude the way human beings interact as individuals when discussing what human beings consider to be good for themselves. Hence, it does not overturn my moral agnosticism and I can still go and do what I like.

  54. Ergo Says:

    “Objectivism fails to be a compelling alternative because it relies on a questionable assumption, namely that, because human beings make decisions as individuals, we should exclude the way human beings interact as individuals when discussing what human beings consider to be good for themselves.”

    But that view is simply not Objectivist! That’s like Christians rejecting evolution on the basis of their own mistaken (or adamant) assumption that evolution is all random mutation and survival of the fittest!

    An intellectually honest seeker will make it his intellectual and moral obligation to discover the truth and reserve judgement until they are clear with the facts.

    In several posts on my blog, I’ve explicitly stated how necessary and important a society is for human flourishment–that is, for human good. Of course, you’re not expected to read my blog particularly, but it does become your responsibility to know the facts accurately before you discard your agnosticism in favor of a position antagonistic to Objectivism. I can’t think of any other reason than emotionalism as your motive, otherwise.

    From my posts:

    “A social context is necessary for human flourishing, because–among other benefits–it provides the framework within which a division of labor society can emerge and thrive. Thus, man has to live in a society with other human beings and derive the benefits of voluntary trade in order to achieve flourishment.”

    “In a society of individuals, men will realize that it is to each of their own selfish interest to foster a society of rational individuals that they will enjoy living in, find value in entering into economic transactions with, and find purpose in mutual productive benefit. People will realize that it is to their own interest to live in a society that is free from poverty-induced agitation, civil unrest, and fear of crime. Also, on a personal egoistic level, it is rational to cultivate personal virtues of benevolence and kindness: those are the virtues you admire and seek in others in your vicinity; you do not want yourself or your valued lover/children/parents/friends to live next to a malevolent psychopath who hates everyone and treats others maliciously.”

  55. Mark S. Says:

    thanks for the blogs and ideas both to you and ergo, i recently started to read about objectivism and find it very interesting keep up the blogs :)

  56. Lynet Says:

    In a society of individuals, men will realize that it is to each of their own selfish interest to foster a society of rational individuals that they will enjoy living in, find value in entering into economic transactions with, and find purpose in mutual productive benefit. People will realize that it is to their own interest to live in a society that is free from poverty-induced agitation, civil unrest, and fear of crime.

    And yet you exclude the possibility of a society that requires everyone to pay their share when it comes to the reduction of crime that benefits all — at least if you agree that reducing poverty reduces crime. You do this in the basis of a strict moral rule that no-one has the right to force morality on others — at least, the only morality that anyone has the right to force on others is the one about not forcing your morality on others. That’s your position, right? I see no justification for it.

  57. evanescent Says:

    Lynet said:

    And yet you exclude the possibility of a society that requires everyone to pay their share when it comes to the reduction of crime that benefits all

    This is similar to what Ebonmuse said and I picked him up on it as well. Here you contradict yourself. Objectivists are not arguing for a second that people shouldn’t pay for governmental services. It is YOU and other utilitarians that say that some people don’t morally HAVE to pay their share!

    There are some people that, unfortunately, cannot pay for “their share”. Yet, you claim that everyone should. So your solution to this paradox is to take the money of those people that are already prepared to pay and use it to cover those who can’t/won’t.

    It is true that some people unfortunately cannot always pay for the services they require. Whilst this is unfortunate, why should their bad luck be the burden of everyone else? Other people are free to help the disabled and impoverished through free charity; it cannot be forcibly extracted.

    Society requires that we combat criminals and fight crime. No Objectivist would argue with that. That is not the point. The point is: what is another human being allowed to claim / demand from another? Does any human being have any moral right to make demands on the property of another for the sustenance of themselves/others?

    These are the issues that Objectivism quite definitely answers with Nothing and No, respectively. Whereas sacrificial forms of ethics such as utilitarianism answer with Money and Yes.

    It is not the moral duty of man to sustain others; we are not here to live other peoples’ lives for them. The moral purpose of our lives is to achieve our own happiness by recognising our values.

    The individual rights of man as a moral being preclude the use of force to dictate his morality for him. That is a simple, obvious, and necessary fact that logically follows. I cannot see how you can deny it. As Ergo once said, to impose a moral course of action by force is a gross contradiction. So, this refutes the idea of taxation EVEN IF it was right! That is why the system of ethics and government that Ebon has proposed and defended are a logical contradiction.

    However, taxation is not right. Your property belongs to you. It does not belong to the government. The government has no moral right to your property or wealth, and it cannot dictate how your hard-earned money should be spent. Government is, after all, the rule by party (indirectly) by the majority. Saying that it’s wrong for a majority of people to tell you what to do with your money but that it’s ok for government is a contradiction.

    Now, rational people recognise the need for government in a legitimate capacity. Rational people should be willing to pay for the police and armed forces, and for an objective fair legal system. Thus the role of government is to provide these SERVICES in exchange for a fee. Trade for trade, exchange of services; this is the only moral position of government.

    Whether you like it or not, or whether you can’t imagine how such a society might work, is actually irrelevant. The point is whether it’s right or not.

    Now, as for the issue of how to finance a government, that is a very interesting matter, one which Ayn Rand discusses in The Virtue of Selfishness. It is not hard at all to imagine how government can be financed freely and fairly without taxation, but I will not get into that here for one very important reason: the Argument from Ignorance is not an argument; even if Objectivists could provide no proper framework for financing government without taxation (which of course they can), that still would not make enforced taxation the “right” thing to do. That’s just like saying that because some people need religion in order to be moral, that justifies lying to and indoctrinating children.

  58. Lynet Says:

    The essence of your statement is contained in the sentence:

    The individual rights of man as a moral being preclude the use of force to dictate his morality for him. That is a simple, obvious, and necessary fact that logically follows.

    You may be wrong there. I have yet to see any logic of yours that overcomes my moral agnosticism on that point.

    Do you think you could summarise the logical argument? Perhaps you could correct the following so I understand you better:

    (P1) There exists objective morality of some sort which is binding on people’s actions and sensibly defined.

    (P2) The only sensible way to define an objective morality is in terms of what is considered good for a single person, by that person.

    Conclusion: Therefore, a person is morally bound to do what they consider good, and any attempt to force them to do otherwise is an attempt to make them behave immorally, and must be stopped.

    What have I missed? If you need P1, you’ve lost me already. And, in fact, if this were a sound argument, we would be forced to the conclusion that if it seems good to a person to force others to behave against their wishes then it would be an attempt to make them behave immorally if we tried to stop them. So your argument must be different — in fact, it must have a slightly different conclusion, for a start. Is it possible to set it out in that sort of simple form so the logic is obvious?

    (Thanks for the Symposium, by the way).

  59. evanescent Says:

    Lynet said:

    The essence of your statement is contained in the sentence:

    “The individual rights of man as a moral being preclude the use of force to dictate his morality for him. That is a simple, obvious, and necessary fact that logically follows.”

    You may be wrong there. I have yet to see any logic of yours that overcomes my moral agnosticism on that point.

    This point has already been addressed in detail, but I’ll try to summarise it here:

    Being a moral being means being able to freely choose between right and wrong. I take it you wouldn’t disagree with that. This is why animals aren’t moral or immoral, guilty or innocent, because they are incapable to making a choice between “right” or “wrong”. The only way to stop man having free choice about his own course of action, that is, being a moral being, is physical force. Therefore, morality becomes impossible when force is present.

    But, since man by his nature is a rational moral being (as the type of being that he is; not all men act rationally or morally of course), he MUST be free of force in order to live the way he should. Therefore, the use of force against a man is a heinous contravention of rights, until and unless that man has forfeited those rights by being a criminal.

    Do you think you could summarise the logical argument? Perhaps you could correct the following so I understand you better:

    (P1) There exists objective morality of some sort which is binding on people’s actions and sensibly defined.

    Objective morality is a code of values that guides an individual’s actions. It is not a duty or obligation to be moral, at least not in the sense of owing something to other people. You could say, I suppose, that a man in order to have personal integrity, has a duty to himself to act consistently with the hierarchy of his values.

    (P2) The only sensible way to define an objective morality is in terms of what is considered good for a single person, by that person.

    Yes, what is good for a rational being.

    Conclusion: Therefore, a person is morally bound to do what they consider good, and any attempt to force them to do otherwise is an attempt to make them behave immorally, and must be stopped.

    Ergo can correct me if I’m wrong, but I personally wouldn’t use the term “morally bound”. But yes, a rational being makes his decisions based on his hierarchy of rationally chosen values. To be moral is essentially to act consistently with your values. The only way to get a man to act in contradiction to his values is by physical force. This is immoral by definition. Therefore, social interaction requires that man has Rights. Inasmuch as the man is not a criminal, it is immoral to violate his rights, whether the violation is done by another man, a group of men, a mob, a committee, an elected party, or a government.

    What have I missed? If you need P1, you’ve lost me already. And, in fact, if this were a sound argument, we would be forced to the conclusion that if it seems good to a person to force others to behave against their wishes then it would be an attempt to make them behave immorally if we tried to stop them.

    You can’t take the concepts of morality and rationality out of context: a rational person needs a morality. When in a social setting, he knows he needs Rights to protect his identity as a moral being. He recognises the Rights of others necessarily because he recognises his own. A man who doesn’t recognise the Rights of others is, by logical definition, being irrational.

    A man who tries to force others to act the way he wishes, (in a perverted justification for his own happiness) is not only a criminal, by definition, he is also being irrational. Such a person is like a parasite or dictator, who can only exist by feeding off the assets of others. A rational person would not choose to live like this.

    Objectivism, like any other moral system, is not a guarantee that people WILL behave rationally or morally, it only explains how one should act.

    (Thanks for the Symposium, by the way).

    My pleasure.

  60. Ergo Says:

    “(P2) The only sensible way to define an objective morality is in terms of what is considered good for a single person, by that person.”

    Actually, Evanescent, P2 is false; that premise defines subjectivist.

    Also, it’s not necessarily the case that “To be moral is essentially to act consistently with your values.” Values are open to man’s choices; therefore, a man could act in pursuit of values that are in fact inimical to his life or contradictory to his other values or in conflict with the objective values required by a rational being.

    To be moral is to *discover* and pursue the values that are appropriate for the survival of man qua man, not mere brute survival, or parasitic survival, but proper, rational, and flourishing life. In this sense, Objectivism prescribes one’s own rational happiness as the highest *moral* (not merely existential) purpose of one’s life.

    Let me try to state this in some logical form:

    1) A value is that which one acts to gain or keep.

    2) A volitional being can choose from a given set of alternatives–it is the definition of having the faculty of volition.

    2a) A volitional being that acts upon a choice can be said to be acting in a goal-directed manner. That is, a volitional being can initiate goal-directed action in the face of alternatives.

    2b) Initiating goal-directed action implies value (goal) that one wishes to achieve, gain, and/or keep.

    3) All living organisms initiate goal-directed actions in the face of alternatives to the extent of their ability to choose from the alternatives.

    Therefore,

    from 2 (ab) and 3:

    4) All living organisms have values.
    5) All values presuppose an end or a goal toward which the action is directed.
    6) All goal-directed action presuppose alternatives from which the goals (values) are chosen and pursued.

    Further,
    7) An ultimate end or goal would be the most fundamental alternative that a living organism can ever face.

    8) Only life versus death is the ultimate alternative possible to a living organism.

    Therefore,

    9) If living organisms had more than one *ultimate* end, then conflicting ultimate ends might require contradictory actions.

    10) Contradictions do not exist in reality.

    11) If there are no conflicting ends, then there must be one overridingly ultimate end or goal against which all other actions are directed and determined at a given time.

    12) Therefore, all values and goals are means to an ultimate goal or end.

    13) From above, the only ultimate alternative facing living organisms is life versus death. Since life implies self-generated, self-initiated, goal-directed action, life must be the ultimate end for all living organisms.

    14) Therefore, for all living organisms, it’s own life is its ultimate value or end or goal.

    (For man, this ultimate value can be reflected upon explicitly and chosen volitionally; for animals, this ultimate end is pursued automatically with sufficient knowledge.)

  61. evanescent Says:

    Thanks for clearing that up and correcting me Ergo; very nicely and logically explained too!

  62. Mark Says:

    Just curious, Evanescent, but what do you think of evolutionary psychology and evolutionary ethics?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_ethics

  63. Mark Says:

    Also, what, precisely, is it that makes humans different from other organisms? Please be aware that I will probably ask for further definitions.

  64. Lynet Says:

    Oh, gosh, you’re right — we are about to start going around in circles. And don’t get me started on free will — let me just say that it’s hardly a topic on which consensus can be assumed!

    I already know which parts of that whole ‘values’ thing I think are completely off, and I don’t feel like going over it again.

    You can’t take the concepts of morality and rationality out of context: a rational person needs a morality. When in a social setting, he knows he needs Rights to protect his identity as a moral being. He recognises the Rights of others necessarily because he recognises his own. A man who doesn’t recognise the Rights of others is, by logical definition, being irrational.

    Is there more to that recognition of others’ rights than hope of reciprocation? Because if so, I don’t see it.

    Oh, and which should a person value more: the rights of others or the person’s own life? For it’s obvious that the two can conflict.

  65. evanescent Says:

    Lynet said:

    Is there more to that recognition of others’ rights than hope of reciprocation? Because if so, I don’t see it.

    The respect that one affords other people is an extension of the respect one affords to oneself.

    Like I said, Objectivism is NOT a guarantee that people will be perfect; no philosophical system ever could be. But Objectivism most certainly DOES mean that if you recognise your own rights, you MUST, NECESSARILY, recognise the Rights of others. Why? Because they come from the same place; man’s nature as a moral being. A person who doesn’t recognise the rights of others is NECESSARILY, by sheer brute logical extension, being irrational and immoral.

    Oh, and which should a person value more: the rights of others or the person’s own life? For it’s obvious that the two can conflict.

    Actually, no: this is the beauty of Objectivism; the rational interests of men do not conflict. If there is a conflict, it is clear that one of the men is not being rational.

    Mark said:

    Just curious, Evanescent, but what do you think of evolutionary psychology and evolutionary ethics?

    I’m a big fan of science and Richard Dawkins and I have a pretty good knowledge of evolution for a non-expert. Evolutionary theory explains how human behaviour arises; I don’t see any conflict with how our social behaviour is explained from an evolutionary point of view, such as kinship etc, and the system of morality that Objectivism proposes.

    Also, what, precisely, is it that makes humans different from other organisms? Please be aware that I will probably ask for further definitions.

    In a biological/anatomical sense, humans are just animals.

    What makes us different is our rational consciousness, a faculty that animals don’t have. “Rational being” is the term that best describes the greatest number of man’s attributes; it is the type of being we are and it only applies to us.

  66. Lynet Says:

    the rational interests of men do not conflict

    Obviously the trouble is that I’m female :-P (Sorry, but that’s how I read it; it’s how most women would read it, I think).

    I give up. I honestly don’t understand where you’re getting this from. I can comprehend how a person could hold such views dogmatically, but the derivation from pure logic escapes me.

    Have a nice life.

  67. evanescent Says:

    I’m not exactly living in the 1920’s Lynet, but I’m not going to cater to political correctness either. Man = mankind = human.

    Or, the next time I hear someone say “she’s a nice ship” or “she’s a beauty” to an inanimate object, should I get on my high horse and take offence?

    If you can’t understand why the rational interests of human beings don’t compete, that’s ok, but it certainly isn’t dogma.

  68. Mark Says:

    How do the rational interests of human beings never conflict? I have in mind the example of two people competing for a mate.

  69. evanescent Says:

    Hi Mark, I will answer your question about two people competing for a particular goal by quoting the four aspects of existence that Rand offers to the very same question: Reality, Context, Responsibility, and Effort.

    Reality: One cannot divorce a scenario from its surrounding. The fact that a man desires something does not mean that it is “good” for him to have it, nor that it is in his best interest. Therefore, the fact that two men want the same woman (for example) does not prove it is a rational interest for either of them, although it might be. But the standard for judging what is in your rational interest or not is not your emotional whims.

    To say that both men have valid competing goals is “to believe that it is proper, moral and possible for man to achieve his goals, regardless of whether they contradict the facts of reality or not.” – TVOS. In other words, a rational man doesn’t consider “I want it” as the be-all-and-end-all of his interests. He chooses his goals through reason.

    So, a man who wants a woman, any woman, simply because he “wants” her, is simply being irrational; just wanting something says nothing about whether you deserve it, or whether it’s good for you. Reality is a constant checkpoint.

    Now to context: when proposing any scenario, one cannot drop the context. “A rational man does not hold any conviction out of context”. A rational person doesn’t hold quixotic whims without comparing them to reality and what he can expect to achieve. For example, the man who wants to win the heart of a film-actor he hasn’t met and is never likely to meet is irrational. A rational person does not long after goals that cannot be achieved directly or indirectly by his own means. Now, how does a man get what he wants in a society, as opposed to a desert island? By trade; by exchanging his services for those of others; by exchanging value for value. A rational man realises that society is beneficial because it allows the opportunity of trade. The rational man doesn’t pursue what he cannot acquire, so he is counting on the ability of others to recognise his value to them and do business; whether the exchange be of money, or love. This is precisely why such a person doesn’t seek the unearned. In a free society, people compete for work, wealth, services etc. It the nature of that society that is to everyone’s interest; the struggle of competition is to the rational man’s interest, but struggle entails the possibility of loss. A rational person realises that competition and struggle is to his benefit, and if he is worthy he will receive, and if not, he won’t; but he doesn’t drop his goals from the CONTEXT of society and reality.

    Responsibility: Speaking of people who take situations out of context, Rand says “what they evade is the responsibility of judging the social world”…”there is the man who wishes to be rich, but never thinks of discovering what means, actions and conditions are required to achieve wealth. Who is he to judge? He never made the world – and “nobody gave him a break” “. – TVOS

    If you have desires or interests or goals, you have a responsibility to make them happen; no one is going to do it for you, and you cannot expect the object of whatever desire you have to fall into your lap; the real world doesn’t work that way, and nor should it.

    Now, in answer to your question, I can quote TVOS directly, speaking about the rational man:
    “He knows also that there are no conflicts of interests among rational men even in the issue of love. Like any other value, love is not a static quantity to be divided, but an unlimited response to be earned. The love for one friend is not a threat to the love for another, and neither is the love for the various members of one’s family, assuming they have earned it. The most exclusive form – romantic love – is not an issue of competition. If two men are in love with the same woman, what she feels for either of them is not determined by what she feels for the other and is not taken away from him. If she chooses one of them, the “loser” could not have had what the “winner” had earned.”

    Remember, only the irrational person seeks what he cannot earn through his own effort. Since the interests of two men competing for a mate conflict, logic dictates that one of them is being irrational. “The failure to give to a man what had never belonged to him can hardly be described as ‘sacrificing his interests'” – TVOS

    Contradictions don’t exist in reality; if a contradiction exists, such as the apparent conflict of interests, one of the premises must be wrong – in this case, someone is being rational, and someone isn’t.

  70. Mark Says:

    “He knows also that there are no conflicts of interests among rational men even in the issue of love.”

    Begging the question, as well as asserting that it is irrational to believe otherwise.

    “most exclusive form – romantic love – is not an issue of competition.”

    Only if you redefine “competition”.

    “If two men are in love with the same woman, what she feels for either of them is not determined by what she feels for the other and is not taken away from him.”

    When she makes a choice–and it need not be the most reasonable one–she often will distance herself from the other man to avoid cheating, and feelings can dissipate. Your statement is not universally true, or at least it implies a falsehood for anything other than the extreme short term.

    “If she chooses one of them, the ‘loser’ could not have had what the ‘winner’ had earned.”

    That is making a potentially false statement about both the loser and the woman.

    (Aside: The phrase “conflict of interest” is not generally used for the type of issue I brought up, as the phrase applies to people when considered alone. This issue would better be phrased as one involving “the competing interests of two people”.)

    “Since the interests of two men competing for a mate conflict, logic dictates that one of them is being irrational.”

    How?

    “… in this case, someone is being rational, and someone isn’t.”

    Why is that?

  71. evanescent Says:

    Begging the question, as well as asserting that it is irrational to believe otherwise.

    You need to check your logical fallacies Mark; this is in-no-way begging the question. Instead of just stating that you thought I did, you should have showed which part of my premises entailed the conclusion and which of my premises was dubious.

    Only if you redefine “competition”.

    Not at all. You are asserting the contrary to whatever I say without justification; I spent a long time on that last comment to explain it in detail, and you attempt to shoot it down with just one-line answers? Very disappointing.

    Now, trying to win the heart of the woman you love is not like a race. It is not a case of winner comes first. In the issue of love, like with any human relationship, the fundamental principle is TRADE. You wish to exchange your love for hers. Just as you cannot expect to get a job without turning up for an interview, and you cannot expect to win a lottery if you don’t buy a ticket, you have NO RIGHT to the love of that woman, she is not a prize to be won in exchange for you “finishing first”; she will (hopefully) make a rational choice that you have most to offer her in exchange for what she has to offer you. Even love is based on the principle of trade. Like my comment says, quoting TVOS: “If she chooses either, the “loser” could not have had what the winner had earned.”

    When she makes a choice–and it need not be the most reasonable one–she often will distance herself from the other man to avoid cheating, and feelings can dissipate. Your statement is not universally true, or at least it implies a falsehood for anything other than the extreme short term.

    Are you talking about some specific example of scenario here?? You asked what happens between conflicting “interests” in the issue of love and I answered you.

    That is making a potentially false statement about both the loser and the woman.

    I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. One cannot have one’s interests sacrificed if one had no claim or right to them in the first place. When one goes for a job interview with another person, one is counting on the rational choice of the employer to pick the best man for the job; whether that be you or not. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but you can’t make people’s choices for them. The possibility of getting what you want entails the possibility of failure. Just because the woman you love doesn’t choose you, doesn’t mean your rational interests have been sacrificed, nor does it mean the woman chose correctly; but it’s HER choice, and hopefully it will be rational. (By removing rationalism from the scenario, YOU beg the question.)

    How?

    Already explained why.

    Why is that?

    Already explained why.

    Seriously, Mark, are you interested in understanding the answers to your questions or not? If you are, these one-line thoughtless counter-remarks are lazy and show a profound misunderstanding of anything I’ve said. If you’d read my last comment you wouldn’t have asked me to repeat myself.

  72. Mark Says:

    “You need to check your logical fallacies Mark; this is in-no-way begging the question. Instead of just stating that you thought I did, you should have showed which part of my premises entailed the conclusion and which of my premises was dubious.”

    The only reason I labeled it that is because you said that one man goes into said competition knowing, from the start, Rand’s idea that such a conflict does not exist among rational humans, and this would influence his actions in the scenario, which we could then look at in the end and say that it is an instance of Rand’s idea in action (of course it is, if one person accepts the idea from the outset). That isn’t begging the question in the most exacting sense, but I want to see a scenario where two rational people compete and DO NOT acknowledge Rand’s idea. I want to know how we can see Rand’s idea clearly in effect in a real-world type of situation, not in a situation where someone already accepts said idea.

    “Not at all. You are asserting the contrary to whatever I say without justification; I spent a long time on that last comment to explain it in detail, and you attempt to shoot it down with just one-line answers? Very disappointing.”

    I thought a one-line answer should have been adequate when what I was responding to was the claim that romantic love is not something that can be competed for. Actually, as I started this present sentence, I realized that you may not have interpreted the issue the way I am, and therefore seem to be arguing past me. Do you mean that romantic love is not a competition between the lovers, or do you mean that no two rational people can compete to obtain a monogamous relationship with another? The first is, to me, obviously true, while the latter is far from it.

    “Now, trying to win the heart of the woman you love is not like a race.”

    So if a woman is interested in two men and wants to decide between them, and one of them is scheduled to go to Iraq in a couple months, is it not a race for him? If he leaves, the other will be able to interact more with this woman, and there is a good probability that she will decide on the one who stayed in the absence of the one who left, and not have as a factor the fact that one would be gone a lot of the time in their hypothetical relationship.

    “If she chooses either, the ‘loser’ could not have had what the winner had earned.”

    How does that square with what I said above? There are many different ways that “could not have had” can be interpreted, thus the language is imprecise and makes things very murky.

    “Are you talking about some specific example of scenario here?? You asked what happens between conflicting ‘interests’ in the issue of love and I answered you.”

    You did, but I still don’t understand how at least one of two people must be irrational if they are competing for a monogamous relationship with another.

    “I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. One cannot have one’s interests sacrificed if one had no claim or right to them in the first place.”

    What I meant when I said “that is making a potentially false statement about both the loser and the woman” is this: a) it is making a statement about the loser that is questionable–refer to my soldier-in-Iraq scenario above; and b) the woman’s situation is not a constant across all situations, again as per my example–she need not have made a completely rational choice, or the choice may be the consequence of the temporary advantage of one man over the other, or some other condition may be the case.

    “Already explained why.”

    And I just explained my problem with the reasoning.

    “Seriously, Mark, are you interested in understanding the answers to your questions or not? If you are, these one-line thoughtless counter-remarks are lazy and show a profound misunderstanding of anything I’ve said. If you’d read my last comment you wouldn’t have asked me to repeat myself.”

    I really am interested in the answers to my questions from an Objectivist’s point of view. I just happen to have a problem with the reasoning employed and thought that my one-line answers would be enough to provoke a response that would avoid said questionable reasoning. As such, I was not asking you to repeat yourself, but to provide an unambiguous foundation for your reasoning that avoids the ambiguity I see in it.

    BTW, what is the tag used to quote? Quote boxes make reading posts so much easier.

  73. evanescent Says:

    The only reason I labeled it that is because you said that one man goes into said competition knowing, from the start, Rand’s idea that such a conflict does not exist among rational humans, and this would influence his actions in the scenario, which we could then look at in the end and say that it is an instance of Rand’s idea in action (of course it is, if one person accepts the idea from the outset). That isn’t begging the question in the most exacting sense, but I want to see a scenario where two rational people compete and DO NOT acknowledge Rand’s idea. I want to know how we can see Rand’s idea clearly in effect in a real-world type of situation, not in a situation where someone already accepts said idea.

    Whether a person is aware of Rand’s philosophy or not is irrelevant. The principle is: the rational interests of men do not conflict. They don’t, whether you’re rational or not, or an Objectivist or not. If the interests of two men conflict, that means one of the men isn’t being rational.

    Do you mean that romantic love is not a competition between the lovers, or do you mean that no two rational people can compete to obtain a monogamous relationship with another? The first is, to me, obviously true, while the latter is far from it.

    Actually, the latter is what I’m saying. The two men have NO RIGHT to the woman, just by virtue of WANTING HER. In other words, desiring something does not mean you have a rational interest in that thing. Since there is not necessarily a rational interest at stake, there is no conflict.

    Both rational men want to win the heart of the women, but they do not separate their interests from the context of reality. In other words, they do not want to have the entire world their own way; they realise that it is in their rational self-interest to have a world where people trade value for value, and nobody receives the unearned. So, with this in mind, one of the rational men who want the same woman will necessarily not get her, because she only loves one of them. That person is the one who has earned her love; the other one couldn’t have had what he had. He has lost out this time, but his rational interests have not been sacrificed.

    You did, but I still don’t understand how at least one of two people must be irrational if they are competing for a monogamous relationship with another.

    I’m talking about the example you brought up: two people competing for the love of a third.

    she need not have made a completely rational choice, or the choice may be the consequence of the temporary advantage of one man over the other, or some other condition may be the case.

    Maybe, maybe not. What are you saying, that all romantic choices have to be ratified by a committee?? Who the woman falls in love with and chooses is HER choice. We hope she chooses rationally, she might not. Just like going for a job interview, you hope that the potential employer will be rational and choose the best man for the job. You hope that’s you, but maybe it isn’t. Nonetheless, the existence of struggle is to your rational interest. It is in your rational interest that YOU MIGHT LOSE, because otherwise there would be no hope of victory. So, two men who want the heart of the same woman are not putting their rational interests on the line, win or lose. In other words, the man who thinks he is entitled to every single thing he DESIRES is not being rational.

    (I would love to explain to you how to blockquote my comments but stupid WordPress won’t let me use the characters to do it without quoting this itself!)

  74. Spaghettim0nst3r Says:

    To find out how to blockquote someone, look under the “View” menu at the top of your screen for “Page Source” or “View Source” and there are tons of examples throughout.

    Also Evanescent and Ergo,

    Well done!

  75. cantueso Says:

    I have only just started to learn from your concepts. They are wonderfully neat and useful:

    “Humans are not at one end of an increasing scale of intelligence. [....] It is our TYPE of intelligence that makes us different.”

    You compare the “perceptual” intelligence of animals to our intelligence which you think is basically conceptual. Yours is. Mine is too, but I am blind as a bat; aren’t you?

    Yet I have a friend who sees wonderfully well, he SEES and remembers and learns from all he has ever seen. I get lost in the town where I have lived for 5 years. He can draw the streetmap of a town he once saw as a tourtist….

  76. evanescent Says:

    Hi Cantuseo, we all have skills that are better or worse than other people’s – however no matter how poor a human’s level of thinking and skill is, it occurs on the conceptual level. Even the most stupid human can still think rationally and conceptually.

    The only exceptions to this rule are newborn babies or the severely mentally retarded.

    A human that operates at the purely perceptual level is acting like an animal; although they are human beings in form, they are not acting like humans metaphysically, what Ayn Rand called “living qua man”.

  77. cantueso Says:

    Thank you for your answer. I do not agree, but I also think that it would be impossible to find proof either way.

    However, I have not yet finished reading your text. I had meant to get at your quote Rand (?) “and reality will wipe him out, as he deserves”.(!) Modern existence, at present and in the West, is not “survival”. But I’ll have to read you first.

    Thanks again.

  78. Legendzfall Says:

    Hi Evanescent,
    I read about halfway down, to where you had began talking to Lyset. Congratulations on being an Objectivist, first of all. I do have one criticism, however, and that is that you are very apologetic, and give way too much credit to irrational ideas(specifically Ebonmuse). If you are right(which you are), there is no need to apologize or give equal consideration(even if you’re just being polite) to irrationality.
    Consider that Ebonmuse is a collectivist — which means he advocates the use of violence against you, to accomplish his idea of “good” — which is obviously to take your property and give it to whoever he deems worthy. Never, ever apologize for calling that exactly what it is — evil. Immoral is not a strong enough word.

    -n


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