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Eric D

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    Eric
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    I was a teenage Objectivist, but abandoned it shortly after I began to study philosophy at university.
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  1. That's a very common misinterpretation of Kant - indeed, I mistakenly held it when I first began learning about his ethics. Kant does not believe that if you enjoy doing your duty, then your act lacks moral worth. Rather, he's interested in distinguishing (a) acts done from the motive of duty from (b) acts done from the motive of inclination but that accord with duty. So, imagine that in a particular situation, duty requires one to do act A. (An act, for Kant, is a composite of bits of behavior done for reasons expressed in maxims, so although for the sake of clarity I'm just talking about acts here, talk of acts implies talk of maxims.) Both Jones and Smith are in that particular situation, and both of them do A. Further, imagine that they both enjoy doing A. But now consider that Jones does A only because he enjoys doing it, while Smith, who also enjoys doing A, does it only because it is his duty. Now of Jones, we could say, counterfactually, that if he had not enjoyed doing A, he would not have done A. For that he enjoyed it is his reason for acting. However, of Smith, we could say, counterfactually, that if he had not enjoyed doing A, he would nonetheless have done A. So here, Smith's act has moral worth while Jones's act does not. There are certain technical problems with this sort of counterfactual analysis, but I think that generally, it effectively gets across the point that Kant was trying to make, which is that what matters in evaluating the moral worth of an action is one's reason for acting (which is expressed in the maxim on which one acts). As long as one acts for the right reasons, then one's act has moral worth, regardless of whether one also happened to act in accord with inclination.
  2. We could, as Wood does, distinguish Kant's ethics - that is, the ethical system developed by Kant in his ethical writings - from Kantian ethics - that is, ethical systems based on the fundamental principles of Kant's ethics, but that are not identical to Kant's ethics. I don't think that there's any reason to conclude that a devotee of Kantian ethics is committed to the existence of immortal souls. Kant himself was led to believe in immortality primarily because he was convinced that virtue had to be rewarded with happiness, and since in this life it's often not so rewarded, we must (or so he argued) posit another life in which it will be. But there's nothing inherent in Kant's fundamental ethical principles that entails a commitment to this belief about the relationship between virtue and happiness.
  3. 2046, thanks for the link. "Kant regards all moral theories prior to his as failing to explain the categorical nature of moral obligation..." That's true enough about Kant, but I'm not sure how that claim - that he 'regards all moral theories prior to his as failing to explain the categorical nature of moral obligation' - places him in one of the two categories you laid out above.
  4. Hi Veritas, thanks for that. To answer your question directly, yes, I'm very sympathetic indeed to a Kantian approach to ethics. I'm also very sympathetic to an Aristotelian approach, and think that Aristotle's ethics and Kant's are not nearly as far apart as many suppose (I'm more or less aligned with thinkers like Korsgaard here).
  5. "Interesting, I don't know if it applies to anyone's views here, but what I think - often - is the root cause of disagreement debating the objective ethics, is lingering and/or implicit mysticism and neo-mysticism. One party in the original belief that "man" is a supernatural being, outside of reality; and its apparent (at first) obverse: a forceful opposition to a metaphysics, or the fact that consciousness has a metaphysical identity. (Metaphysics = "mystical" - to many secularist thinkers, I've noticed, and the "brain" is just meat, after all)." Which philosophers would you put in each category/party? (Incidentally, most philosophers today are moral realists, according to the Philpapers survey (as most philosophers historically have been moral realists)).
  6. "The only reason I'm not getting into the nitty-gritty here is because I've talked about this topic many times over the years. I'm not as interested anymore." I totally understand that. I feel the same way about certain topics. Perhaps this is the question I ought to have posed initially (to those who are still interested in discussing the issue): Why think that the sentence, 'life is the standard of value' is true?
  7. Wow. Again, your fellow Objectivists don't think that you even represented Rand's argument accurately; why think that there's some set of non-controversial definitions of its key terms to which we can appeal? I'm not writing an article or a book on Rand. I'm not researching Rand. I'm discussing Rand with avowed Objectivists. For that purpose, relying on the take of avowed Objectivists, coupled with my own memories of what I read in the past (which, though it was some time ago, was most of Rand's corpus) is sufficient, I think. I was asked to come here by Veritas. We began discussing the topic of Rand's ethics in another forum, and he thought it would be more productive if we discussed it here instead. I agreed, and thought it would be helpful to get the input of other Objectivists. Veritas has been great, as have 2046 and Eiuol and Dream_Weaver. But the fact that you think that the notion that you're obligated to define the terms in an argument you adduced is unreasonable, but think it reasonable to ask others to define the terms in your argument for you - and the fact that you can't be moved to concede that that's manifestly ludicrous - says all I need to know. Thanks again for supplying the argument I requested.
  8. Hmm, sounds like you're more familiar with the anonymous to and fro of internet forum pissing contests than you are with serious philosophical discussions. I asked for an argument, and you kindly provided me with one. Again, I sincerely thank you for that. However, no serious student of philosophy would provide an argument and then note that since discussions often get bogged down in debates about terminology used in the argument, perhaps the person requesting the argument should supply the definitions of those terms. Surely you can see how patently ludicrous this is (in the context of a philosophical discussion). Rather, here's the normal pattern: I've supplied this argument, which I'm defending, and since subsequent discussion of the argument usually concerns the definitions of the key terms it uses, let me define them here so we can see if we're on the same page. Doesn't that obviously make far more sense? First, if I'm not clear on the argument - as I said, it's been some time since I read Rand, and I read her before I had any philosophical training - then why on earth would you think I'd be clear on the (technical) definitions? And second, anyone who has done any serious philosophy knows that it's never a matter of reading off definitions from the page, especially when we're dealing with a writer like Rand, whose foremost aim wasn't exactly clarity. That is, there will always be issues of interpretation. Heck, your fellow Objectivists don't even think that you've represented her argument accurately, so why would any reasonable person conclude that there's a set of non-controversial definitions of key terms to which we can appeal? Anyway, if you want to forego a discussion of the definitions and focus on my criticisms of your argument, then that's fine with me. But if you think that my criticisms fail because they depend on erroneous interpretations of the key terms, then perhaps you should define them for me after all, and show me why my criticisms fail in light of those definitions. I'm fine with either move.
  9. "Asking what kind of thing happiness is and answering various questions about it, including engaging with the endoxa and aporia of the day, is not exactly what Rand is trying to do." I agree. It seems to me, though, that Aristotle's concept of the chief good, and Rand's concept of the ultimate value, are one and the same. For instance, in TVoS, Rand wrote: "An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means — and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. . .Without an ultimate goal or end, there can be no lesser goals or means: a series of means going off into an infinite progression toward a nonexistent end is a metaphysical and epistemological impossibility. It is only an ultimate goal, an end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible." This seems to accord almost perfectly with Aristotle's account of the chief good. That's why I concluded that Aristotle's criteria, which strike me as eminently plausible, would apply to it as well. Indeed, Rand herself endorses the completeness criterion here (the ultimate goal is an end in itself, a final goal, a goal towards which all other goals are means). She also uses Aristotle's argument against an infinite series of goals in the above quote. So while I agree that Rand would not endorse Aristotle's method, she does seem to be using the expression 'ultimate value' as Aristotle uses the expression 'chief good'. (Sorry, I can't seem to get rid of the shading that came along with the quote above when I copy-pasted it!)
  10. "You are concluding then that in this sense that matter could be a standard for value equal to a strong nuclear force equal to life and that if life could be said to be the standard then any of the above mentioned (matter or strong nuclear force) could be said to the the standard as well. From this you might also ask why not just say “existence is the standard of value”. "I want to make sure I completely understand what you are saying before I respond. "Is this correct?" Hi Veritas, it's very close, but not precisely right. I'm not saying that matter or etc. could be the standard of value, but that as far as the reasoning goes (as I understand it), we have just as much reason to conclude that it's matter or etc. that is the standard of value as we do to conclude that it's life. So the claim is that life is a necessary condition for value, and that this claim - life's being a necessary condition for value - is somehow relevant to life's being the standard of value. My point was that there are plenty of necessary conditions of value, and so there's no reason to pick this one necessary condition - life - over the others. That is - and this is important - there's no reason given by the argument (viz. the argument from life's being a necessary condition of value to its being the standard of value). Now of course we could come in and then, post hoc, adduce all sorts of reasons to conclude that it's life that is the standard of value, and not any of the other sundry necessary conditions. But then it's not at all clear what argumentative work identifying life as a necessary condition of value did to move the reasoning closer to the conclusion that life is the standard of value.
  11. Eric D: "Could someone here who knows Rand's ethics well put Rand's argument for the claim that life is the standard of value in a succinct and clear form (ideally with the premises and conclusions clearly tagged)?" MisterSwig: "Premise 1: Your life is your ultimate value. "Premise 2: Your ultimate value is your standard of value. "Conclusion: Your life is your standard of value. "Which premise do you reject? "Usually these arguments end in a dispute over the concept of "life" or "standard" or "value." So you should probably define these concepts for us." (emphasis added) Eric D: "That's not how this works. You presented the argument, using the terms you chose, so you're obligated to tell me how you define them; I'm not obligated to tell you how the terms you're using in your argument are defined!" MisterSwig: "Oh, please. I didn't ask you to define my terms for me." That's not what the exchange above, read in its most natural way, reveals. I asked for an argument, and you graciously supplied one (and I thank you for that). In your argument, you used the terms 'life' and 'standard' and 'value'. You did not define them either before or after presenting your argument. But you did go on to ask me to define them. I then pointed out that it's your argument, so it's up to you to tell me how they're defined, it's not up to me to tell you how the terms in your argument are defined. It's your argument. You then denied asking me to define your terms for you. But as the direct quotes above reveal, that is, on the most natural reading of the exchange between us, precisely what you did.
  12. 2046, thanks for the links, I'll check them out when I get a chance.
  13. "Eric, I suppose I do not understand that objection per se. What would be the “host of additional necessary conditions of valuing”? Life is the fundamental condition." I'll try to make my point clearer. First, note that the relation 'is a necessary condition of' is transitive. That is, if A is a necessary condition of B, and B is a necessary condition of C, then A is a necessary condition of C. Second, let's grant that life, or being alive, is a necessary condition of value, or of valuing. It follows, via the transitivity of the necessary condition relation, that anything that's a necessary condition of life is also a necessary condition of value. And life has a host of necessary conditions, e.g. the value of the strong nuclear force. But then the value of the strong nuclear force is as much a necessary condition of value as life is, and it's not clear why one necessary condition, viz. life, is the standard of value while the other, viz. the value of the strong nuclear force, is not. N.b. this is an objection, not a refutation; that is, I'm just pointing out that the fact that life is a necessary condition of value does little to no work to establish that life is the standard of value, given the sundry other necessary conditions of value that we could invoke. Does that make the objection clearer?
  14. "Usually these arguments end in a dispute over the concept of "life" or "standard" or "value." So you should probably define these concepts for us." That's not how this works. You presented the argument, using the terms you chose, so you're obligated to tell me how you define them; I'm not obligated to tell you how the terms you're using in your argument are defined! That said, I appreciate your attempt at putting the argument, as you understand it, clearly, so thanks. (I realize there is some dispute among your fellow Objectivists about whether this formulation accurately represents Rand's argument as it's presented in TVoS, but since you did what I asked, I'll respond to your formulation.) "Premise 1: Your life is your ultimate value. "Premise 2: Your ultimate value is your standard of value. "Conclusion: Your life is your standard of value. "Which premise do you reject?" I would reject premise 1. Let's begin by considering what a chief good or ultimate value is. Aristotle is as good a guide as any here, I think, and I suspect that Rand would agree. So he argues that the chief good or ultimate value is that for the sake of which we do all that we do. This is a purely formal definition - if there is something such that all we do, we do for its sake, then that, whatever it is, is the chief good or ultimate value. Next, let's consider some Aristotelian criteria for the chief good or ultimate value. First, it must be complete or perfect, i.e. it must be desirable only for its own sake and thus never for the sake of anything else. Second, it must be self-sufficient, i.e. it on its own must make life choice-worthy and lacking nothing. We can now apply these criteria to life qua value. So, is it complete, or can we desire it for the sake of something else? It seems clear to me that we can desire life for the sake of something else, viz. happiness. Some people choose to die when life becomes unbearably painful, but choose to live up to that point. Why? Often, they live, or choose life, as long as by way of it they can be happy. That is, they choose life for the sake of happiness. Since this is possible - indeed, it happens frequently enough - it follows that life, qua end or value, is not complete, since it can be chosen for the sake of something else. And since the ultimate value is complete, life is not the ultimate value. That alone (if the argument works) suffices to show that life cannot be the ultimate value, and hence gives us reason to think that premise 1 is false. But we can briefly consider the other criterion. Is life qua value self-sufficient? It's difficult to see how. Life on its own cannot make life-choice worthy and lacking in nothing. Even Rand seems to grant as much insofar as she concedes that there is a fundamental choice between living and not living. Thus, life qua value is not self-sufficient, and since the ultimate value is self-sufficient, life is not the ultimate value. Thus, we have reason to believe that premise 1 is false.
  15. Do you think that we have to know all the concepts that a particular concept presupposes to use that concept effectively? Or would you concede that it's possible to use a concept and not be aware of at least some of the concepts it presupposes? EDIT: For example, according to Rand, the concept 'concept' presupposes the concept of 'measurement omission'. But would you say that you can't use the concept 'concept' unless you have the concept of measurement omission? That strikes me as implausible. After all, no one before Rand made the connection between the concepts 'concept' and 'measurement omission'.
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