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One Prime Mover

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  1. Wow. Thank you all for your time in responding to this; I came here with 15 minutes to spare hoping to get a brief response in... anyways, I'm just posting to let you know I haven't given up, and will hopefully get something more substantial in this evening.
  2. Please do not read hostility into my posts; I am arguing so that I can watch what is said in rebuttal. Eventually, I'll get it, and in the meantime I am sorry if the method of study that works best for me doesn't appeal to you. You're arguing by degrees when you need to be defending an absolute. Would I perform a heinous crime for a moderate sum of money? Of course not. Question: How does this weaken 'there are some crimes that are worth the potential rewards?' Answer: It doesn't. Multiplying a degree by ten doesn't turn it into an absolute. What are you trying to do here? I haven't. Are you saying that the value of my whole life can be weighed against any shred of voluntary immorality and always lose out? I'll die if I don't get the water, but any immoral breach to get it -- however slight -- is worse than death? Not defending this position as an absolute opens the door to some flexibility, and then the question becomes 'how much wiggle room?' An interesting possibility here may be that, due to the hierchical nature of morals and values, the slightest rejection of one value necessitates the collapse of the whole structure. That would help defend this morality as absolute, but requires the entire moral code be universally rigid. This is only possible if values never conflict in any way, or one value would have to be flexible enough to give way to the other in such a situation. But the heart of my problem here seems to be that very possibility. What if I end up committing some glorious accident that, by some chance of fate, presents itself in a manner that I know will result in me receiving a life sentence? Here, the value of honesty is conflicting with the value of life (which, regardless of any pangs of conscience or blows to self-image that telling a lie may entail, will certainly suffer a net loss if the value of honesty is upheld in this instance). Either I am misrepresenting this conflict, or an absolutely rigid system has no solution here; both values cannot be upheld. At heart, any hypothetical I could devise to justify an immoral act involves holding one conflicting value against another -- i.e. the first value prompts an action that the second value deems immoral. Hmm... I like this a lot. I think my error might be in here somewhere. Let me try to mull this around a bit and hope it doesn't get too tangled. If I were to act in my nature, the first thing I need to do is decide how to define that nature. There are lots of possiblities; "man" is just one example in a conceptual hierarchy of natures that runs from "organism" to "Canadian" and beyond. As far as I see it, the nature that is most closely relevant to the choices I make -- not to mention the closest to me perceptually -- is my nature as an individual consciousness. That nature infuses everything that I am; all of my beliefs, values, thoughts and concepts come from the relationship between Existence and my Consciousness. On a perceptual (introspective) level, there is a fundamental difference between 'Me' and 'You,' so why does "my nature as a man" take precedence over "my nature as an individual" in the construction of my own moral code? If it is possible to identify what is valuable to my nature as an individual consciousness, then it would be moral to choose the course of action that is in the best interests of those values. Thus, honesty is a virtue only insofar as it safeguards my values as an individual. If being honest in a given situation would oppose more values than it upholds, wouldn't it be according to my 'nature qua rational individual' to be dishonest? The question I can see coming next would be "where do your values come from?" Good question. As an individual, volitional consciousness, my life and my liberty are primaries for the same reason they're important to a morality of man. From my liberty arises a value in anything that increases the range of choices available to me, so that covers things like money. Then there were some deeper, instinctual places I couldn't reduce further. I hate boredom, for one. I can't tell you why... any ideas? Regardless, from there comes a value in mental stimulation -- i.e. 'fun' and the integration of challenging and novel things (travel, debate, education, etc). Rand seems to respond to this by sliding down a slippery slope that leads to purposeless hedonism ('animals grunting in the mud' or some similar imagery), but the values and aims that 'my nature as an individual' gives rise to are a far cry from her dire warnings. Even if they weren't, though, describing the potentially extreme results of a logical conclusion doesn't invalidate it. Holding 'my nature as an individual' as my moral foundation seems to give rise to a lot of values, none of which result in 'honesty' or 'respect for the rights of others' being supported as unflinching absolutes. Please keep in mind the disclaimer I started this whole thing off with. I'm not a sociopath seeking justification for heinous crimes I'm planning to commit. Right now, my morality is not based on logic -- it's based on that nameless emotionalism that drives most of the world, and with all of the bad comes the standard suite of 'Thou shalt not steal/kill/etc.' I'd love to adopt the confidence of having a morality based exclusively on inarguable logic flowing from axiomatic principles, but before I can accept it I have to push hard against all the cracks I think I see and hope none of them give . It would be very, very bad for me to adopt a moral code based on logic if I haven't figured it all out yet. How is this a contradiction? If my morality is based on my nature as an individual consciousness, then there is a very relevant difference between 'my rights' and 'the rights of others.' Since everything of value to me can be traced back to my nature as an individual, nothing can have value outside of that context. In other words, there is no value to the rights of others beyond the impact that violating those rights will have on me. And now we're back to weighing the pros and cons of any potentially immoral decision. Let me improve your hypothetical by bringing it in line with what I'm actually arguing: Would it be moral for another man to kill me if he knew he could get away with it and stood to gain something worth the possibility of being wrong about avoiding capture? In that case, it would clearly not be moral for me to let him do this, because it is a violation of my values. However, it would be moral for me to do the same right back at him, because in the reversal of this scenario my values stand to benefit at his expense. So, what if everyone adopted this morality? Would we dissolve into anarchy and chaos, with everyone ending up far worse than they are now? Not if people were rational, because everyone's highest value remains their own benefit. In such a society, it would become beneficial to band together for protection, make agreements of fairness and enforce them. Sound familiar? Objectivist morality arises from this 'nature as an individual consciousness' morality only when cooperating returns greater value than cheating. That's the critical condition that underlies the Objectivist ethic, and so defeats its status as an absolute as I see it. What logically follows is a sort of Prisoner's Dilemma played on a civilization-spanning level: It's moral to cheat unless not cheating stands to benefit you more, in which case the Objectivist morality asserts itself and we come full circle. It appears that adopting an Objectivist morality can happen only if it is an objective fact that 'always cooperating no matter what' provides greater value than 'cooperating most of the time and cheating only if doing so would provide greater value than not cheating.' It's actually an act of deductive logic to demonstrate how that is fallacious. But if morality is a guide to living my life, which is distinct from the lives of others, then why must I subject it equally to all human life? There's only one life that is mine, and morality is a guide to that life, so that life and those things it values should take precedence over all else. Can't I apply it differently to myself than I do to others and profit from the fact that they aren't smart enough to do the same? Sure, it's unfair and hypocritical, but that doesn't have an negative impact on the things I value unless others know about it, does it? Again I feel the need to emphasize that I'm only trying to understand, and I tend to do it by arguing with my teachers On what logical grounds do we add that missing corollary? How does absolutely recognizing another's sovereignty benefit me, my life or my values?
  3. Well, after a brief break from Objectivism to get my whole law school adventure under control, I'm back in the thick of things and I've stumbled upon another roadblock to my understanding. Hopefully y'all can help shed some light on this as you did with my Determinism problems awhile back. It has to do with reconciling an ethical system based on self-interest with the moral prohibition against 'sure-thing' theft and the like. I know this is a hot topic in the Ethics room, but most of those threads began with antagonism and I'd like to start fresh in a more learning-friendly atmosphere I learn best from arguing my position as if I were defending it to the death, then watching as it's torn to pieces. So don't read too much into my attempts to persuade you of my position. The fundamental alternative on which the entire Objectivist ethics is based is life. Those things that further a human's life are of value to it, and those things that work against one's life are not. I'm golden up to this point; I get lost when Objectivists attempt to justify certain choices as moral or immoral -- choices that, in many cases, I perceive to have an opposite effect on the individual's life. Let's take a common hypothetical. Hypotheticals help me learn. Feel free to modify the hypothetical or add necessary context if you feel it'll benefit understanding. I'm a robber, and I've got a plan to rob a bank. To determine the morality of this action, I will weigh the values of each alternative -- to steal or not to steal. Whichever alternative presents itself to me as having the highest value to the furtherance of my life is the alternative I will select, as per the foundation on which Objectivist morality is based. Rob The Bank! What will I get from robbing the bank? Money. Now, I've heard some Objectivists here say things like 'money has no value unless it's honestly earned.' Huh-what? Value is based on the furtherance of an individual's life, and having lots of money does that however it was received. Having more money opens doors. Money has an intrinsic value insofar as it directly enables the acquisition of other things that are inarguably valuable (medicine, food, shelter, etc). The intrinsic value of food and water doesn't depend on whether or not they've been earned; if I eat and drink, I live. If I do not, I die. Period. Therein lies the fundamental alternative embodied in material goods, and money clearly leads to their acquisition (and to LIFE) whether it was earned or stolen. Regardless of the 'cons' to follow, the money to be acquired from robbing the bank certainly has some value in and of itself. Be A Good Christian! What value is to be had in choosing not to rob the bank? First, I avoid the chance of being convicted of robbery, which would not only eliminate the value of the obtained money but also effectively destroy my life. I also maintain a purity of character, in that I can be confident that everything I own has been earned through the voluntary exchange of values. This is an issue of self-esteem, in that I can be comfortable with the knowledge that I am worthy of all that I have. To decide whether or not to rob a bank, the values of each competing alternative must be weighed against one another. Fortunately, this is a hypothetical so I can play God with the facts . Imagine that I am so confident of my plan -- certain, in the context of my knowledge -- that the chance of capture is so remote as to be outweighed by the far more likely eventuality of financial windfall (which, let's pretend, is of an absurdly high amount). As for self-esteem, what if I have placed a value on my capacity for subterfuge, manipulation and the required mastery to pull off a successful heist? These would all rest solidly on the foundation of 'ethics as furthering life,' because all can be used to acquire things that have value to that end. Perhaps I take pride in the successful application of these skills to the task of robbing a bank, in the application of valued skills to the acquisition of a further value (money). Or perhaps my self-esteem will take a hit, but it is outweighed by the value of money I'll be receiving. I'm sure that many of you will respond to this with specific weaknesses to my hypothetical. I am hoping that at least a few of you will look not only at this scenario, but also towards any number of other situations I could have drawn up in its place and the deeper philosophical issues that would underpin them all. I can only see two ways out of the dilemma of which my hypothetical is but one example, neither of which I find very persuasive: Position #1) Eliminate any possibility of positive value for all immoral acts This is what that 'money has no value unless it's honestly earned' argument seeks to do: It's an example of the claim that immoral choices cannot result in positive value by definition. It's not hard to imagine that every immoral scenario will have some potential for negative value (acquiring a dishonest reputation, a blow to one's perception of self-reliance, etc). So, if it were possible to obliterate any chance for positive value, every immoral act would have negative value and, thus, be immoral. I see the logic. I just don't see the premise. How in the world can one make the logical claim that "telling a lie" obliterates the pro-life value of a hundred million dollars, if it were possible to acquire the latter by doing the former? What if I need that money for life-saving surgery I can't otherwise afford? Clearly, I can shape my hypothetical by heaping value after value upon the benefits of robbing a bank; the possibilities are endless. What if I knew how to save the world from a natural disaster but no one believed me, and I needed the money to build my anti-doomsday machine? At some point, even the most stubborn Objectivist has to recognize the potential for value in at least a few bad deeds. And once they do, the entire ethical system falls apart because it depends on its absolute nature (Rand: "In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit."). Position #2) The negative value of an immoral act always outweighs the positive value Here's where I think people are arguing from when they list the flaws in any given hypothetical. It's as popular a tactic in these forums as it is frustratingly irrelevant, because it misses the forest for the trees: It only addresses the specific hypothetical and not the philosophical point it's making. Regarding my hypothetical, I might hear things like: "What if you get caught?" or "What if your grandmother hid her engagement ring in a safety deposit box at the bank you robbed and cuts you out of the will when she finds out you took it?" From a thread on the Ethics forum regarding the ethics of owning up to vomiting on a stranger's rug: "Do you want to be the kind of person who pukes on stranger's rugs?" or "What if he stops having parties because people keep puking on his rug?" While I maintain that specific instances of this strategy are ineffective as they apply only to the specific hypothetical under analysis, beneath all of them is an implicit statement of Position #2 which would apply to all immoral acts. I can't see how this can be logically supported. How can one say that every immoral act will have some net negative value to the furthering of one's life? If a game were played between someone holding this opinion and a creative author, with the author constantly reworking a hypothetical situation to respond to any negative values the Objectivist suggested, eventually the author would end up with something that the Objectivist couldn't find any compelling fault with. Sure, it's a hypothetical situation, but it wouldn't be an impossible one -- and a moral code that speaks in absolutes must apply to possible hypotheticals, otherwise the moment 'possible hypothetical' becomes 'reality' the code falls apart! Anyways, that's the crux of my issue, and it goes a lot further than lies and theft. I see this having implications on any absolute characteristic of Objectivist ethics, and I'd really like some help figuring this out so I can move on to politics.
  4. I finally got started on a rather involved series of novels ("DEATH," predictably followed by "PLAGUE," "WAR" and "FAMINE"), and I think the first chapter turned out damn spiffy. The general idea is of a final battle between the personified forces of memory and loss (my version of the good vs. evil showdown), playing out in the not-too-distant future. Please let me know what you think! Chapter 1: Memories of Sound and Fury “The Boiler Room” Underground Industrial Music Club Houston, Texas If there was music to the sound and the fury, it struggled to be heard. The view from the stage was one of Hell: the fire of blinding pyrotechnics, the heat of tightly packed bodies and the writhing and thrashing of a captive audience. It was power, it was chaos tightly leashed, and Colin desperately drank it down. He clung to rhythm and rage as if they were driftwood and he was drowning; he wanted to be the sound, be the fury, be anything other than Colin Shaw. Colin played harder, and things got a little better. He could fight himself, could fight the past, but it was the night that was dragging him under. This night was a bad one and Colin struggled to escape it. Colin played louder, and things got a little better. His eyes slammed shut against the sweat pouring down his face, but only for a second. He wasn’t ready to look inside just yet. The night was heavy and smothering, demanding Colin’s undivided attention. It felt alive, just a little, its conscious purpose to weigh down in rebellion against Colin’s struggle to repress and to forget. He could feel its insistence against his refusal to think, his unwillingness to face what he had done. Insidious, it endured even after blinding stage lights replaced the accusing judgment of the stars outside. Colin shut his mind like he had his eyes. Blind to his doubt, deaf to his guilt, he numbed himself to the sins he’d committed with the setting sun. These were the things he wanted to forget, so he played louder. He played harder. The chemicals--some legal, some not--kicked in and wrapped Colin in an anaesthetic fog. The night fell back, and memory, too. Angry, hot music pulsed to the pounding drum, drowning out any sound that wasn't a part of it. As rhythmic as it was discordant, as much outlet as it was art, it washed over the densely packed crowd in the pit at the foot of the stage. They thrashed in time with every beat, lost to a primal trance, vainly grasping for an experience of oneness with the thunderous crash of fury as music. The Boiler Room used to cater to the electronic crowd. It used to call itself Flux, back when raves were good business. Tastes change. The people wanted rage and they found it in Seethe, a threesome of talentless young twenty-somethings with that perfect combination of style and volume. Colin was Seethe's drummer. It was a long set, and Seethe’s screamer, Scott, had three encores selflessly lined up. Colin wished he could lose himself with the practiced ease of the people he was playing to, to find that same place of mindless freedom from heat, pain and fear. He couldn’t. Burning muscles and crippling fatigue were all he had tonight; what rage he had was lost to chemical numbness. Colin cobbled together the deafening rhythms with all the passion he’d bring to a tedious chore. Colin allowed his eyes to wander, roving in search of some distraction to lure his aimless attention. Thoughts flitted from place to place like sparks in a gusting wind. They were well behaved; they avoided what Colin had forbidden them. He raised his gaze to the mob, to the crowd at the foot of the stage, and saw ... something. As one does when reality is suddenly besieged, when the comfortable and the expected is threatened, Colin saw without seeing for a few disorienting seconds. The first one passed, and something became someone: A woman, standing in the pit. Another rushed by and there was something about her, something that couldn’t be. A third stretched on forever, and Colin saw. A lightning current of electric shock consumed him, radiating cracks through the wall of numbing rhythm he’d raised around himself. Seethe’s performance came to a strangled halt. A drumstick fell from a hand gone suddenly limp. When volume is as important to music as talent, silence is unforgivable. Scott's head turned fractionally, just enough to meet Colin's look of stunned surprise with one of reserved, icy coolness. Seethe's lead singer signalled a restart to the lightning crescendo Colin had interrupted. Colin retrieved his drumstick, tearing his disbelieving eyes from the girl who had caught them. There was one woman in the pit that Colin had seen before. On any other night he would have been watching her from the moment the fires first blazed to life for Seethe's ninety-minute set. Flawless in the muted light, she always struck him as out of place. Her black hair was streaked with electric violet and she, unlike anyone else, always kept it from matting with sweat. It framed a delicate face made enticingly dangerous by a scarlet eyebrow stud that glinted with the color of blood. She moved with passion, throwing herself into the sound without inhibition, revelling in a tight dress that combined with frenzied dance to show off every flattering curve she knew she had. It was during Seethe’s first gig that Colin had wondered if she would accept an invitation backstage. He’d gotten his answer when she'd met his stare with a sly wink and a devilish smirk. Colin had seen pretty women before. He didn't think there existed one who could make him fumble a base beat. It was the girl who wasn't dancing that had. She stood in the center of the thrashing crowd, unmoving, like she was deaf to the music. Childlike eyes stared back at Colin from a small face, her mouth curved in a way that was neither a smile nor a frown. Her hands were folded delicately. She was eighteen, at most, and dressed to be forgotten. Her straight, brown hair was utterly uninteresting. She wore no jewellery, no make-up. Colin watched the pit and its people pulsing around her, an unchecked chaos more frenzied than Seethe's ear-splitting music. It was energy that should have broken anyone unwilling to bend, dragging them under or forcing them out, yet the girl watched him serenely from its center. Cradled in a ring of empty floor perhaps three feet across, she stood delicate and resolute in the eye of a hurricane. Watching. Struggling to retrieve what was left of Seethe’s musical momentum, Colin pounded hard the opening he'd ruined. He played as loud as his screaming muscles would allow, hammering out rolling thunder to overwhelm the sounds of disapproval from Seethe's unrelenting fans, to quiet his mind as it guttered like a dying flame. Colin looked back to the girl. She still stood where he'd seen her last, deep blue eyes lifted to meet his. Her head was bent to the side, cocked curiously, and one corner of her pale lips had edged upwards into a sad half-smile. The music lunged forwards and swept Colin up in its passage. He lost his awareness of passing time as his attention drowned in the depths of the girl’s eyes. He played robotically, mounting speed and pressure, coaxing new heights of fury from the Boiler Room's ravenous pit. The mob surged to life more violently than before in an attempt to regain what Colin had carelessly taken from them. The air swelled with intensity of sound and Seethe's fans drank it down. Only one remained still: The girl in the eye of Seethe's musical chaos, the woman no one touched. Driving Seethe’s momentum, Colin played the mob like a weapon against the girl who shouldn’t be. He watched Kurt struggle to keep up on guitar and dragged Scott through a white-water bridge that left him gasping for breath. It wasn’t enough; Colin led Seethe into the red, and the mob followed. The inevitable soon happened: A studded headbanger with silver-spiked hair tripped, stumbled and fell, meeting another man's flailing elbow with his lower jaw. Recoiling, his bloodied face twisted in angry, frightened pain, he reeled into the girl's three-foot circle of empty solitude. Colin's eyes lifted and his breath caught. He was surprised at how desperately he wanted him to hit her-–anything to ground in reality the madness in the pit, the impossible empty stillness in which one woman stood. The man spun on his ankle, pivoted and lost control, leaning wildly as he groped for balance. He drew away from the girl. Colin was certain he'd miss her completely, then watched as the headbanger’s arm cracked like a whip towards her face. With no more than an inch to spare it contorted in a way that was inhuman, snapping as it bent outwards to avoid contact. The girl watched with unblinking disregard. No one looked towards her as the wounded headbanger crashed to the ground and was swallowed by the crowd. Everyone danced, and everyone kept their distance. The girl took a step forward. Unhesitant and purposeful, it was quickly followed by another. She pressed towards the stage, moving effortlessly through the chaos Colin had created. He watched with dawning fear as Seethe's hungry fans parted like a curtain, flowing out of the girl’s path with a single-mindedness that wasn’t possible. Colin fumbled again, and again brought Seethe to blasphemous silence. Insults were flung from the pit by men who moved aside with mute complacency to make way for her. She never came within a foot of another human body, never had to wait for one to move out of her way. Colin felt bile in his throat and rankness in his gut. He lifted a hand to his mouth, staggered to his feet amidst curses and thrown bottles, and fled the stage. ~~~~ It was hot outside, too, even for Texas. The parking lot, a run down mat of cracked, black asphalt, overturned garbage cans and blowing trash, was dark: Shattered bulbs outnumbered working lights three to one. This late it was almost empty, and Colin had little trouble finding his truck despite the darkness. His mind was tangled in the memories of that girl, and he went through rote motions without awareness: Pocket. Keys. Lock. Distracted, he opened his trunk before remembering he'd left the stage without his equipment. The hatch swung upwards and thoughts of strange women were lost to a moment of sickening confusion as Colin stared dumbly at the broken corpse piled awkwardly into the back of his battered Explorer. Memories assailed Colin, images and sounds and emotions he'd so desperately sought to forget. Numbed and blinded by drug-soaked denial, Colin faced a sick second of plunging surprise when his eyes met the body of the man he’d murdered. Blood came first, a surfacing vision so visceral and primal that, for a moment, it was all consuming. Memories dissolved into a red haze and Colin knew only a crimson fog that held no real meaning, until it took shape as the spattered mess he’d wiped from his windshield hours earlier. An accompanying symphony of furious thunder became the memory of screeching tires, a metallic collision, and the deathly finality of flesh on concrete. The rage he thought he'd lost onstage swept over him like a breaking wave and dragged him underneath a tide of anger soured with fear. Colin slammed the trunk, and then found himself in the driver’s seat with no memory of the seconds between. He grit his teeth, grinding them loudly, and tightly gripped the steering wheel. It became his anchor for a single pregnant second until he saw Scott reflected in his rear-view mirror. The Boiler Room’s door was swinging behind him and he was running in Colin’s direction. Leaping into frenzied action, Colin sought his keys, fighting back a knot of panic nested like a coiled snake in his stomach. He twisted the ignition, the car sparked to life, and Colin pealed from the parking lot, catching only half of Scott’s angry scream: “FUCK--!” Tiny specks of water dotted Colin's windshield as a light rain began to fall. ~~~~ It was rage that endured as Colin sped down unlit streets, outlasting fear and memory. The rage turned inwards, feeding upon itself, burning away anything that might hold it in check. Colin never knew anger like this; he hadn’t thought himself capable of it. He hadn’t thought himself capable of murder, either. The body in the trunk belonged to Sandy Fillipo, the man who’d raped Colin’s sister. Colin remembered that night only as a series of empty conversations with the words torn out. Everything else was gone, blasted away by the trauma of knowing. He couldn’t remember how he’d heard or who told him or what he’d been doing when it happened--that night was only the formless source of the fury that now gripped him. Colin knew he’d fucked it up, way worse than he thought possible, because the unexpected had made him sloppy. He hadn’t intended to run Sandy down--it should have been cleaner than that. Colin’s hands tightened on the steering wheel, twisting against the old leather. It should have been slower than that. Colin didn’t think there was anything that could tear his mind away from his toxic anger until it was obliterated by flashing red and blue: The lights of an approaching cop played across his dashboard. With fury gone, terror flooded in to take its place. Colin slowed, praying to any god that would hear him he’d get to watch that cruiser pass. The cop slowed to match his speed. Colin hanged his head, shaking, as he pulled to the side and slowly brought his truck to a halt. Trembling fingers reached the ignition and killed the engine. He sagged in his seat, pale faced and desperate, clinging to the futile hope that he might yet escape capture. He watched the cop open his door and step out of his car. As big and imposing as any man had a right to be, the policeman walked with a confident swagger that exuded Southern authority. He stopped beside Colin's door and waited for him to roll down the window. "License and registration, please," the officer said once Colin had done so. It wasn't the first time he had heard this from a cop, but tonight the words held a uniquely threatening air that spoke to the secret in Colin's trunk. Fumbling, Colin searched for paper and plastic then handed them over. Summoning what strength he could, he asked in a voice that barely rose above a whisper, "what... uh... what's the... uh... problem, sir?" Colin cringed when he heard himself stutter and grope for those simple words, and again prayed he wouldn't be asked any difficult questions. "You were speeding, Mr. Shaw," the cop stated flatly as he inspected Colin's license. Looking up, the officer paused weightily. "And your windshield's cracked." He leaned in further, nostrils flaring as he sought the odour of dope or alcohol. His forearm rested against the base of Colin's open window. "Why's your windshield cracked?" His mind a torrent of useless excuses, Colin grasped for the one he figured made the most sense: "Deer," he answered. A deer. In Texas. Colin knew it to be better than 'the body in the trunk,' which was the only other answer he'd found in time. Looking to the cop, Colin saw with clarity that 'deer' wasn't good enough. The cop stood tall and took a step back. "Get out of the car, Mr. Shaw. Keep your hands so's I can see 'em." He offered a snide smile, one that begged excitement and dared Colin for it. "I spook easy." Colin's legs were like water. He hadn't been drinking and the drugs weren’t the kind that would matter, but he doubted his ability to keep his bladder in check let alone his chances at a roadside sobriety test. Fighting weak muscles and rubber joints, Colin opened his door and clambered from the vehicle. He didn't move far, giving the truck just enough berth to swing the door shut before nonchalantly leaning against its rust-spotted hood. "Say it again," challenged the policeman, advancing to bring his eyes in line with Colin's. "Tell me again why your windshield's cracked." When Colin didn't answer, groping for words that wouldn't come, the cop sneered and advanced further, backing Colin against the driver's side door. "It's been a rough night. That's funny shit. Say it again and I might be keeping you around for a bit, you know, keepin' it--" The snick of a door latch interrupted the officer. Both men turned, surprised, and Colin watched with sick disbelief as his trunk opened wide. It was only then that he felt keys in his hand. He looked down in bewilderment. Trapped under the white-knuckled pressure of his own thumb was the remote release to his own trunk. Colin let go of the grey, rubber button and blinked into the cop’s curious stare. His keys slid slowly from his grasp. They clattered to the ground. The policeman stepped behind the open trunk and craned his head to look inside. Colin followed. The corpse was uncovered, glassy eyes staring skyward, obscene in its naked visibility. Colin eyed the abandoned lots to either side of the road and contemplated a mad dash into the darkness, weighing a life in prison against one on the run. Reaching up with one arm, the cop casually shut the trunk and turned to face Colin. "Get yourself to an auto shop when you can, sir. Speeding while you can't see out your front window's gonna get you stopped by more cops than just me." Later, Colin would vainly try to remember what he was thinking during the seconds that followed. He was only ever able to remember the words he spoke, words that would forever represent his perilous brush with insanity. He would think of them as a last ditch struggle for understanding -- even at the cost of his own freedom: "There...", then, "wait," then, "but there's a body in the trunk." "No, there isn't," the policeman said, then turned towards his car. Colin met the cop's retreating back with dumbfounded silence. He didn't move, didn't breathe, until the policeman had left and the bright redness of his rear lights had faded into a twinkling dot on the dark, distant horizon. ~~~~ Canal St. Subway Station New York City, New York Years before, when the world still took pride in the work of human hands, the locomotive was a symbol of achievement. It was the stuff of motion and the stuff of life, a testament to the power of human ingenuity and all of its realised potential. Tastes change. Today, people didn’t care about the stuff of life. Death had become the norm, and darkness had grown alluring. The subway traded its importance for something else, something sinister. Perhaps it was Hollywood’s fault, exploiting it as the dark bedroom closet of an adult’s world, a modern replacement for a midnight graveyard grown campy and comfortable through simple overuse. Perhaps the newspapers were responsible, selling what crimes were committed here as if the darkness of the tunnels was to blame. The sounds were unique and ubiquitous: the third rail's quiet, background hum, the squealing of brakes, the ever-present din echoing down from the world above. Sinister though it was, Eric was well accustomed to this modern system of impersonal trains and pitch-black tunnels. A strong gust of wind rustled the pages of yesterday's paper, quietly informing Eric to the arrival of yet another train. Standing briskly, the newspaper forgotten on the bench beside him, Eric stepped forward. The doors opened with a hiss and a soft chime. The subway was surprisingly busy for almost two in the morning, every bar and club in the city reaching last call at roughly the same time. A great difference existed between the subway during the day and the subway at night. Then, businessmen and businesswomen, anxious to return home after a long day's work, filled the subway to capacity. Eric preferred the night. Usually, the subway was nearly empty. At two in the morning it was almost packed. A pair of empty seats greeted his roving eye upon entering the cabin and Eric immediately took them both: one for himself, and one for the black duffel bag he carried. Inside were all of his worldly possessions, and something even more important: Inside was the secret he had sacrificed everything to protect, information he would give his life to see in the proper hands. Eric's head drooped against the window, an advertising poster just outside conveniently existing as an anchor for his wandering attention: "GOT MILK?" It was soon gone as the subway accelerated, swallowed in blackness as the tunnel engulfed the train. Eric blinked as a lone light swept by. He ran a hand through greasy hair, then down over the stubble peppering his cheek and chin. He needed both a shave and a shower. The knowledge was met with a grimace, for there was no way Eric could have either. He was out of money and had nowhere to go – nowhere safe, at least. Taking a shower at the homeless shelter he was heading for was out of the question for it required leaving his belongings unguarded. The volunteers were well meaning, but they couldn't be trusted to remain vigilant over something so important. Slowly, the hypnotizing jostle of the subway's motion and the flickering, fluorescent light above lulled Eric into the past. Six months ago, everything was so simple. Maybe not perfect, maybe not everything he'd dreamed his life would be at thirty, but it was simple. Maybe he never did earn enough money for a Porsche. Maybe the law firm he dreamed of had devolved into a singular unethical practice that, despite all his self-justification, amounted to little more than ambulance chasing. Maybe his comfortable three-bedroom house with that white picket fence of success became a two-bedroom apartment after all. Sure, his life wasn't what he had dreamed of. Eric hadn’t known it then, but the simplicity made him happy. Six months later, nothing was simple anymore. His practice was gone. His wife had left him. He'd sold his apartment and drained his bank accounts. These days he lived in hotel rooms or homeless shelters or, when a mark was particularly wealthy, an apartment for a few weeks. He never stayed in one place. He couldn’t, not since-- “Hey, dude.” A voice came from somewhere beyond his reverie, drawing Eric back to the here-and-now. An indistinguishable shape leaning over him reflected in the subway window, swaying from side to side under the influence of the cabin's movement. "Dude," the voice repeated. "You okay?" Eric turned his head, squinting as the brazen fluorescence of the subway interior assaulted his vision. Looking up, his bleary gaze was met by that of a greasy teenager, maybe seventeen years old, staring down at him. The mask of concern he wore was obviously unfamiliar, a momentary lapse in the imposing image his lanky hair, bulky clothes and wallet chain was meant to present. One of those roving lights, darting past, streamed in from the subway window and brushed the kid's chin. The subway's brakes squealed audibly and the boy's body sagged under the weight of the sudden deceleration. Eric was decidedly not okay. He was exhausted. In typical superficial affirmation, he merely nodded his head. "Yeah," he finally spoke, his voice carrying a little more annoyance than he intended. The teenager immediately bristled, the mask of concern fading. "Yeah," he repeated, softening his tone, straightening in the red bucket seat he'd been occupying for the past few stops. "What do you want?" "I want to sit down," the teen replied hotly, eyeing the seat next to Eric with distaste. Glancing over, Eric grimaced at the black duffel bag. Fuck. "Ah. Sorry," Eric grunted dismissively in response, motioning vaguely in the direction of the floor. The teenager--Alex, by the look of the A-L-E-X necklace he wore around his neck--bent over and picked up the duffel bag, grunting under its surprising weight. "Shove it underneath," directed Eric. "Christ, what the fuck's in here?" Fortunately, the clanking of metal within was vague enough - even as the duffel bag hit the floor. Grunting demonstratively, Alex roughly thrust it under the overhanging seat and dropped unceremoniously into the chair. Eric yawned, reminding himself how tired he really was. He needed sleep. The subway's slow deceleration ended at the next stop along its route, the automatic doors opening to admit the countless nightly patrons anxious to find their way to their safe, welcome homes. Eric ignored them, even as one man latched onto the support bar a few feet above his head. He stared hungrily at the window, yearning to be swallowed, once again, by the stuff of memory. "So, what's your name?" Alex had turned somewhat, propping his head against his arm, the elbow of which rested comfortably on the back of the seat. Eric allowed a soft hiss of air to escape from between pressed lips. He didn't want to talk. He wanted to sleep. "Eric," he answered absently. It wasn't for a few seconds that he realised he'd given his real name. He never gave his real name. His defences rose; he would not let fatigue get the better of him tonight. "I'm Timothy," the kid responded, earning a glance at the necklace from Eric. The kid's head lowered, and he smiled. "Alex is my girlfriend." This earned another tired glance from Eric, this time at the bulky clothing, unkempt hair and silver wallet chain. "Yeah, I suppose I don't look the part. Whatever." Al—-Timothy was remarkably adept at gauging Eric's thoughts. "So," Timothy continued, his voice slightly unsteady in the face of Eric's determined silence, "you got a home?" The silence continued for a few more moments. Finally Eric lazily shook his head. "I did," he responded. "I had a wife, too, and a job. And a shower." Timothy laughed out loud at that. "Yeah. That kinda sucks--for both of us." Timothy wrinkled his nose playfully. Eric couldn't help but smile as well. The kid’s good cheer was contagious and his mischievous grin opened great fissures in the social bulwark Eric had erected around his thoughts and words. He hadn't smiled in a long time. Even so, he remained quiet. Sure, Eric told himself, the kid was good at lifting spirits. Didn't change the fact that Eric hadn’t slept in two days, or the fact that nothing mattered more than what was in that black duffel bag. The kid wouldn’t let up. "So what did you do? How'd you end up like this?" "I was a lawyer." Eric managed to lift his head away from the window's welcome support, his eyes finally relaxing as he grew accustomed to the bright light. He tried to gauge the kid's reaction as adeptly as the kid had read him. Timothy wore his thoughts on his sleeve: He was obviously stunned. "A lawyer? I didn't know lawyers could become ... uhm ... could lose their home. There can't be many like you around. Did you lose your license? Or whatever it is you need to ... to be a lawyer?" Timothy had taken to lazily playing with the lettered chain around his neck, idly twirling the 'X' between his thumb and index finger. Eric nodded perfunctorily. "I skipped some court dates," he offered by way of explanation. "Wow," Timothy exclaimed immediately, smacking Eric's knee. Eric flinched at the touch, but Timothy seemed not to notice. "That was five words. You’re doing better." He chuckled again. "Look, kid,” Eric began. “I'm tired. I've been awake for two days, and I’ve got a shelter to look forward to." "Shacking up in homeless shelters working out for you, then?" The 'X' stilled, Timothy's head cocked with interest. "Interesting people, I guess," Eric responded. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a conversation like this. Wait. Yes he could. Of course he could: Six months ago. 'The last time' for everything seemed to be six months ago, give or take. "Yeah. I guess," Timothy parroted. He quieted after that. Tired of doing all the work, Eric supposed. He was surprised at how disappointed the end of the conversation made him, at how suddenly he wanted it back. Again Eric wrapped himself in silence. The black window, pierced savagely at regular intervals by the shining lights in the tunnel's darkness, drew him in. He leaned his head against the glass, the soft vibration calling him to sleep once more. The subway slowed and the window's blackness took on the artificial, yellow glow of an approaching stop. "Why is this place so busy this late? I’m not giving my seat up to some old lady,” Timothy said through a smile as the train was coaxed to a stop. “If she’s young enough to be out this late, she’s young enough to stand.” Eric barely lifted his head, intending to offer little more than a glance of acknowledgement, but a careless look towards the kid’s necklace saw... something. Immediately Eric cursed his stupidity, his relaxed guard, his weakness and lack of discipline. It was something he’d seen time and time again, something he should have expected. Six months ago, that something cost him his job, his wife and his home. It had stolen his simple life and left a broken nightmare of violence and fear in its place. For only a moment, Eric’s eyes were open. One moment was all he needed: The letters of Timothy’s necklace spun, rearranged, gave birth and died in the split second it took Eric to digest what he was being shown. ‘ALEX’ to the woman on Eric's left, to the newly arrived drunks, to every single one of the other passengers, but something else to Eric, and something else to Timothy. It was a name Eric recognized, a name he knew to be a threat. Only a Shepherd would wear that name. Only a Shepherd could hide it in plain sight. Eric led his thoughts down paths of power. The fluorescent light above stopped flickering and swelled, along with the other lights lining the cabin. The increased illumination was subtle, yet a few of the passengers lifted their heads. A smirking know-it-all turned to the woman beside him (girlfriend? sister? stranger?) and offered an explanation he'd clearly concocted on the spot: "The subway stopped, so there's a better connection to the second rail. You know, the electrified one that powers everything." They didn't know the truth. They couldn't know the truth, for that was the way things were. Why could Eric see things that others could not? Why must he know Timothy for what he was? Why couldn’t he, too, lose himself to blindness and live, ignorant of the wolves in the shadows? “Just in the nick of time,” Timothy whispered, idly twirling the ‘V’ between his thumb and index finger. His eyes met Eric’s with a flat, shark-like stare, void of humanity, a soulless force of nature that only Eric could see. His smile, once cloaked in good cheer, was now the smirk of a ruthless predator. He reached under the seat for Eric’s bag. “No,” Eric began, eyeing the people around him. They couldn’t see the Shepherd, but they could see Eric. As long as they could see Eric, he was safe. The Seal was not. “Yes,” Timothy hissed defiantly, pulling the bag into his lap and cradling it in a way that told Eric he knew its value. Somehow, he knew its value. That cold revelation drove a knife of terror into Eric’s chest. He stood abruptly. The man standing in front of him sagged against the woman behind him to make room. To him, there was an empty seat beside Eric, for his eyes were closed to the Shepherd. He wouldn’t even wonder at the empty seat in a packed subway--he couldn’t, for that was the way things were. “Careful, dog,” Timothy said as slender, adolescent fingers cracked the metal lock and drew open the duffel bag’s zipper. He leered upwards, rubbing Eric’s face in his own powerlessness. “Their eyes are your sanctuary. Do not close them by being rash.” The Shepherd laughed the sound of restless eternity and pried the bag open to look inside. “Ooooooh,” he cooed, vicious and mocking. “What have we here?” “I can’t let you win like this,” Eric whispered, “not here, not tonight, not ever.” Six months of his life surfaced, unbidden, and Eric learned the answer to every ‘Why?’ he’d ever asked. “You know that to be true,” he said in sorrowful resignation. “Yes, I do,” Timothy said through a razor-sharp grin. He set the bag down. His body tensed in anticipation. “Do it,” he demanded. “Close their eyes and we’ll see who’s worthy.” The lights dimmed, Eric lunged, and he was lost to the eyes of men. <end chapter one>
  5. Is it permissable to edit and expand upon existing entries freely, or should we respect the original author of each entry and leave changes to him?
  6. You're right -- Objectivism is a proper noun, not a concept. However, it is a proper noun that refers to concepts as opposed to percepts like 'New York' or 'Atlas51184'. Thus, it must have more than an ostensive "that, there" definition. Given that, I think definition by essentials would remain a necessary consideration -- the fact that there's only one of them doesn't change the fact that it still must be defined, and anything with a conceptualized definition must pay heed to essential characteristics. After all, by the same logic "Calculus" would be a proper noun, and it still seems risky and incorrect to refer to it exclusively as "the mathematics of Newton." Rooting any reality-based, objective system of truth-finding in the personality behind it as opposed to the reality it describes strikes me as irresponsible. Finally, the present definition of Objectivism is not cognitively efficient, for it necessitates the identification of an entirely new cognitive entity every time Objectivism is altered. The only way out of this is to argue that Objectivism will never be altered -- and that is dogmatic. I'm actually about 50-50 on whether Objectivism should be a concept, or if it's alright remaining a proper noun. If it were conceptualized, then its units would consist of any philosophical worldviews that fall under the definition of Objectivism as presented by Ayn Rand -- any philosophy that maintains the essential characteristics of Objectivism, without necessarily maintaining perfect agreement with all of the characteristics espoused by Ayn Rand. This wouldn't open the door to strange fringe philosophies or perversions of Objectivism, because the essential characteristics -- including logic and rationality -- must be maintained. However, it would open the door to different interpretations of the rational consequences of the axiomatic concepts and various other fundamentals -- just like any other system of mathematical or scientific understanding. It would open the door to growth, improvement and development. Hmm, I disagree with this. First, defining Objectivism in terms of truth is not what I'm doing -- I would suggest Ayn Rand's own words as a starting point for some comprehensive definition of Objectivism: "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." Objectivism is, as was recently pointed out to me, a formulation -- distinct from a discovery. Formulations can be wrong, and new discoveries (or new understanding) can contradict and invalidate previous formulations. But I am not merely saying that Objectivism should be open to new discoveries -- I'm suggesting it be open to error correction. Right now it isn't. As a scientist, I can tell you that's a big problem.
  7. Here's another novel idea: If the topic under discussion is Objectivism, and if a person is genuinely seeking understanding and/or presenting rational points, then don't behave like a moody adolescent simply because you disagree with their approach. I really hope that this quote was not a sign of general sentiment, but the lack of strongly worded objection from anyone else concerns me. No philosophy that I value would promote irrational censorship motivated by childish emotional ejaculation. Did I skip a page?
  8. I did not begin this thread to find some affirmation of my identity as an Objectivist; I'm not one, considering myself a student of Objectivism instead. I am discussing the characteristics of Objectivism as a whole, not their application to me. Please do not think that I am attempting to 'cheat' the word so I can wear it like a badge of honor; that would be ridiculous to anyone who even remotely understands the philosophy. My problem with the definition of Objectivism as the philosophy of Ayn Rand was poorly explained, though, and I know why. Studying Objectivism has helped me see that I'm still very reliant on ideas at the fringes of what I've rationally integrated -- intuitions and half-formed concepts that I only think I've fully evaluated and confirmed. The objection that began this thread was one such example. I value Objectivism very highly and, because of this value, I am very anxious to explain or correct any flaw I perceive with it. I like it so much that each perceived flaw is sort of like my turn in a game of Russian Roulette: "Please, please, please, let someone show me why I'm wrong so everything can go back to being perfect " At the moment, it's my turn to pull the trigger again with the perception that the definition of Objectivism is dangerous, cognitively invalid and in need of change. My Approach (Context) In mindset I'm a scientist, not a philosopher, so my approach towards anything new is deeply influenced by my affinity with all things scientific. To me, any system of claims, facts or proposed theories gains credibility by possessing characteristics such as: * Falsifiable: Contradicting evidence could and would exist if the proposed claim were false. * Logical: The claim is rationally formulated and relies on relevant and reliable evidence. * Methodical: The claim is presented methodically, in a structured fashion that is easily understood. * Consistent: The claim is internally consistent and well integrated. * ... there are more, but it's probably unnecessary to list them all; you get the idea. Conversely, I have a profound loathing of dogma (religion, specifically). While I consider it a rational emotional response in itself, its intensity can be irrational: It's clear to me that I have to be careful not to lose perspective because of it. A claim stands to lose a great deal of credibility with me if it possesses dogmatic characteristics like: * Static: The claim resists change independent of evidence. * Invalid Support: The claim seems to rely on credibility drawn from irrelevant sources, such as emotion or the prestige of its author. * Blind Followers: Proponents of the claim tend to be 'all or nothing,' or zealous in their support of the claim regardless of the completeness of their understanding of it. * ... etc. Evaluation of Objectivism I have been deeply moved and greatly impressed with the quality of Objectivism as a science. Everything makes sense, everything is rational, everything is consistent and methodical. I suppose I was wrong in saying I do not have an emotional investment in Objectivism: I do, one that is based on a rational evaluation of its characteristics as a scientific formulation (credit to dougclayton for pointing out the discovery/creation false dichotomy). At the same time, I have a negative emotional reaction to Objectivism that I believe to be equally rational. Wary, maybe even anxious, it's based on my aversion to dogma and parallel characteristics I perceive in Objectivism. It's because I value Objectivism so highly that I'm so critical of its flaws. Objectivism is static; by definition, it is the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Only she can effect changes, and she is no longer with us. If new evidence presented itself, or a new logical inconsistency was discovered by a philosophical Einstein, then Objectivism would not endure -- instead of allowing itself a small tweak, a minor correction, it would have to be thrown out entirely and a completely new philosophical system introduced in its place. A Threat To Integrity? The practical seat of my wariness is the fear that, because Objectivism has been afforded such philosophical value, and because it is so resistant to change, a powerful emotional bias against existence is introduced. The bias is to continue supporting Objectivism even in the face of contradictory evidence (should any arise). Obviously such a bias would be irrational, but that doesn't free us of its threat. Human beings are fallible and no one -- not even a forty year veteran of Objectivism -- is immune to occasional lapses into irrationality. When the irrationality in question is being compelled by a powerful bias (the unwillingness to reject Objectivism entirely, motivated by the emotional attachment many of you have already confirmed) and necessitates only a small evasion (we are, after all, only discussing comparatively minor changes to Objectivism), I argue that it would be commonplace even in the most well intentioned. The result of this irrationality would threaten the integrity of what I consider to be a hallmark of intellectual achievement. Thus, I consider it a serious and persistent concern. Definition By Nonessentials? Objectivism, as I see it, could be compared to something like Calculus. Calculus is a mathematical formulation originally devised by Newton, as Objectivism is a philosophical formulation devised by Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand has related concept formation to algebra, so this is a parallel that has been drawn before. How is Calculus defined? It is not defined as 'the mathematics of Newton;' there is no such concept as a 'Calculist' defined as 'a person in agreement with the mathematics of Newton.' We can all see how this would be dangerous; you're associating math with people, instead of with numbers. But this is precisely what the concepts of Objectivism and Objectivist do: Associate a valid interpretation of reality with a single person, instead of with reality itself. Calculus is properly defined as what it is: "The branch of mathematics that deals with limits and the differentiation and integration of functions of one or more variables" (from http://www.dictionary.com). Those people who might otherwise be termed 'Calculists' are, in fact, 'mathematicians,' all of whom readily confirm the validity of calculus without that brand of devotion. Without a term like 'Calculist,' there is no conceptual restriction or descriptive limitation that would discourage the modification, improvement or contribution to the formulation. How could Objectivism not benefit from a similar approach? The convention of 'Objectivism' and 'Objectivist' does have parallels: Abstract art, destructive philosophies, schools of subjective film-making, oppressive political systems, dogmatic religion. All subjective and irrational; the naming convention strikes me as fundamentally invalid because it associates a concept with the irrelevant. Like defining men as 'primates with thumbs,' defining Objectivism as 'the philosophy of Ayn Rand' is a definition by nonessentials. I see all of these as serious problems, and I do not believe that a zealous exclamation of 'well, you just can't just change the meaning of a word!' is a good enough reason to evade their importance. Alternative Solution How about we do precisely what Ayn Rand should have done so many years ago -- stop associating her philosophy with subjectivity and/or irrationality by adopting a naming convention that is only used with such constructs. Kantian/Kantianism makes perfect sense, because Kant pulled everything he said out of his convoluted behind. Ayn Rand's philosophy is so much more than that; it, unlike any other modern philosophy, is based in reality and not in imagination. It is primacy of existence, not primacy of consciousness. It is calculus, not Buddhism, and it should be treated as such. Answering the question 'what is Objectivism?' with 'the philosophy of Ayn Rand' is not helpful. It is not cognitively efficient. It does not satisfy the requirements for a valid concept. What is the philosophy of Ayn Rand? The answer to that question should be the definition of Objectivism and of Objectivist, and any philosophy that satisfies that definition would be 'Objectivism.' The philosophy is no longer bound to one (however brilliant) interpretation and, like every other field of existence-based scientific or logical inquiry, now possesses a definition that is properly seated in reality and not in the mind of a single, fallible genius. The specific philosophy of Ayn Rand would be treated like the calculus of Newton -- the first formulation, the one that gets all the credit, but not afforded the inviolable sanctity of Biblical truth. Objectivism should be given the wings it needs to endure for centuries to come, and for that it needs to be untethered from its creator.
  9. As I understood the stolen concept fallacy, it's when you use a concept without regard to its context. So, if a lot of people selflessly give money to paralysis research without expecting gains for themselves, then those are charitable donations. The company accepting those donations would be right in calling itself a charity. The fallacy of the stolen concept comes into play when you reverse the process, calling all donations to that company charitable because the company is a charity. A donation made to that charity for selfish reasons would not be charitable, yet may be called that because the concept 'charitable' has been stolen from its context ('selfless') and applied via a nonessential characteristic ('giving money to a charity'). I think. This is assuming that an essential characteristic of charity is selflessness, though. I just continued along that assumption to illustrate what I understand the stolen concept fallacy to be. I'll look at that link you posted when I get home from work (no speakers/headphones here...).
  10. Sorry, I was unclear; that's what I meant. I see Objectivism to be more akin to a logical and, thus, scientific discovery than anything else; it is objective truth. How is it a good thing to restrict a scientific discovery to the words of one person, to the exclusion of all growth, modification, refinement and analysis by those who come later? At best, it means that new understanding or discoveries built on Rand's rational philosophy can no longer help Objectivism, only invalidate it. Whoa, where did all this come from? Did I strike a nerve? I thought we were supposed to engage in rational discussion in this forum. First, as one of the people most adamantly insisting I change my name from 'The Trendy Cynic,' I find it interesting you're so willing to resurrect it once I'd acquiesced. You've made your point; it was a name chosen out of ignorance of its deeper philosophical meanings, and I've since corrected my misguided error. Do you have anything further to add, or can I move on as 'One Prime Mover?' I have read Atlas Shrugged, which I understand to be one of the more important fictional works by Ayn Rand. Regarding 'most people on this forum,' it was their advice that I followed in moving onto ITOE and OPAR next. How this applies is completely beyond me; are you implying that, had I read more of her fiction, I'd 'get' how important it is to accept the dogmatic restriction of Objectivism? That emotional attachment to a logical/scientific discovery is in any way relevant to an evaluation of it? "Read the Bible, then you'll know how much Jesus loves you!" I don't consider myself an Objectivist (yet), nor do I have any real emotional investment in becoming one until I understand it fully and unless I agree with it completely. It is the latter condition that I'm looking into with this thread; is complete agreement necessary? If so, then I see that as a problem -- such necessary, complete agreement is dogmatic. Why can't Objectivism be opened to refinement and improvement? Even religion allows that much of itself, and science lives for it. I would hope that Objectivism has more in common with science than religion, but if 'Objectivism' dogmatically rejects any and all growth or modification through better understanding, then I fear it has more in common with orthodox Judaism than rational, objective inquiry. Sure, it's more in line with the latter, but it suffers from the exact same inability to correct errors mentioned by John Galt with regard to faith. To give you a sense of where I'm headed, I expect to agree with Objectivism to a great degree. I wouldn't be surprised if I couldn't find a single thing wrong with it. Even so, I will not term myself an Objectivist if that definition's essential characteristic is 'agreeing with Ayn Rand's philosophy,' as opposed to her definition of Objectivism, which is: "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." Even though they may both mean the same thing, I still think it wrong to root an objective understanding of anything on someone else's interpretation, as opposed to a concept that exists independent of the person who originally formulated it (and is open to refinement, improvement, and everything else I expect of rational science/logic).
  11. They give a value away for a lower value to them, such as handing a homeless person $5 and receiving nothing in exchange. If we look at value in general, however, independent of who it has meaning to, then we can see that such an act of sacrifice involved a small value (a $5 bill you were going to spend to rent a two hour movie) becoming a great value to someone else (the meal the homeless man would be able to buy with the $5, alleviating painful hunger). That's the only distinction; in the above example, the person giving up the $5 bill is making a sacrifice, because he isn't the one receiving the greater value -- relative to him, value has been lost without anything being gained. Relative to society as a whole, however, his small value was transformed into a greater value to someone else. I'm not defending this -- it would be irrational to give a homeless man $5 in such a way. The only rational example of such behaviour would be if you believed you stood to gain from such a donation. In that case (and this is my whole point) it wouldn't be a sacrifice and, thus, it wouldn't be charity, benevolence or altruism. In conclusion: All things that are charity, benevolence and altruism are irrational, because they necessitate selfless sacrifice. However, not all things that are called charity/benevolence/altruism actually are those things. Donating/raising money to the research of a disease you suffer from is an obvious example of this (i.e. Christopher Reeve), and my problem with Reeve is that he misrepresented himself as a selfless altruist instead of a rational opportunist. Exactly. Thus, if the giver does stand to benefit from increasing society's "net value", then he has not made a sacrifice. Human beings derive value from the society that they are a part of, in the form of division of labour, employment opportunities, goods and services, etc. Thus, human beings stand to gain if the society of which they are a part is strengthened. Each additional productive member of society is potentially beneficial, as is anything that strengthens a society's economic foundation. One must rationally consider the cost-benefit of each individual example of this, and decide if the cost is worth paying (i.e. if the exchange of value is mutually beneficial, i.e. it's not a sacrifice, i.e. it's not charitable/benevolent/altruistic). Please don't visit the motives behind what I'm saying; I don't appreciate it. Stick to the content of my posts, and I'll do the same.
  12. I've heard many people say that Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand; to be an Objectivist, you must adhere to it in its entirety, as it was set forth by Ayn Rand. I've heard that, by definition, an Objectivist does not disagree with Ayn Rand on any point -- otherwise he is not an Objectivist. If I'm wrong, just stop reading and let me know -- the rest of this post depends on my correct understanding of the above. Isn't this sort of thing dangerous? Isn't it dogmatic? I see Objectivism as a science; the science of rational philosophy. Dogma and science do not go hand in hand -- dogma restricts the change and growth on which science depends. I strongly doubt that Ayn Rand was infallible, and I think it a reasonable that her philosophy is likewise imperfect. A rational philosopher, as I see it, does not bind himself to dogma in any way. If Objectivism truly is only the philosophy of Ayn Rand (and no permutation of it), then it is intellectually irresponsible to call yourself an Objectivist -- you are restricting yourself to dogma. If you suddenly find something you disagree with, do you lose your right to refer to yourself as an Objectivist until you 'correct' your error and rejoin the fold? The term 'Objectivism,' then, is antithesis to free thought; it applies a restriction to how you think, in that your first priority is no longer to understand and adhere to reality, but to understand and adhere to Ayn Rand's philosophy of reality. Perhaps my issue is in how I view Objectivism. I've never seen it as Ayn Rand's creation, but as her discovery. From the three primary axioms to the affirmation of logic to the use of reason to arrive at rational morality, politics and ultimately a society, everything is based on what is real. Ayn Rand didn't create Objectivism any more than Newton created gravity; they were both unparalleled geniuses who discovered objective truth. Defining Objectivism as this philosophical discovery, then, it strikes me as natural to open Objectivism up to logical analysis and modification -- improving its relation to existence without regard to Ayn Rand's initial interpretation of it. As Einstein permitted himself to expand Newton's theory of gravity without having to call it something else, we should be permitted to expand Rand's philosophy of Objectivism without having to rename it. Restricting the term 'Objectivism' to a dogmatic, unquestioning, absolute reliance on Ayn Rand's specifically described philosophy strikes me as oddly anti-Objectivist. Restricting 'Objectivism' to Ayn Rand's interpretation of existence instead of the reality of existence (subject to our continued analysis and discovery) is akin to espousing Primacy of Consciousness over Primacy of Existence. I'm not saying that Ayn Rand was wrong at all; I'm far too inexperienced with her philosophy to make such a sweeping claim. For all I know, she may have been perfectly correct -- a Pythagorus instead of a Newton, and her interpretation of existence is the reality of existence. My point, though, is that it would be more responsible to rest 'Objectivism' on the reality of existence than on her interpretation. Doing so would give us the potential to correct any errors that may exist, and this is something we know John Galt would agree with: Relating independent discovery vs. faith to relying on reality vs. relying on Ayn Rand's words, is the above not equally applicable?
  13. I agree that there is an important distinction between government enforced charity and what I'm questioning: Charity that, while uncoerced, is morally obligatory. If it can be successfully argued that one given instance of charity is rational (i.e. where the value you are giving up is worth whatever chance of creating 'net value' the situation presents), then it follows that not giving to charity in such a case would be irrational. Would a rational society, while not forcing its citizens to give to charity, thus encourage it? Is charity necessarily altruistic? Would that rational society, then, necessarily support altruism? I was intrigued by the distinction between charity and altruism proposed by drewfactor, but I hesitate to accept it completely. I think the confusion between self-serving 'charity' and sacrificial altruism may have more to do with a stolen concept than any real distinguishing characteristics between the two -- at least in popular understanding, that is. Charity would certainly be defined as sacrificial. Those who do not understand the irrationality of selflessness would certainly identify charity as being selfless. To them, it is virtuous because it involves sacrifice. Charity is used to define everything from giving to the poor, to disaster relief, to research into serious illness. I would argue that an essential characteristic of charity is, in fact, self sacrifice. The same is true of benevolence; it does not imply kindness from mutually beneficial rationality, but kindness flowing from value, freely given, to those who have not earned it. Charity, benevolence and altruism are all linked by a common essential characteristic: Selflessness. As Cole put it, charity is always altruistic -- otherwise it's a purchase. Objections to Cole's point consisted of examples of unaltruistic charity. Such a tactic is itself irrational, for one must first consider the possibility that those examples have been misidentified as charity -- and they have. Giving money to cure an illness that may threaten you or those you value, or donating to the relief or development of an economic foundation on which you expect to rely is selfish, not selfless. Thus, it is not charity -- it is an investment. This, now, sheds light on the reason I always felt such animosity towards Christopher Reeve. Following his accident, he devoted his life to the funding of paralysis research. Rationally, this is self-serving -- it is commendable, in my eyes, as an indication of his unwillingness to give himself to despair. However, Reeve allowed himself to be glorified as a selfless, charitable man for his devotion -- negligently dishonest at best, and the source of my disapproval. I see that society as a whole permitted this because of the fallacy of the stolen concept, wrongly concluding that donations to paralysis research were necessarily selfless because they called themselves 'charities' and did work that was considered 'good.' The fact that charity implies selflessness was lost to my favorite of Ayn Rand's phrases: "Blank out." The exchange of any value, then, should be rationally considered against the value (or potential value) being received in exchange. Donating $5 to a homeless man is likely irrational; given the man's current state, it is reasonable to conclude he doesn't handle money very responsibly. Giving $50 to a halfway shelter designed for those homeless who truly are making an effort to become productive members of society would indeed be rational, if you made such a donation as an investment into the quality and strength of the society from which you stand to benefit. Such a donation, it then follows, would be neither charitable, benevolent nor altruistic. I like your points about the larger rammifications of giving to the homeless, drewfactor. I'm not an economist, so the intuitively obvious fact that a $5 bill is not an island unto itself escaped me -- to donate money on the assumption that you will be strengthening society, you have to rationally consider the possibility that the money could better perform that purpose if it were given elsewhere (i.e. to strengthen the economy by, say, renting a movie, as you pointed out). Even in the case of the $50 donation to the halfway shelter above, could that $50 do more good if it were spent in a mutually beneficial exchange with an already productive member of society? I wouldn't say that altruism necessarily results in the sacrifice of a small value for the gift of a larger one, Cole; we all know that a lot of people are irrational, and in the case of a homeless alcoholic (or even one who's just financially irresponsible), it's quite likely that the small donation you give him will be squandered. Sure, economically-speaking the money's likely going to find its way back -- maybe it'll benefit a student working at the Beer Store instead of one working at Blockbuster. In general, though, it's certainly not doing enough to warrant encouraging a homeless man's irrational indulgences -- the sacrificed value has not resulted in a positive return. Ayn+Im+ion, I'm having trouble understanding your post. Could you repeat your points with more clarity? No, I haven't. I've read Atlas Shrugged, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (mindblowingly excellent) and I'm just about finished the Ethics chapter of OPAR. I just started studying philosophy last November, and there's a lot to read. I've interrupted my OPAR studies to check out a few 'general philosophy' books so I can better understand the nature of the philosophies running counter to Objectivism, then heading back to OPAR, then reading the Fountainhead, then Anthem and We The Living. At least, that's my reading list at the moment
  14. Ahh, I see. So Objectivism does not condemn social systems like welfare or charity out of hand, only those systems that truly sacrifice value even in a 'net' sense? From what I've gathered from reading the posts on this forum, as well as OPAR, that doesn't sound quite right. Benefiting society at the immediate expense of one's own values doesn't seem to fit with what I understand of Objectivism; perhaps this misunderstanding is what's hamstringing my attempts to integrate Objectivist ethics. Could someone, perhaps, please summarize the Objectivist position on altruism, with an eye towards my own interpretation of it above? I should probably have asked this in the 'Questions' forum; if a Moderator would like to move it there, please do so with my apologies.
  15. One of the fatal flaws of altruism, as I understand the Objectivist viewpoint, is that it necessitates the sacrifice of value. Superficially, that appears to be a sound and complete refutation of the concept; I do agree with Objectivists in stating that it is immoral to give a value away for nothing. Human beings do benefit (i.e. derive value) from society. Division of labor and cooperative, mutually beneficial behavior allows people to derive far more from society than they would independently. The stronger a social workforce, the more educated and developed the lower rungs of the ladder, the more I stand to benefit from that society. Altruism, while necessitating a sacrifice of value on the part of the giver, results in gained value for the receiver. In general, the value received by the weaker person will be much greater than the value sacrificed by the stronger (i.e. I don’t rent a movie tonight, the homeless man gets to eat). In a sense, altruism increases the ‘net’ value in a society by transforming a trivial value of one person into a great value for another. This net value, I would argue, is something I stand to benefit from. If social assistance programs or other altruistic endeavors truly can help people improve their lives (and I believe that it’s short-sighted to claim, with absolutism, that altruism cannot make a lasting positive change), then it stands to reason that altruism can elevate people from weakness, empowering them to achieve and produce -- in effect, becoming contributing members of a mutually beneficial society. Welfare can help people send their kids to school, educating them. Charity can help the homeless find jobs and join the workforce. In this sense, could it not be argued that altruism is not truly the sacrifice of value? If, by giving up a trivial value (say, a negligible amount of my tax money to charity or welfare), I potentially assist in the creation of productive members of society, is that not a positive exchange? Do I not stand to benefit, in the long run, from such an arrangement? Is it not worth the trade of a trivial value for that possibility? If the answer is yes to those questions, then it stands to reason that altruism is not merely the sacrifice of a value -- it is, at worst, a trivially cheap investment with the long-shot potential for real gain in the creation of productive citizens. Taken in a social context at large, the adoption of altruism as a custom would give it that much more power -- and result in the strengthening of society as a whole, from which I stand to benefit. In summary: Indulging in altruism is a fairly trivial loss of value that has the potential to create much greater value in a society. As I benefit from the strength of the society of which I am a part, I stand to benefit from the creation of net value -- the general result of altruism. Don't I?
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