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The_Rational_Animal

Is/Ought Problem

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I did a search for the is/ought problem in this forum but could not find one...

What is the Is-Ought problem? It is usually stated as the problem of whether it is possible to derive normative statements from descriptive statements; but to state the problem at its most general level, it is the problem of whether any moral statement can be literally true, and hence potentially knowable. It is the problem of whether there exist any moral facts in exactly the same sense as there exist chemical facts, historical facts, or mathematical facts.

Firstly, what is the reason why one should sustain one's life. It is a matter of 'ought.' To say that you 'must' sustain your life implies a deontological imperative, one that destroys free will. Secondly, what is the rationality of keeping or abandoning reason, is it rational or irrational?

With Objectivist ethics, where moral facts are apparently objective, the following syllogism is defective. It is one that represents the most basic moral reasoning of the Randian system:

The adoption of value system x is necessary for the survival of any human being.

You are a human being.

Therefore, you should adopt value system x.

The missing premise-a prescriptive premise-is that one ought to do what is necessary in order to survive. But any inclusion of that prescriptive premise just triggers the infinite regression of the is/ought dichotomy. Treatment of the problem as a hypothetical imperative would prove equally unsatisfactory:

If you wish to survive, you ought to adopt value system x.

You wish to survive.

Therefore, you ought to adopt value system x.

This syllogism is perfectly valid, but it will not serve for Rand's purposes, for its introductory conditional makes the entire ethical system subjectively dependent on the individual human will: If you do not choose to survive, there appear to he no grounds upon which the Randians can condemn your judgment morally.

Objectivist ethics are, therefore, thoroughly subjective.

Edited by The_Rational_Animal

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I did a search for the is/ought problem in this forum but could not find one...

What is the Is-Ought problem? It is usually stated as the problem of whether it is possible to derive normative statements from descriptive statements; but to state the problem at its most general level, it is the problem of whether any moral statement can be literally true, and hence potentially knowable. It is the problem of whether there exist any moral facts in exactly the same sense as there exist chemical facts, historical facts, or mathematical facts.

But with Objectivist ethics, where moral facts are apparently objective, the following syllogism is defective. It is one that represents the most basic moral reasoning of the Randian system:

The adoption of value system x is necessary for the survival of any human being.

You are a human being.

Therefore, you should adopt value system x.

The missing premise-a prescriptive premise-is that one ought to do what is necessary in order to survive. But any inclusion of that prescriptive premise just triggers the infinite regression of the is/ought dichotomy. Treatment of the problem as a hypothetical imperative would prove equally unsatisfactory:

If you wish to survive, you ought to adopt value system x.

You wish to survive.

Therefore, you ought to adopt value system x.

This syllogism is perfectly valid, but it will not serve for Rand's purposes, for its introductory conditional makes the entire ethical system subjectively dependent on the individual human will: If you do not choose to survive, there appear to he no grounds upon which the Randians can condemn your judgment morally.

Objectivist ethics are, therefore, thoroughly subjective. I don't understand how Rand thought she could overcome Hume and create a secular ethical system which is thoroughy objective, when such a system cannot exist.

The choice to survive is "subjective". The means by which one survives is objective. Ethics is therefore, objective. If you do not wish to survive, I don't have to condemn your judgement, I can just kill you. If I choose to condemn it, it is fully understood that it is a subjective condemnation. It is when a person seeks to survive while going against the means by which survival is possible that they are objectively unethical.

Edited by andre_sanchez

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The means by which one survives is objective... It is when a person seeks to survive while going against the means by which survival is necessary that they are objectively unethical.

What are these "objective" means of survival exactly? Yes, my own self-interest signifying an 'ought'.

Edited by The_Rational_Animal

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With Objectivist ethics, where moral facts are apparently objective, the following syllogism is defective. It is one that represents the most basic moral reasoning of the Randian system:

The adoption of value system x is necessary for the survival of any human being.

You are a human being.

Therefore, you should adopt value system x.

I'm curious where you got this from. It reads more like a bad parody of the Objectivist ethics. Can we assume that you're familiar with Viable Values and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics, as a starting point for discussion?

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I'm curious where you got this from. It reads more like a bad parody of the Objectivist ethics. Can we assume that you're familiar with Viable Values and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics, as a starting point for discussion?

Why don't you simply tell me what is so "bad" about this objection?

Edited by The_Rational_Animal

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What are these "objective" means of survival exactly? Yes, my own self-interest signifying an 'ought'.

For man, it is reason. A distinction is made between long term survival and short term gain (stealing a loaf of bread might give you something to eat, but it is not consistent with objectivist ethics unless the alternative really is death, as opposed to actually working for the bread). Objectivist ethics is based on the long term objective value, it is not based on instrinsic valuations OR short-sighted gains.

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Why don't you simply tell me what is so "bad" about this objection?
Well, you can think of this as an optional in-class discussion on a reading assignment that was due as homework. It's kinda like the person who writes on his biology final that "biology" means "the study of two things", botany and zoology. Anyhow if you re-read what you wrote, and what I responded to, I stopped well before we got to your "objection", because you don't even have a correct characterization of the Objectivist ethics. And insofar as your question has been answered in the prerequisite reading, I'm at a loss to see what your question really is.

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Well, you can think of this as an optional in-class discussion on a reading assignment that was due as homework. It's kinda like the person who writes on his biology final that "biology" means "the study of two things", botany and zoology. Anyhow if you re-read what you wrote, and what I responded to, I stopped well before we got to your "objection", because you don't even have a correct characterization of the Objectivist ethics. And insofar as your question has been answered in the prerequisite reading, I'm at a loss to see what your question really is.

Well, Professor. It would be nice for the teacher to explain what I am doing wrong. Otherwise, how am I going to learn? Think of yourself as a very bad teacher, who gives his students a test without teaching the material...

(at least I gave links, not obscure references)

Edited by The_Rational_Animal

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(at least I gave links, not obscure references)
Well, since you've been speaking so expertly about Objectivism, and since I asked whether we could assume that you're familiar with Viable Values and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics as a starting point for discussion, and you didn't say "Oh, no, I am completely unaware of those books", then I naturally assumed that you did know these works. It's a valid assumption for me to make, but it presupposes certain things about you which turn out not to be true. No matter: now you know where to look. I particularly suggest Viable Values, since it addresses the root question.

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I did a search for the is/ought problem in this forum but could not find one...

What is the Is-Ought problem? It is usually stated as the problem of whether it is possible to derive normative statements from descriptive statements; but to state the problem at its most general level, it is the problem of whether any moral statement can be literally true, and hence potentially knowable. It is the problem of whether there exist any moral facts in exactly the same sense as there exist chemical facts, historical facts, or mathematical facts.

Firstly, what is the reason why one should sustain one's life. It is a matter of 'ought.' To say that you 'must' sustain your life implies a deontological imperative, one that destroys free will. Secondly, what is the rationality of keeping or abandoning reason, is it rational or irrational?

With Objectivist ethics, where moral facts are apparently objective, the following syllogism is defective. It is one that represents the most basic moral reasoning of the Randian system:

The adoption of value system x is necessary for the survival of any human being.

You are a human being.

Therefore, you should adopt value system x.

The missing premise-a prescriptive premise-is that one ought to do what is necessary in order to survive. But any inclusion of that prescriptive premise just triggers the infinite regression of the is/ought dichotomy. Treatment of the problem as a hypothetical imperative would prove equally unsatisfactory:

If you wish to survive, you ought to adopt value system x.

You wish to survive.

Therefore, you ought to adopt value system x.

This syllogism is perfectly valid, but it will not serve for Rand's purposes, for its introductory conditional makes the entire ethical system subjectively dependent on the individual human will: If you do not choose to survive, there appear to he no grounds upon which the Randians can condemn your judgment morally.

Objectivist ethics are, therefore, thoroughly subjective.

Congratulations: you've shown that you don't understand the Objectivist Ethics.

Please read Tara Smith's book Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality, particularly the pages on induction and the choice to live (pp. 101-103).

The role of induction is substantial in Rand's argument for rational egoism. Please take the time to consider it, before regarding the argument as a deduction which falters as soon as someone chooses not to live.

To give some evidence that you don't understand the argument:

You say that the introductory conditional (the choice to live or not) makes the ethical system "subjective," which I take to be synonymous with "arbitrary."

But reality is the grounds on which we decide what is rational or arbitrary, and so the choice to live underlies the very need to be rational--which means that the choice to live or not is a pre-rational choice. Rationality only deals with reality, and if you choose to stay in reality, then reason can be your guide in order to live well.

Also, the objectivity of values stems in part from their beneficial effects on our lives, and also important, it stems from our method (logic) of determining why something is a value (Viable Values, pp. 120-121, note #30 and 34). The objectivity of the values I have do not become subjective simply because another man chose to kill himself. His death does not change the facts regarding various things' negative and positive effects on my life, nor does it effect the harmful consequences of engaging in the wrong mental process to determine what is valuable to me.

Lastly, notice how your view of ethics is no different from Duty Ethics or commandments: ethics becomes "subjective" to you because it depends on human will and choice. But for Rand (Objectivism), this is simply the recognition of the importance of free will. Morality and Ethics depends on free will, in Rand's view. We only need ethics and morality because our consciousness is fallible and conceptual; we do not possess the automatic functions and advantageous body parts (e.g. horns) that other animals do have and use to survive; we can, through evasive mental processes or through sheer ignorance, take actions which are detrimental to our lives, and we can even destroy our lives. But through an act of choice, we can engage in correct processes and thereby advance our lives. But there are so many concrete instances of actions needed to live well, and we are not omniscient regarding what the consequences will be of the actions we take now. The solution, in Objectivism, is to conceptualize the requirements for human survival into principles, i.e. into a code of morality.

But if ethics must be independent of human will, as you've suggested, then Rand's Question (in Ethics) becomes crucial to answer: Why does man need Ethics (a code of values)?--Does man need values at all--and why?

If ethics is supposed to be something handed down to man on high, independent of his will, his goals, his interests, then why does not he need to follow it? I'd like to see your answer, though I must warn you that no one has ever proven the validity of "Intrinsicist (Duty) Ethics."

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Congratulations: you've shown that you don't understand the Objectivist Ethics.

Please read Tara Smith's book Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality, particularly the pages on induction and the choice to live (pp. 101-103).

The role of induction is substantial in Rand's argument for rational egoism. Please take the time to consider it, before regarding the argument as a deduction which falters as soon as someone chooses not to live.

To give some evidence that you don't understand the argument:

You say that the introductory conditional (the choice to live or not) makes the ethical system "subjective," which I take to be synonymous with "arbitrary."

But reality is the grounds on which we decide what is rational or arbitrary, and so the choice to live underlies the very need to be rational--which means that the choice to live or not is a pre-rational choice. Rationality only deals with reality, and if you choose to stay in reality, then reason can be your guide in order to live well.

Also, the objectivity of values stems in part from their beneficial effects on our lives, and also important, it stems from our method (logic) of determining why something is a value (Viable Values, pp. 120-121, note #30 and 34). The objectivity of the values I have do not become subjective simply because another man chose to kill himself. His death does not change the facts regarding various things' negative and positive effects on my life, nor does it effect the harmful consequences of engaging in the wrong mental process to determine what is valuable to me.

Lastly, notice how your view of ethics is no different from Duty Ethics or commandments: ethics becomes "subjective" to you because it depends on human will and choice. But for Rand (Objectivism), this is simply the recognition of the importance of free will. Morality and Ethics depends on free will, in Rand's view. We only need ethics and morality because our consciousness is fallible and conceptual; we do not possess the automatic functions and advantageous body parts (e.g. horns) that other animals do have and use to survive; we can, through evasive mental processes or through sheer ignorance, take actions which are detrimental to our lives, and we can even destroy our lives. But through an act of choice, we can engage in correct processes and thereby advance our lives. But there are so many concrete instances of actions needed to live well, and we are not omniscient regarding what the consequences will be of the actions we take now. The solution, in Objectivism, is to conceptualize the requirements for human survival into principles, i.e. into a code of morality.

But if ethics must be independent of human will, as you've suggested, then Rand's Question (in Ethics) becomes crucial to answer: Why does man need Ethics (a code of values)?--Does man need values at all--and why?

If ethics is supposed to be something handed down to man on high, independent of his will, his goals, his interests, then why does not he need to follow it? I'd like to see your answer, though I must warn you that no one has ever proven the validity of "Intrinsicist (Duty) Ethics."

Just a note, a common follow through of posing the Is/Ought Problem is progressing to make claim to Ethical Nihilism as opposed to Moral Relativism, that being the concept that morals are simply non-existent as opposed to dependent on who is interpreting what. The argument tends to go as such: You may say that it is imperative for one to X if they wish to Y (Survive in Rand's case), but this is simply stating a fact, and not bridging the gap required to explain what makes it morally imperative. Since moral imperatives have never been bridged to, and seeing that they are never adequately justified as a result, morals simply do not exist. They are abstract conceptions derived from observations you make in terms of value, but they do not exist simply because one has expressed that they do. To prove that a moral is existent requires the bridging of the Is/Ought gap, from observation to imperative, which is for all intents and purposes in Nihilistic thought, not possible.

The debate is often obfuscated by simply reiterating that "My observation applies universally and therefore is imperative if you desire Y" but this is once again does not explain why Y is something you ought to value, or how it is moral. It merely is an observation, a descriptive phenomena.

"Also, the objectivity of values stems in part from their beneficial effects on our lives, and also important, it stems from our method (logic) of determining why something is a value (Viable Values, pp. 120-121, note #30 and 34). The objectivity of the values I have do not become subjective simply because another man chose to kill himself. His death does not change the facts regarding various things' negative and positive effects on my life, nor does it effect the harmful consequences of engaging in the wrong mental process to determine what is valuable to me."

You assume that certain things are positive and negative, which is already fallacious and ignorant of the subjectivity of values. It is positive if I deem it positive, negative if I deem it negative. My judgmental faculties alone can produce this decision on my own behalf.

Value is not objective, nor is value linked to morals. I may want Value A, but that does not make the process to attain Value A moral, simply desirable. To say I "ought" pursue Value A begs the question of how we transferred from "desirable/logical" to "right/morally imperative" Under Ethical Nihilism prescriptive statements are merely extensions of descriptive statements that are conflated to suggest importance/suggest emotional inclination/influence the person in question, and as such not one particular course of action can be moral. Merely desirable.

Long term happiness, I shall note quickly before departing, is of no greater value than short term, for value is subjective and actor dependent. Rand's emphasis on survival is based on taste.

^^The essential Ethical Nihilist argument, the most dangerous and critical in terms of Objectivist defense of itself, seeing that it denies morals as opposed to espousing their subjectivity.

Edited by Patriot of Reason

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