Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
neverborn

Ayn Rand's Derivation of Ought from Is

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

I'm fairly new to the study of Objectivism, and in another forum, someone has copy/pasted a large article with "four objections to Rand's objectivism", just to snipe at me from earlier. Anyone out there that could offer me some help as to rebuttals? I'm going to post my own, but I will definitely accept suggestions =)

The article is: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/...ht_From_Is.html

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm fairly new to the study of Objectivism, and in another forum, someone has copy/pasted a large article with "four objections to Rand's objectivism", just to snipe at me from earlier. Anyone out there that could offer me some help as to rebuttals? I'm going to post my own, but I will definitely accept suggestions =)

The article is: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/...ht_From_Is.html

Well, first of all, you might want to ask him why he can't spell.
I have been arguing that Rand's drivation of oughts, if consistently applied, leads to conclusions that few Objectivists would accept, and that Objectivists should therefor reexamine its logic with a more critical eye.
B)

The claim here, quite clearly, is that living things other than human beings automatically act for their own survival.
This is false. The claim is that human beings do not necessarily act for their own survival. i.e. They have a choice.
A male mantis, for example, mates, even though the final step of the process consists of being eaten by the female.
So what? What does a praying mantis have to do with Objectivism? The point Rand was making is that "Man is a being of volitional conciousness." Which this person would know if he had actually read more than a few sentences of Atlas Shrugged. The praying mantis does what it does automatically, even if it is not for its own survival.

Hope this helps. B) But anyway, I wouldn't waste too much time on this guy. He seems to be combing for ways to "disprove" Rand. A praying mantis, Honestly...

edited to add "They have a choice." after the i.e.

Edited by non-contradictor

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

David's problem is that he wants to interpret Objectivism in his own particular way, assigning the worst possible intention to any sentence that Rand ever wrote. So from the following:

"There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence--and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. ... But a plant has no choice of action; ... : it acts automatically to further its life, it cannot act for its own destruction."

he concludes

The claim here, quite clearly, is that living things other than human beings automatically act for their own survival. That claim is false. A male mantis, for example, mates, even though the final step of the process consists of being eaten by the female.
DF's argument at best comes down to assuming that Rand "meant" to say that an animal "acts automatically, with the purpose in mind of furthering its life". His argument then is that since the mantis dies, the mantis's choice is metaphysically boneheaded. Since she just said that animals do not have choice, that should be the clue that the concept "purpose" does not properly apply to nonvolitional beings. But wait! The animal fails! The fact that animals "fail" to survive is no surprise, not even to David Friedman. What he misses in his "close" reading of this section is that in the context of an explicit statement that animals are not volitional, "to" cannot be understood as meaning "with the purpose in mind", and in no context can it means "and therefore perfectly V's".

BTW if the other place is HPO, you can safely ignore almost everybody there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A male mantis, for example, mates, even though the final step of the process consists of being eaten by the female.

The author knows not what 'survival' means. It is more than just physical life; it is 'fullfillment of purpose'.

The praying mantis does this precisely for its own survival. The nature of the praying mantis is that the male dies in fullfillment of its life's purpose: to procreate. The life's purpose of a human being is significantly different.

If a male praying mantis dies without mating (and being eaten by the female) then it is failed in its purpose, and it has died in a greater sense than just physical death.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The male praying mantis acts to further its own life only to the extent that it knows how to do so and is capable of implementing that knowledge. But its knowledge of what is required for its own survival is not complete. (Of course, by "knowledge", in the context of praying mantises, I mean perceptual memory and automatic reactions, not concepts.)

Edited by y_feldblum

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm fairly new to the study of Objectivism, and in another forum, someone has copy/pasted a large article with "four objections to Rand's objectivism", just to snipe at me from earlier. Anyone out there that could offer me some help as to rebuttals? I'm going to post my own, but I will definitely accept suggestions =)

The article is: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/...ht_From_Is.html

Since the first objection had been dealt with, I will start with number 2.

2. Life or death as the fundamental value choice:

"Since life requires a specific course of action, any other course will destroy it. A being who does not hold his own life as the motive and goal of his actions, is acting on the motive and standard of death."

The first sentence quoted above is false. It is not true that there is a specific course of action required for life and any other course will destroy it.

To paraphrase one of Miss Rand's formulations:

To remain alive, one must eat.

To eat, one must work (or someone, somewhere must work).

To work, one must think. (or someone, somewhere must think).

To think, one must look at reality.

This is a specific course of action required for man to stay alive. Now, obviously, there are many options for accomplishing the above. However, the point is that the nature of man as a being of volitional consciousness, a being that survives by initiating a process of thought to produce what his survival requires, demands that he follow this course -- in any of its unlimited embodiments -- or perish.

Yes, some are able to remain biologically alive as parasites, but this is not without consequences (see below) and does not alter the fact that they exist only by the grace of those who choose to live as rational beings.

3. The shift from life to life as man qua man:

"Man's life is the standard of morality, but your life is its purpose. If existence on earth is your goal, you must choose your actions and values by the standard of that which is proper to man--for the purpose of preserving, fulfilling and enjoying the irreplaceable value which is your life."

"No, you do not have to live as a man ... . But you cannot live as anything else--and the alternative is ... the state of a thing unfit for existence, no longer human and less than animal, a thing that knows nothing but pain and drags itself through its span of years in the agony of unthinking self-destruction."

She is claiming that someone who lives a full lifespan "in the agony of unthinking self-destruction" isn't really acting for his life. But the fact that he lives a full span of life is evidence that he is not in fact destroying himself.

No, the fact that he can live a full lifespan in this fashion is merely evidence that he can live as a parasite. Were he alone in a wilderness he would perish rapidly. It is only the benefits derived from living among rational men, who are producing enough extra to permit the parasite to survive, that makes this possible.

Somehow, something extra has been slipped into the argument, to convert "life" into "the kind of life Rand thinks you should live," where the latter is not deducible from the former.
There has been no switch. Unless someone, somewhere is thinking, everyone, everywhere will perish.

4. The shift from surviving by reason to Objectivist ethics:

"Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud--that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, become the enemies you have to dread and flee ... ."

According to Rand, values are things you act to get and keep; in that sense cash obtained by fraud is obviously a value for some people. If we interpret "value" in this passage as meaning "value for your life," hence "value of the sort Rand is arguing you should seek," it is still puzzling. Money obtained by fraud will pay for just as much food or medical service as money obtained honestly.

To the extent that a person attempts to survive by something other than their own honest effort, they are attempting to survive as something less than human -- and they know it. Criminals are not people of high self-esteem living happy lives, including the ones that are not close to being caught, including the ones that are well fed and healthy.

The rest of the quoted passage is a highly colored exposition of a true point--that if you defraud people, you have to worry about being detected. The problem is that Rand is drawing an absolute conclusion that her argument does not justify. Different opportunities to defraud people have different risks of detection, and victims vary in their ability to retaliate against fraud if they detect it. So the implication of the argument is not that one should always be honest, but that one should be prudent in one's dishonesty--which is not, of course, the result Rand wants.
The impracticality of a life of crime does not stem from the probability of getting caught. It stems from the sabotage of one’s self esteem that is inherent in the act of choosing to exist as a parasite. Abandoning one’s tool of survival -- one’s mind -- is an act of self-imposed humiliation. It is not an accident that criminals by and large are a miserable bunch, even those that are beyond capture.

Objectivism does not maintain that those who fail to follow the Objectivist ethics will immediately perish. The thinkers and prime movers of the world have permitted vast numbers of people to survive as parasites or quasi-parasites for centuries, as Atlas Shrugged makes abundantly clear. David is evidently hoping that we will forget this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ok, I know alot of you people have raised some if not all of the following points by now, but I am fairly new to this, so I feel this would be a good exercise in arguring for Objectivism in the form of countering supposed counters to some of Ayn Rands statements, as made by his David Friedman person. I will therefore say way I think David is wrong on points 1 and 2, time constraints forbid me commenting on his fourth point for now.

I will state the relevant statement and then I will raise my objections to his arguments against it, at least as I see it, if i err, please do let me know :D Note that I have admitted the third point partially because I feel it can be deirved from my intreptration of the second.

    "There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence--and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. ... But a plant has no choice of action; ... : it acts automatically to further its life, it cannot act for its own destruction.

    An animal ... . But so long as it lives, ... it is unable to ignore its own good, unable to decide to choose the evil and act as its own destroyer."

David would have us beleive that the Mantis clearly does not automatically in a way that ensures its own survivual. However , the Mantis does act in ways that according to the informmation it has, ie that reproduction is part of its lifes purpose, and that it furthers the life of the Mantis. However, it cannot know that it will die as a result of what to an unthinking being, is an act that is constructive.

It will automatically take that action, as the Mantis is not as thnking being, and does not make conscious choices, and therefore acts automatically in ways that appear tto act int is beneft.

The insect cannot ignore its own good, cannot choose death as it cannot make choices of action, and therefore cannot act as its own destroyer. If its actions, due to incomplete actions result in its destruction, it is not because the Mantis choose destruction, but that destruction nonetheless happened upon it.

Ok, this restates Ayns point I guess, but of course highlights Davids errors.

"Since life requires a specific course of action, any other course will destroy it. A being who does not hold his own life as the motive and goal of his actions, is acting on the motive and standard of death."

He seems to belevie that Ayn is saying that life requires a single course of action, and that only that course will result in contuined life. However, this is not what she means, she means that a specific, definite course of action, a course of action selected in most cases from a selection of other options, is needed for one to stay alive.

If people do not act with in ways that include the motive to live, then they will not be able to live on their own means and unless they feed off others motive to live, they will die. To live requires motivated effort. even it ones live depends on the motivated effort of another.

[

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The idiotic conclusion that they do in fact eat their mates after mating, was based on a single 'scientific' experiment in which they starved the mantises for a couple weeks before oberving them.  The end result was quite predictable (for anyone with an ounce of common sense), the mantises turned canabalistic.

As far as I know, the eating the mate thing is often exaggerated, but does occur sometimes (although it varies from species to species).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The praying mantis does this precisely for its own survival.  The nature of the praying mantis is that the male dies in fullfillment of its life's purpose: to procreate.  The life's purpose of a human being is significantly different.

If a male praying mantis dies without mating (and being eaten by the female) then it is failed in its purpose, and it has died in a greater sense than just physical death.

Careful, careful, careful.

There is another very good thread on just this subject called "Ultimate Value" in the Ethics forum.

Since purpose is a concept applicable only to a volitional conceptual consciousness; animals have no purpose.

Animals pursue values automatically guided by the pleasure/pain mechanism and their ultimate value is life, not procreation, same with all organisms.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Animals pursue values automatically guided by the pleasure/pain mechanism and their ultimate value is life, not procreation, same with all organisms.

You're right, of course.

What I was trying to get at was that the mantis has a nature, and included in its nature is the fact that it dies in a certain way. It can no more avoid the means of its death than it can avoid being a mantis in any sense.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Criminals are not people of high self-esteem living happy lives, including  the ones that are not close to being caught, including the ones that are well fed and healthy.

I'm not saying this statement is false, but how do you know it's true? How many un-caught, well-fed, healthy criminals have you studied?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm not saying this statement is false, but how do you know it's true?  How many un-caught, well-fed, healthy criminals have you studied?

I've known quite a few, actually. In my 30 years as a professional business manager, I have encountered numerous employees that sought to exist as parasites. I am referring to people who steal company property, fake their time cards, sabotage machines to get downtime or fake an on the job injury, etc. I have found them uniformly hostile, suspicious and resentful. I do not recall seeing any that I would describe as happy, including, for example, those that gained a fake disability and were allowed to continue receiving a paycheck without having to actually work.

Granted, these are relatively minor crimes, but I am confident that, regardless of the magnitude of the attempt, one cannot achieve self-esteem by living as a parasite off the efforts of others, knowing all the while that one's continued existence depends on the next successful crime. Self-doubt and anxiety are the logical consequences of such a policy. Happiness, as a non-contradictory state of joy, is not possible under those conditions.

From Galt's speech (Atlas Shrugged, pg 982): "Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Of course a fraudulent person can't be happy. They have to live with the fear that every time they defraud someone they could be caught. They have to constantly try to come up with new ways of taking the unearned and getting away with it. This is all aside from the fact that the criminal is robbing themselves of the pride of sustaining their own existence and being independent.

All of that right there is enough for me to say "That's not going to make me happy" and this should be true for any other human in their right mind.

Edited by BreathofLife

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
All of that right there is enough for me to say "That's not going to make me happy" and this should be true for any other human in their right mind.

It's true, regardless of whether they are in their right mind or not. Happiness is defined with reference to reality, not with reference to whim. If they allege happiness, it is only an emotional response to their success with their self-destruction -- which is not happiness, but a tool for evading their real feelings of frustration.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I believe Mr. Friedman is a willful evader, and his purpose is the rationalization of his wish to live as a parasite. Just look at what Ayn Rand says right after his ‘quote’—which, somehow, he just forgot to mention.

"An animal is equipped for sustaining its life; its senses provide it with an automatic code of action, an automatic knowledge of what is good for it or evil. It has no power to extend its knowledge or to evade it. In conditions where its knowledge proves inadequate, it dies. But so long as it lives, it acts on its knowledge, with automatic safety and no power of choice, it is unable to ignore its own good, unable to decide to choose the evil and act as its own destroyer."

That underlined sentence applies exactly to the case of the Mantis. Well…so much for that straw man.

Edited by $Rational-EGOIST$

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I've known quite a few, actually. In my 30 years as a professional business manager, I have encountered numerous employees that sought to exist as parasites.  I am referring to people who steal company property, fake their time cards, sabotage machines to get downtime or fake an on the job injury, etc.  I have found them uniformly hostile, suspicious and resentful.  I do not recall seeing any that I would describe as happy, including, for example, those that gained a fake disability and were allowed to continue receiving a paycheck without having to actually work.

Granted, these are relatively minor crimes, but I am confident that, regardless of the magnitude of the attempt,  one cannot achieve self-esteem by living as a parasite off the efforts of others, knowing all the while that one's continued existence depends on the next successful crime.  Self-doubt and anxiety are the logical consequences of such a policy.  Happiness, as a non-contradictory state of joy, is not possible under those conditions.

From Galt's speech (Atlas Shrugged, pg 982): "Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions."

Okay, that's solid evidence for your original statement (criminals are not happy). But really, the way you put it, the only way to prove it is to hook every criminal in the world up to a lie detector and ask him if (s)he's happy. A single counterexample would disprove it. I don't know any personally, but I can imagine a con man who took pleasure and satisfaction in designing a scam perfectly fitted to the weaknesses of his victim, just as Howard Roark took pleasure in matching the design of a building to its function.

Quoting Galt (to the effect that happiness is possible only to a rational man) merely reasserts the claim which Friedman challenged; it does not address the challenge. While Friedman's other points have been refuted in this thread, I don't see that this one has.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Okay, that's solid evidence for your original statement (criminals are not happy).  But really, the way you put it, the only way to prove it is to hook every criminal in the world up to a lie detector and ask him if (s)he's happy.  A single counterexample would disprove it.  I don't know any personally, but I can imagine a con man who took pleasure and satisfaction in designing a scam perfectly fitted to the weaknesses of his victim, just as Howard Roark took pleasure in matching the design of a building to its function.

Quoting Galt (to the effect that happiness is possible only to a rational man) merely reasserts the claim which Friedman challenged; it does not address the challenge.  While Friedman's other points have been refuted in this thread, I don't see that this one has.

Actually, hooking up a criminal to a polygraph (there's no such things as a "lie detector"), would not prove anything. Polygraphs are notoriously inaccurate and easy to "beat." The sort of individuals who are most adept at beating them without instruction in counter-measures are criminals, as they often lack a conscience. Given their psycho-pathology, the stress patterns that the polygrapher takes as indicative to deception would be useless. The criminals lying and truth teller will appear identical on the chart and often fool the test giver. Now obviously this isn't the case across the board. Within certain contexts a polygraph can be useful in generating a confession, etc., but that's because the suspect is being fooled in to thinking that the polygrapher can actually tell that he's lying.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Okay, that's solid evidence for your original statement (criminals are not happy).  But really, the way you put it, the only way to prove it is to hook every criminal in the world up to a lie detector and ask him if (s)he's happy.

Why do you think this procedure would constitute proof in this particular issue?

More generally, what do you mean by "prove"? What constitutes proof?

Edited by BurgessLau

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
That underlined sentence applies exactly to the case of the Mantis. Well…so much for that straw man.

Nicely done.

The mantis does not possess either reason or volition. The individual mantis has no means of detecting that it puts itself in harm's way by mating, and it has no means of correcting that behaviour in the future.

What -can- happen, over time, is evolution. At some point, some new evolutionary mutation in a male mantins might enable one to escape, and possibly mate again, and whatever underlying genetic code that enabled it to do so will be passed on -- without any need for knowledge or reason on its part. Eventually, this reproductive pattern would succeed in replacing the weaker genetic makeup with the stronger one.

To take the idea of a man acting, through reason, to preserve and further his life, and then presume that somehow this applies to all livings things, is a horribly huge context drop. Men act to live using reason, other animals do not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Okay, that's solid evidence for your original statement (criminals are not happy).  But really, the way you put it, the only way to prove it is to hook every criminal in the world up to a lie detector and ask him if (s)he's happy.  A single counterexample would disprove it.  I don't know any personally, but I can imagine a con man who took pleasure and satisfaction in designing a scam perfectly fitted to the weaknesses of his victim, just as Howard Roark took pleasure in matching the design of a building to its function.

Quoting Galt (to the effect that happiness is possible only to a rational man) merely reasserts the claim which Friedman challenged; it does not address the challenge.  While Friedman's other points have been refuted in this thread, I don't see that this one has.

The burden is not on us to refute his position. It is he who must support it.

Friedman's fourth point is the claim that the "leap" from surviving by reason to the Objectivist virtue of Honesty is not justified. He argues that since the risk of detection varies with different frauds, all one can really say is that one should be judicial in choosing which frauds to commit, so as to minimize the risk of capture.

His premise is that happiness is not affected by honesty. Self-esteem is necessary for the achievement of happiness. Friedman's position, then, is that it is possible to exist as a parasite with no consequences for one's self-esteem.

Friedman has provided no support for this assertion. Thus, there is nothing to refute. If he wishes to establish the possibility that self-esteem is not affected by dishonesty, he must offer some evidence in support. The mere fact that he assumes it is a possibility does not establish it as a possibility.

You said:

I don't know any personally, but I can imagine a con man who took pleasure and satisfaction in designing a scam perfectly fitted to the weaknesses of his victim, just as Howard Roark took pleasure in matching the design of a building to its function.

First, the fact that one can imagine something does not establish it as a possibility and does not create an obligation to refute it.

Beyond that, there is a distinction between pleasure, satisfaction and happiness. There are those that derive pleasure from getting drunk. There are those that find satisfaction in sabotaging young minds. This does not mean they have achieved happiness.

Do you believe that the con man and Roark would be equally happy?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But really, the way you put it, the only way to prove it is to hook every criminal in the world up to a lie detector and ask him if (s)he's happy.  A single counterexample would disprove it.  I don't know any personally, but I can imagine a con man who took pleasure and satisfaction in designing a scam perfectly fitted to the weaknesses of his victim, just as Howard Roark took pleasure in matching the design of a building to its function.

The issue is that such "pleasure" and "satisfaction" in man who designed such a scam is not hapiness, no matter how much he tries to convince himself that it is (and subsequently, can even make a polygraph unable to detect the truth).

The physiological mechanism of pleasure/pain is automatic and set by nature. If I prick you with a needle, it hurts.

The emotional mechanism of happiness/sadness/etc is not automatic.

The emotional mechanism's purpose is to tell you if you are taking the correct action or not, but you have to choose "what the correct action to take" is in the first place. If you choose a path of self-destruction, and you work to attain that, then you are mistraining your emotional mechanism. It will, in fact, lie to you -- such that if you prick yourself with a psychological needle, it feels good. That doesn't make it the right thing to do, and doesn't mean that pricking yourself with a needle is "happiness", since the pleasure itself is a lie you are telling yourself.

In order for emotional pleasure to properly be "happiness", it -must- actually be consistent with working to sustain and further one's life, not with acting to destroy it.

And no matter how much context you wish to drop, perpetrating a scam and victimizing people cannot do that. You abdicate your own rights when you do that, and make it morally justifiable for anyone and everyone to stop you. The only way to prevent that, for a criminal, is to live a lie -- but he actually knows the truth, and cannot run from himself.

Edited by TomL

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Actually, hooking up a criminal to a polygraph (there's no such things as a "lie detector"), would not prove anything.
Yes, I know that. What I'm saying is that to know the mental states of a class of people, there would have to be such a thing as a lie detector, and you'd have to use it.

Why do you think this procedure would constitute proof in this particular issue?

Well, let's see. . . the original statement under discussion was "criminals are not people of high self-esteem living happy lives." If you could examine every criminal and determine that {s}he in fact had low self-esteem and/or was unhappy, is that not self-evidently proof? Kind of like proving the statement "there are no purple cats" by looking at every cat in the world and finding no purple ones.

Do you believe that the con man and Roark would be equally happy?
I think it's possible. Each applies his intelligence and creativity to the solution of a challenging problem, and gains a reward if successful.

His premise is that happiness is not affected by honesty. Self-esteem is necessary for the achievement of happiness. Friedman's position, then, is that it is possible to exist as a parasite with no consequences for one's self-esteem.

That's not exactly what he said. He said that it is possible to gain values and to support one's life by dishonest means. He said nothing about self-esteem or happiness--nor, for that matter, did Rand in the passage he quoted.

The burden is not on us to refute his position. It is he who must support it.

The original claim, regarding honesty, was made by Rand. Friedman argues that she did not successfully support that claim. The ball is now in the court of Rand (or of those who wish to speak for her philosophy, she being dead and all).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×