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Is-Ought Problem actually solved? Problem of Universals

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1. To live is a morality; to die involves no morality therefore it should be dismissed.

Correct.

You call this "derivation of an "ought" from an "is". But there is a question: why to live is moral?
It isn't, as such. Once you have chosen to live, however, the moral is that which furthers your life.

An obligation or duty cannot logically derived from a fact.

Objectivism does not have a duty-based ethics.

It can only derived from a purpose.
Exactly. Our purpose is to live. What is yours?

But a purpose can be a arbitrary thing. It can have no factual basis.

Purposes other than living can be. We are uninterested in purposes other than living, since ours is to live.

If someone set him the purpose of death, he can still derived an "ought" from an "is" in an Objectivist way:
Only if he means to die in the quickest possible way. In fact, death will come one way or another through your inaction. The human body needs water, food, protection from the elements. It isn't necessary for you to reason out a way to die... nature will oblige. It is, however, eminently necessary to reason out the way to live.

If I choose death volitionally I still need some guides. How about those guides?

How about them? Who the hell cares? The living are uninterested in the goals of the living-dead, other than inasmuch as they might represent a threat to our goal of living.

This "ought" means a probability or likelihood or expectation, not an obligation or duty.

You only have an obligation once you have decided to live. Even then, it is only an obligation to obey the laws of reality in pursuit of that goal. Before that there is no obligation.

You're looking for something that does not exist: a categorical duty. There is no such thing. That does not mean there is no connection between "is" and "ought," only that the connection isn't established until one has chosen the goal of life.

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*** Mod's note: merged with a previous thread. - sN *** 

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

 

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

 

From The Virtue of Selfishness, copied from the Ayn Rand Lexicon website.

 

Now, I've never read David Hume, mind you (A Treatise of Human Nature is on my want-to-read list). I have read The Virtue of Selfishness for what little of Ayn Rand I have read, and while I like the way she thinks I'm unconvinced that this ethical system can be derived as an imperative from our nature.

 

Daniel Dennett is one of my favorite intellectuals, and he makes the point that science can help inform ethical decisions (like if it turns out an animal is intelligent or feels pain, we may be more considerate of it's well-being). But that's as far as I'm willing to go, the knowledge that I'm built a certain way shouldn't influence the conscious decision of how I want to live my life, short of setting physical limits. The fact that we can't have a moral system without being alive in the first place doesn't convince me that "survival" (in the broad developed sense Rand uses it) should be my highest standard of value.

 

I just find it very difficult to consider the notion that it is somehow unethical to do anything that would be detrimental to myself or counter intuitive to my nature. It can only be unethical to do such a thing to another person (and if someone depends on you then harming yourself could harm them) because now it's an issue of rights. You don't have the right to harm other people, but you certainly have a right to harm yourself if you feel like it, know one owns your life but you.

 

Maybe I'm misinterpreting her philosophy, but it seems like any assertion that you should live a certain way rather than laying out what you shouldn't do (whatever is outside your rights) along the way is not consistent with a philosophy of individualism, in that case it's a kind of secular social conservatism.

 

That aside, our nature is determined by evolution, which is blind and flawed for however brilliant it is. Evolution couldn't have foreseen the supernormal stimuli we overload ourselves with today (porn, candy, etc), and it's left us with imperfect abilities at reasoning, socializing, and even ethics and scientific pursuit, short of whatever was sufficient for our hunter gatherer days (my solution to all this is transhumanism, which is not the topic of the thread, but if anyone feels like making off-topic asides I would be curious as to what you guys think of that as well). So I really don't think putting a huge stock in our nature as a reference for how we should live is a good idea.

 

Just to give an example of what I mean about evolution leaving us imperfect, if you've heard of the Trolley Problem, you can understand how irrational and underdeveloped (but strongly convinced of) our intuitive sense of right and wrong can be, as Steven Pinker points out in The Stuff of Thought: http://books.google.com/books?id=jylSITT9Z...ontcover#PPA229 (start from the bottom of the page, sorry it won't let me copy and paste).

 

Something as trivial as a semantic distinction between causing and letting (resulting in the same effect otherwise) can influence the life and death decisions people make. Now I don't mean to let that be a misanthropic statement (however true) but it does make me dubious of two things: 1. That man is a (completely) rational animal, and that 2. we should derive our ethical systems from our nature.

 

EDIT: Sorry, I just realized I'm making an argument here and I posted this in questions.

 

This probably belongs in ethics, rights?

Edited by softwareNerd
Merged topics

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1. That man is a (completely) rational animal, and that 2. we should derive our ethical systems from our nature.

Look around you my friend, #1 is clearly false, but then Rand did not say that man was a "completely" rational animal. In this case the distinction is everything.

As for #2, what else would you recommend we derive our ethical systems from, something contradictory to our nature?

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Look around you my friend, #1 is clearly false, but then Rand did not say that man was a "completely" rational animal. In this case the distinction is everything.

As for #2, what else would you recommend we derive our ethical systems from, something contradictory to our nature?

At best our nature can inform, I argue. Everything we do is a result of our nature anyway, directly or indirectly, regardless, so I can't help fall into a kind of trap here, but to say that should do x because we have evolved that way to me seems presumptuous and creates problems (it's like saying a rock should be hard and lumpy because that is the nature of a rock. That's it's unethical for the rock to be carved into anything else, which is absurd).

Humans are selfish by nature, no doubt (although we can be just as instinctually altruistic, there are two sides to this coin), and Ayn Rand says that we should have a selfish ethics because of that, but it doesn't take into account the possibility that selfishness might be a flaw in a modern era where it would have been beneficial in early Darwinian situations to survival, just like rape might have been (I say might, I don't really know) an effective strategy for spreading one's genes. Surely that doesn't mean we should vindicate rape, even if it's an undeniable if ugly part of our nature.

EDIT: As an aside I argue we should develop our ethics based on individual rights and non-coercion, and the prevention of human suffering (but not to the detriment of individual rights) since this is the most effective way to ensure a happy and peaceful society... in my view. Kind of truncated, I know. You can call it a libertarian method motivated by a utilitarian goal.

Edited by Melchior

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I think a large part of your problem is you inherently divorce morality from life:

The fact that we can't have a moral system without being alive in the first place doesn't convince me that "survival" (in the broad developed sense Rand uses it) should be my highest standard of value.

I don't have Tara Smith's 'Viable Values', the copy I read was borrowed from the library, so I can't provide a good page reference, but about half way through, she explicates on this point of Rand's. Yes, you get it right in the first part there - morality makes no sense without life - but you fail to grasp the full implications of this. It isn't merely that morality requires one to be alive - it is that all actions within the context of life are actions worthy of moral appraisal. All actions have some impact upon your life, and are therefore up for evaluation on how moral they are.

This is an important step to grasp and in understand this vital meta-ethical point, it opens the door to the rest of Rand's ethics. You have to understand that the central issue in morality is not "choice" but "life". It's not like when faced with a choice you can say, "I can either make this choice which will effect my life, or this one which will not". Morality, once you understand this, is involved in every decision, and is inherently tied to how you live you life. You cannot escape that life is going to be at the center of your decisions.

So, in other words, you don't choose to make life the center of action - rather, by choosing to act, you choose to concern yourself with life.

Also, you misunderstand the whole point of "nature". Yes, Rand placed great stock in obeying one's nature. But that's only half the battle. One does not merely obey for the sake of being a slave to something beyond oneself. One isn't a pawn in a cosmic game of evolutionary progression, nor in the effective "spreading of genes".

Rather, one obeys ones nature precisely because one is an individual, who has his own life to lead, and because one needs to know how to live it. Hence the expression, "Nature: to obey, so as to be commanded".

The point of obeying one's nature is in understanding what it means to live qua man. It means, recognising, "Since I am a man, I can only live as a man. I can't photosynthesise, and I certainly don't have any instinctual method of survival." This investigation leads one to discover that man has a central capacity - reason - which can be applied in a certain manner - towards production (of live-serving values) - as well as a central purpose which gives purpose to all of that acting - happiness/flourshing/eudaimonia.

I could go on, but really, you only need to look back at the Virtue of Selfishness to see Rand elaborate on what it means to live qua man. If you don't get it then, I highly recommend to you Tara Smith's two great works: "Viable Values" and "Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics" (in that order).

So, this is basically why the is-ought problem isn't a problem. The is-ought problem identifies the central problem in morality as "choice". It identifies that man is capable of choosing a lot of things, but states that there is no justifying reason that compels him to any specific course. Ayn Rand correctly identified that, actually, "choice" isn't the central concern here, it's "life". Harking back to Aristotle, she pointed out that, eventually, all choices trace back to one essential choice "the choice to live", a choice which no one can escape, and a choice which is inherently made when one chooses to act (hence I think Peikoff makes the point in OPAR that to "choose to die" is simply to cease action).

Edited by Tenure

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If you want to put Rand's ethics in language that the supporters of the is-ought dichotomy would understand, you could say that Rand's ethics is conditional - it requires you to choose to live. Nothing can compel you to make that choice, but if you do, there is a certain way you should act to support your life - namely, rationally. The is-ought folks have no problem with conditional statements, so I think if they would look at it that way, they would see through the "problem", which basically demands an ethical system to justify an ethical system.

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The point of Ayn Rand's views on the is-ought "problem," which I believe to be her most substantial contribution to philosophy in general, is that any moral-ethical system does not make sense if it is not based on the concept, not of bare survival (there lies a great misunderstanding,) but living life in a manner suitable to a being of your nature, what Rand calls living life qua man.

Rand's view on the matter is twofold:

1) Values are necessary, if you want to live

2) Therefore, the only proper base for values is your own life, qua man.

The first point is the most important one and the result of her innovative approach to the is-ought problem. Instead of asking "What values ought men hold?" she asked "Do men need morality and values at all - and if so, why?" Values (and thus morality) are only necessary if you choose to live. At the point at which you have decided not to live, values become superfluous and meaningless - logically unjustifiable. So the conclusion is that, if you wish to be logical, there are only two alternatives: hold your highest value to be living life qua man, or to not hold life as a value at all, in which case no values are logically justifiable and the only (reasonable) course of action is to sit down and quietly die.

Of course, you can also be illogical and hold some contradictory values, living but pursuing values that contradict your own wellbeing, but if you consciously choose that you move beyond the realm of rational discussion.

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Thanks for the responses. To be honest I'm not entirely convinced, but I think I understand. I'll check out those books Tenure recommended.

I think the problem is these arguments work best as a question of what the best course of action is rather than what one's course of action should be. I would have to ask in the context of "ought" or "should" what standard a person is going by, and to say "oneself" is kind of an alien concept to me. At best you can choose your own life as a standard but the only imperatives that can impel you are whatever you don't have a right to (i.e. you should repay a debt because you don't have the right not to). However because I do have the right to something, and the fact that it is probably the best action to do all things considered, doesn't seem like an ethical imperative, just a rational or admirable one.

I know I'm probably not making much sense here, I'm used to thinking in terms of negative rights and limits (what one ought not to do as opposed to what one ought to do) in the context of ethics. I suppose there's a semantical problem I'm creating here.

So what do you think the purpose of morality is?

My understanding of why we have moral and political philosophy in the first place is so that we don't have complete chaos where people can just do whatever they want to each other, or at least that's why these things came about in the first place, I think. In light of growing societies and new scientific knowledge we need to improve on our understanding of ethics and systems of government.

Edited by Melchior

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...

I think the problem is these arguments work best as a question of what the best course of action is rather than what one's course of action should be. I would have to ask in the context of "ought" or "should" what standard a person is going by, and to say "oneself" is kind of an alien concept to me.

What the best course of action is ought to be the same as what one's course of action should be, but this requires that you know by what (or whose) standard you are evaluating the choices open to you.

Let's take an example. If your parents want you to become a doctor, and you want to study theatre, then the "best course of action" will be different depending upon whom you ask or depending upon whose standard of value you invoke when making the choice. Both courses of action are worthy, let's say, and both honorable in the right context. BUT - choosing to do what your parents want you to do when you would rather pursue another career would be immoral FOR YOU.

The choices don't have to be between "good" and "bad." In fact they are more often than not choices between or among two or more equally good pursuits. The choice that is right for you must take into account your desires, interests and abilities. So in that sense going by "oneself" means one's own hierarchy of values.

At best you can choose your own life as a standard but the only imperatives that can impel you are whatever you don't have a right to (i.e. you should repay a debt because you don't have the right not to).

This is why the Law needs to be built on a proper base, i.e., one where the law prohibiting initiation of force is fully described and fully adhered to by all (or at least the majority) of the members of the society. You don't have the right not to repay a debt because that constitutes an initiation of force.

However because I do have the right to something, and the fact that it is probably the best action to do all things considered, doesn't seem like an ethical imperative, just a rational or admirable one.

Then you do not understand the connection between "rational" and "ethical." The rational is the ethical for man, because that is his nature.

I know I'm probably not making much sense here, I'm used to thinking in terms of negative rights and limits (what one ought not to do as opposed to what one ought to do) in the context of ethics. I suppose there's a semantical problem I'm creating here.

I think you are missing out on the bigger picture. The concept of what one ought NOT to do is in the context of interaction with others. When deciding what one ought to do given a set of options, figuring out which one is in your best interests is every bit as important and every bit an ethical question as understanding what you may not do. However, being open-ended, deciding what to do with your life is not something others ought to force upon you.

My understanding of why we have moral and political philosophy in the first place is so that we don't have complete chaos where people can just do whatever they want to each other, or at least that's why these things came about in the first place, I think. In light of growing societies and new scientific knowledge we need to improve on our understanding of ethics and systems of government.

Actually all we need in the form of government is a system that is ruled by objective law. Moral philosophy is not just about what not to do, but also how about how to choose from the array of options. It is not simply a matter of avoiding chaos but of choosing that which you deem as the one most likely to result in your happiness. Having rational government is simply the initial point - the achievement of an environment in which you can then proceed to make the most rational choices in life to benefit yourself and those you care about.

Edited by AllMenAreIslands

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My understanding of why we have moral and political philosophy in the first place is so that we don't have complete chaos where people can just do whatever they want to each other...

So in your opinion, morality only pertains to what people do to each other? That is what the sentence above means, so with that in mind, I have two questions:

1.Does that include voluntary interactions (such as sex between two or more willing participants, or trade), or only interactions in which one person or group is being hurt or forced to do something against their will?

2. How should individuals decide about choices or courses of action that don't involve "doing something to each other", if not by using morality?

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Well, there's part of your problem. You haven't essentially defined what an ethical system is. You've imported a normative ethic (an ethical rule) into your definition of "ethical system". A certain ethical system could be one which sees people doing "whatever they want" as being wrong. This causes issues for you, because then you can't understand a system which tells you what you may do -- you only understand it in terms of things which you are forbidden to do; constraints on your choices, telling you what you shouldn't do, rather than guides to choices, telling you what you should do.

As Sanjavalen pointed out, what Rand said was that this is a mistake. People inherently thinking that Ethics should be something about "stopping people from doing what they want". Now, she wasn't advocating that people should just do whatever they want, but she noted that by putting in that delimitation, you're involving a non-necessary attribute in your definition of an ethical system.

She asked why we need an ethical system and the answer she found can be split into two sections:

1) We need a system of ethics because we do not know what we ought to do in every situation (given the choices we have)

2) We need a system of ethics, because we need some sort of principles (we can't hold in our head what we should do in every conceivable type of situation).

So, we the purpose of ethics, you see, has something to do with how we should act, which must be defined in certain principles (but that's a side issue for now, the principles thing). The other important step to learn is the whole thing, as stated above, that ethics must be concerned only with life, and the kinds of things which support life.

To understand this, you have to understand life's conditional nature, specifically man's conditional nature, and make a whole heap of inductions about what his life requires so as to flourish.

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So in your opinion, morality only pertains to what people do to each other? That is what the sentence above means, so with that in mind, I have two questions:

1.Does that include voluntary interactions (such as sex between two or more willing participants, or trade), or only interactions in which one person or group is being hurt or forced to do something against their will?

I am a voluntarist. For me it's about consent and coercion. But there is a lot of gray area here, life isn't so simple. In general one should not be forced to do anything against their will, you can't murder another person because you don't own their life. You can't do what you want with another person's property without their permission.

However your life and property are your own, so short of "good ideas" I can't see compelling moral (key word moral) imperatives for why I shouldn't kill myself. I can see rational and functional objections for why I shouldn't though. Suicide is a sign of poor mental health, and perhaps even poor character, but it's not immoral (unless you have a wife and kids or something).

This video (which you've probably seen) sums up my outlook pretty well: http://www.isil.org/resources/philosophy-o...rty-english.swf

2. How should individuals decide about choices or courses of action that don't involve "doing something to each other", if not by using morality?

By whatever their goals and values are, measured against their capacity and knowledge. People are generally going to do what comes naturally to them anyway. No one purposefully starves themselves unless they've been infected with religion or other irrational ideas. The problem is when groupthink or superstition trumps individual interests, that's when everything goes haywire. Every serious ethical issue deals with people interacting with each other (or non-existent supernatural entities). I don't see any ethical dilemmas where only individuals are involved though, just psychological ones like self-worth, which I think people like Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden have good things to say about, don't get me wrong, but to me it's just not ethics.

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Tenure, I think you hit the nail on the head and I like where you are going with this.

Honestly I do find virtue ethics very attractive (I bought Artistotle's Nicomachean Ethics and am planning to read it, maybe after suffering through Plato). The problem is I see virtue and ethics as two different things. It's leading a good life versus avoiding a bad life, the former is about a show of good character but the latter is an imperative. I'm not convinced living a virtuous life (setting your goals and achieving them, bettering yourself, etc) is a must, it's just a good thing to do, but I don't wish a pox on the lazy, ignorant and unmotivated, just as long as they stay out of other people's way. If that makes any sense.

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I'm unconvinced that this ethical system can be derived as an imperative from our nature.

I would guess you are unconvinced because Objectivism's ethical system is not "derived as an imperative" from our nature.

Ethical statements are not imperatives, they are normatives.

It sounds like you believe the purpose of ethics is to formulate imperatives, commandments, edicts, dictates, dogmas or orders, i.e., that ethics is a subject for restraining men, or reigning in their choices.

It sounds as though you have accepted some variant of the mind / body dichotomy.

Proper ethics is not found in imperatives, ordering or dictating how men should restrain themselves and/or resist temptations, or mortify the flesh.

Objective normative statements ask, given I am a certain kind of being, living in a certain kind of world, and I have no automatic means of knowing what to do, what actions am I to choose?

Ayn Rand, called ethics “hypothetical.” If we choose to live, then a certain course of action necessarily follows. And, if we choose to consider the full context of our nature as men, and the nature of the world around us, then further refinements of our choices necessarily follow.

But, if you take the Objectivist ethics as a system of imperatives, and then look for evidence supporting why one should choose to restrain one’s choices; choose to restrain one’s mind, and blindly follow those imperatives; you will never find an answer, because you are looking for a reason to support un-reason.

The quotes you started with are Ayn Rand stating she has discovered a metaphysical phenomena (when considered epistemologically, i.e., when conceptualized), which stops the potential infinite regress one would be trapped in if one concluded that values are just means to ends, which are means to other ends, etc. etc.

She discovered that the phenomenon of life, i.e., life by its nature, is an end in itself, i.e., that it is conditional in nature, i.e., it constantly requires maintenance, for it to remain in existence.

She notes: the term we have for those things which provide the necessary conditions for sustaining that existence as a living being, are known as “values;” in other words, when we conceptualize living beings, and what is continuously required for them to remain in existence; concepts such as value and need arise.

In Garry Hall’s course, “Ayn Rand’s Philosophic System,” he demonstrates this point with a “Plant, cat, table.” If you had a plant, cat and a table, and you go on a very long trip, leaving the three behind. If the cat is in a cage or strapped to the table, when you return you will find the table unaffected, but the plant and the cat dead. Why?

As living beings, the existence of the plant & the cat, is conditional, they have continuous requirements to remain in existence as living beings. The table is not living and its existence is not conditional in the way the living beings existence is.

Ayn Rand states, “The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.”

The concept of values or needs do not apply to non-living beings. One does not observe non-living beings acting in ways to sustain their existence. The absence of food or protection does not lead to their death. There is no need to pursue the necessary conditions for their further existence as non-living beings, because there are no necessary conditions for them to remain what they are.

But what a living being is by its nature as a living being, requires it to get what it needs, or else. If a living being does not get what it needs it ceases to “be” what it is: it ceases to be.

“The fact that a living being is,” means that a living being is what it is, i.e., that to be a living being is to face a constant alternative of needing to sustain its life with values, or else.

As men, we conceptualize this state of our own conditional existence. That is to say, when we realize we are members of this class of living beings, we formulate our own needs or requirements into words, because that’s how we as men sustain our lives. We express the problem of being alive by formulating statements containing “should” and “ought” words.

These statements, implicitly acknowledge this entire context, including the context of our own free will in the matter of what to do.

Again, she states “The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.” What is determined here? Neither man nor beast has any choice about the fact that their lives depend on sustaining their needs.

A man can choose not to sustain those needs and die, but he cannot wish those needs out of existence.

But, no man is born knowing what his needs are. No man is born knowing how to know what his needs are.

It is the purpose of philosophy/ethics to tell him, but it is still his responsibility to convince himself what is right and how to go about getting it; which is why no system of ethics, consisting of a set of imperatives could ever provide him with what he needs.

Regards,

Michael

Edited by phibetakappa

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I'm not following all the conversations, so I apologize to those who may have made the points I'm making, or asked the questions I'm asking. Anyway, what you (Melchior) said answers my question, except for this part, which I think is left unexplained:

People are generally going to do what comes naturally to them anyway. No one purposefully starves themselves unless they've been infected with religion or other irrational ideas.

Do you think being rational comes naturally, or could this irrationality come naturally as well?

Depending on that, two separate questions:

1. If irrationality comes naturally, is it alright to follow it, and if it isn't, why not?

2. If irrationality doesn't come naturally, then why is there irrationality?

[the questions refer to situations where only individuals are involved, or at least there is no coercion of any kind between individuals involved]

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I think the problem is these arguments work best as a question of what the best course of action is rather than what one's course of action should be. I would have to ask in the context of "ought" or "should" what standard a person is going by,

These are good questions and you have identified where to start, where Ayn Rand did. You are right, before you can ask what the best course of action is or what action one should take you have to identify a standard. You want to know what to value, you are asking: what is good and what is bad. Different theories of morality answer that question in different ways. Ayn Rand was trying to discover if it was possible to define those concepts objectively, which means: with reference to reality. Are there any facts which give rise to the concept of value? Is there any objective need for such a concept as the good? This is the is part of the is-ought problem.

The answer is yes, there is only one set of entities to which the concept of value applies: living entities. It is only to living organisms that things can be good or bad. Only living things value. There is no concept "value" without the concept "living". The concept "value" cannot be defined without first defining the concept "life". And this is where you went wrong here:

(it's like saying a rock should be hard and lumpy because that is the nature of a rock. That's it's unethical for the rock to be carved into anything else, which is absurd).

Rocks are not alive, they do not value. Rocks are inanimate and so they cannot act to achieve a goal. Nothing is good or bad to a rock. The term "should" does not apply to a rock. A rock just is. A blade of grass is alive, therefore it ought to do things that further its life. A man is alive, if he wants to remain that way, he ought to do things that further his life. A blade of grass or a polar bear will act, within its capabilities, to sustain its life, it has no choice. Man, however, is a volitional being unpossessed of automatic knowledge. Therefore, he must choose to sustain his life and he must figure out how to do it.

This is where morality comes in. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality. Man, like the other animals, in order to be successful, must act in accordance with his nature. He must act rationally, since this is how he survives, and discover the values that sustain his life. Once he figures out the best course of action, this is what he should do. His nature is given, it is, and it determines what he ought to do.

Now apply what I have just said to the following:

In general one should not be forced to do anything against their will,

Why not? Why is it bad to force someone?

[...] you can't murder another person because you don't own their life.

Why not? What is bad about murder? Where does this concept of "own" come from?

You can't do what you want with another person's property without their permission.

Why not? Where does this idea of "property" come from? How does something become property? What did you have to do to make it your property? Why did you do it?

However your life and property are your own,

Why? Are life and property good things? Why are your life and property your own? Why doesn't someone else own them? Is there something in nature which tells you why they ought to be yours?

No need to directly answer all of these questions, they are for you to ponder. But what Jake Ellison and I are trying to get you to see is that you are stealing these concepts. You are calling certain actions rights and then saying one should do them. Why? You have asked Ayn Rand for her standard and now I am asking for yours. Why are rights a good thing? Why is property good? What does it mean to own something? Why is forcing someone bad? Why is murder bad?

You can't answer any of these questions unless you already know what makes something good or bad, objectively. What in reality must exist in order for there to even be a concept of the good?

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Thanks for the replies, this stuff is starting to make sense. I have to be honest when you probe me about issues of property and rights I don't have an answer. This just always struck me as the most sensible way to delimit liberty; "your right to swing your fist ends at my nose." Call it pragmatism if you will, any other system ends in unpleasant results for everyone (that is unless you like having your rights trampled on, which I guess can't be helped). Negative rights are the only rights that exist (or should I say, should be recognized) because anything else requires usurping other people's rights. Anything that requires undue suffering or effort on nonconsenting parties is as a rule past the line. You only have a right to what you have produced or peacefully acquired (and what you are born with, of course). This makes perfect sense to people in everyday matters but when issues become large scale they suddenly become collectivists. I prefer to be consistent. That's just my take on it.

I have another question. To my understanding Aristotle inspired Rand's philosophy, would I be gaining anything relevant by reading the Nicomachean Ethics (which I'm going to read anyway) with respect to understanding Objectivist ethics, or is that too far off the mark?

Do you think being rational comes naturally, or could this irrationality come naturally as well?

Depending on that, two separate questions:

1. If irrationality comes naturally, is it alright to follow it, and if it isn't, why not?

2. If irrationality doesn't come naturally, then why is there irrationality?

[the questions refer to situations where only individuals are involved, or at least there is no coercion of any kind between individuals involved]

I guess it depends on how you define naturally. I think people are equipped to handle the most basic situations at an individual level. I'm hungry, so I will eat. I'm tired so I will sleep (simplifying for cases where there aren't predators or rivals, etc. We can think strategically to deal with these things, far better than other animals, which is why we've reached the level we are at). I think it's when we come into "unnatural" environments (i.e. dealing with large groups of people in cities, organized religion, etc) that things start to go haywire, and people do things that are not in their best interest, because they were not anticipated by the environment we were originally designed for.

I don't buy the naturalistic imperative, which is why I started this thread in the first place. A lot of things come naturally that aren't necessarily good things to exacerbate. Human beings aren't perfect.

I'm just explaining my view of things here, btw, not trying to make an argument.

Edited by Melchior

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[...] liberty [...] right [...] unpleasant results for everyone [...] like [...] should [...] undue suffering [...] past the line [...] right to what you have produced [...] peacefully acquired [...] prefer

These are all concepts or propositions dependent upon some kind of standard of good and bad. You must have a way to measure why these things are good or bad. You can't define what is right and wrong before you define what is good and bad. In other words a political system is dependent upon an ethical system, politics is derived from ethics not the other way around. The reason libertarians are inconsistent is because their "principle" of non-coercion is not based in an ethics. Objectivism defines an objective way to measure what is good or bad.

Not to beat a dead horse but to elaborate:

"your right to swing your fist ends at my nose."

Why? Is there something bad about initiating force? Is there something about force which contradicts our nature as rational beings?

[...] any other system ends in unpleasant results for everyone (that is unless you like having your rights trampled on, [...]).

Why? Is there something good about rights? How do you know they are good? What does good mean? Are they required by our nature as rational beings?

You only have a right to what you have produced

Why do I have the right to keep what I have produced? Is production good? What would happen to me if I wasn't productive?

Again these are rhetorical questions for you to consider though their answers are relevant to the question you ask.

Call it pragmatism if you will [...]

I think people are equipped to handle the most basic situations at an individual level. I'm hungry, so I will eat. I'm tired so I will sleep (simplifying for cases where there aren't predators or rivals, etc. We can think strategically to deal with these things, far better than other animals, which is why we've reached the level we are at).

Man survives by acting on principle. Pragmatism is "principle" of being non-principled and is terribly destructive.

Man is actually not very well equipped to handle even basic situations. Think of a baby, it knows nothing, it cannot feed itself. We survive by thinking but we must learn how to think properly. Thinking strategically takes effort to learn how to do. If we expend that effort, then there must be something valuable about doing so. What is that ultimate value? What in reality is the thing that our efforts should support?

Negative rights are the only rights that exist (or should I say, should be recognized) because anything else requires usurping other people's rights.

If you are saying that rights should only define what you may not do, then I disagree completely.

A negative is a nothing and it has no meaning apart from a something. It is not only much more important to define which actions you may rightfully take, it is a requirement, it is the only way it can be done. Rights pertain only to action. The way you define rights is by defining which actions are proper and then you say that no one has a right to prevent you from doing these things. How do we define proper actions? By discovering what is good and bad, objectively, i.e., the science of ethics.

Ayn Rand defines them for man as: "All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil."

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*** Mod's note: Merged with an earlier thread. - sN ***

My apologies if this has made a run through a good few times before, but my search, for whatever reason, is not currently functioning.

 

I have heard, quite frequently in fact, that Ayn Rand never solved the Is-Ought problem. In trying to resolve this (being an amateur in philosophy) I went browsing about. Now I know Mises Institute has some issues with Objectivism, but this seemed to be an interesting analysis of the issue, can someone help me clarify what is what here? Just scroll down a page or two to the Is-Ought problem http://mises.org/journals/jls/7_1/7_1_4.pdf

 

From what I gather the divide on this is because of how Ayn Rand decided to deal with the issue, as I understand it. She attacked the root of the dichotomy, saying that in certain ways it is invalid. I am guessing this proposal is hard to agree with unless you already accept some views of Objectivism? That the suggestion is, if you choose to live, that instantly implies a whole slew of values, i.e. "oughts." One of those "oughts" would be that you shouldn't ingest poisons, mercury included, because if you do, your life will soon go out of existence.

 

 

(I have also, but much less frequently have also heard it asserted she failed with respect to the Analytic-Synthetic dichotomy, but thats not my primary concern at this time)

 

Also, is there an explanation somewhere of how Ayn Rand solved the problem of universals, because I wasn't even aware this was an assertion until about 2 months ago, and it is supposedly resolved through ITOE (which I am just now beginning to read) but I would like to understand how she managed to solve such a difficult problem. I am extremely interested in this, and I would like to know if there is a good explanatory piece on it that I can reference as I get through ITOE (in the relevant section)

Edited by softwareNerd
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There is one paragraph of Hume's, a single short paragraph, which has been working like a paralysis-ray on the brains of ethical theorists up to the present time, and which I should like to quote:

This, in terms of modern philosophy, is the issue of the "is" versus the "ought." It purports to mean that ethical propositions cannot be derived from factual propositions—or that knowledge of that which is cannot logically give man any knowledge of what he ought to do. And wider: it means that knowledge of reality is irrelevant to the actions of a living entity and that any relation between the two is "inconceivable."

Also, toward the end of page 89, coming up on page 90 in OPAR, may be the assertion on the "problem of universals" you are looking for.

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I'd like to start by explicitly stating that what follows is my personal opinion based on personal speculation.

I don't think that Ayn Rand did in fact solve the problem of universals completely. Thus, it is easy to criticize her efforts as being incomplete.

If you consider her axioms, you'll understand that she did offer rock-solid reasoning concerning why the problem isn't a problem the way it's traditionally framed.

Existence exists. This is most certainly factual, self-evident, empirically sound, falsifiable, and also axiomatic. If I were to imagine all the world's philosophers in a salon, discussing the problem of universals, I'd imagine Ayn Rand eventually waving her arms around in the air shouting, "Guys, it exists, this thing I'm waving my hands in. Can we move on?"

I'd compare Objectivism to Newton's laws of physics. We know today that those laws aren't 'universal' in the sense that the universe isn't a clockwork mechanism. However, the laws are 100% true in the context by which they are defined. Macrophysical objects at Newtonian speeds and energy levels in fact do follow these laws. Therefore the laws do in fact exist.

It would be idiotic to say that F=ma is incorrect because of something to do with Schrodinger's damn cat. Likewise, as Objectivism proves, there are plenty of is-oughts. Is this a universal morality? Is it transcendent? Is every last is an ought, and is every ought necessarily an is?

I think that the vast majority of is-oughts that apply to human life, if not every possible instance as applies to humanity, are how Ayn Rand described them. So, why reject them? Her logic, in her writings, is solid. Nor is she as 'radical' as she is made out to be (unless you're a die hard collectivist, but in that case you're the sworn enemy of man).

I don't offer this opinion as a holistic philosophical treatise - instead, I mean to highlight only one principle of practice: when it comes to is-ought, Ayn Rand is perfectly right, at least within the scope of the vast majority of discussion about politics and morality.

Ask yourself this: even if Ayn Rand wasn't 100% correct, why the level of hostility? Crudely: isn't 90% correct still really valuable? I'm not trying to be pragmatic, just offering an inductive proof of the wrong-ness of trying to stonewall Objectivism.

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I've read the paper you have posted for good measure.

The ultimate problem is a classic one for modern whim-worshippers. Causation vs. Correlation.

What is the definition of ought? I would say: "To select the object of choice for an entity capable of choice". Does the rational entity choose the ought, or does the ought constrain the rational process of that entity?

There are a thousand ways to do this, but: man's capacity to reason depends on his life, therefore its existence depends on it selecting those choices that sustain its own life. Therefore, a continuous rational process will necessarily make life an object of choice.

Rational choice requires an object of choice. Is and Ought are correlated. But ought is a product of the rational entity - as a fundamental requirement for its very existence. Metaphysically, I would appeal to the law of identity - a thing must be something in order to exist. Thus, a rational process must have an object in order to exist. You know what I'm saying.

This doesn't answer some broader question of 'why must things exist', but recall my earlier post. Existence is axiomatic, so we don't have to answer stupid questions like that in order to draw ethical conclusions. Likewise, if one entertains a discussion about ethics, one has already accepted or chosen to value their own life (curiousity is not a metaphysical virtue). Thus, I for one am pleased that Rand formulated her ethics as 'if man chooses to live' rather than 'man's nature causes him to value his own life'. The former way of stating it is an axiomatic trap. If a critic says "why must man choose to live?", Rand need only ask, "why would you ask that if you haven't already so chosen?"

I suppose the whim-worshippers would contend that 'ought' drives reason. Uh? Existence exists, identity exists, consciousness exists. Hard to argue against, because this paper has failed to do so.

...

God, I mean, Rand's argument is so obvious and plain and clear. These academics are obviously thoughtful and educated, but end up with these BS conclusions... WTF man? And people wonder why I have such a problem with academia. Any intellectual system that allows BS like this should be an object of contempt.

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... ITOE (which I am just now beginning to read)

Well, doesn't that figure. The problem of Universals is epistemology, the Is-Ought problem is meta-ethics. They are different issues and that you conflate them is evidence of confusion. Keep doing background reading and avoid internet debates until you learn your subject. The Foreword of ITOE is an excellent summary of the issue of Universals, and the body of ITOE the dissolution of the "problem". Dream_weaver noted how the Is-Ought dilemma came from the skeptic Hume, it is a much more recent and simpler problem.

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

Critiques of Rand such as the one you linked show the author makes a common error, an error you will not notice on your own without knowing the epistemological method of Objectivism. Notice that logic itself is a derivation of Ought from Is. One ought to avoid contradictions because contradictions do not exist. One ought to accept the inference of the contrapositive because it is valid. But why should one care about what exists, or what is valid? The question is not answerable with an appeal to logic without collapsing into circularity. The only answer possible is an instrumental answer, one should care about what exists or is valid because that is required to remain in reality, to stay alive. But why should one choose to live? No answer in mere words will be sufficient. The error is expecting all justification to be in the forms of words and propositions, of arguments.

Tara Smith addresses the choice to live in Viable Values in the sections Is the Choice of Life Justified?(pg 106) and Does the Choice to Live Undermine the Objectivity of Value? (pg. 108). She could almost be answering this essay by Patrick O'Neil but she does not cite it.

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As always Grames´s responses are very illuminating. I never thought of logic as having an ethical "Ought" implicit like that.

On another thing:

Grames said:

The only answer possible is an instrumental answer, one should care about what exists or is valid because that is required to remain in reality, to stay alive.

Why is there only one possible instrumental answer?

And this:

The error is expecting all justification to be in the forms of words and propositions, of arguments.

How can there be such a thing as a justification not in the form of an argument?

Edited by patrik 7-2321

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