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Lord Poppycock

Why did Rand view Kant as evil?

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I would like to tack on to what DO said, that people often object, 'Oh, how can we proclaim someone to be morally evil when all they have is a grab-bag of bad ideas and were brought up in a bad culture? How can we really judge their actions?' So in the self-defense case, 'How can I really call this guy attacking me evil when he doesn't really understand morality?'

I think Ayn Rand put it perfectly in her 'Emergency Ethics' essay, that it is not in those 15 seconds of crucial decision making that men decide on their morality. They are very rarely backed against a wall and forced to choose something with very little time to think. They have much longer to deal with specific actions, or to deal with the cause of their actions - their mind - but simply choose to evade the effort.

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Good is that which supports a man's life, evil it the opposite. Self-defense comes about when another person attempts to commit an evil act, of killing you. Now you are faced with a seeming contradiction, the mutual exclusivity of your life versus his. You must now make a choice -- kill or be killed -- which leads you to consult your moral code, which says that your life is the highest value for you, and is your goal. The only action that is compatible with your central purpose -- your life -- is killing the would-be killer. Therefore, self-defense is the good choice.

I assume, extrapolating upon this logic, that if I were to come upon a scene of one man obviously trying to kill another, and I had a gun, it would be immoral for me to shoot and kill the aggressor? Since in this case it is not my life and thus my highest value that is on the line?

Fascinating. I had always assumed, apparently wrongly, that Objectivism offered an objective ethics, not a subjective one where what is morally right for one person may not be morally right for another.

This thread has been really helpful. Thank you all.

I think Ayn Rand put it perfectly in her 'Emergency Ethics' essay, that it is not in those 15 seconds of crucial decision making that men decide on their morality. They are very rarely backed against a wall and forced to choose something with very little time to think. They have much longer to deal with specific actions, or to deal with the cause of their actions - their mind - but simply choose to evade the effort.

That seems to me an important critique of the primacy of hypotheticals in ethical debate. The advantage of hypotheticals, of course, is that we get to control for various factors and thus ask questions about the specific detail of ethics that we are interested in. But we must not confuse ethical hypotheticals for scenarios that come up in life.

You might be familiar with Objectivist sources, but just in case you aren't, Rand's "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" (IToE) is the place to look. Next would be Peikoff's "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" (OPAR).

I am not familiar. Sadly, neither I nor my library owns either of these, and I do not have the disposable income to go book-buying, so I shall have to rely on the good will of the forum to answer the questions I have on these matters.

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what is Rand's model of the relationship between perception and reality?

See The Philosophy of Objectivism: A Brief Summary:

Existence exists--and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.

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Existence exists--and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.

Again, my means of obtaining books are greatly limited at the moment, so please forgive my endless questions.

Does she, as that sentence implies, take the equivalence between perception and reality as axiomatic, and thus as an article of faith?

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I assume, extrapolating upon this logic, that if I were to come upon a scene of one man obviously trying to kill another, and I had a gun, it would be immoral for me to shoot and kill the aggressor? Since in this case it is not my life and thus my highest value that is on the line?

Life is your highest value, but not your only value. Rather, it is the root and starting point of your hierarchy of values. The fact that you value your life means that you also value the things your life requires: things like food, oxygen, sunlight, money, reason, and rational people. So if your judgment is that the life of that other person is valuable enough for you to take the risk involved in confronting the would-be murderer (or simply that the experience you gain by doing so is valuable enough for you), then it is quite rational and moral for you to do so.

Fascinating. I had always assumed, apparently wrongly, that Objectivism offered an objective ethics, not a subjective one where what is morally right for one person may not be morally right for another.

It looks like you are mistaking what we call intrinsic for objective. "Intrinsic" means "a thing in itself," something independent of man's perception and consciousness. "Subjective" means something in one's consciousness, independent of external reality. "Objective" means a fact of reality as grasped by some specific person's consciousness. Intrinsicism and subjectivism focus only on existence or only on consciousness; Objectivism takes account of the relationship of the two.

Does she, as that sentence implies, take the equivalence between perception and reality as axiomatic, and thus as an article of faith?

No, but my time available for posting at the moment suffers from a similar limitation as your budget for books, so I'll have to leave this for someone else to explain, or I might come back to you later with a more detailed answer. Until then, let me just remark that axioms have absolutely nothing to do with faith in Objectivism.

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Does she, as that sentence implies, take the equivalence between perception and reality as axiomatic, and thus as an article of faith?
No, used in this sense, saying something is axiomatic is simply saying that the answer lies in your question. Therefore, you need to clarify your question: when you ask about perception and reality, what do you mean? Are "perception" and "reality" some meaningless sounds and is the question equivalent to asking: "what is the equivalence between malatoo and pikatish?" Since it is your question and your terms, you need to ask yourself what these mean first: what do you mean by "perception"? what do you mean by "reality"? In what sense are they different from "malatoo" and "pikatish"? Are you asking something about the sounds in your mind, and if so...how do you expect an answer? Or are you asking about something else? For that matter, when you ask for an answer, what do you mean by an "answer"? If you want the answer to be true, what do you mean by "truth"? Can there be truth is there is no reality? Can their be truth is their is no perception? What assumes what?

P.S.: I appreciate that you won't buy the book (BTW: CF's link was not a book but a short article.) but from what you have explained about where you're coming from, don't expect to get too much from an internet forum populated almost exclusively by non-philosophers. So, caveat emptor: much of what you're told will be incomplete and some of it will be an incorrect representation of Objectivism.

Edited by softwareNerd

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I assume, extrapolating upon this logic, that if I were to come upon a scene of one man obviously trying to kill another, and I had a gun, it would be immoral for me to shoot and kill the aggressor? Since in this case it is not my life and thus my highest value that is on the line?
That isn't a valid extrapolation. We know my life is my highest value; there is something that's second, and third, and so on. We are pretty sure that the killer is not in second position and his victim is in third (this can happen, e.g. if my wife were to attempt to murder my son). Ordinarily it would still be a preservation of my higher values. Assume the case of witnessing one complete stranger attempting to kill another complete stranger, by stopping the killer I would be acting in defense of a high moral principle of mine, that no man has the right to initiate force against another (other facts must be considered, for example that killing a man is the most extreme form of initiaiton of force). This would lead to the conclusion that it would be immoral for me not to defend the stranger, if I can with no risk to my life.
Fascinating. I had always assumed, apparently wrongly, that Objectivism offered an objective ethics, not a subjective one where what is morally right for one person may not be morally right for another.
You apparently don't understand the difference between objective ethics and intrisicism. Intrinsicist ethics proposes principles that have no relationship to facts of reality, whereas an objective ethics proposes principles that relate specific facts -- no matter who the person is -- to actions. Thus what is good for an Eskimo hunting whales is not the same as what is good for a New York stock broker. The fundamental principles are the same for all men, but the specific application can differ for such a simple reason that one man is allergic to a certain food and another is crucially dependent on it.

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No, used in this sense, saying something is axiomatic is simply saying that the answer lies in your question. Therefore, you need to clarify your question: when you ask about perception and reality, what do you mean? Are "perception" and "reality" some meaningless sounds and is the question equivalent to asking: "what is the equivalence between malatoo and pikatish?" Since it is your question and your terms, you need to ask yourself what these mean first: what do you mean by "perception"? what do you mean by "reality"? In what sense are they different from "malatoo" and "pikatish"? Are you asking something about the sounds in your mind, and if so...how do you expect an answer? Or are you asking about something else? For that matter, when you ask for an answer, what do you mean by an "answer"? If you want the answer to be true, what do you mean by "truth"? Can there be truth is there is no reality? Can their be truth is their is no perception? What assumes what?

OK, let's drop the general case and address a specific classic problem from philosophy - Descartes' malevolent demon. This is, in many ways, the problem that sets off the chain of philosophy that culminates in Kant's phenomenology. What is Rand's response to the problem?

To review, the problem is this: how do I know that my experiences are, as I assume, experiences generated from the reflection of light off of actual objects to my eyes, the vibrations of my ear drum caused by actual sound waves, etc? How do I know that all of these things I consider experience are not merely the tricks of some malevolent and all-powerful demon deluding me into believing in an existence that cannot actually be supported by any independent evidence?

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That isn't a valid extrapolation. We know my life is my highest value; there is something that's second, and third, and so on. We are pretty sure that the killer is not in second position and his victim is in third (this can happen, e.g. if my wife were to attempt to murder my son). Ordinarily it would still be a preservation of my higher values. Assume the case of witnessing one complete stranger attempting to kill another complete stranger, by stopping the killer I would be acting in defense of a high moral principle of mine, that no man has the right to initiate force against another (other facts must be considered, for example that killing a man is the most extreme form of initiaiton of force). This would lead to the conclusion that it would be immoral for me not to defend the stranger, if I can with no risk to my life.

and

You apparently don't understand the difference between objective ethics and intrisicism. Intrinsicist ethics proposes principles that have no relationship to facts of reality, whereas an objective ethics proposes principles that relate specific facts -- no matter who the person is -- to actions. Thus what is good for an Eskimo hunting whales is not the same as what is good for a New York stock broker. The fundamental principles are the same for all men, but the specific application can differ for such a simple reason that one man is allergic to a certain food and another is crucially dependent on it.

Well, it's more fair to say that you're using specialized definitions of terms that I am using more casually than that I don't understand the difference, but the point is taken. Though in your description, it seems to be a hierarchy of values that is still subjective inasmuch as it varies, at times arbitrarily, from person to person. (To go quite low on my hierarchy of values, I much prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate. There is no reason for this preference beyond my assessment of the pleasure each gives to my specific taste buds. The distinction is, for all practical purposes, arbitrary.) Which does suggest that it is subjective at least inasmuch as the base hierarchy depends on individual subjectivities.

But what I find more interesting here is the idea that this hierarchy provides a basis for comparison. Obviously these comparisons are straightforward when only two elements on the hierarchy are in play. But what is the measurement employed when multiple elements are in play? To create a classical silly ethical hypothetical, my wife and n random people are placed in a pair of rooms, the contents of which will be disintegrated. My wife is in Room A, the n random people are in Room B. I have the means to stop one of the disintegrators, but not both.

It is clear that when n=0, I stop the disintegrator in Room A, because my wife is a higher value for me than no value whatsoever. The decision is similarly easy when n=1. It is equally clear that when n=population of Earth-2, I stop the disintegrator in Room B, because my wife is not a higher value for me than the sum total of values of every other given person.

But the problem becomes much harder when n is not at either of the limit cases. What is the unit of measurement that I ought employ in figuring out the problem in the general case?

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To review, the problem is this: how do I know that my experiences are, as I assume, experiences generated from the reflection of light off of actual objects to my eyes, the vibrations of my ear drum caused by actual sound waves, etc? How do I know that all of these things I consider experience are not merely the tricks of some malevolent and all-powerful demon deluding me into believing in an existence that cannot actually be supported by any independent evidence?
I have no idea what you mean by "experience", "light", "evidence", "vibration". These are just sounds to me.

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You are taking something as self-evident here that is not self-evident to me,

Yes, that your life is your highest value. So it would be helpful if you answered my other question first:

What do you think, is it good or bad to kill in self defense?

In other words, if someone was charging at you with a knife would it be right to defend yourself? Would it be a good thing to save your own life or not? You should go ahead and answer but for now I'll assume that you would say: "yes I should defend myself".

Now, if someone was standing on the sidelines watching this murderous villain as he tried to take your life and as you were defending yourself he said: "just turn the other cheek, for the sake of all that is good you should not defend yourself", wouldn't you then consider that person evil?

Does that answer your question?:

Why is it it is "obviously evil" to say that it is bad to kill in self defense?

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Nevetextor - are you asking, 'How can I know my senses are valid?' - by what basis are you going to check if they're valid or not?

There are tons of answers to this question.

Descartes's answer was based on his attempted proof of God's existence. Kant essentially turned the question around and asked "Given that there is no way to conceptualize beyond my senses, I may as well turn to phenomenology." Others have ended up with an answer along the lines of "Oh, crap, I have no way of checking."

What I'm wondering is what Rand's solution to this fairly fundamental epistemological problem.

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Though in your description, it seems to be a hierarchy of values that is still subjective inasmuch as it varies, at times arbitrarily, from person to person.
First, to restate the point, the hierarchy of value is responsible to the facts of reality and not some reality-detached absolute rationalistic law. That is what this "primacy of existence" stuff is all about -- the facts of reality lead to conclusions about moral principles. Oxygen-breathing beings morally demand oxygen; methane-breathing being morally demand methane and so on. It is not subjective. (This is not to say that a person cannot smuggle in subjectivity in their argument and declare it to be a self-evident fact).

Your assessment of the facts of chocolate is fundamentally in error in equating ignorance and non-causality / arbitrariness. If there were no actual cause for your feeling that you prefer dark chocolate, we'd be talking subjective. But we're talking about the objectively caused yep poorly understood -- by you or me. I happen to share that choice, and I know just a little more about this because I know it is correlated with my preferences in lime marmelade, espresso, pomegranate juice and so on. I seen a bit of stuff on how some people's taste receptors are structured differently and some jazz about molecules binding to the receptors, which I've just totally forgotten. The point is, this is science that someone knows, just not me (or, it seems, you). So although you cannot explain why you enjoy dark chocolate more than milk chocolate, the fact that you don't know the deeper underpinnings of that fact does not negate the fact. That is, facts lead, knowledge follows.

So given that you have that preference, then given two offerings of chocolate and no tradeoff (the life of your wife, triple the price for the dark stuff etc) the moral choice would be to take the more enjoyable form of chocolate. This choice is not arbitrary, it is perfectly rational, and you simply don't understand all of the facts.

Which does suggest that it is subjective at least inasmuch as the base hierarchy depends on individual subjectivities.
Actually, questions about chocolate are pretty low on the hierarchy of rational values. The higher stuff, which the lower stuff depends on, is pretty much invariant when stated correctly (meaning, at a conceptual level).
But what is the measurement employed when multiple elements are in play?
This is a good question that is not answered in Objectivism. I loathe this classical silly ethical hypotheticals so I won't talk about the specific example, but it is important to understand what a hierarchy of values means. It means that if your wife is a higher value than your uncle, then you will save the life of your wife first -- it means "When A or B and not both A and B, which one!". A strict hierarchy implies that in each possible choice case, you can clearly pick A over B, just by looking at the number assigned in the hierarchy. I think this is wrong since in some cases, the relationship is not strict. Technically, I think the correct theory of "hierarchy" is partial ordering with weighting in mutually unordered values. Your ambivalence on this disintegrator problem suggests to me that you consider your wife and 10 million strangers to be fungible; if so, I'll let you explain that to her.

I should point out that if you want to discuss moral principles, you can't found your examples on the initiation of force. Morality is fundamentally about how you lead your life, qua man. If is not about how other people should act, except in a small part.

The correct solution to the disintegrator problem is to overcome the presumed limit on your ability to stop the disintegrators, and to simply shut both machines off.

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Yes, that your life is your highest value. So it would be helpful if you answered my other question first:

In other words, if someone was charging at you with a knife would it be right to defend yourself? Would it be a good thing to save your own life or not? You should go ahead and answer but for now I'll assume that you would say: "yes I should defend myself".

Now, if someone was standing on the sidelines watching this murderous villain as he tried to take your life and as you were defending yourself he said: "just turn the other cheek, for the sake of all that is good you should not defend yourself", wouldn't you then consider that person evil?

Does that answer your question?:

Not particularly, since I'm not trying to argue my philosophy vs. Objectivism here - I'm trying to understand how Objectivism comes at some basic problems in philosophy. (Actually, more broadly I'm trying to understand the attack on Kant, but that seems to be coming down to not liking his answers to some basic problems, which is leading me to wonder what answers Rand prefers.) So I'll remain silent on my own views of self-defense, as they seem like a thread-derail.

The view that my life is my highest value does seem to answer my question of what obvious thing you felt I was missing. I do take that to be non-obvious. Not necessarily untrue, but at least non-obvious.

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This is a good question that is not answered in Objectivism. I loathe this classical silly ethical hypotheticals so I won't talk about the specific example, but it is important to understand what a hierarchy of values means. It means that if your wife is a higher value than your uncle, then you will save the life of your wife first -- it means "When A or B and not both A and B, which one!". A strict hierarchy implies that in each possible choice case, you can clearly pick A over B, just by looking at the number assigned in the hierarchy. I think this is wrong since in some cases, the relationship is not strict. Technically, I think the correct theory of "hierarchy" is partial ordering with weighting in mutually unordered values. Your ambivalence on this disintegrator problem suggests to me that you consider your wife and 10 million strangers to be fungible; if so, I'll let you explain that to her.

I should point out that if you want to discuss moral principles, you can't found your examples on the initiation of force. Morality is fundamentally about how you lead your life, qua man. If is not about how other people should act, except in a small part.

The correct solution to the disintegrator problem is to overcome the presumed limit on your ability to stop the disintegrators, and to simply shut both machines off.

I put a higher value on the hypotheticals than you do, not because I expect to find myself in an unpleasant disintegrator situation any time soon, but because they seem to me useful tools for isolating individual concepts and claims out of an ethical argument. Hence trying to break the hypothetical, while generally easy, misses the point.

The problem becomes one of how values are weighted, indeed - are the contents of Room B the single element "10 million strangers," or the sum value of 10 million units of the element "stranger." In practice both are unsatisfying as hard and fast rules, as the former requires a ridiculous proliferation of elements on the hierarchy, while the latter involves shifting definitions of how to add value. (Since it does not seem to me probable that it will always be strictly additive, as value is not strictly additive in other contexts)

Closely related to that is still the question of measurement. But this may be the point you were noting is unanswered by Objectivism. Though I must say, I find it to be a rather strikingly fundamental point.

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Kant's turn to a priori knowledge and consciousness is totally unnecessary if you can get around Hume's objections some other way. Does Rand (or another Objectivist) have a refutation of Hume?

The problem isn't a particular answer that Kant gave on a particular issue. The gripe happens to fall on Kant because of the consistency of (mis)integration that he exhibited across all areas of philosophy.

I have not read Kant's works (except for most of Critique of Judgement). I think that Rand made a mistake in not citing Kant and refuting him in a more academic manner. But one must remember that she was primarily a novelist, not a philosopher. So, it is difficult to fault her for not writing a philosophical treatise on a man she despised.

Edited by adrock3215

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Hence trying to break the hypothetical, while generally easy, misses the point.
Au contraire, it is the point. These hypotheticals infamously drop context by not addressing or even allowing consideration of the question "how did things get that way". But in some cases the hypothetical represents justice, other times it represents aggression, and sometimes it's just too damn bad. The moral response is different in each case: so if you stipulate the impossibility of morality in advance, of course you will conclude that morality is impossible. IMO, a better use of hypothetical thinking for discovering values is to simplify the scenario while making it reasonable, for example in a natural disaster when both your wife and your two children are threatened with certain death, and it seems entirely unlikely that you can successfully save both the wife (one trip across the bridge) and the children (a second trip). Then you must decide who to save first -- what is your higher value. I don't see any value in looking at "wife v. 1 stranger" versus "wife v. 10 million strangers", except that if you find youself inclined to sacrifice your wife for a larger number of strangers, then you ought to reassess your moral code and your relationship with your wife.
Though I must say, I find it to be a rather strikingly fundamental point.
Why should Objectivism have provided a mathematical model of a continuum? I think it's a technical matter, not a philosophical matter.

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Why should Objectivism have provided a mathematical model of a continuum? I think it's a technical matter, not a philosophical matter.

Well, that seems to me to hinge partially on whether it can actually be done. Which is what I'm skeptical of - that value cleanly reduces to a computable and calculable system.

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Not particularly, since I'm not trying to argue my philosophy [...] So I'll remain silent on my own views of self-defense, as they seem like a thread-derail.

I appreciate that you don't want to derail the thread but the thread also depends on a voluntary exchange of ideas, which means that both of us have to want to talk to each other. One of the ways I decide on whether someone is worth talking to is if they are honest. Hopefully you will allow me the courtesy of deciding for myself whether you are worth talking to.

Beyond what your answers say about your honesty they do address what we were talking about directly. You were asking me to explain the self evidency of a concept so it is going to be impossible for me to know if I accomplished my goal unless you tell me whether the concept is now evident to your self.

So a simple yes or no to two questions should not only help in my assessment by should also help to move the thread forward. Using the scenario I laid out of you defending yourself and someone urging you not to: would it be a good thing to defend yourself? and would the person urging you not to be evil?

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Because in his childhood, Kant was used to being dressed like a girl and called Florence by his own parents. (joke)

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1. PHILOSOPHY FOR REARDEN: Study just enough of the best one (here, Ayn Rand) to get the answers you need to the biggest philosophical puzzles in one's life. Ayn Rand's and Leonard Peikoff's comments on Kant or other philosophers are all you would need for earlier philosophies, unless you see a contradiction you believe is important enough to resolve through further study.

But isn't it well nigh impossible to discover the "best" philosophy without studying lots of philosophy? I, for one, know that I would still be a nihilist/subjectivist if a friend hadn't pushed Objectivism on me. It's really difficult to break out of your assumptions without reading the arguments against them.

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