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The Objectivist Ethics - Man's survival qua man

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2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

I am not sure how Rand is question begging.  Ethics existed prior to her particular formulation of it.  Men are actually following various codes of values and they are guiding their actions and indeed the courses of their lives.  Those Ethics may be a boon or a curse... but I see no question begging.  Can you clarify?

An ethics can be deontological, guiding action by means of rules that are independent of any values a person might seek.  Rand simply excluded such ethics from the get go, assuming that ethics is about values.  She was right, of course, but it's not good reasoning or argumentation to assume.  Better is to prove, which she does shortly thereafter.


 

2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Conventionally, Ethics is prescriptive as opposed to descriptive.  As such although Ethics can be informed by a body of knowledge (or purported knowledge) Ethics itself is filled with prescriptions often worded in the imperative "musts" and "must nots" (for example as in the various religious forms of Ethics) which is to be distinguished from the knowledge (or fairy tale) upon which it is based.

I struggled a bit over how to categorize ethics.  Knowledge, as you say, is typically descriptive, not prescriptive, but the term "knowledge" can include prescriptions.  So I described ethics as a body of knowledge. If you have a better general term, let us know.

2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

I think the issues you raise re. choices and action and volition are already implicit (in the context of her entire work), but your clarification at this point is valid.

They are clear in her work.  However, I am attempting to formulate Rand's argument with as much clarity and lack of ambiguity as possible.  At the beginning of an argument, one shouldn't assume that the reader has read and understood the rest of it.

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3 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

An ethics can be deontological, guiding action by means of rules that are independent of any values a person might seek.  Rand simply excluded such ethics from the get go, assuming that ethics is about values.  She was right, of course, but it's not good reasoning or argumentation to assume.  Better is to prove, which she does shortly thereafter.


 

I struggled a bit over how to categorize ethics.  Knowledge, as you say, is typically descriptive, not prescriptive, but the term "knowledge" can include prescriptions.  So I described ethics as a body of knowledge. If you have a better general term, let us know.

They are clear in her work.  However, I am attempting to formulate Rand's argument with as much clarity and lack of ambiguity as possible.  At the beginning of an argument, one shouldn't assume that the reader has read and understood the rest of it.

Ok my approach of interjecting is counterproductive.  I realize that your critique or rework will be delayed forever if I continually interrupt before it is complete ... accept my apologies, please continue.

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11 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Ok my approach of interjecting is counterproductive.  I realize that your critique or rework will be delayed forever if I continually interrupt before it is complete ... accept my apologies, please continue.

Quite the contrary.  I want immediate feedback, so that I can correct any problems early, hopefully before they cause problems later.  My delays are due to having many other things on my plate. That, and I've had to reduce my food intake recently and it's hard to think well when one's stomach is grumbling. :)

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19 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

The first substantive point in "The Objectivist Ethics" is where Rand defines ethics as "a code of values to guide man's choices and actions -- the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code."

Of course, Rand wasn't writing a scholarly treatise, so it may be impolite to hold her to academic standards, but I do have to point out that this is question begging. My issue is with "code of values". The motivation for ethics is the problem of deciding what to do. However, a code of values is but one possible way of making such decisions.

That said, I think it's a minor issue. One can begin by saying that ethics is a body of knowledge to guide man's choices and actions. Later, one can demonstrate that this knowledge is properly in the form of a code of values.

While I'm nitpicking, I'll also point out that choices are actions, so "choices and actions" is redundant. However, I presume that Rand intended to say that ethics guides both mental and physical actions.

Oh, and another nitpick: The word "action" is frequently ambiguous, as it is often unclear whether it refers to all action or only to volitional action. In this particular context, it's clear that Rand was talking about volitional action. However, it wouldn't hurt to make this explicit.

So then, a definition of the topic at hand: Ethics is a body of knowledge to guide man's choices and volitional actions.

Rand goes on to say that the initial question to be asked is why man needs a code of values at all. Because that's part of the question begging, her particular argument can't be used. Instead, one would have to ask something on the order of why man needs ethics at all, and transition to a discussion of values. Once that discussion is done, one can point out that ethics concerns a code of values, That, at least, is how I think I'll be proceeding in my next post analyzing "The Objectivist Ethics".

I can't quite agree that her starting point is question begging. It would seem to me that there is a set of principle data that the philosopher starts off with in every branch. A sort of foundation that any philosopher as such starts out with.

The metaphysician starts by outward look at things and noticing that there is something rather than nothing, that he is a something, that he has questions. The epistemologist starts off with noticing that he has been correct sometimes, and incorrect other times, that he has selective awareness, that being wrong has consequences for him, and that he doesn't not automatically know which things are correct and incorrect. Unless he had noticed that he has fallen into error, he would not have reason to examine the processes that led him there. If we had a mode of operation that provided us with automatic knowledge, then we wouldn't need to distinguish between certitude and error, and thus wouldn't need epistemology.

The ethicist proceeds in a similar manner. The ethicist must start from the fact of human action, that we deliberate between alternatives, say A or B, that we can't not act as long as we are alive and awake, and that our actions have consequences for us. Asking "why do we need ethics at all" is, in my view the exact right question. After all, maybe we don't need ethics, if we were provided with automatic action we wouldn't need to deliberate between alternatives. Or maybe our action automatically is aimed at life-sustainment or some other end. Rand follows Aristotle in starting with examining the concept of action, and differentiating between vegetative action, sensitive action (animals), and deliberative action. She does differentiate between types of action, volitional and non.

Analyzing human action is just about the most non question begging way to start off ethics. In that she defines it as code of values, she doesn't mean values in a normative sense. As Smith points out, sometimes she uses "value" as "that which one ought to act for" and value as "that which one acts to gain/keep." But regardless, when she defines ethics as a code of values, value just definitionally refering to the object of action. "Values," descriptively, are interchangeable with "ends." Thus, saying it's a code of values is simply recognizing that man acts to attain ends, and deliberates about them. 

True there is deontology, divine command, consequentialism, emotivism, nihilism, Stoicism, all sorts of different codes, and that code man needs could be any of these things. But all of these things has to start out with the principle data, that the philosopher notices that man acts to attain ends (values), and has no automatic guide to them. This, I see as Rand's reformulating the first line of the Nicomachean Ethics, that every inquiry and activity aims at some good, into more modern language.

Edited by 2046

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It's interesting that you found the word "value" and "action" to be most controversial part of her definition of ethics, whereas I've always thought they were the least controversial. On the other hand, I find "code" to be the most interesting word in there. "Code" means a set of ideas or words or something, a system of principles. While most ethical theories are codes, I suppose you could imply that it's too early to know whether the datum of ethics is a systematic statement or is more ad hoc or situational.

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6 minutes ago, 2046 said:

It's interesting that you found the word "value" and "action" to be most controversial part of her definition of ethics, whereas I've always thought they were the least controversial. On the other hand, I find "code" to be the most interesting word in there. "Code" means a set of ideas or words or something, a system of principles. While most ethical theories are codes, I suppose you could imply that it's too early to know whether the datum of ethics is a systematic statement or is more ad hoc or situational.

Ethics at work in the world generally are codified... at least ones the majority of people actually practice... so it seems natural simply to ask if an ethical system of this kind is needed by man... rather point out academically ethics could have taken another form.

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"The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics—the standard by which one judges what is good or evil—is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man."

"“Man’s survival qua man” means the terms, methods, conditions and goals required for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan."
 
Okay, here is an attempt at a compilation:
 
 Terms: No Slavery, No one is his brother's keeper
 Methods: Virtues and "and the responsibility to know what you really want"
 Conditions: Non-initiated-aggression
 Goals: What you want, tempered by the boundaries implied by terms, methods, and Conditions.
 
 I notice that choosing life is not part of this, the choice has already been made. These terms, methods, conditions, and goals only apply after you have chosen to live.
 
 "To live is his basic act of choice. If he chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course."

Philosophy: Who Needs It    “Causality Versus Duty,”
Philosophy: Who Needs It, 99
 
 

Edited by Easy Truth

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26 minutes ago, 2046 said:

I can't quite agree that her starting point is question begging. It would seem to me that there is a set of principle data that the philosopher starts off with in every branch. A sort of foundation that any philosopher as such starts out with.

As indeed Rand provided, shortly thereafter.  But at the point in her essay where she  defined ethics, she had not yet brought into the discussion the particular facts on which she would rely.  It is those facts that explain why ethics must be based on values and not on, say, duties.  Once those facts have been brought into the discussion, it is then proper to explain that ethics is a code of values, rather than some other intellectual construct.
 

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40 minutes ago, 2046 said:

It's interesting that you found the word "value" and "action" to be most controversial part of her definition of ethics, whereas I've always thought they were the least controversial. On the other hand, I find "code" to be the most interesting word in there. "Code" means a set of ideas or words or something, a system of principles. While most ethical theories are codes, I suppose you could imply that it's too early to know whether the datum of ethics is a systematic statement or is more ad hoc or situational.

That's a point and one I've given some thought to.  As I see it, the reason it's a code, as opposed to something more ad hoc, is simply that the process of reason is too slow.  When I'm going through life, I do not have the time to start from first principles and derive an ethical conclusion that applies to the facts at hand.  I need to have pre-reasoned some things so that I can make the ethical judgments I must make when I need to make them. (Of course, there is the theoretical possibility that such pre-reasoning would fail, in that one couldn't derive useful ethical conclusions.  Luckily for us, that theoretical possibility did not come to pass.)  Those pre-reasoned conclusions, however they might be structured, constitute an ethical code.
 

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2 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

That's a point and one I've given some thought to.  As I see it, the reason it's a code, as opposed to something more ad hoc, is simply that the process of reason is too slow.  When I'm going through life, I do not have the time to start from first principles and derive an ethical conclusion that applies to the facts at hand.  I need to have pre-reasoned some things so that I can make the ethical judgments I must make when I need to make them. (Of course, there is the theoretical possibility that such pre-reasoning would fail, in that one couldn't derive useful ethical conclusions.  Luckily for us, that theoretical possibility did not come to pass.)  Those pre-reasoned conclusions, however they might be structured, constitute an ethical code.
 

Yes interesting point. Aristotle differentiated between theoretical wisdom (reasoning about ends) and practical wisdom (reasoning about means.) Due to the "crow epistemology" I don't have time to engage in lengthy chains of weighing logical consequences every time I want to act. We categorize and classify for this reason. Principles are a way of subsuming a large number of observations and referents under an easily recallable form, much like conceptualization does in the knowledge branch.

To this point, I think Rand might've given short shrift to, or underemphasized, at some points, the role of emotions in ethical judgment. Is it really true that emotions are not tools of cognition entirely? Emotion and value judgments are closely connected in Rand's moral psychology, while I think that her understanding of neurobiology and psychology is basically reflected of standard modern view and are uncontroversial, it is interesting to note that subconscious emotional reactions play a role in helping determine courses or action. Emotions help to distill a lifetime of conscious judgment and cognitive programming, and this help serve as a quick recalling device to help overcome the "crow epistemology" in action, much like measurement omission does in thought. 

Emotions thus, can be a guide to action, assuming the initial evaluations themselves are in accordance with right reason. Rand's commentary on the integrated man, as well as her fictional heroes seem to reflect this view, while her explicitly non-fiction papers seem to reject it.

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On 10/14/2017 at 11:30 AM, 2046 said:

Emotion and value judgments are closely connected in Rand's moral psychology, while I think that her understanding of neurobiology and psychology is basically reflected of standard modern view and are uncontroversial, it is interesting to note that subconscious emotional reactions play a role in helping determine courses or action. Emotions help to distill a lifetime of conscious judgment and cognitive programming, and this help serve as a quick recalling device to help overcome the "crow epistemology" in action, much like measurement omission does in thought. 

Emotions thus, can be a guide to action, assuming the initial evaluations themselves are in accordance with right reason. Rand's commentary on the integrated man, as well as her fictional heroes seem to reflect this view, while her explicitly non-fiction papers seem to reject it.

The concept of "moral psychology" is new to me. I would agree that emotions are used as guides at times by all of us in real life. But the ethical question is, should they and when?

I saw her characters have emotional reactions that I could not have sometimes. In some case have an emotional reaction that did not seem congruent with what I expected which made it more dramatic. Can you give examples of: in her fiction when the character was morally guided (successfully) by their emotion?

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19 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

The concept of "moral psychology" is new to me. I would agree that emotions are used as guides at times by all of us in real life. But the ethical question is, should they and when?

I saw her characters have emotional reactions that I could not have sometimes. In some case have an emotional reaction that did not seem congruent with what I expected which made it more dramatic. Can you give examples of: in her fiction when the character was morally guided (successfully) by their emotion?

Moral psychology just refers to the part of psychology that influences philosophy. Things like free will, the nature of choice, emotion, consciousness, etc.

Yes that's kind of a huge part of Rand's novels is the interplay between the characters' emotions and their consciously held thoughts and premises. An example would be Dagny and Dominique at the end, once they had integrated correct premises with their emotions. Another is the character of Rearden, who is disgusted with his family, but supports them anyway out of conscious conviction. His emotions give him correct knowledge, but he can't act on it until he smoothes out the contradicting premises he held, then he acts on it by bucking their mooching advances. Another example is when Dominique tells Wynand to fire Toohey, Rand has her openly say that she doesn't know why she wants him gone (yet), just that she hates him. She even says "it'll take years for me to understand" (around p. 499-500 in my version.) 

Another supporting quote for my claim is in VOS (p.27) when Rand says emotions are estimates of what can be "for or against" you, and says they are "lightning calculators giving him the sum of his profit or loss." There is a scene towards the end of AS when Dagny even says she can "surrender her consciousness" and that her emotions are like a "voice telling her by means of a feeling" (AS p.674.) 

I think what Rand means to say is that emotions are inert by themselves, and so you'd have to trace them to the experiences that programmed them, but once one did, if they stem from rational thoughts, they can help take part in cognition and guide action. Aristotle more plainly sees emotional disposition as evidence of a virtuous character. While Rand officially held otherwise, I think her fiction seems to hold the more Aristotelian view. Her descriptions of the fully integrated hero/heroines are ones where their stated thoughts and emotional dispositions are aligned and both working "for" their wellbeing.

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On Saturday October 14, 2017 at 2:30 PM, 2046 said:

Principles are a way of subsuming a large number of observations and referents under an easily recallable form, much like conceptualization does in the knowledge branch.

And they're as necessary in ethics as concepts are in epistemology.

On Saturday October 14, 2017 at 2:30 PM, 2046 said:

To this point, I think Rand might've given short shrift to, or underemphasized, at some points, the role of emotions in ethical judgment. Is it really true that emotions are not tools of cognition entirely?

This is one of the areas where I differ from Rand.  When I am engaging in philosophy, including ethics, I may not support a conclusion with some emotional response, although I may take emotions and even particular emotions as facts about which I may reason.

But life is full of situations where reasoning is impracticable or impossible.  In such cases, it would be rational or even necessary to substitute an emotional response for a reasoned decision.  (This is yet another reason why emotional health is so very important.)
 

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In a previous post, I edited down and gave my take on the part of "The Objectivist Ethics" that defines ethics. Its next part says:

Before "any attempt to define, to judge, or to accept any specific system of ethics", one must answer the question, "Why does man need a code of values?" "Does man need values at all -- and why?" "Is the concept of value, of 'good or evil' an arbitrary human invention, unrelated to, underived from and unsupported by any facts of reality -- or is it based on a metaphysical fact, on an unalterable condition of man's existence? ... Does an arbitrary human convention, a mere custom, decree that man must guide his actions by a set of principles -- or is there a fact of reality that demands it? Is ethics the province of whims: of personal emotions, social edicts and mystic revelations -- or is it the province of reason? Is ethics a subjective luxury -- or an objective necessity?"

As before, Rand has not yet demonstrated that ethics must be a code of values, as opposed to some other structure of knowledge. I'll re-express what I understand to be her point here, without making that assumption (and without the repetition and pejorative emphases):

Before even trying to validate an ethics, one must ask whether humans need ethics and, if so, why. Are there any facts -- unalterable facts of human existence -- that require a human being to guide his actions by some specific body of knowledge? If not, ethics is an arbitrary exercise, outside the province of reason. Only by presenting such facts and deriving ethical knowledge from them can one produce an objective ethics.

(Rand goes on to say, "In ethics, one must begin by asking: What are values? Why does man need them?" This is the point at which she begins the development of the Objectivist ethics proper and where it becomes clear that ethics must be a code of values. I think it is clearer to start with the concept of life and then transition to discussing values. This is probably how I'll do the next bit.)

Edited by Invictus2017
copyediting

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On 10/12/2017 at 4:36 PM, dream_weaver said:

The difference between “standard” and “purpose” in this context is as follows: a “standard” is an abstract principle that serves as a measurement or gauge to guide a man’s choices in the achievement of a concrete, specific purpose.

Measurements. Gauging. An abstract principle, in this case, serving as a type of "unit"? Consider the role of an inch, millimeter, pound, ounce, taken as a unit to serve as the standard of measurement, the "what" that is being counted, i.e., measured.

I saw these quotes in Tara Smith's book, she integrates both interpretations when it comes to measurement and standard:

Quote

I explain how flourishing can be measured objectively. Against familiar refrains that "different things make different ferent people happy," I show that resistance to this proposal typically rests on confusing a person's feeling as if he is flourishing with the fact of flourishing. Since flourishing is essentially living in a "pro-life" way, the same standards that determine what furthers a person's life determine whether a person is flourishing.Tara Smith. Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality (Kindle Locations 141-143). Kindle Edition. 

2
Quote

Flourishing refers not to a separate outcome of moral conduct but to the process of living in a life-promoting ing manner. The requirements of flourishing are dictated by the requirements of life, and flourishing is measured by the standard of life.

Tara Smith. Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality (Kindle Locations 132-134). Kindle Edition. 
 

 

She also differentiates a feeling of flourishing vs. the fact of it. The metaphysical vs. the psychological/experimental. 

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6 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

I saw these quotes in Tara Smith's book, she integrates both interpretations when it comes to measurement and standard:

She also differentiates a feeling of flourishing vs. the fact of it. The metaphysical vs. the psychological/experimental. 

Tara Smith is a tour de force.

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9 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

I saw these quotes in Tara Smith's book, she integrates both interpretations when it comes to measurement and standard:

She also differentiates a feeling of flourishing vs. the fact of it. The metaphysical vs. the psychological/experimental. 

Btw have you purchased that book yet?  It's a gem, a priceless, logical and spiritual gem.

I would recommend this book to literally everyone with the absolute highest of praises.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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29 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Btw have you purchased that book yet?  It's a gem, a priceless, logical and spiritual gem.

I would recommend this book to literally everyone with the absolute highest of praises.

Not yet, I have the free Kindle preview and I have read some of the chapters on google books. I notice she answers a lot perhaps all of the questions we have been struggling with. I started with some of the reviews and attacks on her which got me more interested in the work.

She also has the free course on Rational Happiness on the ARI campus. 

https://campus.aynrand.org/campus-courses/being-selfish-being-happy/rational-happiness?s=0

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On 10/11/2017 at 2:26 PM, StrictlyLogical said:

Is the Objectivist ethics too "narrow" or "impoverished" due to its standard being man's survival qua man?  Would a man necessarily live a lesser life by its adoption? 

Are there any alternatives to the Objective ethics which also qualify as objective and are also absolutely based on the facts of reality?

 

I was thinking, what other choices do we have? I am NOT going to make the case against using God, the King, society etc. as the ultimate ethical north star. It is well documented that the Objectivist view is not "impoverished" compared to these others.

But there is a movement to identify values through your internal compass. Meaning Philosophy will not tell you what to want. You have to initiate wanting and compare it to a code of values and then adjust the wanting after that.

I think the value or virtue of "Know thyself" as an ethical directive is missing. Maybe its taken for granted. Maybe its part of honesty.

Philosophy won't provide you with a multiple choice question to determine what is the best career for you. But I think the attraction to ethics is in fact "What should I do next?", or "What should I do with the next 5, 10 years" etc. That drilling down may be missing for someone who wants it.

As far as objective (objective ethics) goes, can you give a "common man's" definition of it? In fact, what is a subjective ethics? The contrast may be helpful.
 

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