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sjw

Why follow reason?

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(In other terms: Why be rational?)

What is the "official" Objectivist answer to this question? One supportable by the works Ayn Rand wrote or sanctioned in her lifetime?

To be clear, I'm not asking what is the correct answer to this question, but rather the more academic question of what is the answer Ayn Rand actually gave?

 

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While I agree with my colleagues, I might add a bit glued together from Rand’s essay “The Objectivist Ethics” (this is pieced together, you have to supply the page numbers and ellipses).

What is morality, or ethics? It is 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. The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values? 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?

In ethics, one must begin by asking: What are values? Why does man need them? "Value" is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The concept "value" is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible.

Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. An organism's life depends on two factors: the material or fuel which it needs from the outside, from its physical background, and the action of its own body, the action of using that fuel properly. What standard determines what is proper in this context? The standard is the organism's life, or: that which is required for the organism's survival.

No choice is open to an organism in this issue: that which is required for its survival is determined by its nature, by the kind of entity it is. The goal of that action, the ultimate value which, to be kept, must be gained through its every moment, is the organism's life. An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means –and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism's life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.

The pleasure-pain mechanism in the body of man– and in the bodies of all the living organisms that possess the faculty of consciousness –serves as an automatic guardian of the organism's life. The physical sensation of pleasure is a signal indicating that the organism is pursuing the right course of action. The physical sensation of pain is a warning signal of danger, indicating that the organism is pursuing the wrong course of action, that something is impairing the proper function of its body, which requires action to correct it.

The simpler organisms, such as plants, can survive by means of their automatic physical functions. The higher organisms, such as animals and man, cannot: their needs are more complex and the range of their actions is wider. The physical functions of their bodies can perform automatically only the task of using fuel, but cannot obtain that fuel. To obtain it, the higher organisms need the faculty of consciousness. A plant can obtain its food from the soil in which it grows. An animal has to hunt for it. Man has to produce it.

The range of actions required for the survival of the higher organisms is wider: it is proportionate to the range of their consciousness. The higher organisms possess a much more potent form of consciousness: they possess the faculty of retaining sensations, which is the faculty of perception. Man has no automatic code of survival. He has no automatic course of action, no automatic set of values. His senses do not tell him automatically what is good for him or evil, what will benefit his life or endanger it, what goals he should pursue and what means will achieve them, what values his life depends on, what course of action it requires. His own consciousness has to discover the answers to all these questions-but his consciousness will not function automatically. Man, the highest living species on this earth–the being whose consciousness has a limitless capacity for gaining knowledge–man is the only living entity born without any guarantee of remaining conscious at all. Man's particular distinction from all other living species is the fact that his consciousness is volitional.

The faculty that directs this process, the faculty that works by means of concepts, is: reason. The process is thinking. Consciousness–for those living organisms which possess it–is the basic means of survival. For man, the basic means of survival is reason. Man cannot survive, as animals do, by the guidance of mere percepts. A sensation of hunger will tell him that he needs food (if he has learned to identify it as "hunger"), but it will not tell him how to obtain his food and it will not tell him what food is good for him or poisonous.

 

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In Rand morality is a hypothetical imperative, an "if-then" type relationship. A good quote is from "causality versus duty"

In answer to a man who was telling her that she's got to do something or other, a wise old Negro woman said: “Mister, there's nothing I've got to do except die.” (PWNI, 133)

 

 

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Thanks. The answers so far are consistent with my own interpretation of Rand, I was curious whether I'd missed something. I think "2046" sums it up well.

Rand also wrote:

Quote

[My] metaphysical attitude and guiding moral principle can best be summed up by an old Spanish proverb: “God said: ‘Take what you want and pay for it.’”

To my metaethical ear, this is pretty depraved. It gives moral license to all kinds of wicked behavior, so long as it's what someone really "wants."

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I'm not seeing your interpretation there. It seems to be a basic observation that if you will some ends, you must will the means to said ends. There is nothing in that statement "giving license" to any specific end at all, just a statement that on the relationship of means to ends, that actions have consequences because that's how reality works.

If you try to square your interpretation with the pages and pages of Rand's text against emotionalism, subjectivism, relativism, hedonism, "taking desires as a primary," and "whim worship," should clue you in to something you're missing. 

 

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23 minutes ago, 2046 said:

If you try to square your interpretation with the pages and pages of Rand's text against emotionalism, subjectivism, relativism, hedonism, "taking desires as a primary," and "whim worship," should clue you in to something you're missing.

I'm definitely not accusing her of being consistent! On the contrary, I think her formal metaethical theory is quite inconsistent with those elements of her philosophy you reference.

"Take what you want" has a clear meaning, and no merely hypothetical morality has an answer to it. This is pretty obvious.

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20 minutes ago, sjw said:

I'm definitely not accusing her of being consistent! On the contrary, I think her formal metaethical theory is quite inconsistent with those elements of her philosophy you reference.

"Take what you want" has a clear meaning, and no merely hypothetical morality has an answer to it. This is pretty obvious.

The proverb refers to actions having consequences, the "and pay for it." Nowhere in there does it say "and one ought to take whatever one happens to want." If you want to interpret it that way, that's fine, but it seems hardly as "pretty obvious" and "clear" as you think.

You can say, well I just don't know, I guess she's not consistent. Could be, but you'd have to address the fact that Rand clearly doesn't accept the idea that any and all ends are equal, that there are ultimate ends (see David Odden's post), and accordingly that the standard of moral goodness is set by man's nature. If she argues for a standard of value, your interpretation is threatened.

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4 hours ago, sjw said:

Thanks. The answers so far are consistent with my own interpretation of Rand, I was curious whether I'd missed something. I think "2046" sums it up well.

Rand also wrote:

To my metaethical ear, this is pretty depraved. It gives moral license to all kinds of wicked behavior, so long as it's what someone really "wants."

Yes, as 2046 above, sjw. You seem to have overlooked "and pay for it". Everything has its price and must be earned, if it's of objective good. If subjective i.e., a disvalue, (like predation on others, or hedonist pleasure) a person will "pay" the price in another way. After one has done understanding what is payment,  next is knowing what "I" (the valuer) is - and next, is what it means objectively and morally to "want"(value). 

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2 hours ago, sjw said:

"Take what you want" has a clear meaning.

No, it doesn't. "take what you want" can mean very different things, depending on context. For instance "take what you want, if you feel like dying" and "take what you want, it's free" mean the exact opposite.

In this case, the context is crime novels written by Agatha Christie. In them, the phrase "“Take what you want and pay for it, says God.” is presented as a "Spanish proverb" (it probably isn't, she just made it up...she didn't speak Spanish), by several characters, including Hercule Poirot, and is meant to illustrate that actions have consequences.

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2 hours ago, sjw said:

I'm definitely not accusing her of being consistent! On the contrary, I think her formal metaethical theory is quite inconsistent with those elements of her philosophy you reference.

So if you think there is an inconsistency, you presumably can identify it from the subset of OE that I extracted for you. Where is the inconsistemcy?

Incidentally, you misquoted Rand from PWNI: the text actually says "His metaphysical attitude and guiding moral principle can best be summed up by an old Spanish proverb..." Context-dropping comes with a price.

Edited by DavidOdden

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"Take what you want and pay for it."

Found this on The Straight Dope:

It appears in Agatha Christie's 1938 novel Hercule Poirot's Christmas

It is also presented in 1920 in The University of the State of New York Bulletin: Sixty-First Convocation Proceedings

There is an old Persian proverb which runs: The Gods said to the mortals, "Take what you want and pay for it." In other words, the choice of your life is yours, but the resulting success or failure, happiness or misery accompanying the choice is yours also.

 

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2 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

Incidentally, you misquoted Rand from PWNI: the text actually says "His metaphysical attitude and guiding moral principle can best be summed up by an old Spanish proverb..." Context-dropping comes with a price.

Yes, she literally said "His", ergo I wrote "[My]" (note the brackets) since she was referring to her own view.

Don't be ironic.

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Defenders of Rand are certainly welcome to 1) provide the philosophically correct (i.e. morally principled, non-consequentialist) answer to the question "Why be rational?"; 2) provide a citation of Rand's that suggests she actually believed the correct answer.

But I think the interpretations so far are indeed correct, that her answer is "Well, if you want the consequences that flow from being rational, go ahead and be rational, if not, then reap the consequences of irrationality." Metaethically speaking, she was completely morally agnostic and a thoroughgoing subjectivist/consequentialist. (Obviously she wasn't consistent in her consequentalism/agnosticism elsewhere.)

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6 hours ago, sjw said:

"Take what you want" has a clear meaning, ...

No, of course it does not. Given your posts, I find it implausible that you would think it does have a clear meaning. Sounds like you're into polemic. If so, it's hardly likely to get answers; though, it might well confirm your suspicions, lol!

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1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:

No, of course it does not. Given your posts, I find it implausible that you would think it does have a clear meaning. Sounds like you're into polemic. If so, it's hardly likely to get answers; though, it might well confirm your suspicions, lol!

I thought Rand's meaning was clear, but you're certainly welcome to accuse her of being vague!

In any case, this is a side issue to the original point.

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9 minutes ago, softwareNerd said:

Formally, it is redundant to ask "why be rational", since the question assumes it is.

I think you're probably on the right track, but I don't think this makes any sense (grammatical or philosophical) as written.

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3 hours ago, sjw said:

Metaethically speaking, she was completely morally agnostic and a thoroughgoing subjectivist/consequentialist. (Obviously she wasn't consistent in her consequentalism/agnosticism elsewhere.)

You are reading way too deeply into a single quote that is quoting a quote. It is only saying there are consequences to all your actions. Given that it is a religious quote, I see no reason to interpret it as consequentialist or suggesting all is permissible as long as you are willing to pay for it. If you don't like the original quote, fine, maybe she's misreading what it means (she wouldn't be the first philosopher to misunderstand what somebody else said). The only thing relevant to your post is David's response, the quote won't really mean anything until and unless you know pretty well what it is she is summarizing.

Generally, there is no -reason- to be rational, to the extent that rationality is the only way to judge what is right or wrong. She makes a teleological argument that man's nature is to be rational and it contributes to his flourishing/life, so right or wrong can only be judged insofar as you act rationally. I don't think this is morally agnostic, just that an important moral principle is to recognize there are moral implications to your life or any action you take.

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2 hours ago, sjw said:

Defenders of Rand are certainly welcome to 1) provide the philosophically correct (i.e. morally principled, non-consequentialist) answer to the question "Why be rational?"; 2) provide a citation of Rand's that suggests she actually believed the correct answer.

But I think the interpretations so far are indeed correct, that her answer is "Well, if you want the consequences that flow from being rational, go ahead and be rational, if not, then reap the consequences of irrationality." Metaethically speaking, she was completely morally agnostic and a thoroughgoing subjectivist/consequentialist. (Obviously she wasn't consistent in her consequentalism/agnosticism elsewhere.)

Well you've moved the goalposts. Surely you can see that the question of whether or not her argument for ultimate ends is a successful one is a different question from whether she believed there are ultimate ends and life is just a matter of choosing arbitrary goals. And you've now shifted these goalposts with this post. 

Of course we can address both questions, but we should be clear that these are two different claims. If you can't even recognize that, then it seems I'm not dealing with an honest broker here.

Let's take "why be rational?" Like we said, you don't have to be, but if you want to engage in thought, one must fellow certain methods, such as the principle of non-contradiction (PNC.) To draw an analogy, it could be put into the form "If I want to engage in thought, then I ought to follow the PNC."  Since the PNC binds all thought, one way to evade it then, is simply to stop thinking. It doesn't apply to a non-thinker. The PNC isn't a categorical injunction to engage in thought. On the other hand, its non-application to the non-thinker is hardly a threat to its logical or epistemic authority. A non-thinker can't raise an objection (or even have one), and thus cannot constitute a problem for the PNC. 

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13 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

The only thing relevant to your post is David's response, the quote won't really mean anything until and unless you know pretty well what it is she is summarizing.

His was the most irrelevant response of everyone's here. I've already read her works myself, quoting it back to me is useless without interpretation relating to my question.

13 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

Generally, there is no -reason- to be rational, to the extent that rationality is the only way to judge what is right or wrong. She makes a teleological argument that man's nature is to be rational and it contributes to his flourishing/life, so right or wrong can only be judged insofar as you act rationally. I don't think this is morally agnostic, just that an important moral principle is to recognize there are moral implications to your life or any action you take.

The matter of importance here is the argument to be (or to strive to be) consistently rational. That's what rationality means -- consistently being rational. It doesn't merely mean being rational in the sense of man being the "rational animal", where clearly most men are not trying to be consistently rational, let alone agreeing with Rand that they should be trying to be. Most people would say that rationality is a qualified good, it's good when used (say) as a "slave to the passions" or when implementing certain articles of faith given to them by religion.

So any appeal to man's nature is totally beside the point. Man's nature is that he can be quite inconsistent, applying rationality where it suits him.

Why is rationality, understood as being (or striving to be) consistently rational and not merely selectively rational, a virtue?

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11 minutes ago, 2046 said:

Well you've moved the goalposts.

Nope, you're just intentionally misconstruing me.

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From Hellenistic History and Culture:

The reapers in Idyll 10 are a gruff, perhaps elderly workman called Milon, given to coarse rustic proverbs, and a lovestruck young man, Boukaïos, whose name suggests a cowman and his song: in the Iliad Hector uses it as an insult to Ajax, as Antinoös does to Iros in the Odyssey. Homer says βουγάïος, not βουκάïος, and the two citations confirm one another, but the difference of spelling is nothing. It is typical of the freakish pedantry of the Alexandrians to use a Homeric word in a corrected form. Bougaïos or Boukaïos has fallen for the girl from Hippokion's farm, the daughter of Polybotas, who must be a farm slave if not a wage laborer. She plays the flute for the reapers, and Milon's advice about her is “Take what you want and pay for it.” Boukaïos sings a song about love:

If the translation of Milon's advice is accurate, it provides a source of the citation of greater antiquity than the 1920's. To know how or why, or even if, this is true, is hardly axiomatic. As was pointed out in Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology "reason" is "a complex, derivative concept." This translation of the Tenth Idyll of The Idylls of Theokritus provides Milon as having said: "God finds out the guilty. You've been asking for it."

Edited by dream_weaver
added link to "This translation"

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sjw,

There is a difference between what humans sometimes do and what is best for them to do, given their nature.

Some humans have doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves afire.  It is possible to make an argument, based on the nature of human beings, why this is a bad idea.  Even someone with a debilitating terminal disease who is ready to end it would do better to take an overdose of sleeping pills combined with an overdose of painkillers washed down with something alcoholic or to shoot themselves in the brain or both.

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