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Jason Hunter

The family cannot survive without duty.

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33 minutes ago, Jason Hunter said:

Besides, family falls in the category of love. 

That's why I said romantic love. It's just too bad in English there are many uses of the word love besides romantic love. 

34 minutes ago, Jason Hunter said:

You're right its based on the value you gain. Which is based on what? The values they hold. See the Rand quote I pasted. 

Virtues aren't values. If you appreciate someone for their virtues, you are appreciating their actions. Values they hold is involved, but I already said that. Anyway, you said duty could include no longer valuing someone in your family in certain circumstances. You already agree that some bar needs to be passed even for those who believe in duty!
 

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26 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

That's why I said romantic love. It's just too bad in English there are many uses of the word love besides romantic love. 

Virtues aren't values. If you appreciate someone for their virtues, you are appreciating their actions. Values they hold is involved, but I already said that. Anyway, you said duty could include no longer valuing someone in your family in certain circumstances. You already agree that some bar needs to be passed even for those who believe in duty!
 

I said virtues in the post you replied to before but you replied as if I had said value despite my quote right above your sentence. The one you are replying to here I have since edited as I noticed my mistake. Rand in her quote uses Virtue. But its a rather technical distinction between the two. They are very similar and both come together to roughly mean the way someone thinks and acts, their attitudes/beliefs and their behaviour. 

So the value you gain, spiritually speaking, is purely down to who they are as a person, nothing more. It is this that determines whether you love someone, consider them a friend etc and it is on this basis that you choose to do something for them. My previous argument remains the same. 

You are trying to claim there is something more, or at least you were in the reply a while back. It was all very murky. 

Yeah extreme value calculations can override duty, as the history of families shows. I'm not against any bar at all. That would be ideologically extreme and in opposition to the thing I'm supporting - families as they exist in reality. 

Edited by Jason Hunter

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4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

The point is that ones view of human nature leads to very different conclusions and this is at the heart of the conflict.

All right. To clarify, I don't know to what extent you and I are currently in conflict, or what the nature of that conflict might be. But with respect to "human nature," I don't tend to believe much in it. Not in the sense it's often employed, at least, pronouncing mankind to be "basically good" or "basically bad." Let me expound a bit on what I think "human nature" means in this sense, from my own perspective:

Rand defined man as "a rational animal." She clarified, " 'Rational,' in this context, does not mean 'acting invariably in accordance with reason'; it means 'possessing the faculty of reason.' "

Then, Rand holds reason to be "man’s only means of grasping reality and of acquiring knowledge," being "the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses." If this is so, and if we believe that there is any such thing as "the good," then it seems to me that man's hope of achieving that good is through the use of reason.

So men have the faculty of reason, which is the ability to grasp reality, to acquire knowledge, and through which we can do that which is good (and through our failures, innocent or otherwise, that which is bad). But this faculty does not guarantee that any individual will employ his ability to reason to any particular degree, or that he will be successful in his efforts at employing it.

Is there, in this, any sweeping conclusion we can draw with respect to "human nature"?

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

My criticism is not with reason helping mankind but with everything having to pass the bar of reason, or at least articulated reason. The problem with this is that it destroys social institutions and traditions;  the very things which have evolved over a long time to deal with human nature and they contain far more knowledge and wisdom than a single person can rationally articulate. In much the same way, the widespread dispersal of knowledge in the free market is far more wise than the articulated rationality of a few intellectuals pulling the levers of the economy.

I don't want to totally dismiss what you're saying here, because I think that there's at least some sense to it. There are institutions and traditions that may provide beneficial aspects or elements which do not immediately betray themselves to a given individual's rational inquiry. As with all things, we don't want to lose the baby with the bathwater.

But we also want to be leery of the veneration of tradition or institution for their own sake, supposing them to have some necessary-but-hidden virtue, let alone that this supposed virtue must itself justify any given tradition. Some utterly lousy things can have the stamp of tradition, or institutional backing. As an example, human chattel slavery evolved over a long, long time with the imprimatur of both tradition and copious institutional backing -- and it was, in my opinion, ruinous and rightly abolished.

Not every institution or tradition is worth preserving, and among those which perhaps are, there are yet maybe elements that can and should be evolved (for instance, the liberalizing of marriage against miscegenation laws and more recently to include same-sex unions).

What faculty would you propose employing to determine which institutions and traditions to preserve, which to change (and to what extent), and which to abolish? What better than reason?

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

Removing the special meaning of blood in the family, the passing of genes/continuing of generations is a devastating blow and all because it cannot pass the bar of reason. But perhaps reason has its limits. Perhaps "irrational" loyalty to family, community and country is a vital mechanism. What use is a society that adheres completely to articulated reason if it destroys itself?

There's a lot to unpack here. For instance, the "special meaning of blood in the family." Is there a special meaning? Is it true (in the same sense and to the same extent) for all people?

I find it difficult or impossible to discuss these sorts of issues without being deeply personal, so let me start by saying that I don't know that I've ever found any special meaning in my "blood." I don't mean "as an Objectivist," either, but just from my earliest memories, I was never taken by the idea that I had any special relationship with my blood ancestors. As for nearer relatives, I think I always judged people on a case-by-case basis -- some I loved, some I did not, and no two people to the same degree.

Truly, there were (and remain) friends who are closer to me than any number of blood relations. And as I reflect on the nature of "blood," I wonder about its relationship to those other relatives we select, including spouse, in-law and via adoption.

Without trying to unpack all of the rest, I wonder on this score about the affections that I do feel for those whom I do. Is it because I am convinced that I owe some "duty"? Is that why I love my wife, out of obligation? Is it ever why I loved my mother or father? And (perhaps most to our point) is it why I love my daughter? For no better reason than because I am supposed to?

Why should I take it as granted that these feelings that I feel are not themselves rooted in some reason (whether yet fully articulated or not)? Why should I assume that I am not right to feel the way I do? (And if it were something so simple as familial fidelity, something rooted in blood and gene, why shouldn't I feel the same kind of affection for everyone in my family? Why should there be so much evidence in the world of people hating their close family, and sometimes quite rightly?)

I do not believe that all loyalty is necessarily "irrational," whether to family, community or country... but sometimes such loyalty can be irrational, depending on the family, community or country. Loyalty to the wrong family, as the wrong country, can be self-destructive. Whatever our original impetus to such loyalty, if we are to have hope that we can sometimes cast off the loyalty a person might feel towards those who destroy us, I would ask again, what faculty ought we use to separate the beneficial or benign from the destructive? What better than reason?

(If it is necessary to supply an example for the above, consider the abused daughter. What "special meaning" ought the blood relationship of the abusive father have for her? And if she decides that continued fidelity to her father "cannot pass the bar of reason," and so takes action by running away or renouncing her father or surrendering him to authorities, etc., is that a "devastating blow" against anything we would care to preserve? What if she should stay with him instead, in the name of duty, and subject herself to further abuse? Would we account that good?)

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

I do believe man can improve himself absolutely. But only within certain constraints. This probably vary among individuals but mankind as a whole appears to be inherently flawed. Stealing lying and killing will never cease without deterrents other than reason.

I cannot argue against the general notion of constraints on any individual's improvement. There are always constraints in some given context, and always will be. But within these constraints, I contend that man's ability to improve himself relies upon his use of reason. So reason remains the key whether we are sensitive to constraint or other impediment, or not.

And it is true that stealing, lying and killing will never cease without deterrents other than reason. In fact, they will never cease regardless of such deterrents as we might devise. And the deterrents that Rand would suggest against stealing, lying and killing (though mostly the first and last) are no mere use of reason, but self-defense.

But because individuals may be flawed, and because there will always be flawed individuals to greater and lesser extents (and indeed, every individual is likely possessed of something we might consider a flaw), I do not draw the lesson that "mankind as a whole is inherently flawed." Because there are murderers, and always will be, that does not make every man a murderer, or give every man a share in the guilt of murder. It does not weigh upon my conscience that others steal, lie and kill. Yet I can and do make the case that (speaking broadly here) it is not right to steal, it is not right to lie, it is not right to kill -- that these choices will bring suffering to the person who performs the act -- and thereby appeal to reason so that men might better themselves, both for their sake and also for the sake of the society in which we all live.

Not everyone will be swayed by reason, but someone might be -- and I believe he can live better for it.

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

And by the way, it's not like I take pleasure in this view. It's difficult for me to accept because I want everything to be explained through clean hard logic. But looking at the way humans are and have always behaved is clearly at odds with all these rational theories. 

Rand did not set out, primarily, to look at the way humans are and have always behaved. Her ethics are not descriptive but prescriptive. Clearly man does not always abide by reason; if he did, Rand would hardly have needed to write so much about the subject. Instead, she intends to lay out the means by which man can live better, can live happier.

If there is some real value in family, in community, in country, etc. -- and I expect we both believe there to be value in these things, or potentially so at least -- then we should not be afraid of submitting them to the scrutiny of reason. And if man mistakes (as we all sometimes do) and ascribes some greater power to family than it merits, or the opposite, the true remedy is a further application of reason, not to cast it aside altogether (and replace it with what? revelation? instinct? tradition? dictate?).

Yes, many of the ways humans have behaved historically have been at odds with Rand's rational theories and reason in general. But as man has worked the better to align his behavior with reason, I'd say that we have generally progressed.

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19 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

Rand in her quote uses Virtue. But its a rather technical distinction between the two.

Technical, maybe, but it is a difference that matters for Rand. For Rand, virtues are the means of attaining values. Values in this sense are more concrete than virtues. There are fundamental values reason, purpose, and self-esteem, and virtues are how you get there. These are normative standards, not standards which define the bare minimum other people must meet in order to qualify as deserving value exchange. Also, people can show elements of virtue, so you don't need see every aspect of the person as flawless. Actually, if we focus on virtues as action, loving (not romantic love) a person for their virtues is much broader than loving a person for their values. You could, for example, have a friend that lives by duty, but you also recognize a great deal of rationality in their behavior overall. 

You're right then to say that the value you gain is purely down to who they are as a person. It is not simply a quantified analysis of what you get, because it's a reaction to a whole person. Are you proposing then that this is not enough to value your parents at least somewhat, if they were decent and good people? It sounds like you're trying to say that blood family doesn't bring you value, or that it is exceedingly rare to find any virtue in blood family. But this doesn't make sense, because you are saying that duty brings stability to families, but if on average your family will have unvirtuous people and people that don't deserve respect, how can that possibly make a family strong? That would make a family weak; on some level, you're saying that unvirtuous people are necessary to keep a bond. Your argument is basically "you have no good reason to stick by bad family members, so that's why we need duty". 

You should bring in real life examples. What about your family? Are there bad people in your family that you stick to because they are family? If it weren't for duty, would you abandon your family today? Are there people in your life that you would consider family that aren't blood family?
 

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On 10/26/2018 at 6:54 AM, DonAthos said:

All right. To clarify, I don't know to what extent you and I are currently in conflict, or what the nature of that conflict might be. But with respect to "human nature," I don't tend to believe much in it. Not in the sense it's often employed, at least, pronouncing mankind to be "basically good" or "basically bad." Let me expound a bit on what I think "human nature" means in this sense, from my own perspective:

Rand defined man as "a rational animal." She clarified, " 'Rational,' in this context, does not mean 'acting invariably in accordance with reason'; it means 'possessing the faculty of reason.' "

Then, Rand holds reason to be "man’s only means of grasping reality and of acquiring knowledge," being "the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses." If this is so, and if we believe that there is any such thing as "the good," then it seems to me that man's hope of achieving that good is through the use of reason.

So men have the faculty of reason, which is the ability to grasp reality, to acquire knowledge, and through which we can do that which is good (and through our failures, innocent or otherwise, that which is bad). But this faculty does not guarantee that any individual will employ his ability to reason to any particular degree, or that he will be successful in his efforts at employing it.

Is there, in this, any sweeping conclusion we can draw with respect to "human nature"?

So do you subscribe to the blank slate view of man? 

One conclusion would be man has no pre-existing knowledge. But you'd have to expand on what you've said to gain a better understanding of your conception of human nature. 

Does reason have limitations? Can it be used to fully comprehend the laws of nature? Does man have any inherent limitations or can the contents of his mind be completely determined by reason? (blank slate view). 

(There's a actually a book by Steven Pinker called The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature which is an argument against the tabula rasa theory. Sounds like a must read. One to add to the list)

I don't deny the existence of universal laws of nature. I am just sceptical about our ability to actually know them in full, or to fully understand them and be able to rationally articulate them. 

Objectivism relies on a specific conception of human nature. The is-ought logic means changes in our understanding of human nature can have a drastic impact on the philosophy. I discussed the role of reproduction as an example earlier in the thread. 

I see two ways we can try to understand human nature. One is through scientific experiment on the human body and the other is through observing how humans actually behave in reality. 

Regarding the latter which you talk about further down but I'll address here, if you were observing an alien species over a long period of time you would look for recurring characteristics. If the aliens were stealing, killing and lying over thousands of years and kept doing it despite all the different cultures, races, religions etc you would certainly make this your starting point for inherent traits in their nature. It would carry more weight than the exceptions. And if in the societies where they were punished for these things, you observed them doing these things less in what appeared to be a successful method, you would have little reason to believe that something else could be more succesful, like reason, which so far had shown no successful track record in any society before and in fact when it was tried as an alternative deterrent (league of nations), it failed. 

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But we also want to be leery of the veneration of tradition or institution for their own sake, supposing them to have some necessary-but-hidden virtue, let alone that this supposed virtue must itself justify any given tradition. Some utterly lousy things can have the stamp of tradition, or institutional backing. As an example, human chattel slavery evolved over a long, long time with the imprimatur of both tradition and copious institutional backing -- and it was, in my opinion, ruinous and rightly abolished.

It's wrong to blame slavery on tradition or long standing institutions. Before the 18 century, slavery was an uncontroversial fact of life. It had always existed. In every corner of the globe you'd find slavery, every race and creed. So the real question is, what is the cause of freedom? Similarly, you don't look for the causes of poverty (poverty has always existed), you look for the causes of wealth. 

Institutions have supported bad things in the past. How could this not be the case in societies that evolve incrementally over time, gradually improving? And as they improve, it is the institutions that improve with them or drive the improvement. It was the Christians that spearheaded the call to end slavery and it was in a society where freedom had come about through a long process of evolution in English law. It was bound to take slavery with it even if there was a lag time. 

And it is one thing to morally condemn slavery, and another to figure out the practical steps toward ending it and having a plan to manage the fallout. There's going to be a lag time between the two, as was the case with the Americans. 

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Not every institution or tradition is worth preserving, and among those which perhaps are, there are yet maybe elements that can and should be evolved (for instance, the liberalizing of marriage against miscegenation laws and more recently to include same-sex unions).

I agree, change is inevitable.  

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What faculty would you propose employing to determine which institutions and traditions to preserve, which to change (and to what extent), and which to abolish? What better than reason?

This is a great question. Although to be more specific, reason has to be used. It depends what premises you use. So my question would be by what standard should we judge political action? 

This has been causing me a headache. I would much rather just have the nice clean Objectivist principles but it's clear the world isn't as simple as that. 

For example, one could buy all the land around a community of people and hold them hostage by refusing them access on the land. Or on immigration, open boarders would lead to societal suicide. Or in emergency ethics, the ethical principles breakdown.

Those things remind me of how the laws of physics break down in the centre of a black hole. I think it is a fitting parallel. 

So all that's left is a rough estimate. We believe stealing, lying, killing is bad. These ethical principles are embedded in traditions and social institutions and also conform to reason. Perhaps these traditions provide glimpses of the truth. We know the free market is superior whether it is justified with natural rights or utilitarianism etc. The same thing applies for property rights. And we know the dangers of the centralisation of power etc. We have to use long standing social institutions as guides but not complete authorities and the same thing applies with reason. We have to value stability and exercise prudence in political change. 

There's a lot to say on this and a lot of theories out there. Edmund Burke called his approach prescription which you can look into if you like. 

But I admit I am stuck on this. There doesn't seem to be a clear and final answer in any direction and I fear there never will be. 

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There's a lot to unpack here. For instance, the "special meaning of blood in the family." Is there a special meaning? Is it true (in the same sense and to the same extent) for all people?

It's different for different people of course but generally speaking the special meaning clearly exists for human beings. Perhaps frustration arises from being unable to define exactly what the meaning is but I think this is just one of those limits. I think it can't be defined because it expresses itself differently for different people. 

I see the blood connection encompassing a number of ideas. I use it as a rather broad term. It's better to say mysticism in family. 

For a mother, her bond with her children is said to be especially profound which is partly down to the fact the children actually grew inside of her and are made from her.  

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Without trying to unpack all of the rest, I wonder on this score about the affections that I do feel for those whom I do. Is it because I am convinced that I owe some "duty"? Is that why I love my wife, out of obligation? Is it ever why I loved my mother or father? And (perhaps most to our point) is it why I love my daughter? For no better reason than because I am supposed to? 

Well, I am very sceptical that humans can actually separate the mysticism unless the value calculation is extreme for them. I believe you love your daughter but I don't believe you base this love purely on how much you like her values and virtues which is what Objectivism demands of you. 

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Why should I take it as granted that these feelings that I feel are not themselves rooted in some reason (whether yet fully articulated or not)? Why should I assume that I am not right to feel the way I do? (And if it were something so simple as familial fidelity, something rooted in blood and gene, why shouldn't I feel the same kind of affection for everyone in my family? Why should there be so much evidence in the world of people hating their close family, and sometimes quite rightly?)

You shouldn't take it for granted. But it could be a reason you never gain access to. The last two questions just demonstrate how complex and messy the real world is. The standards and meanings vary for different people. Blood does not guarantee love. Generally speaking, it works as a kind of glue helping to unite a family and it expresses itself in the human mind as mysticism. A mother may tell her son to go help his brother and he asks why and she replies "because he's your brother". This is a classic line. And it works. The child accepts it as a good point and reluctantly helps. Or the child may not understand why the line is authoritative but just feels that it is. 

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I do not believe that all loyalty is necessarily "irrational," whether to family, community or country... but sometimes such loyalty can be irrational, depending on the family, community or country. Loyalty to the wrong family, as the wrong country, can be self-destructive. Whatever our original impetus to such loyalty, if we are to have hope that we can sometimes cast off the loyalty a person might feel towards those who destroy us, I would ask again, what faculty ought we use to separate the beneficial or benign from the destructive? What better than reason?

What if reason is not enough, what then? That's the position I think is the reality. 

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(If it is necessary to supply an example for the above, consider the abused daughter. What "special meaning" ought the blood relationship of the abusive father have for her? And if she decides that continued fidelity to her father "cannot pass the bar of reason," and so takes action by running away or renouncing her father or surrendering him to authorities, etc., is that a "devastating blow" against anything we would care to preserve? What if she should stay with him instead, in the name of duty, and subject herself to further abuse? Would we account that good?)

I think most would agree it's good to leave the abusive father. But again, I share your desire to know what the good is. 

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And it is true that stealing, lying and killing will never cease without deterrents other than reason. In fact, they will never cease regardless of such deterrents as we might devise. And the deterrents that Rand would suggest against stealing, lying and killing (though mostly the first and last) are no mere use of reason, but self-defense.

 

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But because individuals may be flawed, and because there will always be flawed individuals to greater and lesser extents (and indeed, every individual is likely possessed of something we might consider a flaw), I do not draw the lesson that "mankind as a whole is inherently flawed." Because there are murderers, and always will be, that does not make every man a murderer, or give every man a share in the guilt of murder. It does not weigh upon my conscience that others steal, lie and kill. Yet I can and do make the case that (speaking broadly here) it is not right to steal, it is not right to lie, it is not right to kill -- that these choices will bring suffering to the person who performs the act -- and thereby appeal to reason so that men might better themselves, both for their sake and also for the sake of the society in which we all live.

Not everyone will be swayed by reason, but someone might be -- and I believe he can live better for it.

But if you think it will never cease without deterrents, what does that tell you about human nature? Does this not point to the limits of reason? 

I said earlier in the thread that the extent to which the deterrents are working, is the extent to which reason is failing. Most people know stealing is wrong. And yet how many do you think would do it if they could get away with it? Imagine if there were no deterrents in terms of punishment. Anyone could walk into a store and take a brand new tv off the shelf without any consequences. I think it would quickly become apparent how weak a force reason is. 

And consider lying, not only is it easy to get away with lying, there's also very little punishment for it which is why it's widespread. Imagine if people could instantly be caught for lying and the punishment was 6 months in prison. What do you think would be more effective? This deterrent or attempting to rationally explain to someone why they shouldn't lie, getting them to understand and agree and to go on with the rest of their life not lying? 

Considering these questions, it becomes apparent that a society of Objectivists (that is, true Objectivists not needing deterrents for themselves) is impossible. Even a society with a sizeable portion of them would be impossible. Even a portion of the tiny number that exist today probably wouldn't pass the no-deterrents test, in my opinion, and therefore aren't real Objectivists. 

Deterrents, social institutions, God etc are ways of controlling these things. Reason will never be enough, not even close. 

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Rand did not set out, primarily, to look at the way humans are and have always behaved. Her ethics are not descriptive but prescriptive. Clearly man does not always abide by reason; if he did, Rand would hardly have needed to write so much about the subject. Instead, she intends to lay out the means by which man can live better, can live happier.

Can but won't.

I'll just close by saying Rand is reliant on the facts of nature which she didn't know. She assumed. The nature/nurture debate has not been resolved and scientists today attribute genes to a role in human behaviour. How powerful is that role? It's all still very murky. 

I read that Peikoff's daughter, an Objectivist, is studying bio-ethics. I applaud her for this. I think this is exactly the area that needs to be focused on. 

Edited by Jason Hunter

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On 10/26/2018 at 11:19 PM, Eiuol said:

Technical, maybe, but it is a difference that matters for Rand. For Rand, virtues are the means of attaining values. Values in this sense are more concrete than virtues. There are fundamental values reason, purpose, and self-esteem, and virtues are how you get there. These are normative standards, not standards which define the bare minimum other people must meet in order to qualify as deserving value exchange. Also, people can show elements of virtue, so you don't need see every aspect of the person as flawless. Actually, if we focus on virtues as action, loving (not romantic love) a person for their virtues is much broader than loving a person for their values. You could, for example, have a friend that lives by duty, but you also recognize a great deal of rationality in their behavior overall. 

You're right then to say that the value you gain is purely down to who they are as a person. It is not simply a quantified analysis of what you get, because it's a reaction to a whole person. Are you proposing then that this is not enough to value your parents at least somewhat, if they were decent and good people? It sounds like you're trying to say that blood family doesn't bring you value, or that it is exceedingly rare to find any virtue in blood family. But this doesn't make sense, because you are saying that duty brings stability to families, but if on average your family will have unvirtuous people and people that don't deserve respect, how can that possibly make a family strong? That would make a family weak; on some level, you're saying that unvirtuous people are necessary to keep a bond. Your argument is basically "you have no good reason to stick by bad family members, so that's why we need duty". 

You should bring in real life examples. What about your family? Are there bad people in your family that you stick to because they are family? If it weren't for duty, would you abandon your family today? Are there people in your life that you would consider family that aren't blood family?
 

Just to make things clear i dug up a few Rand quotes:

"In love the currency is virtue. You love people not for what you do for them or what they do for you, you love them for their values, their virtues, which they have achieved in their own character."

- Youtube - interview - "Ayn Rand on happiness, Self-Esteem and Love"

"What you fall in love with is the same values which you choose embodied in another person. That's romantic love, now any lesser form of love such as friendship, affection [notice how she didn't mention family], is the same thing in effect. You grant a feeling of affection toward those who you have concluded are values, your response to others is on the basis of values."

- Youtube - interview - Ayn Rand Love and Values

To answer your questions ill say this:

I agree you can get some value from family members. Of course, they will probably have some traits you admire. Maybe one of them is a hard worker or you share a value (a common interest) etc. I don't dispute this. But unfortunately it doesn't solve the problem. 

Why? Because the same thing applies to millions of other people. You can find some value in lots of people. 

In this increasingly interconnected world, both online and in the physical world with bigger cities, improved transport etc the sheer number of people we can meet or do meet (say if you're a university student for example) is enormous. 

If values/virtues is the only thing you judge your family members on, they are very vulnerable to being "out-valued" so to speak. 

In this internet age, it is easy to seek out people who strongly share your values and it wouldn't take long to find a whole group of people who would effectively replace your family. 

This is why i see the family being destroyed with the removal of duty or more broadly mysticism in family. 

In a hypothetical Objectivist world, society would be fluid. People would move in and out of relationships and groups. The family would not be an enduring social unit. It just wouldn't exist in the way it does today.

With values being the only standard, there is no binding glue. 

But as I've said many times, all of this is only a secondary problem. The primary problem is the incentive to have children in the first place which I can't see being strong enough and widespread. 

Edited by Jason Hunter

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You didn't really answer my question as to how keeping unvirtuous people around is somehow helpful to family. Perhaps you still wouldn't be satisfied with Objectivism's answer, but it would at least answer the concern I have of using duty. Your concern about being "out valued" isn't a concern because there's nothing preventing you from keeping relationships that are of lesser value, or your family is of such low value that you can't identify anything remotely good about them. 

I have many replies and theoretical grounds to other points to me. But I want to bring this closer to actual observations, and how this goes on in your life. I would understand better where you're coming from, because you seem to have a very difficult time seeing a reason to see family as more than strangers, with duty being the only reason you want them in your life.

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4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

So do you subscribe to the blank slate view of man?

As with "human nature," I sometimes hesitate before such sweeping declarations. I think that people are "blank" in some senses, but not others. Rather than debating "tabula rasa," it might be more helpful to discuss specific propositions. For instance...

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

One conclusion would be man has no pre-existing knowledge.

Yes, I believe that man has no preexisting knowledge. In that sense, he is a "blank slate."

On the other hand, for instance, every individual comes with some specific biology, a genetic makeup, etc., that potentially has an impact on his development and so forth. We might sometimes speak of "propensities." (Some of these propensities are fairly universal, others are quite individual-specific.)

For instance, imagine a person with abnormal hormonal production. Such a person might be more inclined towards aggressive behavior or something -- I really don't know -- but with respect to such things, it might not be right to describe such a person as a "blank slate" in the way that phrase is often used or invoked, to suggest perhaps that all people start from some equal/neutral internal point. For some people, reining in aggression might thus be easier or more difficult (and perhaps much more difficult), accounting to their physiology.

I would forgive anyone who looks at such things and decides that we are not quite fully "blank," but it's more like we're born with certain architecture, certain grooving, that lends itself more readily to certain expressions than others.

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

Does reason have limitations? Can it be used to fully comprehend the laws of nature?

I have no idea whether reason can be used "to fully comprehend the laws of nature." In what I believe to be a necessary irony, I think I would have to fully comprehend the laws of nature in order to assess fairly whether reason can fully comprehend the laws of nature. (And perhaps you would have to fully comprehend them, to say that we never could.)

What I will say is that, with respect to the laws of nature, human reason has shown itself to be remarkably potent. If you consider where we were as a species just a few thousand years ago, and now witness our power (to travel to the moon and to split the atom, just to pick a couple of handy things we've probably progressed well beyond by now), I think it's fair to say that reason can comprehend the laws of nature to a goodly extent (as pertains to life on earth, at least; as pertains to the matters which impact us directly). Who knows what man will be capable of in another two or three thousand years?

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

Does man have any inherent limitations or can the contents of his mind be completely determined by reason? (blank slate view). 

I don't know what it would mean, to have the contents of a given man's mind be completely determined by reason. Maybe you could elaborate on that before I say whether I think it's possible?

At initial blush, though, I'll say that it doesn't sound likely. Reason being neither automatic nor infallible and -- in my view -- developing over time sort of like a muscle, leads me to believe that any given person will be reasonable in some respects and... perhaps less reasonable in others. We probably all have unexamined or unchallenged beliefs or feelings, from time to time, and especially dating from our youth.

For after all, it's not as though men are born in some state of perfect reason and thereafter make mistakes, wandering from the one true path -- and children are not known for being exemplars of reasoned analysis. The rules for successful thinking (i.e. logic) must be discovered and learned, and often re-learned, and re-learned across a sea of error... or at least this is so if my own experience is representative.

Is this an "inherent limitation"? If so, how does it relate to either human nature or to reason? Human reason has a nature, it's true (and is thus part and parcel to "human nature"), but having or using reason does not limit us -- it empowers us.

It's like...

Imagine if we were discussing the car, and whether a car is useful for getting from some Point A or Point B. If you were to take a skeptical stance and ask whether cars run flawlessly, or if they can break down, I would answer you honestly and say that cars do not run flawlessly. They break down with regularity, and even accounting for all of our ingenuity in preventative maintenance. Some cars break down all the time.

And yet, a car is useful for getting from A to B; cars do not "limit" our ability to travel  -- they empower it.

So I don't know whether the contents of man's mind can be "completely determined by reason," or whether reason can unlock every last secret of the universe, but I am convinced of the efficacy of reason for the purpose of understanding the world and living a better life, which is why I advocate for it.

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

Regarding the latter which you talk about further down but I'll address here, if you were observing an alien species over a long period of time you would look for recurring characteristics. If the aliens were stealing, killing and lying over thousands of years and kept doing it despite all the different cultures, races, religions etc you would certainly make this your starting point for inherent traits in their nature. It would carry more weight than the exceptions. And if in the societies where they were punished for these things, you observed them doing these things less in what appeared to be a successful method, you would have little reason to believe that something else could be more succesful, like reason, which so far had shown no successful track record in any society before and in fact when it was tried as an alternative deterrent (league of nations), it failed.

If men steal, kill and lie, they also produce, create and persuade. There's no good reason to take the first three as "inherent traits" over the latter three, or really to take any of it as "inherent" at all. Men have the ability to do either, to be either, and there are examples enough of "each kind" to realize that individuals have a choice in how they behave. (Calling one set of men "exceptions" is begging the question; I could just as easily pronounce those who steal, kill and lie the "exceptions," but I don't consider any of it exceptional, per se.)

But if you propose deterrents against immoral action, you are making a number of claims as to morality and to what works as a deterrence, and what is effective, and etc., and in every case you are relying upon reason -- both in your reason to make these determinations, and in my reason to rightly agree or disagree.

Raising the League of Nations here (as an example of "reason" failing) betrays some sort of core misunderstanding, and if we cannot rectify it, I don't think we'll be able to understand each other. "Reason" is not some particular strategy of deterrence (and reason was just as necessary to prosecute WWII; reason was not abandoned when the League of Nations dissolved). It is our fundamental ability to assess the facts of reality; it thus underlies all such strategies (to the extent that we can hope that they will succeed; it would also be possible to make choices on the basis of whim, and so forth, but this is not advisable). Rand argues, in reason, for the punishment of murderers. She also argues, in reason, that men ought not initiate the use of force -- for their own sake (and also for all of our sakes).

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

It's wrong to blame slavery on tradition or long standing institutions. Before the 18 century, slavery was an uncontroversial fact of life. It had always existed. In every corner of the globe you'd find slavery, every race and creed. So the real question is, what is the cause of freedom? Similarly, you don't look for the causes of poverty (poverty has always existed), you look for the causes of wealth. 

Institutions have supported bad things in the past. How could this not be the case in societies that evolve incrementally over time, gradually improving? And as they improve, it is the institutions that improve with them or drive the improvement. It was the Christians that spearheaded the call to end slavery and it was in a society where freedom had come about through a long process of evolution in English law. It was bound to take slavery with it even if there was a lag time. 

And it is one thing to morally condemn slavery, and another to figure out the practical steps toward ending it and having a plan to manage the fallout. There's going to be a lag time between the two, as was the case with the Americans.

I don't understand what you're arguing, or what kind of point you're trying to make here. I did not "blame slavery on tradition or longstanding institutions." I said that it's wrong to venerate or otherwise support tradition or some institution, because it is a tradition or institution. Because you were saying before that such institutions and traditions "contain far more knowledge and wisdom than a single person can rationally articulate." But this is not always true: the abolitionists were able to rationally articulate a stance with far greater wisdom than those who defended the longstanding traditions and institutions of slavery.

And so, speaking to my overarching point, how do we know when an institution or tradition is on the right or wrong side of some given debate? Via reason. It's reason or nothing else.

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

This is a great question. Although to be more specific, reason has to be used. It depends what premises you use. So my question would be by what standard should we judge political action?

Well, Rand's answer to that is according to individual rights: political action which defends or upholds individual rights (leaving a person free from force, except in the case of retaliation) is good, and that political action which abrogates individual rights is bad.

Are there devils in the details? You betcha. A brief perusal of the Politics forum here will make that clear enough.

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

This has been causing me a headache. I would much rather just have the nice clean Objectivist principles but it's clear the world isn't as simple as that. 

For example, one could buy all the land around a community of people and hold them hostage by refusing them access on the land. Or on immigration, open boarders would lead to societal suicide. Or in emergency ethics, the ethical principles breakdown.

Nothing is simple. Objectivism -- and I'd say philosophy more broadly -- is an entree to thought, not a substitute for it, and I fear that headaches are sometimes part of the price of admission. That said, there are Objectivists who consider it all quite simple... but speaking frankly, I don't find much of value to come from that camp.

As for your examples, each of them could provoke a thread or three, and I have personally argued each of the subjects you raise, on this very board.

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

So all that's left is a rough estimate. We believe stealing, lying, killing is bad. These ethical principles are embedded in traditions and social institutions and also conform to reason. Perhaps these traditions provide glimpses of the truth. We know the free market is superior whether it is justified with natural rights or utilitarianism etc. The same thing applies for property rights. And we know the dangers of the centralisation of power etc. We have to use long standing social institutions as guides but not complete authorities and the same thing applies with reason. We have to value stability and exercise prudence in political change.

Once we have some agreement as to what we mean by "reason," we can ask what it would mean to not allow reason to be the "complete authority" in ethics.

For consider, if I do not listen to my own best use of reason in deciding on ethical principles and their application, then to what greater or more complete authority would you have me submit? Social institutions and traditions? (Which, remember, might include such things as slavery.) Some political or religious leader? Majority rule? "Gut instinct"? Who or what do you propose to guide me in my choices?

It's well and good for me to consider traditions and etc., to try to inform myself, investigate, understand -- but in the end, and subsequent to that investigation, how am I to know the rightness or wrongness of stealing, lying or killing, except through my own ability to reason right from wrong, good from bad?

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

It's different for different people of course but generally speaking the special meaning clearly exists for human beings.

I would say, rather, that it [the special meaning of "blood"] apparently exists for some human beings.

It's like, do UFOs clearly exist for human beings...? Eh, well, some people do claim to have seen them.

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

For a mother, her bond with her children is said to be especially profound which is partly down to the fact the children actually grew inside of her and are made from her.

For the record, a child is made from its father as well. :)

But as for this bond -- and I know that there's a complex discussion here, including hormones and etc. -- I'll just say that I've personally known mothers who did not particularly "bond" with their child. And usually, in my experience, they suffer some kind of guilt for not experiencing the emotional/spiritual reaction that's expected of them. So that's fun.

In no case would I be inclined to use the term "mysticism" to describe any part of this process.

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

Well, I am very sceptical that humans can actually separate the mysticism unless the value calculation is extreme for them. I believe you love your daughter but I don't believe you base this love purely on how much you like her values and virtues which is what Objectivism demands of you.

LOL, all right, well, in the first place, Objectivism makes no demands on me. :) It's a philosophy, a tool, and I use it for my own purposes; if anything, I demand of it.

Anyways, let's forget my daughter as she is now, for the moment, and take her back to when she was a baby; I loved her then, too (though perhaps the quality of the emotion was not identical to the one I feel for her today). Was it based upon her "values and virtues"? Kind of a preposterous sentiment. A baby does not sensibly have anything of the kind. Yet what then was my love based upon? Anything real at all? It's complex -- and I don't expect this will exhaust the subject -- but I'd submit that much of what I felt for her, especially as a baby, was based upon my projections onto her, as a being of potential. That I held in my hands, not a creature who is anything really in particular, but who might one day be a great many things of perhaps extraordinary value. And there is also the recognition of my unique role in guiding and shaping the realization of that potential, as father.

There's something in this about the investments I'd already made, in purposely designing an environment to accommodate the raising of a child, the actions of bringing that to life (literally), and also the foreknowledge of the investments I stood ready to make, and planned on making, over the rest of my life. Even treating a baby as a true tabula rasa, the act of bringing a child into the world is a heavy duty act and commitment.

Or it can be, at least. It was for me. (Other people in other contexts can, and do, have very different emotional reactions to having a child.) And the emotion that I felt to some large extent, I think, was a reflection of all of that -- all of the things I put into having a child, the plans I'd made, the projections going forward. I still think this is in many senses a reflection on "values and virtues," just not those wholly to be found in the soul of a newborn.

But then, it's also worth noting that Rand did not have children, I don't think she commented much on them in this regard, and likely did not have them in mind when making the comments to which you refer. It's possible that what applies to adult relationships in this regard is a poor fit for a parent/child relationship -- but that does not mean that our only alternative is "mysticism."

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

You shouldn't take it for granted. But it could be a reason you never gain access to. The last two questions just demonstrate how complex and messy the real world is. The standards and meanings vary for different people. Blood does not guarantee love. Generally speaking, it works as a kind of glue helping to unite a family and it expresses itself in the human mind as mysticism. A mother may tell her son to go help his brother and he asks why and she replies "because he's your brother". This is a classic line. And it works. The child accepts it as a good point and reluctantly helps. Or the child may not understand why the line is authoritative but just feels that it is.

Quickly, here, I think you're wrong. I think "because he's your brother," howsoever "classic" it might be, is not a good point (which helps to explain the child's continued reluctance to help) and that an intelligent child will chafe increasingly against that sort of supposed authority, leading perhaps eventually into outright rebellion. The ur-example of this sort of approach -- "because I said so" -- is famously bad, and I frankly consider it a hallmark of lazy parenting. (Which is not to say that I've never said it myself, in my laziest or most stressed-out moments.)

I think there is an argument to be made for helping family members, generally speaking, but if it is meant to persuade, if it is meant to court assistance which is not reluctant but even perhaps enthusiastic, and re-enforce bonds of trust and mutual cooperation as opposed to eroding them, it must eventually appeal to reason and not some supposedly mystical obligation.

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

Most people know stealing is wrong.

Not exactly. Most people know the words "stealing is wrong," but they don't really believe it to be the case. They don't understand that sentence the way that an Objectivist would, at least; they don't see "wrong" in the same way.

These questions, as to why an Objectivist might say that stealing or lying is wrong (in some and not necessarily all cases, mind) would take us far afield for the moment -- and our discussion is wide-ranging enough as it is. But suffice it to say that I disagree that most people really know that stealing is wrong. If they really knew it, the kinds of deterrents you mention would be far less important and far less frequently employed.

4 hours ago, Jason Hunter said:

Considering these questions, it becomes apparent that a society of Objectivists (that is, true Objectivists not needing deterrents for themselves) is impossible. Even a society with a sizeable portion of them would be impossible. Even a portion of the tiny number that exist today probably wouldn't pass the no-deterrents test, in my opinion, and therefore aren't real Objectivists. 

Deterrents, social institutions, God etc are ways of controlling these things. Reason will never be enough, not even close.

You're drawing the wrong conclusions from the observations you've made. You already have the deterrents you imagine "work" to control stealing, lying, etc. You have God and social institutions and all the rest. They don't work and never have, or only in very limited fashion. What you don't have (yet) -- what we really haven't tried -- is a culture of reason. Whether we consider that a "society of Objectivists" or not, I am convinced that a culture that promoted reason more effectively would see less crime. (Which is not to say "zero crime," and an Objectivist society would still have a police force.)

If you mean to say that creating a more rational culture would be impossible, I don't see why. I think it at least a superior plan to all the potential alternatives.

And with that, I'll leave the discussion to others and thank you for your time. Maybe I'll pick it up again in the future.

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Jason Hunter,

Reason, fully applied to the issue, tells us why stealing , killing, and lying are wrong, leads us to that conclusion, and leads us to act accordingly.  It is all we need to guide ourselves.  But reasoning with someone who is stealing, killing, and/or lying will only work to the extent that they are rational, which depends on their choice, and even then may take time.  This is why we need deterrents and other countermeasures.  These countermeasures should not include appeals to irrational concepts such as God or duty; such appeals are immoral and do more harm than good.

This does not mean that there are limits to reason; it means that some people fail to practice it enough.

It is a physical aggression to cut off people's access to or from their property.  If I acquire land enclosing someone else's property, they have a right to an easement through my property that will allow them such access.

People who say open borders would be societal suicide tend to overlook private property rights and/or to take for granted wrongful government actions that cause problems.

I think you are neglecting a couple of points:

It is possible for people to build relationships with each other over time.  Such a relationship is itself a value and makes the people more valuable to each other.

When people find themselves together in a household, workplace, or other environment, it is in their interests to cooperate without necessarily calculating costs and benefits for each individual act of cooperation.  This is true even if they have little else in common.

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On the incentive to have children:

Some people should not have children.

It's OK if some people who could be good parents choose not to be parents.

Having children can be a great source of joy.  The parents provide them with an environment in which they can grow and develop, give them additional help in doing so, and see them actually growing and developing.  The parents see the children benefiting and acting, having played a crucial role in making this possible.  Why do you say this is not enough incentive?  

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