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MisterSwig

Rand and Peikoff on the Standard of Value

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1 hour ago, whYNOT said:

Then how was she going to encapsulate the entirety of "life"? Simplest organism to highest rational animal.

She gave her definition of life.

After reading the essay again, it looks like she started using goal as a synonym for value, perhaps because in her ethics life was both an "ultimate value" and a "final goal." But the synonym doesn't work in the general, biological sense. Hence the footnote. 

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20 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

how she really meant life-preserving.

It makes perfect sense.

Goal oriented refers to all organisms, especially and including a psychological level of abstraction. The footnote is attached to a sentence about the physical level of abstraction, separate from any awareness, consciousness, or deliberate purpose. Naturally, you might see her as trying to attribute some sentience to even automatic behaviors, or suggesting that God determines the purpose of automatic actions. So she creates a clarification.

On the physical level, yes, this would be life preserving and that's all you would need to say. But if you're trying to convey and attribute  goal oriented action to even the most primitive organisms, you need to at least say that you think nutritive functions and life-preserving functions are a type of goal oriented action. Using the word life-preserving doesn't necessarily mean you think that such functions are goal oriented.

 

Edited by Eiuol

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5 hours ago, Eiuol said:

On the physical level, yes, this would be life preserving and that's all you would need to say. But if you're trying to convey and attribute  goal oriented action to even the most primitive organisms, you need to at least say that you think nutritive functions and life-preserving functions are a type of goal oriented action. Using the word life-preserving doesn't necessarily mean you think that such functions are goal oriented.

"Goal-oriented" sounds even more purposive than "goal-directed." I don't think either should be attributed to automatic functions of organisms.

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On 11/13/2019 at 4:19 AM, MisterSwig said:

It seems to me that Peikoff conflated the biological standard of value (an organism's life) with the Objectivist standard of value (man's life), in his attempt to reformulate Rand's philosophy. And since Rand apparently approved of his '76 formulation, Objectivists will likely debate this issue until the end of time.

I think in summary, the problem you saw in the original post exists.

Organism's life is fundamentally the binary alternative and man's life is about many alternatives dealing with "quality" of life and they are not identical standards. The way it is "un-conflated" is with using "qua", but it still does not clear up the debate.

So then the question is: What should she have said?

Edited by Easy Truth

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3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

"Goal-oriented" sounds even more purposive than "goal-directed."

I see no meaningful difference between the two, that's why I said goal-oriented. I didn't mean to use a different phrase, though.

 

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4 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

So then the question is: What should she have said?

I prefer to focus on what I should say. And that's what I'm doing. I think Rand's argument suffered from an ignorance of important biological knowledge, which I'm attempting to explore and convey in my own articles.

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 Watch anything live and grow, and there is no doubt that the "effect" is all its *own* doing (plus nutrition, etc.), an autonomous e.g. rose bush, in autonomous action towards it's own ends - according to its specific nature.

Biology can tell one of that particular DNA, the seed, the cell division, and so on, but cannot explain the life-drive, or the life-force. Self-sustaining and self-generated (yup, goal directed) action by an organism, I'd think even a biologist generally would agree with, by his knowledge. 

We are into *meta*physics here. Empiricism doesn't cover it. 

Edited by whYNOT

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It strikes me that you all are nervous about the possibility of rationalism or quasi-mysticism. This is limiting, and takes one's thinking into empiricism. The false alternative I need not mention.

"Life" is not going to be explained by the constituent parts and actions of an organism, the nuts and bolts, so to speak. No less than a consciousness can be explained by organic matter, the brain. Nor by the atoms, which life forms are composed of. (To be reductive materialist, in the extreme)

This is greater than the sum of its parts, "an emergent property."

Edited by whYNOT

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1 hour ago, whYNOT said:

Watch anything grow, and there is no doubt that the "effect" is all its *own* doing (plus nutrition, etc.), an autonomous rose bush, etc., in autonomous action towards it's own ends.

This is the sort of imprecision I'm trying to avoid. You say that a growing rose bush's "'effect' is all its own doing," while parenthetically adding in "nutrition, etc." Does this mean that you see no problem with the fact that a rose bush doesn't generate the nutrient-rich environment it requires, absorbs and uses to function and grow? And additionally, that it doesn't generate the Earth's gravity involved in its growing process?

Also, it's not clear to me what you mean by "effect," especially since you, yourself, placed the word in scare quotes, suggesting some unusual usage. But I'm not sure what that atypical usage might be given the context. I don't think you were quoting someone or referring to the concept. Were you acknowledging that a rose bush's growth is not actually caused by only itself?

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2 hours ago, Eiuol said:
10 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Rand's argument suffered from an ignorance of important biological knowledge

Like what?

Like the importance of reflexes in the development of cognition and goal-directed behavior. You don't like when I discuss it, but it's not a mere fanciful notion of mine. Try reading the first five pages of this article by Dr. Bernhard Hommel, who heads the Cognitive Psychology Unit at the University of Leiden.

Goal-directed actions (Hommel) V3.pdf

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I'm asking what biological knowledge Rand was lacking. She doesn't even make any contested biological claims. The only thing I can think of is that you are accusing her of lacking *basic* biological knowledge when defining life. So basic that you may as well be saying she's a terrible philosopher and is incoherent. I mean, your portrayal is that she is very confused and doesn't know what she's talking about.

The only thing I have contested with you in terms of reflexes is that babies can only act reflexively. (Maybe also a few examples of things that would count as a reflex.) This is different than saying reflexes are relevant. 

"Unless we assume that humans are born with a particular set of concrete goals—a possibility for which no empirical support has been provided so far—learning about which processes can lead to which effects in the internal or external world must precede the ability to perform goal-directed activities."

At most, you can say that goal-directed actions are a better phrase for what Rand would mean by purposeful. Slightly confusing word choice by her. But we certainly know that she is referring to the idea quoted above in her footnote: deliberate selections require awareness and implicit understanding of which processes can bring about which effects. Automatic functions, including reflexes, are not deliberately selected. Rand also understood that. It's right there in the footnote. The scientific details (such as Hebbian learning) don't affect the philosophical conclusion. Even automatic functions are directed, and that's the point. It's not like a river flowing because of gravity. Your blood is pumped in a directed manner.
 

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3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

This is the sort of imprecision I'm trying to avoid. You say that a growing rose bush's "'effect' is all its own doing," while parenthetically adding in "nutrition, etc." Does this mean that you see no problem with the fact that a rose bush doesn't generate the nutrient-rich environment it requires, absorbs and uses to function and grow? And additionally, that it doesn't generate the Earth's gravity involved in its growing process?

Also, it's not clear to me what you mean by "effect," especially since you, yourself, placed the word in scare quotes, suggesting some unusual usage. But I'm not sure what that atypical usage might be given the context. I don't think you were quoting someone or referring to the concept. Were you acknowledging that a rose bush's growth is not actually caused by only itself?

The "effect" was a quote from my earlier post, a paraphrase of Rand's "result". Not a scare.

I believe you have the causality wrong. The individual plant doesn't create its (nutrient rich) environment, (etc.) - the environment (etc.) is a precondition of the plant's existence and growth. "Given" none of that, the seed couldn't germinate. ("Metaphysically given", okay?)

The main point being, while the nutrients are essential, the plant has to use them effectively, in and for its goal-directed action. We've seen a sprig of a plant growing in seemingly impossible sites, like a crack in a wall. In a desert. Or pushing up through concrete into sunlight. The "life-force" I like to use isn't a metaphor or scare, either. 

(Fast-forward to man's life, and the Earth-environment was a necessary condition of humankind, man and his purpose. It came first. IF he can identify what exists, what he needs, and knows how to use what exists.)

Edited by whYNOT

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2 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Like the importance of reflexes in the development of cognition and goal-directed behavior.

Was not able to see the article but the implication is that had she known more biology she might have come up with a different standard of value. But what could that have been?

Are you saying that had she known more biology she would have concluded that the standard of life is propagation of the species, survival of the species so something like that? Or maybe procreation? One way or the other it has to be about preservation of something, doesn't it?

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3 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

Was not able to see the article

Here is his website. Scroll through his publications to this one:

Quote

Hommel, B. (2017). Goal-directed actions. In: M. Waldmann (ed.), Handbook of causal reasoning. Oxford: Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199399550.013.18.

Then try clicking on the adjacent PDF icon to download it.

3 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

Are you saying that had she known more biology she would have concluded that the standard of life is propagation of the species, survival of the species so something like that? Or maybe procreation?

No. Again, I don't know what she would have said or concluded, and I don't intend to speculate. Besides, we have the benefit of an additional half-century of biological research and experimentation. It would be unfair to expect her to have known everything we now know.

3 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

One way or the other it has to be about preservation of something, doesn't it?

Preserve is a good word. I also like maintain, conserve, sustain, generate and perpetuate. What we are preserving is our personal growth as a biological organism. And I mean growth literally, regarding our body. If we stop growing new cells to replace the old ones, we deteriorate and die. Regarding our mind, the term growth is probably a bit figurative. We must continually grow/generate/produce new thoughts in order to replace the old ones that disappear from our focus, otherwise we lose awareness and self-control.

Now, you might ask: why are we preserving our personal growth? And this is where volition and purpose come into the picture. You have a choice over your purpose, precisely because nature does not impose one upon you. If you choose to live, then nature requires you to act a certain way to survive, within various limits. If you choose to die, then you must act a certain way, within limits. And if you choose to raise a family, then you must also act a certain way, within various limits, the first limit being the choice to live. You cannot bring a child into the world and raise it if you're dead.

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3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Regarding our mind, the term growth is probably a bit figurative.

A cool thing about this part is that while most of the brain can't grow new neurons in the adult brain, in the hippocampus, new neurons can grow and others may deteriorate. It is still debated to what extent this matters in adult humans, if there is enough neurogenesis to make any difference, but it happens in both adults and babies (although they aren't growing completely new regions in their brain). In humans, the hippocampus is especially important for imagination, long-term memory, and thinking about the future. This would suggest that preserving the ability to grow is important throughout all of life.

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Okay, biology or specific knowledge of biology will allow us to better understand our nature. But from an ethical point of view, that will not change the fundamentals, that the alternative of death exists and that actions that should be part of our values should be those which cause survival, i.e life as standard of value.

The basics are not modified by better understanding of biology, or am I missing something? Or are you saying that our new knowledge of biology has changed those fundamentals?

 

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15 hours ago, Eiuol said:

The only thing I can think of is that you are accusing her of lacking *basic* biological knowledge when defining life.

She admitted as much in her arguments addressing abortion. For example, in A Last Survey (1975), she said it was arguable whether a late-term fetus was a life. I still think her definition of life is basically very good, but she clearly had issues applying it to man, perhaps due to the lack of biological knowledge about the fetus (and newborns!) back then. Not even the Supreme Court, in Roe v Wade, felt comfortable taking a position on the late-term issue, and they left it to the States. We still argue about the nature and beginning of human life to this day, as Objectivists. So I don't understand why you're objecting to this point. Do you think Rand possessed this important knowledge but withheld it from us? I'm saying some of this knowledge has since been discovered or proven, and it should inform our view of man's life.

Edited by MisterSwig

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6 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

The basics are not modified by better understanding of biology, or am I missing something? Or are you saying that our new knowledge of biology has changed those fundamentals?

I'm saying that we don't have the fundamental knowledge of life, not even today. But we are closer now to this basic understanding than people were fifty years ago. Unfortunately, even the current pioneers in biology and cognitive science suffer under bad philosophical direction and terminology. For example, I only recently discovered Bernhard Hommel, and I sympathize with some of his research-based ideas, but he is still an academic wrapped up in academic jargon and deterministic philosophical concepts of man as machine, which he probably got from Hume, whom he referenced in a lecture I watched.

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23 hours ago, whYNOT said:

"Life" is not going to be explained by the constituent parts and actions of an organism, the nuts and bolts, so to speak.

Nuts and bolts are both parts. To complete the metaphor you would need to include relevant actions, like tightening or loosening the nuts and bolts.

23 hours ago, whYNOT said:

This is greater than the sum of its parts, "an emergent property."

Is it greater than the sum of its moving parts? 

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On 12/4/2019 at 6:43 AM, Easy Truth said:

Okay, biology or specific knowledge of biology will allow us to better understand our nature. But from an ethical point of view, that will not change the fundamentals, that the alternative of death exists and that actions that should be part of our values should be those which cause survival, i.e life as standard of value.

The basics are not modified by better understanding of biology, or am I missing something? Or are you saying that our new knowledge of biology has changed those fundamentals?

 

Survival - life - per se is NOT the standard of value: Objectivism holds *man's* life as the standard of value.

Acting as sub-man, while merely staying alive, negates "value". We have a code of values here, an ethical system, which accounts for the entirety of the objective good, physical - spiritual, which an individual needs to live and act proper to man.

Edited by whYNOT

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On 12/4/2019 at 4:10 PM, MisterSwig said:

Nuts and bolts are both parts. To complete the metaphor you would need to include relevant actions, like tightening or loosening the nuts and bolts.

Is it greater than the sum of its moving parts? 

As long as we're going to keep arguing biological parts and processes, this can't move forwards.

Clearly, Rand started her exposition on life, and standards of, bottom-up. I think one has to consider what she wrote, hierarchically. The issue of "physical organisms" was just the preamble to her "man's life" -- yes, and he too is an organism, and a complex combination of interdependent organic parts and processes, occurring automatically. So long as they receive the essential nutrients, those lungs, kidneys, blood circulation are self-generating (etc.) and goal-directed. (Until one specific part malfunctions or is diseased, one hardly needs pay every part and process of one's body ongoing attention). But man and the individual himself, as a whole, is everything but automatized. Much greater than the sum of his parts. He makes his own goal-directed purpose.

Edited by whYNOT

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On 12/4/2019 at 4:24 AM, MisterSwig said:

I'm saying that we don't have the fundamental knowledge of life, not even today

But biologically speaking, survival means some sort of longevity, its existence. That basic alternative does not change. Would you at least agree to that?

1 hour ago, whYNOT said:

Survival - life - per se is NOT the standard of value: Objectivism holds *man's* life as the standard of value.

So survival changes meaning depending on what type of living entity.

A human has the capability to go against the basic "bias" toward life.

A standard of "man's life" also includes survival or does it mean a choice to die sometimes?
Seems contradictory.

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On 12/4/2019 at 5:33 AM, MisterSwig said:

I'm saying some of this knowledge has since been discovered or proven, and it should inform our view of man's life.

Inform, yes, but not contradict, unless Rand made a philosophical mistake. If she made a philosophical mistake when defining life, then she made a mistake regarding her entire moral theory. You didn't say what biological knowledge she was lacking, so I don't know if you're just talking about a tweak and update to her definition, or a big glaring error and confusion on her part.

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