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Getting O'ism Through To People W/ Mixed Premises?

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What do you say to a person who considers the difference between right and wrong as a mere difference of opinion? What do you do about a person who places the proverbial "gun" on your temple and says that he doesn't need to be right or just?

Ayn Rand, in Atlas Shrugged has appealed to rational people. But, as Gibbon put it,

"The art of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous."
I have, from as far back as I can remember, had , in essence, the same principles that I now hold. So doesn't that make her philosophy "almost superfluous", as far as I'm concerned? What Miss Rand has done for me I can never forget: she has given me words to understand myself. But only I can understand that, can't I? ;) In other words, I want to understand myself, so I can. That's just it. I want to. So now I don't need her help, though I could use it. (As a side thought, I believe that's exactly what she wanted to say: I deserve it only if I don't need it.)

Where does that put all those people who don't want to be rational or just or right? Doesn't that preclude the possibility of rational debate? She means nothing to them and yet it is they who perpetrate all the injustice in the world, not I - except inadvertently, of course. (That's something I've stopped being ashamed of, incidentally, because the difference between a flaw of knowledge and a breach of rationality is not whether my decision was rational or not, but whether I was rationally rational, ie. whether I wanted to know whether my rationality had been breached or not.) I wouldn't care a hoot for the beggars who claim hard earned money as their right, but to ignore the real life Mouches isn't so easy. Like the guy said in the film Daredevil,

"How do you defeat a man who has no fear (read 'who doesn't give a damn')?"

Are you going to reply (like the other guy did),

"I'm gonna put the fear in him!"
? :P

Well it doesn't work that way for rationality, which is, by definition, uncoerced. To state it very bluntly: you'll listen to what I have to say only if you know what I'm saying making the effort of typing all this out unecessary.

Again, the world is not full of people like James and Orren, but rather of people like Tony and Cherryl, who are rational, but who don't know it, ie. they're not rationally rational. Don't they come into the same category as the people I've described above? They're harder nuts to crack: they have the sanction of their conscience. ;) Correct me if I'm wrong in thinking that rational people desire for themselves and for others a sound philosophy (Objectivism in your case, I presume). But isn't that emphasis misplaced? Rationality cannot be rational unless it is lived. I am not pointing fingers at anybody, mind you, just saying that to live rationality rationally is both necessary and sufficient to result in (note the causal relationship I have suggested here) a sound philosophy, which makes mine a very skeptical view of the teaching of philosophy.

Much of what Ayn Rand has said about the people I've described has been ad hominem, in the sense that calling a brainless brute :) a "brainless brute" sure as hell doesn't make that fella any more sympathetic towards your cause(not that doing otherwise would help, either! B) ).

What it all boils down to in the end is that I'm telling you all this because the guy with the gun's not listening (and he doesn't want to) and I'm getting pretty sore about that. I really don't fancy my rationally rational brain out on the existent floor of my room. :P

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Goodness gracious me... that's a lot to cover.

First, you are correct: there's no point in trying to argue rationally with people who are disposed to irrationality, or rather, not particularly disposed to reason. Their notions are generally a jumble of stolen concepts and floating abstractions, utterly disconnected from any context or any reality.

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by being "rationally rational" or "rational rationality." My best guess is that you mean deliberately rational, which is redundant, since reason is a volitional faculty and must be exercised deliberately. Even valid concepts and true propositions, if arrived at by chance, cannot be said to be rational in the proper sense of the term.

As far as rationality needing to be lived in order to be valid, the following is from Galt's Speech:

Your morality tells you to renounce the material world and to divorce your values from matter.  A man whose values are given no expression in material form, whose existence is unrelated to his ideals, whose actions contradict his convictions, is a cheap little hypocrite—yet that is the man who obeys your morality and divorces his values from matter.

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Along these lines...I'm conflicted about a close friend who considers morality a matter of preference. However, in contrast with the original poster, this is someone who does *act* morally. His "preference" in this regard are in keeping with my own idea of morality, and he's very important to me. But he insists that he isn't troubled by conscience...he just prefers one type of action (ie: honesty) to another (ie: stealing).

I'm not able to get through to him in explaining why morality is objective. He thinks that your rights consist of "that which you can preserve"--so you don't have an unalienable right to your life, because somebody can kill you. The tack I'm taking in response is "Yeah, well, you have to recognize the concept of rights in order to live in a society."

Not working. Help?


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I've got an office-mate who thinks the same way. We've had several discussions on such topics, and I've basically given up trying to argue with him.

One thing I haven't tried, that might work for you: since objective morality depends on an objective view of value and value judgements, you might pursue a line of argument in that vein. Ask the person in question why he prefers honesty to theft. Chances are that he doesn't "just prefer" it. He probably has reasons for preferring it, such as the fear of legal repercussions if he's caught. This means what? That he disvalues the deprivation of his liberty and/or property. Why? Are these things ends in themselves? He might claim that he "just prefers" them, but in fact, they serve a purpose: they enable him to live in a manner that he chooses. Demonstrate to him that he does, in fact, hold his own life as his standard of value, and in combination with the objective theory of value (i.e. value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep; virtue is the act by which one gains and/or keeps it.) eveything else will flow from there.

For a more detailed explanation of how everything else follows from those, I'd recommend reading Dr. Peikoff's Objbectivism: The Philosophy fo Ayn Rand.

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I think we've all known our share of people who act rationally, and are generally consistent in their thinking, and yet are frustratingly opposed to an objective morality of rationality. Their objection (in my experience) generally is an objection to an objective morality as such - they do not believe that there is truly any such thing as "objectively right" or "objectively wrong." Hence, questions of morality are a question of "preference" rather than "truth."

Personally, I do prefer honesty to evasion, production to sloth, and so on. I know that it is always an option for me to be a lying lazy scumbag, but the thought of that fills me with revulsion. I could no more renounce my morality than willingly chop off my hand. The law has nothing to do with it. (In fact, I have no problem whatsoever with breaking the law in moral ways if one can do so without getting caught. No real-world examples will be posted online for this one, though! ;) )

I would approach this by examining the concept of "preference," somewhat as EC suggested. Essentially, this is an emotionalist argument: that the "preference" is a primary without any cause, and that morality stems from that. However, emotions are caused by one's conceptual context in relationship to a particular existent that one is conidering. For a very good analysis of this phenomenon, I refer you to page 154 of OPAR. That discussion may give you the tools you need to convince your friend.

It doesn't make sense to say that an emotion can be true or false. Emotions are the super-fast responses that our subconscious calculates from our automatized ideas. It is our mind's way of evaluating something immediately, without "re-inventing the wheel" each time, so to speak. The response itself isn't true or false - any more than a stopsign at an intersection is "true" or "false."

However, the ideas that one holds, which give rise to emtional responses, may be either true or false. If those ideas are correct and true, then the emotional responses that one experiences will guide him towards success and happiness. Things that benefit his life will make him happy, and things that do not will cause him emotional pain. (I.e., one will naturally "prefer" to live according to a rational morality, if one automatizes true ideas.) However, if those idea are false, then one's emotions will guide him towards failure and misery.

Thus, treating "preference" as a primary is an error on the epistemological level - and the evidence is available to any who wish to introspect and see how things go on inside their mind. Preferences are caused by something: the subconscious computer that we can volitionally program with our conscious minds. One could respond to his argument like this: "Yes, properly speaking, morality really IS all a matter of preference. The proper morality is the preference of one who automatizes true ideas."

(Disclaimer that should be unnecessary: Plenty of things that one may "prefer" have nothing to do with morality. I prefer black coffee to coffee with milk, but there is nothing "moral" or "immoral" about this choice.)

Chances are, he's a pretty rational chap, but either doesn't have the tools or is just lazy and doesn't want to investigate the problem. In any event, of course, it goes without saying that you should interact with him in the way that provides the most long-range benefit to yourself. Sometimes it is a wonderfully profitable investment to help someone overcome their philosophical shortcomings, as I have found more than once. However, sometimes it's a painful waste of time and energy, as I've also found more than once.

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Guest heusdens

What is "rational" and what is "reason", and do we all agree on that?

What is rational or reasonable in a specific situation for one individual, doesn't have to imply that some other individual would think that rational or reasonable.

Individuals and groups of individuals do argue about such things in practice, since individuals have different positions in society and different interests.

There is no institution that can decide on such issues of rationality and reasonability, there is no such thing as "super-rationality" or "super-reasonability".

Do buyers/sellers agree on first hand on the prices of goods? Even if both reason from a position which fully conforms to the standards of logical thinking, it does not mean that they would conclude the same thing.

And what about the labour contract? The fact that most labourers sell their workforce for a price that is below the actual value that is added by the workforce, is reasonable for the one that makes a profit out of that, but is unreason for the labourer.

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Well, as he's pointed out to me in regard to other things; if we examine the roots of our ideas about morality from the context of "Why do you prefer to not lie?"--aren't we just rationalizing our feelings on the subject? So many Objectivists and Objectivish-types do that with more optional values! That's not how it's *supposed* to work.

Good idea, though--will check OPAR (which, yes, of course I'm familiar with).

It can be frustrating to argue with him about this stuff, but y'know why? Because he challenges me. I'm not a professional intellectual, nor do I aspire to be. So, for the most part, I've read the books, I think I've integrated the ideas, and I go about my life based on that.

Every once in a while I get my ass kicked into going back and having to re-assess my premises. And I need not begrude his making me do that! After all, I should understand why I hold the ideas I do well enough to explain them to a well-meaning, honest man.

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:) Thank you. You've all helped me a great deal. Sometimes I wonder whether rational men and women really do exist. The people around you can get too much to handle sometimes.

Yes, I agree:

1. There's no such thing as a "rational rationality". :dough: What I really did mean were people who do not just *act* morally but whose rationality is the cause of their actions.

2. I'm conflicted about most people around me. Thoughts in contradiction are something I have never accepted and I find it most frustrating that not only do other people do accept them but that they do not think of what pain they *unintentionally* (hah! :ph34r: ) inflict. The reality they *choose* to evade can (and generally does) come back for them and I get pulled up along with them.

3. Emotions are the consequence of our philosophy and NOT its cause.

What I think:

1. Man's fundamental choice is not whether he has a philosophy or not but whether he chooses to base it on rational premises or irrational ones. Hence, all man's actions proceed from his philosophy and that is your only argument against him, something Ayn Rand was a master at using. What I meant when I (unnecessarily harshly) called her writings ad hominem was that she did not prove anything to any man except by using his nature as an argument, which, incidentally, was also used to obtain what she called the "sanction of the victim". It CANNOT be otherwise.

2. You cannot argue with a man but on his terms and it is precisely the act of not doing so that closes his mind to any reasons you might put forth; the very idea of compulsion as an argument negates the value of any arguments you do make.

3. True concepts and valid propositions CANNOT be arrived at by chance. Philosophy is a system and no window could give the complete picture. That a concept is true or a proposition valid implies that it fits completely into a rational system of thought, which, by definition, is not the result of chance.


"The code of competence is the only system of morality on a gold standard" - Ayn Rand
The only sign of a rational man is his love of that which is the product of sincere effort and of the effort above the product. The effort arising from a conscious *programming* of my mind to the above clears my mind of doubts and contradictions. It is the *lived* rationality of which I have spoken. Without it there is no life and hence no rationality.

What I'm still worried about though:

1. I come from a deeply theistic background and find atheism very, very hard to accept. I am convinced that no God would want to be had faith in but rather to be rationally accepted. For starters, could you prove to me why "existence is identity" and why the statement "existence has identity" is *incorrect*. Why I ask this question is because I have found my religious philosophy to be of the most advanced form and hence most difficult to fault and that it starts proving the existence of God *assuming* the latter. This makes it of the utmost importance to me whether I hold the first or the second as a foundation to build upon.

To heusdens:

That people agree on something or not is different from whether they're being rational or irrational. Rationality does not imply agreement. To disagree with a vendor as to the price of his goods is not being irrational. To the contrary, it is most rational, for it means that a trade shall be made only by mutual consent to mutual profit. You ought to read John Galt's speech and find out more about the contributions and rewards of industrialists and labourers.

Regarding whether anything can ever be said to be rational or reasonable or whether they may differ for different people I shall say only that no two people in contradiction can both be right: for A is A.

Thank you again all of you.

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1. I come from a deeply theistic background and find atheism very, very hard to accept. I am convinced that no God would want to be had faith in but rather to be rationally accepted. For starters, could you prove to me why "existence is identity" and why the statement "existence has identity" is *incorrect*. Why I ask this question is because I have found my religious philosophy to be of the most advanced form and hence most difficult to fault and that it starts proving the existence of God *assuming* the latter. This makes it of the utmost importance to me whether I hold the first or the second as a foundation to build upon.
Well, this is what I found in the chapter on reality in 'Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand' pertaining to 'has vs. is': "Ayn Rand offers a new formulation of this axiom: existence is identity. She does not say 'existence has identity' - which might suggest that identity is a feature separable from existence (as a coat of paint is separable from the house that has it). The point is that to be is to be something. Existence and identity are indivisible; either implies the other. If something exists, then something exists; and if there is a something, then there is a something. The fundamental fact cannot be broken in two."

So, basically, existence is - not has - identity, because to exist is to exist as something and not nothing. And I don't know how you would go about proving that; it's one of those self-evident facts of reality, you know. . . bluesick.gif

On atheism: I assume you are familiar with and understand the idea of the Primacy of Existence that is also discussed in the aforementioned chapter. If so, I am curious as to how do you reconcile it with the belief in a deity! icon_gonk.gif

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I'm glad this was posted. It's actually an issue I've been dealing with in my own experiences as a debater.

My Oratory: The Evils of Altruism, which I have posted in the forum previously, has been sort of disregarded by my judges because of its controversial perspective. Most of my judges are parents that advocate selflessness as a virtue in society, so the presentation of my piece isn't always taken so lightly. I'm wondering what I could do to improve the piece or how to present it in a more persuasive, objectivist manner. I hope you'll be able to give me some opinions. The speech was posted in"Ethics", I don't know how to put a link into here, but I hope you could give me some feedback.


[Mod's note: Here is the link, mentioned above.]

To make a link like this, just get the URL from that topic or post and use the square-bracket URL tag. For instance, the link above would look as follows:

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Edited by softwareNerd

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I'm wondering what I could do to improve the piece or how to present it in a more persuasive, objectivist manner. I hope you'll be able to give me some opinions. The speech was posted in"Ethics", I don't know how to put a link into here, but I hope you could give me some feedback.


Well, you asked for it so I will oblige. But before I start criticizing, let me point out some of the positives, which are definitely there.

You come across as very passionate - and that is important.

You also come across in an intelligent manner and you make a number of very excellent individual points. Unfortunately, a collection of excellent points does not necessarily add up to an effective argument.

Here are what I consider to be some of the major opportunities for improvement:

1) Your piece is WAY too ambitious in scope. Your piece essentially seeks to convert a general audience of people who have been exposed to nothing but popular notions of altruism into advocates of rational selfishness in the course of 7 or 8 very long paragraphs. I am afraid that is simply NOT possible.

It took entire novels and multiple non-fiction essays for Ayn Rand to objectively make some of the same points you are trying to make in your short piece. Furthermore, it is next to impossible possible to change an intelligent person's mind about a major, fundamental issue in the course of a single essay or a single conversation. The absolute most you can hope to accomplish is to leave your audience with something to think about and perhaps plant a seed of doubt in their mind that might eventually inspire them to do some premise checking.

2) As a result of point number 1, you end up overloading your audience with more information than they can possibly digest and integrate. Most people in this forum can follow your points well enough - because we are already familiar with your overall argument. But for someone who is already scratching their head in disbelief over the fact that you don't like Robin Hood and think that people should be selfish - well, then you start going on about socialism, and Soviet Russia and Franco and then you start talking about Anorexia Nervosa. And then, in addition to all of that, you say: "I mean, if all of the religious premises weren’t a factor, what benefit could you possibly get from starving just to hand your money over to beggars?" Thus, on top of an already controversial thesis, you open an entirely new can of controversial worms and have your audience again scratching their heads and wondering: "Gee, he doesn't like religion either. What has he got against that?"

I know where you are coming from and how it all ties together and so do you - but to an intelligent person who has never had any previous exposure to Ayn Rand's ideas.....well, I am afraid all that is just going to come across as being a bunch of "far out there" assertions against various conventional wisdoms that you obviously do not like.

3) You insult the very people you should be targeting your piece to - intelligent people who think for themselves. What I am talking about is following: "Did you notice anything wrong with that definition? If you didn’t, then you are the type of person that has already been corrupted."

When someone throws out an assertion that my thinking is somehow "corrupted" my immediate reaction is to wonder what sort of religion, conspiracy theory or New Age awareness training program the person is about to pressure me into going along with. A rational person is always open to evidence that he might need to recheck certain premises - but nobody with an ounce of intellectual self-esteem is going to be receptive to the notion that he is nothing more than a passive waif who has unwittingly been "corrupted" by some evil others. As for those who are receptive to such a message - well it is pointless to argue with them because, even if you win them over, they will be gone as soon as some other guru comes along with something that sounds better.

Now for some suggestions on how to improve the piece:

1) Keep in mind that 90% of persuasion consists of understanding the other person's context. Unfortunately, what most people assume is that persuasion consists of finding ever better ways to make one's point. Years ago, I worked in outside sales and observed that many sales managers and sales reps were always obsessed with finding a better "rebuttal" to use against objections raised by potential buyers. What they were really looking for was an incantation that they could recite which would magically cause people to change their minds. It doesn't work that way. It doesn't really matter what you say or how you say it if the other person is not listening or is not capable of grasping your underlying points. You can talk until you are blue in the face and it will make no difference.

If you hope to have any chance at persuasion, the first thing you have to do is acquire as accurate an understanding as possible of the (often contradictory) premises on which the other person is basing his views or objections to your views. Once you have that understanding, you will know on what areas you have at least some sort of common intellectual ground - and that will enable you to identify a point on which to build at least the very beginnings of a bridge over the intellectual gulf that separates you. Once you have identified where the other person is coming from, then figuring out which specific points to make and in what order becomes a lot easier.

2) When you write or when you speak to a crowd, it is not possible to grasp, let alone appeal to, the individual contexts of everyone in your audience. In such cases, you must determine which segment of the larger audience you wish to target your presentation to. Once you have identified such a target group within your wider audience, base your presentation on a realistic hypothetical context of that target group and don't spend much time worrying about those in the audience who fall outside that group. For example, in the case of your piece, don't worry about including things in it for the benefit of any Objectivists or for any hopeless irrationalists who may be in your audience.

3) One CANNOT objectively discuss the issue of altruism to a general audience without recognizing the fact that a great many people equate altruism with kindness, benevolence and charity. All of these things are optional values which can be entirely rational and moral under the appropriate circumstances. If you attack altruism without addressing this very common misconception, people are going to conclude that you are attacking certain behaviors which, in fact, are entirely rational and valid. Likewise, a great many people equate selfishness with a disregard for etiquette and the rights of others. If you fail to address this very common misconception, it is entirely proper and rational for people to conclude that you are nothing more than a whim worshipping hippie.

4) My suggestion is to assume as your target audience a person who:

- Is reasonable and open to the possibility that he might need to reexamine certain premises if he is presented with sufficient evidence that he needs to do so.

- Does actively and passionately pursue rationally selfish values in all areas of his life - career, hobbies, romance, family, financial, etc. - but has never challenged the conventional notions about altruism and selfishness.

Don't worry about any potential people in your audience who are not open to argument or who are not actively engaged in pursuing values in their own lives - such people are probably beyond your reach.

4) I think the Robin Hood legend is an EXCELLENT idea on which to base your piece

5) Narrow the focus of your piece WAY down. My suggestion is to use the Robin Hood legend to set up the basic issue of altruism verses selfishness. Briefly summarize the popular viewpoint of altruism as good/selfishneess as evil. Then state that there are a lot of misconceptions about the nature of selfishness and that you are going to examine some of those misconceptions and show how, contrary to the popular notion that selfishness is somehow evil, it is actually a VIRTUE.

Next, rather than attacking altruism, focus on making a positive case for selfishness. Crucial to such a case is the fact that the Objectivist definition of selfishness does NOT include hedonism and that, to be selfish, an action must actually be in a person's objective self interest. Present selfishness as living according to one's own rational judgment and pursing one's values - and give a couple of VERY brief examples of how this selfish pursuit of values is what makes human progress possible in the first place. Get in the point that actual selfishness, rather than being an example of whim warship, requires thought, focus, ambition, courage, integrity etc. and to live selfishly is an accomplishment and a VIRTUE. Get in the point that selfishness is the practical implementation of the premise that life - each individual human life and every minute which makes up that life - is profoundly sacred, irreplaceable and valuable and should be lived to the fullest.

Next, address some of the contradictions of altruism. Don't denounce it or call it evil or suggest that people are stupid for buying into it. Merely demonstrate out how it makes life on earth and the pursuit of values - any values - impossible. Demonstrate also that it is a morality that is impossible to practice - that if one were to be a fully consistent altruist, one would be dead.

Next, scrap everything you wrote about Soviet Russia, Franco's Spain, Anorexia Nervosa, etc. Instead, VERY briefly raise the rhetorical question as to why certain philosophers and intellectuals would preach altruism. Dig up and use that wonderful Ayn Rand quote to the effect that anytime you hear talk about how one should sacrifice, you can count on there being someone who is collecting sacrifices. Also point out the practical effect of a moral code which cannot be practiced - guilt. Explain that morally confident men are not easily transformed into mindless sheep - but people who feel guilty are. Explain that every tyranny the world has known has rested on the premise that the individual must sacrifice for some "greater" or "higher" good. The entirety of the points I mentioned in this paragraph should be covered in only a few sentences.

Next, very briefly address the misconceptions about equating altruism with charity, goodwill and benevolence. Explain why such things are compatible with and can be examples of properly selfish behavior. Very briefly remind people that selfishness does NOT equate with hedonism and "walking over corpses" and that such things, in fact, are the exact opposite of selfishness.

Summarize by restating why selfishness is, in fact a virtue - and get in a plug for Ayn Rand as a source for those who would like to explore the ideas you discussed in further detail.

6) Be careful to avoid falling into the trap of trying to make and prove a philosophically complete case for selfishness. That cannot be done in such a short essay. All you should attempt to do is present enough of a case to demonstrate to people that there does exist an ethical alternative to altruism and that is logical, practical and worth further exploration as a possible moral ideal.

6) Recognize that the MOST you can hope to accomplish in such a short piece is to perhaps inspire a few people to check out some of Ayn Rand's writings or perhaps "soften them up" to be open to exploring them some time down the line. As for those who never do follow through and check out Ayn Rand's ideas, it is possible that, in some cases, you might have planted enough of a seed of doubt about altruism in their minds that they will be more courageous in standing up for themselves next time some altruist attempts to lay a guilt trip on them. If you can do that - then you have every right in the world to consider your piece to have been very successful.

Anyhow, that is my two cents worth of off the cuff suggestions. I hope you find some of them helpful.

Edited by Dismuke

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