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Human

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  1. Yes, that is the abstract part that makes sense to me. And frankly, I cant think of anyone who would dispute that wisdom. But everyday life is a bit more complicated than that. There are circumstances where we have to make very difficult and tortured decisions. This is often where human emotion plays an important role. Therefore, I am curious to what extent a truly, rationally calibrated approach to the world is actually practicable (for every single person).
  2. Yes, I figured. And since I am more likely to encounter skeptical responses toward Objectivism elsewhere, I decided to come here and address my questions. In particular, the details and nuances I have not fully grasped in my reading.
  3. But we do make cost/benefit calculations, do we not? Not necessarily in crude numerical terms, but we often balance the pros against the cons.
  4. I think I generally get this point. I am however struggling with actually trying to apply it in so many different aspects of life. Its not quite clear to me how that decision tree works out. If values are a descriptive answer to questions about human nature and we need these values to survive, therefore it follows that altruism (sacrifice) is immoral. But if sacrifice is immoral, is it because of a utilitarian type argument "if everyone did it then everyone loses"? I know Ayn Rand says in the famous Galt speech that under the morality of sacrifice, the first thing you sacrifice is morality and then self-esteem. She goes on to make the case that this leads to a society where need is the primary standard, as opposed to life, where man is both victim and parasite. And if the argument is utilitarian/consequentialist, then can we conceive of a situation- no matter how bizarre or improbable- where sacrificing someone else for our own benefit would be worth it?
  5. Lets say my valuation is based on the fact that I aspire to have a successful career in something that I am naturally good at (say starting a business of some sort). Therefore, I want to realize my full potential as an individual by succeeding in that endeavor. It is all for my self-esteem. But, in the meantime, I am being dragged down by some personal commitment in my life (e.g. family member, romantic partner, etc.) and after thinking about it long and hard, it is almost a certifiable probability that eliminating that individual from my personal equation will benefit me (as I have defined it). And all I have to do is abandon them, cut them off or [fill in the blank]....the point is, the end (success/ambition) justifies the means (severing my personal relationship). Before this career opportunity arose, that person in my life had the most value and afterwards, their value diminished. So objectively why cant I compromise them? I imagine that such a one-dimensional valuation of purpose in life is perhaps an oversimplification. But lets say for the sake of argument it isnt.
  6. Firstly, I never said that humans are singularly irrational. What I stated was that humans are a complex mixture of both the rational and irrational. However, and I hope for reasons that are obvious, it is the irrational component that keeps me up at night. To the extent that our irrational impulses can be modulated by our rational capacities, then I am hopeful. Secondly, and I want to stress this, you do not need to convince me that the world is getting better. I am reading Steven Pinker's book "Enlightenment Now" and I know all those arguments and regularly offer them myself. As I said, to the extent that humans are rational, the thesis of Enlightenment Now is valid. But what happens when the unpredictable demons of irrationality begin to stir? I am not concerned about the deterioration of human material well-being; I am concerned about those who are concerned about material well-being- those who imagine a resource apocalypse or a conspiracy of wealth and power that is secretly plotting against them- and clutch to their tribal defense mechanisms for security. You want to talk about cohesion and social breakdown? Just look at the culturally pathetic state of America today. Just observe the social fragmentation along the lines of identity politics, a growing nostalgia for totalitarian ideologies, ecological mysticism- you name it. You can sense the nihilism, restlessness and lust for disorder and mayhem all the time. Its like there is an inverse law which states that the better the conditions of humanity become, the more discontent they must be. The greatest liberal institutions and historical defenders of civil liberties/free speech (free press, university) are now the greatest offenders and desecrators of these once cherished values. The New York times has made a pass time of blushing over communism. Our society is pathologically obsessed with gender and racial engineering. Big companies are in a contest to appease diversity mongers and victim warriors all the time. Words like "privilege" and "whiteness" have become such cardinal sins of self-flagellation, its sounds like some creepy new age secular protestant religion, where "check your privilege" has become a ritual act of self-purification. Its all nauseating, to say the least. These are the cries of a culturally and morally porous society. America is going through something unique, that I think other smaller, more homogeneous democracies have not fully confronted yet. But it also seems to be a story, a lesson about the limitations of human nature. Dont get me wrong. I don't say this with any gratification. I just find it alarming, and somewhat of a warning sign, that so many people are both unconvinced of the virtues of the Enlightenment and actively campaigning against it. Perhaps we have overestimated the coefficient of rationality for the majority. Perhaps rationality works for certain people under very specific conditions and we have lazily extrapolated and generalized that to the whole, without taking other variables into account (values, culture, etc.). I just think we should have a more balanced view of the reality of human nature.
  7. Yes, I see entirely what you mean. Yet I cant help but notice that as we live in an era of prosperity driven by the machine of techno-capitalism, its very functionality depends on the temperament of a bunch of unenlightened ingrates surely committed to its destruction. And yes, I know the operative term there is "enlightenment". But my point is, if people are not yet able to connect the philosophical dots, then when? We live in an age of free information. Today, the global middle-class is a majority for the first time in history. We have made improvements in standard of living by orders of magnitude. Nevermind that we're re-engineering human biology and 3D printing homes and large-scale infrastructures. The difference between the primitive past and present is palpable, to say the least. And so how do we celebrate these great achievements of the men of the mind? Oxfam releases a video condemning billionaires as a sign of failure. I mean, there are plenty of depressing polls and surveys on public social attitudes that capture this point more resolutely. I just dont see what is left within what Steven Pinker calls the "recursive combinatorial power" of the human mind that can make the great philosophical leap, if it hasn't done so already. What else does one need to demonstrate? Or, as I said before, this is just a regular cycle of history we go through.
  8. Hey guys, I've only posted once before. I'm someone who is interested in Objectivism and I've only read Atlas Shrugged so far (and some essays here and there), but I already have a few philosophical questions that I suspect are not totally unfamiliar to members of this forum. These questions are prompted by discussions I've had with non-Objectivists, resulting in some unresolved issues that have come up. I'm not sure how much I'm confusing concepts, thus my delegation to the experts here. 1). Regarding the cardinal values of Objectivist ethics: reason, purpose and self-esteem. From these values, the corresponding virtues follow: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride. Now, lets try and balance these primary values/virtues against an individual’s secondary values, meaning they relate just to specific aspects of that unique individual’s personal life, e.g. success, work, romance, hobbies, relationships, etc. The primary values to me are quite clear. Its not quite clear to me how the secondary values are configured into the primary values. For instance, lets say I have someone who I have valued my whole life and care about deeply (family member, partner, etc.). To that end they have satisfied and enriched my existence. But all of the sudden, after thinking about it for some time, I just make a brute rational calculation and realize that by deceiving them or throwing them under the bus (lets say for financial or social gain) it is in my long-term interest, i.e. on the basis of my crudely defined secondary values (reputation, success, career advancement, etc.). The value of my betrayed victim immediately diminishes post-calculation: from 1 to 0, just like that. Assuming I truly hold to my secondary values, I suffer no regret or remorse over my callous actions, which again I find to be in the service of my longer-term goals. One can imagine that sociopaths are capable of this kind of binary reasoning. Its clear to me that such an action of deception, first and foremost, violates at least a few of the primary virtues listed above (namely honesty and integrity) and thus cuts me off from attainment of the cardinal values. In the extreme case, you are sacrificing the other person, which also contradicts the above virtues. But beyond that, is there any other rational opposition to such narcissistic behavior? How does one balance the value of personal aspiration against the value of their relationship with others in their life? Is it possible for the secondary values that define one's path in life to be truly objective? At a certain point, I know I am stepping out and questioning the virtues which I already stated must be assumed to be true. So I guess as a separate and ultimate question, for a beginner like me to the subject, which I need to address beforehand is: what is intrinsically wrong with sacrificing others for your own self-interest? I can make an educated guess about what some of the responses to this question will be, but dont want to get ahead. And I would like to hear a more eloquent explanation of it. Or I am just treading about this the wrong way from the very beginning. 2). Regarding human nature. If I’m not mistaken Objectivism views every human problem through the lens of philosophy, from which it derives its optimism: the hope that man can be salvaged through ideas, above all else. However, given what we know about human evolution, the mammalian origins of the human brain, etc. it seems that our nature is rather complex. We are composite organisms; combinations of both the rational and irrational. That we lived as hunter-gatherers in large units and tribes for so long (tens of thousands of years) may be so deeply seared into our biological programming, that it just begs the question if we can ever truly shake off altruism and tribalism. A specific and very familiar example, I would imagine, shall illustrate my point. One thing that keeps pulling me down the black hole of pessimism is the human capacity to imagine problems and conflicts when they need not exist (institutional racism, inequality, climate apocalypse, etc. you name it) . Its almost pathological. If there ever were a time for humans to have realized the proofs for individualism, free-markets and the Enlightenment- it would have been this decade. We are living in the most prosperous, peaceful and advanced time in human history: socially, materially and economically. The market is close to achieving the worker paradise that Marx dreamed up, but failed to deliver. If my camel-grazing ancestors took a time machine to the present day, they would think us Gods. Yet, it seems that society has retreated more into tribalism, identity politics, nationalism, socialism, etc. just as much (if not more) as it did a century ago. In the digital age of information, people can be just as credulous and monstrous as they were in the age of pre-information. It would appear we just pass through this periodic wave of Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment and now the cycle is finishing (or beginning). Perhaps this is all pointing to something deeper, more fundamental that is entrenched within us; that there are variables and coefficients in the equation of human nature. We can meddle with the variables (knowledge, music, literature, etc.), but the coefficients (collectivism, tribalism, conformity, etc.) are fixed indefinitely (or at least until the Singularity comes to pass). From Mystics of Spirit to Mystics of Muscle to Mystics of Identity. It seems the insatiable lust for tribalism and irrationalism can never be satisfied nor eradicated. I find it difficult to be so optimistic in an age not just where humans can fail, but where they want each other to fail. I mean, I read comments on social media where people are actually pleading for the producers to stop being so successful and innovative in the name of climate change. Its almost a built-in, suicidal, cannibalistic instinct. So how do we justify having so much hope in the rational capacity of human beings? I figure a lot of the folks here have heard these objections. I’m curious for your input. I hope its not too incoherent or rambling in tone. I appreciate your consideration of my inquiries/talking points.
  9. Thanks to the both of you for this very insightful and informative overview. I also watch youtube lectures, videos and podcasts. In fact, it was the Yaron Brook show that got me interested in and to think more about Objectivism. However, I feel there is always some obvious, self-evident, underlying premise I'm missing when I listen to the experts speak on the subject. Hence, the need to start as a beginner.
  10. Basically, it is ethics that got me interested in Objectivism. As a classical liberal and secularist, the moral heroes of "Atlas Shrugged" fit very neatly with my individualistic views. And considering the cultural volatility of our times, I have come to appreciate the power and necessity of objective ethics. Thus, and not to sound too layman, Objectivism is the closest approximation I can think of that philosophically appeals to me. However, I recognize that Ayn Rand's ethics cannot be divorced from her epistemology and metaphysics (if I'm not mistaken). For me personally, there are several corresponding questions (e.g. regarding the matter of certainty of knowledge, limitations of human knowledge, concepts, determinism, free-will, etc.) that are not quite clear. This is mostly the insight I am seeking. Ultimately, I hope to gain a more solid grounding of the fundamentals of Objectivism and see if that is a bridge I can cross from where I currently stand philosophically. I hope that makes sense.
  11. Hello Everyone, I'm a new member to the forum. As an interested student of Objectivism, I'm wondering if anyone can advise me on a kind of "curricula" reading list of Ayn Rand's books for beginners. I am almost finished with "Atlas Shrugged" and was hoping for some direction on the next book to help me in my self-education. Should I immediately delve into her non-fiction works on epistemology and ethics? If I'm not mistaken, ARI also has online lectures/courses. Just to be clear, I am not a philosopher. Any input from the experts, here, would be most appreciated. Cheers.
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