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Eric D

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    Eric
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    I was a teenage Objectivist, but abandoned it shortly after I began to study philosophy at university.
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  1. I thought I did consider your precious answers. For instance, you said: You also said: As I argued above, it's a conceptual truth that a choice isn't something that happens to us; rather, it's the notion of something we do. And as you said, the choice to live is not rational (it's super- or pre-rational). But for a choice to be a choice, it must be grounded in something, if only a methodology of choosing, or it's not a choice. Now you seem opposed to the notion that Eiuol posited, and that I defended, above, viz. that the initial choice must therefore be based on whim. You're also opposed to the notion that it's merely arbitrary. So let me put it to you, if the initial choice is a choice, and if it's neither grounded in reason nor in whim, and if it's not arbitrary, then what explains the initial choice?
  2. I don't think so. Since the time of Plato and Aristotle, philosophers have considered whether the life of pleasure and power could be the good life. It has undeniable attractions, after all, and human history is in no small part a tale of those who have sought power and pleasure. The ancient philosophers answered that it could not be the good life, but they gave reasons for those answers. No one, as far as I can tell, has taken the life of pains of bleeding from slit wrists to be a contender for the good life, so there's a relevant disanalogy at work here. You seemed to concede that the initial choice to live is both (a) pre-rational and (b) a choice. As a choice, it must be based on something, since a choice is something we do or make, not something that happens to us. That is, choices can be explained. Why did you choose that and not this? The answer isn't always reason-based - it's often based in tastes or desires. So our pre-rational choice to live, if it's something we do and not something that happens to us, must be based on something. Above, Eiuol posited that it be based on whim, and indeed, if it's a choice that's not reason-based, it's difficult to see what else could ground it. But then the choice doesn't come along without any baggage in any particular case - that is, it's always contextualized to the whims that led one to make it. That is, the choice is conditional on those whims. But then why aren't the whims included in the content of the choice? Why can the whims that grounded the choice be discarded after the choice is made?
  3. Suppose I choose to live because I find that I desire to dominate and oppress others. Ex hypothesi, this cannot be a bad reason to choose to live, since this choice is essentially pre-rational. However, why isn't my reason then in the service of the whim on which that choice was based? That is, the choice to live isn't itself robust enough to ground what Rand goes on to do with it, and if her conception of practical reason makes it fundamentally dependent on that initial choice for its standards and aims, and if that initial choice is admittedly whim-based, then why wouldn't practical reason also be dependent on any (whim-based and pre-rational) conditions that accompany or determine that initial choice? This seems unavoidable if practical reason is composed of strictly hypothetical imperatives all the way down.
  4. Thanks Eioul, that's a very helpful answer indeed!
  5. Strictly Logical, maybe putting the question this way would help: Can I go wrong in choosing to live/not to live? That is, can I go wrong either (a) with respect to the choice itself (i.e. make the wrong choice), or (b) with respect to any reasons I might adduce for a particular choice (or is the notion that we adduce reasons to support the choice to live or not itself wrong, in the sense that this is fundamentally a non-rational choice)? And if I can go wrong with respect to either (a) or (b), is that a moral mistake, or a more broadly rational mistake? Finally, if I cannot go wrong in either the (a) or (b) sense, then the choice is in some sense pre-rational, but is it grounded in something else, e.g. a feeling or a desire or instinct? There seems to be a dilemma here for Rand: if the initial choice - to live or not to live - is not itself reason-based, then her ethics has whim at its very basis (since this is the fundamental choice), but if it is reason-based, and we can go wrong either in the choice itself or in the reasons we adduce for it, then this choice is not fundamental (since one must make a host of choices before making it, viz. about whether and how to evaluate the various reasons at issue).
  6. What are you talking about? You can provide the context in the premises. Indeed, many arguments for a particular conclusion contain sub-arguments for each premise. This literally has nothing whatsoever to do with rationalism. Tell me, what is rationalism? I ask because you're not using the term as any philosopher I've read has used it.
  7. I'd agree in the sense that there's also 'nothing in the fabric of the universe willing or obligating' me to e.g. abide by modus tollens. That is, I tend to think that the normativity of (legitimate) moral precepts is no more spooky or bizarre than the normativity of (legitimate) logical precepts. When I violate a logical precept, I go wrong in thinking in an objective way, and when I violate a moral precept, I go wrong in acting in an objective way. Would you then say that the choice to live (or the choice not to live) is not rational (perhaps not in the sense of being irrational, but minimally in the sense of being non-rational)?
  8. I'm not likely to have much time to participate in this discussion for some weeks going forward, so I'd like to thank all of you for the enjoyable conversation. I hope to get clearer about how Rand thought about ethics from you in future discussions, or as we continue this discussion (since I will come back to check the thread when I have the time, and hope to respond to any additional comments that I find helpful).
  9. But I thought we were discussing the initial choice of whether to remain alive, not some proposed subsequent choice about how to remain alive. Indeed, the passage you just quoted seems to support the notion that there's a hypothetical imperative lurking somewhere here, for *if* you choose to remain alive, then you *must* do certain things, for those requirements are 'determined by [the organism's] nature'.
  10. Okay, but then how is that not a hypothetical imperative?
  11. If we choose not to live, have we violated any rational or moral precepts? Or is it the case that those rational and moral precepts depend for their normativity on our having decided to live in the first place?
  12. Dream_Weaver, if Rand thinks that all of morality depends on some fundamental choice, such as the choice to live - and if she thinks that the choice to live implies certain choices in action - then it's difficult to see how her ethics isn't based on a hypothetical imperative (though one formulated in terms of choosing, not willing). But we need not define hypothetical imperatives by contrasting them with categorical imperatives. Rather, we merely need define them in terms of their essential conditionality, i.e. an imperative is hypothetical when the necessity of willing/choosing to do such and such (i.e. the imperative) is entirely contingent on some prior willing/choosing. Or we could say that hypothetical imperatives are imperatives such that discharging the imperative's antecedent discharges the imperative itself, and hence they are merely conditionally binding imperatives.
  13. Would you say that Rand's ethics in a sense starts with a hypothetical imperative, the antecedent of which is, 'If you will to live, then you must will to do such and such'? If that's right - or at least on the right track - then how would you fill out the consequent of that hypothetical imperative? Incidentally, I understand Kant's argument against the notion that morality can be reduced to hypothetical imperatives to go something like this: our concept of morality just is the concept of practical principles that bind all (well-functioning) rational beings, regardless of their particular constitutions, in relevantly similar contexts, and hence, since hypothetical imperatives bind only rational beings who are constituted such that they satisfy their antecedents, they (hypothetical imperatives) are not the sort or practical principle that could be properly categorized as moral. Here is the relevant passage from the Groundwork: "Everyone must admit that a law, if it is to be valid morally, i.e., as the ground of an obligation, has to carry absolute necessity with it; that the command ‘You ought not to lie’ is valid not merely for human beings, as though other rational beings did not have to heed it; and likewise all the other genuinely moral laws; hence that the ground of obligation here is to be sought not in the nature of the human being or the circumstances of the world in which he is placed, but a priori solely in concepts of pure reason, and that every other precept grounded on principles of mere experience, and even a precept that is universal in a certain aspect, insofar as it is supported in the smallest part on empirical grounds, perhaps only as to its motive, can be called a practical rule, but never a moral law." "As far as I understand about Kant, he doesn't believe in duty to other people or to oneself, just a sense of reason that is disinterested." Kant does recognize what he calls 'imperfect duties' to others and to oneself. These follow, he argues, from the failure of maxims that make one's own happiness the sole object of one's pursuit, and deny that we must in any way be concerned with the happiness of others. I won't get into the finer details of why they fail, but here's a quick overview. In essence, they fail because of the analyticity of hypothetical imperatives. That is, if you will a particular end - note, if you will the end, not merely desire it or wish for it - then you must, as a matter of necessity, will the necessary means to it. Kant argues that maxims that make your own happiness your sole aim cannot be maintained because human beings have certain needs such that, were we deprived of them and our only way of obtaining them was through the willing aid of another, we'd have to will that they be satisfied (since we must will their satisfaction, and if we will something, we will the necessary means to it). Thus, such maxims fail due to a contradiction in our wills (we will the initial maxim, and hence will its universalization (because reasons are inherently shareable), but we cannot (as the imagined situation shows) will its universalization). Failures of this sort generate imperfect duties, i.e. the duty to have particular ends, here, the end of the happiness of others (another end that we have an imperfect duty to hold is our own perfection). As I said in the thread above, imperfect duties do not require us to act in particular ways in particular circumstances, and so give us much leeway regarding how and when to act on them. This leaves a lot of space in Kant's ethics for the exercise of moral judgment, and for the pursuit of our own projects (that is, his ethics isn't concerned with the simple and cold and thoughtless rule-following procedures that are often thought to characterize it, but rather leaves plenty of room for careful and thoughtful judgment and for the pursuit of our own aims).
  14. Eiuol, I know that some philosophers - indeed, some exceptionally sharp and talented philosophers - would say that reasons are not shareable, but I have a difficult time seeing why anyone ought to believe that this is the case. So, suppose I believe that the fact that I find studying philosophy to be enjoyable counts as a reason for me to study philosophy. If someone else also enjoys studying philosophy, why wouldn't I be committed to the notion that that fact is minimally a pro tanto reason for her to study it as well? Sure, her situation may be such that it's not a sufficient reason to study philosophy, but it surely seems as if it's at least a pro tanto reason for doing it. After all, what basis would I have for the claim, 'the fact that I enjoy studying philosophy counts as a reason in favor of my studying philosophy, but the fact that you enjoy studying philosophy doesn't count as a reason in favor of your studying philosophy'? (Note that to say that R is a reason to A is not to say that R is a sufficient or overriding reason to A, but only to say that R counts in favor of A-ing, even if, given other considerations, one ought not to A. That is, that R may be a sufficient reason for me but not for you to A does not imply that R is not a reason for you to A.)
  15. Yes. Each person has his own mind, but now ask the all important further question: what does a practical being (here 'practical' concerns reflection on how to act) do with its mind qua practical being? It adduces reasons for acting! And if reasons are inherently shareable, then you implicitly acknowledge reasons to which others can appeal when you adduce reasons for your own actions (which you do whenever you act). And if you recognize their legitimacy in your own case, then it's only on pain of irrationality that you can refuse to acknowledge their legitimacy when others (in relevantly similar contexts) make use of them. So if you take your reasons to justify your ends, then you must (again, in relevantly similar contexts) take the very same reasons to justify the ends of others (if they're genuine reasons). In short, duties are in a sense implied by the very act of adducing reasons for acting, which is what we all do whenever we act (qua human beings). That's fine, of course, but then you don't have the right to argue that Kant's philosophy implies such and such. For if you want to make such claims - which it seems to me you did above - then you have to get into the interpretation. That's why I tried to do so early on in this thread, when I was asking for a take on Rand's argument before I presented my criticism of it, so I could see whether my objections were targeted at Rand or at a strawman.
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