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Eric D

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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.
  16. I can't get the lines out of the last portion of that last post, whatever I try, and I'm not going to rewrite the post again! My apologies.
  17. Could you clearly lay out the premises and show how they lead to that consequence? Because none of the many Kant scholars I've read agrees with you. That doesn't make you wrong, of course, but it surely does put the onus on you to make the reasoning at the back of this claim - for so far, it is merely a claim - explicit. If I desire to help you - say, I enjoy helping others - and I help you only because I enjoy it, then I've acted from inclination - that is, from desire and emotion and etc. - and not from duty. For, as I said earlier, had I not desired to help you, I wouldn't have - indeed, had I rather desired to harm you, the implicit principle on which I've acted, viz. do what you enjoy doing, would have licensed my harming you instead. So it's not that "one's mind contort what an individual self-interestedly wants and chooses to do - into an act of "duty"", but that one recognizes that the moral worth of one's action depends entirely on one's reason for acting. And the fact that one enjoys phi-ing doesn't prevent one from realizing that one's enjoyment may not justify one's phi-ing, i.e. may not constitute a sufficient reason for phi-ing. The notion that we have to train our inclinations is as old as moral philosophy itself. It's central to Aristotle's account of ethics, for instance. Each act contributes to our constructing a character, which just is some combination of (a) a set of dispositions to find certain things pleasurable and painful and (b) the strength will to do what's right regardless of our inclinations. To the extent that we realize that each act constructs our character, we're responsible for considering the effects of our actions on the development of our character. The drug addict (often) has some responsibility for his addiction insofar as he knows that, with each use, he's forming a disposition to desire the drug, and so he has something akin to a moral duty not to form such a disposition.
  18. It's not arbitrary at all. Indeed, it seems to be part of the concept of a reason that reasons are shareable. So imagine that two qualitatively identical agents, A1 and A2, are in qualitatively identical contexts, C1 and C2. Further suppose that R is a reason for A1 to do some act A in C1. Now to say that reasons are not shareable is to say that, given all that, R may nonetheless not be a reason for A2 to do A in C2. But why think that?
  19. That's not 'the level of abstraction' at all. This is another very common misunderstanding of Kant's ethics. Recall that it's maxims that we plug into the CI, and so the consequences of the CI are always relative to a maxim. Applications of the CI never result in, 'it's never permissible to do such and such in any context', since every application of the CI will include a specific context. Now some means - such as lying - do seem to lead to maxim failure via a contradiction in conception regardless of the additional content (i.e. the ends and the context) the maxim contains, and so perhaps lying is always wrong (though it's surely false that every possible maxim of that sort has been tested!). So you can't squeeze 'never lie, full stop' out any application of Kant's CI, but only something like, 'never lie as a means to this specific end in this specific context'. It's critical to remember that Kant's ethics is an ethics of maxims; when we lose sight of this, we're liable to all sorts of misunderstandings of his work.
  20. I'm not persuaded that any account of normative ethics can accomplish this (which is to be expected, given that that's not (primarily) why we work on developing such accounts). That said, the best a Kantian could do, I think, is emphasize that whenever we act, we act for a reason - this is part of the concept of an action. Now the reason for which we act is either a genuine reason, or it is not, and if it's not a genuine reason, then we've failed to live in accord with the sort of being we are in some deep sense (here one could get into autonomy, but I'll shelve that for the sake of brevity). It's not that universality is 'intrinsically good', but that it's implied whenever we posit a reason for acting (which, again, we do whenever we act). Reasons - on this account of reasons - are inherently universalizable, which is why acting on an un-universalizable reason is to act on no reason at all. This, I take it, is what Kant means when he says that his CI just formalizes and lays bare what we all implicitly do whenever we exercise practical reason. That's a famous proposed counterexample to Kant's CI, and it fails for a pretty basic reason, viz. it's not a maxim. Rather, it's a command or a suggestion or something like that. Maxims satisfy the schematic form, 'I shall do act A for end E in context C', so clearly, 'compliment every etc.' is not a maxim. This is indeed a serious challenge to Kant's ethics, since his conclusion - namely, that lying to the murderer is immoral - seems both inescapable, given his ethics, and wrong, given our pre-theoretical intuitions. I've worked on an approach that grants Kant's conclusion, i.e. that the act of lying to the murderer is immoral, while excusing the person for having committed that immoral act. The argument makes use of complex and controversial concepts, like that of retroactive consent (e.g. you don't consent to my not giving you your gun in the moment when you're demanding it, but later you say, 'thanks, I needed that' for my refusing to give it to you then, which strikes me as a case of retroactive consent (your future self consents, though your past self did not)) and certain plausible suppositions of ignorance (e.g. is the murderer at the door likely to offer retroactive consent for my having lied to him?). It also makes use of the notion that in lying to the murderer at the door in part with his own best interests in mind, I've not made use of him - considered as some combination of his past, present, and future selves - merely as a means, though I may be using his present self merely as a means to aiding his future self. This is all super controversial and complex, but it does minimally show that there are ways to address this particular worry, which I grant, is a serious one. But, of course, there is no theory in normative ethics that is without similarly difficult and stubborn challenges.
  21. The term 'efficacy' is understood in accord with its acceptation. So, if your proposed means to achieve your end (as expressed in your maxim) is a lie, then lying must be efficacious, i.e. it must genuinely be a means to your end. If universalizing your maxim renders your means - here, the lie - inefficacious (in the conceptual space of the world of the universalized maxim), then your maxim contains a contradiction in conception, and acting on that maxim is impermissible. (Our means are expressed in the form of hypothetical imperatives, viz. if you will such and such, then you must will so and so. Every maxim presupposes a commitment to a hypothetical imperative.) So, if you want to lie to obtain a loan, then your maxim is something like, 'whenever I am in need of money, I shall obtain those funds by borrowing them with a promise to repay, but I shall never repay the money'. This maxim, when universalized, is something like, 'whenever anyone is in need of money, she shall obtain those funds by borrowing them with a promise to repay, but she shall never repay the money'. Note that universalizing a maxim implies a universal acceptance of the legitimacy of the reasons for action expressed in the maxim. That is, the effect of universalizing my maxim is making 'needing money, but not wanting to repay it' a sufficient reason, for all rational agents, for the behavior, ' receiving money on the basis of a promise to repay it'. Now imagine a world where all rational agents accepted your maxim - would loans (as we currently understand them) exist in such a world? No, of course not. For the maxim on which lenders act is something like, ' whenever someone who can repay me, and promises to repay me, is in need, I shall make a loan so that I might receive my money back with interest'. But were my original maxim - the one we're testing - universalized, the lender would never consider adopting such a maxim. Why? Because in such a world, everyone knows that if you need money, you lie to obtain a loan - that's just what's done! But then no one would loan money in such a world (remember, the concept of a loan is the concept of letting someone else borrow money on the promise of repayment, but in the world we're considering, a promise to repay is understood by everyone - including prospective lenders - as a pronouncement that you'll never be repaid). Thus, in the universalized world, a lie - a false promise to repay - is not an efficacious means to achieve your end, i.e. getting the money. But then your maxim proposes a means - the lie - to obtain its end - the money - that would be rendered inefficacious if the maxim were universalized. Another way of putting it is this: your proposed reason for action could not be accepted by all agents in your circumstances, and so isn't really a reason at all (since reasons are by their nature shareable). That's a very quick and rough exposition of the way I've come to understand Kant's CI. (I don't have time right now to review it, so I hope it doesn't contain any errors.) "I was under the impression that a "Categorical Imperative" was absolute requirement that must be obeyed and is justified as an end in itself." The CI occurs in three to five (depending on how you count them) formulations, e.g. the universal law formulation, the formula of humanity, etc. What we then do is plug proposed maxims into the CI so that we might test them. (Kant doesn't think that any of us goes through this procedure explicitly, but he does think that he's formalized the sort of moral reasoning we all engage in whenever we think about what we ought and ought not to do.) The result yields (a) a maxim we cannot act on, or much more rarely, must act on (a perfect duty, which results when the maxim contains a contradiction in conception), (b) a maxim we must adopt, but with significant room for judgment regarding when and when not to act on it (an imperfect duty, which results when the maxim expresses a contradiction in the will), or (c) a merely permissible maxim to act on (the consequence of a maxim's passing the CI entirely), which we may act on or not as we please. "Does Kant say anything about the adoption of the CI by any person as itself being good "for" anything, a choice, or an intrinsic good?" Whenever we act, we behave in various ways for reasons (as opposed to when we merely behave some way without reason, e.g. a reflexive response). It's just what we do, given what we are, viz. rational beings, whenever we act. So the CI is just testing whether we're in fact doing what we (at least implicitly) claim to be doing whenever we act. We therefore implicitly adopt it whenever we propose to act, since all action is on a maxim, and maxims express reasons for action. But proposed reasons for action can fail to be genuine reasons for action, which is why we can fail to be rational/moral.
  22. Simplifying a bit, the right reason is a genuine reason, i.e. a reason that you could will any agent, in a similar situation, to act upon. If your maxim expresses a reason that you must will others to reject if your maxim's means are to retain their efficacy, then the reason you propose in your maxim isn't a genuine reason (since, as I said above, reasons (on this view) are by their nature shareable, i.e. a reason for me to do such-and-such in a given context is a reason for you, and for any other agent, to do such-and-such in that context). Keep in mind that the CI primarily (a) rules out acting on certain maxims, and (b) reveals the permissibility of acting on certain maxims. It rarely requires a particular action of an agent (unless we begin to categorize ways of intentionally refraining from acting as a kind of action, and there is some plausibility in this: e.g. my not raising my hand in most contexts could not be meaningfully characterized as a kind of act, but my not doing so in a classroom after the teacher asks those who know the answer to raise their hands may be a sort of act by way of refraining from action). Do you see anything circular in what I said above?
  23. "Always, you'll know, stressing the 'other' (as one's standard of moral value, I add)." That's not the 'standard of value' for Kant. Indeed, Kant only recognizes an imperfect duty to help others. (Perfect duties, which for Kant follow from contradictions in conception (of maxims), must be satisfied in all circumstances, though these are mainly negative duties; imperfect duties, which for Kant follow from contradictions in the will (expressed in maxims), however may be followed or not as the agent judges best in a particular set of circumstances.) The standard of value, as I understand Kant, is something like reason itself. That's what his famous categorical imperative tests, i.e. since reasons are by their nature shareable (that is, a reason for me to phi in a particular set of circumstances is a reason for any agent to phi in those circumstances), any proposed reason to act that is not shareable (read: universalizable) is not a genuine reason, but at best a rationalization. "Without "inclination", all one has is resentful or guilty self-sacrifice, and sacrifice of others for oneself. " Again, it's important to keep in mind that Kant was not against acting in accord with inclination - that is, enjoying doing what morality demands - but acting from inclination - that is, doing what morality demands only because you enjoy it. Indeed, he thought that we had something akin to a duty to cultivate our inclinations so as to provide the least resistance to acting from duty.
  24. That's a very common misinterpretation of Kant - indeed, I mistakenly held it when I first began learning about his ethics. Kant does not believe that if you enjoy doing your duty, then your act lacks moral worth. Rather, he's interested in distinguishing (a) acts done from the motive of duty from (b) acts done from the motive of inclination but that accord with duty. So, imagine that in a particular situation, duty requires one to do act A. (An act, for Kant, is a composite of bits of behavior done for reasons expressed in maxims, so although for the sake of clarity I'm just talking about acts here, talk of acts implies talk of maxims.) Both Jones and Smith are in that particular situation, and both of them do A. Further, imagine that they both enjoy doing A. But now consider that Jones does A only because he enjoys doing it, while Smith, who also enjoys doing A, does it only because it is his duty. Now of Jones, we could say, counterfactually, that if he had not enjoyed doing A, he would not have done A. For that he enjoyed it is his reason for acting. However, of Smith, we could say, counterfactually, that if he had not enjoyed doing A, he would nonetheless have done A. So here, Smith's act has moral worth while Jones's act does not. There are certain technical problems with this sort of counterfactual analysis, but I think that generally, it effectively gets across the point that Kant was trying to make, which is that what matters in evaluating the moral worth of an action is one's reason for acting (which is expressed in the maxim on which one acts). As long as one acts for the right reasons, then one's act has moral worth, regardless of whether one also happened to act in accord with inclination.
  25. We could, as Wood does, distinguish Kant's ethics - that is, the ethical system developed by Kant in his ethical writings - from Kantian ethics - that is, ethical systems based on the fundamental principles of Kant's ethics, but that are not identical to Kant's ethics. I don't think that there's any reason to conclude that a devotee of Kantian ethics is committed to the existence of immortal souls. Kant himself was led to believe in immortality primarily because he was convinced that virtue had to be rewarded with happiness, and since in this life it's often not so rewarded, we must (or so he argued) posit another life in which it will be. But there's nothing inherent in Kant's fundamental ethical principles that entails a commitment to this belief about the relationship between virtue and happiness.
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