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Posts posted by Boydstun

  1. One thing that has struck me about the social impact of this outbreak is how much the character of the social response is altered by the advance in communications technology. In 1957-58 there was the pandemic of the H2N2 virus. I was only nine and didn’t retain much memory of it. According to the CDC note linked below, it killed about 116,000 people in the USA. That is twice the number of Americans killed in Vietnam. The population of the US in 1957 was about 172 million, whereas today it’s about 330 million. So percentage-wise, it would today be as if about 200,000 Americans were killed. I attach also a study I found on the US response to that pandemic.



  2. (Also Akhnaten's hymn to the sun in the opera by Glass.)

    One natural sequence would be to begin with a sunrise and end with a sunset. In my poem, I wanted to lay first the simple passage of time in inanimate matter, then end with the dwelling of time by living things, especially mind. So I begin with the setting of the sun and that simple inanimate passage of time. Second line, to the human world with the stilling of working hands and going to sleep in night. Third line, with those of us who rise and resume before sunrise to the birds singing to the coming of the sun. Fourth line, the working (intellectual lights in my case) day to day. Fifth line, sharing the suns (literal days or intellectual gains), in the human dwelling of time. 

  3. I don’t have a subscription to that division of NYT, but from that part of the review I can see, it looks like one of the most genuine and knowledgeable representation and reaction to Rand’s two major novels I’ve ever seen in a major magazine or newspaper. When he talks about not finding a logical flaw, that is just from the modern, too-narrow conception of logic. Atlas is of two minds about humanity (my take). At times it is benevolence, good will, and well-wishing for humanity in general. At other times, it divides humanity in the ways the review indicates, and the larger of the divisions are the defectives. The dark view is not in fact essential to the philosophy and is terribly off-putting to the new explorer of Rand’s literature and philosophy.

    The dark view is still being perpetuated in presentations of Rand’s philosophy to the general public by folks on Rand’s team, as in the division proclaimed by attachment of certain humanity-division claptrap to a real-life and wonderful story easily connectible in more durable ways to Rand’s philosophy. This was a presentation from the Atlas Society.

    I do appreciate the story, but I object to the puffing up of ourselves into 'greatness' for our competences, creativeness, persistence, and industriousness. The fictional characters Galt and Rearden are beyond those four things they have in common with us; they are great (were they actual, anyway). Einstein and Jobs were great. We are not flawed in moral character or worth or loveliness of actualized abilities because we are not great. Then too, it is not the case that the fundamental alternative is mediocrity. We needn't be either, nor some mere mix of the two. (And of course, contrary the insinuation of the script, laziness, envy, and mouching need not be character of those who are not great.) The terms 'greatness' and 'mediocrity' can be dropped without loss to what we really mean, which is a squarely decent thing and not so uncommon in our fellows reading our message.

  4. Grames, why couldn’t we rightly distinguish between a concrete and a particular along the lines set forth in the preceding post? Universals could apply to either. We could have “square roots of the positive real numbers” which would include the particular “square root of 17.” Why not say that such particulars are not concretes, but such particulars and all universals are real? That is, they are real things with pertinence to concrete existents, but not themselves concrete existents?

  5. ABEL PRIZE 2020

    “Hillel Furstenberg and Gregory Margulis invented random walk techniques to investigate mathematical objects such as groups and graphs, and in so doing introduced probabilistic methods to solve many open problems in group theory, number theory, combinatorics and graph theory. A random walk is a path consisting of a succession of random steps, and the study of random walks is a central branch of probability theory.

    “‘Furstenberg and Margulis stunned the mathematical world by their ingenious use of probabilistic methods and random walks to solve deep problems in diverse areas of mathematics. This has opened up a wealth of new results, such as the existence of long arithmetic progressions of prime numbers, understanding the structure of lattices in Lie groups, and the construction of expander graphs  with applications to communication  technology and computer science, to mention a few’, says Hans Munthe-Kaas, chair of the Abel committee.

    “‘The works of Furstenberg and Margulis have demonstrated the effectiveness of crossing boundaries between separate mathematical disciplines and brought down the traditional wall between pure and applied mathematics,’  says Hans Munthe-Kaas, chair of the Abel committee.”

    Emphasis added for attention of folks with philosophic views on mathematics. See also Chapter 5 of Ian Hacking’s Why Is There Philosophy of Mathematics at All (2014).

  6. ET, if one is interested in that contemporary rarified controversy, I suggest study of the book The Law of Non-Contradiction (2004), edited by Priest, Beall, and Armour-Garb. The fourth Part of the book contains the papers countering Priest et al. One of those papers in defense of PNC, the one by Edward Zalta, is available online here. I do not personally expect to become competent in that controversy, as I’ve far more of greater interest to me than can be explored in the remainder of my life, even were I to keep cranking another twenty years (I’m seventy-one). I take PNC as universally correct in my meaning of the principle and take it correct for any philosophy I make. I do have an original dissection of PNC in terms of subject and object components, which is included in a paper to be published in several months, but that has no implications for those dialetheism controversies so far as I know.

  7. PNC Ground Shifts to the Side of the Subject – Kant IV-b

    Bernard Bolzano’s masterwork Theory of Science issued in 1837. In this work, we find him objecting to Kant’s definition of logic as conveyed by Jäsche: “The science of the necessary laws of understanding and reason in general, or of the mere form of thinking, is logic.” Bolzano named seven writers of logic texts since Kant who had followed Kant in that definition of logic as a science. Taking thinking in its usual wide sense, Bolzano objected to that definition. It is not a plausible characterization of logic to say logic is merely the law-governed use of reason and understanding. One could then be regarded as engaging logic when thinking fallaciously or with an aim to evasion or when thinking in a whimsical entertainment. Quite better, in Bolzano’s assessment, were several writers who had required that such laws be restricted to those serving the chosen purpose of recognizing truth (the purpose of identification, in Rand’s vocabulary and explication) to warrant the title logic.

    We have seen Kant’s view that “general logic . . . abstracts from all content of cognition, i.e., from all reference of cognition to its object” (KrV A55 B79). Bolzano’s own conception of logic was as the set of rules for dividing truths into perspicacious domains of specific sciences, for their cultivation, and for their perspicacious presentation. Logic so understood is itself a science as well. We use some of these rules before turning to isolate what they are. “Once these rules are known, every science, including the theory of science itself can be further elaborated and presented in writing. This amounts to no more than arranging certain known truths in an order and connection that they themselves prescribe” (§2).

    Bolzano thought the ultimate goal of logic the discovery of truth (§7). In that ambition, one is reminded of the expansion of logic envisioned in Francis Bacon’s New Organon (although Bolzano, contra Bacon, did not regard Aristotle’s syllogistic as useless). It seemed to Bolzano that “one of Kant’s literary sins was that he attempted to deprive us of a wholesome faith in the perfectibility of logic through an assertion very welcome to human indolence, namely, that logic is a science which has been complete and closed since the time of Aristotle” (§9).  Bolzano 1837 looked forward to future developments of logic that would be a boon to all the sciences. It turned out that, after Bolzano, there were advances in deductive logic. However, these did nothing to advance or clarify knowledge in empirical science. They did illuminate mathematics and its connections to logic, and they illuminated and extended the Aristotelian (and Stoic) logic of old.

    Bolzano criticized the Germans such as Kant, Jakob (1791), Hoffbauer (1794), and Maimon (1794) for their slippage from the topic-neutrality of a syllogism form presented as “all A are B, all B are C, therefore all A are C” to taking the objects A, B, and C for indeterminate as to all their characteristics. That is, they erred in taking A, B, and C as empty of absolutely all content. “If we think of an object as altogether indeterminate, then we cannot claim anything about it” (§7). The signs A, B, and C need the determination that B can be rightly predicated of A, and so forth. Logical form in Bolzano’s view was not fundamentally about thoughts, but relations of truths. Bolzano correctly objected as well to contemporaries trying to make logic into some kind of empirical science of the mind.

    Today when we say science, we usually mean empirical science. The term science had been used more broadly until recent times, such that science encompassed also the organized disciplines of mathematics, ethics, and logic, especially when considered in their allegedly pure, necessary, nonempirical, and applications-suspended mode.

    I said in “Kant IV-a” that Kant proposed to get out of a bind—the bind of holding logical rules to be absolutely necessary rules of human mind given a priori by human mind, yet rules capable of being transgressed in operations of human mind—by a distinction of pure general logic from its application, a distinction between pure and applied logic, and  by a dissection of the latter in terms of posited cognitive powers. I want to press on the soundness of Kant’s distinction of pure and applied logic (and whether problems for Kant in this area also bear against Hanna). I also want to press on Kant’s conception that necessity in empirical science is a function of application of mathematics and of basic (Kantian) metaphysics in the empirical science.

    Aristotle had noted the import of necessity by import of geometry into his account of the gross form of the rainbow.* Although, that sort of geometry application was a tidbit compared to the use of geometry by Descartes in theory of the rainbow, let alone the use of geometry by Newton in remaking the world. It was amid these modern roles for geometry that Kant did his thinking, of course.

    Kant knew of Aristotle’s general doctrines on science. And via Leibniz, Kant was still hankering after them and to some extent resisting the scheme for making science brought on by Newton.

    Aristotle had appealed to a mental faculty in describing how a logical principle, specifically PNC, is ascertained. That, as we have seen, was what in our time has been known as a power of intuitive induction or abstractive induction. That posit of faculty was quite opaque, and its (fallible) attachment to formal character in the world by the human mind’s proposed assimilation of said form—mind itself becoming external formalities—and Aristotle’s form-matter aspect of metaphysics were pretty roundly judged false in the modern era of philosophy (outside the preservation of Scholasticism by Catholic scholars).

    I’ll close this installment by getting before us Kant’s basic treatment of the pure/applied distinction in logic.

    “A logic that is general but also pure deals with nothing but a priori principles. Such a logic is a canon of understanding and of reason, but only as regards what is formal in our use of then—i.e., we disregard what the content may be (whether is is empirical or transcendental). A general logic is called applied, on the other hand, if it is concerned with the rules of the understanding as used under the subjective empirical conditions taught us by psychology. Hence such a logic empirical principles, although it is general insofar as it deals with our use of the understanding without distinguishing the understanding’s objects. . . . In general logic, therefore, the part that is to constitute the pure doctrine of reason must be separated entirely from the part that is to constitute applied (though still general) logic. Only the first of these parts is, properly speaking, a science . . . . In such pure general logic, therefore, the logicians must always have in mind two rules:

    1. As general logic, it abstracts from all content of the cognition of understanding and from the difference among the objects of that cognition, and deals with nothing but the mere form of thought.
    2. As pure logic, it has no empirical principles. Hence it does not (as people have sometimes come to be persuaded) take anything from psychology; and therefore psychology has no influence whatever on the canon of the understanding. Pure general logic is demonstrated doctrine, and everything in it must be certain completely a priori.

    “What I call applied logic is a presentation of the understanding and of the rules governing its necessary use in concreto, viz., its use under the contingent conditions attaching to the subject {the mind–SB}, conditions that can impede or promote this use and that are, one and all, given only empirically. . . . Pure general logic relates to applied general logic as pure morality relates to the doctrine proper of virtue. Pure morality contains merely the moral laws of a free will as such; the doctrine of virtue examines these laws as impeded by the feelings, inclinations, and passions to which human beings are more or less subject. The doctrine of virtue can never serve as true and demonstrated science; for, just like applied logic, it requires empirical and psychological principles.” (KrV A53–55 B77–79 – Werner Pluhar translation).

  8. SR, there was an extended article on compatiblism in my journal Objectivity by George Lyons in 1995, and there is further discussion in Eilon v. Boydstun 1997.

    My first degree was in physics, my second in engineering. I continued to study physics (and philosophy) through the decades. The idea that all future formations of each molecule and each galaxy are fully determined in their inanimate course of nature is false. So I say with Aristotle and with Peirce, and say against Leibniz, Laplace, and (more ambiguously) Rand/Peikoff. It is due to the free play, the contingency, within the course of lawful classical inanimate nature that engineerings are possible. The natural organization that is life is like an engineered system, of a sort. It requires contingency (and lawfulness) specifically of its inanimate surroundings and its own material and energy transformations to maintain itself and its kind. Consciousness able to range over the actions possible to its full organism and select trials is free to the extent of that consciousness, I'd say (with J. Enright *). More such power, more such freedom. For the human animal, such is free will and not compatibilism. For the compatibility of engineering-type organizations, including their instrumentation and control systems, with deterministic physical law is not, as I understand it, the compatibilism pushed by Hobart et al. Furthermore, free will as evident in one's first-person perspective on oneself is not one bit at odds with whatever science one brings to bear on one's third-person view of oneself, provided one gets unblindered as to the full setting of those sciences within their zone of nature. Writing large to all that is physical the narrow aspects of the physical world for which we discovered continuous deterministic mathematical characterization was and is unwarranted, vastly so.

    Professional up-to-date layout of compatibilism is here.

  9. “As for the necessary appetitive effect of the esthetic experience, focally the experience of beautiful fine art, it is a desire flowing directly from the esthetic judgment and its keep in knowledge and flowing indirectly from the esthetic intuition and delight. For the moment the beholder intuits the beauty of an object, an esthetic love is born, one assuming the specific character of esthetic joy or delight possessed in that moment of beholding. The object of this desire is not only or firstly the enjoyment of the previously beheld beauty. Rather, it is the desire to face that particular beauty again (PB 315–16). So I long to again walk around Mercury in Firenze and to again stand gazing a long while into On the Terrace in Chicago. Face to face.”

    (photo — 2/27/20)


  10. On 2/20/2020 at 5:49 PM, [email protected] said:

    I had a question about the way in which we form concepts.  The definition of a concept is “a mental integration of TWO OR MORE units possessing the same distinguishing characteristics, with their particular measurements omitted.”  However, when I listen to Peikoff’s lectures about how to form concepts, his examples always involve something more than just the two units. It involves something else to differentiate the units from.  For example, he explains how to form the concept blue by observing two particular instances of blue, one shade of blue and a slightly different shade of blue and omitting their particular shades while retaining the characteristic “BLUE” and distinguishing them from red.  This third unit serves as what you use to differentiate the former two units from and there are rules that have to be followed regarding this unit. He mentions seeing “two blue objects AS OPPOSED TO RED.” So there’s always something more included in the conceptualization process than just the two or more units.  The rule that stands out the most to me is that the characteristic that you are using to differentiate the former two units from the third has to be “commensurable” with the former two units.

    I am trying to see how the concepts I have measure up against Rand’s theory of concept formation but I am having difficulties doing this with many of the concepts I have.  My biggest problem so far is I don’t understand what commensurable existents I am differentiating the units of my concepts from.

    How did I form the concept “color?”  At first I thought I saw a red object and I saw a blue object and I omitted the particular colors in question and integrated them into the concept “color.”  But I’m missing a key piece in the process of concept formation (which by the way is not mentioned in the definition of the concept, as a I stated above). I am missing the COMMENSURABLE existent that I need to differentiate the two units FROM.

    I am trying to figure out what that existent is.  I was thinking maybe it could be a *ring of a phone or a particular instance of “sound.”  So I observed blue and red and I heard a *ring and I realized that blue and red were far more similar to each other than they both are to a *ring, so I integrate them into the concept “color” and I differentiate them from a *ring of a phone.  But am I wrong about this because a *ring is not COMMENSURABLE with red or blue? And this is just one example. I don’t understand how I formed the concept “sound” for the same reasons.  I was thinking I heard two different sounds, like a *ring and a *thud, but I dont know what existent I differentiated them from?

    The other day I read that Rand formed the concept “entity” by observing two separate entities and DISTINGUISHING THEM FROM THEIR ATTRIBUTES.  How does she know that their attributes are the commensurable existents that she is supposed to use to differentiate them? I mean now that I think about it, I can maybe understand that an entity is commensurable with its attributes because it could be thought of as a collection or more precisely an integration of its attributes, but I’m still struggling with this.

    For pretty much every concept I have, I can’t identify what existent I distinguished the units from and this is making me wonder “If I can’t do this, does this mean that I haven’t actually formed the concepts that I thought I formed?”  And if I haven’t formed the concepts that I thought I formed, how am I able to even think about the referents that I am thinking about? This seems to me to be a dumb question but I’m seriously wondering about this.

    I think I’ve succeeded with a couple concepts, the concept of “pushes” and “pulls.”  You observe pushes and pulls, you observe Push1 and Push2 and omit the particular magnitudes of the pushes while distinguishing them from a pull to form the concept “push.”  You do the same thing vice versa for the concept “push.” But that’s as far I can go. I can’t even form the concept “force” in a physical context because I can observe a “push” and then a “pull” but again I don’t know what commensurable existent to differentiate them FROM to form the concept force?

    I was hoping somebody could help me solve these problems?  And also, could someone tell me, why isn’t that third existent that you are using to differentiate the “two or more units” from included in the definition of a concept?  It seems to be an essential piece of the conceptualization process and therefore shouldn't it be included in the concept's definition?

    When the grandson was a toddler, we were at a restaurant, and I walked him around at one interval to a small Christmas tree with those old-fashioned colored lights. Pointing to a particular light, I asked him “What color is that?” He always answered correctly as I continued to point and cover the gamut on the tree. I’m pretty sure that the ability to identify individual colors in a grouped array is not originally the seeing those colors as individuals subsumed under the concept color. One has learned the proper relation of words blue and color in learning some language and sharing the world through it. (On cognitive developmental psychology of learning the various sorts of attributes of things, see 28-33 here.)

    I’d be pretty surprised if learning the distinction between entities and their attributes did not require learning subject-predicate relation in one’s native language. To be sure, with further cognitive development, on learns how to put any category in the subject spot, not just entity, but at first I’d bet a coke it’s only entity there. Learning concepts and language seems to be a hand-over-hand sort of deal.

    To reach our modern basic concept of force, basically Newtonian, took a lot adult thinking and controversy. Though push and pull are examples of it, earlier in intellectual history, for example, not only certain changes in state of motion required some sort of force, but keeping something moving (even in vacuum) was thought to require force. I imagine beginning to get the elementary concept of force (which happens to fall under the precised Newtonian one approximately) is already underway in learning first words. When a young child says ba (ball), turning it over in her hands, the object being isolated is known to have various ways it can be made to act by the child.

    Talk of “concept formation” (and “conceptualization process”) in epistemology did not begin with Rand. However, in epistemology, I think it’s better to stop using that phrase if one is not literally talking about cognitive development in time, and if one is talking about that, it must be informed by the relevant contemporary psychological research to have any serious traction. However, the epistemological business (a philosophical business) of offering ways of seeing how various sorts of concepts are organized in their relations to each other and to the things they are about is just fine, mighty fine. That is analysis, not mainly theory of the genesis of concepts, and we should stop calling it a theory of concept formation. The enduring fertile innovation of Ayn Rand in theory of concepts, I say, is an analysis: the proposal of a mathematical structure to concepts in their taxonomic relations.

  11. PNC Ground Shifts to the Side of the Subject – Kant IV-a

    I made a mistake concerning Kant’s doctrines on logic. Relying on a smaller pool of Kant material in English, Peikoff 1964 had also made this mistake.

    I asked of Kant in the Prep thread (2009 paper) as well as in this Dissertation thread: How can logic be rules necessary for correct operation of the understanding and reason if they simply are rules given by the understanding and reason, and they are rules descriptive and necessarily operative in all understanding and reason? “I concur with the conclusion of Peikoff and others he cites that once Kant had the constitution of the subject the sole source of the purely formal and purely a priori, he was not able to stably maintain an absolute necessity of PNC and other principles of logic together with their normativity, which latter entails our ability to not adhere to such principles. I add that this same irresolvable mess arises for every other sort of cognition purely formal and purely a priori, whether analytic or synthetic, once Kant has squarely located their source purely in the constitution of mind, in its fundamental dynamics, not at all in the constitution of the world.” (Kant III)

    The world according to Kant—the empirical and the mathematical—cannot be found with structure contrary to the formal structure of logic provided by human mind. The source of form had moved indoors. Conformance of the world to logic is assured in Kant’s scheme; there is absolute rightness of PNC (and its cohort, identity) for the world we take up, even though PNC is ultimately sourced in pure mind. Objects of any sort can be given to us as objects only upon actuation of our conceptual, logical faculties. The portion of mind trying to discern the world beyond the world’s bare, mind-given logical form is able to commit contradictions, within Kant’s scheme. The pure understanding gives some laws, but the impure understanding may fail to always conform to them in its pursuit of specific empirical and mathematical knowledge.

    We can still fault Kant in his view that we possess any “pure a priori” knowledge of any thing at all, in Kant’s radical senses of the a priori and the pure; we can deny that PNC or any other formal principle is such knowledge as that (on purity, see Chance 2018). But it is not the case that Kant’s scheme falters over the fact that humans make logical errors. (Notice Kant’s stress on human logical fallibility in lectures already from the early 1770’s; Lu-Adler 2018, 108.)

    Peikoff quotes from the Abbott translation (1885) of the Introduction of Kant’s Logic (the Jäsche Logic) :How error is possible, since in the formal sense of the word, that is, how a form of thought inconsistent with the understanding is possible; this is hard to comprehend; as indeed in general we cannot comprehend how any faculty can deviate from its own essential laws” (44). But Peikoff and I failed to notice or anyway failed to address Jäsche’s words, reflecting Kant’s notes for his logic lectures, on how this problem is to be resolved (here staying with the Abbott translation): “Besides the understanding there is in us another indispensable source of knowledge. This is the sensibility, which supplies the material for thought, and besides works according to different laws from the understanding. From the senses, however, considered in and by itself, error cannot arise, since the senses do not judge. / Hence the origin of all error must be sought solely in the unobserved influence of the sensibility on the understanding, or, to speak more exactly, on the judgment. It is owing to this influence that in our judgements we mistake merely subjective reasons for objective, and consequently confound the mere semblance of truth with truth itself.” (ibid.)

    Thinkers following on the heels of Kant then need not “return to an ontological interpretation of logic, thereby preserving absolutism in logic by founding it on facts of reality independent of the variable workings of human minds” else plunk for conventional choice of logical rules such as PNC, the fork proposed in Peikoff 1964. For instance Robert Hanna’s 2006 neo-Kantian, subject-sided, anti-conventionalist account of the nature of formal logic crafts a third way.


    Peikoff’s reliance on Henry Mansel’s infirm understanding and adulterated representation of Kant was unfortunate. I refer specifically to Mansel’s Prolegomena Logica: An Inquiry into the Psychological Character of Logical Processes (1860). Mansel insists an empirical psychology must be put to work to “vindicate” logic. Mansel and others Mansel cites who took this post-Kantian turn were trying to keep a foot in the school of Kant (and touting themselves as significantly Kantian) while kicking that foot with the other, empiricist, Kant-undone foot. “To Psychlogy we must look for the explanation and justification of the peculiar features of Logic” (1860, 6). Not by the lights of Kant! For Kant all successful reasoning and understanding requires formal logic as a necessary presumed norm; psychology cannot attain and justify psychology’s special knowledge without thoroughly conforming itself to the general norms of formal logic, which are already presumed (further, Hatfield 1990).

    When Kant was four years old, Christian Wolff was writing: “In order to demonstrate the rules of logic, principles must be taken from ontology. Furthermore, . . . we must learn from psychology what the cognitive faculty is and what its operations are. Hence it is also clear that, in order to demonstrate the rules of logic, principles must be taken from psychology. . . . Therefore, ontology and psychology should precede logic if everything in logic is to be rigorously demonstrated and if its rules are to be genuinely known.” (quoted in Lu-Adler 2018, 92)

    In Wolff’s view, we have a natural aptitude to follow the prescriptions that are the principles of logic, but to cultivate that aptitude into a habit of their correct use requires learning explicitly what those rules are. The correct logical rules having become explicit are to be followed for knowledge in general, and they are discernible as the correct rules by their enablement of the complete demonstrations in mathematics, particularly in geometry (Lu-Adler 2018, 90–97).

    Kant took under consideration the ancient and medieval views on logic as well as moderns such as F. Bacon, Locke, Leibniz, Wolff, and of course Baumgarten and Meier (Wolffian variants). Meier followed Wolff in taking logic-as-a-science (what Kant would later call pure general logic) to be based in part on principles of psychology. Kant was rejecting this already in the pre-Critical period of the Bloomberg logic lecture notes from the early 1770’s (Lu-Adler 2018, 110–11).

    Kant regarded pure general logic as a science in his strong sense of science, in which the object of the science is treated “wholly according to a priori principles” (1786, 4:468). A science is termed proper science by Kant if it not treated only according to laws of experience and has more than mere empirical certainty. Proper science has apodictic certainty. Science more generally is “a system, that is, a whole of cognition ordered according to principles,” and “such principles may be either principles of empirical or of rational connection of cognitions into a whole” (4:467). In proper science, the connecting principles are not empirical, but the rational connection of ground to consequence. The empirical connections in chemistry do not possess the necessity that yields apodictic certainty, according to Kant. Proper science of nature has only as much apodictic certainty as there is in it a priori knowledge and application of mathematics. Empirical psychology is even farther from being a proper natural science than chemistry (4:469–71).

    “A rational doctrine of nature . . . deserves the name of a natural science, only in case the fundamental natural laws therein are cognized a priori, and are not mere laws of experience. One calls a cognition of nature of the first kind pure, but that of the second kind is called applied rational cognition” (4:468, my underscore). That distinction under the terms pure and applied resembles the distinction under those same terms in Kant’s treatment of logic, although the two sorts of laws of nature, unlike principles of logic, are not norms.

    (To be continued.)


    Abbott, Thomas Kingsmill, trans. 1885. Kant’s Introduction to Logic. London: Longmans Green.

    Allison, Henry and Peter Heath, eds. 2002. Immanuel Kant – Theoretical Philosophy after 1781. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Chance, Brian A. 2018. Wolff’s Empirical Psychology and the Structure of the Transcendental Logic. In Dyck and Wunderlich 2018.

    Dyck, Corey W. and Falk Wunderlich, 2018. Kant and His German Contemporaries. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Hanna, Robert. 2006. Rationality and Logic. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

    Hatfield, Gary. 1990. The Natural and the Normative – Theories of Spatial Perception from Kant to Helmholtz. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

    Kant, Immanuel. 1786. Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Michael Friedman, translator. In Allison and Heath 2002.

    Lu-Adler, Huaping. 2018. Kant and the Science of Logic. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Mansel, Henry Longuevill. 1860. Prolegomena Logica – An Inquiry into the Psychological Character of Logical Processes. London: Oxford University Press.

    Peikoff, Leonard. 1964. The Status of the Law of Contradiction in Classical Logical Ontologism. Ph.D. dissertation. New York University.

  12. I wrote this several years ago, and I want to post it here in the Prep thread in order to refer to it in the Dissertation thread, where I'll be assimilating the work of Lu-Adler mentioned in the post before last after all).

    Normativity of Logic – Robert Hanna

    Robert Hanna does not accept Kant’s idealism. His account of the normativity of logic in Rationality and Logic (RL) is nonetheless sensibly characterized as a quasi-Kantian account. Professor Hanna proposes that we have a faculty of logic in which dwells a protologic—a set of schematic logical structures—upon which any formal logic, classical or nonclassical, is constructed. This protologic Hanna argues to be presupposed, constructively and epistemologically, by any formal logical system.

    Standard modern logic, which is an enlargement (and some correction) of logic beyond its development by Aristotle, is called classical to distinguish it from its further extensions and from its rivals. Logics that only extend classical logic will have modified some of “the classical logical constants, interpretation rules, axioms, or inference rules such that all the tautologies, theorems, valid inferences and laws of elementary logic still hold, along with some additional ones” (RL 40–41). Such are modern modal logics (Garson 2006; Priest 2001). The rivals of classical logic make modifications to “logical   operators [constants], interpretation rules, axioms, or inference rules such that not all the tautologies, theorems, valid inferences, and laws of classical or elementary logic still hold” (RL 41). Such is relevance logic (Mares 2004; Priest 2001) or paraconsistent logic (Priest 2006).

    The logics in rivalry with classical logic are contestants on the field of specifying which inferences, among our inferences in the vernacular, are valid. One inference certified in classical logic that many students find repugnant is the taking as valid any inference from false premises to a true conclusion. Paraconsistent logics and relevance logics are systematic formulations of logic in which such inferences come out as invalid. I should mention, too, that various informal fallacies of classical logic come to be formal fallacies within various nonclassical logics (RL 218).

    All systems of logic are systematic formulations of “the necessary relation of consequence” (RL 43). Examples from classical logic would be “if p and q, then p” and “if both (i) if p then q and (ii) p, then q” and “if both (i) if p then q and (ii) not-q, then not-p.” Hanna is proposing that behind all logical systems, whether classical or not, there must be a single set of schematic logical structures which determine what will count as a possible logical system; there is a single protologic epistemologically presupposed by every logical system. This protologic is used in justifying assertions about any classical or nonclassical logic; the protologic is constructively presupposed by every logical system (RL 44).

    In justifying claims about logic, we are invoking conscious logical beliefs about protologic. Having such a role, there is no way the protologic set of schematic structures could be revised. Moreover, they must be a priori.

    Kant took a priori to mean necessarily so (B3–4, B119–24, A87–92); true independently of all experience, not having its source in experience (B2, B117–19 A84–87, B163); but true of the experienced world and needed for any empirical cognition (B5–6, B121–27 A89–94, B163–65, B196–97 A157–58). (Further, see Robinson 1969 and Tait 1992.)

    For his own concept a priori, Hanna defines its cognitive facet as cognition not entirely determined by “inner, proprioceptive or outer sensory experiences even though it is always actually accompanied by such sensory experiences” (RL 273n25). He defines the semantic facet of the a priori as sentence meaning wherein the truth conditions of the sentence are not entirely determined by its verification conditions. He defines the epistemic facet of the a priori as belief wherein its justification is not entirely determined by sensory evidence.

    No system of logic rejects all of classical logic. Hanna conjectures that the metalogical principles in the protologic might consist of weak versions of four basic principles in classical logic. One would be that “an argument is valid if it is impossible for all of its premises to be true and its conclusion false” (RL 45). Another would be that “not every sentence is both true and false” (RL 45). Cognitive psychology can contribute to the further specification of principles such as these, principles a priori and not revisable, in our repertoire. Our faculty of language epistemologically presupposes our faculty of protologic.

    The protologic faculty of logic is sensitive to external experiential stimuli, but not entirely determined by such stimuli. It is an essential aspect of the mind of a rational animal, and it is an a priori aspect of such a mind. “It is not modally controlled by the empirical world, although it inevitably tracks the empirical world” (RL 83). “The logic faculty is a central and informationally promiscuous faculty of the human mind (and apparently the only one), whose role it is to mediate between the peripheral faculties and the central processes of theory-formation, judgment, belief, desire, and volition” (RL 109). That we have innate logical powers does not entail that we have any innate ideas (RL 135).

    Hanna is a realist about logic and logical necessity. Any explanation and justification of logic must presuppose logic. No explanatory reduction of logic to other things is possible. The thesis that we are endowed with a logical faculty offers not an explanatory reduction, but a connection for logic of a nonreductive, yet realist nature: “(i) logic is cognitively constructed by rational animals, and (ii) logic is objectively real via language, and consequently logical necessity is an objectively real property or fact in a world that objectively and really contains linguistic structures” (RL 158; also 80–81).

    Hanna argues that the innate logical faculty includes a capability for logical intuition. This is an act in which we grasp logical rules, and grasp them as justified and necessary, in a noninferential, a priori, yet fallible way (RL 167–82).

    To say that formal logic is normative is to say “humans ought to reason soundly or validly (more generally, cogently). Otherwise put, the normativity of logic consists in the fact . . . that the justification of human beliefs or intentional actions depends on our ability to reason cogently” (RL 203).

    Hanna maintains that logic is categorically normative, not hypothetically normative. Logic enjoins one to hold a certain belief or take a certain action under all circumstances and primarily because of logic alone. A view of logic as hypothetically normative would say that logic enjoins one to hold a certain belief or take a certain action because of logic, but only in certain circumstances and primarily because of something extralogical (RL 203).

    Mill held that logic is intrinsically normative (necessarily normative) and that logic is explanatorily reducible to empirical psychology. This implies that logic is intrinsically but hypothetically normative, not categorically normative. Then conditions from particular human interests or conditions from natural facts could constrain the scope of the applicability of logical obligation. Hanna maintains to the contrary that logical norms apply in all possible contexts.

    Hanna constructs a logical argument, which leans on elements of modal logic, to refute the thesis that logic is reducible to empirical psychology (RL 20–21, 27). That is not to say that there is no essential connection between the logical and the psychological. Hanna argues for such an essential connection: logic is cognitively constructed by rational animals who are essentially logical animals (RL 25). The logical in the phrase “essentially logical animals” is to be understood as primarily normative (RL 215–16). Although we obey the protologic perfectly whenever we reason, we shall adhere only imperfectly to normative mental principles that we construct from the protologic, and only imperfectly to formal logical norms we construct from the protologic (RL 149–53).

    Hanna elects the path of Kant, Boole, and Frege. “Logic is the universal, topic-neutral, a priori science of the necessary laws of truth, and also a pure normative science based directly on rationality itself” (RL 204). He calls this the moral science conception of logic. Logic is a moral science (RL 205). It is “an integral part of human morality, namely the part that consists in justifying moral judgments and decisions, including direct moral arguments and reflective equilibrium” (RL 206).

    Hanna rejects the idea, put forth by Otto Weininger of virtually identifying logic with ethics (RL 205–6). To the contrary, “moral wrongdoing is not necessarily or even usually connected with wrong logical reasoning; and on the other hand, wrong logical reasoning is not necessarily or even usually sinful” (RL 217). Weininger’s idea was that “logic and ethics are fundamentally the same, they are no more than duty to oneself” (1903).

    Hanna rejects the idea that morality is entirely a system of hypothetical imperatives. Kant’s categorical imperative of ethics is not “an all-purpose practical decision procedure or algorithm. . . . Negatively described, the categorical imperative is a filter for screening out bad maxims; positively described, it is a constructive protocol for correctly generating maxims, given the multifarious array of concrete input-materials to practical reasoning . . .” (RL 212). In parallel with the role of an ethical categorical imperative, Hanna alleges a logical categorical imperative. Specifically, that imperative would be: “Think only according to those processes of reasoning that satisfy the protologic” (RL 213).

    From this perspective, Hanna would have us see through the errors of radically conventionalist theories of logic (RL 210–11) and skeptical, even nihilistic, attacks on the objectivity of the norms of logic (RL 206, 223–30). Good for Robert Hanna.

    To Hanna’s logical imperative, I should add this prior one: think. And we should supplement Hanna’s theory with the circumstance that the choice to think is the choice to live, that the categorical demands of logic are vested by the categorical structure of existence and the hypothetical standing of human life.*

    *See also the review by Gila Sher, especially her criticisms 2 and 5.


    Garson, J. W. 2006. Modal Logic for Philosophers. Cambridge.

    Hanna, R. 2006. Rationality and Logic. MIT.

    Kant, I. 1996 [1787]. Critique of Pure Reason. W. S. Pluhar, translator. Hackett.

    Mares, E. D. 2004. Relevant Logic: A Philosophic Interpretation. Oxford.

    Priest, G. 2001. An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic. Cambridge.

    ——. 2006. Doubt Truth to Be a Liar. Oxford.

    Robinson, R. 1969 [1958]. Necessary Propositions. In The First Critique. T. Penelhum and J. J. MacIntosh, editors. Wadsworth.

    Tait, W. W. 1992. Reflections on the Concept of A Priori Truth and Its Corruption by Kant. In Proof and Knowledge in Mathematics. Routledge.

  13. Thanks for the notice, Merlin.

    “Comte’s conception of altruism is also inconsistent with liberty, Rand’s focus.”

    No. That is not her focus. That is the focus of the author. Within his focus, is his focus on Comte, and absence of any attention to the likes of Augustine, who had it that a turning to God is a turning away from self.

    Rand’s focus is on the rightness, power, and glory of rational individual mind and life. Freedom or absence of force is a necessary condition, not the prize, and anyone who reads Rand without trying to sweep beyond their blinders-field what Rand writes against religious faith can see that plain as day.

    I rather doubt that motivation for the beneficent projects of the Rotary Club are only motivated by the kind of non-sacrificial generosity of a Howard Roark. The motto of the Club is “Service above Self”. And I rather think the influence on adoption of that motto was not Comte, but religious ethics bannering self-sacrifice. Scratch a socialist (e.g. Norman Thomas), and you’ll likely find a religionist, at least one transferring their youthful religious values to their adult political values.

    Rand was not writing at a time in which Comte’s ideas were live fires in people. The virtue of self-sacrifice (highest virtue, even only virtue, the very essence of virtue) in the special Randian referent for that term must be widely defeated, both virtue of self-sacrifice for other persons and self-sacrifice for God, for security of the prize. Rand was writing not only against total selflessness, as with Comte, but any degree of selflessness. No poison at all, not any. And health of mind directing a life is not only freedom from force.

    From American Heritage Dictionary (American usage):

    Altruism — Concern for the welfare of others, as opposed to egoism; selflessness.

    Selfless — Without concern for oneself; unselfish.

    One can look as well at common-usage meanings for selfish, self-interest, etc. However, at least since Socrates, philosophers answer a calling of stirring the head from these meanings to deeper conceptions underlying them and deepening meanings of words and their interrelations. Philosophers can give special, theoretical meanings to words already in use and having some overlap with the rather loose common meanings in order to bring out what is (or could become) in the depths of thought and action under thought. The special, more philosophical meanings, can be wrong if the system to which they belong is wrong. Still, they often get through to real insight. In my assessment, Rand’s may get some of the depths wrong—some definitions, essences, propositions; things omitted or other things not where they should be—but definitely she’s on to important original insights among those stirrings, including ones on values, altruism, and selfishness.

    (Merlin, I’ve been out of commission a week due to death of a sister. I’ll be back to serious work in a couple more days, and back to feedback on your work in progress.)


  14. 3/3/08

    A Rejection of Egoism

    Concerning animals and plants, we correctly think that “whatever stunts their growth or threatens their lives is bad for them. They are the sorts of things that can be healthy or diseased, and it is good for them to the healthy, bad to be diseased, to be stunted, to die before they mature. To determine what is good for some living S, we need to know what sort of thing S is—whether it is a human being, a horse, or a tree. If there are things that are good for all human beings, their goodness must be grounded not only in the properties of those things, but also in the properties of human beings” (WGW 88).

    “Organic development, health, and proper physical functioning are . . . important components of human flourishing; but for us, faring well includes healthy psychological development and functioning as well” (WGW 5).

    “Truths about what is good, when they are made about human beings, are truths about what is good for us . . . and must therefore be grounded in facts about our physical and psychological functioning. A theory about what is good that is applicable to human life must rest on ideas about the healthy development and exercise of the human mind” (WGW 90; further, 92–94, 131–66).

    I have been quoting from Richard Kraut’s new book What Is Good and Why, subtitled The Ethics of Well-Being. It was issued by Harvard University Press in 2007. (Psssst—This is a very fine book.) The picture composed by those quotations will look familiar to readers who have studied Ayn Rand’s ethics.

    One more from Prof. Kraut:

    “When we do good, we do good for someone. And so, in addition to our deciding which things are good, we also must answer the question ‘Whose good should one promote?’ There are many simple formulas that propose an answer to that question. The two that are most prominent are egoism and utilitarianism.

    “Egoism holds that there is only one person whose good should be the direct object of one’s actions: oneself. It allows one to take an indirect interest in others, and to promote their well-being, but only to the extent that doing so is a means towards the maximization of what is good for oneself” (WGW 39).

    Before explaining Kraut’s reasons for rejecting egoism, I want to begin to review Rand’s arguments for her type of ethical egoism. Within the 1957 exposition of her ethics, Rand writes:

    “Since life requires a specific course of action, any other course will destroy it. A being who does not hold his own life as the motive and goal of his actions, is acting on the motive and standard of death. Such a being is a metaphysical monstrosity, struggling to oppose, negate and contradict the fact of its own existence, running blindly amuck on a trail of destruction, capable of nothing but pain” (AS 1014 [hb]).

    “The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live” (AS 1014).

    “To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-Esteem . . . . These three values imply and require all of man’s virtues . . . : rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride” (AS 1018).

    “Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value . . .—that of any achievements open to you, the one that makes all others possible is the creation of your own character . . . —that to live requires a sense of self-value, but man . . . has no automatic sense of self-esteem and must earn it by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man, the rational man he is born able to create, but must create by choice—that the first precondition of self-esteem is that radiant selfishness of soul which desires the best in all things, in values of matter and spirit, a soul that seeks above all else to achieve its own moral perfection, valuing nothing higher than itself . . .” (AS 1020–21; see also 1056–58).

    In the 1964 Introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand observes that “the choice of the beneficiary of moral values . . . . has to be derived and validated by the fundamental premises of a moral system. / The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action . . .” (x). I discern three intertwined strands in Rand’s defense of ethical egoism. I will be focusing on her arguments that move from agent egoism to beneficiary egoism. It is only when the latter is joined to the former that the theory should be called ethical egoism.

    Strand One

    In Rand’s 1957 presentation, the first move to beneficiary egoism is in the first paragraph of her text that I quoted above. It is there asserted that if one does not hold one’s own life as the motive and goal of one’s actions, one is acting in a self-destructive way. In The Fountainhead Rand wrote that “[man’s] moral law is never to place his prime goal within the persons of others” (740 [hb]). One illustration of the self-destructive path set upon by doing otherwise is Peter Keating’s being dissuaded by his mother from marrying the woman he loves. It will be argued, however, that there are some moral choices in which one’s immediate motive is the good of others, yet that choice is not self-destructive. In ordinary circumstances, I tell people the truth. My immediate motive is often their self-interest, not mine; I don’t want them to be taking up falsehoods.

    Kraut articulates this apparent defect of egoism as follows:

    “When everything goes well for a child and he has all the emotional resources he needs to interact with his community in ways that are best for himself, he will have some direct interest in some members of that community—namely, those who have manifestly expressed their love for him in ways that benefit him. So no one whose early education is as good for him as it can be will emerge from childhood as a person who is inclined to act as egoism says he should act. So fortunate a young adult will gladly help others for their sake . . . . Egoism tells him to extirpate this desire” (WGW 40–41; further, 48–65, 211–14, 231, 238–43).

    I observe that when one chooses to tell the truth in ordinary circumstances or to render aid to others, one is engaged not only as an agent egoist. One is not only following one’s own judgment about what to do. One is also choosing in the particular occasion what is the good state of affairs for individuals in general.

    Help another “if such is your own desire based on your own selfish pleasure in the value of his person and his struggle. . . . Man’s fight against suffering” is a value (AS 1059–60). In this passage, Rand is commending acting on one’s pleasure in a value-operation not one’s own. It seems to me that this is an occasion of egoistic action that is not directly for one’s own sake, only indirectly so. One has the pleasure directly, but the object of one’s intelligence yielding the pleasure is a value-operation not one’s own and a value-operation whose aim is success (e.g., truth or relief from suffering) for one not oneself. Then, strictly speaking, Rand’s is an egoism that falls outside Kraut’s definition of egoism.

    Kraut’s definition is more narrow than the usual definition for ethical theory. It is surely correct to call Rand’s ethics an egoism, an integrated agent-beneficiary egoism. (Objectivist conceptions of egoism are usual. See N. Branden VOS 57; L. Peikoff Om. // 65, OPAR 230–31; T. Smith VV 154–55, ARNE 23–24.) Kraut opposes also this theory of ethics, which he takes to be less than full-fledged egoism. Rand holds that one should never sacrifice one’s own true interests to those of another. Kraut observes that “that thesis holds that one has a special normative relationship to oneself. It places the self ahead of others . . . .” (WGW 53). It gives priority always to striving for one’s own good, rather than striving for the good of others. Kraut rejects the ethics of uniform self-priority. “There is no reason always to place oneself first in situations of conflict, or always to refrain from making large sacrifices for the good of others” (WGW 54; further, 180–83, 191–96).

    Rand writes concerning sacrifice:

    “If you achieve the career you wanted, after years of struggle, it is not a sacrifice; if you renounce it for the sake of a rival, it is. If you own a bottle of milk and give it to your starving child, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to your neighbor’s child and let your own die, it is” (AS 1028).

    “If a mother buys food for her hungry child rather than a hat for herself, it is not a sacrifice: she values the child higher than the hat” (AS 1029).

    As an example of self-sacrifice, Kraut poses the following:

    “Suppose a parent, to earn enough money to give his child an expensive education, gives up a job that makes full use of his talents and in its place accepts a post that is intellectually and emotionally deadening and physically dangerous, but provides a large and steady income” (WGW 181).

    Kraut counts this as an example of self-sacrifice. To any ethical theory that would count it as not sacrificial, Kraut poses a challenge. Suppose the child who receives the education is an ungrateful child, who says he owes his parent nothing in return, that the parent was satisfying the parent’s own hierarchy of values, so there was no real self-sacrifice in the parent letting go of the career that would have been better for the parent.

    It is possible that on Rand’s egoism, a parent who forfeited the better career for the purpose of a better education for the child would necessarily be making an inverted-value sacrifice, the forfeiture of what ought to be valued more in comparison to something that ought to be valued less, though highly. That is, the better career for the parent should necessarily be valued more highly by the parent than the better education for the child. Whether such a conclusion follows from Rand’s ethics, I will leave undetermined; thoughts from readers would be appreciated. What is clear is that a Randian should hold the child’s ungratefulness to be prima facie wrong for the child and a wrong against the parent because the value of what the parent forfeited for the child’s education was enormous, regardless of the possibility that the parent valued the latter over the former.

    I concluded above that Rand’s conception of holding one’s own life “as the motive and goal” of one’s actions and never placing “[one’s] prime goal within the persons of others” does not entail always taking one’s own interests as the direct object of one’s actions. This further undermines the ungrateful child’s rationale. The direct motive for the parent’s momentous choice could be the child’s well-being, even if that choice also serves the parent’s well-being.

    Strand Two

    The first strand in Rand’s move from agent egoism to beneficiary egoism was the thesis that if one does not hold ones own life as the  motive and goal of one’s actions (at least indirectly), one is acting in a self-destructive way. The second strand, wound together with the first, is that if one does not hold one’s life as the motive and goal of one’s actions, one is acting in a disintegrated way, and integrated life is better life.

    All living organisms are engaged in continual integrated actions suited to their individual survival or the survival of their species. Deterioration of an organism’s ability to perform its integrated repertoire of actions is a loosening of the tight organization required for its continued life or the continuation of its species. Rand draws attention to the overarching value of the survival of the individual organism that is served by its integrated repertoire of actions suited to its kind. (She leaves out of the frame of attention the overarching value of the propagation of the species that is served by the repertoire of the individual organism.)

    Consider the repertoire of the marine snail Pleurobranchea. The nervous systems of these animals are much simpler than the mammalian central nervous system, but they are sufficiently complex to coordinate the behavioral sequences known as fixed action patterns. Those are inherited stereotypical patterns of behavior (such as egg-laying) consisting of several distinct steps that either together form a coordinated sequence or do not take place at all. It has been determined that the fixed action patterns characteristic of Pleurobranchea are organized neurologically into a definite hierarchy: feeding is dominant over righting, gill and siphon withdrawal, or mating; episodic egg-laying is dominant over feeding; escape swimming is dominant over all other behaviors.

    Humans have sensations of pleasure and pain. These are signs of the body’s welfare or injury. In addition to bodily pleasure-pain systems, we have emotional systems. Rand conceives joy and suffering as fundamental emotions that estimate whether something furthers one’s life or threatens it. Which particular things emotions will signal as good or as bad will be shaped by one’s unique past experience and value judgments. If one has taken up values opposing one’s self-interest—not only self-sacrifice as a value, but values contradictory, values impossible, or values sheltered from rational assessment—then suffering and destruction will be the results. On the other hand, if one chooses to value the full use of one’s rational mind, to value the possible, the productive, and the self-beneficial, then there is fair promise of life and happiness (AS 1020–22).

    Just as the organs and systems of the human body must act in a properly coordinated way if they are to effect the end-in-itself that is the life of the individual organism, so one’s consciously directed actions must be properly organized if one is to achieve well the end-in-itself that is the conscious life of the individual human being. Rand identified seven coordinated patterns of volitional actions necessary for one’s realistically best life. Those are her seven cardinal virtues I listed in the root post of this thread. (David Kelley has argued that an eighth cardinal virtue, sister to productivity, naturally issues from Rand’s ethics and conception of human existence. That virtue is benevolence. This addition is argued in his essay “Unrugged Individualism” [1996]). These virtues are defended as general principles, good guides for any individual. Ethical theory, on Rand’s account, tells one what are the main right values and virtues and their rationale. It tells one also who is rightly the primary beneficiary of one’s agency.

    Kraut argues that philosophy can help answer “What is good?” but it cannot help answer “Whose good should I be serving?” (WGW 39–65, 208–13, 255–57). He argues that there are many proper answers to that second question, so an ethical theory that purports a uniquely correct answer to it must have gone wrong. The answer that one should always promote one’s own good is incorrect by overgeneralization. He recognizes that there are circumstances in which there is no one’s good besides one’s own that one should promote, but those circumstances are not typical. Contrary to Kraut, I think, as in Strand One, that promotion of the good of other persons can be directly for their sake, yet one can be holding in an integrated way to the overarching good for oneself, the overarching primary good of one’s own life and happiness.

    One does stand in a special normative relation to oneself. Mature and healthy individuals are constituted—and Kraut also takes this for true—so as to love themselves, to take care of themselves, and to act for their own benefit. But Kraut allows for the possibility, when one has reached adulthood, of properly turning one’s life into a purely instrumental value serving the good of definite others (WGW 48–53). This extreme possibility is not cashed out in terms of a real-world circumstance in which it would be proper. I think, as Rand thought, that such an agent would not be self-harmonious, so, would not be flourishing.

    Kraut does think philosophy can help answer “What is good?” and I want to give at least a peek at the fruits of his labor. Recall that Kraut maintains that the good is the flourishing of living things. The salient components he finds constituting human flourishing are: autonomy (WGW 196–201), cognitive skills (164–66), affects expressing rational assessments (153–58), affectionate relationships (161–63), honesty (192–93, 257–61), and justice (194–96, 225–34).

    Strand Three

    Rand writes that “man’s life is the standard of morality, but your own life is its purpose. If existence on earth is your goal, you must choose your actions and values by the standard of that which is proper to man—for the purpose of preserving, fulfilling, and enjoying the irreplaceable value which is your life” (AS 1014).

    If one aims to live and live well, then man’s life must be one’s standard of morality. Part of the nature of man’s life, in Rand’s conception, is that it is life of individuals in which each is organized to be an end in himself existing for his own sake. That is how human beings are outfitted by biological nature, and in the ways that are open to their choice, that is how they should organize themselves.

    Morality can be put to various purposes. The proper one, in Rand’s view, is to provide “a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life” (VOS 13).

    Kraut notes that the term moral is often used by way of contrast to terms like prudential, self-interested, and selfish. He allows that it is useful to have the term moral for distinguishing between behavior that benefits others in contrast to behavior that benefits  oneself, but he observes that “this way of talking has the unfortunate effect of making self-interested actions and concern for one’s own good dishonorable, or in any case of secondary importance” (WGW 256). He takes both the moral and the prudential to be genres of the good.

    The good, in Kraut’s view, is the flourishing of the living. Rand stresses more than Kraut that organisms are organized so as to survive. She also stresses more than Kraut that individual human beings are by nature ends in themselves.

    Kraut makes the good point that by citing facts of nature—of plants and animals and the powers nature has given humans—he is not maintaining that “what is good for us is whatever is natural for us, and whatever we are born with must be used” (WGW 146). We might correctly conclude that some of our natural powers are bad for us. But it is not plausible that many or all of them are bad for us.

    “It would be foolish to begin with the assumption that whereas it is good for all other living things to flourish, it is not good for us to flourish. After all, flourishing consists in the growth and development of the capacities of a living thing: why should that be good for plants and animals, but not for us? . . . If a theory of goodness can fit its account of human well-being into a larger framework that applies to the entire natural [biological] world, that gives it an advantage over any theory that holds ‘G is good for S’ is one kind of relationship for human beings and a different kind for all other creatures” (GWG 147–48).That merit of Kraut’s theory holds for Rand’s as well.

    The third strand in the cord by which Rand ties beneficiary egoism to agency egoism is the stress she lays on the self-sufficiency of organisms in general and individual humans in particular. There is much to be said for this and against this. Not today.

  15. 2/16/08

    Rand observes that “the choice of the beneficiary of moral values . . . . has to be derived and validated by the fundamental premises of a moral system” (VoS x). Rand offers arguments and a conception of morality in support of the conclusion that “the actor must [should] always be the beneficiary of his action” (VoS x).

    “Ethics is an objectivemetaphysical necessity of man’s survival,” and this is the case “by the grace of reality and the nature of life” (VoS 23). “By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man—every man—is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose” (AS 1017).

    Rand argues that “man’s actions and survival require the guidance of conceptual values derived from conceptual knowledge” (VoS 20); that conceptual thought is an activity of individual minds (AS 1017); that “thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness” (VoS 20); that “the act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional” (20–21); that “the men who choose to think and to produce . . . . are pursuing a course of action proper to man” (23); “that just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself . . . and, therefore, that [each] man must [should] live for his own sake” (27).

    The individual’s own life “is the source, not only of all his values, but of his capacity to value. Therefore, the value he grants to others is only a consequence, an extension, a secondary projection of the primary value which is himself” (VoS 47).

    Furthermore: “Since life requires a specific course of action, any other course will destroy it. A being who does not hold his own life as the motive and goal of his actions, is acting on the motive and standard of death. Such a being is a metaphysical monstrosity, struggling to oppose, negate, and contradict the fact of its own existence . . .” (AS 1014 [hb], boldface added).

    As noted earlier in this thread, Robert Hartford contributed a paper last spring to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 8(2):291–303. The title of his paper is “Objectivity and the Proof of Egoism.” In this paper, he argues that “the foundation of an objectively verifiable ethical system is the [voluntary] acceptance and use of the principle of holding one’s own life as the motive and goal of one’s action” (302).

    Robert argues that if one rejects Rand’s principle of holding one’s own life as the motive and goal of one’s action, then one is contradicting a fact about the very mind rejecting the principle. That fact is the biological role that the mind has in human life. “The mind has unsurpassed power to select action that results in pursuit and achievement of values, pursuit and achievement of that which benefits one’s life” (300). If one selects an action that is known—known consciously or subconsciously—to be harmful to one’s life, then some aspect of one’s mind is implicitly acting in a way at odds with the fundamental role of the mind in human life. The mind is then in a contradictory state. It strives to achieve what benefits the life of the person whose mind it is while at the same time, in the particular choice, it strives to harm that person. Therefore, one should always select one’s action with one’s own life as the motive and goal of the action.

    I would say that the biological role of the mind is not only to enable the survival of the individual whose mind it is, but to enable the survival of other members of the human species. So I don’t think Robert’s proof works. The faulty premise in Robert’s argument is appealed to in the complex weave of Rand’s argument as well. How wide are the ramifications of this flaw in her argument? I wonder.

  16. ET,

    In the statement of Rand's I quoted and you again quoted, she is contrasting life to all things not living. Only living things can be ends in themselves and have value kinds of actions. (And I don't think it would matter whether the life was manmade in the lab or naturally occurring life.) I agree.

    “According to Objectivism . . . a philosophic view of man is not exhausted by metaphysics and epistemology, nor does it at every point follow deductively from them; fresh observations are required. . . .

    “If a fundamental difference is one which has enormous, pervasive manifestations, then the most fundamental difference among the entities we perceive is that between the animate and the inanimate. The starting point in the present enquiry, therefore, is the fact that man is a certain kind of living organism. What is an organism? More specifically, what is its essential, distinctive mode of action?” (pages 188-189 of Peikoff’s 1991 Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand).

    On your question of the point at which egoism comes into the picture in the account of the good, I'll post below two posts of mine from some years back. I encourage you to study, if you've not done so already, Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness and Peikoff' OPAR.

  17. Thanks for the correction, Dennis, and thanks for the question.

    In a few days, I shall have been working on the book material each morning for six years. Along the way, I’ve extended my target on up to ten years (I’d be seventy-five). However, to accomplish even that required that I leave off theory of value altogether. And the extended detailed comparisons of Rand’s philosophy and mine with major classical philosophies needed to be discontinued. Because I had completed the comparison on foundations between Descartes and Rand, which was no longer going to be appropriate for the way the book was developing, I submitted that to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and they published it last summer.

    By last fall, the metaphysics I had developed had become so sweeping, deep, and original, and had finally stabilized, that I had a big worry. The problem was that it would take another four years before all the ramifications of it could be worked out for epistemological areas, and I became worried it was all too possible that none of what I had already created would ever be seen by anyone else (none of it has been posted on the internet or will be) should I have a stroke or otherwise be incapable of completing the whole book (for which I’d still need to find a publisher at the end—I’m not for self-publishing on this). I thought of seeing if this sort of material would be appropriate for JARS as a series of major papers over time. I sent them the initial one that lays out the basics of the new metaphysics; they think it an appropriate kind of thing for their venue; it is under review; and if all goes well with that on both sides, it might appear about a year from now.

    This new metaphysics is more indebted to the metaphysics of Ayn Rand than to any other. Mine is a transfiguration of hers at the deepest level. The differences and commonalities with Rand’s fundamentals are explicated and argued. Her fundamentals and mine are set in their relations to others ancient to modern. Down the anticipated series of papers, ramifications of this new metaphysics for philosophy of logic, mathematics, and science will be drawn.

    So I’m doing the same work, only not for a book, and one will need to be a subscriber to JARS or have university access through JSTOR to see this, my highest creation.

  18. I wrote this and originally posted it online in 2010.

    Rand and the Greeks

    In the “The Objectivist Ethics” Rand stated: “Aristotle did not regard ethics as an exact science” (14). “He based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do, leaving unanswered the questions of: why they chose to do it and why he evaluated them as noble and wise” (OE 14). Insofar as Aristotle’s approach was indeed as described in the preceding quotation (see e.g. NE 1140a24–25), Rand stakes ethics in a dramatically different way. Rand aims to ground an ethics in something more firm, namely, in biology.

    In the soul, Aristotle marks three divisions: passions, faculties, and states. He argues that excellence, or nobility, cannot be a passion nor a faculty, and so must be a state. In particular excellence “will be the state which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well” (NE 1106a22–23). More particularly still, excellence “is a state concerned with choice, lying in a mean relative to us, this being determined by reason and in the way in which the man of practical wisdom would determine it” (NE 1106b36–1107a2).

    A number of thinkers sympathetic to Rand’s rational, life-centered ethical egoism have argued that, in a variety of ways, her ethics is closer to Aristotle’s than she had expressly gauged it to be. One of the additions Rand made to the exposition of her ethics in “The Objectivist Ethics” beyond the exposition in “Galt’s Speech” was her introduction of the phrase ultimate value. Rand rejected the Aristotelian conception of vegetative and non-conscious animal activities as being due to some sort of “teleological principle operating in nature” (OE 16). Like the early moderns Descartes, Hobbes, and Spinoza, like we moderns today, Rand held the domain of Aristotle’s final causation to be confined “only to a conscious being.” Final causation in its only reality is “the process by which an end determines the means, i.e., the process of choosing a goal and taking the actions necessary to achieve it” (CvD 99).

    Taking that modern layout for understood, Rand wrote:

    “In a fundamental sense, stillness is the antithesis of life. Life can be kept in existence only by a constant process of self-sustaining action. The goal of that action, the ultimate value which, to be kept, must be gained through its every moment, is the organisms life.

    “An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means—and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are to be evaluated.” (OE 16–17)

    The only such ultimate value, the only end in itself, is the life of the individual organism, in Rand’s view. In the vegetative and appetitive organizations within the human animal, that end is supposed by Rand to be their healthy overarching one. Those systems run that way automatically. But the human individual is fundamentally free to choose how far he keeps his mind and actions set upon that same ultimate end, the preservation and fullness of his own life. There is a parallel here with Aristotle’s conception of the mature human ability to craft deliberate virtues upon natural virtues (see Lennox 1999). Then again there is the glaring difference that Rand would not have philosophical contemplation to be the overarching end driving a human life taken to be happiest of all other human lives (NE X, 7).

    In his 1975 work Human Rights and Human Liberties, Tibor Machan argued that “only if a specifically human goal can be identified—one shared by all people just in virtue of being the kind of thing they are—could an identifiable standard for moral valuation be found. If there is nothing on that order that human beings ought to achieve, no summum bonum, then the idea that they ought to achieve it could not be meaningful” (71). Rand had argued that “it only an ultimate goal, an end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of ‘value’ is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of ‘life’” (OE 17; see also Den Uyl and Rasmussen 1984a, 65–67). What goes for value goes as well for the Aristotelian coins excellence, success, and doing well. Life—the physical phenomenon of life—is their original and perpetual grounding context (cf. Kelley 1992, 58).

    Professor Machan went on to endorse an argument by function-explanation put forth by Eric Mack (1971) to the conclusion that “the end of the objective function” of an individual’s choices and actions “is the sustenance of his life” (72). Machan then linked Rand’s summum bonum, as defended by Mack, with Aristotle’s idea that “the proper goal of each person is his own success as a human being, his own happiness” (72). Tightening the link, Machan observes: “The happiness discussed by Aristotle is far broader than what people usually mean by the term ‘happiness’. It is closer to what Ayn Rand has characterized as ‘a noncontradictory state of joy’. The main feature of this state is not pleasure, fun, or excitement. Instead it is a self-acknowledgement of worth, a sense of being a successful living entity of the kind human beings are” (73; see further, Lawrence 2006).

    There is considerable difference, nonetheless, I should say, between what Aristotle and Rand conceived the human mind and life to be and between what they took as the source of ethical norms (see e.g. Long 2000). Aristotle argued for happiness as the unique final end; Rand found life as final end-giving end of happiness. Moreover, Rand conceived happiness, with its self-sufficient quality, to be integral with, not aloof from, the pleasure of human animal life (see Frede 2007, 264–67, on Aristotle; cf. Saint-André 1993, 152, 159–66, and Branden 1964, on Rand).

    Among others stressing the kinship of Rand’s ethics to Aristotle’s would be Jack Wheeler in his contribution “Rand and Aristotle: A Comparison of Objectivist and Aristotelian Ethics” (1984). Similarly, Peter Saint-André stresses that Rand’s project, and Aristotle’s too, is “at root metaphysical,” both projects dealing with “‘what is possible’ to the human individual” (1996, 209). He objects to Rand’s representation of Aristotle as only “sifting through what the noble and the wise say and do” to uncover norms. That may be what Aristotle sometimes says he does, but, Saint-André would have us look at Nicomachean Ethics I, 6–7, “wherein Aristotle investigates the ontological status of the Good and derives the nature of happiness from the ergon or ‘characteristic work’ of man quo man” (1996, 210).

    In his 2005 paper “Ayn Rand as Aristotelian: Values and Happiness,” Fred Miller observes that Aristotle’s presentation is open to interpretation among noted scholars. John Cooper, Terence Irwin, and David Reeve read Aristotle along the lines read by Machan, Den Uyl and Rasmussen, and others, which allows one to see Aristotle as near Rand in pattern of meta-ethical reasoning. Gabriel Richardson Lear reads Aristotle along those lines in her deep study (2004, 121–22, 145–46). Sarah Broadie dissents from the Grand End reading of Aristotle (1991), though she takes Aristotle as having practical reason discern right action, rather than constituting it (2006, 348). John McDowell finds Aristotle more like Rand found him: “Rather than giving a criterion that works from outside the ethic, [Aristotle] says that such things are as the virtuous person determines them to be” (1998, 35; quoted in Miller 2005). In any case, biological existence is not among the candidates for external ultimate criteria for ethical norms various scholars have drawn from Aristotle’s text.

    Professor Miller draws attention to Rand’s remarks on Aristotle a couple of years after her critical remarks on Aristotle’s ethical theory. Rand approved of Aristotle’s conceptions of life and knowledge as naturalistic facts. She viewed Aristotle as giving “living entities, the phenomenon of life,” a central place in his philosophy (1963, 10). “Life—and its highest form, man’s life—is the central fact in Aristotle’s view of reality. The best way to describe it is to say that Aristotle’s philosophy is ‘biocentric’.” (The same can be said for Protagoras, who influenced the Cyrenaics and Epicurus, I should note.) Rand continues: “This is the source of Aristotle’s intense concern with the study of the enormously ‘pro-life’ attitude that dominates his thinking” (11).

    When it comes to his ethical writings, however, I do not find Aristotle bringing biology expressly to bear. I do not see he has any understanding that the physical phenomenon of life, and its continuous self-generated struggle for continuation, is the source of all value.

    Happiness is not ordered to life by Aristotle in the express and deep way it is ordered to life by Rand.

    “Just as the pleasure-pain mechanism of man’s body is an automatic indicator of his body’s welfare or injury, a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death—so the emotional mechanism of man’s consciousness is geared to perform the same function, as a barometer that registers the same alternative by means of two basic emotions: joy or suffering.” (OE 27)

    “The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. . . . When one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: ‘This is worth living for’—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself.” (OE 29)

    Aristotle recognized that there is no desire, no valued thing, where there is no life (EE 1281a26–27). That is short of seeing that and how the concept value, or goodness, presupposes the concept life. Aristotle observed that pleasures complete competent activities “as an end which supervenes as the bloom of youth does on those in the flower of their age” (NE 1174b31–33). Life is desirable, and pleasure completes the activity that is human life (NE 1175a10–21). Moreover, the life of the virtuous is pleasant, and its pleasures are harmonious because they are pleasures taken in things that are by nature pleasant (NE 1099a6–14). But Aristotle does not proceed expressly from pleasure to joy to happiness, and on the steps life, life, life.

    Aristotle held that eudaimonia is a complete thing, an end in itself (NE 1097a30–35; 1176a36–1176b5; EE 1219a24–39; see further, Richardson Lear 2004, 69–71). He held it to be something of a self-generated achievement (NE 1114b30–1115a3; EE 1215a15–19). One barrier to Aristotle fully seeing happiness as emblematic servant of life itself, morality’s true ground, is perhaps this: Although he recognized the self-generated dimension of life, he “did not clearly identify that a living organism’s existence depends on this activity” (Smith 2000, 119n11).

    Born nine years after Aristotle and living five decades beyond him was Epicurus. He promoted a form of eudaimonistic hedonism, directed by the reins of physical life, which life dwells in a world devoid of Aristotelian natural teleology. That Epicurus keeps ethics close to biology is fast upon his view that “the soul is a body [made up of] fine parts distributed throughout the entire aggregate, and most closely resembling breath with a certain admixture of heat . . . . All of this is revealed by the abilities of the soul, its feelings, its ease of motion, its thought processes, and the things whose removal leads to our death” (Ltr. To Herodotus 63). Human nature “was taught a large number of different lessons just by the facts themselves, and compelled [by them]; . . . reasoning later made more precise what was handed over to it [by nature] and made additional discoveries” (H 75).

    Good and bad arise only within sense experience. So death cannot be the root of that which is bad (Ltr to Menoeceus 124–25). “The wise man neither rejects life nor fears death” (M 126). Among natural desires, “some are necessary for happiness and some for freeing the body from troubles and some for life itself” (M 127). As for the first two, Epicurus writes: “The cry of the flesh: not to be hungry, not to be thirsty, not to be cold. For if someone has these things and is confident of having them in the future, he might contend even with [Zeus] for happiness” (Vatican Collection 33).

    Epicurus held to a conceptual primacy of pain over pleasure—the latter is only the absence of the former—although plenty of harmonious pleasure is possible in life if one keeps ones desires limited to what is necessary for a modest style of life (M 128–32; Principal Doctrines III–V). “One must not force nature but persuade her. And we will persuade her by fulfilling the necessary desires” and the natural but unnecessary ones, provided they are not harmful (VC 21).

    Epicurus anchors happiness to absence of bodily pains and harms. This suggests he takes physical life to be the basis of right desires. In addition, as seen in the paragraph before last, some right desires are necessary “for life itself,” in the view of Epicurus. I do not find in Epicurus the insight that it is the concept of life, with its fundamental perpetual alternative, that makes the concept of right desire possible. Still, it should be clear that on the relation of moral values to life itself, there are precursors of Rand’s pages in the writings of both Epicurus and Aristotle. (See further, Shelton 1995, 1996, and Saint-André 1996.)

    (Coming in a few weeks: Salmeiri 2020.)



    Aristotle 1984. The Complete Works of Aristotle, volume 2. J. Barnes, editor. Princeton.

    Branden, N. 1964. The Psychology of Pleasure. In Rand 1964.

    Broadie, S. 1991. Ethics with Aristotle. Oxford.

    ——. 2006. Aristotle and Contemporary Ethics. In Kraut 2006.

    Den Uyl, D. J., and D. B. Rasmussen 1984a. Life, Teleology, and Eudaimonia in the Ethics of Ayn Rand. In 1984b.

    Den Uyl, D. J.,  and D. B. Rasmussen, editors. 1984b. The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand. University of Illinois.

    Epicurus 1994. The Epicurus Reader. B. Inwood and L. P. Gerson, translators and editors. Hackett.

    Frede, D. 2006. Pleasure and Pain in Aristotle’s Ethics. In Kraut 2006.

    Kelley, D. 1992. Post-Randian Aristotelianism. Liberty (July).

    Kraut, R., editor. 2006. The Blackwell Guide to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Blackwell.

    Lawrence, G. 2006. Human Good and Human Function. In Kraut 2006.

    Lennox, J. G. 1999. Aristotle on the Biological Roots of Virtue: The Natural History of Natural Virtue. In Biology and the Foundation of Ethics. J. Maienschein and M. Ruse, editors. Cambridge.

    Long, R. T. 2000. Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand. Objectivist Studies. No. 3. The Objectivist Center.

    Machan, T. R. 1975. Human Rights and Human Liberties. Nelson Hall.

    Mack, E. 1971. How to Derive Ethical Egoism. The Personalist (Autumn):736–43.

    McDowell, J. 1998. Some Issues in Aristotle’s Moral Psychology. In Mind, Value, and Reality. Cambridge.

    Rand, A. 1961. The Objectivist Ethics. In Rand 1964.

    ——. 1963. Review of Randall’s Aristotle. In The Voice of Reason. 1990. Meridian.

    ——. 1964. The Virtue of Selfishness. 1964. Signet.

    ——. 1974. Causality versus Duty. In Philosophy: Who Needs It. 1982. Signet.

    Richardson Lear, G. 2004. Happy Lives and the Highest Good. Princeton.

    Saint-André, J. P. 1993. A Philosophy for Living on Earth. Objectivity 1(6):137–73.

    ——. 1996. Epicurean Pleasure and the Objectivist Good. Objectivity 2(4):205–11.

    Shelton, R. 1995. Epicurus and Rand. Objectivity 2(3)1–47.

    ——. 1996. Parallel Metaethics. Objectivity 2(4):213–25.

    Smith, T. 2000. Viable Values. Rowman & Littlefield.

    Wheeler, J. 1984. Rand and Aristotle: A Comparison of Objectivist and Aristotelian Ethics. In Den Uyl and Rasmussen 1984b.

  19. Rand took it that we can and do recognize that others are ends in themselves. The fact that they are ends in themselves entails certain ways one should not treat them. Adhering to those ways—respecting their rights against force or fraud in their person and their property—is morally right, is what one ought to do. Moreover, in Rand’s view, it is what one would normally, naturally want to do. Furthermore, in Rand’s view, respecting rights of others—making the fact that they are ends in themselves operative in one’s set of values—is in one’s best interest in a social context (and is irrelevant in a non-social context).

    Nice related work: “Selfish Regard for the Rights of Others” by Gregory Salmieri, in Foundations of a Free Society (Pittsburgh 2019).


    PS - to SL: You will find the term "intrinsic" used in the chapter just cited, and not in Rand's special sense for it when thinking about the ontology of value. That is because Salmieri is (i) engaging with criticisms of Rand's ethical egoism and her theory of rights coming from contemporary philosophers from other schools of thought and (ii) the term is common in talking about constitutive values and their interplay with instrumental values.

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