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For most of human history, "absolute truth" was the province of a select caste of priest-kings who claimed divine and exclusive knowledge of absolute truth, and the rest of society just went along with it. Now, for around the past 3-400 years or so, extremely recently wrt the whole of human history, absolute truth is said no longer to be the exclusive province of priests and kings claiming to have special dealings with the Gods, but is said to be accessible to every man, supposedly by means of things like logical syllogisms. The problem as I see it is that even honest and earnest men have always disagreed to a greater or lesser degree on what is and is not part of "absolute truth". Firstly, this is very odd if it is supposed to be "absolute" and accessible to all men. Secondly, and probably more importantly: In the modern age, now that mankind no longer believes in the claims of priests that God provides their caste with privileged knowledge of absolute truth, sheer naked force has replaced claims of divine revelation to enforce one class's or leader's version of "absolute truth" upon the rest of his fellow men, given that individual men have never voluntarily agreed on what "absolute truth" consists of . The most infamous example is Communism, where millions were sent to gulags for thoughtcrimes such as "deviationism" from Stalin's version of "absolute truth". According to all of us here Communism was "irrational", but according to itself, its leaders, and the thousands of speeches they made, Communism was a rational system of objective truth.
Really the full title of this message should be "If God Doesn't Exist, Then "Objective Reality" Is Really Nothing More Than a Cosmic Fart, So Why Do Objectivists Have Such Deep Reverence for It?" But that would be too long for the forum system. Getting down to brass tacks though, at the end of Atlas Shrugged, after the blowout of Project F, James Taggart, one of the villains, his brain just basically "snaps" and he sits down on the floor of the Project F room and he becomes basically this empty blubbering shell of a man, he reaches this dejected low point that is as abjectly low as a man can go. And this isn't because of sorrow at moral evil (moral evil according to the conventional non-objectivist definition that most people go by), it's because of his supposed inability to accept objective reality, his supposed incompatability with objective reality. Objectivism's atheism seems incompatable with Objectivism's deep reverence for "objective reality". Jim Taggart's downfall, in which he becomes this blubbering empty shell of a man, would be understandable if he were a character in a theist novel who discovered that he had been dissing God this whole time by dissing God's Creation, God's Reality. If he became this blubbering "repentant sinner" down on the floor at that point, in a theist novel, that would be understandable. But in an atheist framework, I just don't see it. At best, Objectivists are telling people to "love the one they're stuck with" even though it's admittedly no more than a cosmic fart that is no more deserving of any reverence than a fantasy world that somebody has built inside their head. Thoughts?
I have always been attracted by the idea of an objective morality derivable from the facts of reality. Rand's essay in the "Virtue of Selfishness" on deriving Objectivist ethics from reality was always the most interesting part of the whole philosophy to me. However, I've never felt like she got it quite right. Let's start from the axiom that language is a tool that is more or less useful to us depending on how much it helps us express reality accurately. Holding any concept that has zero truth value is worse than useless -- it is extremely psychologically damaging. I think most Objectivists have already bought into this point so I won't elaborate on it. Next, let's examine the nature of reality. In fact, let's start with the word "reality." What does it refer to? Reality is my perceiving (listening to sensory impressions), thinking (processing the results of those impressions), and acting (the result of that processing). All of these are only individual, never collective. However, there is one aspect of reality that is never discussed in any Objectivist writing I've read to date. All these actions (perceiving, thinking, and acting) happen in a singular moment. It is a logical impossibility for me to perceive for 5 seconds. I can perceive right now, and in the next instant I can choose to keep perceiving, and so on until 5 seconds have passed. However, I can't, in my reality, ever do something outside of my reality, and my reality always occupies a specific place in time that is now. This is not to say I can't accomplish long term goals. However, I will achieve and experience any accomplishment only in the instant it actually happens. Again, remembering that language is a tool, and keeping in mind that holding false concepts that do not reflect reality is psychologically destructive, let's reverse engineer ethics. I define proper ethics as useful ethics that reflect reality and do not cause psychological self-destruction. All three elements are inherently tied together because they are not actually distinct concepts. They all refer to the same thing in reality. An ethics that is not one of these elements cannot be any, and an ethics that has one element necessarily has them all. Proper ethics compel right action. If they don't compel right action they are not useful, don't reflect anything in reality, and are psychologically damaging non-concepts. Given this, we can actually determine "true ethics" by focusing on any of those elements, knowing that the others will necessarily follow. Let's start by looking at an example of some very psychologically destructive ethics. Depressed people are unmotivated and self-hating. They universally hold the belief that they are fundamentally worthless. Looking at the thinking and behavior of depressed people is a wonderful way to see what exactly is psychologically harmful and to be avoided. If you ever have a conversation with a depressed person you will hear a strong desire to avoid reality, responsibility, and action. They will often say things about how inadequate they are, and usually these statements will take the form of "I don't X enough. I should X more." They understand that their current behavior is very unlikely to lead to them doing X. However, when we probe deeper we understand that they are avoiding doing X because they have rigged the game against themselves. When you ask "How much more X do you need to do to make yourself feel better?" depressed people invariably answer the same way: "It will never be enough. I'll always feel bad about myself no matter how much X I do because I could always have done more." Let's look at the general form of "I should do X." Ask yourself what this has to do with reality. What does "I should lose weight" mean to a 400 lbs person? "I am too fat now (and therefore inadequate as a human being)." So let's ask ourselves, how does such a universal statement of morality affect a person? I have never seen any effect but inspiring self-hatred and destroying motivation. Such a statement clearly fails the test of not being psychologically self-destructive. It is also untrue and not useful. It is untrue because it is not time-bound in any way. It is useless because it offers absolutely no guide to action. Now a non-depressed person might experience "I should lose weight" in a totally different way. A fully functional person will take that statement and think about it until they convert it into momentary action. A full functional person won't leave it as an absolute that only implies inadequacy, but will turn it into a series of more specific goals leading up to the immediate moment. In the immediate moment, we can compare the value behind "I should lose weight" to all our other momentary values and make a rational decision as to our next course of action. The result of this is that ethics which perfectly reflect reality are perfectly immediate, and ethics which deal with future probabilities are only as useful as the extent to which those probabilities reflect what will become reality. Generally, the further out a moment is in time from where we are now, the less able we are to predict accurately the full range of possibilities of that moment. Ethics with longer time frames tend to be less useful than ones with shorter time frames, and ethics with no time frame (e.g. "I should make more friends") are only useful as a very first step towards formulating increasingly time-constrained statements that attempt to align our values with the range of possible actions in the next moment.