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Predation: Virtue Or Vice?

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[Note that this thread is being moved from Orkut where I have invited them to join us here.]

What is the Objectivist case against predation?

This is not a new question but in reviewing the literature and discussions on the subject I am left unsatisfied as I will elaborate here. My purpose is not to rehash nostrums pro and con but, rather, to get to the core of a topic that has been approached tangentially in many different ways.

By “predation” I mean the generally accepted dictionary meaning: The act or practice of plundering pillaging, or marauding. The capturing of prey as a means of maintaining life. Living by or given to exploiting or destroying others for one's own gain.

There are some subtleties to this definition (e.g. is “predatory pricing” true predation?) but we’ll set those aside for the time being and focus on less controversial interpretations.

Let me begin by pointing out two Objectivist arguments against dishonesty, a frequent aspect of predation: Tara Smith’s essay “The Metaphysical Case for Honesty” (http://journals.kluweronline.com/article.asp?PIPS=5139594) and Peikoff's "My Thirty Years" in which he states, in part:

"Virtue, as Socrates held, is one; to cheat on any of its aspects is to cheat on all. The dishonest man is not only dishonest; in Ayn Rand's view, he betrays every moral requirement of human life and thereby systematically courts failure, pain, destruction. This is true by the nature of dishonesty, by the nature of the principle it involves—even if, like Gyges in Plato's myth, the liar is never found out and amasses a fortune. It is true because the fundamental avenger of his life of lies is not the victims or the police, but that which one cannot escape: reality itself."

Also, I should mention Nathaniel Branden’s “The Art of Living Consciously” as providing a pragmatic argument for honesty at the most personal level.

In opposition (perhaps) I cite Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, and similar works.

At one level I am taking a “devil’s advocate” position for the purpose of fostering a good, honest discussion. At another level, I am offering a protestant (heretical?) thesis, as opposed to orthodox objectivism; a difference of opinion on a subject in good faith toward a philosophy I admire in many other ways. If anyone feels that I owe them a clarification of my “real” position on this topic, I’m willing to do that.

I would like to offer two competing hypotheses for discussion:

Orthodox Hypothesis: Virtue is one and to cheat on any of its aspects is to cheat on all. To be dishonest in one respect is to betray every moral requirement of human life and thereby court failure, pain, and destruction. Predation is a vice.

Protestant Hypothesis: While predation, dishonesty and such practices require effort, skill, and wisdom in their successful application they are nevertheless moral imperatives in particular circumstances. To categorically forswear predation and dishonesty courts failure, pain, and destruction. Predation is a virtue.

So let me launch this discussion with what might at first appear to be a trivial example: If I place bait on a rat trap I am being dishonest, leading the rat to believe that a tasty morsel awaits him when, in fact, death is my intent and a likely consequence of his hunger. But ridding my home of rats may well protect my family from disease (certainly disgust) and baited traps are the most efficient method for accomplishing this task.

According to Tara Smith, “Faking does not transport a person into an alternate reality where his fabrications actually obtain. Consequently, it cannot be truly beneficial to him.”

Thus, by some mechanism, she suggests I will suffer for deceiving the rats.

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Instead of putting the bait on the trap put it on a plate, and even better, put an assortment of cheeses and cold-cut meat. Are you being honest and generous with the rat? Can he possibly know this? When the rat gets caught by the trap it is because his “knowledge” is not adequate enough to realize the danger.

Ayn Rand clearly says that morality is something that only pertains to volitionally rational living organisms. So that’s one answer.

And our rat has no concepts; in what capacity will he know that he is being cheated. And by what duty must we provide a rat with a home, i.e., our home? Do animals have the privilege of alienating human property rights? Just like I can kick out a pest of a guest at my dinner table, so I can kick out a rat from my home. Obviously the means is different, i.e., I don’t kill the Kantian at my dinner table.

So what gives me the right to kill the rat? But your question is more narrow: why can’t I “lie” to the rat? Isn’t it because humans lie by dialogue? Isn’t it because to deceive in the moral sense, it must be done to a being capable of understanding?

But there is no categorical imperative that says one should never lie. Lying is bad when another person is harmed as a consequence. I can surely lie to an enemy, say the thief who wants my wallet. And people don’t have a right to know everything about you. There is a species of human being that likes to know the most personal details of colleagues and even strangers. But you can lie if he/she is prying. When the paparazzi asks Jennifer Lopez to what restaurant she will be going, is it a sin that she says McDonald’s instead of some other hotspot?

I don’t think it’s possible to lie or cheat an animal. But you’ve raised an interesting question.

Americo.

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I'm sorry, but your example (deceiving the rat) is almost ludicrous.

I must point out one thing that you seemed to have missed in reading on Objectivist ethics:

Ethical principles apply only in the proper contexts. Individual ethics apply only to individuals, and social ethics apply only to individuals insofar as they socially interact.

Social ethics is inapplicable between a human and a rat.

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According to Objectivism, it is a moral imperative that you lie if telling the truth places your values under the threat of destruction.

Fortunately, this is only possible under very rare circumstances--e.g., when you are under the threat of intiation of physical force.

For example:

Bob and his family live in a communist state. He has a successful business in the black market. The secret police are suspicious of him because of his somewhat conspicuous wealth, but they are not entirely certain and have no clear evidence to prove it. Nevertheless, they arrest him and interrogate him in the police station. Bob has a good chance of getting away if he lies, but if he tells the truth, his whole business will be destroyed, he will be jailed, and his family will be impoverished like the rest of his people, if not jailed along with him.

Should he lie?

Objectivism says NO. Because in doing so, he would destroy his values--his success, his wealth, his family, his entire life--only to be honest to tyrants, i.e., to be honest to evil men.

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Bob and his family live in a communist state.  He has a successful business in the black market.  The secret police are suspicious of him because of his somewhat conspicuous wealth, but they are not entirely certain and have no clear evidence to prove it.  Nevertheless, they arrest him and interrogate him in the police station.  Bob has a good chance of getting away if he lies, but if he tells the truth, his whole business will be destroyed, he will be jailed, and his family will be impoverished like the rest of his people, if not jailed along with him.

Should he lie?

Objectivism says NO.  Because in doing so, he would destroy his values--his success, his wealth, his family, his entire life--only to be honest to tyrants, i.e., to be honest to evil men.

I assume you meant to say "Objectivism says YES".

Although I would add that this is clearly a hopeless situation and he should really be devoting his energies to either trying to overthrow the regime or escape.

As for the example of "deceiving the rat" which was brought up by the original questioner, all you can do with something like that is laugh at it. It's so incredibly stupid, I have to wonder if he's being serious.

Fred Weiss

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Orthodox Hypothesis: Virtue is one and to cheat on any of its aspects is to cheat on all. To be dishonest in one respect is to betray every moral requirement of human life and thereby court failure, pain, and destruction. Predation is a vice.

The so-called "Orthodox Hypothesis" you have offered is not an accurate reflection of Objectivism.

Predation is not a fundamental ethical principle for Objectivism. Human beings are predators of pretty much every other animal on Earth. We hunt, harvest, and eat all sorts of lower animals. Ayn Rand did not object to this fact. This is predation and it is not vicious, but rather virtuous, as it is the sustainment and pleasure of our lives.

Ayn Rand did however have a lot to say about the ethics of interaction with other people, and she was firmly against predation in this realm. The initiation of force against another rational being is a violation of their rights. Predation against another human, whether it be robbery, fraud, cannibalization, or otherwise, is harmful to your life and therefore, vicious. It makes you a dependent and a parasite upon the virtues of another man, and even ignoring all the possible socio-legal consequences, your self-esteem will have been irreparably damaged.

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I assume you meant to say "Objectivism says YES".

Although I would add that this is clearly a hopeless situation and he should really be devoting his energies to either trying to overthrow the regime or escape.

As for the example of "deceiving the rat" which was brought up by the original questioner, all you can do with something like that is laugh at it. It's so incredibly stupid, I have to wonder if he's being serious.

Fred Weiss

lol, I meant "YES". :D

And of course, maybe I should have added this to the situation--Bob is accumulating wealth in order to prepare himself and his secret army to overthrow the government or to prepare for his and his family's escape.

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"So let me launch this discussion with what might at first appear to be a trivial example: If I place bait on a rat trap I am being dishonest, leading the rat to believe that a tasty morsel awaits him when, in fact, death is my intent and a likely consequence of his hunger. But ridding my home of rats may well protect my family from disease (certainly disgust) and baited traps are the most efficient method for accomplishing this task."

An interesting if not amusing example to apply your hypotheses to. It raises a couple of points; one as identified - whom are moral subjects? But the main observation - that of higher considerations - the result of which is perhaps the ultimatum 'dishonesty is unacceptable unless it aids a greater truth' is worth pursuing.

If taking advantage of people through trickery and deception is being done for no other purpose than hording of wealth it is irrational and fails to consider negative consequences. If however, the deception is the price of gaining the means to do greater things, it may be justifiable. For instance, if aquiring the wealth to set up a successful private school means taking advantage of consumers by playing on their own irrational misgivings, is it justified?

If we define things in terms of the individual and one sees a way to subordinate others to ones own advantage with no risk to themselves, is it moral? more so is it ones duty?

I think that would depend upon how one defines themselves; if one judges oneself by how happy they are, by emotional standards rather than objective, rational standards - Then such a view is quite easily possible - the risk to longevity is neglible to such a person, and the potential risk to his happiness is easily controlled.

If, however one invests resoures, attained through mass deception, into a project of scientific endevour, one which would aid the survival of a small group of people with access to the technology and would be truly in their self-interest - is it right?

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Let me begin with the most constructive point: Atlas642 took issue with my formulation of the Orthodox Hypothesis. Note that I had only paraphrased Peikoff but since this is not my hypothesis but that which I understood to be the orthodox position, I invite you and others to suggest an alternative that, hopefully, other objectivists here can agree on.

Regarding the suggestion that my example is ludicrous or otherwise easily dismissed because the victim is not a reasoning creature (issues of speciesism aside), I urge you to read Tara Smith’s essay, which is consistent with what I have read from Rand (but more precisely focused on this topic). Smith strikes me as overbroad in her condemnation of deceit, almost like a nun admonishing adolescents that masturbation will cause hair to grow on their palms. (It’s silly, for example, to argue that a human preying on others will suffer a loss of self-esteem. History is full of bloody predators who suffered no deficit of self-esteem. This argument smacks of self-deceit of the most dangerous sort.)

Tom, I am intrigued by your comment that “According to Objectivism, it is a moral imperative that you lie if telling the truth places your values under the threat of destruction.” And AMERICONORMAN offered whole categories in which objectivism supposedly permits deceit and predation. This is much looser than Peikoff and Smith’s position (though it is a slippery slope). Can you please provide a precise reference and reasoning? My favorite example is a lynch mob knocking on your door asking “are you now or have you ever been an objectivist?”

Note, for the purpose of this discussion, that deceit is the focus of Peikoff and Smith’s attention and predation tends to include deceit but predation is a much broader subject. As a more extreme example of predation, think of the practice, throughout history, of one tribe attacking and destroying another, killing some, taking others into slavery, and plundering their property.

Several brought up the topic of “rights” (rats don’t have them but, presumably, people do) but falling back on rights merely begs the question: how is it in my self-interest to respect your rights? Or, in the example above, how is it in the self-interest of one tribe to respect the rights of another? After all, this is objectivism where we expect a reasoned, egoist basis for our formulations of virtue and vice. Simply asserting rights is like a deist asserting the wrath of God, it doesn’t move our understanding forward. I urge you to peel back the layers of such assertions and look behind the curtain.

Finally, I’ve noticed a tendency for most published writers to assume a certain context in these discussions, namely a salaryman in a well-structured society. I urge you to think more generally. Social forces do affect the moral choices we face in the most pragmatic sense but even then there are plenty of opportunities for predation. One can draw bloody examples from crime, politics, and warfare, and less bloody examples in the grey areas of government, business, and law.

My apologies in advance if I have failed to address a point that you raised.

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...History is full of bloody predators who suffered no deficit of self-esteem. ... As a more extreme example of predation, think of the practice, throughout history, of one tribe attacking and destroying another, killing some, taking others into slavery, and plundering their property.

Yes, history is full of examples of both individuals and societies which did not (and still do not) recognize individual rights. The recognition of individual rights and the capitalist system which arose as a consequence of it demonstrated that the process of creating wealth not only did not have to occur at the expense of others but benefited everyone, i.e. it is a system in which wealth is created by trade not acquired by looting. In order to achieve wealth in such a system therefore one must create goods or services which are of value to people and for which they are therefore willing to trade.

The result has been an explosion of wealth and of technological and scientific achievement which is unparalled in history.

To compare this morally to "bloody predators" or to primitive tribal rivalries and savagery which never accomplished anything except death and destruction and either the impoverishment or stagnation of culture indicates about as much understanding of history as your "rat" example is supposed to indicate about morality. The bloody predators, for example, who destroyed the Roman Empire and contributed to sending civilization into 1,000 years of Dark Ages accomplished what therefore which you are upholding as a possibly rational alternative to living a productive life? Or what did the Naziis or Communists accomplish except mass destruction and the impoverishment of millions of people?

Most of your "predators" I might add are also hardly examples of men of self-esteem. Their lives in fact are typically characterized by uncontrollable rage, chronic fear, delusions of grandeur, and paranoia - Hitler and Stalin being notable examples, but hardly the only ones. Saddam Hussein is a recent one. (In his last years he never slept in the same place for more than a night or two). In short they are psychopaths.

Fred Weiss

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Do you think there is anything wrong with "speciesism" ?

Seriously, no. But I am unwilling to rely on subjectivism even in this case.

Why do we except rats? Why is the victim's ability to reason at issue?

Or, to put it another way, if someone is stupid enough to enter their credit card information on a website in response to a fake email, can we really say they are any more reasonig than the rat in my example? Do such idiots have a right not to be defrauded? Is it unreasonable, in the objectivist sense, for fraudsters to prey on them?

Tara Smith's arguments are entirely oriented on the supposed corrosive nature of deception, not on the status of the victim.

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Fred, you raise a couple points that require close examination.

Capitalism is good and, at least as you and I would understand it, it is non-predatory (noting that socialists are of a different opinion). Capitalism includes such social constructs as property rights. Let's assume that we do not disagree on this much. It nevertheless does not follow logically that one must respect such rights. This is the problem of the commons, as I'm sure you well know. The existence and success of capitalism does not impel the self-interested egoist to respect the capitalist rights of others.

Fred, the Roman Empire was built by bloody predators! By men of great self-esteem who returned to Rome as conquering heroes, proud of their conquests and the booty and slaves they brought home.

Yes, history includes some mentally unstable examples too, but they are the exception, not the rule. One can find unstable individuals in every walk of life.

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First of all, it is Peikoff’s position that lying is appropriate in some contexts. Check out OPAR (soft cover) page 275-276.

Now regarding self-esteem, Ayn Rand’s conception of it is relatively new and radical. She names it as one of the three primary values. Not only are these values the ultimate ends of ethics, commingling into happiness, but they are material causes. I mean that they are omnipresent and make possible the other seven virtues she names. To the extent that a human being lives according to the right code of values, these are present. The goal of ethics is to fulfill more and more these values.

Now, even a criminal has some self-esteem. He has it to some extent because he is still alive. Most of his “self-esteem” should better be termed pseudo-self-esteem but to the degree that he remains living, he possesses some legitimate self-esteem. The goal and reality for a moral man is to possess self-esteem past a certain point and optimally.

To rely on individual rights to justify eating animals, is not merely an escape. Individual rights arise from the local and eternal fact that humans deal with other human beings. Human beings are born from other human beings. Some of the first data of individual rights is the issue of how much force parents should use against their children, and whether a brother has the right to beat up his little brother. You can project a human being on a desert island with no other human beings but how did the man get there?

But it is an interesting question to ask: can a teenager on a desert island, stranded, come up with individual rights, based on his interaction with other animals?

Before “social ethics” arises the teenager will have to have the moral code that will keep him alive and make him happy.

Americo.

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AMERICONORMAN, sounds like I should pick up a copy of Peikoff’s OPAR but while I rush off to Amazon.com, could you do me a favor and summarize his position on this subject for the purpose of continuing the dialog?

What I do have on hand are yellowed copies of "The Virtue of Selfishness" (VoS) and "Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal" (CtUI) which I have read off and on since I was weaned by the wolves.

I went back to VoS, using the index to find references to "self esteem". I could not find anything that suggested a conflict between self-esteem and predation. Now, to be fair, she is mostly concerned in that book with refuting self-sacrifice, not with delimiting selfishness. But her definition of self-esteem (pride) in chapter one is very pragmatic. I won't quote her because I'm sure every reader has a copy at hand.

In particular, I find nothing in her definition that would suggest a Roman general might suffer low self-esteem upon conquest of a barbarian tribe or that he might find a higher moral calling by eschewing conquest.

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Hernan,

First of all, I'd like to ask you: are the several essays by Peikoff, Smith, and Branden, including some by Ayn Rand in VOS and CUI, the only Objectivist material you've read? Because the questions you raise are awfully familiar of...

I've taken some quotes from your posts, and then in bold red right underneath each quote, I've summed up your objections into simple questions. I'm only asking that you verify that I've summed then up correctly or not, then I'll reply in length. (I'm asking you this because you've since posed many different questions of such broad nature scattered throughout your various posts).

"(It’s silly, for example, to argue that a human preying on others will suffer a loss of self-esteem. History is full of bloody predators who suffered no deficit of self-esteem. This argument smacks of self-deceit of the most dangerous sort.)"

[...]

"I went back to VoS, using the index to find references to "self esteem". I could not find anything that suggested a conflict between self-esteem and predation. Now, to be fair, she is mostly concerned in that book with refuting self-sacrifice, not with delimiting selfishness. But her definition of self-esteem (pride) in chapter one is very pragmatic. I won't quote her because I'm sure every reader has a copy at hand.

In particular, I find nothing in her definition that would suggest a Roman general might suffer low self-esteem upon conquest of a barbarian tribe or that he might find a higher moral calling by eschewing conquest."

"What is self-esteem? Why does not a conqueror/looter/plunderer have a high self-esteem?"

BTW, that which you refer to by the words "self-esteem" is not what Objectivism would consider real "self-esteem". It is absolutely NOT the satisfaction of having raped and plundered.

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"how is it in my self-interest to respect your rights? Or, in the example above, how is it in the self-interest of one tribe to respect the rights of another? After all, this is objectivism where we expect a reasoned, egoist basis for our formulations of virtue and vice. Simply asserting rights is like a deist asserting the wrath of God, it doesn’t move our understanding forward. I urge you to peel back the layers of such assertions and look behind the curtain."

[...]

"Capitalism is good and, at least as you and I would understand it, it is non-predatory (noting that socialists are of a different opinion). Capitalism includes such social constructs as property rights. Let's assume that we do not disagree on this much. It nevertheless does not follow logically that one must respect such rights. This is the problem of the commons, as I'm sure you well know. The existence and success of capitalism does not impel the self-interested egoist to respect the capitalist rights of others."

"how is it in the individual's self-interest to respect the rights of others?"

BTW, Objectivism doesn't deduce "the individual must respect the rights of others" from "the 'social construct' of property rights exists in Capitalism".

---------

"Why do we except rats? Why is the victim's ability to reason at issue?

Or, to put it another way, if someone is stupid enough to enter their credit card information on a website in response to a fake email, can we really say they are any more reasonig than the rat in my example? Do such idiots have a right not to be defrauded? Is it unreasonable, in the objectivist sense, for fraudsters to prey on them?"

"Why are human reason and volition the basis of ethics?"

"What are rights? How do they arise from the fact that men are rational animals?"

BTW, the degree of intelligence is not the basis of rights. It doesn't matter whether one's an idiot or a genius--to live qua man, one still has to use reason.

------

Did you notice how a simply question on predation got you asking about virtue, rights, and self-esteem?

Objectivism is a coherent and integrated philosophy. Reading up only on a few essays on ethics and politics will undoubtedly leave you with a lot of questions, especially if you haven't adequately traced their logical basis and connections in Ayn Rand's novels and Peikoff's OPAR.

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Thanks, Tom, for getting to the point. I think your questions are very helpful in moving this discussion forward.

(VoS and CUI are the only non-fiction Rand books I have on hand. I’ve also read Tara Smith’s “Viable Values”, which was excellent except, again, on this point, and Branden’s “Art of Living Consciously” which is on my suggested reading list. I’ve found plenty of other material on the web. I don't mind expanding my library but I'd prefer to buy books that are relevant to this discussion.)

"Why are human reason and volition the basis of ethics?"

I don’t think you need to convince me on this one. In spite of the fact that I’m questioning orthodox objectivism with respect to predation, I am otherwise most sympathetic to Rand’s central arguments.

"What is self-esteem? Why does not a conqueror/looter/plunderer have a high self-esteem?"

Let me clarify that when I suggest that a Roman general has self-esteem I do mean in the sense that Rand defines it in VoS. Let me offer an analogy: a hunter is a predator but even modern hunter, who hunts for sport not merely sustenance, does not take pride in the destruction of an animal in the sense that an animal-rights activist would caricature him. Rather, the pride is in overcoming the challenges and in the accomplishment, however bloody it might be. Your description (“satisfaction of having raped and plundered”) risks focusing on a similar caricature of conquest, not on the actual thing. A Roman general returning from conquest is not reveling in the blood of innocents so much as his accomplishments, territory won, slaves taken, etc., the advancement of himself toward fulfilling his personal ambitions. It would be more accurate to say that a Roman general is indifferent to the rape and plundering that goes with conquest as Al Dunlap might be indifferent to the unemployment caused by corporate consolidation and the hunter is indifferent to the death of the animal. Looking again at VoS, chapter one (page 27 in my Signet paperback), where Rand describes pride and self-esteem I find it entirely compatible with the above description of the self-esteem of the Roman general.

"How is it in the individual's self-interest to respect the rights of others?"

Right on! Note, however, that we need to get beyond the surface in addressing this question. For example, it’s clearly in my self-interest to be respectful of Allah when I’m in Saudi Arabia or Marx when I’m at Berkeley and I don’t speed when a cop is behind me.

"What are rights? How do they arise from the fact that men are rational animals?"

This might be worth exploring beyond the above.

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First of all let me say that I know the difference between a second-hander and first-hander. I was just giving you a reference to a book that is of extreme value. (You may not understand this, but: Peikoff dedicated that book to his daughter). Get your hands on it. (Send me your address and I’ll send you my “crappy” copy).

Listen, I’ve read Branden and I respect him in his books, not in what I’ve read in interviews: and my goal is to read him all and to understand him fully—but that is not my central purpose—but I’ve read him enough. (For example, he does not agree with Peikoff that lying is okay, as I’ve read in an interview in which he responds to the publication of OPAR).

If you’ve read his book on living consciously, how can you DEDUCE that he favors “predation”. I’m confident that he still eats meat. (The crucial question about Branden, for me, is whether sex can be explained by philosophy or not, which he doesn’t agree based on his memoirs (if you want the exact page reference I can give it to you). Certainly Branden hates any Attila or Witch Doctor.

Now, her view in the first chapter may not seem to you as delimiting “self-esteem” but it surely is delimited if you read OPAR or even Aristotle.

Well, my friend told me about Marc Anthony, and he surely had low self-esteem, IF, he believed that his cause was of lesser importance than Cleopatra. But if he believed that Cleopatra was of greater importance to him, then he had self-esteem. But this is debatable, because my friend says so.

Now, if you read Branden’s book, The Six Pillars of Self-esteem, you will find that he does not advocate, the activities of a Roman Emperor. (Check out Self-esteem and Culture; it’s a chapter in that book.) The Art Of Living Consciously is just an expansion on ONE chapter of the Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem.

Now the only time in history that Ayn Rand would agree with is the early American’s. But even they held Altruism as SOME ideal. I just finished reading a biography on Jefferson. He actually advocated public education. And……if you read For The New Intellectual you will see an explicit statement of her condemnation of the Roman Empire.

Now I ask you: Why have you ignored the specific philosophical questions of my post. I.e., my teenager on a desert island? Or parent using physical force against their kid, or a brother? Are these not relevant to deriving the nature of individual rights?

And “Self-esteem” is another thread that we all should be involved in since it is so crucial to the Objectivist Ethics. And I mean, another THREAD!

Now to answer “Manera” on the website you have led us to:

“ Conquistador measures himself by the loyalty and love of his friends, the respect and adulation of his acquaintances, and the fear and animosity of his enemies. He assures that while his enemies may never know what to expect from him, his friends will never doubt his fidelity.”

A man measures himself by the quality of his work , his love of it, it’s possibility in this world, and his efficacy and worthiness of it. His friends mean nothing unless they are truly friends, i.e., of the same mark, or tattoo if you like.

“ Conquistador knows that the most powerful word in any language is "no." He never allows himself to be bled by the endless demands of others. Instead, he builds networks of trust one favor at a time.

“NO!” a man knows that the most powerful word is “I”. (And this is not second-hand, I know what it means). And yet that is your question: what is the nature of man’s “I”, surely some of it is the nature of his eye!

A Conquistador”

The only realm where I recognize a “conquistador” is in the realm or Romance. But that is a different thread!

I’m Ecuadorian by the way! I’m part SPANISH, part NEGRO, and more than likely part Indian.

Americo.

P.S. I should have said that my response is to Hernan.

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... when I suggest that a Roman general has self-esteem I do mean in the sense that Rand defines it in VoS.

.

Not if you grasp the full context of the Objectivist ethics, which you don't do by lifting sentences out of that fuller context.

A Roman general returning from conquest is not reveling in the blood of innocents so much as his accomplishments, territory won, slaves taken, etc., the advancement of himself toward fulfilling his personal ambitions. It would be more accurate to say that a Roman general is indifferent to the rape and plundering that goes with conquest

You could say precisely the same about a concentration camp commandant. Or a Mafia boss. Or any thug or brute.

Tell me what such men produce - except death and destruction. Follow that to its logical conclusion, assuming such men ever think about that, and what do you end up with when you have laid waste to everything in your path and there is nothing left to plunder?

Such is the difference between production...and destruction.

And such is the difference between the wealth and science and literature and art which is created in societies based on production vs. those which are not. And that's why it is to your interest to promote the principles upon which such societies are based, which includes respecting the rights of others - the rights they need so that they, too, can produce - from which production you benefit in mutual trade just as they benefit from yours.

When you have the example of the cultural impact of the ideas of The Enlightenment on Western civilization and what it achieved - and when you have the counter example of the attempt to destroy it by Naziism and Communism - why are you still confused? What difference does it make that some people thought it was to their interest to promote Naziism and Communism? They were wrong. The evidence is right in front of you. The one produced vast wealth and an ever rising standard of living for everyone, including the doubling of average life expectancy, the other resulted in mass death, destruction, and impoverishment.

And who needs whom? Do the producers need the destroyers? Or do the destroyers need the producers? If there were no producers upon whom would the destroyers prey?

I suggest you read Atlas Shrugged. Maybe then you'll get the point.

In the meantime, I for one don't have much interest in descending into the sewer in which you are dragging this discussion.

Fred Weiss

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AMERICONORMAN, I should clarify that I was not under the impression that Branden advocated predation or even lying. I'm well aware that he and most (all?) objectivist writers are libertarian in their political philosophy. I have many books on my recommended reading list that I don't necessarily agree with 100%. Brandon, for example, might gain insights into his subject from Buddhist writings without swallowing Buddhism whole.

One way to restate the question, though I don't think it's the best way to state it, is this: is a libertarian concept of rights based on objective reasoning or wishful thinking? Sure it would be nice to live in a world of milk and honey capitalism but we don’t. And wishing for it won’t make it so, I think Rand would agree.

Fred, to answer your question directly, predation in its various forms has produced the world we live in. But that whole line of argument is fundamentally flawed, a symptom of wishful thinking and subjective altruism, not realistic, objective reasoning. It's interesting to conjecture what kind of empire the Romans might have built were they more mercantilist and less militarist, like the English and Americans. But they weren't and they didn’t. (On the other hand, pretending that a conquering Roman general is the same as a Nazi concentration camp commandant doesn’t make it so either.) I understand your anger at my heresy and I’m sorry that I elicited emotion instead of reason, but hopefully you will come back and try again. The great thing about objectivism is that it’s based on reason and not faith. If I am somewhere being unreasonable, point it out to me.

The more relevant answer to a more relevant question is this: The Roman general produced wealth for himself (and incidentally for his family and for Rome).

AMERICONORMAN, thanks for your very kind offer. I went ahead and placed an order on Amazon.com for “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand”. I only pushed back to avoid a game of hide the peanut (wherein the answer to my question is always in another book that is not on my shelf).

The problem with your previous questions (the desert and the brother) is that they presume that rights are the subject of concern. I think Tom’s questions are much more relevant to this stage of the discussion. Your questions are like asking is it a sin to be selfish or would Buddha approve of capitalism.

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What is the Objectivist case against predation?

Predation is pointless. It prevents those engaged in creating wealth from the pursuit of that activity. Instead of more pies benefiting everyone because of their commonplace availabily, you end up with a shorage of pies, a static number that pass back and forth between antagonists and are eventually, mostly consumed in the struggle.

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Setting aside the truth of that claim, I can believe that this is why objectivsists don't like predation, why they would wish it away. However, even if we accept this as truth (which I don't) it does not follow that this is an objective, reasoned argument against predation. That is the problem with this line of argument (also offered by Fred). Note, however, that this is not the reasoning that Tara Smith offers. While I don't think she succeeded, she at least tried to argue against dishonesty on the basis of rational egoism and not socialism.

I realize that this is a subtle distinction but it is important. The fact that every objectist is a libertarian does not make libertarianism objective.

Predation is not pointless as is evidenced by the wealthy Roman general. When I asked what is the objectist case against predation, I didn't mean, why don't you like it but rather what is the rational egoist argument against it.

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Predation is not pointless as is evidenced by the wealthy Roman general. When I asked what is the objectist case against predation, I didn't mean, why don't you like it but rather what is the rational egoist argument against it.

But this a rationalist egocentric argument as well as practical. I want to live in a world where I am free to trade/produce and prosper, where I am not jeopardizing my life to do so or endangering it in just leaving my house. Very selfish motives. You are right that it is an argument that acknowledges the differance between created and expropriated wealth, or capitalism and socialism if you prefer.

You can also see the inevitable pointlessness of a civilization like Rome. They were forced to plunder to support their empire, venturing further and further from their home base in search of more treasure. Eventually they had more territory than they could control, and the barbarians began to turn the tide; plunder, looting, raping and pilaging, very tactics they had learned from Rome. Sadly the Romans eye for the arts and culture they amired in the Greeks, also planted the seeds of ideas about warfare and tyranny that ultimately distroyed their republican government. Ideas are powerful things. Had they instead modeled their society on the examples of Phoenia or Crete instead, world history would have been quite different.

Men are productive by nature, so your Roman general felt fullfilment in doing the work his society taught him was virtuous. Society's opinion was his court of last resort. We know more today thanks to the philosophers of the Enlightenment and rational thinkers like Ayn Rand, whose philosophies determine what is right for man qua man, not for man as a part of a collective.

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“I want to live in a world where I am free to trade/produce and prosper.”

Surely! But wanting it does not make it so. You do not live in that world. And you (raise your hand) respecting the (libertarian) rights of others will not make it such a world. Now, if you really do want to go down that path of changing the world, sacrificing yourself for your ideals, I suggest that you get yourself nailed to a cross; it’s a proven method of getting your message out.

I disagree that Rome was pointless. I would agree that it was less efficient than American capitalism. But this is apples and oranges. The world was a different place as you note. But, still, this is all academic. My contention is not that Rome was superior to America or to libertopia, but that our Roman general was being entirely, rationally egoistic in his context when he conquered barbarians and brought home slaves (and that he suffered no deficit of self-esteem however it is defined).

Yes, men are productive by nature. But they are also predatory by nature. Yes, our Roman general had a contemporary social support system that taught that slavery was cool as long as Romans were the masters. But since Roman times we have also “learned” that taxation is good as long as it is administred by a democracy and that man is a blot on Gaia.

If there is a rational egoist argument for respecting rights I haven’t heard it yet.

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I suggest that you get yourself nailed to a cross; it’s a proven method of getting your message out.
I don't know where you get the idea that I am interested in sacraficing myself. Perhaps I need to be more specific than before about the importance of ideas. You change the world my changing minds. You also change the world by challenging warning, and demolishing if neccessary, countries that pose a threat to your free existence and way of life. Objectivists have no compunction about the retaliatory use of force, nor will we sit by when others arm against us, even if that requires preemptive strikes. Sovereignty is a privilege granted only to nations that respect the rights of their citizens, deriving their power from the consent of the governed; nations that do hold these beliefs have no legitimate claim to sovereignty.

You seem to be suffering under the misapprehension that Objectivists are Libertarians, if we are it is only in the very most general understanding of the term. We have no affection or affinity for the Libertarian Party that has raided Rand's polical ideas (the so called NAP (non aggression principle)) and slothfully disregarded the Epistemology, Metaphysics and Ethics which must preceed them.

our Roman general was being entirely, rationally egoistic in his context when he conquered barbarians and brought home slaves (and that he suffered no deficit of self-esteem however it is defined).

I have already conceded that our Roman general was doing his best, considering his limited knowledge.

Yes, men are productive by nature. But they are also predatory by nature.
If by predatory you mean that they hunt animals for food, I agree. If you have some other meaning in mind you'll have to elaborate.
But since Roman times we have also “learned” that taxation is good as long as it is administred by a democracy and that man is a blot on Gaia.
Neither of these things are true for Objectivists.
If there is a rational egoist argument for respecting rights I haven’t heard it yet.
I believe you have, and it is simple. It is impossible absent the use of force to have rights for myself while denying them to others, and those tables could be turned on me. In addition, if I find rights of value, what would be my modivation for denying them to others. I'm free as long as everyone has rights, when rights can be denied, I could find myself on the losing side.
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If there is a rational egoist argument for respecting rights I haven’t heard it yet.

I would suggest that you go to the Ayn Rand Institute web site ( http://www.aynrand.org ) and register so that you can listen (no charge beyond registration which only requires your name and your email address) to Dr. Peikoff's Ford Hall Forum lecture, "Why Act on Principle?" (available from the page that you will be automatically transferred to upon registration).

After that, if you're interested in more, you can go to http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pag...vism_audiovideo and listen to Dr. Peikoff's one hour "Introduction to Objectivism" and Dr. Hull's five hour "An Introduction to Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand." You will need RealAudio's player to listen to any of these free lectures.

P. S. Thanks to all who encouraged me to consider rejoining this forum, especially Stephen and Betsy Speicher.

John

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