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Criticisms of Objectivism

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Greebo
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In the interest of my own objectivity, I am interested in finding any articles which attempt to disprove Objectivism. I have seen plenty of emotionally based criticisms of Ms. Rand and Objectivism, and plenty that criticize it because its "unsympathetic" or "greedy", as well as those based on false assumptions.

What I am interested in, however, is a truly philosophical attempt to disprove all or part of Objectivism's core. My reason for wanting this is so that I can evaluate the counter-argument and determine, for myself, whether I find them convincing, and (operating on the assumption that I will not in fact be convinced, prepare effective counter-counter-arguments for them.

I have read the rules, and I know the object of this forum is the promotion of Objectivism. I hope this post isn't seen as contrary to that aim - I really do not think I'm going to find anything to convince me that Objectivism is wrong, but one must consider any rational or pseudo-rational argument and form ones own conclusions, right?

Edited by Greebo
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In the interest of my own objectivity, I am interested in finding any articles which attempt to disprove Objectivism.
I would suggest looking at Mike Huemer's page (look under "other"). It's based on serious misunderstandings of Objectivism, and he might know better now (at any rate, those are old papers). I hesitate to mention these works, but as long as you pay attention to what I'm telling you, that he misrepresents Objectivism, then I think it's okay to say "That's the best they've got".
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I would suggest looking at Mike Huemer's page (look under "other"). It's based on serious misunderstandings of Objectivism, and he might know better now (at any rate, those are old papers). I hesitate to mention these works, but as long as you pay attention to what I'm telling you, that he misrepresents Objectivism, then I think it's okay to say "That's the best they've got".

Interesting. I read a bit of it. I actually came to a similar thought when I first read the Virtue of Selfishness 4 or 5 years ago. He says:

I said earlier that what is wrong with Rand's attempted derivation of ethics is that it requires the evaluative presupposition that life is good, which has not been and cannot be inferred purely from observations. Some Objectivists say that life actually isn't good, but everything which promotes life is good. I think this (i.e. the first part of that claim) is obviously false, besides being a distortion of Rand's views, but not to press that - this view has the same problem as all attempts to bridge the is/ought gap, i.e., it just raises the question, how do we know that what promotes life is good?

One way to answer this might be to say that this is just the meaning of "good", i.e. "good" just means "promotes (my) life."

I would be interested in how some of the people here would answer this criticism. (You can find it expanded upon in the link David provided.)

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I would be interested in how some of the people here would answer this criticism. (You can find it expanded upon in the link David provided.)

I have actually already read this, and I thought his claim that "some objectivists say that [that which promotes life] is good" was mistaken. What I remember Ms. Rand saying was that Good and Evil can only have meaning for living things - that a stone simply is - and that no living being can act in a way that is contrary to life and survive.

As I recall hearing it, and please someone correct me if I'm wrong, the conclusion was something like "that which promotes life can therefore be concluded to be good". I seem to recall "self evident" being in there somewhere too.

So if addressed with that criticism, I would say that the critic got Rand's view wrong. Life isn't good - Good and Evil are concepts that only have validity FOR life, stones don't have judgment systems. Those things in nature that act contrary to growing - or living - stagnate and die, and cease to be life. If Good has a definition, it can only be, therefore, that Good is Pro-Life, while Evil is Anti-Life. For a single living being, what promotes its own life is what is good. Further, as only man can choose to act in a manner contrary to his survival, it is only to man that Good and Evil have any significance. To the plant, the deer that eats it is evil, but neither the plant, nor the deer, can act in a way other than to be eaten or to eat. The man, however, who lives by a code which does not respect another man's life, invalidates his own right to have his life respected. Therefore, his code is detrimental to his life - it Evil, in that works to defeat himself.

Ok - how's that for a n00b? :D

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I haven't sat down with VOS for a while now, but I beleive Ayn Rand stated that because all forms of life (other than humans) has it's own survival as it's top priority (Primary value) dictated by it's nature. (However, I've seen a thread on these forums a long time ago that disputes that an organisms life is not always it's primary value.)

Man, however, has the ability to choose to live life or die. As opposed to animals who don't have the faculty of reason and automatically choose life.

I believe the defintion of good "that which promotes one's life" is synonomous with "that which coincides with one's nature" which for man is using his ability to reason to his utmost potential. And evil being the opposite; "that which is a detriment to one's life, or "That which goes against one's nature".

I can't wrap my head around anyone who says they can't -prove- good to be this. The only other option is to saying that defying nature; refusing to know what you are (Read: Dying) is good. It baffles me.

Keep in mind I have not studied Ayn Rands works for quite some time, and only just recently started back up in earnest (Had to do a lotta school and work and I'm now finally getting some time to enjoy some other things I've been wanting to sink my teeth into. :D (Currently going through "The God Delusion" by R. Dawkins. it's entertaining reading)

(Edit: Wrote Hawkins instead of Dawkins.)

Edited by TheOpposition
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I can't wrap my head around anyone who says they can't -prove- good to be this. The only other option is to saying that defying nature; refusing to know what you are (Read: Dying) is good.
That's not the only other option. In fact, I think the most common and dangerous alternative is, simply, nihilism. Kepp your ears open, and see if you don't hear this argument sometime soon. "The notion of 'god' and 'evil' is just a social construct; who's to say what's really good and evil? One man's meat is another man's poison, it's all relative. It depends on how you define 'good'." In short, solve the problem of moral evaluation by rejecting the notion of evaluation.
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That's not the only other option. In fact, I think the most common and dangerous alternative is, simply, nihilism. Kepp your ears open, and see if you don't hear this argument sometime soon. "The notion of 'god' and 'evil' is just a social construct; who's to say what's really good and evil? One man's meat is another man's poison, it's all relative. It depends on how you define 'good'." In short, solve the problem of moral evaluation by rejecting the notion of evaluation.

True enough.

I have heard that before, even before I learned of Objectivism. Before when I heard this I was at a loss for words, I was unable to speak to him. Now, that I have some sort of understanding of what that means, (Reading/Studying philosophy is something I like to find time to do.) ... I'm not sure of the word for it, its a mix of disgust/confusion/pity for that person. I try to explain that Truth and Good and Evil can be objectively concluded, but most people can't/won't understand something unless it takes less than 10 seconds to explain or comes from a 50 to 1000 something year-old text. I just remind them that words have definitions and meanings, and that they are saying that everything is nothing, and that being burned alive -can- be a good thing, or that happiness can be a -bad- thing.

I usually get sneers after that though. :D

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I have heard that before, even before I learned of Objectivism. Before when I heard this I was at a loss for words, I was unable to speak to him. Now, that I have some sort of understanding of what that means, (Reading Studying philosophy is something I like to find time to do.) ... I'm not sure of the word for it, its a mix of disgust/confusion/pity for that person.

Pity? They deserve none. They choice it. They deserve only distaste.

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I haven't sat down with VOS for a while now, but I beleive Ayn Rand stated that because all forms of life (other than humans) has it's own survival as it's top priority (Primary value) dictated by it's nature. (However, I've seen a thread on these forums a long time ago that disputes that an organisms life is not always it's primary value.)

The top priority of any instinct / genetic driven animal / plant is the survival of its genes, simply because all lifeforms that had other priorities died out and did not reproduce (as much).

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The top priority of any instinct / genetic driven animal / plant is the survival of its genes, simply because all lifeforms that had other priorities died out and did not reproduce (as much).

And if that animal's existence doesn't directly or indirectly serve mankind, then it's existence is pointless. After all, if humans didn't exist, who would be around to care or not care whether their genes survived or not? The Earth would just be a big ball of pointlessness and inconsequentialities (I think I just invented that word.)

Edited by KevinDW78
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And if that animal's existence doesn't directly or indirectly serve mankind, then it's existence is pointless. After all, if humans didn't exist, who would be around to care or not care whether their genes survived or not? The Earth would just be a big ball of pointlessness and inconsequentialities (I think I just invented that word.)

I think its fair to say that such an animals existence is pointless to mankind - but does that render it completely pointless? Is an animal of no use to man completely devoid of meaning? I don't see how that can be considered possible, when you've implicitly agreed that "The top priority of any instinct / genetic driven animal / plant is the survival of its genes, simply because all lifeforms that had other priorities died out and did not reproduce (as much)."

An animal can not be pointless or meaningless and also have priorities, because priorities in this sense means being greatest in importance to that living thing, and if something is important, it follows that the importance derives from some meaning. What meaning? As Ms. Rand states, the purpose of life is to live. Just as man is an end unto himself, an animal is an end unto itself. Without life no consciousness could evolve, and without consciousness, man could not think. Therefore, all living things have a fundamental point, and thus have an inherent value.

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Pity? They deserve none. They choice it. They deserve only distaste.

Well, perhaps empathize is a better word for it then. I too was confused with all the 'hub-bub' of mainstream 'Philosophy' back when I was younger, never really committed to it, but lacked the self-confidence to stand up and say "I disagree". I lacked the courage to make enemies back then. It was when I realized I poured everything that was me into trying to attain their kind of 'good' was only driving myself to the ground, I chose to walk away from it, and set-out on my own.

...Anyways, If I can give an honest person I'm discussing with an idea that he has not considered, and goes along that line of thinking, I could spare him some of the grief I had to go through. So, at best I gain an ally/friend, at worst, another tally point to the people I write off as pointless. Either way, it's worth it to me.

The top priority of any instinct / genetic driven animal / plant is the survival of its genes, simply because all lifeforms that had other priorities died out and did not reproduce (as much).

Well, from my understanding of the Objectivist stand-point on values, is that Life is a requirement to have a capacity to value, which makes it the 'Primary Value'. With all other values necessarily lower on the hierarchy of values for any given life-form.

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Well, perhaps empathize is a better word for it then. I too was confused with all the 'hub-bub' of mainstream 'Philosophy' back when I was younger, never really committed to it, but lacked the self-confidence to stand up and say "I disagree". I lacked the courage to make enemies back then. It was when I realized I poured everything that was me into trying to attain their kind of 'good' was only driving myself to the ground, I chose to walk away from it, and set-out on my own.

That is something I cannot empahtise with since I have no idea what it is like. I decided to go in on my own philosophy wise when I was 10 because I saw no good role models (by that I mean heroes; "role models" is what I used then in a similar way to the way I would now use "heroes"). I wish I had known of Rand back then.

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Can't the "why is the promoting of my own life good" question be answered more simply? If i die, i do not exist, there is no me. How can then me dying be good for me, if the fact that i die, destroys the whole concept of "me"? How can "me not existing" be good for "my existence"? Thats how i have explained it to myself, and i cant see how that can be refuted. Because i have yet to hear of any sort of third alternative in the matter of life or death.Either you live, or you dont. Either you are alive, or you do not exist.

And for some reason that Huemer guy seems to forget to mention the word "OWN" when talking about life every now and then, and that is a really important difference. Life and own life are two completely different things.

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How can then me dying be good for me, if the fact that i die, destroys the whole concept of "me"? How can "me not existing" be good for "my existence"?
Right, but that's a question and not an argument. A question is never an argument. A question might lead you to think of an argument. The problem which many people stumble over is the whole "what's the starting point?" issue. You have to start with the fundamental decision -- you've decided to exist. From that decision, you have a basis for evaluating other choices in terms of their effect on realizing that primary decision. But how do you justify your initial decision? That question presupposes a mistaken notion of "justification".

However, Huemer's argument against the Objectivist ethics is mistaken on other grounds, primarily that he doesn't construct the argument for it correctly. It's a typical "philosophy of words" construction.

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That's not the only other option. In fact, I think the most common and dangerous alternative is, simply, nihilism. Kepp your ears open, and see if you don't hear this argument sometime soon. "The notion of 'god' and 'evil' is just a social construct; who's to say what's really good and evil? One man's meat is another man's poison, it's all relative. It depends on how you define 'good'." In short, solve the problem of moral evaluation by rejecting the notion of evaluation.

How can you respond to concisely disprove the social construct statement? I have just walked away from most people who say that, thinking that there was no way to convince them otherwise. But I want to be able to state something that demolishes it quickly before I walk away for the benefit of any audience and whatever sanity I still possess after the encounter.

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How can you respond to concisely disprove the social construct statement?
Generally, they are insincere in their statements, and in fact they do believe in "evil". Of course you might find someone who thinks that the evil that was Hitler is a "social construct", and the walk-away is appropriate for such beings. Edited by DavidOdden
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