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Agrippa1: Fine, you use the word "goal" your way, I'll use it my way. There isn't an objective way to determine what the colloquial meaning is.

Why do you think Ayn Rand's usage was wrong? What do you think her error was? She didn't have the Internet to look up a subjective, ambiguos definition from an unnamed source, and use it as dfinitive proof that she is right?

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Agrippa1: Fine, you use the word "goal" your way, I'll use it my way. There isn't an objective way to determine what the colloquial meaning is.

Why do you think Ayn Rand's usage was wrong? What do you think her error was? She didn't have the Internet to look up a subjective, ambiguos definition from an unnamed source, and use it as dfinitive proof that she is right?

I don't see how you can call a dictionary definition subjective and ambiguous. And if you want a reference, here you go:

Dictionary.com, "goal," in Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Source location: Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/goal. Available: http://dictionary.reference.com. Accessed: January 15, 2009.

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I don't see how you can call a dictionary definition subjective and ambiguous. And if you want a reference, here you go:

Dictionary.com, "goal," in Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Source location: Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/goal. Available: http://dictionary.reference.com. Accessed: January 15, 2009.

I called it ambiguous because I read it, and I can't figure out it's one precise meaning. If you disagree, name the exact meaning you derived from that list I called ambiguous. If you can't what's the basis on which you're doubting that it is ambiguous?

I called it subjective because I don't see why it is objective. If you wish to name the objective method by which that definition was determined, go ahead. If you can't what's the basis on which you're doubting that it is subjective?

P.S. I believe that the name of the author is the least one can expect, if asking for a reference. What is the author's name, and what qualifies him to tell others what words mean? Strike that, what qualifies him to do that above best selling author and celebrated philosopher Ayn Rand?

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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Agrippa1: Fine, you use the word "goal" your way, I'll use it my way. There isn't an objective way to determine what the colloquial meaning is.

I'm intrigued that we could be having this disagreement about such a commonly used word. Could you please provide a usage of the word "goal" that does not entail anticipated and desired outcome towards which actions are directed?

Why do you think Ayn Rand's usage was wrong? What do you think her error was? She didn't have the Internet to look up a subjective, ambiguos definition from an unnamed source, and use it as dfinitive proof that she is right?

No, she had hard-bound dictionaries from which to look up subjective, ambiguous definitions. (which I'll just accept, in hopes of staving off a discussion on the meanings of "subjective," "ambiguous" and "definition")

edit: multiple

Edited by agrippa1
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Okay, let me solve this. Plants are green or multi-colored growing things, taking nourishment fron the soil and converting it, through photosynthisis, into energy. A star is a massive ball of hydrogen that is powered by internal nuclear fusion, radiating massive amounts of energy. Neither have goals, because neither have volitional consciousness.

End of debate.

Edited by Maximus
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I don't think this is a reasonable discussion, Jake.

1) It is not reasonable for a person to demand to know the author of a dictionary definition. They don't do it that way. The definitions are written by professional lexicographers, whose job it is to create definitions for dictionaries.

2) It is not reasonable to say that any dictionary definition must be assumed to be "subjective" (or indeed any statement is assumed to be "subjective") and that it is up to me to show that it is objective. It's in the dictionary, for goodness sake! How much more objective do you want it? (I'm not saying that it's impossible for dictionaries to contain poorly written entries, but I think most of them are fine, and I don't see anything wrong with the "goal" definition above.)

3) It is not reasonable to bring Ayn Rand into the discussion in the manner in which you are doing it. You are saying, "Who are you to value some anonymous lexicographer's opinion over that of Ayn Rand's?" when the fact is that I'm not doing that and I don't see any contradiction at all between Ayn Rand's ideas on goals and purpose and what's in the dictionary.

I'm not sure why I'm even on this thread, other than the "Someone is wrong on the Internet" motivation. ;-)

Just to summarize my position:

Ayn Rand was right;

Stars are not alive;

Non-living things cannot have goals;

Plants are living things;

Plants have goals, but plants do not have volition.

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I called it ambiguous because I read it, and I can't figure out it's one precise meaning. If you disagree, name the exact meaning you derived from that list I called ambiguous. If you can't what's the basis on which you're doubting that it is ambiguous?

I called it subjective because I don't see why it is objective. If you wish to name the objective method by which that definition was determined, go ahead. If you can't what's the basis on which you're doubting that it is subjective?

P.S. I believe that the name of the author is the least one can expect, if asking for a reference. What is the author's name, and what qualifies him to tell others what words mean? Strike that, what qualifies him to do that above best selling author and celebrated philosopher Ayn Rand?

Ayn Rand used "goal-directed" in the context of philosophizing about the metaphysical nature of life, attempting to discern what unites the animate and distinguishes it from the inanimate. The technique she employed was apparently to describe the actions that living entities engage in, which inanimate entities do not.

When applied to physical phenomena, such as the automatic functions of an organism, the term “goal-directed” is not to be taken to mean “purposive” (a concept applicable only to the actions of a consciousness) and is not to imply the existence of any teleological principle operating in insentient nature. I use the term “goal-directed,” in this context, to designate the fact that the automatic functions of living organisms are actions whose nature is such that they result in the preservation of an organism’s life.

Examples of "goal-directed" phenomena include regulation of body temperature, regulation of blood pressure, and phototropism and photosynthesis in plants. These phenomena can be conceptually isolated but are vital to the life of the organism while not equal to it as a living organism typically is a collection of such phenomena. The result of a mammal's body temperature regulation is primarily a body of a certain temperature, and only secondarily and in conjunction with other processes the organism's life.

Binswanger extends the use of "goal-directed" actions to the behavior of machines such as a target-seeking torpedo. The acts of machines are derivative of the intentions of their creators, and so are not self-generated, nor self-sustaining in that they serve a purpose imposed by the designer and not the continued existence of the machine. So having goal-directed action does not by itself make a living entity. Both Binswanger and Rand use "goal" in a fashion interchangeable with "result" in this context.

Thus, "self-sustaining" "self-generated" and "goal-directed" are all needed in conjunction together to have a living entity. Note that this definition has no specific criteria derived from the science of biology, nor was any necessary in this context.

Dictionaries don't have authors, they have staffs nowadays, and one or more editors. Demanding to know the name of the author of a dictionary or dictionary entry so as to compare his or her credibility against Rand's is the wrong way to go about dictionary criticism. Dictionaries are considered better or worse on the basis of how well they identify the concept associated with a word. I think the dictionary.com entry for "goal" adequately indicated the gist of the concept with the first entry, and the subsequent entries were clearly derivative.

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I just said the same, basic thing. It's not rocket science.

Agreed! :)

Our only difference is a niggling one, over whether plants have "goals" or not. Rand (as I understand her) distinguishes "goal" from "purpose" and says all living things have "goals" but only conscious organisms have "purposes".

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I just said the same, basic thing. It's not rocket science.

Actually you said: "Neither have goals, because neither have volitional consciousness."

I'd still like to hear the word used as Jake and Laure (and Rand) describe its meaning.

Here is what Rand said:

I use the term “goal-directed,” in this context, to designate the fact that the automatic functions of living organisms are actions whose nature is such that they result in the preservation of an organism’s life.

-Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 16.

Is it fair to generalize the context to find the meaning of a term? If so, she is saying:

I use the term “goal-directed” to designate the fact that the automatic functions of an entity are actions whose nature is such that they result in an outcome that we recognize as desirable.

Are all actions of an organism therefore "goal-directed?" Or are there actions that do not preserve the organism's life? If so, the term "goal" is used to describe our perception of what is "directing" the actions of the organism, not an actual causal link between a goal (desired outcome) and an action, which implies, whether volitional or not, a final causation.

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Let me throw another idea into the pot.

Couldn't we say that the "goals" that living things have are basically fighting against entropy?

What would you say a star's "goal" would be? To keep shining, or to go out? If it's to go out, that's going towards entropy. If it's to keep shining, that's sort of a static thing - you're saying the goal is to, basically, make time stand still, which it can't do anyway.

In contrast, a plant's "goal" is to grow and reproduce, not to decay. It goes against entropy.

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Ayn Rand used "goal-directed" in the context of philosophizing about the metaphysical nature of life...

Thanks, Grames. That makes it clearer. So is it fair to say that the term is valid specifically in this context, and not necessarily in any other? I find it hard to argue with Rand's use of terms in her writing, because she always provides a definition of what that term means to her. I objected to her use of "goal" in this context, but now that you've pulled back on the larger context, I see how she could use it. I still maintain that goal can not exist without a consciousness, but in this context, the consciousness is ours, and the "goal" is the philosophically recognized one of living organisms to preserve life.

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I'm intrigued that we could be having this disagreement about such a commonly used word. Could you please provide a usage of the word "goal" that does not entail anticipated and desired outcome towards which actions are directed?

Sure: A comet which will reach a point in space at noon tomorrow "is moving towards its goal" (that point). It has no purpose, since that would imply consciousness, nor is it its action's goal to further its own existence, but its movement most definitely has a goal: that point.

No, she had hard-bound dictionaries from which to look up subjective, ambiguous definitions. (which I'll just accept, in hopes of staving off a discussion on the meanings of "subjective," "ambiguous" and "definition")

Well, I would hope we do agree on the meaning of those three words, otherwise what's the point of talking to each other? One of us can never know what the other means to communicate, unless we (1) agree on the meaning of the words we use or (2) make the meaning clear to the other person at the beginning of the conversation.

For instance if you insist on not using the term goal the way Ayn Rand used it, you will never be able to communicate fully what she meant by it, or any concepts based on it (life, philosophy, morality, good, evil etc.), to another person. (Unless you pick a different word to mean the exact same thing, and use that. But then you would be in a situation where you're discussing her ideas, but you're unable to quote her words.)

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I still maintain that goal can not exist without a consciousness, but in this context, the consciousness is ours, and the "goal" is the philosophically recognized one of living organisms to preserve life.

So a tree has a goal because we have a consciousness, and it would not have a goal if we did not exist?

How do you reconcile that with the axiom that says "Existence exists."? (independent of consciousness)

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Are all actions of an organism therefore "goal-directed?"

Yes. And this question has the potential to completely derail this thread. We can discuss it, but probably better to start another thread. Better yet, perform a search for the answer in another thread, there are several which deal with this question, look for key phrases such as: "ultimate value" or "life as the ultimate value".

If so, the term "goal" is used to describe our perception of what is "directing" the actions of the organism, not an actual causal link between a goal (desired outcome) and an action, which implies, whether volitional or not, a final causation.

No, not "our perception", an actual goal set by the organism. The goal is its life. The goal is to stay alive.

I still maintain that goal can not exist without a consciousness, but in this context, the consciousness is ours, and the "goal" is the philosophically recognized one of living organisms to preserve life.

No. Plants operate, within the capabilities of their nature , to stay alive.

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A plant and a ball of hot gas do not have desires. They have an outcome based upon thier natures, which they are not able to consciously change.

Non-volitional animals also have an outcome based upon thier natures, which they are not able to consciously change.

Plants have the ability to send roots deeper or adjust to the sun in order to stay alive.

Plants and animals have goals but they both act automatically in order to achieve them.

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Sure: A comet which will reach a point in space at noon tomorrow "is moving towards its goal" (that point). It has no purpose, since that would imply consciousness, nor is it its action's goal to further its own existence, but its movement most definitely has a goal: that point.

Just as a falling rock has no goal, the sun has no goal and a comet has no goal, not in the sense Ayn Rand is using the term.

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Thanks, Grames. That makes it clearer. So is it fair to say that the term is valid specifically in this context, and not necessarily in any other? I find it hard to argue with Rand's use of terms in her writing, because she always provides a definition of what that term means to her. I objected to her use of "goal" in this context, but now that you've pulled back on the larger context, I see how she could use it. I still maintain that goal can not exist without a consciousness, but in this context, the consciousness is ours, and the "goal" is the philosophically recognized one of living organisms to preserve life.

Yes, she created a specifically delimited version of "goal" for this context which excluded any trace of consciousness or teleology. I can only guess that the reason she did was a writer's reason, she didn't want to be compelled to construct sentences containing both the terms "result-directed" and "result" due to the repetition. "Goal" also refers to a particular result, whereas all of the potential ends of a process are also the result, and if you want to refer to a particular result you have to use additional words. I can't imagine Rand permitting some wordy atrocity like "life-result-directed action" to appear under her name. So slightly modifying "goal" definitely solves a problem for this context only.

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A goal is something you act towards, in colloquial usage. "Goal-directed," in Rand's argument, is really "nature-directed," where "nature" refers to the nature of the organism. A plant does not have a goal of surviving, it has automatic mechanisms in its nature because those mechanisms evolved as effective means of surviving to the next generation.

"Goal-directed" is something only living things do.

Using the term "nature-directed" would be making a distinction without a difference since everything in the Universe acts according to its nature.

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Sure: A comet which will reach a point in space at noon tomorrow "is moving towards its goal" (that point). It has no purpose, since that would imply consciousness, nor is it its action's goal to further its own existence, but its movement most definitely has a goal: that point.

So a goal is an arbitrary future state? Or, since the comet might be knocked off course by an asteroid (in accordance with its goal, I reckon), a goal is a potential arbitrary future state?

But, let's let this one die...

Yes.

So those "goal-directed" actions would include glaucoma, arthritis, arteriosclerosis, acne and flatulence... Hmmm.... I'll have to ponder that one.

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So those "goal-directed" actions would include glaucoma, arthritis, arteriosclerosis, acne and flatulence... Hmmm.... I'll have to ponder that one.

None of the examples above represent "goal-directed" actions, with the exception of flatulence, but only if you take it to mean the actual action of passing gas (which is both goal-directed and purposeful!).

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So those "goal-directed" actions would include glaucoma, arthritis, arteriosclerosis, acne and flatulence... Hmmm.... I'll have to ponder that one.

Yes, and what is that goal? Staying alive.

Think about what is going on with arteriosclerosis. There is a problem in your arteries and your body is trying to fix it. You might say: "but your body doesn't actually fix it, it ends up killing you". But it is not your body that is killing you it is your choice to eat fat and sugar and not exercise that is killing you and there is a limit to how much of these things your body can put up with. Just like there is a limit to how far a tree's roots can grow.

Thinking of these questions in the terms you've defined can lead to many apparent conundrums like: Is the lion who gets trampled to death chasing a zebra pursuing life or death? And: what about reproduction? that doesn't seem to further the goal of living.

These are some of the questions answered in the following threads, please investigate:

http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.p...mp;#entry133966

http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.p...mp;#entry130591

http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.p...amp;#entry70936

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