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Making a Virtue of Selfishness?

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By Diana Hsieh from NoodleFood,cross-posted by MetaBlog

The Center for Values and Social Policy in the Philosophy Department of the University of Colorado at Boulder is pleased to announce a "Think!" debate on Ayn Rand's Objectivist ethics.

  • What: Debate on "Making a Virtue of Selfishness? A Debate about Ayn Rand's Ethics"

  • Who: Dr. Onkar Ghate (Ayn Rand Institute) and Prof. Michael Huemer (CU Boulder, Philosophy)

  • When: Monday, March 2nd, 7:30 - 9:00 pm

  • Where: Old Main Chapel, CU Boulder (Campus Map)

About the debate:

Dr. Onkar Ghate will argue: "Ayn Rand challenges the idea, dominant in the West since Christianity, that morality consists of commandments. Even though this conception of morality has often been secularized, its essence has remained: the source of morality is something external to the self, to which the self owes obedience. In sharp contrast, Rand argues that the nature and purpose of morality is to teach one how to achieve one's self-interest."

Dr. Ghate is a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute where he teaches at the Institute's Objectivist Academic Center. He lectures on philosophy and Objectivism throughout North America. Dr. Ghate received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Calgary.

Dr. Michael Huemer will argue: "Ayn Rand champions an excessively egoistic ethic, one in which individuals must place themselves before everyone and everything else. This ethic can lead one to hurt, exploit, or simply ignore the needs of others, when it suits one's own interests to do so. Rand's ethic of selfishness clashes with the moral sense of philosophers, spiritual leaders, and ordinary people the world over. These people are not all wrong -- Ayn Rand is wrong."

Dr. Huemer is an associate professor of philosophy at CU Boulder. He has written on such topics as philosophical skepticism, the problem of induction, ethical intuitionism, free will, and deontological ethics. Dr. Huemer received his doctorate in philosophy from Rutgers University in 1998.

All "Think!" events are free and intended for the public. For more information, please visit http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/center/think.shtml">the "Think!" web page.

For further information on the series, please contact Dr. Alastair Norcross at Alastair.Norcross(at)Colorado.edu. For announcements of upcoming "Think!" events, e-mail Diana Hsieh at [email protected] with that request.

Upcoming "Think!" Events:

  • Tuesday, April 14th: Prof. Ajume Wingo, "Politics as an Alternative to Violence," 7:30 - 9:00 pm, Old Main Chapel

"Think!" lectures are sponsored by the Center for Values and Social Policy in the Philosophy Department of the University of Colorado at Boulder and funded through the generosity of The Collins Foundation.DLRSWUyUlDUPzgHlwHuk80

Cross-posted from Metablog

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Just got back from the debate, Ms. Hsieh, and I wanted to thank you for putting it together.

It was great, but I must admit I was a little frustrated - I suppose it's just the format of formal debate. There were several times I felt Dr. Ghate could've given some counterpoint to Dr. Huemer's responses in the Q&A. I was very antsy to stand up and take over for him. That probably showed when I asked the first question and took up too much time! :P

My kids seemed to stay interested, too, and we had a great discussion on the drive home.

Sorry I didn't get a chance to meet you and wish you luck in your future endeavors. I hope you keep us informed of any future Objectivist events in and around the Boulder area.

Thanks, again.

Jeff

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Just got back from the debate, Ms. Hsieh, and I wanted to thank you for putting it together.

It was great, but I must admit I was a little frustrated - I suppose it's just the format of formal debate. There were several times I felt Dr. Ghate could've given some counterpoint to Dr. Huemer's responses in the Q&A. I was very antsy to stand up and take over for him. That probably showed when I asked the first question and took up too much time! :blush:

Jeff

Oh, that was you. (I was two rows behind you and about three seats to the left as seen from the stage.)

I too felt frustrated, I think Ghate let some big fat "strawmen" pass. I thought that Huemer in his first time on stage was raising his hypotheticals (he claimed that under egoism: 1-If you can kill someone and gain a dollar you should do so, you needn't respect his rights, and 2-If there is a child drowning in a wading pool you should NOT stop to rescue that child because you might get mud on your clothes.) as a way of erecting straw men. I don't believe Ayn Rand would have agreed with *either* scenario, especially not the first one [a rights violation!?!?], so I'll focus on that. Yet he implied that she would (and he damned well knows better). Ghate did not call him on this, and I think it would have taken him 30 seconds to do so and that might have corrected a *deliberately* fostered misconception as to what rational egoism is. Instead, Ghate claimed these were "ethics of emergencies" type issues (and I disagree) and therefore considered them outside the scope of the discussion--he focused on the implausibility of the scenario and not the fact that Huemer was claiming that the rational egoist would kill people for monetary gain. But Huemer could just as easily have claimed that a rational egoist should have no problem with a career as a Mafia hit man (greater financial reward, much less implausible), and that sort of situation *does* exist, so using the "that's an impossible scenario" defense would have been pointless.

Anyhow, in hindsight I should have asked a question directly to Huemer: "Given your first hypothetical, are you claiming that Ayn Rand's ethics imply it is acceptable to be a Mafia hit man, in violation of the rights of others? If so, sir, you are erecting a straman, because Rand's ethics *requires* a respect for the rights of others."

Now Huemer's arguments, fully responded to or not, were overall *unbelievably* weak. If this is the best the other side has to offer, then their demise is inevitable unless sheer numbers drowns us out.

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I too felt frustrated, I think Ghate let some big fat "strawmen" pass. I thought that Huemer in his first time on stage was raising his hypotheticals (he claimed that under egoism: 1-If you can kill someone and gain a dollar you should do so, you needn't respect his rights, and 2-If there is a child drowning in a wading pool you should NOT stop to rescue that child because you might get mud on your clothes.) as a way of erecting straw men. I don't believe Ayn Rand would have agreed with *either* scenario, especially not the first one [a rights violation!?!?], so I'll focus on that. Yet he implied that she would (and he damned well knows better). Ghate did not call him on this, and I think it would have taken him 30 seconds to do so and that might have corrected a *deliberately* fostered misconception as to what rational egoism is. Instead, Ghate claimed these were "ethics of emergencies" type issues (and I disagree) and therefore considered them outside the scope of the discussion--he focused on the implausibility of the scenario and not the fact that Huemer was claiming that the rational egoist would kill people for monetary gain. But Huemer could just as easily have claimed that a rational egoist should have no problem with a career as a Mafia hit man (greater financial reward, much less implausible), and that sort of situation *does* exist, so using the "that's an impossible scenario" defense would have been pointless.

Exactly! I think Dr. Ghate could've burned all Dr. Huemer's examples with plenty of time to spare in his rebuttal. I wanted him to focus on the rational part of rational egoism, and instead he directs people to read. Well, those with open minds might find the time to do that; those who've already made up their minds are strengthened in their misperceptions.

I can't imagine what Dr. Huemer's book is about. There's no verifiable way of finding the truth, yet we're supposed to trust our intuition, which is somehow not knowledge, which is probably, or not probably true? Are we supposed to believe that statement of truth, even though there's no verifiable way of knowing it, simply because it "feels right?" Oh, my, god. I nearly jumped out of my skin. I should've directed my question at Dr. Ghate instead. Perhaps he could've tied it into his explanation of the proper way to arrive at a moral code.

Anyhow, in hindsight I should have asked a question directly to Huemer: "Given your first hypothetical, are you claiming that Ayn Rand's ethics imply it is acceptable to be a Mafia hit man, in violation of the rights of others? If so, sir, you are erecting a straman, because Rand's ethics *requires* a respect for the rights of others."

I think he would've responded with, "But there are people who are Mafia hit men. And they don't think it's wrong at all." Basically, he would've ignored your question. I was happy when Dr. Ghate addressed this with the very last question, but I wish he would've been more forceful.

Now Huemer's arguments, fully responded to or not, were overall *unbelievably* weak. If this is the best the other side has to offer, then their demise is inevitable unless sheer numbers drowns us out.

Yes, it really is quite amazing what the qualifications are for getting a Doctorate, becoming a college professor, and getting published.

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.. I thought that Huemer in his first time on stage was raising his hypotheticals (he claimed that under egoism: 1-If you can kill someone and gain a dollar you should do so, you needn't respect his rights, ..

Wow. Facinating. Under the political system favored by Rand, murder is illegal and the perp. faces a life sentence or the death penalty. On what planet is it in anyone's self interest to commit murder?

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I thought the debate was great, although Huemer frustrated the hell out of me. He can't be as stupid or thick-headed as he appeared to be, so I can only assume he's evil. I can't believe he gets paid to say those things! :blush:

And JeffS, I didn't think your question was too long, he just couldn't answer it. You could have kept rephrasing it all night long and he would have just kept evading. :lol:

I sat behind you and was wondering if those kiddos would be bored to tears, but they seemed alert the whole time. I'm glad you brought them and had a good conversation on the way home. Nice!

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JeffS,

I think what Prof. Huemer would have said if you kept pressing him, is that intuition is innate/instinctual. He hinted at that in his rebuttal.

I did an independent study with him and I know that he is intelligent. I even think the ethics he presented last night were somewhat interesting (and wrong). However, I don't know how you could possibly study Objectivism as much as he has and still have the beliefs that he does.

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It was great, but I must admit I was a little frustrated - I suppose it's just the format of formal debate. There were several times I felt Dr. Ghate could've given some counterpoint to Dr. Huemer's responses in the Q&A. I was very antsy to stand up and take over for him. That probably showed when I asked the first question and took up too much time! :confused:

Was yours the question about infallibility? I think the question misinterpreted Huemer's position. In response to Onkar's contention that an ethics based on intuitions would entrench status quo opinions, Huemer responded that ethical intuitions are not infallible, i.e., that they're not guaranteed to be correct. If an ethical intuition is just a common sense belief, then this is correct. Our beliefs are not infallible--because *we* are not infallible. Note that this is not the same question as whether or not we can achieve certainty. "Infallibility" is the state of being metaphysically incapable of error. You'll note that Ayn Rand reiterates throughout her epistemology that "man is neither omniscient nor infallible"--and this is the primary reason we need epistemology. This was, in fact, Onkar's point: because our beliefs are not infallible, they need to be based on observable evidence to be justified.

Huemer just happens to think that there's no observable evidence that can play the role of justifying ethical beliefs, and so thinks that the only way they can be justified is to be systematized in a coherent way. We may question whether this strategy is sufficient to yield justified ethical beliefs, and perhaps in that sense, Huemer's moral epistemology has skeptical implications (about *ethics*) which he does not fully grasp. But you should know that when it comes to the rest of his epistemology, he's a committed anti-skeptic. He's written a whole book on this topic (*Skepticism and the Veil of Perception*), in which he argues for a view according to which our beliefs about the world ultimately derive their justification from sensory observation. I think there are errors in this book, and that he doesn't fully succeed in explaining how our beliefs get justified by the senses. But it's important to note that he is *trying* to show how justification and knowledge are possible, at least for non-ethical beliefs. In this respect, he is an enemy of skepticism and postmodernism and relativism, and as such, an ally.

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I too felt frustrated, I think Ghate let some big fat "strawmen" pass. I thought that Huemer in his first time on stage was raising his hypotheticals (he claimed that under egoism: 1-If you can kill someone and gain a dollar you should do so, you needn't respect his rights, and 2-If there is a child drowning in a wading pool you should NOT stop to rescue that child because you might get mud on your clothes.) as a way of erecting straw men. I don't believe Ayn Rand would have agreed with *either* scenario, especially not the first one [a rights violation!?!?], so I'll focus on that. Yet he implied that she would (and he damned well knows better). Ghate did not call him on this, and I think it would have taken him 30 seconds to do so and that might have corrected a *deliberately* fostered misconception as to what rational egoism is.

I think you've misinterpreted Huemer's point. It's easy to say in response to his examples that we think we shouldn't shoot the fellow because it would violate his rights. He knows that Ayn Rand and Objectivists don't *think* rights-violation is consistent with Objectivism. He made it very clear that he knew this, and so he was not misrepresenting what we think. His point was that we are *wrong* to think of this as a logical implication of egoism: if self-interest is our standard, then he doesn't see how, logically speaking, our self-interest *alone* could rule out exploiting/killing other people. That's not a misrepresentation, but a disagreement about whether our view has a particular logical implication.

And, it's a hard point to establish that egoism doesn't have this implication. Huemer's response (along with many other philosophers) to you would be: why should we care about whether we violate his rights? Why is it in our self-interest not to violate rights, or even to assist someone in an emergency? Huemer is *correct* that the answer to that question is not obvious. Indeed this was part of Onkar's point: because what's in our self-interest is not obvious, we need a science of ethics to help us discover it.

The burden of proof *is* on Objectivists to show whether or why these examples illustrate implications of self-interest. And I also think Huemer is correct that we have to have an answer to his admittedly unlikely hypothetical examples. We need to be able to explain why we think such cases are impossible, when and if they are impossible. That is, we need to explain why it would never be in our interest to kill someone for a dollar. Or, if it ever is in our interest, we need to explain why such killing would be outside the scope of morality (as in emergency situations). Onkar did a good job explaining the fundamental principles we need to provide these explanations: he noted the general value we derive from other people (we value them as creative producers, not as material to be exploited), and the general conditions for the applicability of moral advice (it's for guidance in non-emergency situations). But he didn't draw out all of the implications from those two points that are needed to provide the full Objectivist answer here (and given his time limits, he couldn't).

To give one last point of credit to Huemer: the problem of accounting for how the interests of others fit into our self-interest is probably the hardest problem for the Objectivist ethics. To the extent that he focused his criticisms on this issue, he did an honest job of focusing on a legitimate problem that Objectivist philosophers have to address. I'm not saying it can't be addressed. I think Ayn Rand has already done all of the important work to do so. But it's difficult to synthesize everything she said on the matter, so much so that I've been grappling with it for years and still don't quite have it organized in my mind in terms of essentials. If we were wrong about anything, this is where we would be wrong, and thinking honestly about whether Objectivism is true means examining this question carefully.

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Exactly! I think Dr. Ghate could've burned all Dr. Huemer's examples with plenty of time to spare in his rebuttal. I wanted him to focus on the rational part of rational egoism, and instead he directs people to read. Well, those with open minds might find the time to do that; those who've already made up their minds are strengthened in their misperceptions.

Onkar did a great job responding to Huemer. Rather than dwelling on the details of the example, he gave the audience an overview of the general principles they would need to analyze the examples for themselves. First he told us that ethics is for guiding everyday life, not life in a lifeboat. Second, he said that in everyday life, we value people as creative producers, not as fodder for exploitation. Once you establish that general principle, you can come to see why any alleged benefits of predation on others cannot count as real values. You have to do more work on your own to see this--Onkar couldn't have done all of the work in the time that was allotted. That was why it was also useful to point to the readings.

Yes, it really is quite amazing what the qualifications are for getting a Doctorate, becoming a college professor, and getting published.

This is an unfair calumny against Professor Huemer. Do you really mean to say that just because he disagrees with you on something, therefore he must not have any serious qualifications in philosophy? Many of us may disagree with things he said, but he did far better than most other academics who try to analyze and critique Objectivism. Just open most any of the secondary literature on Rand written more than five years ago and you'll see what I mean. I went up after the debate and extended him my thanks. I think others should do so, as well, perhaps by sending him emails thanking him for his participation.

Huemer did not misrepresent the Objectivist position once in the entire debate, and displayed a genuine understanding of its basic principles. That is rare and commendable. Huemer is in the unique position of being a professional philosopher who takes Objectivism seriously, even though he disagrees with it. From what I've seen so far, we need *more* critics of Objectivism like Huemer.

I thought the debate was great, although Huemer frustrated the hell out of me. He can't be as stupid or thick-headed as he appeared to be, so I can only assume he's evil. I can't believe he gets paid to say those things! :confused:

We really, really shouldn't establish a precedent of calling someone evil just because he disagrees with us. Some ideas are inherently evil and their serious advocates must be evil. I didn't hear Huemer arguing for anything inherently evil last night. Even if he did misrepresent Objectivism (which I don't think he did), that doesn't mean he did so maliciously.

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I think you've misinterpreted Huemer's point. It's easy to say in response to his examples that we think we shouldn't shoot the fellow because it would violate his rights. He knows that Ayn Rand and Objectivists don't *think* rights-violation is consistent with Objectivism. He made it very clear that he knew this, and so he was not misrepresenting what we think. His point was that we are *wrong* to think of this as a logical implication of egoism: if self-interest is our standard, then he doesn't see how, logically speaking, our self-interest *alone* could rule out exploiting/killing other people. That's not a misrepresentation, but a disagreement about whether our view has a particular logical implication.

It *did* occur to me that he was really trying to say Ayn Rand was being inconsistent with what egoism actually is. But if he actually said, "If Ayn Rand was a real egoist, she'd believe such-and-such, instead she does not, in fact she actually believes in respecting others' rights, so she is being inconsistent", I did not catch it. All I got was "egoists [by implication, including Ayn Rand] believe this therefore they are wrong because it is intuitively obvious that they are." (I refer to his first time at the lectern.)

And, it's a hard point to establish that egoism doesn't have this implication. Huemer's response (along with many other philosophers) to you would be: why should we care about whether we violate his rights? Why is it in our self-interest not to violate rights, or even to assist someone in an emergency? Huemer is *correct* that the answer to that question is not obvious. Indeed this was part of Onkar's point: because what's in our self-interest is not obvious, we need a science of ethics to help us discover it.

The burden of proof *is* on Objectivists to show whether or why these examples illustrate implications of self-interest. And I also think Huemer is correct that we have to have an answer to his admittedly unlikely hypothetical examples. We need to be able to explain why we think such cases are impossible, when and if they are impossible. That is, we need to explain why it would never be in our interest to kill someone for a dollar. Or, if it ever is in our interest, we need to explain why such killing would be outside the scope of morality (as in emergency situations). Onkar did a good job explaining the fundamental principles we need to provide these explanations: he noted the general value we derive from other people (we value them as creative producers, not as material to be exploited), and the general conditions for the applicability of moral advice (it's for guidance in non-emergency situations). But he didn't draw out all of the implications from those two points that are needed to provide the full Objectivist answer here (and given his time limits, he couldn't).

To give one last point of credit to Huemer: the problem of accounting for how the interests of others fit into our self-interest is probably the hardest problem for the Objectivist ethics. To the extent that he focused his criticisms on this issue, he did an honest job of focusing on a legitimate problem that Objectivist philosophers have to address. I'm not saying it can't be addressed. I think Ayn Rand has already done all of the important work to do so. But it's difficult to synthesize everything she said on the matter, so much so that I've been grappling with it for years and still don't quite have it organized in my mind in terms of essentials. If we were wrong about anything, this is where we would be wrong, and thinking honestly about whether Objectivism is true means examining this question carefully.

Agreed, it's very tricky to do so, and I am pretty much in the same boat.

But again, I didn't get the sense that that is what he was trying to do here. He was simply trying to say that egoism is wrong.

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treddeni - I hope I answer your post with this reply.

Was yours the question about infallibility? I think the question misinterpreted Huemer's position. In response to Onkar's contention that an ethics based on intuitions would entrench status quo opinions, Huemer responded that ethical intuitions are not infallible, i.e., that they're not guaranteed to be correct. If an ethical intuition is just a common sense belief, then this is correct. Our beliefs are not infallible--because *we* are not infallible. Note that this is not the same question as whether or not we can achieve certainty. "Infallibility" is the state of being metaphysically incapable of error. You'll note that Ayn Rand reiterates throughout her epistemology that "man is neither omniscient nor infallible"--and this is the primary reason we need epistemology. This was, in fact, Onkar's point: because our beliefs are not infallible, they need to be based on observable evidence to be justified.

Huemer just happens to think that there's no observable evidence that can play the role of justifying ethical beliefs, and so thinks that the only way they can be justified is to be systematized in a coherent way. We may question whether this strategy is sufficient to yield justified ethical beliefs, and perhaps in that sense, Huemer's moral epistemology has skeptical implications (about *ethics*) which he does not fully grasp. But you should know that when it comes to the rest of his epistemology, he's a committed anti-skeptic. He's written a whole book on this topic (*Skepticism and the Veil of Perception*), in which he argues for a view according to which our beliefs about the world ultimately derive their justification from sensory observation. I think there are errors in this book, and that he doesn't fully succeed in explaining how our beliefs get justified by the senses. But it's important to note that he is *trying* to show how justification and knowledge are possible, at least for non-ethical beliefs. In this respect, he is an enemy of skepticism and postmodernism and relativism, and as such, an ally.

His statement was along the lines of, "I don't believe there is a way to infallible knowledge." He was responding to Dr. Ghate's point that ethics need to be based upon observable evidence, and I agree he went on to argue there was no observable evidence that can play the role of discovering moral principles. He validated my understanding of his point by responding with, in effect, "My knowledge fits in the same framework." Meaning: "There's a probability I'm wrong." He wasn't arguing simply that his knowledge was fallible, he was arguing there's no way to be certain of anything. If we don't have an infallible path to knowledge, then every path to knowledge is fallible, therefore there's no way to know anything - including the statement that we don't have an infallible path to knowledge.

Oddly enough, he then went on to describe a way of achieving knowledge with, "Where are ethics? We can't see them." Why would we need to see them? Is seeing something a way of gaining knowledge about that thing? I mean, if he believes observable evidence is the lynchpin of ethical formulation, where is the observable evidence for the seat of his ethical beliefs: intuition.

His basic argument is that our ethical beliefs are based upon intuition. Let's skip past that statement being a statement of knowledge and just move straight to, "Where did that knowledge come from? Are we born with it? If we need to see things (or sense them) to validate them, can we see intuition?" He dismisses Objectivist ethics because there's no observable evidence (or rather, he doesn't know where to look) in favor of a morality for which there is no observable evidence - I mean, really no observable evidence, and no logical evidence either.

Onkar did a great job responding to Huemer. Rather than dwelling on the details of the example, he gave the audience an overview of the general principles they would need to analyze the examples for themselves. First he told us that ethics is for guiding everyday life, not life in a lifeboat. Second, he said that in everyday life, we value people as creative producers, not as fodder for exploitation. Once you establish that general principle, you can come to see why any alleged benefits of predation on others cannot count as real values. You have to do more work on your own to see this--Onkar couldn't have done all of the work in the time that was allotted. That was why it was also useful to point to the readings.

He actually did go into understanding the "Kid Drowning" hypothetical in the Q&A, and I agree that the format didn't lend itself to lengthy exposition - so his response was probably calculated for the time alloted. However, would it have taken so much time to simply say something like, "Being selfish isn't something as limited as dirty clothes, a small gain, or a candy bar. Being selfish is about understanding your entire self and what really are your interests." He made this clear in the Q&A, I just felt it would've been stronger in the rebuttal.

This is an unfair calumny against Professor Huemer. Do you really mean to say that just because he disagrees with you on something, therefore he must not have any serious qualifications in philosophy?

You clearly have a great deal more experience with Dr. Huemer than I, but I'll have to disagree with you. I don't question his ability because he disagrees with me, I question his ability because he made fundamental epistemological errors. If it's true that he's well versed on Objectivism, and perhaps he is, then he should've been clearer on Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology. He misrepresented Objectivism severely in this regard.

His premise that, "Whatever seems right, is probably right." factored greatly into my estimation of him. His four criteria for validating ethical principles was simply too much to take and sealed the deal. Dr. Ghate was right to expose these as pure nonsense. People like Dr. Heumer strike me as dangerous, noumenalself. They're able to justify every moral deprivation throughout history.

However, I will agree with you that we need more non-Objectivists who are willing to treat Objectivism as a valid philosophy and engage in debate.

All that being said, I'm still a student of Objectivism myself and this was my first live debate. It's quite possible I misinterpreted everything Dr. Heumer said. It's possible my knowledge of Objectivist epistemology is sufficiently deficient that my reasons for disagreeing with him are not founded in Objectivism. However, everything he said struck me as fundamentally flawed and logically inconsistent.

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We really, really shouldn't establish a precedent of calling someone evil just because he disagrees with us. Some ideas are inherently evil and their serious advocates must be evil. I didn't hear Huemer arguing for anything inherently evil last night. Even if he did misrepresent Objectivism (which I don't think he did), that doesn't mean he did so maliciously.

Then I don't get it. I am still very much a student of Objectivism, so bear with me and I appreciate any feedback on this.

First, I didn't call him evil because he disagrees with me/us. I called him evil because he knows better. (See below.)

I've been told that Huemer studied Objectivism (and therefore, rational selfishness) and understands it, yet he encourages altruism and all the evils that go along with it. This man is teaching our nation's youth and influencing them with toxic information that is destroying people and our country. So there can only be a few options here. He's either not very bright and didn't comprehend what he learned, or he understands it and has chosen a path that is anti-man. Since I've been told he's not stupid, I can only assume he is maliciously teaching an anti-man agenda. How is that not evil like Toohey?

While going through my divorce, I thought my ex-husband was evil, but I've since reevaluated that. He does stupid and sometimes evil things, but he doesn't know of a better philosophy to live by. He's living in that tortured state of fear that Rand spoke of so well. I don't give him a pass for that reason, obviously, but I can't call him an evil person, like Toohey.

Toohey knew exactly what he was doing. He knew exactly why Roark was the way he was. Huemer claimed someone living selfishly should have no problem killing a man for a net gain of a dollar. If that's not evil, and a complete misrepresentation of Objectivism/rational selfishness, I'm not sure what is.

:)

EDIT: And another question I have had with regards to evil: Just because you do something evil, does that make you evil? Or are we talking about different degrees of evil here? Huemer is no Hitler (at least, I hope not), but is he not evil to at least some degree?

Edited by K-Mac

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Now Huemer's arguments, fully responded to or not, were overall *unbelievably* weak.

With this, I concur emphatically.

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I too felt frustrated, I think Ghate let some big fat "strawmen" pass...

With this, I do not agree. I think that Ghate did a great job and that his answers were spot on. To the extent Ghate let Huemer "off the hook", I think he did the right thing by ignoring, in my opinion, the minor points and instead focused on the essential points by answering them in terms of essentials. I think he did a great job of presenting and arguing for the Objectivist position.

If Ghate instead would have tried to untangle some of the 500 bizarre things Huemer said, then he would be wasting his time. It's always more important and efficient to argue for your own point of view, than to answer every single objection or question possible. At least under these circumstances.

Ghate also made it perfectly clear to the rational and honest people in the audience, that he could for the most part only indicate the argument, why people who want to know more should read the works of Ayn Rand. Rational and honest people know that it's impossible to present the complete proof in a debate like this and therefore do not demand it. Most people will settle for an indication.

I do not think that most people, who paid attention, got the impression that Ghate or Objectivism were in favor of murdering innocent people. I think that most people understood that Huemer's main point was he could not see why it would not be in your rational self-interest to murder people if you somehow could gain something by doing so.

That was perhaps the only point from Huemer that had a degree of plausibility, since the answer is, as some people already have pointed out, not self-evident.

Now, personally I do not think that this point is very hard to grasp or prove. And if you internalize the right thinking methods, it becomes even easier to grasp it in a "truck-like" fashion. Having said that, I do not want to suggest that it is an easy task to explain it or even indicate the argument in a debate such as this one. Yet Ghate managed to indicate the answer in terms of essentials. And he did it very good, given the circumstances.

Edited by knast

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Everyone can now go back and listen to whatever either of the debaters did or did not say:

http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/center/selfish.mp3

Excellent, noumenalself. Thanks for posting that. There was guy behind me video taping the debate, but he said he was having a hard time with the light levels. Don't know if was able to get anything good, or if he'll post it.

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The audio is the essential here in any case. (Yes there is life outside of YouTube!)

If someone with bandwidth listens to the audio, and catches Huemer saying, in his first time at the lectern, that he is bringing up those examples because Objectivism *appears* to be inconsistent with rational egoism in those cases, please tell me *when* he said so. I recall no such statement and according to my recollection, only during Q&A did he appear to concede that O-ism did not in fact call for murdering people to make a buck. And if this is the case I simply cannot see how NoumenalSelf's interpretation of what he was doing makes any sense.

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Then I don't get it. I am still very much a student of Objectivism, so bear with me and I appreciate any feedback on this.

First, I didn't call him evil because he disagrees with me/us. I called him evil because he knows better. (See below.)

OK, that could be grounds for being evil if someone does something that one should know not to do. So the question is, what did Huemer do that he should have known not to do? I've argued he didn't misrepresent Objectivism, but that he did disagree with us. Should he have known better not to disagree? That's very hard to say. Learning and understanding philosophy is hard.

I've been told that Huemer studied Objectivism (and therefore, rational selfishness) and understands it, yet he encourages altruism and all the evils that go along with it. This man is teaching our nation's youth and influencing them with toxic information that is destroying people and our country.

Where's the evidence for this claim, though? Just because he disagrees with ethical egoism doesn't mean he preaches altruism like Toohey. If you recall from the debate, what he said is that he rejects killing people for money and neglecting to save drowning babies. So what he advocates is not killing innocent people and saving drowning babies. What most people on this forum have been saying is that these actions are actually egoistic, even though Huemer didn't acknowledge that. So the most we know is that he advocates some actions which are egoistic, but which he mistakenly thinks to be non-egoistic. And as I've argued, this is an entirely understandable mistake, given the difficulty of proving otherwise. You'll remember that in the debate, he even said that he thought that a great deal of self-interest was permissible, but that some non-egoistic actions (like the two examples above) were also obligatory. This is hardly Toohey.

So there can only be a few options here. He's either not very bright and didn't comprehend what he learned, or he understands it and has chosen a path that is anti-man. Since I've been told he's not stupid, I can only assume he is maliciously teaching an anti-man agenda. How is that not evil like Toohey?

See above. This is a false alternative.

EDIT: And another question I have had with regards to evil: Just because you do something evil, does that make you evil? Or are we talking about different degrees of evil here? Huemer is no Hitler (at least, I hope not), but is he not evil to at least some degree?

There's definitely a distinction between an immoral act and an immoral person, and I don't think we have any evidence of the first possibility, anyway.

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Just a heads up on Michael Huemer, aka OWL. He used to be a regular on Usenet Objectivist groups. I had many arguments with him and he is very rationalistic, as others here have pointed out. I'll give him credit for being well versed in Objectivism. He had a great deal of practice! But, he was never convincing to me on the fundamentals of egoism. I mean, is he saying it's not in my self-interest to live as an egoist? That was one of the contradictions of his position. That seemed to be the upshot of his arguments, although it's been a while since I've talked with him.

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Did anyone count the number of times he says "it seems like"? His ethical system seems so fragile, like it would simply require a majority of people with a contradictory "common sense" notion at a given time to throw the whole system off. Is it indeed his view that "what is ethical" depends on the time and society? Certainly we would no longer say, "it seems alright to stone someone to death".

Edited by brian0918

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Did anyone count the number of times he says "it seems like"? His ethical system seems so fragile, like it would simply require a majority of people with a contradictory "common sense" notion at a given time to throw the whole system off. Is it indeed his view that "what is ethical" depends on the time and society? Certainly we would no longer say, "it seems alright to stone someone to death".

That's my point. He actually states that the validity of a moral principle, or any principle for that maater, can be guaged by whether it's held widely. Presumably he would drop whatever moral principles he held, or scientific theory he independently verified, if the majority sided against him. If not, what would he base holding those beliefs on?

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