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A discussion with an ethical nihilist

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Nicko0301
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So, I am having a conversation with an ethical nihilist. I asked him how he would feel if someone were to commit an unspeakable evil against him (such as murder everyone he cares for). He respondes thus:

"Is this an attempt at a trick question? Because if so, FAIL. Here's why:

Morality/Ethics = Value judgements

Because not everyone has similar values, the only consistent ethics are ones grounded in reality, ie subjective ethics that pertain only to an individual who has to make said value judgment."

How would an Objectivist respond to such an argument. Something seems wrong, but I can't quite identify it.

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If it wasn't an attempt at a trick question, I suggest you say "no, it wasn't a trick question. I actually want to know how you would feel."

And maybe ask him to actually answer the question, which he didn't do? It seems like maybe we're missing some context of the discussion here, whereby his answer would make sense. Or I'm just failing to see how his response to you is coherent in any way.

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If it wasn't an attempt at a trick question, I suggest you say "no, it wasn't a trick question. I actually want to know how you would feel."

And maybe ask him to actually answer the question, which he didn't do? It seems like maybe we're missing some context of the discussion here, whereby his answer would make sense. Or I'm just failing to see how his response to you is coherent in any way.

Yeah, he never answered the question.

I'm just thinking about the whole values being subjective thing.

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He doesn't appear to understand what he's saying. He says "the only consistent ethics are ones grounded in reality, ie subjective ethics." The only ethical system grounded in 1. Reality, and 2. Reason is the Objectivist ethics. In fact, that is the whole point of the Objectivist ethics, that is why it is so revolutionary a contribution to the field of philosophy.

Does he disagree with Ayn Rand's definitions of "reality" and "subjective" and "objective?" Does he know what these things are? Does he know what ethics are? Does he know what values are? It does not appear so.

About values being objective, ask him if it is in my intention to live, then would drinking a bottle of deadly poison be objectively immoral, or would it only kill me in my subjective opinion? Or throw the original question back at him: if I murdered someone he cared for, would that be objectively immoral, or only in his subjective opinion?

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/existence.html

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/subjectivism.html

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/objectivity.html

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/objectiv..._of_values.html

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/morality.html

http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pag...ectivist_ethics

Edited by 2046
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He doesn't appear to understand what he's saying. He says "the only consistent ethics are ones grounded in reality, ie subjective ethics." The only ethical system grounded in 1. Reality, and 2. Reason is the Objectivist ethics. In fact, that is the whole point of the Objectivist ethics, that is why it is so revolutionary a contribution to the field of philosophy.

Does he disagree with Ayn Rand's definitions of "reality" and "subjective" and "objective?" Does he know what these things are? Does he know what ethics are? Does he know what values are? It does not appear so.

About values being objective, ask him if it is in my intention to live, then would drinking a bottle of deadly poison be objectively immoral, or would it only kill me in my subjective opinion? Or throw the original question back at him: if I murdered someone he cared for, would that be objectively immoral, or only in his subjective opinion?

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/existence.html

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/subjectivism.html

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/objectivity.html

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/objectiv..._of_values.html

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/morality.html

http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pag...ectivist_ethics

Yes, I have read The Objectivist Ethics and I found it to be a very coherent, reasonable approach to the subject. In fact, it is the ethical code which I have adopted.

From what I understand, Rand held that values are not subjective but objective--i.e. they were based in an objective fact of reality.

By the way, what exactly would a value be? I can understand Rand's three cardinal values (reason, purpose, and pride) as being objective; but how would the lower values be objective?

Thanks

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I asked him how he would feel if someone were to commit an unspeakable evil against him
I don't understand what the real question is. If you are just asking him to report his intuition about an emotion in a hypothetical situation, then I too would wonder what value the answer would have. What would it prove if he said "I'd hate it" versus "I'd love it"?

Try to pin him down on what exactly he denies is possible in ethics. One common position of nihilists is that morality is man-made and thus "artificial" -- well, this is true, but so what? All concepts are man-made and not handed down from god. Nevertheless, ethical principles can be created by objectively using logic on facts. (Ethical nihilists are often epistemological nihilists, so your struggle is likely to be doubly difficult, since he will probably also deny the existence of logic and knowledge).

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I don't understand what the real question is. If you are just asking him to report his intuition about an emotion in a hypothetical situation, then I too would wonder what value the answer would have. What would it prove if he said "I'd hate it" versus "I'd love it"?

Try to pin him down on what exactly he denies is possible in ethics. One common position of nihilists is that morality is man-made and thus "artificial" -- well, this is true, but so what? All concepts are man-made and not handed down from god. Nevertheless, ethical principles can be created by objectively using logic on facts. (Ethical nihilists are often epistemological nihilists, so your struggle is likely to be doubly difficult, since he will probably also deny the existence of logic and knowledge).

You're correct in regard to my question. It was irrelevant, but I felt as if I had to ask it. If one is a nihilist, I don't think they could possibly become enraged over any act of violence committed against them. If morality goes out of the window, then, in my opinion, so do feelings of anger, contempt, happiness, ad infinitum. It would be inconsistent.

Anyways, I was having difficulty with the objective Vs. subjective issue, but I'm starting to understand the objective nature of morality. I'm currently reading OPAR (great book!) and I am on the chapter that addresses objectivity. It's answered many of my questions.

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If one is a nihilist, I don't think they could possibly become enraged over any act of violence committed against them. If morality goes out of the window, then, in my opinion, so do feelings of anger, contempt, happiness, ad infinitum. It would be inconsistent.

True, but a shocking number of people are perfectly ok with being inconsistent.

Think of the climate conference... thousands of limos, hundreds of private jets.... :P

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  • 1 month later...
About values being objective, ask him if it is in my intention to live, then would drinking a bottle of deadly poison be objectively immoral, or would it only kill me in my subjective opinion? Or throw the original question back at him: if I murdered someone he cared for, would that be objectively immoral, or only in his subjective opinion?

I think his answer would likely be that it would only matter in his subjective opinion if he were to live or not. His deadness is objective and based in reality...but his caring isn't. I'd perhaps question him on what his "subjective" standard of value is in his "subjective" value judgments. If he has no standard, I doubt you'll get very far because his modus operandi is emotional reaction, not thoughtful response, to the world around him. If he can pick any standard at all (for himself as a "subjective" judgment), why that standard in particular, or even any standard at all? If he can find a standard of any kind, even an improper or false one, he's ultimately admitted the fact that man does need values and value judgments, and therefore morality.

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  • 6 years later...
On 12/6/2009 at 1:18 AM, Nicko0301 said:

So, I am having a conversation with an ethical nihilist. I asked him how he would feel if someone were to commit an unspeakable evil against him (such as murder everyone he cares for). He respondes thus:

 

"Is this an attempt at a trick question? Because if so, FAIL. Here's why:

 

Morality/Ethics = Value judgements

 

Because not everyone has similar values, the only consistent ethics are ones grounded in reality, ie subjective ethics that pertain only to an individual who has to make said value judgment."

 

 

 

How would an Objectivist respond to such an argument. Something seems wrong, but I can't quite identify it.

This was the same argument the Sophists made...the response is Plato (definition) and Aristotle (Logic).

Ayn Rand made this argument about how many of the bad ideas in philosophy originate from the primacy of consciousness, where basically the mind creates reality and thus ethics. The key here, would have been to get the guy to admit that ethics exist independent of people by definition. Thus a person could have a value, and that value could still be wrong. 

 

 

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