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Aristotelianism Vs Objectivism

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David Odden raised a very interesting point, that one could view Aristotle's philosophy as 'criticism' of some tenets of Objectivism, in that Aristotle often explicitly states, and then argues against, some points which an Objectivist would support. Interestingly, though probably expectedly so, even back in the day of Ancient Greece the ideas that would lead to Objectivism as opposed to Aristotelianism were proposed, and discussed (and rejected, at the time, in favor of the latter). Although some would say that Aristotle was simply unaware, or that the Greek philosophy hadn't advanced enough at the time to reach the Oist position, the truth is (often, but not always) quite the contrary.

Oftentimes in his Ethics and Politics Aristotle explicitly discusses and criticizes a some aspects of Oism's stand on individualism, on relationship of man to society around him, on the proper purpose of government, etc. The two philosophies seem to also differ on the nature of virtue. From what I remember, for Objectivism virtue is an act; this, for example, would be Justice - "The boy pays for his candy." A sum total of all his acts of acquiring the candy indicate the magnitude of his virtue/vice. So if he paid for the candy 75% of the time and stole it 25% of the time, he may be said to have obtained *some* justice. He's 3/4s just. This is a quantitative approach.

For Aristotle (and Greeks at large) virtue is a habit, a state of mind more than any individual act - "The boy always pays for his candy." If he only pays for it whenever he wants to he doesn't really have the virtue of justice, even if he pays more often than not. So, for Aristotle, if the boy paid 75% of the time, he shouldn't be considered to have any justice at all. He does a just act 75% of the time, but he does not have the habit of acting justly, given 25% theft. But then when virtues approach upper 90s, the reverse becomes true: if the boy pays for the candy 99% of the time, and steals 1%, he is said to have the virtue of justice, the habit of acting with fairness. This habit of his is broken rarely, and that's the thing: he has the habit, the state of mind, that is just, and 1% of the time he does things contrary to it (as opposed to not having a just state of mind, even if doing a just thing most of the time). So at lower levels Aristotle would deny virtue quicker than Oism, but at upper levels he would grant virtue when Oism would deny it (Oism would say "the man who pays 99% of the time can't be said to be truly just, only mostly just").

But then again it could be argued that "nature of virtue" is not a proper subject for philosophy, but for other branches such as psychology or psycho-epistemology. But here Aristotle would disagree as well, for he defines philosophy as something like "a comprehensive study for finding rules that help man live qua man". Thus, he would view the study of habits, today a part of psychology, properly a philosophical subject. For him, philosophy is not a detached (pigeonholed) academic subject - he's not satisfied with knowing that 'paying' is Just, he has to tie that to man's nature and find out what makes a just man, and how to get more of it, not solely which of his acts could be labeled as Just, and which couldn't. The causes and means for advancement in moral qualities (getting from Bad to Good) are just as important for him as the final result ("What is Good? Which man can be said to be Good?").

Edit: I should add that there's a good reason I put this topic in the Ethics forum. Politics forum seems to be more about concrete political structures, far from Aristotle's interest, and Metaphysics/Epistemology are where Aristotle and AR meet without much incident, or where his disagreements are simply Platonic and not too convincing.

There are other interesting ways in which Aristotle and Oism disagree, and I don't want to pigeonhole this entire thread to be a discussion about the nature of virtue. Please be sure to raise other issues, once virtue has been sufficiently discussed.

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According to Objectivism, virtue is not an act but a quality of a person.

An act can be virtuous if it demonstrates a virtue. But one single act is not a virtue. A virtue is the quality, of which we learn by more than one single act.

Honesty is a virtue. Telling the truth once is not.

Rationality is a virtue. Following reason once is not.

The definition of virtue is most certainly a part of philosophy. There is no field of ethics without it.

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I believe Rand wrote that a value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep and a virtue is the act by which one gains and/or keeps it. Aristotle and the other ancient eudaimonists held that a virtue is the application of practical wisdom to a given sphere of life. Therefore justice is a commitment to acting on the principle of giving people what they deserve. You might steal a CD and money falls out of your pocket to cover the CD, but this is not an act of justice (even though the store got the money it deserved) because it did not originate from a commitment to acting on the right moral principle. Virtue for the ancients is to reason well about practical matters, which entails intellectual, motivational, and affective components. Objectivists interested in the nature of virtue would be well advised to study the ancients.

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One must remember the context within which the ancients were making their arguments. For instance, they never differentiated between "the sciences" and philosophy. All such knowledge fell under philosophy. They were at the beginning of knowledge and had not accumulated enough knowledge to distinquish one field from another. They understood that math was math, but math was considered a part of philosophy. Many metaphysical questions that they dealt with would be a subject for physics today. Aristotle began the study of what we would call natural science today, i.e., biology, botany, etc.

My point is that one must not attempt to categorize certain ideas under modern rubrics. We have specialized knowledge today only because the ancients laid the groundwork for us, most especially Aristotle.

Would you please site specific passages from both Aristotle and Miss Rand (or Dr. Peikoff, if necessary) to give us an idea of the comparisons you are making?

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AR:

"Value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep, and virtue is the act by which one gains and/or keeps it" (The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 19).

Aristotle:

The formal definition provided is:

"Virtue is a disposition of the soul in which, when it has to choose among actions and feelings, it observes the mean relative to itself. this mean is determined by a rational principle of the kind that would be formulated by a man of good sense and practical wisdom" (Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, Chapter VI).

But I want to look beyond this definition for two reasons: 1) it's too bulky and unwieldly for this sort of discussion, and 2) it touches on the doctrine of the mean, which I want to avoid at the moment; still observe that already we see his position that virtue is a disposition rather than any single act, or any history of these acts put together. Still, a number of other quotes can better help illustrate his view of virtue:

"Virtue, then, being of two kinds, intellectual and moral, intellectual virtue in the main owes both its birth and its growth to teaching (for which reason it requires experience and time), while moral virtue comes about as a result of habit, whence also its name (ethike) is one that is formed by a slight variation from the word ethos (habit). From this it is also plain that none of the moral virtues arises in us by nature; for nothing that exists by nature can form a habit contrary to its nature. For instance the stone which by nature moves downwards cannot be habituated to move upwards, not even if one tries to train it by throwing it up ten thousand times; nor can fire be habituated to move downwards, nor can anything else that by nature behaves in one way be trained to behave in another. Neither by nature, then, nor contrary to nature do the virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit."

To understand this, we first have to understand 'virtue' is only an approximate translation, because what Aristotle really means is 'excellence' (also an approximate translation). So there are two kinds of excellence man is capable of: the intellectual excellence of a scientist, an inventor, etc, to each his own (though all are capable of some or other intellectual excellnce), and the moral excellence of acting in accordance to the definition above (which all men are born equally capable of, and all must share in, for man's nature is objective).

And here comes the quote that really states the essential aspect of virtue:

"Again, of all the things that come to us by nature we first acquire the potentiality and later exhibit the activity (this is plain in the case of the senses; for it was not by often seeing or often hearing that we got these senses, but on the contrary we had them before we used them, and did not come to have them by using them); but the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyreplayers by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts."

Add to that a phrase that I have written down in my notes, which may or may not be a direct quotation from the Ethics, but is still describes Aristotle's position accurately: "Virtue is not an act, but a habit."

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Aristotle's point is that a person is not temperate by acting temperate once, or even several times. The temperate actions are temperate, but the person is not temperate in general. I don't see any problem with this distinction or any contradiction with Objectivism.

Objectivism if anything takes this much farther. See LP's discussion in OPAR of the judge who takes bribes from the local bosses.

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Please be more specific as to where in OPAR this discussion takes place.

Two further points about AR's and Aristotle's views:

1) There may or may not be a difference between their definitions of virtue. At the very least one can say that AR seems to have a different position, viewing virtue quantitatively, not qualitatively, due to her choice of using 'act' in defining virtue. Aristotle's position, however, is so intuitive that it seems unlikely AR disagreed with it, and that the differences are just in wording. Still it's worth considering the two views and deciding for oneself.

2) In 4 years of studying Objectivism, the single most common (the only?) omission I've encountered in the Objectivist corpus is the lack of attention given to acquisition of virtue, to progression from Worse to Better. Although Betsy, and other knowledgeable Oists, have proven invaluable in their wonderful advice about making the philosophy "one's own", internalizing it, evaluating one's values and integrating accordingly, etc, sadly it still appears that their advice is just that, their advice, something they discovered personally, over the course of their lives. I have been hardpressed to find in Objectivism proper a systematic, schematic, study of how to become a good man.

In fact, in the the early years of Objectivist study, long before Betsy and the others, the only solution I've found to this problem was a close imitation of AS heroes (Roark appears to have been born as Roark, and his fight often seems effortless and automatic). Many teenagers who have been introduced to AS seem to have pursued that same path I did, which explains why many of them (like me, at first) quickly turned out as what Betsy termed True Believers, pseudo-Objectivists who take the book as Revealed Word. I have to say this: without AS, I would have had absolutely no guidance for right choices and actions. But the problem is that because it is the only popularly available example of proper action, it may appear to be the only possible example of proper action; its uniqueness in the Objectivistcorpus may explain why youngsters inevitably end up seeing it as a dogmatic treatise of its own, 'On The Proper Behavior'. Atlas Shrugged, of course, was never intended as such, but the fact that it is the only popularly available study underlines its omission elsewhere. (I'm talking about AR's books here, because lectures are highly specialized and are only easily available to a small audience; however, from what I understand, even they do not approach the subject in the same manner as Aristotle did. Moreover let's not forget that OPAR is Dr. Peikoff's own interpretation, putting him in the same category as Betsy Speicher, people very knowledgeable in Ayn Rand's ideas, and who may have good advice which they've discovered over the course of their lifetime.)

The reason for this omission, the only answer I've found in 4 years of looking, is that the study of acquisition of virtue does not fall under any branch of philosophy, even ethics. In my first post I made a mistake sayhing that definition of virtue is optional; a philosophy certainly ought to provide such a definition, and Objectivism does. What I really meant to say was that, unlike Aristotelianism, it does not include a study for its acquisition. I may be wrong on this one, but from what I understand AR classified this study under psycho-epistemology, or possibly psychology (and if you've ever read the definition of psycho-epistemology, you must have, like I did at first, felt helpless about the difficulty of the presented definition, and about the implied complexity of the field thus described). In other words, the study of acquisition of virtue is a field adjacent and complementary to Oism, but not officially a part, and, to my great chagrin, not something she spent a lot of time teaching and explaining to a broad popular audience.

This is a big departure from Aristotle's view, whose emphasis on acquisition of virtue and loss of vice forms an integral part of his Ethics, and may even be called obsessive; every single idea he discusses is quickly explained in how it applies personally to the reader, and how he may take full advantage of it, and become better at it. So unlike AR, Aristotle does have a systematic and schematic study of acquisition of virtue and happiness, and he does, as part of official philosophy, explain to his students not only what makes a good man but also how they may become one as well.

But, in the end, the answer to all this may be that AR just simply didn't have enough time to do everything (though if this be someone's argument, I may have a comment on that as well). Although this answer doesn't aleviate the omission, it may explain its presence, and provide impetus for its amendment.

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In the post above, I said, "Aristotle [...] does, as part of official philosophy, explain to his students not only what makes a good man but also how they may become one as well."

The answer to "how one may become a good man" is not simply "by doing good things". It's not a trivial problem, is what I'm saying here, it requires special attention; in the end, it may require just as much effort to discover how to become Good as it takes to discover what the Good is in the first place.

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I highly recommend this if you're interested in studying the acquisition and practice of the Objectivist virtues: (From AynRandBookstore.com)

"Chewing" the Objectivist Virtues (Audio) by Gary Hull

These classes offer intensive discussions of how to apply the Objectivist virtues of integrity, productivity, justice and pride. Dr. Hull focuses on often-neglected aspects of these four, for example, the corollaries of courage and confidence. The course ranges from the role of justice in evaluating another's moral character to the role of pride in shaping one's own moral character.

(Audio; 6-tape set; 7 hrs., with Q & A) "

I attended a lecture by Hull on the Objectivist virtues at a summer conference in 94. I belive this is the same (or similar) lecture. He discussed the need to exert effort to make virtue a habit, and indicated the importance of seeing virtue as an integrated whole. The section on pride was particularly good. I believe Hull would definitely reject the idea that virtue can be calculated like a batting average of individual acts.

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...

Oftentimes in his Ethics and Politics Aristotle explicitly discusses and criticizes a some aspects of Oism's stand on individualism, on relationship of man to society around him, on the proper purpose of government, etc. The two philosophies seem to also differ on the nature of virtue. From what I remember, for Objectivism virtue is an act; this, for example, would be Justice - "The boy pays for his candy." A sum total of all his acts of acquiring the candy indicate the magnitude of his virtue/vice. So if he paid for the candy 75% of the time and stole it 25% of the time, he may be said to have obtained *some* justice. He's 3/4s just. This is a quantitative approach.

...

Okay, I have to ask this: Where did you get the idea that Objectivism countenances a "quantitative" approach? This is simply not the case. I can only suggest that you definitely need to go back and study some of the literature on virtues and principles. You could start by listening to the free lecture "Why should one act on principle?" by Leonard Peikoff, available at the Ayn Rand Institute with free registration. I have not listened to Dr. Hull's lectures but Dr. Peikoff's "Moral Virtue" lectures still available from Ayn Rand Bookstore are very helpful in this regard. As for printed material, I recommend Peikoff's OPAR and Dr. Tara Smith's Viable Values.

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I see so much "advice" (conceding that it is good natured) on how FreeCapitalist should go back and "read" to "understand". And yet I see nobody standing on their own foot and addressing the issues brought up.

Thus (singling you out) Greich, when you make this statement,

This is simply not the case.
, would you please back it up with why you think this is not the case?

This reminds me of Seneca, when he states, "...the people who are forever acting as interpreters and never as creators, always lurking in someone else's shadow. They never venture to do for themselves the things they have spent such a long time learning. They exercise their memories on things that are not their own. It is one thing, however, to remember, another to know. To remember is to safeguard something entrusted to your memory, whereas to know, by contrast, is actually to make each item your own, and not to be dependent on some original and be constantly looking to see what the master said....Let's have some difference between you and the books! How much longer are you going to be a pupil," (Seneca, Letter 33)?

Indeed, I endeavor to see an end in a replacement of ones positions with other’s works, and instead see other’s works as verification for ones views.

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JRoberts,

The reason is that this thread is about comparing 2 existing philosophies. To do so, you have to present the 2 philosophies properly. I see nothing wrong with guiding someone to material that will help him to do so. The question wasn't what we think, it's about what Aristotle and Ayn Rand thought.

Are you being ironic by telling us to speak for ourselves, and then quoting Seneca at length to make your point?

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I certainly am not being ironic. That is why I brought up this point, "Indeed, I endeavor to see an end in a replacement of ones positions with other’s works, and instead see other’s works as verification for ones views."

I assume then that I was not clear enough in my intention. I understand that there are times that referring one to a certain work is needed. However, I saw this as a different situation. FreeCapitalist is obviously well read enough in Objectivism to ask the questions he did and make the statements that he did. Thus, by referring him back to works, one is not making a point and raising education, but merely covering what points they could be making and in fact lowering education-both for FreeCapitalist, and for the poster. FreeCapitalist pulled quotes out of Objectivist material to aid the points that he made. I was thus asking those in disagreement to do the same.

Please also take note that I supposed that everyone’s intention was good natured, and my own intention is good natured as well. My entire goal is to raise education in a discussion, not turn discussions into a “Refer back to X” discussion.

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I certainly am not being ironic.  That is why I brought up this point, "Indeed, I endeavor to see an end in a replacement of ones positions with other’s works, and instead see other’s works as verification for ones views."

I assume then that I was not clear enough in my intention.  I understand that there are times that referring one to a certain work is needed.  However, I saw this as a different situation.  FreeCapitalist is obviously well read enough in Objectivism to ask the questions he did and make the statements that he did.  Thus, by referring him back to works, one is not making a point and raising education, but merely covering what points they could be making and in fact lowering education-both for FreeCapitalist, and for the poster.  FreeCapitalist pulled quotes out of Objectivist material to aid the points that he made.  I was thus asking those in disagreement to do the same.

Please also take note that I supposed that everyone’s intention was good natured, and my own intention is good natured as well.  My entire goal is to raise education in a discussion, not turn discussions into a “Refer back to X” discussion.

I wish I had the time for a detailed discussion but I was and am writing this from work. But I think your overall point is well-taken. It's easy enough to say "you haven't read x" or "go read x again" -- it's much more challenging and potentially rewarding to actually explain the relevant points in x in one's own words.

I'll tell you what -- I'll give it a try.

Here's why I think FreeCapitalist is mistaken when he writes that for Objectivism "virtue is an act... A sum total of all his acts...indicate the magnitude of his virtue/vice." I will try and put it in positive terms. Let me start by briefly reviewing my understanding of the Objectivist ethics.

Objectivist ethics is fundamentally based on moral values to be achieved by following certain principles. Principles are basic generalizations that exist (or should exist) in all intellectual and applied fields and in ethics they take the form of the moral virtues. As someone already pointed out Ayn Rand defines virtue as "the act by which one gains and/or keeps it[value]." Now the purpose of the virtues is to achieve moral values and the most important values and virtues have been laid out in Atlas Shrugged, Virtue of Selfishness, as well as OPAR and other sources. The virtues are:

Rationality

Honesty

Independence

Integrity

Productiveness

Justice

Pride

The values are: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem.

The most important vice is the initiation of physical force.

It has been pointed out by Dr. Peikoff (I think that's mentioned in OPAR) that the above virtues are not necessarily exhaustive (for example there are other important ones such as courage). It also has been pointed out in various lectures that Objectivism, in common with the ancients, views these virtues as one -- in a sense they are all different aspects of rationality. A violation of any single virtue implies abandonment of virtue as such.

Now let's talk about assessing virtue and vice. All the virtues are principles and their application is viewed to be contextually absolute, that is, as long as their context applies it is immoral to violate them because violating them goes against your chosen overall goal of pursuing your life as a rational being. Thus it is not the case that virtue or vice is assessed by the number of times a virtue is followed or a vice is committed. While there are indeed degrees of good and evil (Dr. Peikoff has discussed them in his excellent course "Judging, Feeling and Not Being Moralistic.") it is nevertheless the case that a deliberate violation of the virtues constitutes an anti-life action and thus vice and similarly an initiation of force against innocents (in a normal context) is also a clear vice. This has very much to do with the principled nature of the virtues. I'm not intimately familiar with Aristotle but it does sound as if in this respect there is no opposition between the two philosophies.

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I see so much "advice" (conceding that it is good natured) on how FreeCapitalist should go back and "read" to "understand".  And yet I see nobody standing on their own foot and addressing the issues brought up.

Thus (singling you out) Greich, when you make this statement, , would you please back it up with why you think this is not the case?

This reminds me of Seneca, when he states, "...the people who are forever acting as interpreters and never as creators, always lurking in someone else's shadow.  They never venture to do for themselves the things they have spent such a long time learning.  They exercise their memories on things that are not their own.  It is one thing, however, to remember, another to know.  To remember is to safeguard something entrusted to your memory, whereas to know, by contrast, is actually to make each item your own, and not to be dependent on some original and be constantly looking to see what the master said....Let's have some difference between you and the books!  How much longer are you going to be a pupil," (Seneca, Letter 33)?

Indeed, I endeavor to see an end in a replacement of ones positions with other’s works, and instead see other’s works as verification for ones views.

I see the post I wrote didn't make it to the thread. :lol: In that post, I said much the same thing -- without Seneca's elegance.

Simply pointing the way to Objectivist materials is not always helpful, (unless, of course, that is what someone has asked for). There are those who, like me, aren't able to avail themselves of some of the more expensive materials for one reason or another. There are times when I wish that commenters would give their understanding of the point instead of simply saying one ought to read such and such. I give a brief demure to OPAR, AS and TF, because these works are so basic to understanding the overall philosophy. The later works of application are what I'm specifically talking about.

I do have some questions on topic, but they'll have to wait for now.

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Gideon, with all due respect, notice how you wrote a long post about virtue, without once identifying what it is, by Ayn Rand's definition. Please note how your post appears to be in contradiction if you use her definition, so please reconcile that issue. I'll be interested to see your reply.

However I do appreciate your second post, in fact a lot more than your first, which simply seemed elitist and inappropriately vague ("I personally don't know the answer, but go look 'somewhere over there' for 'some sort of answer'"). I consider myself decently versed in Oism to hold a discussion without referring to the books, and I hope others uphold this level of discussion. Also, if references are absolutely necessary (such as when I quoted AR's and Aristotle's definitions of virtue) please acquire them from AS, Ayn Rand's books, or the Ayn Rand Lexicon.

Neither Gary Hull, despite all the respect I have for him, and whose free 5 hour lectures on ARI's website I absolutely adored when first introduced to Objectivism, nor Dr. Peikoff and his valuable OPAR, constitute Objectivism proper. I would like to focus this discussion solely on what we inherited from Ayn Rand herself. (For any oldtimers here, such as the Speicher family, personal recollections about private talks with AR are very welcome too :lol:).

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In 4 years of studying Objectivism, the single most common (the only?) omission I've encountered in the Objectivist corpus is the lack of attention given to acquisition of virtue, to progression from Worse to Better. Although Betsy, and other knowledgeable Oists, have proven invaluable in their wonderful advice about making the philosophy "one's own", internalizing it, evaluating one's values and integrating accordingly, etc, sadly it still appears that their advice is just that, their advice, something they discovered personally, over the course of their lives. I have been hardpressed to find in Objectivism proper a systematic, schematic, study of how to become a good man.

It's there and I can't recommend it enough. It is Peikoff's "Understanding Objectivism" course available from AynRandBookstore.com and often made available to campus clubs by ARI.

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"the single most common (the only?) omission I've encountered in the Objectivist corpus is the lack of attention given to acquisition of virtue, to progression from Worse to Better."

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand provided concretizations of how one progresses towards virtue. For example, we saw Hank Rearden gradually learn and exercise the virtue of justice. (I think I first heard this explained by Hull, to give credit where it's due.) In the beginning, he treats his family and others unjustly (mostly much too well), by the end of the novel, Rearden has strengthened his understanding and has begun to fully apply the virtue of justice to everyone in his life. Similarly, on the opposite direction, she showed in Dr. Stadler how failure to practice one virtue can gradually undermine all remaining virtues in a character.

In The Fountainhead, Roark's life was practically a handbook for how to practice integrity. She didn't have to explicitly say - here's integrity, behave like this, and repeat daily for the rest of your life. In Ayn Rand's non-fiction there is constant advice to the reader on how to practice and improve one's virtues of reason, integrity, honesty, justice. She taught by her own example and exhortations to the reader to be rational. When she asks her readers to not use emotions as tools of cognition, to not drop context, etc. Does she not get credit unless she prefaces each section with something like "now here's where I'm going to show you how to progress from being irrational and start practicing the virtue of reason"?

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Gideon, with all due respect, notice how you wrote a long post about virtue, without once identifying what it is, by Ayn Rand's definition. Please note how your post appears to be in contradiction if you use her definition, so please reconcile that issue. I'll be interested to see your reply.

Okay, we seem to be suffering from the same affliction: We don't seem to read each other's posts very carefully (I went back an reread your post and noticed several things I didn't catch the first time). I do in fact identify virtue according to Ayn Rand in the following section of my post:

Objectivist ethics is fundamentally based on moral values to be achieved by following certain principles. Principles are basic generalizations that exist (or should exist) in all intellectual and applied fields and in ethics they take the form of the moral virtues. As someone already pointed out Ayn Rand defines virtue as "the act by which one gains and/or keeps it[value]."
[emphasis added]

I was trying to convey my understanding of Ayn Rand's idea of virtue. True, she refers to it as "the act" but I don't think it's correct to interpret this as meaning a certain number of concrete actions. I think she meant that virtue involves necessarily some action (mental or physical). In fact she clarifies this when she talks about the specific virtues she endorsed, such as rationality ("the recognition and acceptance of reason...one's total commitment to a state of full, conscious awareness, to the maintenance of a full mental focus in all issues, in all choices, in all of one's waking hours" VOS) and independence ("one's acceptance of the responsibility of forming one's own judgments and of living by the work of one's own mind" VOS) and the other virtues have similar phrasings. So I think she makes relatively clear that she is talking about something quite similar to Aristotle's "disposition" when she is talking about virtues and that's what I was trying to get across with my mentioning of principles. When describing rationality Rand writes in VOS: "It means a commitment to the reality of one's own existence, i.e., to the principle that all of one's goals, values and actions take place in reality and, therefore, that one must never place any value or consideration whatsoever above one's perception of reality." [emphasis added] That's why I thought you were mistaken in assigning a "quantitative" interpretation to Ayn Rand's idea of value.

However I do appreciate your second post, in fact a lot more than your first, which simply seemed elitist and inappropriately vague ("I personally don't know the answer, but go look 'somewhere over there' for 'some sort of answer'"). I consider myself decently versed in Oism to hold a discussion without referring to the books, and I hope others uphold this level of discussion. Also, if references are absolutely necessary (such as when I quoted AR's and Aristotle's definitions of virtue) please acquire them from AS, Ayn Rand's books, or the Ayn Rand Lexicon.

Ah yes, my first post. Well, as I said in my previous post I was somewhat busy (I'm at home now). I agree with the criticism jroberts and you have offered. I hope my answer above offers another step in the direction of the discussion you are hoping for.

Neither Gary Hull, despite all the respect I have for him, and whose free 5 hour lectures on ARI's website I absolutely adored when first introduced to Objectivism, nor Dr. Peikoff and his valuable OPAR, constitute Objectivism proper. I would like to focus this discussion solely on what we inherited from Ayn Rand herself. (For any oldtimers here, such as the Speicher family, personal recollections about private talks with AR are very welcome too :P).

Well, I hope my above comments have met your requirements. While it is certainly true that Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand, it is not exactly true that only Ayn Rand's writings are Objectivism. There are also the writings and lecture courses that she explicitly endorsed when she was alive. Specifically, this includes Dr. Peikoff's 1976 Lectures on Objectivism (on which OPAR is ultimately based). What you have to remember is that Ayn Rand never wrote a systematic treatise of her philosophy. Many important ideas are spread across different essays. Certainly, Objectivists existed before the publication of OPAR but OPAR's excellent systematic presentation of Ayn Rand's ideas is unparalleled in Ayn Rand's own writings and has made life a lot easier for those seeking understanding of Ayn Rand's ideas.

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Greich,

Thanks for a thoughtful response. As you said, Ayn Rand never finished her own book on Objectivism, and you ascribe the omission of her discussion on virtue's acqusition to that fact. However I must point you to the fact that one need not write a systematic treatise on the entire philosophy in order to write a systematic description of its most important aspects. AR has obviously done this, describing each of her five branches in considerable detail. Yet nowhere in VOS, or other books, does she address the acqusition of virtue in any detail, and certainly does not obsess over it nearly as much as Aristotle does. The picture her choice paints for me is that she simply didn't think it was important enough, that the opportunity cost of writing about acqusition of virtue as opposed to writing about something else in Objectivism was too high, and thus she left it out. I'm not saying she had nothing to say about it, or that she thought it was a useless subject, for just look at oldtimer Objectivists to find genuinely happy people, large part of which is undoubtedly thanks to her advice and tutelage on ethical matters and practical living. But I must repeat again, she didn't consider it important enough over other subjects, and that's where she differs strongly with Aristotle.

This difference in hierarchy of values of these two people is thus reflected in their resulting philosophies, where Objectivism does not consider the subject of acquistion of virtue nearly as important as Aristotelianism does. I was hoping to be proven wrong, but so far everyone has proven me right here.

So, I see what you're saying about AR and virtue as a habit; the problem is that it's all guess work, a hypothesis, a supposition (though as I said, not an implausible one). However, you only need to read Book 2 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics to read his view stated clearly, resolutely, forcefully. He explicitly devotes time and space in his books to the process of becoming better, whereas AR doesn't. A student of Aristotle does not have to try to "read into" what was said, and extract possible implications. It's out there, in plain language, and unequivocal (and repeated over and over again throughout his treatise). That's what I mean by omission in the Objectivist corpus.

I think we can just agree on that, and disregard the minor details.

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Betsy,

Thanks for pointing me to Dr. Peikoff's lectures. However, I wasn't asking for a place where I could personally find advice on how to acquire virtue. I'm interested in Aristotle at the moment anyway, plus the lectures cost money, and I have little doubt that the lectures are pretty close to what Aristotle says anyway. So I will continue my study in that direction, which will probably be pretty much the same direction I would have taken with the lectures you recommend :). Your advice may still be useful to others here, for they now know about two good alternatives in studying to become better - Dr. Peikoff's ideas, or Aristotle's. The former is easier to understand, but expensive; the latter is harder to understand (unless you know Ancient Greek), but free.

However, on another note, I have to observe that these are Dr. Peikoff's lectures, not Ayn Rand's; this once again underlines my point, that she didn't think her time was best spent addressing this issue, and left it up to her students to fill in, if they wanted to; I remember what LP said in his Ford Hall Forum lecture about his new theories on induction - apparently she said to him that the problem of induction could be solved by an intensive study of the history of physics. Now induction is a very serious issue, but even solving that problem does not sound like a mandate from her, ie there's no "we HAVE to solve this, do this asap please, it's critical". If that was her advice on filling in the omission in Objectivism about induction, a subject she addressed publicly, I can't imagine what she would have said, if anything, on filling in the omission I've been talking about here, a subject she never even mentioned in any of her non-fiction books.

It just strikes me how little importance she gave to it in her official philosophy. If Aristotle did not have time to finish his Ethics, he would have undoubtedly instructed his best student to address the study of acquisition of virtue as much as the study of virtue itself.

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Free Capitalist,

Virtue is an application of more basic principles of ethics, value, but the distance between them is short. The most important question of ethics is "why?" - "why do we need values, and a code of them, at all?" The next important question is "what?" - "which code of values?" Once you have that, the third question, "how?" - "how to implement that code of values?" need only be described in general terms to complete an overview of ethics.

Virtue is of supreme importance to the philosophy. But it's not the basis of ethics - it's an application of the basic principles of ethics. The basic questions of Objectivist ethics, the one which absolutely requires defense, elucidation, etc., are "why?" and "what?"; the question of application, of implementation, can easily be answered once one has a firm grasp of the answers to the two basic questions.

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A West:

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand provided concretizations of how one progresses towards virtue.
Yes, if you read the post where I address the subject of Atlas Shrugged, you will see me agreeing with you. Personally I think Objectivism wouldn't be what it is without AS. Without it, one might think AR did not care at all for any moral progression, and imagined some Platonic ideal men who were born automatically and effortlessly perfect. AS is an antidote to this view, showing a wide range of moral characters and showing how they improve/regress/change over the course of the story (compare this to TF, where, by author's intention, Roark at the end of the book remains completely unchanged from how he started).

However, "a concretization of how one progresses towards virtue" is not the same thing as a systematic study. In other words, an example is not a theory.

And finally we come to the quote I've been waiting for:

In The Fountainhead, Roark's life was practically a handbook for how to practice integrity. She didn't have to explicitly say - here's integrity, behave like this, and repeat daily for the rest of your life.
This is the very crux of the view I've been protesting against; up to this point it seemed as if my protest was against a straw man, but to my relief the elephant in the room has finally been named.

The problem of how to acquire integrity is NOT TRIVIAL. There aren't enough buttons in this forum software for all the different ways I want to italicize, underline, etc, this. I am at once exultant that the view I oppose has finally been explicitly said, and exhasperated that this view exists at all, and lives very prominently in beginner-to-intermediate Objectivist circles. I don't mean any disrespect here, but your statement is my proof that AR's omission of this study has been disastrous; maybe I'm comitting the mistake of selective attention here, given all the good things she did say, but after reading Aristotle I just find AR's omission so glaring, and A West's opinion here impermissable. This, what he said there, is exactly what I was repeating to myself for years, and what some others I know of have been repeating as well. It does not work. At the same time I know that I've improved dramatically after being introduced to Objectivism. So, introspectively remembering and analyzing the progress I've made in all this time, I saw that all of it occurred in spite of this view, not because of it.

And it's not the same as with induction, where AR clearly identified the omission, and explicitly said she left it to her student. At least, to an Objectivist newbie, this says that her theories in logic are incomplete, and there's more to add there.

But this omission in ethics goes completely unnoticed; A West's advice (well intentioned, undoubtedly) gets passed on as the only advice possible; indeed it looks very plausible, if one were to derive AR's opinion solely from her public works. That's what she seems to to be suggesting, unfortunately, and the newbie student thinks she didn't consider the subject important enough to say anything more about. The only things she seems to suggest, sadly, are: that this close imitation of Roark is necessary, and that personal improvement, though not easy to do, is obvious and trivial to understand. But then she writes an essay to answer her critics, in which she (rightly) denies that her philosophy requires this dogmatism - and indeed it doesn't, thank Zeus!

Can anyone see the problem I'm talking about here (besides JRoberts)?

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There is a big difference between attempting to practice a virtue illustrated by a fictional character and attempting to immitate a fictional character. Are you saying that the virtue of integrity, as practiced by Roark, is impossible, inhuman, and harmful to your health if you should try to emulate it?

Might not one also say that Objectivism itself is dangerous because it doesn't come with a detailed enough instruction manual, and thus causes rationalistic people to make mistakes by trying to practice a philosophy they can't fully understand or integrate into their life?

I've seen arguments along these lines before.

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