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Fact and Value

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I recently read Peikoff's "Fact and Value" and found it to be a brilliant rebuttal of the travesty of Kelley's positions. Still, I'm having trouble imagining how one would actually apply some of the Peikoff's abstractions.

Right away, Peikoff posits that fact and value cannot be sundered:

Every proper value-judgment is the identification of a fact: a given object or action advances man’s life (it is good): or it threatens man’s life (it is bad or an evil). The good, therefore, is a species of the true; it is a form of recognizing reality.

When applied to realm of judging men, this is the principle of justice. A man who holds a true idea is praiseworthy, whereas a man holding a false idea deserves condemnation. In regard to truth and falsity, Peikoff makes mention of a third possibility, an idea embraced whimsically, devoid any process of reasoning:

For Objectivism, an idea thus embraced is not “true” (or “false”). In relation to such a mind, the idea is without cognitive status; it is the arbitrary, and is analogous to the sounds emitted by a parrot. The true qua true, by contrast, does imply a process of understanding and integration, and therefore some degree of effort, focus, work.

In the preceding quotation, I personally added the underlining because I'm curious how this arbitrary idea should be judged by an external examiner. If I am judging a man with no grounding for his Marxism, a tenet which I know to be false and evil, do I judge him to a lesser degree than I would an academic Marxist? Certainly anyone holding such an arbitrary idea, regardless of its specific content, is automatically morally culpable by virtue of the fact that they're abdicating reality in favor of caprice and faith, but are they evil to the same degree as someone who reasoned his way to the evil position? Is there even any objective basis for degrees of evil?

Maybe there's some relevant principle in Peikoff's article that I'm just not grasping. Hopefully someone else can clarify the issue a little bit. :)

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See I would think that people who held false ideas should be viewed with pitty, amusement, or some other condescending emotion (unless they continue to hold it after being informed of its flaws and having no argument against it). Where as people who hold arbitrary ideas should be viewed with condemnation and such.

For instance we have something like the Anarchist FAQ, which is a set of arguments defending socialism and attacking capitalism. It has a large body of facts, citations, and original work. It has a lot of arguments and criticism that I had never heard before also. The arguments are fallacious, but it is clear that these people by the methods that they are aware of (pseudo-academic methods) are trying to come to a conclusion that is true.

On the other hand we have a cult like Freedomainradio.com or Desteni Productions. These people engage in arbitrary rambling, throwing catch phrases around, and the shut down dissent of any kind on principle. These people are clearly evil and arbitrary, they don't care about being right and are much more dangerous than someone who is wrong because of it.

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In the preceding quotation, I personally added the underlining because I'm curious how this arbitrary idea should be judged by an external examiner. If I am judging a man with no grounding for his Marxism, a tenet which I know to be false and evil, do I judge him to a lesser degree than I would an academic Marxist? Certainly anyone holding such an arbitrary idea, regardless of its specific content, is automatically morally culpable by virtue of the fact that they're abdicating reality in favor of caprice and faith, but are they evil to the same degree as someone who reasoned his way to the evil position? Is there even any objective basis for degrees of evil?
Suppose we have two men, each of whom believes in and advocates contemporary American altruist-socialism (thus hyper-taxing the rich, an extensive welfare state, regulations 'for the same of the people'). Person A has implicitly accepted various general philosophical premises underlying this such position, such as "we need to help those less fortunate", "they have plenty of money, they don't need all that money", but has not intellectually engaged the issues by questioning the logic of the statements, never asking why. Person A is an altruist socialist because "that's what our people have always believed". Person B, in contrast, has actively considered the philosophical underpinnings of altruist socialism, can argue in a persuasive-sounding fashion for the position, and is aware of the opposing arguments.

Then the question is which is the greater evil. To stumble through life passively, unaware of the sensory evidence that should tell him that his premises are wrong, and in so living his life he supports an evil idea? Or to have an active mind that consciously rejects man's fundamental cognitive tools, actively evading the evidence that altruistic socialism is evil?

This distinction is addressed in OPAR ch. 2, as the contrast between the mentality that is passive and stagnant, the man who does not work to see, versus the active mind that works to not see. As Peikoff (p. 62) says of evasion, "Morally, it is the essence of evil. According to Objectivism, evasion is the vice that underlies all other vices".

To answer the question in any specific case, then, I would look to determine whether the evidence tells me that the person is a passive accepter, or an active evader.

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Thanks, DavidOdden. :) The distinction between not working to see versus working not to see was elucidating. As a corollary question, if the evidence tells you that the man under scrutiny is merely a passive accepter, how would you treat him?

Initially, I thought to suggest a benefit-of-the-doubt approach, perhaps by conversing with him and offering him reason, but I fear the shroud of passivity may be impenetrable. I suppose the degree of effort (if any) you expend hinges on the full context of your relationship with him, in light of any of his other virtues.

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As a corollary question, if the evidence tells you that the man under scrutiny is merely a passive accepter, how would you treat him?
Like most people :(: quietly disappointed. When I find it in professional colleagues, it's worse because they really should know better. But I think it most important question you have you ask yourself is, what value is this person to you.
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Suppose we have two men, each of whom believes in and advocates...

I would stress observable behaviour and say "Suppose we have two men, each of whom behaves/does..."

My point is that the true test of the goodness/evilness of one's ideas is how they translate (or fail to translate) into choices, behaviour, character.

A confessed religious believer can behave more rationally ni her daily life than a confessed atheist, for example.

A single true idea or a single false belief may have a limited impact on a person life, because the accumulated effect of other competing true or false ideas/beliefs in her mind.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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I would stress observable behaviour and say "Suppose we have two men, each of whom behaves/does..."

My point is that the true test of the goodness/evilness of one's ideas is how they translate (or fail to translate) into choices, behaviour, character.

You've put together two different perspectives here, which gives somewhat different results, and I'd like to pull them apart. From the perspective of egoist morality, the latter is the correct statement. The translation to "observable behavior" isn't trivial, and "observable behavior" is relevant only to judging other people, not yourself.
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Observable behavior is a useful standard when judging others. With an egoistic undercurrent for your judgments and actions, observable behavior is a nice measurable means of determining how the person under judgment will affect your life.

Still, it's also important to keep in mind that, on some level, advocacy is an observable action, and few people keep their ideas confined within their own head. Mindlessly proselytizing a dangerous idea, however tenuous a grasp you actually have on it, still amounts to urging death into the world, especially if any of your converts are active and consistent evaders. What do we make of this?

Edited by thewarrant
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  • 3 months later...

In Atlas shrugged it was aid that the most evil man in the world is the man wh doesnt think. Therefore person A would be the most evil of the two because he has the capacity to think, to change his ideas and to influence those around him, but he doesnt. He continues on allowing person B to leech off others. Without person A Person B would not exist.

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