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Leonid
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I have never questioned the desirability of Objectivist ethics, but I have questioned if they are, as apparently claimed, truly objective (i.e., based on scientific, demonstrable facts and not opinions). And so based on what I find in Rand's writings and here on this forum, I find the assertion made that Objectivism is the ONLY valid philosophy. Well, we might agree that it is certainly preferable to many other "isms", but actual reality does demonstrate that man can and does survive (and sometimes even thrive) by other "isms". Objectivism, therefore, does not appear to be factually objective in the general sense of the word. If it truly were objective, then I would expect objective science demonstrate that only Objectivists live long and productive lives, and those that Objectivists condemn as irrational would be condemned by objective science (that is, they die young and do not prosper).

I have argued once before in this thread why that type of proof (direct tie-in to life expectancy) is unnecessary in order to declare that certain actions and modes of living are contra to human well-being. I will attempt once more to spell it out, and to spell out the alternate method by which we can validate or invalidate Objectivist moral principles.

First of all, showing that people tend to live longer if they follow principle X is not the only valid method of demonstration of what furthers well-being, and in fact is often an untenable method for doing so. I think the best way to understand this is to draw an analogy to human health, which I also did last time. Here, I'll use the example of washing one's hands after going to the bathroom. Is this behavior physically healthy or unhealthy? Well, I don't know of any studies which examine the life expectancy of people who generally wash their hands after the toilet, and people who don't. Does this mean that my belief in the healthiness of this activity is unjustified?

Clearly, not. In fact, that type of study is not the only way to demonstrate the health status of this behavior. Instead, I can point out the direct effects of failing to wash one's hands after the toilet. The most obvious and salient direct effect is the increased risk of contracting infectious diseases. Thus, if we can establish that infectious diseases are unhealthy, we can establish immediately that failing to wash up after taking a dump is also unhealthy.

It is of course true that ultimately, at the base of this chain of reasoning, we will have to tie something directly to life expectancy. However, this is not the same as claiming that we have to tie each and every step directly back to life expectancy. In fact, we do not.

Now, you do acknowledge that, in the case of morality, there are behaviors which undoubtedly further human life, and which if we fail to perform we will experience an increased risk of death and decreased life expectancy. Your failure comes in when you deny our ability to use these clear-cut cases to build a system of moral principles. We agree on the base, but that is not all there is.

Consider self-esteem. Is it an objective value, in the Objectivist sense? It would be extremely hard to try to quantify people's self-esteem and relate that directly to life expectancy. However, what we can do (very easily) is to conceptually examine the direct effects of low self-esteem vs. high self-esteem. First, we need the premise that human beings need to take conscious and deliberate actions in order to maintain and further their lives (an uncontroversial claim, I hope). We define self-esteem as the view that one's own mind is competent to think and that one is worthy of living (here, I am only validating the second part). From here, all we need is the proposition that one is more willing to take the actions necessary to sustain one's life if one believes oneself worthy of living. This chain of reasoning demonstrates the objective value of self-esteem.

Now, if you think the chain of reasoning supporting a certain Objectivist moral principle is faulty, then that would be another discussion. However, before one can even enter that debate, it first must be understood that this construction of a hierarchy of moral values and principles is a valid exercise in the first place.

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Dakota, I honestly don't see how to reason with you past this assertion:

"Beyond the fact that I am the one espousing it.." -- are you kidding?? You've just explained why your view is subjective!

I disagree. According to your logic, "objective" is an invalid concept, because all conception occurs within an individual mind, and hence is subjective.

But that is not the definition of subjective. It does NOT mean "individually conceived", but rather "idiosyncratically conceived". The fact that I can use these words to remotely induce in your mind a semblance of my intended meaning is all it takes -- if an idea can be verified to be true by two or more individuals, working independently, then it is AT LEAST objective.

- ico

Edited by Dante
Fixed quote tag
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The issue, in this specific case, is Rand's claim that people who place family, friends, and human relationships above creative work are "immoral". (The exact quote, I think, is on a previous page of this discussion). I want to know what objective, scientific facts exist to make that claim. The fact is, it can't be objectively proven. It's just one woman's opinion. And that is the crux of the matter: Objectivism is great, honorable, sensible, and admirable, but it doesn't appear to be objective. That's all.

What Ayn is claiming (which you would realize if you had the necessary context, e.g., by reading the whole of OPAR) is that independence is a virtue, and by the Virtue of Independence (VoI) she means, in her own words: "one's acceptance of the responsibility of forming one's own judgments and of living by the work of one's own mind ..."

It is a violation of the VoI to mooch off of others, or to adopt ideas you don't understand just because someone you care about says so, or to give the whims of anyone undeserved respect, sanction, and/or succor -- family members included, yes.

The question is, do you place another's conclusions above your own without independently determining their validity? Because, being a homemaker is a fine and creative endeavor, and helping out family when they deserve it is encouraged. Where the problem comes is when one's focus on family members undermines one's self-consistency -- unless you agree with every whim you indulge others in, you can't possibly so indulge them without undermining your own consistency of will and action.

(added via subsequent edit): If, based on your own rational conclusions, subordinating your effort to your family members' needs is the optimal means for you to obtain happiness, go for it!

- ico

Edited by icosahedron
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I think the best way to understand this is to draw an analogy to human health, which I also did last time. Here, I'll use the example of washing one's hands after going to the bathroom. Is this behavior physically healthy or unhealthy? Well, I don't know of any studies which examine the life expectancy of people who generally wash their hands after the toilet, and people who don't. Does this mean that my belief in the healthiness of this activity is unjustified?

Of course not, and the reason is obvious: human health is objectively measurable. This you admit by your later statement that: "The most obvious and salient direct effect [of not washing one's hands] is the increased risk of contracting infectious diseases." End of story. That's a measurable effect. Otherwise, there would be no basis whatsoever to say that washing one's hands after going to the bathroom was desirable - we might LIKE the idea of washing one's hands; we might think it is appropriate for any number of reasons (including religious or other reasons); but without that objective effect on one's health that you admit, it truly would be just a preference.

It is of course true that ultimately, at the base of this chain of reasoning, we will have to tie something directly to life expectancy. However, this is not the same as claiming that we have to tie each and every step directly back to life expectancy. In fact, we do not.

I agree, because not all actions carry with them the weight of life vs. death. However, if we are going to claim that a certain set of ethics is the ONLY ONE that will fulfill man's purpose of life (in this case, life as the primary "choice"), then for that set of ethics to be truly objective (quite a claim), demands that those ethics be demonstrable in its basic forms. Anything else is simply a subjective guide or suggestion for how one ought to live one's life.

Your failure comes in when you deny our ability to use these clear-cut cases to build a system of moral principles. We agree on the base, but that is not all there is.

I don't think we disagree at all. I have no problem with a set of moral principles being based on an effective use of man's unique faculties to achieve success. You and I would likely agree, for the most part, on what "success" means -- but that is obviously subjective. Objective facts are not going to back up what you and I think of as most desirable. I have often thought that Objectivist ethics were perhaps best suited for specific personality types who could best maximize their business potential by adhering to them. This is not at all to say that they would be a good set of ethics for those who desired, for example, a rich family life (that would be me). Rand herself said that people who place family, friends, and human relationships above creative work are "immoral" -- that might be true if one's goal is success in business, but it is certainly not true based on science. That's all I'm saying.

However, what we can do (very easily) is to conceptually examine the direct effects of low self-esteem vs. high self-esteem. First, we need the premise that human beings need to take conscious and deliberate actions in order to maintain and further their lives (an uncontroversial claim, I hope). We define self-esteem as the view that one's own mind is competent to think and that one is worthy of living (here, I am only validating the second part). From here, all we need is the proposition that one is more willing to take the actions necessary to sustain one's life if one believes oneself worthy of living. This chain of reasoning demonstrates the objective value of self-esteem.

I agree with your reasoning and conclusion here, but I have to say that there are a thousand self-help books on the shelf that will promulgate the same thing -- the importance of genuine self-esteem is not exactly an ignored topic. Not that all approaches to it are rational, or that all recognize what genuine self-esteem is, but some do -- and they do not spring from Objectivist thought. This furthers the concept of Objectivism as a subjective set of ethics that sometimes hits upon more universal aspects of human nature that other "isms" also recognize

. This is not to degrade Objectivist ehtics: I think they would be most helpful for an individual seeking to succeed in business.

Now, if you think the chain of reasoning supporting a certain Objectivist moral principle is faulty, then that would be another discussion. However, before one can even enter that debate, it first must be understood that this construction of a hierarchy of moral values and principles is a valid exercise in the first place.

I doubt I would have any problem at all with the chain of reasoning supporting any particular Objectivist moral principle. I'm probably going to agree with it whole-heartedly. We simply disagree that these principles are objective (beyond certain scientifically objective areas).

Cheers.

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I agree, because not all actions carry with them the weight of life vs. death. However, if we are going to claim that a certain set of ethics is the ONLY ONE that will fulfill man's purpose of life (in this case, life as the primary "choice"), then for that set of ethics to be truly objective (quite a claim), demands that those ethics be demonstrable in its basic forms. Anything else is simply a subjective guide or suggestion for how one ought to live one's life.

Consider two ethical systems, i.e., two systems for judging the morality of individual actions.

Consider any given action that you can take, and see what the systems say about it. If they agree on the moral evaluation of the action, then, with respect to that action, they are synonymous.

Now imagine doing this comparison for all individual actions. If the two systems come to the same conclusion no matter the context/action proposed, then, despite appearances, they are the same system.

Now assume the systems lead to one disparate conclusion about, say, the morality of a particular act of suicide (just to be a bit closer to concrete).

Oops!

There is only one ideal ethical system, in principle. Whether I can discover it is another story ... oh wait, I can't find a logical flaw with O'ist ethics, so even if I haven't got the best of the best, I have got the best available ethics, and one that will fit neatly without any contradiction to any expanded ethical framework in the future. In other words, you can't contradict O'ist ethics in practice and remain objective.

It's not that O'ists are dictating ethics, as past systems have; its a science, now, as John Locke said, so we ought to treat it that way. I can't imagine scrupulous scientists willing to accept a less than the best available tool/model for doing their jobs, why should I expect less in the science of Ethics?

If you want to debate whether Ethics is a science, okay -- I won't participate in that debate.

If you accept that Ethics is a science, then why do you want to have two contradicting theories of gravity to contend with exactly? How does this benefit you?

Let me be sharper: what fact(s) are you trying to evade with your line of reasoning? What do you feel, and why do you feel it?

Check your premises.

- ico

Either, they are both correct

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I agree, because not all actions carry with them the weight of life vs. death. However, if we are going to claim that a certain set of ethics is the ONLY ONE that will fulfill man's purpose of life (in this case, life as the primary "choice"), then for that set of ethics to be truly objective (quite a claim), demands that those ethics be demonstrable in its basic forms. Anything else is simply a subjective guide or suggestion for how one ought to live one's life.

Do you agree that life is an end you have to choose to strive for, and fundamentally the only other option is death? Try asking yourself why you do any action, see how far you can bring that to a choice of life at least implicitly. You're posting in this forum. Why is that? Keep asking why until it is no longer possible. To me it seems you just aren't satisfied that there isn't a formula to use right now, but that doesn't mean that with knowledge over time there CANNOT be an exact answer. Centuries ago no one knew exactly what the speed of light was; there were ways of approximating it before, but by now there are more accurate measurements. Also, you've been extremely vague on what thrive means, and the examples you gave of thriving people are pretty bad examples because it included people who did not thrive. You seem to have missed my comparison earlier on to how a building standing up doesn't mean it's sturdy. Similarly, someone being alive doesn't mean they are flourishing. A tree that's not flourishing is a slowly dying tree, because the only end it is going towards is death. The only other possible end is life. I'm quite literally confused how you think it's not possible to try to figure out what would best further one's life.

Rand herself said that people who place family, friends, and human relationships above creative work are "immoral" -- that might be true if one's goal is success in business, but it is certainly not true based on science. That's all I'm saying.

I don't understand why that point is so important to emphasize. The point of that quote is to say that moral actions are selfish and benefit the person acting. "I'm going to be a doctor because daddy said so" would be immoral, so would saying you have no endeavors because your family and friends are "enough." Also, you misunderstood me before about the purpose of friendship and other human relations. The objective isn't maximum "utility" so to speak, but rather how friends are good for certain reasons, especially helping with self-esteem, plus in the best of friendships, the well-being of a friend is just as important as your well-being. That's really a whole other topic.

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Do you agree that life is an end you have to choose to strive for, and fundamentally the only other option is death?

I would respond that it doesn't, at least in the developed West, take much striving at all. It's a given: you didn't "choose" to be born, and in our society it's fairly easy to sustain biological life. No one chooses to stop their own natural breathing, or chooses to stop one's heart from beating, and we don't oversee the minute-by minute functions of our kidneys. In our society, it's fairly easy to secure food and water without much difficulty, which is where we do need to act volitionally. And here's where I always find the conversation to bog down: Objectivists will then point out that "life" is not merely biological life, that it's life as "man qua man". OK, fine, but then we get into what one person's idea of what that life SHOULD be. At the same time, it is maintained (as you just did) that "the only other option is death". So we're back to biological life.

To me it seems you just aren't satisfied that there isn't a formula to use right now, but that doesn't mean that with knowledge over time there CANNOT be an exact answer.

I'm not satisfied that Objectivist ethics are actually objective. That's OK -- they're still admirable ethics. And I agree with you that it is possible that there might be an exact answer or demonstration that CAN be given. I just don't see it yet.

Also, you've been extremely vague on what thrive means,

Sorry, I hadn't realized that I had been vague. Let me be more clear, then: to thrive is to be happy (what all humans ultimately strive for), fruitful, and emotionally healthy. A person who thrives is not dissatisfied with himself, is happy with his work, and is emotionally stable and able to enjoy human relationships. I think where you and I part company is that it appears, from the discussions here and in my reading, that Objectivists decide (subjectively, as objective science does not support some of these decisions) very narrowly, and according to their own preferences, just who can "thrive". For example, I have no problem whatsoever believing that a group of Buddhist monks living in a monastery are quite capable of thriving. People who value friends and family are quite capable of thriving, even if they may be stuck in rather dull work to pay the bills.

Gotta run -- I hope I can finish this later.

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OK, I have another minute or two to spare, so I'll try to get through the rest of your post:

I'm quite literally confused how you think it's not possible to try to figure out what would best further one's life

I don't think that at all, so you're addressing a position that I don't, in fact, hold. Yes, it is desirable and possible to try and figure out what would best further one's life. I don't think, though, that Objectivism is the only answer, nor do I think it is objective beyond a certain point.

Gotta run again.

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I have a few more minutes to try and answer the rest of your post, Eiuol. To be honest, this long delay in posting my responses is tedious, and since I'm very busy I'm not likely to remember everything I wrote in a previous response -- so, since I can't see my previous posts today, I might be repeating myself.

I don't understand why that point is so important to emphasize.

It's important for a number of reasons. First, I think rand's quote simply reinforces the difficulty I have with Objectivism being objective (in some areas). I have no doubt tnat for some individuals, putting work ahead of family and friends is necessary if they are to remain true to their hierarchy of values. I don't have a problem with that, if that's what suits that kind of individual. But I fail to the demonstration that it is objectively true of everyone, so that Rand can say that it is "immoral" to do otherwise. This suggests that Rand's vision of what constitutes "man qua man" is too narrow and does not allow for the wide range of personality types, interests, and passions of humans.

"I'm going to be a doctor because daddy said so" would be immoral

I think we would agree here. I would prefer the word "stupid" rather than "immoral", but we're close enough.

so would saying you have no endeavors because your family and friends are "enough."

Now we disagree on this one. If someone has no particular desire or ability for "endeavors", and is happy to do any kind of work that enables him to provide for his family which he does value highly, he is simply using his reason to provide for his highest good. That's not immoral, it just reflects a different hierarchy of values. It's not "one size fits all".

Anyway, as I mentioned, this delay is posting my responses is getting tedious. Thanks for your answers, Eiuol -- I appreciate it.

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