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Questions on parts of The Objectivist Ethics

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patrik 7-2321
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In certain parts of the essay The Objectivist Ethics I do not understand what is meant, or how Ayn could possibly have known her claims to be true.

These parts are (more to come):

1.

Pg. 14:

The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values?

Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all-and why?

How does she know this?

2.

Pg. 15:

The avowed mystics held the arbitrary, unaccountable "will of God" ad the standard of the good and as the validation of their ethics. The neomystics replaced it with "the good of society," thus collapsing into the circularity of a definition such as "the standard of the good is that which is good for society." This meant, in logic - and, today, in worldwide practice - that "society" stands above any principles of ethics, since it is the source, standard and criterion of ethics, since "the good" is whatever it wills, whatever it happens to assert as its own welfare and pleasure. This meant that "society" may do anything it pleases , since "the good" is whatever it chooses to do because it chooses to do it. [...]

(My emphasis)

Why does it mean all those things?

3.

[...] And - since there is no such entity as "society", since society is only a number of individual men - this meant that some men (the majority or any gang that claims to be its spokesman) are ethically entitled to pursue any whims (or any atrocities) they desire to pursue, while other men are ethically obliged to spend their lives in the service of that gang´s desires.

(My emphasis)

Why does it mean that, and how does she know?

4. This one is very much like the first but slightly different:

Pg. 16:

In ethics, one must begin by asking: What are values? Why does man need them?

Why? And how does she know you cannot start somewhere else?

5.

Pg. 16:

The concept value is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? [...]

What is meant by "value" here? Is it "value" as she just defined it, or in the positive sense of moral value as "that which should be pursued"?

Why is value not a primary and what does that mean?

How does she know the concept value presupposes an answer to that specific question?

Why does she phrase "the question" in terms of a personality ("whom")? (when really she is trying to trace the roots of the more general concept "value" which is not only applicable to humans?)

6.

[...] It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible.

Why? How does she know?

7. About the robot...

Pg. 16:

It could have no interests and no goals.

(My emphasis)

Why not? It can move and act, can it then not enact some specific cause in order to make something specific happen, i.e act towards a goal?

(My apologies if the quotations are not 100% correct. The ones to which these questions are directed know which passages I am referring to.)

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Let's take what I'd consider the easy ones, #1 and #4. I'd paraphrase your questions thus: why do we need to ask about the purpose of ethics in order to judge a specific ethics?

If that is not your question, then perhaps that is the answer.

If that is your question, before judging anything we need to ask about its purpose to figure out the standard to use. Before judging a specific hammer, we must ask what we're are going to use it for. We would analyse the task of hammering and then judge the hammer by that end. To judge any task you're going to attempt, you start by asking: why am I doing this? If not, what is meant by judgement in the context of human tasks? What would it mean to say that i am going to do a task and judge it without regard to why I am undertaking it?

Edited by softwareNerd
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#1

I don't understand what you're asking. How does Rand know that one must ask why one needs a code of values? Is that your question? If it is, I would say because there is no point in discussing further if it turns out no one needs a code of values.

#2

I think you may be trying to generalize the underlined part when it's just referring to specifically neomystics who use "the good of society" as the validation to ethics. The circularity has to do with if the fact that good is just defined by whatever society happens to want. The more important point is your next question really. There is no entity of society, so there can't be anything good to something which doesn't even have needs in any real sense.

#3

Given that society is a number is individuals, the "good" goes towards someone, whether it's a majority, or gang, or spokesman. If society is your standard, then you'd also have to figure out who even makes up society. Which members of a society should be forced to obey? The rich ones? The poor ones? The smartest ones? The majority? All you've got here is a mess of how to define these things (as far as I know, John Rawls tried). Perhaps you could strive to say society is the proper standard THEN figure out what society needs, but that's sort of backwards. Why have any standard? Which goes back again to: why does anyone need a code of values? Why should I care about society as my standard?

#4

Consider the definition Rand provided. Since ethics codifies what one should do, what one should value, then that also implies why I even need to pursue these things called values. Starting anywhere else just wouldn't be ethics.

#5

In this context, value means value in any normal sense: something that one pursues. "That which should be pursued" is intrinsicism actually, but the point Rand is making is that values are of value to someone or something.

Value is not primary because it still can't answer any questions about why you even need values or ethics. To say value is primary in a field of ethics can't be anything more than subjectivism, since basically values differ for all people. Is there ANYTHING to indicate what one should do? Why bother pursuing any values? If value is my primary, and I value living off welfare, then anything to achieve that is good, but subjective. Still, values presuppose that a value is a value to someone or something. If we are to understand what values are, we need to understand or figure out the someone or something.

#6

If you aren't able to make choices, then there's no point in even discussing a field dedicated to trying to codify what sort of choices one should make. Things would simply happen, and that's that.

#7

The immortal robot? Sure it can make things happen, but what end is it even going towards? More importantly, why should it do anything? Values provide something FOR the entity, but if a robot were immortal, nothing would do anything FOR it. Of course, this is just a thought experiment I think that illustrates a need to have some sort of ultimate goal or end.

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1.How does she know this?

Simple logic. Whether the quest to find a code of values succeeds or fails requires a comparison with some standard of judgement and a definition of value so we know what we are talking about.

2. Why does it mean all those things?

Simple logic, and buttressed by observation.

3. Why does it mean that, and how does she know?

Simple logic. It is the only possible practical result.

4. Why? And how does she know you cannot start somewhere else?

Simple logic. We want to know what we are talking about and what we are not talking about.

Finally some actual questions:

5.

What is meant by "value" here? Is it "value" as she just defined it, or in the positive sense of moral value as "that which should be pursued"?

Value as she just defined it.

Why is value not a primary and what does that mean?

Value is a relation between subject and object. The primaries are the subject and the object.

How does she know the concept value presupposes an answer to that specific question?

The differing identities of various subjects lead them to value different objects, and the same subjects to value different objects at various times. This is known by observation.

Why does she phrase "the question" in terms of a personality ("whom")?

Because in a real sense there is one present. A value implies the existence of a valuer, a subject acting. All living organisms are such subjects.

6. Why? How does she know?

Simple logic.

7. About the robot... Why not? It can move and act, can it then not enact some specific cause in order to make something specific happen, i.e act towards a goal?

It can be a machine, but it would have its builder's values and programming not its own conclusions in service of its own existence.

You might want to start with studying an introductory logic course so you can understand things for yourself because Ayn Rand does not hold your hand and walk you through every single immediate inference and syllogism. That writing would be outrageously tedious.

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In certain parts of the essay The Objectivist Ethics I do not understand what is meant, or how Ayn could possibly have known her claims to be true.

I'll organize your questions into groups so I can respond to the similar ones at once.

1, 4.

We have to remember that Rand's mission in starting out is to provide a rational ethics. Most ethics that have existed throughout history have been justified by faith, and even rational systems have broken over trying to rationally justify one code of values over another. When Rand opens her presentation, after taking a few shots at modern philosophy, she gets down to businesses by saying:

“The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values? Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all—and why?”

and

“To challenge the basic premise of any discipline, one must begin at the beginning. In ethics, one must begin by asking: What are values? Why does man need them?”

Basically, she is simply saying “We have to start at the beginning.” She is breaking with the approach of mystical morality. Rand here is not, as most philosophers do, just launching into what her morality consists of: do this, don't do that, and here's why, etc. But she is questioning why there should be morality to begin with. Instead of asking “What values should men pursue and why?” she is asking “What are values? Why do we need them in the first place?”

In other words, she's not taking the existence of ethics and morality for granted. Maybe morality is a bunch of superstitious nonsense with no connection to our lives, maybe we don't need morality. Before we can start discussing a particular code of values, we have to ask if and why we even need ethics. What are the facts of reality and man's nature that give rise to valuing, and to man's need of values, and then that will point us to what kind of code of values, i.e. what morality we need. No rational ethics can be discovered until those questions are answered.

2, 3.

Here she is addressing the popular ethics of the day, utilitarianism, egalitarianism, collectivism, etc. which all have as the standard of value some sort of “the good of society,” which replaced the religious morality of “the will of God.” She is explaining the fact that, since a group of men is nothing more than a number of individual men, saying the standard of value is the good of these men is circular because we don't know what the good of these men are, which is the entire point of the standard of value in ethics. So she points out that if this is held up as the standard of “the good,” then in practice this can only mean that some individual men in society get together and arbitrarily decide to sacrifice some other group of men to whatever they deem “the good” to be, and that this is right because “society” (the majority group, or whoever claims to be their spokesman) decided it. There is no other way to implement such a slogan

5.

You're right that she sometimes speaks of value in the more plain sense of “that which one acts to gain and/or keep,” i.e. the object of one's goal-directed action, and sometimes refers to value as specifically “proper values,” or “that which one should act to gain and/or keep,” i.e. what ought to be man's ends. Here, she just means the former. By “is not a primary,” she is saying that the phenomenon of valuing should not be just observed as occurring, then we move on in our discussion assuming it is a part of our nature and/or how the world just happens to work. She is trying to get you to look at why it occurs. She wants to point us to those facts about our nature and about how the world is that gives rise to this phenomenon.

Then so goes on to list two such facts. First, that in order for there to be a value, there has to be some thing to value it. That's what she means by “to whom.” It doesn't necessarily have to be a human at this point, just that if there is no thing doing the valuing, then there is no entity that is acting here, and thus nothing to evaluate, nothing to further discuss. Second, that valuing can only be done by some thing if it is such that, when it acts, there are alternatives confronting it. And that second one leads into the next point...

6, 7.

So here, again, we are looking at those facts about our natures and about the world around us that give rise to and give form to the phenomenon of valuing. The first thing was that there had to be some thing to be doing the valuing. Second, that this thing has to have some reason to act. It has to have some necessity to choose action in the face of alternatives (sort of like “opportunity costs” in economics.)

This pertains to living organisms, and if it is a rational animal, it has to choose them with its reason. But we can also sort of abstract away from man for a second and engage in a thought experiment about some other entity that wouldn't experience the concept of values. If we could imagine some entity that couldn't act or had no alternatives confronting its actions, then it would have no values. Nothing it did would make any difference, if it could even do anything. Rand just happens to use an immortal, indestructible robot as an example here, but you can also postulate some ghost or god, or a rock, inanimate object, or something. In other words, it has to be an entity of such a nature that it matters what it does, its actions have to have some sort of consequences for it. Only when there are alternatives facing its action, then it has purpose, or goals (the “for what.”)

Edited by 2046
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I´ll respond one by one and then expand on the questions some more.

@SNerd

Unfortunately the paraphrasing centers around the one part I do understand. In order to judge something we have to know what it´s for, got it.

@CS

I´ve read all I regard as most important. VoS, OPAR, Viable Values, Romantic Manifesto, and more.

@Eiuol

On #1

I´m asking how she knows any of that. Clarification below.

On #6

Certainly "alternative" does not mean volition in this context. Because that would mean Ayn says only humans can have values, which she does not. Alternative here refers to "life or death"/"existence or nonexistence".

On #5

"Value" in the positive sense is mentioned in Viable Values to be a legitimate concept, and is used frequently by Ayn Rand and Peikoff without implying intrincisism. Did you not know this or did I perhaps misunderstand you?

More specifically:

1 ,4.

When she says one has to know why man needs values at all; she means at all? i.e. for anything, not in order to accomplish something specific she has in mind?

Why is it neseccary to know why man needs a code of values in order to even define or to accept a given system of ethics?

2 ,3.

If a group of individuals accept the standard of the good as the good of their society; they must inevitably start slaughtering each other? But slaughtering each other is not good for them, so assuming they were to implement their goal - that does not seem like what they would do.

Now you will point to history and current politics and I agree in large part of course. But given simply this reasoning; that they want to achieve the best society (living together) as possible they must start destroying themselves; that I do not think follows. I am missing the inclusion of something here.

6 ,7.

Let´s see if I have understood the part about the immortal robot correctly.

When Ayn says the robot cannot have any goals, she means it cannot have any goals of it´s own. A thing cannot act to gain and/or keep anything unless it is alive and can die. Because if it cannot die and it can still move and act (as in the robot example), it can only value whatever it´s creator (whoever built the robot) has set it to value.

It cannot self-generate action, so whatever it values (In the non-positive sense of that which one acts to gain and/or keep, whatever it is) it is an effect of something other than itself; therefore it cannot be said to have any goals of it´s own. I guess it´s correct to say it is not the primary cause of why it pursues the particular goals it might pursue if it is for example a programmed robot, and that is also why it cannot value.

It´s interesting how much "value" revolves around the "self-generated" action.

Edited by patrik 7-2321
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2 ,3.

If a group of individuals accept the standard of the good as the good of their society; they must inevitably start slaughtering each other? But slaughtering each other is not good for them, so assuming they were to implement their goal - that does not seem like what they would do.

It does not, necessarily, imply slaughter.

Note the use of the term "the circularity of a definition". If the standard of the good is that which is good for society, it necessarily places what is good for the individual second (or sub-standard). So yes, IF slaughtering each other be deemed best for society (take your pick: food shortage, over population, ethnic cleansing), then yes - that philosophy DOES NOT ALLOW consideration for the individuals which may be slaughtered. When you speak of slaughtering "each other" being "not good", you are changing the standard of value back to "each other" --- which is what Rand was arguing for.

Edited by freestyle
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Why is it neseccary to know why man needs a code of values in order to even define or to accept a given system of ethics?

Don't forget that, within Objectivism, definitions are either true or false.

Since man is not omniscient, a definition cannot be changelessly absolute, because it cannot establish the relationship of a given group of existents to everything else in the universe, including the undiscovered and unknown. And for the very same reasons, a definition is false and worthless if it is not contextually absolute—if it does not specify the known relationships among existents (in terms of the known essential characteristics) or if it contradicts the known (by omission or evasion).

As I understand things, within Objectivism, one cannot construct a true definition of a system of ethics out of context, i.e., without specifying why man needs a code of values.

Edited by Alfred Centauri
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Why is it neseccary to know why man needs a code of values in order to even define or to accept a given system of ethics?
How could you figure out what rules are right if you have no idea what you're trying to achieve with those rules? Why is it necessary to know the use of a prospective building before you build? Strictly, it is not necessary unless you want the outcome to be a building that is used for something. Edited by softwareNerd
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  • 2 weeks later...

I am personally not completely finished with the above yet so consider this a bump on the last topics discussed and a continuation with what I consider the other "problematic" quotes from the essay, and you can just comment on whatever you understand.

9. (Pg. 16-17)

On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex - from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man - are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism´s life.*

* When applied to physical phenomena, such as the automatic functions of an organism, the term "goal-directed" is not to be taken to mean "purposive" (a concept applicable only to the actions of a conciousness) and is not to imply the existence of any teleological principle operating in insentient nature. I use the term "goal-directed," in this context, to designate the fact that the automatic functions of living organisms are actions whose nature is such that they result in the preservation of the organism´s life.

What about the fact that all animals put their lives in danger, or in some cases even die, to reproduce? Need I point out that almost all animals use much (if not all) of their best effort and time do this, and the result of this kind of action is anything but the preservation of the organism´s life?

How do you resolve this; is it a false observation on Rand´s part, or am I misunderstanding her?

The reason I don´t like this passage is because it contradicts what I´ve been taught by biologists, and biology teachers. They always like to claim that the "goal" of the actions of any animal is the reproduction of it´s genes, either through directly producing offspring itself, or helping close relatives with almost the same genes (or alleles) to reproduce. Indeed they almost speak of reproduction as the standard of value. The entire analysis of living organisms in biology seems to depend upon this premise, and here it is ignored.

You´ve all heard of animals who fight to the death over females to mate with, or the one type of insect where the female eats the male after copulation. In these cases the result on itself of the "automatic" actions of the organism is death or grave danger and certainly not the preservation of it´s life.

This forum is full of good questions on this issue, and I have searched, but there are no good answers.

10. (Pg. 18)

The capacity to experience pleasure or pain is innate in a man´s body; it is part of his nature, part of the kind of entity he is. He has no choice about it, and he has no choice about the standard that determines what will make him experience the physical sensation of pleasure or pain. What is that standard? His life.

How does she know this?

How does she know the standard by which the body gives sensations of pleasure or pain, caused by stimulus, is the organisms life and not the reproduction of the organism´s genes? What experiments has she done to verify this?

11. This is actually not from the essay but from the introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness:

The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that I hear once in a while: "Why do you use the word `selfishness` to denote virtous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?

To those who ask it, my answer is: "For the reason that makes you afraid of it."

But there are others, who would not ask that question, sensing the moral cowardice it implies, yet who are unable to formulate my actual reason or to identify the profound moral issue involved.

What reason is she talking about that makes her use the word "selfish", and also makes those who ask her "why" afraid of it?

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What about the fact that all animals put their lives in danger, or in some cases even die, to reproduce? Need I point out that almost all animals use much (if not all) of their best effort and time do this, and the result of this kind of action is anything but the preservation of the organism´s life?

How do you resolve this; is it a false observation on Rand´s part, or am I misunderstanding her?

The reason I don´t like this passage is because it contradicts what I´ve been taught by biologists, and biology teachers. They always like to claim that the "goal" of the actions of any animal is the reproduction of it´s genes, either through directly producing offspring itself, or helping close relatives with almost the same genes (or alleles) to reproduce. Indeed they almost speak of reproduction as the standard of value. The entire analysis of living organisms in biology seems to depend upon this premise, and here it is ignored.

You´ve all heard of animals who fight to the death over females to mate with, or the one type of insect where the female eats the male after copulation. In these cases the result on itself of the "automatic" actions of the organism is death or grave danger and certainly not the preservation of it´s life.

This forum is full of good questions on this issue, and I have searched, but there are no good answers.

The most rigorous attempt to address this concern that I know of can be found in Harry Binswanger's work The Biological Basis for Teleological Concepts, an extensive study of the relationship between biology and goal-directedness. The relevant portions are partially quoted and discussed here, in the comment on the second answer down.

While this addresses some of the technical concerns about the relationship between life and reproduction, it does not really get to the heart of why the fundamental value in the Objectivist ethics is life, rather than reproduction. For that, you need to understand Rand's argument about the fundamental alternative faced by all living organisms, and why the concept of values exist at all.

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Also, Dr. Peikoff addresses this issue in at least two of his podcasts.

Episode 17

13:16: "'Isn't reproduction, i.e., having children, a source of values in its own right just as your individual life? From a biological standpoint the two seem to be of equal importance.'"

Episode 27

01:10: "'Is part of Ayn Rand's validation of Objectivist ethics in conflict with modern biology?' (...) 'Isn't her claim, that the automatic functions of living organisms are all aimed at the preservation of the individual organism's life, in conflict with the consensus of modern biologists who claim that the ultimate goal is the reproduction of the organism's genes?'"

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I'll attempt to answer #2 & #3.

In general, and this is an over-simplification, Rand was writing about broad historical trends. The last 300 years in the West can be seen as a battle between the British Empiricist and German Idealism. Both were (are) flawed, but both have had a tremendous influence defining the world we live in. The neomystics that she refers to began with Kant, who influence Hegel, who influenced Marx, Communism, Nazism and so on. Kant concluded that objective knowledge was impossible, and therefore truth was subjective and socially agreed upon – this applied to all fields of knowledge including science and ethics.

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There are several threads here that explore the first, or I guess I should say your ninth question. You can find a bunch by searching for the phrase "ultimate value", here is one.

What about the fact that all animals put their lives in danger, or in some cases even die, to reproduce? Need I point out that almost all animals use much (if not all) of their best effort and time do this, and the result of this kind of action is anything but the preservation of the organism´s life?

How do you resolve this; is it a false observation on Rand´s part, or am I misunderstanding her?

It is a false observation on your part, it simply is not true. Most animals spend very little time reproducing, lions take about 4 seconds a couple of times a year, same with other animals. Whereas almost all animals spend all day every day eating or looking for food. So let me turn around your first question and ask the even more blatantly absurd question: When a lion chases a zebra and is killed in the process did it die in order to live?

The reason I don´t like this passage is because it contradicts what I´ve been taught by biologists, and biology teachers. They always like to claim that the "goal" of the actions of any animal is the reproduction of it´s genes, either through directly producing offspring itself, or helping close relatives with almost the same genes (or alleles) to reproduce. Indeed they almost speak of reproduction as the standard of value. The entire analysis of living organisms in biology seems to depend upon this premise, and here it is ignored.

It is unfortunate but it shouldn't surprise you that some academics get it wrong. To cut them a little slack: some of them are speaking metaphorically. It is clear that this not what Darwin was talking about though. Remember, two of the chapters in The Origin of Species are "Struggle for Existence" and "Survival of the Fittest". The words EXISTENCE and SURVIVAL seem to confirm Ayn Rand's understanding of nature. It is the actual survival of the organism that determines whether it is fit by definition.

You´ve all heard of animals who fight to the death over females to mate with, or the one type of insect where the female eats the male after copulation. In these cases the result on itself of the "automatic" actions of the organism is death or grave danger and certainly not the preservation of it´s life.

This forum is full of good questions on this issue, and I have searched, but there are no good answers.

Most animals do not fight to the death. As to the insect, I forget if it is a praying mantis or a spider, it has been discussed here several times: for the one doing the eating, its life is preserved.

How does she know the standard by which the body gives sensations of pleasure or pain, caused by stimulus, is the organisms life and not the reproduction of the organism´s genes? What experiments has she done to verify this?

Every organism knows this implicitly and you should know it explicitly. This is the automatic function of our nerves and some other animal's sensations that has been set by our natures: Pleasure means good, pain means bad. I don't see how this can be refuted, it is obvious in the actions of every animal you have ever witnessed. It is, in fact, the reason animals and humans like reproduction so much: it feels good. Makes sense, evolutionarily speaking, doesn't it. Imagine if it was the other way around and what almost killed you was good and satisfying hunger and reproducing was bad -- could evolution even have occurred?

What reason is she talking about that makes her use the word "selfish", and also makes those who ask her "why" afraid of it?

I believe she spends the rest of the Introduction explaining that.

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It is a false observation on your part, it simply is not true. Most animals spend very little time reproducing, lions take about 4 seconds a couple of times a year, same with other animals. Whereas almost all animals spend all day every day eating or looking for food. So let me turn around your first question and ask the even more blatantly absurd question: When a lion chases a zebra and is killed in the process did it die in order to live?

No.

Good question because it reveals where the ambiguity lies for me. I don´t know how you would determine what the actions of an organism are directed towards, i.e. what the goal is, or what the result of those actions are.

My method has been to look and see what living things (other than humans) are directed towards, with the laymans biology I know, and determined that their goal is to have offspring. And then to determine the result of their actions I assumed you simply could look at the actual result; what the outcome to the organism is, and there´s the result Ayn Rand was talking about in quote 9. But evidently there is some other method at work here.

Given my method I would have to say yes to your question, because the goal is life and the result is death.

I should mention also that what I mean by saying animals spend alot of time reproducing, is that reproduction usually involves raising the offspring, with all that entails. I know it´s true for many large animals but I´m not a biologist so don´t take my word for it.

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When a lion chases a zebra and is killed in the process did it die in order to live?

I'm not sure what you are saying here, you seem to be answering no and yes to my question??? The fact is that my question is self-contradictory: one does not "die in order to live" that is as logically impossible as "dying in order to reproduce". Animals reproduce and then they die, this is true of all animals, some just die sooner than others.

My method has been to look and see what living things (other than humans) are directed towards, with the laymans biology I know, and determined that their goal is to have offspring.

Why? Why do you ignore what they spend almost all day every day doing and instead determine that their goal is what they spend very little time doing?

I should mention also that what I mean by saying animals spend alot of time reproducing, is that reproduction usually involves raising the offspring, with all that entails. I know it´s true for many large animals but I´m not a biologist so don´t take my word for it.

Some big animals spend no time raising offspring. One thing is clear from the principles of evolution: if an animal spends time raising its offspring, then that is beneficial to it. Otherwise that trait would have died-off.

Clearly reproduction is an important part of life but so is eating and breathing. You have to figure out which is the primary and an individual life could go on without reproduction but there is no reproduction without life. Life is what makes all other values possible. There is no such thing as value apart from life. The concept value means nothing apart from the concept life, in fact it would be a stolen concept.

Another thing that is common in these arguments and common among some of the academics that you mentioned (and I know you haven't done it) is to reify the concept of "evolution" by describing "the goals of evolution" -- this is a huge fallacy that has taken hold amongst non-thinkers. Evolution has no goals, evolution performs no actions, only individual organisms set goals, only individual organisms act to achieve values. Evolution is a man-made observation of what occurs over long stretches of time and is the result of individual animals struggling to survive, pursuing values, living. DNA is the building block of life but it is not alive any more than an arm is alive or any more than the atoms that make-up DNA are alive.

Ayn Rand recognized this and warned about it in The Objectivist Ethics when she said (paraphrasing) "there are no teleological principles acting in insentient nature." Hopefully you agree.

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