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The Essay "Fact and Value"

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(I realize there is at least one other thread called "Fact and Value" specifically about this essay of Leonard Peikoff's; however, I hope you'll find it doesn't address the same issues the following thread does.)

The idea of how objectively to judge fellow individuals and the idea of tolerance of others' philosophies considering the contexts of their current knowledge both interest me. For this reason I took up reading a little about the Kelley-Peikoff split (which as I understand it also has to do with Kelley's association with a somewhat inflammatory biography of Miss Rand written by Barbara Branden, as well as his speaking publicly at a libertarian dinner party). However, this essay seems to be central to the controversy and representative of ARI's and particularly Mr. Peikoff's reasoning behind castigating David Kelley.

Note: I do not side with Kelley or Peikoff here, as I made this thread to get feedback from people knowledgeable about the whole thing as well as about the ideas in this essay and to use the new knowledge to eventually reach a conclusion. Also note that something is going on with the search function that only gives a few pages of posts with the search criteria in them, so not all are displayed.

My comments on "Fact and Value" will come in the next post.

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Warning: This thread is long. If that will upset you, please move on and do not criticize me for its length. I have tried to split it into reasonable sections for those not interested in a huge amount of reading.

If any of my questions have been answered before, I welcome links.

My apologies for the vastness of my questions and the number of issues problematic for me. I originally planned to make a thread about all the essays relating to the issues (Schwartz's, Kelley's, and Peikoff's), so I hope relative to that prospect it is not that long.

I hope none of this counts as overuse of quoting nor abuse of copyright. Let me know about the first, and as for the second, the essay is available online. I bring quotes here for ease of comparison. Quotes can be checked against the actual essay, available here: "Fact and Value" Copyright © 1989 Leonard Peikoff.



  1. He states in ¶6 in the sense of either/or, that "a given object [does he mean entity or goal?] or action [either] advances man's life (it is good): or it threatens man's life (it is bad or an evil)." Are there truly not actions that neither act in advancement of man's life nor in threat of it? Examples: Hanging my dress pants up on a hanger, sitting down in a chair. (In ¶16 Peikoff makes his position on this question clear: "An action without effects on man’s life (there are none such) would be outside the realm of evaluation—there would be no standard of value by which to assess it.")

  2. In ¶7 we find the following: "In the objective approach, since every fact bears on the choice to live, every truth necessarily entails a value-judgment, and every value-judgment necessarily presupposes a truth. [emphasis added]" Are there truly no facts that in no way bear on my choice to live? That Christian Wulff was elected President of Germany in June 2010 is a fact, yet has no bearing whatsoever on my choice to live (I believe I read somewhere an example using the height of grass in a faraway field as completely unrelated to one's choice to live). I struggle also to see how a value-judgment is entailed about a fact I do not know about and/or that does not influence me.

  3. We find in ¶8: "The reason is that every fact of reality which we discover has, directly or indirectly, an implication for man’s self-preservation and thus for his proper course of action." Not intending to be tiresome, I ask again, are there truly no facts which do not have an implication on my life or the choices that objectively advance it? What effect does the viscosity of paint have on my life?

  4. Again in ¶8, the author seemingly equivocates on "bad" and "evil." Does he mean to imply that leaping from a plane wearing no parachute is evil?

  5. Generally, how can it be called for to judge a man according to contents of his consciousness, when all parties aside from the individual in question have no access to it whatsoever? "All we have to go on" so to speak are actions or expressed beliefs.

  6. In ¶11 it is stated: "The virtue of justice is necessary, at root, for the same reason that evaluation in relation to any fact is necessary: the character and behavior of other men are facts, which have effects on one’s own well-being." The character and behavior of a man in Tanzania who lives and dies with no contact whatsoever with me has no effect on my well-being. His life, however, is full of facts that are not metaphysically given.

  7. Concerning ¶12*: if irrationality and evil are the same thing, then am I not evil when I err? I may make an irrational choice from lack of focus or from tiredness, etc. My failures make me evil? Peikoff answers this question in ¶21. I left it here but struck-through in case someone wants to elaborate.

  8. In ¶14 we find: "How does one reach a moral evaluation of a person? “A man’s moral character,” Miss Rand writes in “The Psychology of Psychologizing,” “must be judged on the basis of his actions, his statements and his conscious convictions...” (The word “statements” here denotes a broad, somewhat overlapping category. All morally revealing statements imply the speaker’s premises or ideas, even if they do not explicitly assert them; but some statements do assert them—just as some statements are themselves actions: e.g., a declaration of war.)"

    But what access to we have objectively to any other man's conscious convictions? I have no perceptual connection with another individual's consciousness, and therefore no objective basis to claim that I or anyone can judge him based on it. It seems plausible that certain statements or actions can betray characteristics of a consciousness, for example: "I trust Allah."

  9. ¶18, which follows this comment, seems to ignore the fact that individuals hold ideas that do not lead to the harmful consequences I may induce that they would. For example, there are religious believers who advocate a limited government and the use of reason (clearly in other areas than religion). ¶18: "Just as every “is” implies an “ought,” so every identification of an idea’s truth or falsehood implies a moral evaluation of the idea and of its advocates. The evaluation, to repeat, comes from the answer to two related questions: what kind of volitional cause led people to this idea? and, to what kind of consequences will this idea lead in practice?"

  10. ¶33 in its entirety is at the bottom of the thread**
    I find myself in disagreement with this evaluation. Kant's writing did not "make" any of the evaluations of his writing by those who read him "possible." Kant simply wrote. Those who enacted his bad ideas (via genocide) seem to me much more at fault. If they are equally culpable or if Kant is moreso, then what reason do we have to respect the rights of a person who advocates Kantian ethics? Is he not "making possible," aka starting a causal chain that will lead to murder? If we would have had grounds to lock up Stalin, would we not have grounds to lock up Kant, who is more evil?

    Kant's writing of Critiques is not the central agent involved in the evil perpetrated by the killers Peikoff mentions. The evil was perpetrated by the killers.

    In addition, the sentence "given that climate, none could have been averted" and the similar propositions Mr. Peikoff makes here that "evil ideas inevitably cause evil actions" smack of deterministic thinking, in the sense that it was "bound to happen."

  11. ¶34*** simply confuses me. A man who holds an unreasonable idea is indeed blameless when he does not act on it. That makes perfect sense but in the light of the surrounding essay it does not. The example he describes at the start of this paragraph sounds like the same mind-body split he complained about earlier. He held an idea in his mind but did something else in action, and is to be lauded for it?

In all of this I seek to understand. I do not make these statements from a position I hold deeply in contrast to Mr. Peikoff's, nor do I claim to know the answers and am simply teasing you into making an argument I am set on attacking. Should you choose to help me understand these ideas A-K, I will be grateful.

* ¶12:

In Objectivist terms, this [distinguishing between good and bad in relation to the realm of man] means a single fundamental issue: in the human realm, one must distinguish the rational from the irrational, the thinkers from the evaders. Such judgment tells one whether a man, in principle, is committed to reality—or to escaping from and fighting it. In the one case, he is an ally and potential benefactor of the living; in the other, an enemy and potential destroyer. Thus the mandate of justice: identify the good (the rational) and the evil (the irrational) in men and their works—then, first, deal with, support and/or reward the good; and, second, boycott, condemn and/or punish the evil. (One aspect of this second policy is the principle of not granting to evil one’s moral sanction.)

** ¶33:

In the final issue of The Objectivist, Ayn Rand described Kant as “the most evil man in mankind’s history.” She said it knowing full well that, apart from his ideas, Kant’s actions were unexceptionable, even exemplary. Like Ellsworth Toohey, he was a peaceful citizen, a witty lecturer, a popular dinner guest, a prolific writer. She said it because of what Kant wrote—and why—and what it would have to do to mankind. She held that Kant was morally much worse than any killer, including Lenin and Stalin (under whom her own family died), because it was Kant who unleashed not only Lenin and Stalin, but also Hitler and Mao and all the other disasters of our disastrous age. Without the philosophic climate Kant and his intellectual followers created, none of these disasters could have occurred; given that climate, none could have been averted.

*** ¶34:

IN SOME CONTEXTS, a man is properly held blameless for an unreasonable idea, so long as he himself does not act on it. For example: if I conclude that, though you are innocent of any wrongdoing, your death would be a wonderful thing, but I then remind myself of your rights, hold myself in check and refrain from killing you, I may be free of blame and can even be given a certain moral credit: “He kept his idea within his own mind,” one could say, “he did not allow it to lead to the destruction of the innocent; to that extent, in actual practice, he was moved by the recognition of reality.” But this kind of analysis does not exonerate the philosophic advocate of unreason. In regard to him, one cannot say: “He implicitly advocates murder, but does not himself commit it, so he is morally innocent.” The philosopher of irrationalism, though legally innocent of any crime, is not “keeping his ideas within his own mind.” He is urging them on the world and into actual practice. Such a man is moved not by the recognition of reality, but by the opposite: by the desire to annihilate it. In spiritual terms, he is guilty of a heinous crime: he is inciting men to commit murder on a mass scale. Advocacy of this kind is a form of action: it represents an entire life spent on subverting man’s mind at its base. Can anyone honestly hold that such advocacy pertains not to “action,” but merely to the world of “ideas,” and therefore that verdicts such as “good” and “evil” do not apply to it?

PostScript:

This paragraph, ¶46, decisively changed my mind in regard to the status of "Objectivism" as a system and where I stood. It follows, for those interested:

“Objectivism” is the name of Ayn Rand’s achievement. Anyone else’s interpretation or development of her ideas, my own work emphatically included, is precisely that: an interpretation or development, which may or may not be logically consistent with what she wrote. In regard to the consistency of any such derivative work, each man must reach his own verdict, by weighing all the relevant evidence. The “official, authorized doctrine,” however, remains unchanged and untouched in Ayn Rand’s books; it is not affected by any interpreters.
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I will divide my answers in parts. Let me begin with the idea that there is nothing value-neutral thing in the world. Yes, either it is good for you or it is bad for you. Either directly or indirectly.

You mention hanging your pants up on a hanger. That is good for you, if you want your pants to not be in your way and/or if you want them to be kept in ideal conditions. What about sitting in a chair? Well, it is good for you to rest your legs, to sit comfortably helps you focus on TV or your work or eating or whatever you are doing. To judge properly, you need context.

What about this example? "That Christian Wulff was elected President of Germany in June 2010 is a fact, yet has no bearing whatsoever on my choice to live..."

If he truly does not affect you, not even indirectly, then if nothing it implies that you should not waste your energy on reading anymore about this guy, since that would be a waste of your time. But it is probably too early to tell whether he will effect you at all, in the short or long run. Who gets elected in other countries can have a major effect on your life. Ask the people who got drafted to fight in world war II, because of the actions of leaders in countries far away.

"What effect does the viscosity of paint have on my life?" Well, for one thing, it can imply things on how you should paint things the best way. It also implies that you should avoid getting it on your clothes or other things you care about, unless you want to paint them, in which case this quality is what makes the paint good for you. Etc. Again, you cannot take a fact out of context and ask yourself: Good or bad? What about me concluding that something is a toilet. Does that imply anything? Yes, it means that it is a good place to go whenever nature calls. But outside of this context or some other context, there is nothing you can say.

Again in ¶8, the author seemingly equivocates on "bad" and "evil." Does he mean to imply that leaping from a plane wearing no parachute is evil?

One can say they are the same but on a continuous scale, where "evil" implies a greater degree of immorality than merely "bad". Peikoff has a discussion on this in this one: http://www.aynrandbookstore2.com/prodinfo.asp?number=LP41M (If one wants to make a big distinction then maybe you can make the difference between bad *things* and evil *people*.) As for the man jumping out of the parachute, again, you need more context. Did he do it on purpose, to commit suicide, then it does not necessarily mean he was immoral, but to know that you would need more context.

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Let me here deal with your issues with judging people.

You say: "The character and behavior of a man in Tanzania who lives and dies with no contact whatsoever with me has no effect on my well-being." I think you misunderstand what Peikoff is saying. There are, of course, many, millions if not billions of people who does not affect you in your personal life and, for the same reason, you do not have to judge them.

The sentence you quote does not say or suggest such a thing. It only mean that other men can be good or bad, not that EVERY OTHER MAN IN THE UNIVERSE is someone you have to judge for your purposes. Yes, HIS life is full of things and people that HE has to judge, for the same reason you have to judge the things and people that you have to judge.

To lack knowledge does not make you immoral: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/errors_of_knowledge_vs_breaches_of_morality.html

To make a mistake is NOT the same as evading the facts. Doing your best to understand, being as rational as possible, does not mean you are evil if you, for some reason, fail. You are not infallible or omniscient. Irrationality is not the same as failing at knowing, it is about evading the facts, lowering your level of awareness, working on not understanding, not connecting.

A "lack of" focus does not (necessarily) make you evil. It depends, among other things, on whether you actually know you have a reason to raise your level of awareness and yet you choose not to. Your decision to lower your level of awareness, when you do not like what you hear, does.

You ask: "[W]hat access to we have objectively to any other man's conscious convictions?" You go on his actions and, primarily, on his statements. What Peikoff is emphasizing here (via Rand) is that you do not judge a person based on *speculations* about a person's subconsciousness. You go on what he actually does and says.

You quote Peikoff saying that an evaluation of an idea implies a moral evaluation of its advocates, because of the thought process that led to the idea as well as the practical implications of the idea, if one decide to act on it. Then you assert that this "seems to ignore the fact that individuals hold ideas that do not lead to the harmful consequences I may induce that they would. For example, there are religious believers who advocate a limited government and the use of reason (clearly in other areas than religion)". This only proves that some people are contradictory, and Peikoff does not deny that. It does not change the fact that what ideas people hold nevertheless does say something about their moral status.

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You wrote: "If they are equally culpable or if Kant is moreso, then what reason do we have to respect the rights of a person who advocates Kantian ethics? Is he not 'making possible,' aka starting a causal chain that will lead to murder? If we would have had grounds to lock up Stalin, would we not have grounds to lock up Kant, who is more evil?"

Ideas do not violate your rights, people do. So only the people who actually act on ideas and then violate rights can and should be stopped. Ordering somebody to commit murder is an action and makes you guilty of the crimes. "Merely" arguing that it would be a good idea to commit murder is not the same as ordering anybody. So it does not follow from arguing for, say, communism that you are guilty of the actual crimes of Stalin. We are talking about the moral status of ideas and their proponents. Immorality is not grounds for jailing anybody. It is only by violating the rights of others.

Furthermore, the *moral* crimes of Kant is in creating and arguing for ideas that IF acted upon will lead to destruction on a major scale, NOT in himself acting on them or ordering anybody to act on these ideas. Those who commit crimes or order other do commit them are more at fault for the actual crimes being committed; but those who creates the culture that makes these criminals and their crimes possible, who enables them to take over the country by philosophically paving the way, is *morally* more guilty.

Re the importance of a cultural climate. What you must recognize is that while people have a free will, most people are not philosophers. They merely take what the culture has to offer. So when the culture only offers irrationalism, no matter where they turn, then they will be philosophically ready for people like Hitler and Stalin to take over. So ultimately it does not matter if people have a free will. If they are not capable to deal with, see through and refute the irrational ideas that are totally dominating a culture, then if and unless people stop to think, they will continue to act on their explicit or implicit ideas. Some people, the intellectuals, will guide the people to the end result; the majority will passively accept most of it and just go along with the program. Just observe how most people around you deal with the ideas that are being offered by the culture. Or how most people at college just accepts most of what is being offered to them.

Finally. The difference between the philosopher who argues for ideas that implicitly means mass murder and the guy who explicitly thinks about killing somebody but never acts upon it, is that the latter does ACT to make sure his idea becomes reality by the mere fact that he is arguing for it in public, while the latter made sure that what he was thinking never became reality.

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Feel free to add to any of this or correct it if need be.

To help summarize what I've learned for anyone who finds the thread in the future:



  1. Answer: Every action you take can be traced back (directly or indirectly) to advancement or detriment to your values, and therefore your life.

  2. Answer: I was implicitly looking for an intrinsic/"categorical imperative"-type explanation for the value of a given fact (i.e., I was dropping the context in each evaluation). In the context of my life, I evaluate facts in their relation to my life (as a rational being).

  3. Answer: See the Answer to B. In short, directions are meaningless without a destination. (The notion of value carries with it: "of value to whom and for what?")

  4. I'm still unsure at what point calling a person evil is warranted, rather than just labeling his actions as evil.

  5. Answer: Clearly, what we can know about a man's consciousness is only that which is available to our senses. We can judge a man by the ideas he claims to hold or that he follows with action even if he does not claim to hold them. His honesty in this matter, as borne out by facts, can be evaluated as well, in retrospect.

  6. Answer: The discussion is related to the context of men that do have an effect on your life.

  7. Answer: "Irrationality is not the same as failing at knowing, it is about evading the facts, lowering your level of awareness, working on not understanding, not connecting." -knast

  8. Answer: What he makes evident is (definitionally) all that can be evident to anyone else; for that reason it's an improper question (a la "How can we access the inaccessible?")

  9. Answer: Accepting a contradiction is a morally evaluable choice.

  10. Answer: Immoral = Evil = Irrational. For his action of arguing for irrational ideas, Kant is morally to blame.

  11. "The difference between the philosopher who argues for ideas that implicitly means mass murder and the guy who explicitly thinks about killing somebody but never acts upon it, is that the [former] does ACT to make sure his idea becomes reality by the mere fact that he is arguing for it in public, while the latter made sure that what he was thinking never became reality." -knast

Any further elaboration on the pieces for which I provided no answer would be appreciated, as your help thus far is.

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At what point do you call a sports team bad as opposed to saying they're playing this game badly or that game badly?

We would need to start with a standard of good or bad performance.

I still don't know at what point you could call a player a "bad" player.

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It's a continuum. There isn't a demarcation of "Now you are good, now you are bad.". Continuums help in a lot of these dumb discussions of "Where's the line?". There is no line.

I agree.

Imagine if evil was a place. Then one is either there or not there. That is essentially the analogy behind the religious idea of hell. If evil were a place in real three dimensional space there would still be near and far distances and thus degrees of evil, so hell must be in another dimension to eliminate that nuance. The metaphysics of hell is invented to prop up an ethical 'line-in-the-sand'. There is no line.

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[*] I'm still unsure at what point calling a person evil is warranted, rather than just labeling his actions as evil.

While I agree with there being no hard line of when a person becomes evil, I'd say it's when a person is unequivocally bad for your life that you can call them evil. Friends of yours may do bad things such as illegally download music, but such friends may provide more good than bad. Now if they actively try to promote ideas of anti-IP and try to expand their theft techniques, that may be an instance where the person is more bad than good for your life, so it's likely warranted to call them evil.

Edited by Eiuol
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However I do find it helpful to make sure any moral evaluation of another person is contextual.
And useful. It is easy to forget that we form concepts in order to use them. When one is pondering how best to delineate the concept, it is worth asking: why am I trying to come up with such a concept in the first place. e.g. "why do I wish to label some people as evil when I think about them? Are there people who have certain characteristics that I want to remind myself of by a single world like 'evil' ?"
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  • 6 months later...

After rereading this topic it appears my approach to estimations of people as good or evil was flawed in that it was steeped in intrinsicism. In my question and responses I was divorcing value from valuer. "Of value to whom or what," to paraphrase Rand.

There isn't an "evil" or "good" separate from my estimation of people or actions as such.

Another idea about value judgments for people I have is that my estimation of a fellow man as good or evil is founded on which he represents. The actions of dictators represent evil actions that are done to me though they may not directly affect me. I've only just begun this train of thought.

It seems this would be a way to further objectify "good" and "evil" as conceptual labels for individuals, as softwareNerd pointed out: While it would be nonsensical to say that my own rational interest is not served by, say, historical figures who died long ago, it would be perfectly rational to say that in my readings of history I can conceptualize of men as good or evil to designate which value they represented, were he to be in my own context.

Thoughts?

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