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Objectivity and Individual Action.

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Damis
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If I am right in my understanding that Objectivism holds morality to be inherent in the external reality around us, and therefore a person is able to interact with the environment and make decisions through the use of reason. The question I have found myself asking is: If a person sets their principles, values and morality through said rationality, would this not lead everyone to the same moral conclusions? If the values and principles a person adopts therefore differ from those of another, is this then explained by the circumstance in which the individual was a part of at the time he or she rationally formed the values in question?

If a person is guided solely by the objective values or situation, then to me it would seem that the function of individuality and free will is to make decisions. If an individual is to make all their decisions and form their thoughts based upon what is rational, then does this not indirectly infer that they are not individuals in the sense of forming their own unique identities, but more like a canvas to be written on only by the external environment. Therefore whilst being individual in how they conduct their relation to reality, there seems to be a possible implication for individual identity.

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Yes, good question. This is a common confusion people make when trying to understand rational ethics of confusing intrinsic values with objective values. If the good is inherent in some aspect of reality, then you're right that it follows every person employing the same method must come to the same moral conclusions across the board.

But this isn't precisely what Objectivism holds. It is true that the nature of entities have objective (mind-independent) properties that have certain specific and necessary effects, and that this is important for Objectivist ethics. But Rand doesn't hold morality inherent in external reality alone, rather it is relational. This is the important aspect of agent-relativity in Rand's ethics, which takes account of the beneficiary of the action: rightness or wrongness is an aspect of reality in relation to man. In that way, what is good for man is contextual (can differ from person to person, situation to situation), objective (absolute and mind-independent), and agent-relative (dependent upon its effects on you). In other words, each of the abstract, substantive goods and virtues will apply differently and contextually to each specific individual person.

So to achieve the good means that there are individualistic potentialities to be developed. This makes human flourishing always unique to a specific human person. Each person’s life to live is his own. To seek a good human life is to seek self fulfillment through the actualization of one’s unique faculties.

For details, see OPAR chapter 7, section 5 "Values As Objective"; Smith Viable Values, chapter 3 "Intrinsic Value: A False Foundation"; Smith Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics, chapter 2, p. 25.

Rand also notes that, if one did hold that the good was embedded in certain things, then this leads to acceptance for using force to achieve the good:

"The intrinsic theory holds that the good resides in some sort of reality, independent of man’s consciousness. If a man believes that the good is intrinsic in certain actions, he will not hesitate to force others to perform them. If he believes that the human benefit or injury caused by such actions is of no significance, he will regard a sea of blood as of no significance. If he believes that the beneficiaries of such actions are irrelevant (or interchangeable), he will regard wholesale slaughter as his moral duty in the service of a “higher” good. It is the intrinsic theory of values that produces a Robespierre, a Lenin, a Stalin, or a Hitler. It is not an accident that Eichmann was a Kantian (CUI 22.)"

See also these threads: "Is it moral to lie to an enemy?" and "Does different knowledge justify different morality"

Edited by 2046
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If I am right in my understanding that Objectivism holds morality to be inherent in the external reality around us, and therefore a person is able to interact with the environment and make decisions through the use of reason.

This is not correct. That is a description of intrinsicism in ethics, the idea that value can be found out in the world without reference to any valuers. Objectivism holds that values are a relationship between facts and the valuer. Nothing is inherently good; I judge something to be good for me by looking at whether it enhances my life and well-being or not. Some values are good for every human being because of human nature, like freedom. Our need for freedom derives from characteristics that every human shares, so that positive relationship between freedom and well-being holds for every person. However, some objects are only good for certain people, in certain contexts, like a career as an economist. For me, because of my personal characteristics and desires, that would be an immense value, but for someone who hates economics, that would not be a value at all. So the first thing to understand is that values always arise out of a relationship involving the valuer; they can never be divorced from that.

The question I have found myself asking is: If a person sets their principles, values and morality through said rationality, would this not lead everyone to the same moral conclusions?

The second comment I'd make is that knowledge is not automatic. Conceptual information is not 'impressed' on our consciousness from the outside world. It requires mental work and the correct methodology on our part. Thus, the positive relationship of freedom to human life can't simply be perceived directly. It requires active thought and logical reasoning, and if people don't undertake such thought or make an error in their reasoning, they will not see this relationship, and they will come to a different conclusion.

If a person is guided solely by the objective values or situation, then to me it would seem that the function of individuality and free will is to make decisions. If an individual is to make all their decisions and form their thoughts based upon what is rational, then does this not indirectly infer that they are not individuals in the sense of forming their own unique identities, but more like a canvas to be written on only by the external environment. Therefore whilst being individual in how they conduct their relation to reality, there seems to be a possible implication for individual identity.

As I said before, some abstract values are valuable to every human being, by virtue of being a human being. I used the example of freedom earlier; another example would be self-esteem. However, these kinds of values are limited in number and usually fairly abstract; when we get to talking about concrete things, they are not necessarily values to every person. Whether or not they are values depends on individual characteristics. The example I used for this was the career as an economist. For another example, ballet is a great value to many people, but not to me. It just doesn't appeal to me on an individual, personal level. Thus, individual identity often comes into play when judging objective values. In fact, for Objectivism, the individual valuer is an inseparable part of judging something as a value. We should never forget about the individual.

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