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Reason as man's means of survival

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In the course OTI (Objectivism through induction, by Peikoff) I continually run into a problem in the second lecture which deals with reason as man's means of survival.

The lecture has the following structure:

  • Reduction of "means of survival" and "reason". Very simple.
  • Induction (in stages):
    1. Observe human (material) values.
    2. Observe that they are produced by humans.
    3. Observe that reason makes the productive process possible.

In the second stage of the induction a premise is simply stated, which is something like "A human being must produce values in order to gain them". And then the proof builds on this to conclude that since reason is the means of production then a human being survives by means of it.

This premise seems arbitrary to me. Certainly I don't condone theft or anything but looking at this philosophically, I can't see where it comes from. I understand that a productive person is better off psycholocially, but not nessecarily materially, given the examples I can come up with. Because looking at history it would seem that the most materially affluent ones were never the most productive ones, and thus it seems that production is not absolutely nessecary for material wealth.

So how do I understand this lecture? What is really the idea of the role of production in a man's life that Peikoff assumes, and what is it's proof?

Edited by patrik 7-2321
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Where did the material wealth come from that the most materially affluent historically referenced acquired. Human beings, as a species, must produce the values in order for them to exist. Once the material goods exist, they can be gained/acquired. What would the world be like without any production? Could 7 billion people even roam and scavenge the food and water needed for their survival?

The induction is not how did this individual or that individual acquire material values, rather - what human activity makes the material values possible in the first place. Integrating this fact with facts derived from ethics can later illustrate the role productivity should play in the rational man's life.

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How I understand it is that man's consciousness is the faculty of perceiving reality. The only proper way to use this faculty to further one's life is to direct/focus this faculty on the pursuit/production of rational(meaning true to reality) values.

To be in control of your consciousness, you must be directing it towards some focal point. You must focus. Otherwise, if you are not directing your consciousness then you are not exerting any control over it and your mind jumps to any whim that may stimulate you for the moment. The only place to direct your focus, so that you may benefit from this reality, is towards the pursuit/production of rational values in this reality. This is where the root of production lies philosophically, to maintain control of your mind and to ensure you are capable of receiving the values needed to sustain your life.

It is difficult to examine these affluent money-makers or money-appropriators of the past because of how much our history's social systems were open to slavery. Be it the form of open slavery or stealing someone's product or productive effort to give to someone else, or chaining down a producer so that the less productive can be allowed to put forth a lazier effort. The more slavery is an option the less the slave owner has to do; he need only find a way to capture more slaves and even his slaves can do that for him. For example, the idolized monarchs and their crazed lust for conquest.

The more independent the man is, the more work is demanded of him. And that is fine because since the source of his values are from his own effort, his own reasoning, he can be certain that his values are possible in this reality because they are based on fact, not on another persons beliefs that may or may not be based on facts. Even if this man is wrong about the facts, he will still profit because he will learn the truth and then he can try a new approach or pursue a different value. The world to this kind of man is knowable and logical since man can perceive reality he can identify the nature of his values and therefore control them.

As oppose to the slave owner whose source of values is the slave to continue to be afraid of his wipe. What if the slave demanded, give me freedom or give me death. The incompetent employee whose source of values is the boss believing that he is competent. What if the boss discovers the employee couldn't program his way out of a paper bag. The world to this kind of man is unknowable and can be illogical because his values are other men. He will never be able to perceive directly another man's thoughts and he will never be able to completely control another man because at any time the person can change their mind. In every form of slavery there is, at the very least, a sliver of submission. Even if the choice is submit or die, there is at least the choice.

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"How I understand it is that man's consciousness is the faculty of perceiving reality."

I don't think this is quite specific enough: a dog's senses provides it with information about its environment, reality, as well. Self-awareness, which other animals do not possess, and the ability to use the reasoning faculty to extrapolate, deduce, etc. -- those are more specifically man's consciousness.

"The only proper way to use this faculty to further one's life is to direct/focus this faculty on the pursuit/production of rational(meaning true to reality) values."

But as soon as you use the term "proper", you are ascribing a value to an activity. In this case, you are saying, then, that it is a good value to pursue values -- in other words, the existence of values predates their "pursuit/production", as unless the "pursuit/production" of values is iself a value, they won't be pursued or produced.

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I don't think this is quite specific enough: a dog's senses provides it with information about its environment, reality, as well. Self-awareness, which other animals do not possess, and the ability to use the reasoning faculty to extrapolate, deduce, etc. -- those are more specifically man's consciousness.

Self-awareness is just awareness or perception of a fact of reality, self. Man can perceive more, he can perceive concepts from his percepts. Man uses his concepts to broaden his awareness/perception of reality but the faculty is the same, looking at reality.

But as soon as you use the term "proper", you are ascribing a value to an activity. In this case, you are saying, then, that it is a good value to pursue values -- in other words, the existence of values predates their "pursuit/production", as unless the "pursuit/production" of values is iself a value, they won't be pursued or produced.

Yes this value (to pursue productive values) is a good value because this value in particular is not produced by that man, he cannot change the need for this value it is out of his control. It is not produced by him but by the nature of living organisms. His life or death nature is producing the need for this value from the onset for him to pursue.

Edited by Vitan
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Just to clarify there is a difference between the hardworking money-makers and the lazy money-appropriators. It is just difficult to identify them from each other in reality because of the state that the world is in.

The money-appropriators exist only through the work of others, some form of pull in the government for example. The money-makers work hard to actually produce value.

Edited by Vitan
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"Self-awareness is just awareness or perception of a fact of reality, self. Man can perceive more, he can perceive concepts from his percepts. Man uses his concepts to broaden his awareness/perception of reality but the faculty is the same, looking at reality."

I'm not so sure it's the same faculty, though certainly it is related. Being self-aware, to be able to know one's own being, and to be able to judge one's own relation to reality: that kind of intellectual reflection is more than just a highly developed ability to process sensory information. It's a huge leap.

"Yes this value (to pursue productive values) is a good value because this value in particular is not produced by that man, he cannot change the need for this value it is out of his control."

This is confusing at best. First off, if a "value" is so needed that it is out of man's control to reject or accept, then it would appear to be a built-in part of the human nature, not a "value" per se. Also, by what standard, then, is this supposed "value" a "good" value? Doesn't saying something is "good" imply a standard by which they are judged? There's something circular here in how you put this, though I am probably not being clear enough in stating it.

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In the name of Simon Cowell, I'm not being rude. But look at this concept.

(Source: http://dictionary.ca...nce?q=relevance)

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

relevance

noun /ˈrel.ə.vənt s/ (also relevancy)

Definition

the degree to which something is related or useful to what is happening or being talked about

What relevance does that point have to the discussion?

Opposite: irrelevance

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Now, dream_weaver said something very interesting:

The induction is not how did this individual or that individual acquire material values, rather - what human activity makes the material values possible in the first place.

Why is it not? When "man's means of survival" means "that which man uses to gain values". I think of a means of survival as the part of an organism which the organism uses to obtain values. The book "Objectivism in one lesson" by Andrew Bernstein likens the role of man's reason to the wings of a bird, or claws of a lion, which is the way I've thought about it all along so at least I am pretty sure I have the concept right. If we thus are to induce what man's means of survival is, then surely we must look at how individuals aquire values?

Second, Isn't there a danger of being too collectivistic here? Are you saying the principle is not about the means of survival of an individual man, but of mankind?

Integrating this fact with facts derived from ethics can later illustrate the role productivity should play in the rational man's life.

What facts from ethics do you have in mind?

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Now, dream_weaver said something very interesting:

Thank-you.

Why is it not? When "man's means of survival" means "that which man uses to gain values". I think of a means of survival as the part of an organism which the organism uses to obtain values. The book "Objectivism in one lesson" by Andrew Bernstein likens the role of man's reason to the wings of a bird, or claws of a lion, which is the way I've thought about it all along so at least I am pretty sure I have the concept right. If we thus are to induce what man's means of survival is, then surely we must look at how individuals aquire values?

Recalling from the lecture, Dr. Peikoff used "reason is man's basic means of survival". If you recall, he dismissed "basic" as a qualifier to wayside those who would suggest that man needs to breathe, have a heart beat, and numerous other distractions from the point that is being induced. Rephrasing the question he inquired "what is man's means of survival?"

From this he parsed "means of survival" - at which point we look around for examples of "means of survival". The examples he presented were food, clothing and shelter. Your local grocery store should present you with plenty of concrete entities which should validate the concept of food for you.

I had not considered my example as collectivistic, rather an extreme of a world where man operated strictly on the perceptual level, without reason, foraging for food and water.

While some food grows wild in nature, the observation and connection between seeds and plants (an example of reasoning), gave rise to gardening. Farming implements, discovery and use of fertilizers, are more complex examples of reason, without which, man could not have grasped the connections between seeds and plants, the benefits of fertilizer or the time-savings of combine tractors.

Every value produced by man can ultimately be traced back to an application of reason to the problem of survival.

Second, Isn't there a danger of being too collectivistic here? Are you saying the principle is not about the means of survival of an individual man, but of mankind?

To state that "reason is man's basic means of survival" is applicable to mankind as well. Reason, practiced (even intermittently) by a minority, has made it possible for the population to recently surpass 7 billion individuals.

What facts from ethics do you have in mind?

The basic principles that should be induced would be "a value is that which one seeks to gain or keep", and "virtue is the action which one takes to gain or keep it". Personally, the economic corollary to this I like is: "you either raise your own food to eat, or you produce a good or provide a service with which you can exchange for it.".

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I just have to correct you on two things in case it causes confusion:

Recalling from the lecture, Dr. Peikoff used "reason is man's basic means of survival". If you recall, he dismissed "basic" as a qualifier to wayside those who would suggest that man needs to breathe, have a heart beat, and numerous other distractions from the point that is being induced. Rephrasing the question he inquired "what is man's means of survival?"

Rather, he concluded that the principle to be induced (after removing "basic") was that "reason is an important/essential means of survival", regardless of it's relationship to other survival-means (which would have to be considered at a later point).

Next you said,

From this he parsed "means of survival" - at which point we look around for examples of "means of survival". The examples he presented were food, clothing and shelter.

Not true. What he did was start reducing the central concepts "means of survival" and "reason", the concretes of the first not even being mentioned. It isn't until a few moments later he starts the induction, and then looks for concrete examples of basic human values, those being food, clothing, and shelter. You are either mixing concepts in your mind or just remembering incorrectly.

Edited by patrik 7-2321
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Your recollection of the inductive argument in the lecture is not entirely accurate, but that doesn't matter since it's actually beside the point. The induction that reason is man's basic means of survival does not contradict the fact that people can, sometimes and temporarily, get rich by looting. This is nothing Peikoff or anybody denies. But the question is not: Can people steal? Yes, people do it all the time. But even in this case, you have to ask yourself: What makes it possible? Stolen goods don't grow on trees. Where do they come from? From other people who stole it... or from people who produced it? Obviously, the latter. What, then, are the producers relying on? Reason. Thus, the fact that some people may attempt to survive or enrich themselves, in the short run, by looting does *not* contradict the fact that reason is man's basic means of survival; it actually is further proof, because the looters would be literally starving, if it weren't for the men of the mind. (Now, you have to remember that the principles of survival as defined and validated in the science of ethics, are about the causal necessities for long run human survival, in body and spirit. In the long run, looting is a suicidal policy. Just ask Greece or for that matter Bernie Madoff. So the fact that some people, have been able to enrich themselves materially, in the short run, is not proof that looting is a means of survival, in anyway comparable to thinking and producing.)

Edited by knast
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So to summarize,

The thing is that I am tempted to view the the case of the looter as a counterexample to the princple. The looter does not produce material values (generally), but still gains them to some extent. Thus I have taken this to imply that it is false to claim that "man has to produce in order to gain values throughout his life".

knast is saying this is not a counterexample, and the principle is not contradicted by the existence of theft, but further suport for it, since looters are relying on the productivity of their victims.

So I am now trying to think about the looter in another way. To see how it does not contradict, but offers furhter evidence.

Is it accurate to say that his means of survival is reason, because he relies on the rationality excercised by his victims in production, which is what causes the products that he can steal to exist? Why/Why not?

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The looter is evading reason.

Man, qua man's means of survival is reason.

The looter has abdicated his reliance on reason for survival by relying on others to use reason that he may survive. Indirectly Indirectly, his means his means of survival is reason, because the means of survival is reason.

Still not sure how to reword that. Try: His means of survival is reason, though he is relying on others to do the reasoning for him, because reason is the means of survival.

Edited by dream_weaver
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"Man must produce to get values"

(This is my restatement of what Peikoff says. The actual quote is this:

About 36 minutes in: (Reffering to values) "The objects, as we observe the process, are all objects that men have to do something to get, something specific, a specific kind of action. Not merely the action of consuming and siezing, but the action of producing or creating.")

Is the statement equivalent to saying:

"Man must produce in order to get values throughout his whole life, in the way that is unique to man in contrast to other animals, in the way only he can".

Or,

"Man must produce to get values qua man"?

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Man must produce to get values, qua man.

Putting money aside for tomorrow, that is savings, makes it possible for the specific men to plan ahead through their productive years for the times they recognize the reins will be turned over. In this case, even the production of the vehicle (money, another product of reason) which serves as a store of value, qua man for those who take advantage of it, is in itself a product of production.

Man must produce in order to get values thought his who life, qua man. The other animals, living by perception alone, do not / can not do this. Reason, once again, is the faculty, or basic means of survival.

Production (be it of money or any other good or service) is the application of reason to the problem of survival, no matter how you try to slice it.

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Try putting a man on a desert island. What activities would he need to engage in to ensure his survival? Would those activities be examples of producing or stealing?

Seed stock, is the seed from the harvest set aside to plant for the next season. Could you loosely consider eating the seed stock as a form of stealing from the seed set aside for planting to consume? What would the consequences of that be?

Place two men on the island. Add the element of stealing to the mix. If one is the producer and the other a thief, what are the long/short range consequences.

What would the long/short range consequences be if the thief did away with the producer?

What would the long/short range consequences be if the producer did away with the thief?

Would you consider the principle(s) revealed in such a microcosm applicable to a macrocosm?

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I find that quite hard.

I have actually considered those. For one man alone on a desert island, production is obviously the long-range method of survival. For two men on that same island, production is also the long-range option since whomever decides to steal is obviously destroying or hampering the source of his values.

But it's difficult for me to see how those kinds of principles are relevant to the case of "one man among seven billion people".

It seems as though it doesn't matter, materially speaking, if he completely destroys one source of values after another, because he can always (or for the equivalent of always) move on to the next, like living with a band of travelling bandits for example. Or he might find a way of making himself an emperor or dictator, commanding others to give him what he wants, and if the local population does not provide enough then he can conquer new territory.

Thus in this case it does not seem obvious to me that production is the long-range option. Because I can't see that a man necessarily gains more and better values, by producing, than doing the above.

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At what point does it become clearer. On the island, it seems clear to you at 50%. Is it as clear using 3.5 billion of 7 billion people?

What you are advocating sound like: Most men are producers, one man is a thief. Because there are enough producers, thievery is sustainable long-range.

The island scenerio clearly identifies which activity is beneficial and which is destructive. Is sustainabiltiy the measure of inductive proof? Is it the sanction for an abberrant activity?

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  • 1 month later...

I think this discussion took a rationalistic turn. It did for me at least. So I want to bring this discussion back to the beginning with a more inductive approach.

I have solved it.

Man must produce, because in the context of comparing to animals attaining values, the unique action taken by men is production. That is therfore the cause of attinment of human values.

My question at first was "But how do you deal with a person who steals? How does he fit into this?", and later it also became "How do you deal with a beggar, or a moocher? He who tries to get things without either producing OR stealing?". I didn't realize first that the coontrast with animals actually solves these problems.

The theif/looter is properly dealt with by dismissal; by realizing that whatever he does is causally irrelevant - because he acts like an animal! Thus whatever he can get by his own accord, 'long range' if we assume a principled manner of living, is what an animal gets. One can therfore see that he attains his values by some means other than himself or his own actions, by the mercy of womever person he steals from. i.e. he is not engaging in a method of survival.

A "moocher" is likewise irrelevant, but his actions are irrelevant not merly because he's unproductive, but because he's also ineffective. A beggar doesn't even give the appearance of successful living.

Thus the principle I talked about in the beginning is certainly not arbitrary. The reason why production is "long-range" I have understood is also based on the contrast, and is primarily because we are talking about principled behaviour. Nevermind that typical thieves get into trouble, they don't even on principle enact the cause which would get them values. So why would one assume they could achieve values over the course of years or decades? If they seem to do it, it's not because of their own actions, but because of something else; someone elses production and mercy at their behaviour.

So that's it. I'd like to hear your comments.

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