Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Objective Values Confirmation and How They Relate to Economic Approach

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

A major criticism of Objectivism is that Rand talks a lot about the objective value life, yet fails to recognize (or intentionally leaves out) that production and creation do not follow from this value of "life." Do men need reason to survive? Yes. But if it's necessary to use Rand's philosophy to survive, this premise begs the question of how men survived before Rand came along.

I think this argument is flawed in many ways, but it does point to a flaw I feel is in Objectivism. Yes- we need reason to survive. But how does it follow production is a moral virtue? Rand defines virtue as how one acts to attain a value. A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. If building skyscrapers is something to be admired- why? Why is the person who builds a skyscraper more virtuous than a Transcendentalist who goes to live in a shack in the woods?

The problem here, I believe, is the failure of Objectivism to explicitly state a "lemon test" on how and why a certain value would be objective instead of mindlessly self-indulgent. If I wanted money, would this be a legitimate value or not? Would it virtuous for me to become a porn director? What if I value lying in the sun instead of making steel? Why is the Objectivist hero the man that moves the world? What if I feel my happiness can be better served doing nothing?

I'm assuming Objectivism's answer to this is that life must be furthered. Just as a lion does not have the leg of a deer and say "I'm done", as a tree doesn't grow 4 feet tall and die, man too must further his life and survival. Steel mills, smokestacks, industry, and skyscrapers are all examples of this.

The critic could ask that life would be furthered in what way? How has Objectivism come to the conclusion that the furtherment of life entails industry? Again the question must be asked whether these other things would be valued by Objectivists.

It is because man survived by adjusting his background to himself that industry is desirable? What of the men before technology?


While you're contemplating your answer to that question, I would like to talk about this in terms of the whole Mises economic theory. If I understand it correctly, (Which may or may not be true) Mises held that values were ultimately subjective- that what they value today they may or may not value tomorrow. Additionally, how they act and what they buy today may or may not be the same as tomorrow, and even if they were consistent in simple situations, that does not mean they will be consistent in complex situations. Thus his support for "a-priori" knowledge and opposition to empirical evidence.

I'm not exactly sure what the Objectivist take on this would be. Do the values that Mises talks about mean economic values (i.e. Pepsi or Coke), whereas Rand is referring more to abstract, philosophical values? Can they co-exist? Are they in complete opposition? What is the Objectivist view of Emprical Evidence in economics?

I know there were *some* threads about this, but none really made sense to me. When talking about the last part, please try to dumb it down please and thanks. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Okay, there's a lot in there, let's try to untangle some of this. Rand would attest that productiveness as a virtue does follow from the ultimate end of life, because production is required to sustain life. Life is a sort of goal-directed process that requires constant action to sustain and further. Production here does not mean necessarily something more narrow, like picking up a hammer and some nails and building something; it means the widest possible sense of "the adjustment of nature to man." Productiveness doesn't mean something narrower like, wow you filed a lot of papers today, you were really productive; it means something more like having a commitment to taking responsibility for acting to achieve one's values. Technology does not mean something like computers and software and things like that; it means something more like in the Misesian sense of using the necessary means to achieve a given end. Man finds himself in a certain environment, man works with the numerous elements that he finds in his environment, by rearranging them in order to bring about the satisfaction of his ends. Industry here doesn't mean something like a process of manufacturing, making steel, etc.; it means more like effort, diligence, and the opposite of sloth and laziness.

So here we have a virtue that is about action, that is about "doing stuff" in other words. We use our reason to recognize the requirements of sustaining our lives and achieving our happiness, but then we need a commitment to actually go forth and do those things, to assert ourselves in the world and bring about what we need to see in order to make a contribution to our well-being. We recognize that entities act in accordance with their natures, that ends cannot be pursued without pursuing the means, then we need a sort of commitment to pursuing those means. So how does it fit in with reason, is that yes, we need reason to survive, but we also need to translate our ideas and plans into material form, into the actual various material goods they consist in.

A major criticism of Objectivism is that Rand talks a lot about the objective value life, yet fails to recognize (or intentionally leaves out) that production and creation do not follow from this value of "life." Do men need reason to survive? Yes. But if it's necessary to use Rand's philosophy to survive, this premise begs the question of how men survived before Rand came along.

Well, "begging the question" is an informal logical fallacy, it doesn't mean something like "raises the question," so I would avoid that usage. So if we can reformulate the objection, it goes something like this: If Rand is saying one needs this virtue in order to survive, that it's absolutely necessary in order for survival, then she can say one of two things: Either men already know and use this virtue by the very fact that they are being alive and thus this is nothing that anyone alive doesn't already have, so why consider it a virtue at all (like it would be considering "breathing" or "eating" or "having a pulse" as a virtue), and then this would seem inconsistent in that she acts like it is a virtue that some people have, and some don't have; or if she is right that you don't automatically have this virtue by being alive, that it is a character trait or habit that one has to achieve, and that only some virtuous people have it, and some don't, then how did the human race manage to survive up until Rand?

So the response is that this would be basically accurate if one takes Rand's ultimate end to mean a bare-bones survival in the Hobbesian sense. Then only a bare-bones survivalist ethics can follow from that. But what Rand has more in mind for her ultimate end is more like the Aristotelian conception of "eudaimonia" or flourishing human life, so the virtues she presents are not merely necessary for survival, but as systematic ongoing habits for happiness in this more enriched sense.

Okay, so having answered that, now you ask various questions like why should a guy that builds a skyscraper be admired, why is he more virtuous than some hippie, or what if I don't want to make steel and just want to do nothing, lie around, etc.

When asking whether you should admire something, keep in mind that we don't have any kind of idea that something is intrinsically valuable such that everyone ought to admire this no matter what. Something is only to be admired in the sense that you appraise it as "the good" and you can only do this if you have a standard of value, and this can only be objective if it follows from the facts of human nature. So why should you admire building skyscrapers? Well, maybe you shouldn't. Maybe you live out in Montana and you could care less if someone builds a skyscraper in NYC. Maybe your father or someone close to you is a weird hippie who lives in some shack in the woods, and so you admire him more than building skyscrapers. The point is, you have your own "axis of measurement" so to speak, where you look at your ultimate end (your own life) and then you look at various things by which your standard will appraise as good or bad. I'm sure building skyscrapers can fit somewhere on the good side, if for nothing else that it takes an immense amount of rationality and productiveness to build one, and that these are good traits of excellence that mean that person is creating material things that are life-affirming, adding to the welfare of the human race, not subtracting from it. This is what Rand means by there being certain heroes that "move the world." As far as the bum out in the woods, if I don't have any connection to him whatsoever, then his existence is insignificant to me by my own "axis of measurement," but yours can differ from mine, you don't have to want to get up and start making steel or something like that. But you do need to be productive.

Now what about if you want to do nothing? Well, if we take this seriously, then sure, productiveness will not help in this regard, but the absence of productiveness would be necessary. This is like a point Irfan Khawaja makes in regards the connection between reason and virtue, or in this analogy, between the principle of non-contradiction in thought and the virtue of productiveness in action. The principle of non-contradiction is not a categorical imperative to engage in thought, it merely states a fact about man's nature and the facts of reality that becomes a guide for thought when and only when one chooses to think. If someone were to say, well look, I don't have to abide by the principle of non-contradiction, if I don't want to. I can just not engage in any thought. Well sure, one way to evade principle of non-contradiction would be just to not think anything, as Aristotle says, to turn yourself into a vegetable. It certainly doesn't apply to a non-thinker, but this is hardly a threat to it's validity as a law of logic. In the same way, you can say, hey, what if I just want to laze around all day and take no actions? Well of course, then productiveness wouldn't be able to bind you as an objective moral law. But then your ultimate value is not life but death, which will come in due course because of the inaction. Productiveness is only necessary if one does choose life as a human being. If I choose life as an end, then I must choose the means to it. I can refuse the means, but then I must give up the end.

About Mises, I'll try to dumb it down. Yes I think Austrian economics and Objectivist ethics are two peas in a pod, and can co-exist. Mises' ethical views should not be confused with his views on economics. Objectivism too can hold that people change what they value today to tomorrow and so forth. But there is a difference between economic value (just saying that people do have values) and ethical value (saying what people ought to value.) As far as his a priori knowledge, yes you can reconcile the general point of what he means by this with Objectivist epistemology if you make the necessary changes, so don't worry about it too much. Empirical evidence can play a role in economics, certainly in economic history, and in cases where you need to gather data to study for various purposes. But you don't approach economic theory the same way you would about physics or biology, is Mises' point.

Edited by 2046
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...