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As I have openly noted in previous posts, I am an admirer of Ayn Rand but not an Objectivist. I tend to lean more toward Pragmatism.

The most common objection to Pragmatism is that it is unprincipled. This is not an unfair criticism since pragmatism (little 'p') is a widely used (and abused) term in popular discourse often meaning the adoption of a position based on the immediate expediency. But Pragmatism (big 'P') is a more formal concept and not at all contradictory to principle.

However, there is a second criticism of Pragmatism that, I think, is more accurate: Pragmatism cannot but used to discover values. Pragmatism, simply stated, is the belief/claim that a statement or theory is true if and only if it is useful. A statement or theory is useful if it helps you realize your values. So, of course, the Pragmatic test rests on previously established values. Trying to use Pragmatism to discover values leads to a circularity.

I appreciate that Rand attempted to ground values in objective reality but I am not at all convinced that she succeeded. (And I fully expect to be stoned for that statement.)

A popular alternative is to say that values are varied and given, not universal truths. Thus, for example, one person may value equality while another values freedom. And there certainly at least seems to be a good deal of truth in that as a matter of observation. Of course, an Objectivist would answer that those who value equality over freedom are wrong.

What I am wondering is whether there is something here that could be tested empirically. Is any concept of value falsifiable? I can imagine several possibilities but before I do I'd like to point to our own value profile instrument:

http://www.conquistador.org/qvalue

It's not at all scientifically constructed but one might image doing something more rigorous and testing various values hypotheses. While you can't test varied and given vs. wrong, you might test value before and after an Objectivist education. If values can be changed by exposure to Objectivist ideas that would imply that they are not intrinsic but discovered.

What do you think?

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I wasn't aware of any distinction of small-p and large-p versions of pragmatism, as far as I know, there is only pragmatism, an American philosophical tradition originating with William James. The disagreements Objectivists have with pragmatism go a bit beyond just its rejection of fixed principles, but all the way down to its metaphysical basis in that it rejects an objective reality, the correspondence theory of truth, and its primacy of action over practical reason. Of course, if you find unconvincing Rand's naturalist teleological ethics, then it wouldn't be surprising that one might find pragmatism to be appealing, but I question your understanding of it, only because your comments seem to be a bit out of line with Rand's account.

A popular alternative is to say that values are varied and given, not universal truths. Thus, for example, one person may value equality while another values freedom. And there certainly at least seems to be a good deal of truth in that as a matter of observation.

[...]

If values can be changed by exposure to Objectivist ideas that would imply that they are not intrinsic but discovered.

This seems confusing because: (1) It's not clear what "given" means; given how, given to whom, given by whom/what, (2) Rand does not hold that values are not varied and pluralistic, (3) would it be a universal truth that values are varied and given and not unvaried and not-given, (4) Rand does not hold that values can't be changed, (5) Rand doesn't hold that values are intrinsic, in fact she explicitly criticizes this idea (Cf. Rand, CUI 21-22; Peikoff, OPAR, chapter 7, section 5; Smith, Viable Values, chapter 3.) (6) Rand does not hold that values are not discovered. Now I know the word "intrinsic" can mean different things, and that often times people use "intrinsic" interchangeably with "objective," but with Rand, the objectivity of values was a kind of Golden Mean to steer the twin pitfalls of "intrinsic" and "subjective," and so is distinguished from the two. For Rand what is good for man, being discoverable and measurable by reason, comprises and requires a number of generic goods and virtues. But also addition to generic goods, there are also individualistic properties to values. This makes the moral life always unique to a specific human person. Each of the abstract, substantive goods and virtues will apply differently and contextually to each specific individual person. Thus, the human good is both substantive and agent-relative.

As to whether or not values can be empirically testable, well again it depends on what you mean by this, but if we rightly understand this, then certainly they can. How do I know whether or not some thing has certain effects, e.g. that cyanide is bad for me, or something like this. Well, I have to gain knowledge about it by observing it, testing it in some cases, and so forth. This by itself is not enough to tell me how to proceed to act, but for that we need a kind of measurement that grades values in reference to an end. This is not the same thing as saying that empirical testing alone can tell us what ends to pursue, or what standard of value by which we should measure the things we discover. But certainly on the Aristotelian-Randian account, empirical investigation into the nature of the moral agent is necessary to discover such a standard as a first principle in terms of which we can then judge its actions. Finally, we can then test the value given as a means in relation to the standard and see if it fulfills the ends of the moral agent. In such a way, you could "falsify" a value if it fails to achieve the end attached to it (e.g. you could show the enacting of compulsory egalitarianism would lead to massive poverty and death, thus contradicting the requirements of man's survival and well-being.) I would think only in the above senses can we say empirical testing of values is compatible with the Objectivist account.

Edited by 2046
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I wasn't aware of any distinction of small-p and large-p versions of pragmatism, as far as I know, there is only pragmatism, an American philosophical tradition originating with William James. The disagreements Objectivists have with pragmatism go a bit beyond just its rejection of fixed principles, but all the way down to its metaphysical basis in that it rejects an objective reality, the correspondence theory of truth, and its primacy of action over practical reason. Of course, if you find unconvincing Rand's naturalist teleological ethics, then it wouldn't be surprising that one might find pragmatism to be appealing, but I question your understanding of it, only because your comments seem to be a bit out of line with Rand's account.

Charles Peirce (and, later, James) no more invented pragmatic than Rand invented objectivity. Each simply adopted a common word to describe their respective philosophies. While something can certainly be learned of each from the chosen word, a serious study requires more.

This seems confusing because: (1) It's not clear what "given" means; given how, given to whom, given by whom/what,

By "given" I mean, roughly, fixed at birth (e.g. by genetics) or acquired over a lifetime (e.g. by experience) but not adopted by a reasoned determination.

(2) Rand does not hold that values are not varied and pluralistic,

It is my understanding that Rand held survival and, more generally, flourishing to be fundamental and universal true and correct values.

(3) would it be a universal truth that values are varied and given and not unvaried and not-given,

It might well be a consistent observation.

(4) Rand does not hold that values can't be changed, (5) Rand doesn't hold that values are intrinsic, in fact she explicitly criticizes this idea (Cf. Rand, CUI 21-22; Peikoff, OPAR, chapter 7, section 5; Smith, Viable Values, chapter 3.)

This is more pertinent, here. An interesting side question is how values change (other than, as noted above, by subjective experience).

(6) Rand does not hold that values are not discovered. Now I know the word "intrinsic" can mean different things, and that often times people use "intrinsic" interchangeably with "objective," but with Rand, the objectivity of values was a kind of Golden Mean to steer the twin pitfalls of "intrinsic" and "subjective," and so is distinguished from the two. For Rand what is good for man, being discoverable and measurable by reason, comprises and requires a number of generic goods and virtues. But also addition to generic goods, there are also individualistic properties to values. This makes the moral life always unique to a specific human person. Each of the abstract, substantive goods and virtues will apply differently and contextually to each specific individual person. Thus, the human good is both substantive and agent-relative.

Perhaps the question to discuss further, then, is how values are divided between "generic goods and virtues" and "individualistic properties to values". A system that includes both can, of course, treat and weigh them such that either the first or the second predominates or anything in between.

As to whether or not values can be empirically testable, well again it depends on what you mean by this, but if we rightly understand this, then certainly they can. How do I know whether or not some thing has certain effects, e.g. that cyanide is bad for me, or something like this. Well, I have to gain knowledge about it by observing it, testing it in some cases, and so forth. This by itself is not enough to tell me how to proceed to act, but for that we need a kind of measurement that grades values in reference to an end.

You are headed, here, into the same circularity I noted above. What is an "end" if not another value?

This is not the same thing as saying that empirical testing alone can tell us what ends to pursue, or what standard of value by which we should measure the things we discover.

Yes, we need to be careful about what we are discussing will be claimed here.

But certainly on the Aristotelian-Randian account, empirical investigation into the nature of the moral agent is necessary to discover such a standard as a first principle in terms of which we can then judge its actions.

Maybe not "necessary", but certainly interesting and illuminating.

Finally, we can then test the value given as a means in relation to the standard and see if it fulfills the ends of the moral agent. In such a way, you could "falsify" a value if it fails to achieve the end attached to it (e.g. you could show the enacting of compulsory egalitarianism would lead to massive poverty and death, thus contradicting the requirements of man's survival and well-being.) I would think only in the above senses can we say empirical testing of values is compatible with the Objectivist account.

See above.

Edited by hernan
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Since the quote function is being annoying, I'll just follow up briefly:

1. It is true that Rand held survival and flourishing or eudaimonia to be the "natural end" of man, but what constitutes flourishing for each individual is agent-relative and personal (as well as involving mind-independent facts.)

2. "Generic goods and virtues" can be derived from properties central to human nature that establish the general parameters as to what is included in an account of human flourishing. The more individualistic potentialities can be derived from the unique context of each individual, their own personal endowments, and selective interests. Neither of this is predominant over the other, and note that even the more generalized goods will still apply differently and contextually to each specific individual person.

3. Yes, an end is a value, and each end is a means to another end, and that this continues all the way up to the ultimate end, which as we have seen for Rand is flourishing or eudaimonia.

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Since the quote function is being annoying, I'll just follow up briefly:

1. It is true that Rand held survival and flourishing or eudaimonia to be the "natural end" of man, but what constitutes flourishing for each individual is agent-relative and personal (as well as involving mind-independent facts.)

2. "Generic goods and virtues" can be derived from properties central to human nature that establish the general parameters as to what is included in an account of human flourishing. The more individualistic potentialities can be derived from the unique context of each individual, their own personal endowments, and selective interests. Neither of this is predominant over the other, and note that even the more generalized goods will still apply differently and contextually to each specific individual person.

3. Yes, an end is a value, and each end is a means to another end, and that this continues all the way up to the ultimate end, which as we have seen for Rand is flourishing or eudaimonia.

I think we are now discussing the meant of the subject. Stated as you have, it's very tempting to let the matter lay as this is a very general treatment that at least seems to unify the views I originally presented. In other words, I think it's a pretty fair statement and I think most people would find a lot to agree with in it. In this sense, the proposal I outlined originally would certainly fit as a details examination of what constitutes flourishing for each individual.

I will return to that in a bit.

But first,, let me now draw your attention to a point of departure that is always an interesting subject for discussion: sacrifice. And here I do not mean the sort of sacrifice that politicians typically demand of us but rather a reasoned and willful self-sacrifice, as for example a soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his buddies.

These sorts of scenarios are interesting because they seem to contradict the notion of survival as the "natural end". Such cannot be dismissed merely as variations in flourishing with survival intact but, of course, a flourishing at the expense of survival.

I say this is interesting because it is an issue on which I have never been clear on Objectivism (and it's various cousins). At some points, Rand et alia seem to be claiming that survival is a necessary moral choice and, at others, merely that it is immoral for one person to force another to sacrifice.

The issue arises similarly in facing the certainty of death, itself, and various pursuits of survival after death, e.g. religion.

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I think we are now discussing the meant of the subject. Stated as you have, it's very tempting to let the matter lay as this is a very general treatment that at least seems to unify the views I originally presented. In other words, I think it's a pretty fair statement and I think most people would find a lot to agree with in it. In this sense, the proposal I outlined originally would certainly fit as a details examination of what constitutes flourishing for each individual.

I will return to that in a bit.

But first,, let me now draw your attention to a point of departure that is always an interesting subject for discussion: sacrifice. And here I do not mean the sort of sacrifice that politicians typically demand of us but rather a reasoned and willful self-sacrifice, as for example a soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his buddies.

These sorts of scenarios are interesting because they seem to contradict the notion of survival as the "natural end". Such cannot be dismissed merely as variations in flourishing with survival intact but, of course, a flourishing at the expense of survival.

I say this is interesting because it is an issue on which I have never been clear on Objectivism (and it's various cousins). At some points, Rand et alia seem to be claiming that survival is a necessary moral choice and, at others, merely that it is immoral for one person to force another to sacrifice.

The issue arises similarly in facing the certainty of death, itself, and various pursuits of survival after death, e.g. religion.

Sacrifice is the trading of a greater value for a lesser value. A soldier's buddies lives and the moments he spends on top of that grenade could very well be of greater value to him than a life of seeing them die and living without them. It could very well be an entirely selfish action. Life is not just about survival. Another, more clear example would be not exercising and eating optimally at the expense of a couple years of life. This could still be entirely rationally selfish for many people.

Doing something like jumping on a grenade to save captured POWs would be a sacrifice and not selfish. Humans are certainly capable of selfless actions but I don't see that as interesting at all.

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I say this is interesting because it is an issue on which I have never been clear on Objectivism (and it's various cousins). At some points, Rand et alia seem to be claiming that survival is a necessary moral choice and, at others, merely that it is immoral for one person to force another to sacrifice.
Yes, this is a valid point, and I think the confusion comes from Rand herself being a bit unclear on what her meta-ethical view specifically was. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia article:

Rand herself thought that she had only one, consistent metaethical view: the ultimate goal is the individual's own survival; the only way to survive long-term, i.e., over a complete life-span, is to live by the standard of man's life as a rational being, which means: to live morally; and happiness is the psychological “result, reward and concomitant” (p. 32) of living thus. Many of Rand's commentators follow her in holding that there is only one consistent view, while disagreeing on the right interpretation of it (Den Uyl & Rasmussen 1978, 1983, 1984b; Machan 1984, 2000; Peikoff 1993; Bidinotto 1994 (Other Internet Resources); Hunt 1999; Kelley & Thomas 1999 (Other Internet Resources); Gotthelf 2000; Smith 2000, 2006). Others (Mack 1984; Badhwar 1999, 2001; Long 2000) argue that Rand's writings actually allow of three, or at least two, mutually incompatible views of the ultimate goal, and our task is to see which of these is the dominant or most plausible view. The three views are: survival, survival qua rational being, and happiness (or flourishing or eudaimonia).

As far as I can tell, I go ahead and agree with all of these people in seeing that the survivalist (Hobbesian) reading of Rand's ultimate end isn't very plausible for a number of reasons, one if which is the one you presented.

As the article notes: Many of Rand's heroes, from Kira (We the Living) to Prometheus (Anthem) to John Galt (Atlas Shrugged), risk their lives for the sake of the values that make their lives worth living. There is the pretty explicit case in AS where she says that if one were faced with a choice between cooperating with an oppressive regime or watching a loved one be tortured to death, suicide might be one’s only rational option. There is the passage when Mr. Thompson asks Galt if he wants to live, and Galt says basically that he wants it so badly that he will "accept no substitutes." There is the case of Cherryl Taggart that kills herself in lieu of going insane. She also notes in VOS that she doesn't mean mere physical survival, or "survival at any price," and although unfortunately her explanation can be ambiguous at times on this in her non-fiction, she does clearly have in mind a more robust kind of survival with happiness as the purpose. In VOS chapter 3 "The Ethics of Emergencies," Rand does offer a justification of giving one's life to save a loved one:

If the person to be saved is not a stranger, then the risk one should be

willing to take is greater in proportion to the greatness of that person’s value

to oneself. If it is the man or woman one loves, then one can be willing to

give one’s own life to save him or her—for the selfish reason that life

without the loved person could be unbearable.

So if survival is to be thinly understood in the Hobbesian sense of bare self-preservation, then this would seem to contradict the preponderance of her statements, even if she is a bit unclear to the point where one could "read into it" a strict survivalist interpretation. Thus, a neo-Aristotelian reading of her ethics (particularly one that invokes natural teleology) seems a better way of understanding what she is saying. Rand seems to follow Aristotle in believing that there are certain situations in which flourishing would no longer be possible if you lose certain values, and thus one could be willing to die if continuing to live means being deprived of some value that has become essential to your happiness (i.e. living would be not life, but a "mere substitute.")

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It is my understanding that Rand held survival and, more generally, flourishing to be fundamental and universal true and correct values.

I wouldn't say that Rand held flourishing to be a universally true and correct value. It's more that flourishing is a standard to judge values so that one can determine if something can be objectively beneficial to an agent. If the object or person you are looking at can be judged to be beneficial to you, then you can say the object or person is a good value for you. So far in my explanation, a thing is only valuable to the extent it is useful. As you say, this is circular: useful for what? I said for an agent, but which agent? Useful for whom? What possible reason could there be to say an individual needs to benefit rather than a collective, or your family?

Really, we can't just start speaking on an ethical level. You'd have to appeal to some emotion or subjective preference, and get into a debate of if values are intrinsic or not. What Rand focuses on is an epistemological approach. How does anyone come to know anything? I won't get into it just yet, but knowledge has to be discovered and involves a conscious process of concept formation, by literally looking at reality to start. Not only that, but new information and context can lead to new conclusions that are different from originally. Knowledge isn't "out there" to be injected into your mind, a person has to "make" knowledge so to speak in a discovery process.

If we want to discover what is "good" or "bad," a conscious process is needed if such judgment are to be objective rather than subjective. The first step to doing that is figuring out what kind of identity a person has. There are of course some similarities to all people that make them human as opposed to chimpanzees, and one essential similarity is the use of reason. (I can explain that point further if you'd like). It is those characteristics that can be useful in determining a relationship with reality. Humans can't live on carbon dioxide, humans can't live without food, etc. Even then, not all foods allow humans to live. Of course, I haven't established what *good* is, but you still need to know what applies to all humans regardless of desire. Then we also know not all humans are identical: some are allergic to peanuts, for example, so that food won't help survival one bit sometimes. This is where you can get into life as a standard of value. Certain objects and people lead to life furtherance, and do deserve to be given a special name of "value". Also about life, we know a person has to pursue it. Try sitting down and not moving for months. Food isn't going to fall on your lap. It's a bit trickier to establish that values ought to be egoistic, but I hope it's sufficient for now that to even reach this concept of value objects are analyzed in relation to the effects on oneself. As I mentioned about any type of knowledge, any concept has to be discovered and realized by an individual.

When it comes to *specific* values, like a particular book you enjoy, there isn't steadfast rule to say it should be a value. You can look at what generally all people need for their existence, though, in conjunction with what makes you unique as an individual. What is an objective value depends upon both considerations.

Using terms like "universally true and correct values" confuses discussion I think, since the focus of Objectivist ethics isn't an attempt to find "The True Values", just what leads to human flourishing.

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Not to throw a wrench in this conversation or anything, but have you considered the connection between the Nietzsche and Ayn Rand when it comes to her theories on flourishing and the psychological theory of the will to power.

I follow H. L. Mencken's interpretation of Nietzsche. Nietzsche often reads like a reactionary, someone who wants to turn back the clock to pre-christian times for the sake of progress (thus the connection to the fascists). So I understand why people don't like him.

H. L. Mencken viewed the will to power as Nietzsche's sociological and psychological explanation for morality in all of its variations. So the idea is there is a biological impulse to reproduce and gain power over one's environment. This impulse has created man, who has a rational faculty that allows them to choose between alternatives, man constructs moralities based on varying factors, these moralities may work for a time or not at all. The morality may become so maladaptive that it causes a collapse in civilization.

So from an Objectivist point of view, these moralities get integrated into man's subconscious, and have a powerful sway over him, which allows societies to operate as a unit, and even cause people to do things that are against their own interests such as jump on a grenade.

I think Ayn Rand's morality is a rationally constructed means of satisfying that will to power. I am not saying that Ayn Rand's epistemological or metaphysical systems are anything like Nietzsche's, I am just saying Nietzsche made some helpful theories that could help elaborate on Ayn Rand's work.

In essency I am looking at sociology, psychology, biology, and anthropology to help elaborate on man's nature.

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This has been a great discussion so far, even if not precisely what I had originally intended. But I'm for going with the flow. Thanks one and all.

There don't seem to be names associated with the posts so I'll skip trying to attribute appropriately and simply reply with some directed observations.

The looser concept of flourishing, one that allows for many possible values, that is being discussed here certainly fits well with our observation that different people value and pursue different things. But it also creates a problem. In the general case, if person A values X and person B values ~X then you have a conflict. Now of course there are many methods for resolving conflicts, and I've never been under the impression that Objectivists were pacifists, but, nevertheless, my impression was that Rand claimed no conflicts within her system (either within the individual or between practicing Objectivists).

As to Nietzsche's will to power, that is certainly an interesting question to me. Power one of my top values (see the quiz linked in the first post), and I agree that it can be viewed generally as a will to live and reproduce, etc. However, I have also noticed that, even aside from social disapprobation, the will to power, or more simply, ambition is not widely valued. Most people are content with a small plot of land to farm. But your linkage of Nietzsche's will to pose and Rand's survival/flourishing ethic is interesting nonetheless. I hope others will contribute to that line of discussion.

(And, by the way, I like the definition of sacrifice that one poster gave but it is a good formal definition that one might use to sort out the issue, it does not correspond well with how the word is commonly used.)

Edited by hernan
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The looser concept of flourishing, one that allows for many possible values, that is being discussed here certainly fits well with our observation that different people value and pursue different things. But it also creates a problem. In the general case, if person A values X and person B values ~X then you have a conflict. Now of course there are many methods for resolving conflicts, and I've never been under the impression that Objectivists were pacifists, but, nevertheless, my impression was that Rand claimed no conflicts within her system (either within the individual or between practicing Objectivists).

I intend to respond more in-depth later, I just have one question first. It doesn't follow that if two people value something differently leads to conflict. If you value a Mac, but I don't, where's the conflict?

I don't know why it is that you don't see names associated with posts. Right above where it says "Member" should have the username. Might be a browser issue.

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I intend to respond more in-depth later, I just have one question first. It doesn't follow that if two people value something differently leads to conflict. If you value a Mac, but I don't, where's the conflict?

Good question. It is true that not all differences lead to conflict but there do (or at least seem to) exist a subset of differences that do. I gave a general statement in the post (X vs. ~X) but mentioned a very common specific example (freedom vs. equality) previously. And, of course, we see conflicts over objects all the time as when two people value the same Mac or, more interestingly, the same tract of land.

I don't know why it is that you don't see names associated with posts. Right above where it says "Member" should have the username. Might be a browser issue.

I see them now. I think I was looking in the wrong place before; my bad.

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I think by conflict, he has in mind something more like if there were only one Mac left and we both view having it as our optimal value, then there is a conflict in the sense of rivalrousness over some value. I don't think Rand ever denies this can happen, indeed she starts of chapter 4 of VOS with the typical example about two people applying for the same job. Or there is the case in Atlas Shrugged of Francisco's reaction to Dagny and Galt. So if this is what we mean by "conflict of interests" then I think you (hernan) have something more extreme in mind than Rand does. We have to be careful to notice that she never claims there can't be any conflicts in this sense, or that there can never be any conflicts of interests period, what she says is “there are no conflicts of interests among rational men" (VOS 52.) What this means is a more narrow sense that she doesn't think that there is any case (I think if we leave aside certain emergency or life-boat scenarios) where suppressing other people’s interests in an immoral way (including, but not limited to, rights violations) would be in my interest.

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I think by conflict, he has in mind something more like if there were only one Mac left and we both view having it as our optimal value, then there is a conflict in the sense of rivalrousness over some value. I don't think Rand ever denies this can happen, indeed she starts of chapter 4 of VOS with the typical example about two people applying for the same job. Or there is the case in Atlas Shrugged of Francisco's reaction to Dagny and Galt. So if this is what we mean by "conflict of interests" then I think you (hernan) have something more extreme in mind than Rand does. We have to be careful to notice that she never claims there can't be any conflicts in this sense, or that there can never be any conflicts of interests period, what she says is “there are no conflicts of interests among rational men" (VOS 52.) What this means is a more narrow sense that she doesn't think that there is any case (I think if we leave aside certain emergency or life-boat scenarios) where suppressing other people’s interests in an immoral way (including, but not limited to, rights violations) would be in my interest.

I agree that this is a tricky subject. For example, one might say that when a slave works the fields as told by his master that there is no conflict but surely he is not happy to be a slave. Morality, i.e. a shared concept of right and proper pursuits vs. improper, is one of many mechanisms for resolving conflicts.

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I do not think it is a good idea to say that ambition and the will to power are the same thing. Nietzshe's theory seems to be one of psychological egoism, a more specific form of it. Basically all people in one way or another want to feel like there in control of something in their life, and they all try to achieve this in some way. Most of the time people partiall achieve this in a bunch of areas in there life, some people are really good at it, and some people just suck at it and are misearable or die. Ethics then would be a way to inform people on how to help people gain this power.

Rand said that values came from biology, that values were necessary for survival, this seems to fit that theory.

on conflicts of interest

I think Ayn Rand wants people to be able to detatch themselves from values that they don't deserve.

It takes a person who is extremely honest with themselves to say to themselves that someone deserves something more than them because they can provide more. That honesty I think in the end pays off, because if you are aware of your own problems you can fix them.

Edited by Hairnet
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I do not think it is a good idea to say that ambition and the will to power are the same thing. Nietzshe's theory seems to be one of psychological egoism, a more specific form of it.

It would be foolish to say, in regards to any two philosophical concepts, that one is the same as the other. Instead, let us compare and contrast the two and see how close they may be. And, as importantly, compare and contrast with Rand's concept of egoism.

Basically all people in one way or another want to feel like there in control of something in their life, and they all try to achieve this in some way. Most of the time people partiall achieve this in a bunch of areas in there life, some people are really good at it, and some people just suck at it and are misearable or die.

I have grown more cautious over the years about declaring what people, in general, want or a person, in particular, wants. As above we can do a compare and contrast to find similarities and dissimilarities. And it is probably somewhat useful at least to say that all men seek to survive and flourish but to flourish in different ways.

In particular, I have encountered too many people who are not the least bit interested in being in control of their own lives so long as they are taken care of by others. And I have encountered others who prefer a struggling independence to the most luxurious dependence.

Ethics then would be a way to inform people on how to help people gain this power. Rand said that values came from biology, that values were necessary for survival, this seems to fit that theory. on conflicts of interest I think Ayn Rand wants people to be able to detatch themselves from values that they don't deserve. It takes a person who is extremely honest with themselves to say to themselves that someone deserves something more than them because they can provide more. That honesty I think in the end pays off, because if you are aware of your own problems you can fix them.

This is what I like most about Rand. She took a very ego-centric approach to ethics that cut through a lot of dishonesty. But I think it's important to understand how different people can be in what they value. In other words, we may all seek to flourish but in starkly, conflicting, even contradictory, ways.

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I took longer to respond than intended, but here it is!

I think Ayn Rand's morality is a rationally constructed means of satisfying that will to power. I am not saying that Ayn Rand's epistemological or metaphysical systems are anything like Nietzsche's, I am just saying Nietzsche made some helpful theories that could help elaborate on Ayn Rand's work.

In essency I am looking at sociology, psychology, biology, and anthropology to help elaborate on man's nature.

I agree with Hairnet on this. I would also say that while Nietzsche likely meant “will to power” in an unexplainable, a-rational sense, that comparison can be fitting with Rand. What Rand was after is closer to figuring out what people in general should strive for and how to do it, through a volitional will that uses reason to achieve a powerful and meaningful existence. I may be over-analyzing Nietzsche to fit the context here, but this is how I've found value in reading Nietzsche and relevant to giving a broader understanding of what Rand is even talking about. Through philosophy, Rand concludes reason is any person's means of survival and from there provides a broad guideline of what that entails. Not a detached, disinterested method of “pure reason” so to speak, but looking at people in the way they exist. Sociology/psychology/anthropology are means to further expand understanding of what it means to be human, but Rand distinguished philosophy from science, saying that philosophy requires no special knowledge or insight. This sounds like something you agree with, but I'll emphasize that Rand's reasoning never talks about specific concrete things you must value. For her, morality is a guideline that a person must apply to their unique context. People have a variety of abilities (and some certainly relate to biology), so no two people even should pick the same concrete values all the time.

Morality, i.e. a shared concept of right and proper pursuits vs. improper, is one of many mechanisms for resolving conflicts.

In a general sense, I agree. Many societies seem to have developed a concept of morality so people can get along, or avoid pain caused by another. I'm reminded of Nietzsche again, where he sees a Judeo-Christian morality developing as a means to overcome enslavement, turning their own debasement into the good, and everything else bad. Morality here wasn't developed out of some divine revelation (even if that's how it was justified), but some immediate pragmatic need. True or not, the idea is that people develop moralities, not gods or mystic feelings. Measuring the consequences of a morality is a more complex task.

But I think it's important to understand how different people can be in what they value. In other words, we may all seek to flourish but in starkly, conflicting, even contradictory, ways.

Agreed. I don't know why you use “but” though. Noting the contradictory ways people differ in their approach to flourishing is interesting. I think that only makes it clearer that it's important to develop a method to figure out good values for yourself. Some abstract values apply to all people (reason especially), but that alone still won't tell you whether you should go to school for a graduate degree in psychology or to become a car mechanic.

I understand what you meant by identical values causing conflict, I was wondering about how you would explain that differing values cause conflict. The only example I can think of is something like war where one side want to assert their morality forcefully onto others because they think god willed it (I'm thinking of terrorists). I want to make sure I understand what you meant before I respond to that.

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on conflicts of interest I think Ayn Rand wants people to be able to detatch themselves from values that they don't deserve. It takes a person who is extremely honest with themselves to say to themselves that someone deserves something more than them because they can provide more. That honesty I think in the end pays off, because if you are aware of your own problems you can fix them.

I don't know why I overlooked this in my previous response but this is a crucial point and deserves more attention.

Before I share my own thoughts, let me frame the question: is there an "objective" method for determining what one "deserves"? Does one "deserve" anything? Or does one "deserve" everything that enables flourishing? I know generally where Rand went with this but I am wholly unconvinced of her arguments here. I think Tara Smith makes even clearer claims here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have generally taken the position that people don't deserve anything.

Note that this is where divine revelation usually plays an essential role because it is a very tough nut to crack and people with a strong sense of justice have a very hard time accepting conflict as natural or inevitable.

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I agree with Hairnet on this. I would also say that while Nietzsche likely meant “will to power” in an unexplainable, a-rational sense, that comparison can be fitting with Rand. What Rand was after is closer to figuring out what people in general should strive for and how to do it, through a volitional will that uses reason to achieve a powerful and meaningful existence. I may be over-analyzing Nietzsche to fit the context here, but this is how I've found value in reading Nietzsche and relevant to giving a broader understanding of what Rand is even talking about. Through philosophy, Rand concludes reason is any person's means of survival and from there provides a broad guideline of what that entails. Not a detached, disinterested method of “pure reason” so to speak, but looking at people in the way they exist. Sociology/psychology/anthropology are means to further expand understanding of what it means to be human, but Rand distinguished philosophy from science, saying that philosophy requires no special knowledge or insight. This sounds like something you agree with, but I'll emphasize that Rand's reasoning never talks about specific concrete things you must value. For her, morality is a guideline that a person must apply to their unique context. People have a variety of abilities (and some certainly relate to biology), so no two people even should pick the same concrete values all the time.

I don't see anything to disagree with here but I think there is much more to it even as a first order approximation. I will return to this a bit more later.

In a general sense, I agree. Many societies seem to have developed a concept of morality so people can get along, or avoid pain caused by another. I'm reminded of Nietzsche again, where he sees a Judeo-Christian morality developing as a means to overcome enslavement, turning their own debasement into the good, and everything else bad. Morality here wasn't developed out of some divine revelation (even if that's how it was justified), but some immediate pragmatic need. True or not, the idea is that people develop moralities, not gods or mystic feelings. Measuring the consequences of a morality is a more complex task.

This really is relevant to the additional reply just above (the part I missed before). The claim that one can arrive at a conflict-free, objective (i.e. discoverable by any and all) morality is what I don't buy.

Agreed. I don't know why you use “but” though. Noting the contradictory ways people differ in their approach to flourishing is interesting. I think that only makes it clearer that it's important to develop a method to figure out good values for yourself. Some abstract values apply to all people (reason especially), but that alone still won't tell you whether you should go to school for a graduate degree in psychology or to become a car mechanic.

I understand what you meant by identical values causing conflict, I was wondering about how you would explain that differing values cause conflict. The only example I can think of is something like war where one side want to assert their morality forcefully onto others because they think god willed it (I'm thinking of terrorists). I want to make sure I understand what you meant before I respond to that.

The best and most relevant example is conflicting views of morality and justice. Leave aside all immediate personal interest and imagine a debate between a lover of liberty and a lover of equality about how the world ought to be. They will never agree. They may compromise for the sake of peace but they will never agree.

Now I think at the root both the two individuals conflicting over possession of the same computer and the two individuals conflicting over the ordering of the world are in conflict because we share a limited space. In the case of the computer, there are a finite number of computers at any given time. In the case of how the world should be, there is one world (though, in practice, people tend to sort themselves into communities, nations, etc. to minimize such conflict).

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I don't know why I overlooked this in my previous response but this is a crucial point and deserves more attention.

Before I share my own thoughts, let me frame the question: is there an "objective" method for determining what one "deserves"? Does one "deserve" anything? Or does one "deserve" everything that enables flourishing? I know generally where Rand went with this but I am wholly unconvinced of her arguments here. I think Tara Smith makes even clearer claims here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have generally taken the position that people don't deserve anything.

Note that this is where divine revelation usually plays an essential role because it is a very tough nut to crack and people with a strong sense of justice have a very hard time accepting conflict as natural or inevitable.

What people deserve is a matter of justice. If people are attempting to gain the same value, than the creator or holder of the value is the one who is supposed to determine who deserves (if any) anything of theres and why.

However, I think the question we want to ask is why one should defer to the decisions of somone else when it comes to the values they have to offer.

My answer at the moment is that defering to the creator of a value when it comes to negotating for that value is a good course of action in the long term is because violating the rights of the producer is an attack on the source of the very thing you value.

Its clear though that one can get away with doing something like that though and still benefit from it, but that is beside the point, because this argument was meant to establish a principle, not a give you an absolute rule to all behavior.

Edited by Hairnet
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What people deserve is a matter of justice. If people are attempting to gain the same value, than the creator or holder of the value is the one who is supposed to determine who deserves (if any) anything of theres and why.

Well, justice is more or less synonymous with giving people what they deserve but, naturally enough, different people make different claims as to what is just. In particular, the idea that the creator of value deserves that value has three problems:

1) It is not the only conceivable concept of justice. Others argue that people deserve equal outcomes. Or, more importantly, different people flourish under different concepts of justice (either in their pursuit or their enjoyment thereof).

2) It is not trivial to discern who is the creator of value. Adam Smith and Karl Marx put forward different claims here.

3) Even setting the above aside, even if we agreed on a capitalist concept of justice, it is impractical to actually allocate value to the creator. There is always a spillover effect. If I start a business I create jobs or new products that benefit others beyond what they receive or pay in the market.

However, I think the question we want to ask is why one should defer to the decisions of somone else when it comes to the values they have to offer. My answer at the moment is that defering to the creator of a value when it comes to negotating for that value is a good course of action in the long term is because violating the rights of the producer is an attack on the source of the very thing you value. Its clear though that one can get away with doing something like that though and still benefit from it, but that is beside the point, because this argument was meant to establish a principle, not a give you an absolute rule to all behavior.

This takes too much for granted. If a lion takes down a gazelle she has created meat to share with her pride. If I conquer a territory have I not created value to dispense among my lords and knights?

Edited by hernan
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1. I presented an argument for my/egoist definition of justice and my argument for one why should care about justice. I see no reason to consider other theories about the issue until they are presented.

2. Animals don't create values.

A territory wouldn't be of use to any knights or lords, maybe to a farmer, but not knights.

Edited by Hairnet
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I presented an argument for my/egoist definition of justice and my argument for one why should care about justice. I see no reason to consider other theories about the issue until they are presented.

Here is what you said previously:

What people deserve is a matter of justice. If people are attempting to gain the same value, than the creator or holder of the value is the one who is supposed to determine who deserves (if any) anything of theres and why.

I don't see any sort of persuasive argument there, only an assertion or two including the equivalence I noted in my own post.

That (some) people do care about justice is a fact of life. But what they mean by justice varies considerably. Simply asserting one among many competing concepts of justice is not an argument.

Animals don't create values.

Of course, I was being figurative. If you prefer we can discuss human predators.

A territory wouldn't be of use to any knights or lords, maybe to a farmer, but not knights.

Lords and knights sublet the land to peasants who do the farming for a portion of the food.

My purpose is not to dump on you but to show how difficult a problem this is.

Edited by hernan
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