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Man has no purpose since he doesn't benefit Earth?

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The first thing that I reflect over when I see this statement is the "man is to serve the planet" message. The message begs the question, why is man to "serve" the planet? Why is man bound to serve anything but himself?

To me this sounds like the classic struggle between altruism and egoism. The Environmentalist claims that man is to "serve" the benefitor, the planet, thus they are altruist. An egoist would instead argue that man requires a nature that is healthy for him, and thus he should treat it with care as he uses the fruits of nature to his advantage.

I would say that you could spend alot of time trying to understand why man should "serve" the planet. And Im sure that you wont find any answer to it either. Objectivisms position on this is that man should only serve himself, thus egoism.

Environmentalism as I see it, really hasn't anything new to offer the intelectual debate. Environmentalism is instead more a form of a mutation of the socialism position, that is losing momentum and needs to find a new grandiose goal that all humans should serv and sacrifice themself for.

altruism in some of its different forms:

religion = serve the god

monarchy = serve the king

socialism = serve the working class

national socialism = serve the nation

environmentalism = serve the planet

So in conclusion the statement is quite absurd for an objectivist minded person because he/she belives that man is not born into servitude.

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In addition to what makemore said, there is the question of the standard of value. According to Objectivism, the standard of ALL value is one's own life. Think about it. Values are those things that we act to "gain and or keep" as Rand said. What makes the pursuit of values possible? Life. Therefore, life is the standard of all value, or rather, the highest value, because it makes all other values possible.

According to an environmentalist however, nature, or the environment, or the ecosystem, or Earth, or whatever; has intrinsic value, meaning it is automatically valuable and is the highest value there is.

This is clearly true of one's life, as Objectivism states, but can it be true of the environment as well? Some environmentalists would argue that the environment is the source of our life, therefore, it must be taken care of above all else, even our own lives. The same is true of those advocates of religion that claim that God exists and has intrinsic value since He is the source of our lives and therefore we must act according to His will no matter what. And, the same is true of those socialists who merely substitute God for society. Are you starting to see a pattern?

So far I have named four alleged intrinsic values: life, the environment, God, and society. What exactly makes life the correct one? The fact that it is objectively determined through reason as opposed to the other values which are based on subjectivity such as feeling and faith.

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Guest CrookedTimber

"Therefore, life is the standard of all value, or rather, the highest value, because it makes all other values possible."

I understand that this is a cornerstone of Objectivist philosophy, but the reasoning seems fallacious.

Why should a condition of value be the highest value? My parents are the source of the brute fact of my life. Even more, all of my genes and consequently my physical nature come from them. Government is the source of the liberties and property laws that allow me to pursue my private interests without the threat of force, etc., etc.

No Objectivist is going to argue that my parents or the government own my ultimate allegiance, yet each of these entities (as well as the external physical environment) establish the preliminary conditions for a life of individual flourishing to be possible.

Even if you want to assert that 1) reason is the source of property laws and that 2) government simply enforces the rule of reason, then you still have to show, without resorting to tautologies, why reason and the brute fact of life are equivalent for the purposes of defining value.

I still don't see the steps in the Randian argument that lead to the Randian conclusion.

[i welcome you pointing me to other Objectivist texts, but for the sake of the discussion, can you also point to the flaws in the reasoning of my examples and provide a better formulation. Thank you.]

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So far I have named four alleged intrinsic values: life, the environment, God, and society. What exactly makes life the correct one? The fact that it is objectively determined through reason as opposed to the other values which are based on subjectivity such as feeling and faith.

Steve,

I think it is wrong to say that life is an intrinsic value. That would lead to things such as, for example, assisted suicide would always be wrong. That is not the case.

Rather, there is no intrinsic value. The primary value of one's life is conditional--ultimately, upon one's own choice. By using a conditional statement--if you value your life, then there are certain kinds of actions necessary to sustain it--Objectivism is able to bridge the notorious is-ought gap.

[edit] Actually, you may notice that that's not a full account of how to bridge the is-ought gap, because you might say it just moves the question back a step: Why should you value your life? And that's another question entirely. ;) [/edit]

Edited by AshRyan

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No Objectivist is going to argue that my parents or the government own my ultimate allegiance, yet each of these entities  (as well as the external physical environment) establish the preliminary conditions for a life of individual flourishing to be possible.

Actually, an Objectivist would argue that you do owe your parents and your government a great debt, insofar as they continue to be of benefit to your life. (Obviously, if they ever become a detriment to it, then whatever allegiance you owed them would be nullified.)

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Guest CrookedTimber

AshRyan,

I'll buy that distinction for the sake of this discussion, though I do think there are problems with it.

With the physical environment or "ecosystem," the idea of conditional allegiance is a little trickier than parents or government.

The relationship of my flourishing to the physical environment or "ecosystem" is not really one of my choice or allegiance. I cannot live __any__ type of life without it, let alone a life of Rational Egoism. (I would argue that the same necessity holds in the relationship between my individual flourishing and my living in __a__ society, but that is a separate argument).

Certain parts of the physical environment can be viewed as a threat to my individual life, and through technology or other means, I can choose to avoid being beholden to these threats posed by the physical environment.

But this is a relative matter. Things that are a threat to my livelihood can be a benefit to the lives of others (they can even be a threat to my life at a later stage of it).

To use a pertinent example, irrigation of the Everglades is necessary for local Sugar farmers. Too much irrigation threatens the long term stability of the water supply for residents in the area.

There is a libertarian idea that the market mediates these conflicts of interest. The market will punish the Sugar farmer for seeking short-term advantage at the expense of long-term viability, and, regardless, the market will reward the entrepreneur who comes up with an alternative source of water for the local South Florida residents. But those are just possibilities. If, as is often the case, the Sugar farmer has the benefit of accumulating capital from the short-term success of his work in Everglades, then he has the capacity shift that capital, which is fungible, and invest it in another place, where nothing will stop him from pursuing a similar short-term advantage (if no one wants to sell him water rights, then he can always do something else with similar short-term benefits, like selling masochistic pornography) The process can continue ad infinitum until sloppy irrigation has threatened all our viable water-supply options around the world.

Even in the short term, the cost of building the complicated infrastructure necessary for bringing water from an alternative source to the South Florida community / consumers may prove economically prohibitive. By the strict logic of market, it is more "rational" to let them die or let them move somewhere else without compensating them for the trouble, and it is "irrational" for them to want to live in South Florida rather than somewhere else. In practice, let’s just think about how much of a shock this mass migration will produce to established markets, rather than the minimal shock of denying the Sugar farmer’s right to irrigate the Everglades without certain regulations.

Natural resources can always be used more efficiently, but they are not unlimited unless they are naturally renewable (e.g., synthesizing water from its constituent elements takes more external energy into the system than it releases, so that's just exchanging one dwindling natural resource for another).

Basically, putting aside is-to-ought and other questions of meta-ethical principle, I do not see how Rational Egoistic values can be sustained in practice without incorporating other considerations than the brute fact of "my" life.

These other considerations include what the other people affected by my actions might need (at its most basic, "need" means what they need to survive. Possible degrees of moral obligation beyond that are not necessary for my argument).

In practice, depriving water from a community without its consent will lead them to use force against the Rational Egoist, and I don't know why an un-corrupt government authority would stand behind the Rational Egoist rather than the community, because the Rational Egoist is acting in a way that basically threatens the long-term survival of those living anywhere under the government's authority and, by extension, the survival of everyone on the earth.

Even within Ayn Rand's system, I don't see how she makes the argument (other than through a lot of emotional rhtetotic) that one should be a producer rather than a parasite who survives by theft and fraud. Without extra-Egoistic considerations (about the types of life worth living, not just the brute fact of my life itself), I don't see how her arguments hold up.

[if it is necessary to know my biases up front, I was a student of Robert Nozick's, and, amogn contemporary philosophers, I am very influenced by him, Thomas Nagel, Bernard Williams, and Gilbert Harman).

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[if it is necessary to know my biases up front, I was a student of Robert Nozick's, and, amogn contemporary philosophers, I am very influenced by him, Thomas Nagel, Bernard Williams, and Gilbert Harman).

That's interesting, because I can't post a full reply at the moment because I have to go write a paper on why Nagel's capital-R Rationalism (of the Platonic/Cartesian sort) leads him to fail in his defense of objectivism, and in fact ultimately commits him to subjectivism. ;) (And in my opinion, he's one of the better philosophers whom you've named as your influences.)

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To use a pertinent example, irrigation of the Everglades is necessary for local Sugar farmers.  Too much irrigation threatens the long term stability of the water supply for residents in the area.

There is a libertarian idea that the market mediates these conflicts of interest.

Have you accounted for that property rights also includes water in your example?

An example is that if you live in a house next to a river, and someone up-streams decides to dump waste (or do any other action that affects the water) that impacts your use of the water negatively. That is an infringement of your property right to that water and you can take legal action against the polluter.

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Guest CrookedTimber

makemore:

Where's the limit? Anything I do to the environment has some effect on someone else's property, even if it is a remote effect. If I chop down a tree in my yard, then I am limiting the flow of oxygen into the atmosphere. If my yard = the entire Amazonian rain forest, then I have threatened life on this planet.

And who legitimately quantifies retroactive damages to my property in the absence of a voluntary exchange? If a jury decides I owe someone downstream a million dollars for taking a dump in the river, then by what objective standard of value can I challenge their decision?

I don't have absolute answers to those questions, but I also don't believe, like Objectivists, that a value judgment can be strictly grounded in self-evident fact.

AshR:

Well, Nagel would vigorously challenge any association with Cartesianism or Platonism. And to be fair to Plato, the idea that there is a unified and coherent "Rationalistic" philosophy behind all of the Socratic dialogues did not seem to be his intention, whereas it was the explicit intention of Descartes. What Plato is trying to say depends on the dialogue and the stage of his own development. The earlier dialogues, in which Socrates does not claim any positive knowledge other than that of his own ignorance, were written before Plato had a direct and full grasp of Euclidean Geometry, which laid the groundwork for most of the Theory of Forms.

Irrelevant quibbles about Plato aside, Nagel's main point is that the "subjective view" is an inescapable part of reality and has rational content for the understanding of my identity. Subjectivity is not a matter of inadequate information. Omniscience is not only unlikely but inconceivable. The most influential essay here is, "What It's Like to be a Bat?" It's a complicated essay, but the gist of it is: no matter how much information you acquire about bats, you will never know what it's like to be a bat. Your subjective viewpoint provides a limit to your understanding, and that limit necessarily falls short of knowing what it feels like to be "inside" the consciousness of another thing.

Now, Nagel's other main point is that you do not have to give up subjectivity to believe in the veracity of objective truth or to avoid going off on mad thought experiments, such as the Brain-In-A-Vat. The subjective and the objective are two ways of seeing (personal and impersonal), and the task of philosophy is to mediate continuously between the demands of each way of seeing.

I can know and prove that a bat uses something like sonar for guiding its flight without knowing what it's like to be a conscious bat going about the business of flying. Knowledge about the what's like "inside" a bat's head is irrelevant to the objective facts of what constitutes bat-ness (though it is NOT irrelevant to the "reality" of what it's like to be a bat).

Ethics is a lot trickier and problematic, but the problem is still the same--that is, the problem of mediating between the personal and the impersonal. The reason ethics is trickier is because there is no strict correlation between facts and norms, and there is no "Archimedean point" from which I can analyze the truth of ALL value judgments. Not only that, but each of the standards of impersonal ethics that we erect have plenty of problems when taken absolutely and not adapted to context.

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...Nagel would vigorously challenge any association with Cartesianism or Platonism...

Actually, Nagel explicitly identifies himself with it (maybe not back in his "Bat" days, but in his more recent work). So I thought I'd take a brief break to provide you with a few relevant quotations, taken from just the first few pages of The Last Word:

"If this description [of the rationalist position Nagel has taken up defending] sounds Cartesian or even Platonic, that is no accident..."

"My own sympathies are with Descartes and Frege..."

"...these sorts of [skeptical or reductive] diagnoses challenge the strongly rationalistic--Platonic or Cartesian--ideal"--the very ideal that Nagel is defending.

And he goes on like this.

So I'm quite confused as to why you would say that he would not accept any association with Cartesianism or Platonism, when he in fact explicitly identifies himself with it. If anything, he would resist being identified as a subjectivist, as you and I have both done. But whether he acknowledges it or not, a subjectivist he is. Of course, it doesn't help that he is a self-contradictory mess...

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Where's the limit?  Anything I do to the environment has some effect on someone else's property, even if it is a remote effect.  If I chop down a tree in my yard, then I am limiting the flow of oxygen into the atmosphere.  If my yard =  the entire Amazonian rain forest,  then I have threatened life on this planet. 

Sure, and if I use my flashlight to shine on someone elses property that too could be called a property violation. It could even be debated that sounds from my mouth that reaches an unconsenting ear is a violation. Where the limit is is up to the people involved to decide. What decides the limit is if its economicly reasonable or not for the violated to press charges against the violater.

And who legitimately quantifies retroactive damages to my property in the absence of a voluntary exchange?  If a jury decides I owe someone downstream a million dollars for taking a dump in the river,  then by what objective standard of value can I challenge their decision?

By the same principle that you would deal retribution in a case where someone punshes another person, by the an eye for an eye principle (shouldnt be taken literaly). The retribution should be weighted to as closely as possible undo the violation as if the victim would never have been violated.

I don't have absolute answers to those questions, ..

Well its really more about objective answers then "absolute answers". In the case about retribution for an example an absolute compensation, in the meaning that absolute means:

WordNet ® 2.0

adj 1: perfect or complete or pure; ..

5: without conditions or limitations; ..

might not always be possible. For an example if someone mutilates another person in a fight the physical damage might not be able to be undone perfectly. But the damage can be undone as good as possible including retribution for suffering.

but I also don't believe, like Objectivists, that a value judgment can be strictly grounded in self-evident fact.

May it be that the facts are not always self-evident, so, then we will just have to take the facts that aren't self-evident into account aswell.

Or are you trying to imply someting else?

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Just a random comment: Nagel is one of those philosophers I love to hate. He's great to read. He's utterly brilliant, and he usually thinks in essentials, and he can be an extraordinary writer. Even though I disagree with almost everything he says, I always end up understanding why somebody would take the positions that he does much better than I did before.

(Actually, in these respects, he's a lot like Hume -- another philosopher who I can't stand ideologically, but who I always benefit from reading.)

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Just a random comment: Nagel is one of those philosophers I love to hate.  He's great to read.  He's utterly brilliant, and he usually thinks in essentials, and he can be an extraordinary writer.  Even though I disagree with almost everything he says, I always end up understanding why somebody would take the positions that he does much better than I did before.

(Actually, in these respects, he's a lot like Hume -- another philosopher who I can't stand ideologically, but who I always benefit from reading.)

That's really interesting. I can see what you mean about Nagel (although I disagree with you about Hume). But while he is often brilliant, sometimes he makes an argument so bad or so blatantly contradicts himself, you have to wonder how someone as smart as him could have missed it.

For instance, he'll say that the first thing you should do with general claims about knowledge is ask whether or not they can apply to themselves (and on those grounds rightfully dismisses the whole of logical positivism), and not three pages later say that certainty is unachievable. Well, that sounds like a general claim about knowledge, let's do as he says and see if it applies to itself: Is he certain that we can't be certain of anything? How could he make such an obvious mistake?

Anyway, further discussion of particular contemporary philosophers should probably either be moved to a different thread or conducted via private messages.

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I do not see how Rational Egoistic values can be sustained in practice without incorporating other considerations than the brute fact of "my" life.

In other words: "I do not see how I can serve my rational self-interest without serving other interests." "I do not see how A can be A."

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By way of response to CrookedTimber's post of Jan 31 2004, 03:27 PM, I recommend that he check out the other environmentalism threads that are already on the board. That's still not exactly the full response to his post that I promised him earlier, but it's a hectic time right now, and some of the issues he raises have probably already been discussed in those threads. And those that haven't, he can continue to address in those threads.

The major ones can be found here, here, and here.

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