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The Moral Value of Liberty

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The following is an early essay of mine published in Nomos in spring of 1984. 

 

The Moral Value of Liberty

According to the view that there are no objective values, there are no ways in which one ought to act; there are simply ways in which one prefers to act. One may prefer to treat others as if they were valuable, but not because they are actually valuable. One may prefer to believe the truth that there are no valid values, but not because one ought to believe the truth. One may doubt the coherence of this point of view, one may even suspect that there is something in the world of objective value—then one ought to read this essay.

For my understanding of the nature of objective value and of the value of individual liberty, I owe much to the work of Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick. The whole view and some of the parts of the whole presented in this essay are only my own. But the view may also serve as an introduction and invitation to the recent work of Nozick on the foundations of ethics in his wonderful book Philosophical Explanations (1981).

 

The Birthplace of Value

A value which is valuable not purely as a means to further value beyond itself is termed by Nozick an intrinsic value. It is valuable in itself. Distinguished from intrinsic value is instrumental value. Instrumental value is instrumental to extrinsic value; it derives its value from value lying beyond itself, from the valuable end for which it is means.

In even the simplest organism, we see intrinsic and instrumental values. The life of an organism itself is of intrinsic value; the conditions required for its life are of instrumental value. In the simpler organisms, these values merely supervene the living action. They characterize and distinguish all living action, but in the absence of sufficient consciousness they do not draw the living action forth. The values displayed in the simple organism are achieved by efficient causes quite “blind” to the value they render.

Consider the butterfly. Butterflies of the Heliconious species H. hewitsoni deposit their eggs selectively on the shoots of the Passiflora species P. pittieri, selecting both this particular vine and the proper stage of its development. If the shoot is too young, the hatching caterpillars may devour the shoot before its leaves appear; if the shoot is too old, the leaves will be too tough. In either circumstance the young caterpillars would starve (Gilbert 1982). But the butterfly does not seek out the proper place to deposit eggs in order to produce progeny.

The actions of a relatively simple organism such as a butterfly, vital to itself and/or its species, are performed without the operation of final causes (sufficiently global to effect the result). The lives of human beings, however, spring largely from final causes. Because of our mode of consciousness, we are capable of being drawn towards ends extensive in scope and number. If life is not among our ends, if we do not make it an operative value of ours, then we shall tend to die on that account.

It is in a world of living things that value arises. The simple organism organizes itself into a highly interdependent system; the parts of the whole which it is produce each other reciprocally. Each part not only exists by means of the other parts but also appears to exist for the sake of the others and of the whole. In this pattern there is, as we shall see, something profoundly important for beings such as we. Organisms can operate for us as an intrinsic value; they can be of intrinsic value for us. Some things can be of intrinsic value for us, and in that very valuation we can be intrinsic value.

 

Objective Value

Objects of the self, including the self as object of its own reflection, can be of value for the self as subject. The self as subject and only the self as subject can be value. But just as the self cannot be the subject it is without having been subject to external objects, so the self cannot be the value it is without external objects of value to it. And just as the self cannot be the subject it is without also being the self-reflective object it is, so the self cannot the value it is without being of that value to itself.

Which things can be of objective intrinsic value? Robert Nozick has given good reasons to think that the objective dimension of intrinsic value is degree of organic unity. An organic unity unifies a diversity of what constitutes the parts of the whole. The degree of organic unity of X (an action, entity, event, or state of affairs) is a function of the degree of unifiedness of the unified material relative to a set of unifying relations, and a function of the degree of diversity of that material relative to a set of dimensions along which the materials differ or are similar. The intrinsic value of X is the sum of the degree of organic unity of the whole it is plus the values arising from the degrees of organic unity of each of its parts (Nozick 1981, 103–4, 415–24).

The phenomenon of organic unity appears not only in living organisms and ecological systems but also in the realm of art, in the structure of abstract theories, and in the functioning of machines and toys. A work of art, for example, by relation to its creation or contemplation, can be of intrinsic value because its organic unity contributes to the intrinsic value of the creation or contemplation.

Our lives, our selves are capable of immense intrinsic value. A familiar passage of Ayn Rand’s can here be seen in a new light: “Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values. . . . And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: “This is worth living for”—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the fact that life is an end in itself” (Rand 1964, 29). The state of being giving rise to this happiness is not only valuable because it preserves the life of such a being; such a being is all the more valuable (and worth preserving) because highly organically unified.

That there be an objective basis for intrinsic value is not sufficient for the operation of value in the world. Nozick has taken an approach somewhat similar to Rand’s approach to bridging the traditional gap between descriptive fact and operative value. “We choose or determine that there be values, that they exist, but their character is independent of us. . . . The choice that there be value is reflexive . . . [for] it chooses that there be value in virtue of that very choosing that there be value” (Nozick 1981, 555–60). In addition, this choice is an instance of the policy of valuing value, of responding to value as value, “a policy that is reflexively and self-subsumingly brought into effect in that very choice” (560).

Although the character of the value so willed is not up to us, there is no one objectively correct set or weighting of values to be realized. The choice that there be value is made in the valuation of particular things, and not all values are compossible. We see, then, that within objective limits there remains room for creativity “in the weighting and balancing of different values, in forming a life embodying a new and original organic unity of diverse constituent values” (565).

 

Ethical Conduct

Utilizing the hypothesis that degree of organic unity is the objective dimension of intrinsic value, Nozick is able to explain how responsiveness to intrinsic value is intrinsically valuable. He further suggests that we might understand the notion of an act one prima facie ought to do, as an act that is responsive to some value. He holds, however, that value is also to be pursued because one is thereby being responsive to it as value. This suggests that value might be characterized as that to which one prima facieought to be responsive. In Nozick’s theory, value and ought each require support from the other notion (529­–31).

The moral ought is distinguished within the wider concept of ought by the kind of value giving rise to it. The characteristic of ourselves and of others in virtue of which both are owed ethical behavior is being a value-seeking I. This fundamental characteristic, an end in itself, is intrinsically and highly valuable.

From this characteristic arises the fundamental principle of ethics: Treat one who is a value-seeking I as a value-seeking I. Treat her as (or in accordance with her closeness to being) that value. Such responsiveness is only possible to one in one’s capacity as a value-seeking I. Only a value-seeking self can adequately queue and shape his behavior to another’s being one; only by exercising his own basic moral characteristic can he respond to that characteristic as that characteristic in another (or in himself). In treating another in ways morally responsive, he unifies himself with the intrinsic value she is; the intrinsic value of his life is thereby magnified. The person who treats another immorally places himself in a relation of disunity with her intrinsic value, thereby rendering the self he is less valuable (451–69).

In ethical interpersonal relationships which are not close, one must respond

“to the fact of another’s subjectivity, to her being a self, a value-seeking entity, a choice-making and meaning-seeking entity, but one need not respond to every modulation in the content or focus of these characteristics. Ethics responds to the fact that these characteristics are there, perhaps also to some general traits of their content, while more intimate relationships respond to the particular way these characteristics specify and express themselves. . . .

“But if, as I believe, there is a general principle calling for responsiveness to value as such, not merely the value embodied in the basic moral characteristic, then there will be differences in how we (are to) appropriately respond to different people. While these differences will not involve violating the rights all share in virtue of being value-seeking I’s, they might involve choosing to aid or save some rather than others in situations where not all can be helped.” (470–72)

 

The Right to Liberty

Individual rights are a class of moral claims for which enforcement is morally permissible. The deliberate use of force is prima facie anti-responsive to the basic moral characteristic of the recipient; there is a moral presumption against its use—any use. The true rights of individuals must be based upon moral claims sufficient to overcome this presumption, and force must be used only to effect these rights.

Since the rule of law entails the existence of general standing orders backed by credible coercive threats, we identify the activities of government (agents as government agents) which are morally permissible when we identify individual rights. A delineation of the morally proper sphere of individual liberty delineates also the morally permissible uses of deliberate force. Elsewhere I have presented the view that the proper sphere of liberty of interacting individuals may be discerned by reference to the circumstances of individuals presently incapable of interaction (Boydstun 1983). From that view it was seen that the fundamental right of each interacting individual is the right to full formal liberty.

Material liberty was defined as the extent of what an individual can in fact do independently of another. The right of full formal liberty was specified as the right of each against the reduction of his material liberty by another. It was then seen that from this fundamental right there flow rights against personal injury, rights to private property, and rights to privacy.

Were the legal uses of force restricted to the enforcement of these rights, individuals would be left fully free, within the realm of the possible, to respond to value and to become value. The life of each would be his own—his alone to destroy, his with others to love, to nurture, to glorify.

 

References

Boydstun, S. C. 1983, June. Political Liberty and Property Rights. Illinois Libertarian.

Gilbert, L. E. 1982, Aug. The Coevolution of a Butterfly and a Vine. Scientific American.

Nozick, R. 1981. Philosophical Explanations. Harvard.

Rand, A. 1964. The Virtue of Selfishness. NAL.

 

 

 

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On 6/8/2019 at 10:33 AM, Boydstun said:

A value which is valuable not purely as a means to further value beyond itself is termed by Nozick an intrinsic value. It is valuable in itself. Distinguished from intrinsic value is instrumental value. Instrumental value is instrumental to extrinsic value; it derives its value from value lying beyond itself, from the valuable end for which it is means.

Has something changed in our current understanding. It seems that life is not a value unless you choose to value it nowadays. Or am I getting this wrong?

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18 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

Has something changed in our current understanding. It seems that life is not a value unless you choose to value it nowadays. Or am I getting this wrong?

Not sure what you mean by "nowadays"...

but if you are saying value presupposes a "valuer" and hence that implies "intrinsic value" which is "valuable in itself" is impossible IF "in itself" means "independent of any valuer", (to whom and for what) you would be correct to raise the issue. 

Perhaps this merely indicates just how different Boydstun's views were back in the 80's or perhaps his views have not changed?

Perhaps we can ask Boydstun if he still believes in "intrinsic value".

 

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On ‎6‎/‎8‎/‎2019 at 1:33 PM, Boydstun said:

Some things can be of intrinsic value for us

I'm curious what is meant by "intrinsic value for x".  IF an "intrinsic value" means "value in itself" how can it be qualified by "for x"?

Can the same thing be an intrinsic value to me but not an intrinsic value to you?  If so does not that destroy its "intrinsic property", if not does not that negate the qualifier "for me" and "for you" (i.e. render such a phrase as "for us" above meaningless?)

 

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Robert Nozick is interesting.

A suggestion: His form of "intrinsic" value - plus - his "instrumental" value, approach very closely objective value as O'ists know it.

Goes almost without saying, "the other" and their life is his-her highest objective value in themselves, and one's recognition of this fact (and that she-he knows that and responds to your own) is what makes for the best of romantic love (and friendship). 

Edited by whYNOT

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SL and ET and Tony,

I doubt I’ve changed in the view I’d come to in this essay of 1984. The way in which Nozick was using ‘intrinsic’ was as I stated therein. This is a different meaning of the term in Rand’s use of that same term, in which it means value existing without there being some valuer of the value (and all value being in fact rooted in life, there being value independently of any purposive agent).

Still, when I talk of becoming value, as did Nozick 1981, it can seem as becoming value that exists without the existence of any valuer of it. I meant only that in making life-values squarely operational in oneself, which one can do through explicit conceptual awareness, one can strengthen and magnify the life-value that is oneself and one’s life.

I don’t know if Nozick would have been open to the way I latched his intrinsic value necessarily to life. He might have gone on to say of his intrinsic value that not only does it have a sense not talked about by Rand, but additionally the sense she squarely opposed. That is, additionally, his intrinsic value (not mine) might be a realm floating on its own whether or not living things (or God) exist and connect with it. He took there to be an objective basis of intrinsic value. That basis is not life, but organic unity, which includes life but is something more general. Because there are degrees of organic unity, he has a way to roughly rank various intrinsic values in relation to each other. So, for example, a human life could be ranked higher than a redwood or a painting due to the greater organic unity of a human being and its life (its making a life, as Nozick would say).

One of my favorite closing passages among novels I got to read in high school is the one recited in the clip I link below. It speaks great truth, though from my perspective, the element of saying memory is not necessary for love is incorrect and the idea that love continues even were everyone to die is incorrect.

Thank you all for your thoughts on issues in this essay.

 

 

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PS

A note about Rand’s development on this in her writings: In We the Living, she has value and authentic aliveness as requiring human awareness of and embrace of one’s wants and joys. Value as the valuable for its own sake (and as distinct from the mere ‘satisfaction’ had by her later character Toohey) does in WL not exist until the human awareness and embrace of it. The valuable-in-itself does not exist prior to the higher humans bringing it into the world, and it is something that most likely could not exist in beings not having distinctively human capabilities. As you know, that layout is revised and the revised account greatly elaborated in her 1957.

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1 hour ago, whYNOT said:

A suggestion: His form of "intrinsic" value - plus - his "instrumental" value, approach very closely objective value as O'ists know it.

You will have to elaborate. Both you and Boydstun are claiming that but right now it falls flat.

1 hour ago, whYNOT said:

Goes almost without saying, "the other" and their life is his-her highest objective value in themselves, and one's recognition of this fact (and that she-he knows that and responds to your own) is what makes for the best of romantic love (and friendship).

Intrinsic value means value without a valuer, doesn't it? So it (the thing of value) would be valuable and as valuable to EVERYONE if the value was within itself (not based on the valuing). But it is not. People value the same thing differently.

The question of intrinsic value does not go away with your answer. "The other" (as you say) also has to choose life for it to be the basis for values.

The "value in themselves" that you point out may be confusing intrinsic value with something else. Like a value that is the end value, as in pleasure which does not have a further purpose (an end in itself). Or even the idea that our life is an end in itself and not in serving others. That is why I ask for an elaboration.

There is no disagreement that life is the basis of value, just what intrinsic means. I understand in economics "gold" has intrinsic value but in this venue, abstract philosophy, intrinsic has different connotation.

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ET,

What would you say about someone who has attempted suicide, is unconscious, and you happen upon them? Wouldn’t you think they still have the quality of intrinsic value (= [inherent value] = [potential and actual end-in-itself value]) and so go ahead and call 911? Wouldn’t you be not indifferent to their possibility of coming round to choosing life, being productive, and pursuing happiness?

Choosing to live comes up directly in the Hamlet question (in various sorts of situation), but also implicitly every day for humans with the normal capacity to end their life or to stop doing the things necessary to live. And every initiative of thought and work is implicitly a choice to live and be a human being. Do you agree?

Rand thought one should treat others and oneself as ends-in-themselves. Her reason was because they are ends-in-themselves, and one ought to treat things as the kinds of things they are. I agree.

“Do you ask what moral obligation I owe to my fellow men? None—except the obligation I owe to myself, to material objects and to all of existence: rationality. I deal with men as my nature and theirs demands: by means of reason” (1957, 1022). “Every act of man’s life has to be willed; the mere act of obtaining or eating his food implies that the person he preserves is worthy of being preserved” (1056). “By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man—every man—is an end in himself” (1014).

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1 hour ago, Boydstun said:

ET,

What would you say about someone who has attempted suicide, is unconscious, and you happen upon them? Wouldn’t you think they still have the quality of intrinsic value (= [inherent value] = [potential and actual end-in-itself value]) and so go ahead and call 911? Wouldn’t you be not indifferent to their possibility of coming round to choosing life, being productive, and pursuing happiness?

Choosing to live comes up directly in the Hamlet question (in various sorts of situation), but also implicitly every day for humans with the normal capacity to end their life or to stop doing the things necessary to live. And every initiative of thought and work is implicitly a choice to live and be a human being. Do you agree?

Rand thought one should treat others and oneself as ends-in-themselves. Her reason was because they are ends-in-themselves, and one ought to treat things as the kinds of things they are. I agree.

“Do you ask what moral obligation I owe to my fellow men? None—except the obligation I owe to myself, to material objects and to all of existence: rationality. I deal with men as my nature and theirs demands: by means of reason” (1957, 1022). “Every act of man’s life has to be willed; the mere act of obtaining or eating his food implies that the person he preserves is worthy of being preserved” (1056). “By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man—every man—is an end in himself” (1014).

Why do you think Rand made the conscious choice to say “every man is an end in himself” rather that “a man’s life is an end in itself” or the life of every man is an end in itself or every life is an end in itself?

Philosophically and technically did Rand mean by the phrase “end in himself” anything different from an “end in itself” or does it mean the exact same thing? Is she consciously choosing intrinsicism full stop.. here?

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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1 hour ago, Boydstun said:

What would you say about someone who has attempted suicide, is unconscious, and you happen upon them? Wouldn’t you think they still have the quality of intrinsic value (= [inherent value] = [potential and actual end-in-itself value]) and so go ahead and call 911? Wouldn’t you be not indifferent to their possibility of coming round to choosing life, being productive, and pursuing happiness?

This intrinsic value seems to go away when this "someone" was the person who tried to cut my throat yesterday. Just because they exist, are human does not cause or necessitate value.

So their potential in relation to me (my self interest) is going determine what I should do. If I do see that potential and it inspires "ME", I would agree, because it is to my self interest.

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SL,

I don't think Rand took "end in himself" to mean anything but "end in itself" applied to a person. However, by the special way SHE was using "intrinsic" (introduced in the essay "What is Capitalism?"), we wouldn't rightly say that intrinsic value means end-in-itself in the way SHE meant the latter term. I agree with how she used the latter term; my use of it means what she meant: only a character of living things (focally, individual organisms) and only an overall character composed of subsidiary instrumental, functional value-actions). So when Nozick turns to "organic unity" as more generic (and to be found not only in living things, but art or inanimate natural organizations), I'd say that those organic unities not life are just semblances (fainter to fainter) of life. In using the term "intrinsic" we apparently best say which way we mean it: in its more usual way that Nozick was using it (which had SOME overlap with Rand's specially carved meaning) or in Rand's special, theoretical definition and usage. (My American Heritage Dictionary has for "intrinsic" the following: Pertaining to the essential nature of a thing; inherent.)

"It is only an ultimate goal, an end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action" (OE 17).

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4 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself

I do not believe Rand meant this as intrinsic value.  

All I know about Rand’s metaphysics and ethics screams at me that this is to be interpreted as “an end in itself to and for itself” not an intrinsic end to and for all existence the universe and everything, nor an end in some mystical non realm of floating value.

In that sense, I take Rand to mean each life in reality is a selfish end only in itSELF.  

Nothing could be farther from intrinsic value IMHO.

 I know you do not use the term as Nozick used it, but I wonder how Rand would react to our little discussion about it’s appropriate use in this context.

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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Rand took it that we can and do recognize that others are ends in themselves. The fact that they are ends in themselves entails certain ways one should not treat them. Adhering to those ways—respecting their rights against force or fraud in their person and their property—is morally right, is what one ought to do. Moreover, in Rand’s view, it is what one would normally, naturally want to do. Furthermore, in Rand’s view, respecting rights of others—making the fact that they are ends in themselves operative in one’s set of values—is in one’s best interest in a social context (and is irrelevant in a non-social context).

Nice related work: “Selfish Regard for the Rights of Others” by Gregory Salmieri, in Foundations of a Free Society (Pittsburgh 2019).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PS - to SL: You will find the term "intrinsic" used in the chapter just cited, and not in Rand's special sense for it when thinking about the ontology of value. That is because Salmieri is (i) engaging with criticisms of Rand's ethical egoism and her theory of rights coming from contemporary philosophers from other schools of thought and (ii) the term is common in talking about constitutive values and their interplay with instrumental values.

Edited by Boydstun

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On 6/8/2019 at 10:33 AM, Boydstun said:

A value which is valuable not purely as a means to further value beyond itself is termed by Nozick an intrinsic value. It is valuable in itself. Distinguished from intrinsic value is instrumental value. Instrumental value is instrumental to extrinsic value; it derives its value from value lying beyond itself, from the valuable end for which it is means.

That confirms my suspicion that the definition used was different. My apologies, I was slow at seeing this.

This is a different usage of intrinsic value. If we are to precisely indicate "the birthplace of value", the final value does not answer the question "where do values come from, what is their basis".

Based on the above definition, if value X causes value Y (which will be enjoyed for itself), then X derives its value from the "final" value (Y). Y is the final value and is the intrinsic value. What it should say is that Y is an arbitrary final value which we will call intrinsic.

Any final value requires a valuer (for it to have value). The final value to whom. Otherwise, without a valuer, the value is value without valuer.

What is happening here is the the final value of life is being treated as intrinsic, as it has a value regardless of valuer. As SL indicates, not necessarily a value for himself, it just is a value.

Egoism is being removed from the equation. Life is a value, period. Not necessarily to the person living it. There is an assessment that that life is valuable based on unknown or unknowable criteria. Ultimately meaning values simply exist, and then jumping to organism unity as the final value. Which organism's life and for what organism is omitted. It just is valuable based on ... blank.

There is nothing in the universe that indicates that unity is more valuable than chaos. Or that green is more valuable that yellow. Or that multiplication is better than addition. We can't just arbitrarily choose "multiplication" as being a final value and then saying that "addition" is an instrumental value now, it derives its value from "multiplication". After all, you can't multiply if you can't add.

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